"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue"
~ Vice President Richard Cheney

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


In pursuit of a cheaper, healthier and less wasteful lifestyle, I am slowly and awkwardly expanding my range of cooking. You probably already know more than I do, but I thought I would share some links to cooking blogs which have helped me get started.

SnoWhite's picture
Finding Joy in my Kitchen by SnoWhite (who may look familiar to SLP grads) is a lovely blog with clear directions and beautiful pictures. I used to eat a ton of cheap frozen pizzas and now instead I make these. My favorite is the Margherita. This is more expensive than the cardboard-crust frozen pizzas I was eating but much more delicious, and because more effort is involved than turning on the oven I eat less pizza which is good at my age. I haven't tried many of SW's non-pizza dishes but I will.

Shiksa's picture but I've made this and it's delicious
The Shiksa in the Kitchen by the magnificent Tori Avery (who is no longer technically a Shiksa) focuses on Jewish food with lots of great Mediterranean dishes. With the High Holy Days coming up I hope to make more contributions to the festive meals than I have in the past, and Tori will be my go-to girl.

Broke Ass Gourmet is not a site I have used yet but Gabi Moskowitz specializes in cheap and easy yet fancy meals. She hosted Read it and Weep's review of The Hunger Games and explained all the tantalizing ways to cook and flavor squirrels, grass and fallen enemies on the cheap.

My picture, mmmmm
Ends and Leavings is Sara's personal blog; she writes about movies, books, music, gender issues (sex lots of sex) and food. Lots of her recipes are easy and delicious and can be thrown together from ingredients you probably already have around. I often make her Crazy Delicious Vegetarian Improv Pasta although I sub in peas or edamame for broccoli if I don't have broccoli and sometimes I add chicken. Tonight I made the Delicious Blueberry Cake recipe she ripped off of Smitten Kitchen (which I have not used directly)'s Raspberry Buttermilk Cake except that I used frozen cranberries instead, I mixed them in the batter instead of leaving them on top, and I didn't sprinkle sugar on top because of the skyrocketing diabetes rate. It was quick, easy and delicious.

And an easy, vegetarian recipe I got from the Star Tribune in 1999:

Portebello Mushroom Steak Sandwiches
Serves 4

4 Portobello Mushroom caps with no steams
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp basil leaves
4 kaiser rolls or other large, sturdy buns
4 slices large, ripe tomato
4 lettuce leaves (or spinach)
4 slices provolone cheese

1.       Turn grill on to medium
2.       Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and basil leaves to make sauce
3.       Lightly coat the mushrooms with the sauce
4.       Grill for three minutes
5.       Turn over and place a provolone slice on each mushroom
6.       Grill for 2 more minutes
7.       Assemble burger and eat while it’s hot

I made this tonight but was too hungry to take a picture before eating it. It was delicious and took about 10 minutes.

Update: Amanda M. has directed me to this index of cooking blogs: http://punchfork.com/

Monday, August 15, 2011

Glorious, Delicious Iced Pressed Coffee: How I Love Thee.

