Thursday, December 31, 2015

So THAT'S why the bulk sections don't carry baking powder.....

Zero-Waste Shopping. It really is worth the effort.

Living up here in the PNW, I've really enjoyed the ease of recycling.

I've lived many places, and this is the most accessible. We have at home recycling (no need to sort - they prefer it all mixed together), compost/yard waste pickup, and lots of local businesses that recycle the things you can't put in the common recycling. Wine for Less will take old corks. Value Village will take any textiles in any condition, and your appliances and electronics. Styro-Recycling will take all forms of styrofoam, so I keep a bag to drop by them when I'm down shopping in that neighborhood.

Then, to add to the mix - features company-driven recycling programs to take back the odd packaging and bottles. I collect items to send back to Tom's of Maine (all personal care packaging and bottles, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes), Garnier (Makeup packaging and used compacts), Bic (pens, markers and highlighters), Brita (old water filters) and Mom's Cereal (Cereal box liners, and bulk cereal bags). It's a great resource - and they pay for your shipping labels!

But, I read "Zero-Waste Home" and watched a few youtube videos of other people trying to minimize their impact - and "Eureka," you don't have to recycle things that you never took in the first place.

What a concept!

It's taken me some time to get my "shopping kit" pulled together. Since I do a lot of my shopping via bike in the summer months, hauling around a lot of heavy glass jars isn't an option. I've looked at purchasing bulk bags on Etsy, and may do so in the future, but whipped up a few dry good bags for myself - but checkout people are a little suspicious of bags when they can't see the contents.

So with some trial and error, my shopping kit generally contains the following:

Zero Waste Shopping Bag Contents:
1 Large Burlap Carryall
1 Small collapsible bag
2-3 French Glass Jars with Flip Lids (great for the meat and deli counters - have them slap the sticker right on top)
1 Old Peanut Butter Jar (plastic)
1 Bag of old Bread Bags (turn them inside out, or the bar code will just keep scanning!)
1 Mesh Bag full of mesh produce bags
2 Paper Coffee Bean Bags (one for each store that I purchase beans - as they need the PLU scanning number to ring it in)
1 Ziplock Bag with bulk paper ties (I haven't found a good reusable alternative, so I try to reuse the twist ties as long as there is still room to write the bulk item number on them)

And you know what? My food may look a little funny as it comes floating down the checkstand, but it's exactly the same food as everyone else's. And after you get used to being the weirdo hippie chick purchasing items in strange containers - and thicken your skin a bit, because people will comment (either the checker or the person behind you in line), you realize - what does it matter if my bag is fresh, clear plastic right off the roll in the bulk section, or an inside-out bread bag - it does exactly the same job.

Here's my shopping from yesterday:
Coffee Beans, Quart of Milk, Jar of Hair Conditioner, Evaporated Cane Sugar, White Sugar and Salt

One thing I've been doing, is carrying around my baking powder jar trying to refill it. I've had NO luck. Not at the specialty spice stores, not at the grocery stores, not even at PCC. Something in the back of my brain was niggling at each location, thinking that it must be something whipped up from other ingredients, and that's why no one carries it. I mean, no one.

So, in the bulk section of the fanciest Hippy Grocery Store I could find, I looked up the recipe. And sure enough,

Baking Powder:
2 Tsp Cream of Tartar
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Corn Starch (optional, for clumping)

So there you have it, just another DIY skill learned - and another thing I don't have to buy prepackaged (but I will save my baking powder jar, 'cause I think it's cute).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I can see the future....and it involves knitting stockings....

So, I'm a little crafty. And in trying to find more ways to learn to make things instead of buying them, I have found loads of new skills to learn, recipes to try, and outlets for creativity that feel very "Little House."

