Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kick that plastic bottle to the curb: Plastic-free water bottle options

Do you know how much you are spending on bottled water every year? Bottled water on average is more than 2,000 times more expensive than tap water. Americans spent more than $15 billion on bottled water last year.

In light of the current known dangers of bottled water and the waste they create, I wanted to compile some reusable water bottle options. I am not endorsing any of the products I highlight here, but rather I tried to find as many BPA free bottles with the most plastic being the lids. The reason I keep the plastic to be a minimum was because of the current uncertainties about plastic bottles leaching

Instead of wasting money and resources on bottled water many people are opting to buy a reusable water bottle instead; however, it is often difficult to know which water bottle to buy when there are so many options. In this post I listed reusable glass and metal water bottles that I have thoroughly researched (but not personally tested) so you do not have to. 

Glass






DCI glass water bottle has a cap with a silicone seal. It does not seem safe to toss into a bag however. It is 20 oz for $12

Be Truly You’s bottles are made of approximately 20% recycled glass and they are painted with ceramic-based, led free paint. (The materials of the lid are not disclosed, but it appears to be plastic. They do say that their products are 100% BPA free). They are 20 oz for $18.


Lifefactory's glass water bottle has a BPA free lid and a silicone sleeve to help protect the bottle. It comes in a few different sizes and in many different colors. This is also the glass bottle with the most reviews online, and the majority were positive. the largest is 22 oz for $22.


bkr's bottles are made out of glass with a silicone sleeve to protect it. They are 16 oz and the price depends on the retailer at the moment. The most interesting thing about these bottles is that if you break yours you can send all of the pieces back to bkr with a note explaining why you love it and they will send you a new one, you just have to pay for shipping.


Love Bottle are simple glass bottles that can be easily customized and decorated. They also have locking lids to make them more secure for traveling. 1 liter is $19.00, also come in a .5 liter.

Keeping it simple: you can also use a mason jar, commuter mug, or a glass that you already own; however, keep in mind that these are difficult to travel with. 

Bamboo
Bamboo Bottle Company: This bottle has a bamboo exterior that surrounds a glass tube inside. The water only touches the glass and the lid. Basically the bamboo is to protect the glass. The inside glass piece is removable and dishwasher safe. It is 17oz for $25.



Aluminum
Gaiam aluminum water bottles hold 25.36 fl. oz. for $9.98. The bottles are coated in a “thin, food-grade epoxy resin that meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for toxic elements in foodware.” (To be perfectly clear I do not know how safe this lining actually is.)

Sigg is 1 liter for $24.99. It has a BPA free liner and they come in many different sizes with a few different options for lids including a sport top.


Stainless Steel
Nalgene stainless wide mouth water bottle $26.99


Swell 17 oz for $35

Klean Kanteen come in a wide variety of beautiful colors and sizes. They also have insulated and wide mouth options. The bottles have a choice of sport or loop top lids, or stainless steel for a bit extra. Their most recent bottle is made with a bamboo lid. 27 oz for $17.95.


Thinksport stainless steel is insulated and has a sport top. 25 oz for $20.

Important things to consider before buying!
The first thing you need to think about is what you expect out of a bottle and which one will best fit your lifestyle. If you spend your day at a desk and in the car, a glass water bottle would work well for you. If you are at school all day and you need something that can roll around in your bag, glass would be a terrible idea. The nice thing about glass is that it is easily recyclable and it does not take many resources to create. 

With all bottles consider how hard it will be to clean, how safe it will be throughout its use, and what exactly you want to do with it (ie. hiking, gym, work, school, at home ect.). If you have the time, it is also good to know where the bottle is manufactured, how easily it can be recycled when you are finished with it, and the resources (ie. Carbon) it will take to get it to you. 

Personal Experience
I believe that the glass bottles are simple and beautiful, but there is no way I could keep one from breaking. I have had both a Sigg and Klean Kanteen in the last few years. To be perfectly honest, I abuse my water bottles. Over the summer they would often take a 5 foot plunge off a lifeguard chair onto the concrete below. They get banged around in my backpack and for some reason I am constantly letting them slip through my hands. Needless to say both my bottles look well loved, but my Klean Kaneteen is sturdier and better designed for my abuse. The aluminum of the Sigg just is not strong enough to withstand my lifestyle. I also love my Klean Kanteen because it is not lined which means that I do not have to worry about it chipping off like my Sigg did. If you have a tendency to abuse water bottles or you want it to look pristine for as long as possible do not buy a colored bottle (the color tends to chip off near scratches and dents).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Moneyless Mother's Day

For those of us who are not living at home, don't panic, you didn't miss it. Mother's day is on May 8th this year and I wanted to post some ideas of things to make or do with your mom without pulling out your wallet. 