Hello Friends! If I seem a bit perky to you, its probably because I am one who absolutely ADORES coffee. The robust taste, the incredible smell, a happy cup of "good morning" to send me on my action packed day in the land of St. Louis Park Public Schools. I have a relationship with my coffee. After my husband, and violin, coffee and I are soul mates. Coffee gets me through 6:45am rehearsals on a cold, blustery morning. Coffee is there when I'm catching up with good friends. And I'm pretty sure when the treaty for world peace is signed, coffee will be there.
Unfortunately, (cue dramatic soap opera music: dun, dun, duuuun.) my deep and undying love of coffee was beginning to cost me a pretty penny. Now, I'm not and never have been one to buy coffee on a daily basis for long periods of time. However, being a full-time teacher and a performing musician, there are times throughout the year such as finals, long slews of concert evenings several days in a row, group travel/performance opportunities with little or no sleep, and covering conferences in the 5 buildings I teach in do in fact require large amounts of coffee. During these 1-2 week stretches, I am known to purchase a large iced skim-latte on a daily basis. Now I am naturally a high-energy person. But lets face it people: even I go into survival mode.
Unfortunately, my husband and I also have many, many student loans. In fact, more than half of my salary and my husbands salary go directly to our student loans and will... probably forever. This means that one week of drinking skim-lattes during survival mode = Peanut Butter and Jelly for every meal during the next two weeks. So I got to thinking: what if I made my own iced coffee at home? Would it be worth it? Would it still taste as amazing and inspiring as the iced-skim latte I could purchase at my local coffee shop?
Turns out: IT IS! So, I began to research on Dr. Google, and learned that it is not only dirt cheap in comparison to purchasing a skim-latte everyday for a week, but it is also extremely easy as well. The short? Mix ground coffee in a container and let sit for 12-24 hours. Strain. Pour over ice/add milk/creamer. Viola! Here is my favorite explanation at The Pioneer Woman: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/06/perfect-iced-coffee/
This is how I make my Iced Coffee
What you'll need
-1 Pound Ground Coffee (I generally buy fair-trade and rain forest friendly... about $9-$10/bag... if this is too expensive, you can mix it with another $4-$5 pound bag for a compromise and save the extra pound for next time). Friends of mine also use espresso ground or Turkish coffee.
-A large Jar or Container
-Strainer with coffee filter OR a metal coffee filter
-Spoon to stir
What you do
-Pour coffee in Jar/Container.
-Add 9-10 cups water.
-Mix with spoon.
-Cover and let sit 12-24 hours depending on desired strength. I let mine sit 18-24 hours. You can leave it out on the counter or put it in the fridge during this time. I put mine in the fridge.
After 12-24 hours
-Strain coffee mixture with strainer and coffee filter.
-Pour coffee over ice and enjoy plain or add milk/creamer.
-I store extra coffee in a jar in the fridge to drink throughout the week.
If you'd like to make a smaller amount, the ratio is 1/3-1/2 cup ground coffee to 1 & 1/2 cups cold water. The finer the coffee is ground, the stronger the iced coffee with be.
I use about 1 & 1/4 cups of cold pressed coffee + 1 cup milk per latte. Soy milk and almond milk are also delicious!
Other reasons for drinking cold-pressed coffee:
-The acidity is much lower. If you get heartburn, cold-pressed coffee can become a good friend!
-Like fine wine or chocolate, coffee has complexities on the palate. Cold-pressed coffee can bring out the earthy, carmel, and even smoky flavors of a dark roast.
-It can be much more refreshing to drink iced-coffee instead of hot coffee on a 90-degree MN summer morning with 70% humidity.
So there it is! I hope this brings hope to all those other coffee lovers out there who also live on a shoe-string budget but do not want to give up their "fancy coffee". And while the rest of us wait for world peace, we might as well enjoy an amazing glass of refreshing, iced, cold-pressed coffee.
-Miriam Zien Edgar

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Farmers Market Meal Fest

I was invited by Aleks to share some of my insight on living ethically on a limited budget. Being a starving artist, being frugal with money is kind of a life style choice. I am happy to discuss some of my habits. When I saw a post about Sun Tea and a post about Roller Derby, I was inspired.

First off, I am vegetarian and I try very hard to eat healthy, and do it without costing me a fortune. One of my rules is never to eat anything with more than three ingredients in it, and preferably only one. The great thing about this rule, is that most things with one ingredient are pretty inexpensive. Another rule I have been abiding by, is an effort to eat locally grown foods as well. The best place I've found, besides growing my own garden, to stick to my guidelines is to attend Farmer's Markets. Farmer's markets sell fresh fruits, veggies, dairy products, canned goods, meats, plants, and bulk items (each one is different). Tables at Farmer's Markets are usually from local farms from the area and feature incredibly good prices on extremely fresh and healthy foods.

There are a few disclaimers about buying food at Farmer's Markets. You need to cook. Because its easy to spend a few dollars and end up with a fridge full of rotting vegetables a week later. Secondly, you need to plan ahead what you are going to make with the food, and make sure you have time to make it. If you are crunched for time, it can be a bad investment. Also, if you are making small meals at a time it can hard to use all the ingredients, so it is extremely beneficial to make large amounts of a certain meal and eat the rest for lunch or leftovers over the next few days.

I often spend $20 dollars at a Farmer's Market and it can make 8-12 large meals, depending on the items I buy. And usually you will have food left over for snacks. That is some good value. And even with my modest cooking skills, everything tastes really good. I try to plan veggies to saute, cook in stew, chilies, soups, toppings for pizza and ingredients for burritos. In the future, I may try to put up a few recipes and the process of making bulk meals from one visit to the Farmer's Market. I often freeze my burritos, or tupperware future lunches.

Now, when I have a girlfriend, roommates, friends or family this Meal Fest is a fun gathering activity. Sometimes we will pool our money to buy even more things and share all the food and make many different meals to share. I also attend Farmer Markets when I am all by myself and although it takes more time and is not as much of a party, it is still a really smart move financially.

