Reduce/Reuse: DIY Salad Dressings

As most of my friends and relations can tell you, I’m a very easy going person.  But, there are a few things in this big world that make me squirm.  One of them (as I’m sure you have already gathered) is excessive waste in all its forms.  Another big thing that really makes me go “squee” and have a mini-internal crisis is paying a lot of money for something I know costs very little to produce.  And when these two pet peeves team up, I’m very likely to vote with my dollars and refuse to buy a product.  So, last week, this is how the scenario went down:

Stage 1: Realization– It’s Saturday, grocery shopping day, and we are totally out of salad dressing.  Unluckily, all the available options at [insert the name of your local chain grocery here]:  (1) Are packaged in plastic, (2) Contain high fructose corn syrup, (3) Don’t have 1 or 2 but do cost more than 5 dollars.
Stage 2:  Moral and economic dilemma!– I sweat, I ask D Lo to make a decision, I get frustrated and say I need time to think about it.*
Stage 3: Denial– I don’t buy salad dressing and end up mooching off my roommate for the week, because she already bought it, so even if I have an issue with it…it’s there…   
Stage 4:  Acceptance– The next Saturday, I resolve to pay a little more and buy dressing in a glass jar from the Co-op, because I’m lucky and I have that option.  I shell out $5 for a 12oz jar of dressing.
Stage 5:  A) It’s delicious!– Eat my yummy dressing until I return to Stage 1, or B) It’s super gross!- I paid 5 dollars, and I’m super disappointed in the product, but I soldier through because…you know…it cost 5 bucks!
Stage 6:  Overcoming Resistance– Resistance is the force that keeps you from doing things that you really want to do/know you really should be doing.  Every time I bought that 5 dollar bottle (or just bought the plastic, high fructose version because I am a poor graduate student), I knew there was a better way. 

*This is the part where I always feel INSANE.  Am I the only person who has a moral crisis over salad dressing?

And this, friends, is really why I wanted to start this blog.  I know there are other people out there who really want to make some changes in their lives, but they don’t because they think it will be too hard/expensive/time consuming.  I totally feel you; I deal with that feeling daily.  What always helps me is reading a blog or talking to a friend who tells me how simple and fun these changes can be.  So, here is another small solution to our big ol’ ecological problems.  And, in this case, the solution takes about as much time as comparing the labels on your standard store bought salad dressings!

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Homemade Italian Dressing (modified from original instructions at Penniless Parenting)

Ingredients:*
1/2 cup of the vinegar (any type, I used ACV and some red wine vinegar)
~3/4 cup of olive oil or other oil (I used 1/2 olive oil, 1/2 cheaper vegetable oil)
1 Tablespoons of water
1/4 Tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 Tablespoon onion powder
1/4 Tablespoon honey, white sugar, agave nectar, or any other sweetener I would imagine
1 tablespoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 Tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 Tablespoons salt

* I halved the original recipe because my jar was not going to hold the original quantities.  I also doubt I added a full 1/2 T of salt because adding salt to things always makes me really nervous that I will destroy the product.  One too many slips of the hand I guess.


Homemade and yummy! 


Equipment:
The glass jar from your yucky-overpriced dressing…or any re-purposed receptacle
Funnel
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Instructions and Tips:
Literally dudes, this took me less than 10 minutes to make, and that includes the time I spent looking for my freaking onion powder.  You just put all the ingredients in, and shake shake shake.  Quite honestly, not my favorite Italian dressing ever, but I do prefer it to the ones I have bought most recently in the store.  There are, however, TONS of salad dressing recipes online, so try your hand at recreating your favorite flavor. 

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Final Word:  You can see the whole reason for why I think homemade solutions are more green here in my first DIY post. In this particular situation, it was all about not wanting to buy plastic (or a product pumped full of what I deem to be unhealthy ingredients) and not wanting to fork over a bunch of money. I literally had all of this stuff already in my kitchen. Major score, right?

What do you think?  Do you have any amazing salad dressing recipes?  Or maybe an inspirational story of overcoming resistance?  We’d love to hear it!

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Reduce: Cook at home [Roasted Eggplant Pesto]

My week. Coffee shop, grade/write, rinse, repeat.

