Reduce: My Green Holiday Swag

Well, I have been absent.  The holidays.  Life.  FINALS.  I will not discuss in detail the coffee induced hell that the first two weeks of December entailed.  I also will not detail the lovely time I had at home with my family, friends, and the many many dogs that live at my parent’s home.  I will, however, share with you a few choice, blog inspired Christmas gifts I received this year.  I’m a really lucky girl.  I have a very talented and environmentally minded mother, so when she asks me what I want, I give her ideas.  Here is how she executed:

Homemade reusable cosmetic rounds!

First, check out these reusable make-up remover pads!  After I made my DIY eye make-up remover, I realized I would need some cotton pads to use the product the way I wanted.  Those convenient little cotton pads you buy at the drug store seemed sub-optimal for several reasons.  First, they are wrapped in plastic.  I promise I will write a full out post about the drawbacks of plastic soon.  It’s on the list.  Second, I don’t know a ton about the cotton industry, but anything that takes resources to make and is explicitly one use, seems iffy to me.  So, I asked my mom to come up with a solution.  She made me about 20 reusable cotton rounds.  Over half of them are washcloth material on one side, and the other half are just all cotton fabric.  She made them all from stuff she had laying around the house too, so no new stuff needed!  She also re-gifted to me this amazing airtight container for them.  I think it has some beer cheese in it when she first received it, but it’s really pretty and the pads fit perfectly.  I’m going to use them for make-up remover, toner, and, as per my cousin’s suggestion, I’m thinking of putting some mixture of stuff in the container to try and make a reusable version of those pre-moistened pads.  I will report back.

Bulk bags!

Second, she made me these awesome bulk bags to be used at the co-op and the Farmer’s Market.  I have a few of these, but I always run out and end up using the old brown paper bags I have been saving hording for…probably too long.  Needless to say, most of those have seen better days, and my mom comes to the rescue.  Bad on me for not putting something in here for scale.  There are a variety of sizes, the biggest one could hold lots of produce or a ton of rice if it’s on sale.  The smallest one would be perfect for those things I’m buying in bulk for just one recipe.  These were also made from fabric scraps she had around the house.  They are so cute, right?

Last, I cannot leave out the cool presents made for me by my crafty little sister.  She made me these super cool headbands out of old t-shirts!  As headbands pretty much equal my grad school hair uniform, these are amazing and thoughtful.  I wear them all the time.  She tells me she learned how on Pinterest.  I will try to find the link and post it to my own Pinterest page.  If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on there, here.  She made some other pretty amazing gifts for the rest of the family.

Final Word:  Basically, my family is amazing, and they really know me.  I also love that they are into downing the waste that is often associated with the holiday season.  I’m super excited to try them out, and I’ll make sure to report back.

What do you think?  Did you get any cool gifts for the holidays?  I know it’s a little late…but eh.  Any cool eco/green/sustainable gifts you’d like to gab about?  I’d love to hear about them!          

Low Impact Travel: Thanksgiving 2012

I am back from my Thanksgiving travels.  I’m still pretty tired, and have a ton of school stuff to catch up on, as usual I suppose.  This year, travel was especially crazy because ticket prices were so high (ouch), so I took a red-eye flight on Wednesday which got me into Nashville around 5am CST.  I then flew out of Nashville on Saturday at 7am CST.  Quick turn around, and a few very early mornings!  I thought I might reflect on my wanderings and talk about small things we can do to make our travel footprint a little smaller. 

I did some school work in the morning and early afternoon.  The usual.  The boyfriend (hereafter D Lo) picked me up from school right after class, and I went straight away to making brownies for my roomies and my rideshare buddy.  I went through my fridge and tried to pick out the veggies that would go bad before I got home.  I juiced up a carrot, cucumber, chopped a sort of mealy apple, and threw all that in  the blender with some kale, frozen raspberries, and bananas.  D Lo usually avoids my “salad smoothies,” but I think he was counting on missing me, so he drank up, and it was proclaimed “not that bad.”  My lab mate and her boyfriend swung by to pick me up just as the brownies were done and the smoothies were in our bellies.  My lab mate is from the Bay Area, so she just dropped me off at a train station near her house.  I jammed out to podcasts all the way to the airport.  Once there, I got real hungry, and got another smoothie (this one in a plastic container).  A quick jaunt from SFO to LAX, a speedy veggie burger and fries from Burger King (I really love to eat while I travel) and I was on a plane again and on my way to the southern homeland!