Instead of trying to find something to buy your mom this year, consider all of the things you could do with your mom, for your mom, or make for your mom that she would love and appreciate even more than things with a price tag on them. 

I know we are no longer kindergarteners who are ecstatic to bring home an indecipherable drawing or macaroni craft project, but your mom would still love to have something you made, even if it still doesn't look that great. 
Photo courtesy of durango mom

All of the ideas below of things that you can make or do for your mom and most can be made with objects you already have lying around or things you would throw out otherwise. 


Live far away and can't go home for Mother's Day? No worries, most of these things can be digitally sent or easily mailed. Just don't forget to plan ahead so she gets it before Mother's Day.


These are listed in order of easiest to craftiest : )


1. The easiest suggestion here: ask your mom what she wants to do! There is no guesswork and you know your mom will love it.


2. Turn off the TV. The least you could do on Mother's day is talk and reconnect.


3. Take a family photo with her. You know your mom is always begging for a nice picture of you.


4. Take a walk or do some other activity that your mom enjoys like hiking, knitting, scrapbooking, gardening, running, ect.


5. Drag out a family favorite card or board game and play it together.


6. Make coupons. I know they are corny and we have probably all made them dozens of times and then whined when your mom cashed in all of the chores you said you would do, but consider doing them again. They can be anything from a coupon for a walk with you to painting a room or doing some other chore. Get creative! Just don't forget to make them things she might actually want and that you can actually do.


7. Write your mom a letter. Not through email or typing it, but actually sit down and write it down on some nice paper.


8. Make a card. You can grab some cardboard set to be recycled and cover it in paper, wrapping paper, or any other material to spruce it up a bit. 


9. Make a short video or slide show with pictures of your family and some nice music that sets the scene or is a family favorite. 


10. Make a small scrapbook out of paper and some cardboard. You can punch holes in your cardboard pages and tie it all together with some ribbon or string. 


11. Make jar picture frames. Grab some clean empty glass jars and bottles and simply place the picture inside. A quick warning to those of you who are college students: although that bottle you picked looks really interesting, check to make sure it's not an alcohol bottle or something else that might lead to unwanted questions.




Photos courtesy of Photojojo

12. Make her favorite dessert or food. Even if it doesn't turn out quite right, I bet she will love it. Just remember to completely clean up when you are done.


13. Plant flowers for her or make her a flower pot so she can put her favorite plant in it. If you don't want to by a cheap clay pot and decorate it there are many other creative ideas to make something different here


14. Make her a cool saying, word, or picture out of cardboard strips like this.
Photo courtesy of 4 Crazy Kings
15. Make a memory jar. Write down your favorite memories with your mom on a nice piece of paper and place it into a clean jar that you can decorate. 


Get creative! Look around and think of all of the things you can make out of the objects around you that would make your mom smile. 


If you come up with something amazing comment on this post so we can all benefit from your brilliance : )


No matter what you do just remember that Mother's Day isn't about buying something to prove you love her. It's about celebrating your mom and your relationship with her. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Upcycling




Last night I stumbled across the project 30 days 30 things by college students at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna where they are taking items and upcycling them into new, functional things.

Upcycling is when an object that would have been thrown out or recycled is repurposed into a new object. In this case they use things from plastic water bottles to found pieces of styrofoam boards.



Photo Courtesy of 30 days 30 things

The things they made are beautiful. The picture above are scarves made out of old t-shirts.

Photo Courtesy of 30 days 30 things

These practical seat protectors were plastic bags repurposed into functional and aesthetically pleasing rain guards. 

The more I look at their projects the more I wish I had thought of them. Pure genius. 


For more ideas projects you can do, check out 100 upcycling ideas

Quick and Easy Buttermilk Biscuits

I am fascinated by the idea of making my own bread. To me it seems like the true self-sufficiency- creating such a true staple of my diet instead of buying it from some large company and wasting the packaging and all the other resources necessary to get it to me. 

The problems with this ideal are that 1. I live in a dorm with the smallest kitchen humanity has ever encountered (the images of the kitchen you see here are from my family's home where they graciously let me explode food all over it on the weekends) that is shared with the entire 50 residence on my hall and 2. I have no time to nurture bread like it needs to be, including all of the time it takes to rise, knead, and bake. 