If you want to eat healthy, save money and support your local farmers; Farmer's Markets are the only way to go.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Paper + Glue = A Brand New YOU!

For the past several years I've beenworking in the creative medium of sculpture utilizing reused materials, primarily paper "welded together" with ModPodge. This blog post is going to teach you how to make your very own Roller Derby hat out newspaper/phone book pages, cereal/pizza boxes and mod podge with absolutely no other material necessary (although you might want a pair of scissors and stapler to help you out) I estimate the total cost for this project will likely run you about $8 beyond the found materials.

First, a little bit about my derby story. Back in 2010 my wife and I were compelled to check out local women's roller derby here in Knoxville, TN after having seen the movie "Whip It" with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. Like the testimony goes for many who see roller derby, we saw 1 Hard Knox Roller Girls game and we were hooked. From there I began creating an ever evolving series derby fan hats beginning with the very first attempt titled "Kill 'em Dead" which was essentially a text bubble attached to 3d glasses.

"Kill 'em Dead" later became a hat that resembled Mickey Mouse / A Black Bear and with that became the defining slogan of my derby persona. I would go on to create several more hats with different slogans such as "Outta 'Dis World Action" on a green alien hat and "Show 'Em Your Teeth" on a Lady Gaga inspired derby hat (which actually covered my entire upper torso and wasn't particularly conducive to actually watching derby.. but I digress.)

The process of making a derby hat (or a hat for any occasion really) out of paper, modpodge and some cardboard is really super easy.

First, you will want to cut up a number of cereal boxes into strips about half an inch in width and the length of the box. Using these strips you will construct a skeletal structure for your hat. The best place to start is likely looping a strip (or 2 if you have a big head like me) around your forehead and then stapling it into a circle.

The next thing you will do is run strips from one end of this loop to the other (over the top of your head) making sure that it allows for the depth of your head to comfortably fit. Essentially you are making a bowl. Again, staples are the quickest and easiest way to get through this process although you can use mod podge as well. Something to keep in mind while doing this is that once you add the paper skin, the bowl might fit a little tighter so it may be work making the structure a little loose at first.

Once you have your skeletal structure you can start to "skin" it. This simply involves applying mod podge to the bottom side of the paper and applying it over the skeletal structure. You will then apply mod podge on top of it so that it adheres to the structure. I use my fingers for this process. You will want to do a number of layers, particularly if you are using thin paper like newspaper or phone book paper, both of which I recommend.

Once you have a fully skinned bowl, you can use the same technique used to make the bowl to add features to it. In the case of my living dead unicorn hat, I made a horn which I attached, 2 ears and an X for the eye. The X was finished with black acrylic paint before I attached it as was the detailing in the ears. Otherwise, the entire finish for the living dead unicorn hat was done by selectively using fragments of paper of the same color. You can also use acrylic paint.

For a less tacky finish, what I will do is seal the hat with a layer of outdoor mod podge which, in theory, will protect the hat from the elements and then a layer of regular mod podge which makes it less sticky.

I encourage folks to check out their local Roller Derby team. It's a way for ladies to take on non-traditional roles and provides an escape from monotony for both players and fans alike!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sun Tea is Fun Tea

For the past few weeks I have been trying to kick a Coke habit. Coke is expensive, it's not great for you, Coca Cola's labor practices are atrocious, and the manufacture of aluminum cans is hugely energy intensive and creates very toxic byproducts. Like most of my efforts to get clean and sober it was't going very well. Maybe I was down from five cans a day to four. I remembered that in college I used to drink tea endlessly in my dorm room, but boiling tea is energy intensive too and it's been too hot for hot drinks.

So I've started making sun tea. It's easy, delicious, healthy and cheap. You take a big, clear glass container, fill it with water, put tea bags in it and leave it in the sun for a few hours. The flavor isn't as strong as with boiled tea, but it's good. My mom likes Good Earth Original which has a nice, sharp cinnamon flavor. I like Celestial Seasonings because the bags aren't individually wrapped so there's much less waste and they have lots of berry flavors - Celestial Seasonings bags also don't have the string and handle that most tea bags do. We use 8 bags for a galleon (4 liters). After a few hours you can bring it in, let it cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge. I move the tea to Nalgene and old Gatorade bottles, fill the big container up with fresh water and put it right back outside.

