Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Quick Note for Our Fashionista Friends

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A friend just bought a very nice leather bag, or as she put it as she unpacked it from the UPS box at work the other day, her first "I'm a grown-up now and can have a real leather" bag. But before members of PETA get up in arms, get this: The bag is made from repurposed leather. That's recycled, folks!

A simple online search for recycled or repurposed leather will lead you to a multitude of fashion and shopping websites, where you can buy purses, wallets, shoes, jewelry—pretty much anything leather—made from old leather jackets and such. And, since I have personally seen, touched, and smelled one of these earth- and fashion-friendly bags, I can promise all you leather lovers that the bag looks good and smells good—just like brand new leather. It does not look like a patchwork quilt, OK?

Now, I do very little fashion shopping myself, so I don't know for sure, but after browsing a little online, I think can safely say most of the items are priced just like new leather, too. But I'm sure the frequent shoppers out there, like my friend, know where to find the good deals.

Some of these handbag designers use leather remnants, like the ones leftover from a purse factory (or whatever they're called), so it's not so much recycling as it is preventing waste—still a great thing. And others are actually out there scouring thrift stores for battered leather goods that they will recycle into other stylish items.

So, I'll end with a reminder that you should always donate to Goodwill (or Salvation Army, etc.) your unwanted clothes and fashion accessories, even if they have holes or other imperfections. A purse designer is out there, searching for those items, eager to cut them to pieces and make something new.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Fruitful Excursion

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Urban gleaning—maybe you've heard of it. Maybe not. It's related to freeganism (a good topic for another post, another time) and salvaging in general. It's big in Portland, Oregon, but is not unique to the Northwest. So what is it exactly?

Gleaning was originally a rural gig; people gathered stray crops left behind after a farmer harvested his fields. I'm not sure if that counts as stealing or not, but I suppose if the farmer isn't going to use the leftovers... Anyway, gleaning has moved into the cities, and in our case, the suburbs. People are picking fruit from seemingly ignored trees in residential areas. I'm not talking about going into people's yards (but if your neighbor has a fruit tree that is just dropping its bounty to rot on the ground, ask him if you can bring over your ladder and have at it—I bet he'll let you). These are fruit trees that don't belong to anybody and are not being picked clean by squirrels, like the trees surrounding an apartment complex.

A few years ago, Len and I noticed a huge crab apple tree in our neighborhood, on what appeared to be common ground, and under it, a massive mush of rotting crab apples, the edible kind just a little bigger than cherries (as opposed to the smaller, purely ornamental variety). We watched the fruit ripen, fall, and rot for two years in a row and were certain that it belonged to no one and was being used by no one. Last summer, we took advantage of this otherwise wasted harvest and picked a Croozer-full of crab apples, which we turned into sweet, tart, beautiful deep-magenta preserves.

We also found a few apple trees that we think exist by happy accident. They are typically near other crab apple trees, so we think they were meant to be ornamental crab apples, but in fact turned out to be full-fledged apples (perhaps due to the grafting of one type of tree onto another type of mature root stock). However they got there, it's free organic fruit! We're pretty sure there are no pesticides being sprayed on these trees, based on the fruit's rustic look. Of course, we nibbled on an apple, to be sure it wasn't some nasty inedible hybrid, and were delighted to find a couple of different and tasty varieties. We have no idea what kind of apples they are; one's Granny Smith-ish, the other is sweeter and more yellow/pink.

This past weekend, we took a bike ride (on our way to the grocery store—gotta combine those errands when you can!) to check on the varying stages of ripeness of "our" trees, and to look for other apple and crab apple trees. We started collecting for preserves and apple butter toward the end of the trees' peaks last year; we wanted to catch them earlier this time around. I'm happy to report we found lots of crab apple trees (more than we can use), some of which are just about ripe now, and even a few new apple trees.

But the best discovery of all (and one we're marking our calendars for next summer) was the apricot tree. Who knew? We can't believe we'd never noticed it before, all the times we've biked past it. But there it was, a litter of small orange fruits all over the ground and plenty more still in the tree. We stopped right there, hoisted ourselves into the tree (it was a big one, old, with thick branches) and picked to our hearts' content. We made apricot jam that very night, and I had apricots in my oatmeal for breakfast the next morning. Delicious. Delightful.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Green Grilling: Gas or Charcoal?