One thing I ALWAYS wanted to do was knit socks. The highlight of my year is getting a new pair of socks from my Aunt Becky to add to my collection. Someday, I will have a sock drawer that looks like this:

Photo by Nanette via

I also love to find knitted sweater dresses to wear as tunics over knit dresses and tights in the cooler winter months - Seattle doesn't really have a very hot summer or very cold winter most years, so my wardrobe only needs a few tweaks to take it from summer to winter.

I've been looking at patterns on ravelry, and I like a lot of them - but they're generally geared towards the modern style. I'm definitely a vintage I've been hesitant to start a new project that I'm not sure I will love.

And then, I discovered PDFs of Vintage Knitting Patterns on Etsy. My cart is full.

I can see the future - and it involved reproductions of 1950s crocheted dresses, and knit sweater tights and stockings!!!!! It's all so exciting! (I must finish the one pair of socks that I've been working on for over a I can move on to something new and cooler!)

I mean, LOOK AT THESE!!!

Life is going to get very very crafty!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Making Yogurt - or, gosh - another thing that's ridiculously simple NOT to buy!

My husband really likes Yogurt.

I do as well, but I'm very basic. I like vanilla yogurt. Period. I like it with granola. I've tried other flavors, and liked a few, but I'm turned off by slimy gooey fruit-on-the-bottom cropping up in my perfectly smooth, yummy breakfast.

My boy likes all sorts of flavors, and I've been pleased at having something vaguely healthy that he'll eat. Normally I'm trying to hide vegetables underneath his meat. (To be fair, if I put vegetables on his plate, he will eat them all...leading to one unfortunate Brussel Sprout vs. Small, Intimate Theater episode that will go down in our marital history)

A lot of blogs and friends have said that making yogurt is so easy that one MUST try it at home. I didn't really have much of an opinion on yogurt - zero-waste wise. My toothbrushes are made from recycled yogurt cups, so it felt like a wash. But I found a really cool yogurt maker at Value Village, and had my husband give it to me for Christmas.

It turns out that mine is a 1974 Salton Yogurt Maker. What I like best about it, is it comes with 5 glass yogurt cups, with plastic lids (probably not BPA free, but they aren't being particularly warmed, so I'm not too concerned) - that are about the same size as a standard store-bought yogurt cup.

The approach is actually fairly simple.

4 C. Whole Milk (You can use 2% or Skim, but they won't make as thick a yogurt)
3 Tbsp Plain Yogurt (As a starter - after the first batch you can use your own yogurt)

Bring milk to 180 Degrees (just boiling), immediately cool to 120 degrees. If a film forms, remove. Add 1 cup of warm milk to Yogurt. Blend lightly. Add mixture to remaining warm milk. Pour equally into yogurt cups (or glass jars). Put in yogurt maker (Or surround jars with warm water - keep refreshing water every hour or so). Let sit undisturbed for 5-10 hours. The longer you leave them, the tangier the yogurt will be. Strain out the whey for Greek Yogurt.

I started mine at an odd hour, and had to get up at 2am to take my yogurt out of the warmer. I put them straight into the fridge, and this morning awoke to lovely, fully "gelled" plain yogurt.

Then, came the fun part! Choosing flavors!

Yesterday, I ate the remaining single serve tub of Greek Yogurt I'd purchased for my starter. I wanted to gauge what type of sweetener tasted good to me. So I did half with honey, and ate the other half with a little brown sugar sprinkled in. Both were yummy - I liked the flavor of the brown sugar more, but it was a touch grainy.

This morning, I looked up some various recipes, and discovered some things.

1. Adding sugar/flavored syrups to plain yogurt can break down the yogurt and make it very runny.
2. Adding frozen fruit to yogurt can water down the yogurt and make it very runny.

Basically, yogurt is a tricky little beast, and getting too tricksy with it can make very runny yogurt. Lots of women then were sharing tricks of adding gelatin and pudding powder, or kool aid mix, or lemonade powder - basically anything with some gelling agent to add flavor without watering the yogurt down. But then, for me, what is the point of going to all the effort of making your own, only to add a whole ton of artificial flavors, fillers, gelatin, etc.

