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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Fast, Cheap, and Good Sustainability Gift Guide

Shameless self-promotion time!  If you're looking for sustainable living gifts this holiday season and want to support a small business at the same time, I present some of the offerings from the businesses owned by the author of this blog and her hard-working hubby.  (Of course, these are not affiliate links, but they do translate to profit for me.)

I would be remiss if I didn't start off with the book that this blog made possible.  Spanning the first three or so years of the blog, this book includes updates versions of our most popular posts in areas like recipes, food preservation, gardening, textile arts, household helps, and sustainable living philosophy.  It is available through my publishing-related Etsy site, where you will also find my other three books.

180 pp.
$10.00 (on sale)

Fast, Cheap, and Good

Fleece socks are a natural sustainable living choice, because the warmer your feet are, the less you are inclined to spend on heating the house.  We have a variety of fleece socks for men and women in our Carrot Creations Fleece Shop.  One customer calls our socks "like a hug for your feet." (Note: Our socks are sized to fit snugly, so you can wear them under boots.  If you want slipper socks, please size up.)

Fleece socks, $10.00

The Carrot Creations Fleece Shop

Yoga socks are our most popular item, and it's easy to see why.  They keep your feet cozy during yoga, Pilates, or belly dance class while keeping the balls and heels of your feet free to remain in contact with the mat.  They are also great for wearing under flip flops for pedicures. Available in acrylic, US-grown cotton, organic cotton, and a variety of luxury blends.

Yoga socks, $10.00-$21.00

Carrot Creations

No matter what your favorite team, keep warm in the stadium or gym with our team spirit cowls.  Suitable for men or women.

In this section, check out our writer's gloves: fingerless gloves that keep your hands warm in chilly offices or outdoors, while your fingers stay free to type or text.

Cowls, $10.00

Cowls and Writer's Gloves

And now for something completely different!  Support the health of the coral reefs and the animals that live there.  We offer a variety of sea cucumber-themed t-shirts through our Red Bubble shop that are ideal for academics (think marine biologists) or anyone who loves the ocean.

T-shirts, Price varies by type and size

Sea Cucumber T-shirts

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Stay Sustainable!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Orzo Masala

We're on a real "skillet dinner" kick here in the FC&G household. The Mr. and I have realized that we are unlikely to eat enough veggies in the winter unless we dump them into a pan full of other yummy things, so we've been experimenting with what we can throw together.

This weekend's experiment was Orzo Masala, and I have to say it turned out pretty good.  It is a great meatless dish, and it can be turned either vegan or meat-loving with very little effort.

Orzo Masala
1 jar Trader Joe's (or other brand) masala simmer sauce
1/2 cup lentils
1 half bag orzo, cooked
(All veggies cut up in small chunks and in whatever amounts you have available.  We had about a cup of each, except for having about a half cup of kale.)

Simmer the lentils in the masala simmer sauce until tender, while cooking the orzo.  You may want to add about a half a jar of water to the simmer sauce to make sure you have enough sauce to cover all of your ingredients.

When the lentils are tender (about 20 minutes), add the orzo and the veggies.  Cook until the peppers have started to become tender.  Serves about 4-6.

For Meat Lovers:  We found that this mix works really well with some nice sausage crumbles added.

For Vegan Option: You will need to use vegan pasta (or rice) and a vegan masala sauce.

The Analysis

Fast:  Skillet dinners are always quick, especially when there are two of you cooking.

Cheap:  We put this together entirely from pantry and fridge staples, plus some dribs and drabs of the remaining garden veggies.

Good:  A healthy and adaptable way to get dinner together.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

Tool Review: Kindling Cracker

This past June, I got seduced by a tool. That's not a metaphor; I just fell in love with this new tool called the Kindling Cracker, which you can buy here. (Note: this is not an affiliate link, and I bought the tool with my own hard-earned money, thank you very much.)

The concept is simple. Instead of trying to split small logs into kindling using an ax (with which I would kill myself) or with a wedge (ditto), the tool constructs a safer way to split these small logs into kindling.  Basically, you have a cast iron frame that holds the log over an upside-down wedge, and then you can hit the log until it splits without having your hands or other body parts in any danger.

The tool was developed by a school-age child who wanted a safer way to contribute to the log splitting duties at her house, and it is indeed safe.  It is marketed as a tool to keep by your woodpile or your outdoor pizza oven, and the directions recommend using a 4-pound mallet to split the wood.  I used a sledge hammer because I use one frequently in the garden (plus it's a better workout), but I think either would work.  It is, indeed, safe enough for a young person to use to help their family out with the chores.