Instead I will have to stick to easy recipes like these biscuits that need little love and attention to turn out wonderfully. These are perfect for anyone with a busy schedule. They only took me 25 minutes from start to finish (from taking out the ingredients to serving them).

Ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tbs butter, melted, plus a bit more for brushing onto the tops

* Don't forget to try to choose local and organic ingredients

I altered this recipe to whole wheat instead of white flour and they still tasted amazing. They do not have a strong whole wheat taste at all. I did this to be slightly healthier, but keep in mind you really can't redeem a biscuit. It is what it is.


These biscuits took no skill at all and they came out great. I used a 1/4 cup scooper to shape them, but a simple 1/4 cup measuring cup would work just as well. The recipe was supposed to make 12 but somehow I ended up only making 9... oh well, mine were just more generous scoops. 



These were a nice little addition to the asparagus soup and would really go well with any soup or other light meal.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Asparagus Soup

This weekend I decided to make asparagus soup. I chose the soup because I love when it is spring and asparagus is finally coming into season. Asparagus is also full of vital nutrients including folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, and many antioxidants. This low calorie superfood made a delicious soup.

Ingredients:
1 lb asparagus*
2 celery stalks, diced
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1/4 cup onion, diced (about 1/2 of a medium sized onion)
5 cups vegetable broth

The beauty of this recipe is that at the end it is blended, so you do not have to worry too much about your knife skills. 

This recipe was adapted by my mom and I to cut down on the pots used and the steps. 

1. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus (typically the bottom 3rd. To test where it is, simply hold the top portion and the bottom of the asparagus and bend until it snaps. Where it broke is the best place to cut the bunch.)

2. Add the bottoms of the asparagus to the 5 cups vegetable broth in a pot, simmer for 20 minutes

3. Remove asparagus with slotted spoon and compost. Add remaining ingredients to broth and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes longer, testing the tenderness of the vegetables a few times along the way.



4. Once asparagus and potato are tender (meaning the fork goes through them easily and the asparagus have lost nearly all of their crunch), turn off the heat, add butter (optional), and use a stick blender or a regular blender to puree the soup.




5. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!




A little history is necessary before I can continue: one of the many reasons I resisted learning to cook for so long is that every time I tried in the past I would burn and/ or cut myself. 


On cooking shows, or even when I just watch my mom, using a stick blender does not seem difficult... It was by far one of my most stressful cooking experiences so far. Boiling liquids and a tumultuous  stick blender that seems to have a mind of its own nearly led to the catastrophic burning of myself and my mom who was trying to teach me how to use it. 


The blender glues itself to the bottom of pot and in order to get all of the chunks blended, my mom kept telling me to lift it off the bottom. However, I took this to mean picking it directly up off of the bottom and fighting the ridiculous amount of resistance that the blender created. When I would finally overpower the suction, I would inevitably yank it from the soup and spray boiling liquid everywhere as the blades spun out of the water. After nearly burning us three times my mom finally clarified that I just need to tilt the blender off the bottom. So much easier and less dangerous!

The soup itself was pretty good, especially when pared with the biscuits (recipe coming soon), but could use a bit more flavor. Next time I am going to try it with some herbs to spice things up a bit.

* Because asparagus can often be expensive, consider growing your own!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sustainable Easter

Courtesy of sustainableeco

Happy Easter everyone. I hope you dyed your free range, organic Easter eggs with vegetables and enjoyed some fair trade, organic chocolate. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Cooked!

I have been saying for quite a while now that I was going to learn to cook in order to be in more independent next year when I live in an apartment with my own kitchen as well as to be more sustainable and cook healthy meals out of local ingredients. I finally started! 

Today I made Spicy Sweet Potato Fries for a snack as well as asparagus soup and buttermilk biscuits for dinner. I will share the fries first and the rest later in the week. 

Ingredients:
2 medium sized sweet potatoes (each should be about 2 servings), cut into matchsticks 
olive oil to lightly coat the cut potatoes
1/2 tsp each of paprika, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper
1/4 tsp each of garlic powder, onion powder, and salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper and cinnamon*

Organic and local are always best.

*if you do not like spicy foods or you are making these for children, you can leave out the cayenne pepper

These fries were super easy to make and much healthier than the battered and deep fried sweat potato fries found in most restaurants or frozen food isles. They also only take about 30-40 minutes depending on how quickly you can prep them. 