But one lady had a really good idea. Add jam. It will add a little sweetener, a gelling agent, and you can mix in some whole fruit (defrosted) to add some heft.

So I mixed one Tbsp of jam with some tiny bits of chopped frozen fruit, nuked it for 30 seconds to warm the fruit a bit, allowed to cool, and spooned it onto the top of the yogurt. My boy can mix it when he eats it, it looks really pretty, and if he needs a little more sweetness than the jam offers, he can always add a bit more honey or sugar.

So, here is the final product!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Year End of 2015

This has been an interesting year. Many things have changed. Some things that I love to do have fallen by the wayside (like blogging, in a world with instant updates on the fly via Facebook)...some new opportunities have arisen from the ashes of some 'failures.' Here are a few things that meant a lot to me, as I look back over this year:

1. The Locavore Movement:

I didn't set out to be a foodie, or a hippie, or crazy leftist, or a hipster. But some serious reading on the subject of food production, as well as my own struggle to deal with my own weight gain (more on that later), led me to really look into food, how it's produced, what it does to your body, and what your body does with all of the additives, preservatives, pesticides, and genetic modifications that have been done to our food to make it pretty in the stores, and travel across the globe. Yes, there's a lot of hyperbole - and rhetoric. But the logical extension of following the money trail lead me to change how I shop and eat. Will I never eat a cheese-it again? No. But with more and more evidence that how we live isn't going to last much longer at the rate we are polluting our planet, and government agencies unable to effect change, I too will adopt the mantra to "Be the Change You Want to See in the World."

I will buy food locally, I will prepare much myself from scratch. And I've discovered a joy in doing so! I mean, let's be straight here, I've never been exactly undomestic - 4-H, Little House on the Prairie, and homeschooling set me up to succeed in the domestic arts. BUT, I am also well educated, well read, and a feminist. BUT - I think that we have choices now, and a working woman can also enjoy knitting. A career woman can come home and bake a cake if she wants to. And by jove, if either party wants to stay at home and start an Etsy store - by all means, lets do so! My generation grew up in the height of consumer culture. We've had BUY NOW screamed at us since birth. But all of my friends, in their varied ways, are discovering for themselves that making is more satisfying that buying. That putting our own hard work and love and sweat into our possessions makes them worth more than all of the mindless shopping in the world. We are enjoying the simpler pleasures, finding joy in cups of tea and nature walks, and realizing all of the money, and all of "success" doesn't actually bring happiness - and we're willing to explore living in the moment, and finding the small victories.

2. Zero Waste Shopping:

Hand in hand with the food production, is the amount of packaging that is used to make things attractive to us. It's been a challenge in our food-desert to find a grocery store, much less one with a good bulk section, or who will put deli meats in jars for me. But with a year of work (Thank you, Zero Waste Home, for warning me that the first six months are the hardest), I have finally cobbled together a set of stores that will accommodate me. Sadly, I don't have one single one-stop shopping location - but as I've tried to keep my food costs in check (though, I've allowed for costlier grocery bills with the change to organic), I've found that bulk foods really do offer the best value, as well as generally higher quality foods than their boxed counterparts. (Most bulk foods are organic, even if they aren't advertised as such). And, if I can manage to get there on my bike instead of in my car - then I can feel really smug!

I'm not at 100% yet. But I'd say I run about 80% on my own purchases, and 60% as a household. That's not a bad start for the first year out.

3. Biking!

Biking has been this year's best adventure! It began with a mixture of reasons. I had recently picked up a small waitressing job down the street from my house that was a little far to walk early in the morning, but hardly far enough to merit using a car to get there. I also was continuing to struggle with wanting to find a way to rid myself of 25lbs of weight I'd gained since I got married, that no amount of exercising seemed able to budge. Plus - bikes are great accessorizing opportunities.