The tool is not without its drawbacks. It is tempting to put a too-large piece of wood in the frame, which will result in it getting caught as it splits. And, if you happen to get a piece of wood with a funky grain or a large knot in it, it won't split into beautifully straight pieces of kindling.  But, you probably already knew at least that last from experience splitting wood without the frame involved.

The best thing about the kindling cracker is that Mr. FC&G doesn't have to shoulder the entire job of splitting our wood by himself.  Oh, he still has to do the (literal) heavy lifting, including using the chain saw and the ax (neither of which were in operation anywhere near me that day, so don't worry about my rather casual work wear). But I can work on kindling and do the hauling of the wood while he works, and then we both can handle the heavy stuff.  And now that the miserable oak tree is down in chunks and ready to cure into firewood for next year, I will have lots of chances to use my new toy.

The Analysis

Fast: Someone stronger than me could make kindling faster, but at least I was getting the job done.

Cheap:  At $89, this is a bit of a luxury, but I think it is worth it, especially if you have responsible young people in your family who are ready to pitch in on this job.

Good:  Heating with wood that you split yourself rather than paying for gas and electric is always a good thing, especially for the pocketbook.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Bye-Bye to the Annoying Oak Tree

See that?  That's almost the end of the annoying oak tree, which has been increasingly encroaching on my garden with its shade for about five years, and which I finally have been able to have taken down. Yeah!

Now, I feel a little guilty trumpeting this triumph in a sustainability blog.  Aren't I supposed to be lobbying for more trees in the world? Trees pump out oxygen, help clean the air, and fight soil erosion. What's not to love?

What's not to love is the amount of shade in my garden. Look, I'm all in favor of more trees: in place of parking lots and shopping centers. You want to tear down a Walmart or a Chipotle and put in a bunch of oak trees, I will help you wield the shovel. Just yesterday, I saw yet another mini-lifestyle center being put up in our economically-tenuous area. The store on the corner outlot was so close to the road that it almost created a blind turn for drivers. We just really don't need that much retail around here. So, sure, more trees.

But not more trees in my tomatoes! I've spent the past five years with that little oak tree making a growth spurt that made it taller and wider, crowding the sunny part of my garden further and further out of the back yard. I've had enough.

With the tree gone, my sunny gardening area is nearly tripled, which I'm sure Mr. FC&G won't appreciate when it comes time to till the garden up, but which I will certainly enjoy. And, as a bonus, the west-facing windows on the house aren't nearly as shaded. That means our sunroom can go back to one of its intended purposes as a solar collector to help heat the house, and we don't have to feel like our bedroom is in perpetual gloom.

I've never really been one for dappled sunlight; give me some nice, direct sun that will tan my skin all summer and allow me to grow those veggies that need 12 or 14 hours of sunlight in order to produce. I have plenty of trees remaining on the property; the original owners really went berserk planting trees around here, so one fewer shouldn't really harm my eco-cred. And, as Mr. FC&G always points out, anything that increases my gardening decreases my chances for insanity, so it's kind of a win/win.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Playing the Heat Game

(Note: In this rare occasion, I swiped a meme from Facebook. If this is your image and you would like it removed, please contact me and I will do so immediately.)

Well, it's late October, and the temps around here are finally getting chilly. We were promised a mild fall, and so far, we are getting it. But, it's inevitable that we are going to get cold weather.

Cold weather, as you may have noticed, makes me crabby. And one of the things that makes me crabbiest is that I have to spend money to keep warm. I realize the reverse is true - I have to spend money in the summer to run the AC - but nothing bothers me quite like hearing the heat kick on and know that I'm working my tail off to pay the heating bills to make up for an outdoor temperature that I don't like anyway.

I've written on this topic before, but I recently posted the above meme to Facebook, and I was interested in the distribution of friends who also play the game of seeing how long they can last before turning on the heat. We do this every year; I try to make it to at least November 1 unless I have company coming over. One of my heartier friends notes that her goal is December 1.

Is this practice sustainable? Well, it is one of those "little things" you can do. Every day you decline to turn your whole-house heat on, you use less fossil fuel, and you pay less for your heating bills, thus making a small dent in both global resource usage and personal resource usage. I think it's a good practice overall.