Although I enjoyed eating this, I sadly struggled a bit to make them. I did not realize how difficult these oddly shaped sweet potatoes would be to peel, especially with their incredibly thick skin. Sometimes I would only get a few centimeters of skin off at a time. Once I got them peeled things went much better. 



This recipe asked for the sweet potatoes to be coated in egg whites before being seasoned and baked, but that seemed a bit odd to me. In order to decide which would be best, I split the recipe in half and did half with the egg white and the other with a bit of olive oil (which is how my mom makes regular oven fries). Neither one was bad, but the olive oil had a better texture and cooked better. The ones coated in the white had a tendency to burn easier. 


The ones with olive oil are on the left and egg white are on the right.




All in all these fries were a delicious snack, and they would have been even better if I had remembered to put in the chili powder : )


Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day


In honor of Earth Day I wanted to give some quick, easy tips to minimize our impacts and celebrate today:


1. Take a shorter shower or go without for a day

2. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing your hands

3. Challenge yourself to go without buying or throwing out any plastic 

4. Use a reusable water bottle or coffee mug

5. Bring your own lunch

6. Walk, ride, take public transportation, or carpool to where you are going

7. Turn off the lights and only use what you need

8. Turn off the television, computer, and other electronics and instead spend some time with friends and family, read a book, or go outside

9. Eat local food and vegetables for a delicious, earth and human friendly meal

10. Count the things you throw away today or see if you can go all day without needing to put anything in the trash (not including recycling or compost)

To see what Earth Day events are happening near you, check out the EPA, Earth Day, or your local newspaper. 

If you would like to know more about the history of Earth Day and how it all got started, check out EarthDay.org or American Experience: Earth Days by PBS (do not be afraid of the PBS, it is an interesting film).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water


Facts
Water bottle companies are not required to disclose where their water comes from, how it was treated or what contaminants it may contain (including E Coli. and other dangerous substances), or to disclose their test results.

In taste tests people often cannot tell the difference between bottled or tap, or they prefer their tap water. 

The price of bottled water is up to 10,000 times more expensive than tap water.

Americans consume 8.6 billion gallons of bottled water per year, instead of drinking our cleaner and cheaper tap water.

40% of all bottled water is taken from municipal water sources (tap water)

22% of tested bottled water brands contained chemical contaminants at levels above strict state health limits.

Plastic is not easily recycled and it does not break down in landfills. Once we make it, it will outlive us for 1000’s of years.

17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of water bottles every year, this is equivalent to enough fuel for 1 million cares for a year.

It takes 3 times the amount of water to produce the bottle as it does to fill it. In other words, when you buy 1 liter of water, you are really consuming 4 liters, but you only get to drink 1.

Only 1 in 5 water bottles are recycled! The other 4 end up in landfills and in our Oceans (especially in the ocean gyres).

All plastic water bottles leach synthetic chemicals into the water to some degree.

Bottled water companies often hurt the communities that they are taking the water from by buying all of their local water and forcing them to either pay higher prices or drill their own wells.

What can we do?
Bring back public water fountains, drink from the tap, use reusable bottles, and help ban bottles in your city, county, and state.

Don’t like the taste of your local water? Filtering your water at home and drinking out of glasses or a re-usable water bottle are a great way to get the taste you want while saving money and resources. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Story of Bottled Water

In honor of sustainability week and Earth Day I wanted to post this incredible video by Annie Leonard about the benefits of drinking tap instead of bottled water.


Check back tomorrow for some more thoughts about bottled vs. tap water!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Low Carbon Diet

It's no secret these days that animal products, including meat and dairy, have large carbon footprints in comparison to vegetables and other food products. However, what never ceases to amaze me is how much meat Americans consume. Americans have one of the highest rates of meat consumption in the world. It is not uncommon for many of us to eat meat with every meal. 


chart courtesy of American Prospect


This past week Santa Clara University's dining commons, which are run by Bon Appetit Management Company, decided to do a low carbon diet day to help bring awareness to their future plans of decreasing meals with meat on Fridays. Oddly every single main dish or special had meat in it. What carbon calculator were they using?


Shockingly, if Americans went vegetarian for one day, the US would prevent 1.2 million tons of carbon emissions according the New York University Polytechnic Institute. 


Decreasing our consumption of carbon heavy foods can massively affect our carbon emissions. Switching to a vegetarian diet can save more carbon emissions than driving a hybrid vehicle! A vegetarian diet saves 5040 pounds of CO2 per year and a hybrid saves 5000 pounds of CO2 per year according to PlanetGreen.com.