So, while costuming Wizard of Oz, I walked into a gear trade in store and found Polly outside in the sale section. She's heavy, and slow, but she's sturdy and tough and pretty. And I started biking to work. Then to costume storage. Then to the post office, and the thrift stores, and the farmer's markets and then loaded her onto a bus and started making the loops around to my grocery stores...and finally - up to drop off alterations and down to the good bulk food store south of me. Now I consider a 25 mile loop a fairly easy ride - although, since she's not a speedster, it's a fairly nice half day trip. But this summer I wasn't in a show, and could get off work and spend the afternoon biking all over the place.

Now that the weather has turned, I miss the long days spent on the bike. I'm not enough of an uber biker to enjoy the rainy riding - and I'm back in the swing of theater for the year, so there's just too many days spent dashing from place to place. But spring will come again....and Polly and I will be back on the road!!!

4. Etsy

My Etsy store has continued to grow in small increments. In this, my 2nd year, she's grown from "pocket money" to "gas and groceries." On the days that I've spent an entire 8 hours listing items, I've seen quite a serious increase in views and sales, and can see how this might become a bigger business if I decide to devote more time to the shop. For now, this is a nice venture growing at a nice pace for me - and I'm enjoying the process of making my store prettier, my photographs more polished, and my listings more styled. So far, I'm finding quite a bit of success in all of my categories, and will continue to sell a mix of vintage, handmade and eco-friendly items.

I've done several craft fairs and expos this year. I haven't had much success selling in person, but fellow vendors tell me that craft fairs take a bit of time - and that I should view each as a learning experience.

5. Costume Design:

This was a busy year Design-wise. Each year I try to work at one new venue. This past year, I had several new takers. Then, towards the end of the season, I was let go of a long-held resident designer-ship for reasons completely unrelated to job performance. This rather threw me for a week or so. But, as it turned out, the ensuing gaps in my calendar were all filled within a week, and more work became available than I could reasonably accomplish for the rest of my season. And then, the icing on the cake, one of the biggest theaters in town called and interviewed and hired me to costume design for their touring production. I've just begun there, and am so thrilled to have this huge new opportunity - that I have to say that the work I lost has been well replaced by more fulfilling work in better venues with more visibility. So, win-win. I've also been able to take on a few projects with colleagues that I enjoy, or favors for friends that are simply personally fulfilling. So, I look forward to a busy spring.

6. Acting:

This one has been difficult for a couple of seasons. Even though I was warned that all performance hits a wall at some point, I have had two seasons now of "rejections." With one HUGE exception. Playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd was quite simply the highlight of my year. It has been a dream role for me in a dream show. With a costar who was a joy to work with from beginning to end. I could not have asked for a better experience. It really was the best show ever.

Since then, I've been asked when I'll be appearing in something next. I honestly can't say. I've had quite a few callbacks, but nothing has materialized for quite some time. So, I'll keep on plugging away, and remember that no one ever said that a career as an actress would be easy or quick. Luckily, I have a lot of pursuits that keep me fulfilled as a human as I wait to see what will happen with this focus. In the meantime, the afterglow from Sweeney Todd will keep me going for quite a while.

7. Le Marriage:

Of course, the best part of any year is the gag-reflex inducing, adorable happiness that comes from being married to the right person. We're so cute it's disgusting, and it's only getting worse with time. I hate to be one of those #hashtag couples, but without gushing too much, it is satisfying. It is fun. It is good. It is comfortable. It is lovely. It is exciting, and frustrating, and amusing, and maddening - but I'm a better person for it, and I can't imagine my life any other way...

8. Compassion

Because I believe in giving secretly, I find it difficult to articulate how charitable endeavors without feeling humble-braggy. But really, as a huge extension of "Be The Change" - there are many ways to give back, and endless way to do so. I have found much personal satisfaction in feeling that I'm doing a bit to make the world a little better, both in the negative - by making my money "vote" for better stewardship of resources on the planet, and in the positive - by taking my surplus and trying to find ways to use it for the good of individuals.