Brewing up some Good Earth Original sun tea
As a cyclist I need to drink well over a gallon a day, so the ability to cheaply and easily flavor water helps a lot. I get my caffeine kick but at a lower dosage than the Coke's. 

If you don't live someplace with clean tap water or aren't home during sunlit hours of course this advice is less practical. Oh, and by constantly drinking sun tea I'm down to one Coke a day.

Cleaning your bike chain the cheap and easy way

Everything I need for bike maintenance

Biking is great for your health, for your wallet, for the planet and, IMHO, for your soul. You're not paying for gas and you're not pumping fossil fuel fumes into the air. Bike maintenance is also much cheaper than auto maintenance - but there are ways to make it cheaper still.

I think that the vast majority of bike maintenance boils down to keeping the drive train (the chain and gears) in good condition. Rusted or eroded drive trains seem to account for the vast majority of bike deterioration; having kept my chain in good condition I have had to do very little else to keep my bike running well over 4 years and thousands of miles. If you take your bike in for maintenance, the main thing the mechanics do will probably be to clean and oil your drive train. By doing some simple maintenance on my chain and gears I have avoided needing to take it in for maintenance for the last 4 years and many thousand miles. (I've also replaced one chain that rusted in my basement while I was in Namiba, one pedal and the bar tape. I replaced the breaks and most of the wiring on my old mountain bike).

Dirty chain and gears

When you work on your chain, the first thing you will do is take off the dirtied oil and all the crap that's sticking to it. The oil serves an essential purpose of lubricating the chain and protecting it from rust, but over time and as you bike it will collect dust and grit. Having that stuff pass through your drive train will reduce the smoothness and efficiency of your pedaling and add wear-and-tear. So your first job is to remove it all. You can buy chain degreasers, but like most specialist products they are overpriced. A better solution is to use diluted dish soap. I use the Park Tool CM-5 Cyclone Chain Cleaner (without the CleanBrite solution; you'll use diluted Dawn) to really scrub the chain, although for years I got by just using rags and wire bristle brushes. I bike every day and clean my chain at least once a month, so I'm glad I bought the Cyclone, but if you're a less frequent rider you'll need less frequent cleanings so buying special tools is unnecessary. Expect your hands to can dirty doing this, especially if you use a rag (layer it - the grease will soak through) but the dish detergent will clean them too. Cleaning dirty grease stains out of your clothes is iffy at best so don't wear nice clothes.

The Cyclone makes things easy but you can use a wire brush and a bunch of rags.
So now your filthy old chain looks shiny and new. However, it's not ready to ride on; you've removed the lubrication and rust protection. So you need to add it back by applying chain lube. I recommend Finish Line. At this point my attention is wandering so I do it the easy way: I pour some on the chain and then run the chain by pedaling while cycling through all the gears to make sure that all contact surfaces are well lubricated.

This is most of what a bike shop would do for your recommended annual checkup, but they'd charge you $50 or more.

The diluted dish detergent removes the dirty lube. Then you'll need to reapply clean lube. This is the majority of bike maintenance. 

I think it's also a good idea to run degreaser (dish soap) on a rag over the rims of your wheels. Grease and gunk that builds up there may make it harder for your breaks to grip. Then clean the degreaser off with water and of course do not lube your rims!

After two years and many thousands of miles, this chain looks and rides almost like new.

Surprisingly clean hands, because I used the Cyclone and layers of rags. Normal washing
won't remove those stains easily but dish detergent will.

If you want to go the extra mile for environmentally conscious bike maintenance, many cyclists swear by using Simple Green as the solvent. I have never done this nor used Simple Green for anything, but it may be ecologically better than Dawn. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The purpose of this blog

Dear Friends,
After taking a class on sustainable living this summer and hearing some inspiring stories from friends, I've decided to try and orient my lifestyle to be more in-line with my ideals (and my income). My hope is that we can use this blog to share tips on DIY projects and other methods for cutting down waste in our lives. These tips can be as grand as you like, or as simple as the observation that Gatorade bottles are rugged and relatively wide-necked and therefore better for reuse than most disposable plastic bottles. I'm talking about recipes, gardening, composting, recycling, energy savings, money savings, ideas for repairing, reusing and repurposing things that typically get thrown out, or finding cheaper and less ecologically impactful ways of doing things. Also please feel free to ask questions, for example does anyone know how I can get line dried clothes to be soft and unwrinkled like when they come out of the dryer?

If I've set it up right, everyone I've invited should be able to post their ideas.