As Earth Day approaches I am not demanding all humans go vegan, or even vegetarian. Instead, I ask that we consider what we eat and take the challenge of reducing meat to one meal a day, meatless Mondays, meatless weekdays, meatless May, or meatless everyday.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Lemon Bundt Cake

I love lemon. I will choose a lemon dessert or dish over anything else, including chocolate. Right now our tiny tree at my family's home is bursting with delicious Meyer lemons, which means I am baking them into all of my favorite deserts as well as trying a few new ones.

After collecting a few ripe lemons from the backyard I decided to make a bundt cake that my mom had found. I got most of the recipe from a video that America's Test Kitchen had published, but they refuse to give the full recipe and instead insist that you pay for it. As a broke college student I decided to get crafty, and I was able to find the full recipe on a site that was nice enough to just let you enjoy this zingy, flavorful cake.


Ingredients:
3 lemons (depending on size and tartness of lemon), zested and juiced for 3 tablespoons of juice and as much zest as possible
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
3 eggs + 1 egg yoke
18 tablespoons butter (2 1/4 sticks)
2 cups sugar

and as always, local and organic are best!


One nice thing about making a cake is that there are so few ingredients. It blows me away that people buy packaged cakes. It only takes a few more minutes to make a cake completely from scratch. Not to mention that mixing your ingredients at home means it has less packaging, fewer chemicals, and you choose your exact ingredients and where they came from. 


The last time I made a bundt cake I forgot to prep the pan. It was a disaster. I spent forever trying to pry the poor thing out and I ended up having to pull it out in mangled pieces. After that experience it always comes pretty quickly to me that I always need to grease the pan. America's Test Kitchen had a great little tip to melt one tablespoon of butter and mix it with one tablespoon of flour before using a brush to coat the inside of the pan. It was quick and I have never had a cake come out so smoothly or perfectly.

To make this cake as delicious as possible it is glazed twice. Once right out of the pan so the heat of the cake melts the glaze into it and again an hour later once the cake has cooled more to give it the bright white glaze we all love. 


Although this cake is by no means healthy, it is nice to indulge every once in a while with a tasty treat. This cake is great for parties or just to share with family, friends, and people in your dorm (especially if you are worried you might eat it all yourself). 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wasteland

This week instead of doing the piles of homework that was assigned to me, I ended up watching Wasteland, which is a documentary about the world's largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. Artist Vik Muniz spent two years working with the local garbage pickers who live off the little money they make sorting through mountains of waste to remove the recyclable objects. Muniz hired the pickers to help create stunning portraits of themselves out the materials they work with every day, trash. This film was an incredible look into how much of the world lives. It also makes you consider where your garbage goes when you put it out on the curb every week.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

reusable produce bags

every time i go to the grocery store or the farmers market i have an internal battle over which is worse- wasting a plastic bag to protect my groceries on the way home and in the fridge or risking contracting some weird disease from the basket or check out counter. when i do choose to use a plastic bag i try to keep it for as long as possible and reuse it. i have looked around online for good reusable produce bags a few times, but i have never found anything i like. i need bags that i can keep fruit and vegetables in the fridge with so they do not get dried out, and most bags are either cotton or mesh which do not keep in moisture.

i am happy to announce that i have found them, the perfect bags



all of the produce bags are made from recycled plastic or hemp. although i cringe any time i hear the word plastic, these are reusing plastic that has already been used instead of creating new materials, and they will last me the rest of my life. these bags are washable, reusable, and perfect for keeping my produce fresh in the fridge. not to mention they come in a cute pouch that i can clip to my bag so i can't forget them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

whole wheat apple scones

my brother has been lusting after scones for months now. i see him at least once a week and each time he brings up scones more than once. the problem with this is that i did not start out wanting scones, but the more he mentioned them, the more i wanted them too. i finally gave in and made us some scones.

now i know what you are thinking- didn't you say you were going to learn to cook? i promise i will, but for now i will share with you my love for baking. 

as far as ingredients go, this recipe was super easy:
1/2 cup of fresh fruit (the recipe asked for pear, but because it's not in season and i had a locally grown apple, i improvised)
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour, plus slightly more for rolling
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 a teaspoon baking powder
1/4 granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (or large granule sugar)




apparently my spatial awareness was not so good... oh well


let me just say that these were thoroughly taste tested! i ate two before i even had them on the cooling rack. now i doubt anyone could say that any scone is healthy, but the upside to these is that they are whole wheat, they can be made with local ingredients, and they are quick and tasty. all my brother and i have to say is "delicious."