Some ways to stay warm without turning on the dreaded whole-house heat:

  • Put on another layer. Your mom wasn't kidding; if you are cold, put on a sweater. It is far cheaper to keep your own body warm than it is to heat a whole house for your comfort. I have several "writing sweaters" I wear over my daily clothes when I am sitting at my desk.
  • Vent to the inside. If you can, vent your dryer to the inside of your house; I have written a long post on this, but there are baffle boxes you can buy that allow you to toggle your venting to the inside during the winter and the outside during the summer.
  • Bake. This is a great time to start making cookies, quick breads, roasts, and other meal items that have been too heavy to eat all summer and which require the oven to be on for an extended period. Don't forget to open that oven door when you are done and let all that lovely heat escape into the house.
  • Use area heat sources. This means using a space heater when you are going to be in a single room or using your wood stove to add a little heat to the house. Don't forget to close off the room you are heating from the rooms you will not be in, so you retain as much heat as possible where you are going to be.
Of course, I'll ultimately give in on the whole house heat. There will be a day that I crawl out of bed from under my flannel sheets, two blankets, two bedspreads, and three quilts*, and decide that I just can't live another day in the chill. But, until then, let the game continue!

*Really not kidding about the amount of covers I sleep under. I have the body temperature control ability of a reptile.
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Friday, October 14, 2016

A Nice Little Thing about an Airport

OK, when you think "sustainability," airports are not usually the next thing to pop into your head. In many ways, they are (very necessarily) temples to overconsumption of resources in the modern economy. Just look at all those heavy metal tubes with wings sitting out there, burning jet fuel like it rains from the sky. And then look around the interior, filled with food and drink in disposable paper and plastic (which you pretty much have to buy because getting anything reasonable through TSA is a nightmare). Finally, look at all the travelers! Business travelers headed to meetings they probably could have had over the phone, to say nothing of all those tourists who wouldn't have been expecting to vacation hundreds or thousands of miles away from home just a couple of generations ago.

I'm not a frequent traveler. One vacation a year is usually it. But recently, I actually went somewhere for my business, and I saw something that, to me, really worked.

In the Atlanta airport, I encountered a sign that told me that the concourses were spaced a five-mintue walk apart; in other words, if one had the time, one could travel between the very first concourse and the very last in about 30 minutes of walking time, instead of taking the much faster passenger monorail. Since I had arrived at the airport ridiculously early, as usual, I set off to take a 10-minute walk to my concourse.

Along the way, the airport had allowed artists to place art installations; the one you see above used light and carefully-shaped cut-outs to mimic the dappled light of a forest. A soundtrack accompanied it. Was it great art? Well, I'm not sure, but I would argue it was great art for the space. In a facility dedicated to rushing around and expending resources, I was invited by environmental cues to get a little exercise and to lower my blood pressure a little bit by enjoying the dim, dappled light and the nature sounds. It was only a few minutes, but it was certainly a better option than increasing my stress with a relatively-sedentary monorail ride.

Maybe other airports are doing this as well: encouraging people to walk by posting information about time and distance. Maybe more experienced travelers already know which airports they are willing to walk and which they will not. But, for me, this little break was a nice surprise.  So, well done, Hartsfield-Jackson!
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sauteed Fall Vegetables

One of the saddest things about the fall garden is the quality of the produce just isn't up to summer standards. The tomatoes, especially, that were so wonderful raw in the summer have now become "cooking tomatoes," a little less flavorful and tender than their July counterparts.

So, Mr. FC&G and I have been positively ODing on sauteed veggies the past couple of weeks. By taking everything we have available and throwing it in a sautee pan, it makes a wonderful topping for rice.

Right now, we have peppers, tomatoes, green beans, and kale. The kale, especially, is a wonderful addition, since it gets sweeter with some cool nighttime temps.

The best thing? The only thing I pay for in this recipe is the olive oil, which makes it super cheap. For each veggie listed below, I used a handful of each; you can adjust to your own harvest

Sauteed Fall Veggies
2 T organic olive oil
Green peppers, sliced and split into small slivers
Green beans, snapped
Red tomatoes, cut into small pieces
Yellow tomatoes, cut into small pieces
Kale, cut into ribbons
1 T dried oregano

Heat olive oil and add veggies in the order above, giving each a chance to cook a bit and wilt.  This allows your most "solid" veggies time to cook and lets your kale just wilt and sweeten at the end. Cook a total of 10-15 minutes, depending basically on how firm you want your tomatoes. (They seem to be the decision-maker here; everything else can handle more or less cooking time.)

If you wish, add a handful of organic cashews at the end for a bit of protein. Serve over rice; we like organic sprouted rice.

The Analysis

Fast: 10-15 minutes of cooking time, and you are chopping your veggies while you cook.

Cheap:  Everything but the olive oil comes from the garden.  The addition of organic cashews and sprouted rice adds some protein and makes it a vegetarian meal.

Good:  Who knew I even like green beans? I've been avoiding them my entire life, and it turns out that it is just the cooking method - I don't want them boiled, I want them sauteed and crispy.  Yum!

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