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One of the biggest obstacles to going green is having to give up bits of your lifestyle. You know—the convenience factor. (Why do you think Al Gore called it An Inconvenient Truth?) Recycling at home, for instance, is very convenient (when your neighborhood has curbside pickup). But what about recycling on vacation? A hearty "Great job!" to all of you who carry home bags of empties from your campsites; as for the rest of you... we'll continue this discussion later. I'm sure we'll have many more posts about how to make a difference without eschewing all of your favorite things. I'm a big proponent of being as environmentally friendly as possible while still enjoying life the way you want to enjoy it, so join me in the search for that perfect balance!
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Today, we're talking about grilling. What is summer without cookouts? But burning stuff on our patios can't be good for the environment, so what's the greenest way to grill? Gas or charcoal? The debate that used to be simply about flavor has evolved into a scientific study weighing the environmental impact of obtaining the fuels, burning the fuels, and disposing of their waste. The electric George Foreman grills would probably win the energy contest, but let's be honest—that's not grilling. I'm talking about charring, smoking, barbecuing.
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I shall direct you to yet another Slate article (we do love Slate) on the charcoal vs. gas debate. As the article points out, barbecue emissions account for only 3 ten-thousandths of a percent of the United States' annual carbon footprint, so changing your grilling habits may not matter. But as I will point out, every little bit helps.
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You'll see there are pros and cons to either fuel. But there is one big rule: No lighter fluid! You don't want to breath its harmful compounds, and you don't want its yucky residue on your food. If you use charcoal (we do, for the true smoky flavor of barbecue), get your coals going in a starter chimney with a couple of crumpled pieces of newspaper.
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Perhaps more important than which fuel you use is how you use it. If you're using a gas grill, try not to leave it on any longer than necessary. But if you're cooking over charcoal, take advantage of the coals' lasting heat and grill for as long as possible. Why waste all that heat energy by flipping a few burgers and calling it a night? You could get another hour of good grilling out of those coals!
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When we fire up the grill, we usually have prepared a feast of items to grill in succession, giving us meals for the week. We pile the coals on one side of our rectangular grill so there is a spot for grilling some things over direct heat and a spot for slow-cooking other foods off to the side. One of our latest feasts included burgers, two different kinds of fish, chicken breasts, kabobs, corn on the cob, mixed veggies, potato wedges, onions, and peaches.
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Sometimes we go crazy with marinades and sauces, and it takes three hours to prep everything before we can light the coals, and we end up grilling late into the night. Other times we go for the convenience of bottled sauces, and the prep time simply depends on how long we take to decide which foods we should lay on the grill first. Regardless, it's a fun evening, especially if we're in the mood to try new recipes, and it makes the subsequent weeknight dinners a breeze.
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We do have to add a few more coals to the fire from time to time to keep it at a high, even temperature, but even then we're using fewer coals than we would have if we had grilled each meal on a separate occasion.
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And, there's always fire left for cooking some dessert. (S'mores, of course.)
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Friday, July 3, 2009

Red, White and...Green?

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“Normally I don’t eat steak, a burger AND a brat…but it is the 4th of July. I’m going to need the energy if I’m going to start blowing crap up. It’s what the founding fathers would want.”

-Jim Gaffigan, Beyond the Pale

People love watching fireworks displays, myself included. Must be something about the low whoosh as they’re launched, followed by that brief moment of anticipation before a cannon-like boom sets off half a dozen lame-sounding car alarms, and a shower of sparks fills the night sky with splendor—and sulfurous clouds of who knows what. God bless the U.S.A., right?

At the risk of, well, having my patriotism questioned, I’d like to suggest that we could do some good by downsizing fireworks displays in the years to come. I admit, making that recommendation on July 3rd seems a little late, but sometimes, you don’t think about these things until they’re right in front of you. Nonetheless, trimming the Independence Day pyrotechnics stands to set a far more patriotic example by minimizing land, air and water pollution, while also saving local, city and state government some green, too.

First, the bad news: fireworks imports have been on the rise recently, more than doubling between 1999 (65,000 tons) and 2006 (123,000 tons). This has lead to an increase in atmospheric emissions of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals like barium, antimony sulfide and perchlorate (the latter is found in rocket fuel). So, while the displays may be breathtaking, that's the one thing you wouldn't want to do in the middle of a smoke cloud. The chemicals released often find their way into lakes, affecting fish and other wildlife. In one study, perchlorate levels rose more than 1,000 times above normal and stayed there for 14 hours; levels didn't return to normal for another 20-80 days. The effects of human exposure over long periods are currently unknown. Suddenly, the fields of non-biodegradable fireworks debris, while a concern, don't seem nearly as scary.

Now, the good news: fireworks are still regulated/restricted in many states by the Clean Air Act (whether that's enforced effectively is another story). Pyrotechnicians have also developed biodegradable fireworks shells and a mixture of clean-burning compounds that use nitrogen instead of potassium perchlorate (the only downside is, many large outdoor displays haven't made use of them because—guess what—they're more expensive, and until there's more of an incentive to purchase them, there probably won't be many buyers). And Disney recently pioneered the use of a compressed air launch pad, saving a bit on gunpowder emissions.

Interested in making the case to green up Independence Day? Unfortunately, I don't have many resources to point you to at the moment, but I'll be sure to follow-up with some information. Until then, I suggest starting at the local level and working your way up. You might find that, with a petition and a handful of signatures, your cash-strapped city government might be open to trimming the budget for the 4th. And, while many might groan at the thought, it never hurts to write your congressmen to let them know how you feel. Or hey, you could even start a blog and gripe about whatever you like. :)

If you’re like me and have a love-hate relationship with fireworks, you might like this article.

Until next time, happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Table in the Alley

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At long last, a pic of the table I found in the alley, which is now about 300 miles away (and possibly being chewed up, ala the squad car in Turner & Hooch, by a crazy dog). Except for a little scratching in the near left corner, was in pretty good shape, and after a little polishing, I'd say it still has some life in it. Hopefully my SIL enjoys!