Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

On Food: The Musical Fruit June 9, 2008

Filed under: On Food — adm @ 1:14 am
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The Musical FruitOh how I love beans! Kidneys, pinto’s black, white, cranberry, garbanzo and so many more I don’t have time to mention. They’re cheap, versatile, (did I mention musical?) and nutritious. Mixed with a grain you have a complete protein. What could be better?

Beans are a staple food in our home. They are actually one of those foods we can buy organic almost as inexpensively as non-organic. We belong to a very local buying club that orders from Country Life Natural Foods. Their prices are great. We can buy a variety of dried beans for $1.10-$1.35/lb. You can also find them fairly inexpensively in the bulk section of many health food stores. So, if you’re trying to buy organic and want to save money in the process choose dried beans over canned.

“Wait!” you say, “They take too long to cook and I don’t think that far ahead!”. Either do I. I’m great at whipping something up out of whatever I can find, (even weeds or berries from the backyard). Forethought and food, however, do not often go hand in hand for me. So here is what I do to have ready-made beans on hand for any occasion, (and what an occasion it will be!)

Now, before I start you should know that there is all sorts of controversy over how to correctly cook beans. Soak or not soak? Use the soaking water or throw it out? Salt the water or leave the salt until later? I say, they’re BEANS for pete’s sake. If you want to get some expert advice on bean prep go to the Central Bean Co. I guess that’s all I have to say about that. Anyway, onward.

Have a bean cooking day. Soak whatever variety of beans you’d like to have on hand the night before in room temperature water. They should be softer and ready to cook by morning. Then, drain the soaking water off of the beans, put them in a pot that will hold them and cover them with new water by about and inch or so. Do not salt the water. I have found that it interferes somehow with the cooking process and causes the beans to be crunchy. Get the beans to a simmer and cook for 1-1.5 hours. Drain the beans well. Start the second batch/variety of beans on the stove. Meanwhile, take the cooked and drained beans and prepare them for the freezer. There are a few ways to do this, here are the two I’ve had success with:

You want the beans to be frozen somewhat individually so you can scoop out as many as you need for a recipe. So take a towel and carefully dry off each bean, place it gently in the freezer…just kidding. Really, it depends on how you want to store them in the freezer. If you want to store them in plastic freezer bags then put them in the bags and stack them flat on the freezer shelf so they are not in a clump but a thin(ish) layer. When they have completely frozen you can give the bag a good whack on the counter and they will break apart into separate beans and manageable clumps. If you are averse to plastic you can also store them in tempered glass jars in the freezer, (like canning jars). To do this you will want to freeze the beans on a cookie sheet first, scoop them off when frozen, put them in the jars and back to the freezer.

Now you have beans all ready for a recipe. I usually scoop out what I need, (sometimes let them thaw a bit depending on the recipe) and I’m ready to go. I’ve found that since I’ve started doing this we eat beans on a more regular basis.

I will close with this very interesting use for beans. I got this idea from a friend. Try substituting the butter for beans in a cookie recipe. Mash the beans really, really well, (white beans work best but any will do) and mix them in the dough instead of butter. It sounds crazy, but it really does work. You get higher protein, lower fat cookies with a few extra anti-oxidants. Try it!


Ecologically Speaking: Wet Feet June 8, 2008

Filed under: Ecologically Speaking — adm @ 8:22 pm
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First carbon now water, what’s next? Well, in a rare opportunity to read an article in Discover magazine I was introduced to the idea of a water footprint. I’ve been taking strides towards water conservation for a while now. Ok, to be really honest I’ve been taking strides toward cash flow conservation for a while now and when the water is running the pump is also (we have a well) and I swear I can hear the electric meter happily spinning away. Regardless, however it happens, as long as it happens it’s a good thing. I take shorter showers than I used to. I turn off the water when I brush my teeth and instruct my children to do so as well. I only run the dishwasher when it’s absolutely full, (which, consequently, in my house is almost every evening). I’ve even gone to making exactly as much coffee as I’ll drink in a morning, (with my lovely little Bodum french press). But apparently there is more to it than that. Great. There is this thing called “virtual water”, (if things are virtual are they things at all? -wait, must stay on topic, getting distracted…). For example, did you know one little apple actually has a water footprint of about 18.5 gallons? About 10.5 gallons of water goes into producing one slice of wheat bread. And a whopping 4,100 gallons of water has gone into the production of a little over 2 pounds of beef. How does this work? Well, the apple tree and the wheat need water to grow. Same story with the cows but water used to grow the cow’s feed and water used in farm maintenance also goes into this equation.

Now my husband, ever searching for opportunities for sarcasm, asks what the water footprint of a salmon would be since they need the whole ocean. How dare he challenge the doctrine of the Green?! He’s got a point though. Sometimes this water is produced in nature. I’m sure there isn’t going to be a lot of irrigation going on in orchards that receive plenty of rain. I know a lot of farmers and they’re not going to spend money on anything that will fall out of the sky for free.  Would you?  However, I suppose we should ask ourselves what the heck we are doing  raising cows for beef if we live in a place that is parched for water. Maybe the lesson is really to grow things that don’t require as much human intervention to thrive in your area. It’s not the best idea to grow cherries in Arizona or prickly pear fruit in Alaska. I wanted to make my own Tequila but my agave garden just isn’t happy with 7 months of snow…

What if you don’t grow any food? Well, generally eating less meat lowers your water footprint a great deal. Animals take much more water to thrive then plants do and end up with much less of a net food yield. There are certain animals, however, that do need less water, -chicken, lamb and goat for example. Don’t tell my goats.

It’s something to think about. Check out the site below and see what your footprint is. There is an option for a rather generic estimate and an option for a quite detailed one. That is if you have the time and inclination. I have the inclination -not the time. Alas.