Green smoothies are one of my fave snacks.
Travel Dos:
#1àDo make sure and use up your food before you leave home.  Waste not, want not as they say.
#2àDo ride share and ride public transit when you can.  SO MUCH less stressful than dealing with holiday traffic.
#3àDo remember to pack your own snacks.  Things you buy at the airport as so over priced, wrapped in plastic, and usually not that good for you (I’m looking at you Burger King).
Many many cooks in the kitchen!
I rode in the car SO much today, but in that part of the country, it’s much harder to avoid.  Public transit is just not really well developed in more rural areas.  I also went on every errand with all my siblings.  Really, nothing beats riding in a car, chatting, listening to music on a beautiful fall, country day.  I just love Kentucky.  I had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I didn’t take that many pictures, but I am so blessed to have such lovely family and friends to spend these times with me.  I did make everyone laugh till they almost cried when I admitted to drinking cabbage juice last year when I was working on my thesis.  I’m a weirdo in a family of weirdoes, and we all like it that way.  My brother even made a fabulous vegan dish for me to enjoy with the Thanksgiving Feast!  We ate, and drank, and played games until the cousins had to head home.  It was a great holiday.     
Post dinner entertainment from my bro and my sister’s beau.  
Travel Dos:
#4àDo remember it’s the holidays and you are supposed to play and do things you don’t always do (like eat till you have a little tummy pooch! Yum!! Or ride all around town in a car.)
My newest niece puppy who I met Friday.
This was my only full day in Kentucky.  I’m so glad my brother got this day off work so we could all hang out till he and my sister-in-law had to leave at 1pm.  My college roommate was also in for the holiday with the family, he’s an adopted kid to my parents, and he got to stay till lunch time as well!  That evening my best friend and another college roommate stopped by to hang out and chat and eat more food!  I also had some time on Friday to talk Christmas plans with my mom.  She is going to make me some bulk food bags and some reusable face cloths (think a reusable item that will replace cotton balls in the bathroom), more on this later.  I also remembered where I got so many of my good-for-the-earth habits when I watched my mom fix a few Christmas decorations instead of throwing them away and give tons of leftovers to us in reused containers (No, D Lo, that is pie not feta cheese!).  I also had an amazing conversation with my sister about women in science and the impacts of our diet choices.  She is pretty amazing and works for the National Park Service, and her park just got its first female director!
On the road again, way way early.  Too too early.  Luckily, this time I had my mom around to fix me tons of snacks.  I wish I had taken a picture of the spread.  I had coffee in my to-go mug, pretzels in a reused container, peanut butter and gram crackers wrapped in tin foil, and raisins.  This kept me from buying any snacks all the way through the airports!  Thanks mom!  I took the train from SFO to within about an hour of my California home and, once again, D Lo and I were able to avoid the stressful airport traffic.  Basically, living in a city where the train is connected to the airport is amazing (…duh…).  We were way too tired to cook that night though, so we ordered in Indian food.
Travel Dos:
#5àMake ahead of time, and freeze, a homemade meal.  You will be too tired to go out or cook when you get home, and your delicious curry will come in a plastic Tupperware.  To the credit of this restaurant, my curry and two small condiments were the only things in plastic.  Pretty cool!

FINAL WORD:  Obviously, this isn’t a post about large scale travel choices (train vs. plane vs. automobile) because this little southern girl has got to get home, and flying is really the only practical way at this point.  Maybe that post will come later.  That said, the holidays are supposed to be fun!  I think that lots of things you can do to make your travel lower impact, also make the whole experience more fun and way less stressful.  Public transit and ridesharing are decidedly less stressful because you spend less and deal with traffic less, always a win.  Spending money on overpriced items *cough*airport snacks *cough* always stresses me out, and I loved not doing that on the way back to CA.  Think about your holiday routine, we’ll all be doing it again in a few weeks, and consider changes you can make. 

What do you think?  Do you have any great green travel tips?  Any tips for avoiding holiday stress?  Favorite on the go snacks?   

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?