Things have been 100% crazy in my life as of late.  School is really kicking my butt, and I find myself doing something I very rarely do under pressure…shutting down.  For me, one of the top signs I’m really stressed out is poor eating.  I get “too stressed/busy” to cook, and, instead, clean the grout between my tiles after eating a ton of tater tots.  While cleaning that grout can be very rewarding, making meals at home from whole foods is one of the best things we can do for our bodies, and for the environment.
Here is the pitch (it might sound familiar).  When you prepare foods using simple ingredients it become a lot easier to know where those ingredients originate.  I also find it’s a lot easier to avoid unnecessary packaging when I’m cooking from whole foods and simple ingredients.  And, as I really needed someone to remind me this weekend, cooking for yourself really doesn’t take that long and is so much more rewarding than ordering a pizza.  Also, it’s just better for you!  I don’t really want this to turn into a nutrition blog, but I am sort of obsessed with nutrition, and if you want to know some cool sites to refer to, let me know in the comments.
Long story short, I want to commemorate the last real meal I cooked before I let stress get the better of me.  This is a simple meal you could make without much effort during the pre-Thanksgiving week.  It also uses lots of ingredients that you can buy with little to no packaging, score!  This Roasted Eggplant Pesto comes from one of my favorite vegan cooking blogs.  For the non-vegans in the house, my boyfriend, a committed omnivore, generally loves things from Susan’s blog.  I doubled the garlic because…that’s what I do.  I also didn’t take a picture of the finished product because it just didn’t look very photogenic.  Refer to the picture on the original blog.  She really gets its good side.
You don’t like to cook you say?  Ah, dear friend, I was once like you.  Literally, my parents were worried about me when I moved away to college because they were “afraid I wouldn’t feed myself.”  It took me years to get to the point where I thought roasting an eggplant was a step in a “simple” recipe.  My advice is to start slow.  Cut out some easy processed foods first.  For example, if you love making burritos, buy some bulk beans and cook those things up yourself (you only need a sauce pan and some water).  Love pasta night?  Skip the sauce in those plastic/glass containers, and buy a can of tomato sauce and spice it up yourself.   The key is to set yourself up for success in the beginning so you don’t get frustrated or discouraged.  And for those of you out there who love to cook, think of some ingredients you could sub or tell us a story about something you are already doing, I would love to hear it.
That being said, I now love to cook myself.  Check out these nummy ingredients!  We ate this on pasta twice, and I used it as a spread on many a piece of toast.  I loved it!
Look at this pretty basil!  And the only plastic it came with was that silly little
twist tie they up around it at the store. Totally kept that bit to reuse.
You can’t win them all.  These were my plastic wrapped ingredients.  If you are comparing to
ordering out though, I used those sun dried tomatoes for 3 recipes and that pasta for two
recipes  with each recipe making about 4 servings.  I think cooking at home is still winning
in the coast-benefit analysis.  If you have more funds than I, you can totally avoid the
 plastic.  You can buy pasta in bulk at lots of natural food stores.  I almost bought dried
tomatoes at the farmer’s market, but they were twice as expensive.  Remember you can
only do so much at the same time!

Look at this beauty!  Roasted eggplant from the farmer’s market.  YUM!
Soaking almonds (also from the farmer’s market) hanging out with the garlic.  Nuts in general
are expensive, but the guy at the market actually sells them for a super good price.  This is for
sure one of those ingredients where I cannot always afford to skip the packaging.  Garlic,
however, is always cheap at the store and the market without packaging.  Don’t fall for that silly
plastic mesh they put three of them in.  You don’t save that much money!

FINAL WORD:  I know not everyone loves to cook, but it’s a skill that will really serve you well in your journey to help the planet (and yourself) stay happy and healthy.  Remember, baby steps are the best way to make real, lasting changes in your life.  Give yourself a break!  Try upping your home cooked meals by one day (or even one meal) per week.  Keep track of the waste you create, and see the difference! 

What do you think?  Do you live near a farmer’s market where you can buy your produce?  Do you like to cook?  Any favorite cooking tips or websites to share with us?