Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beyond the Day

How ironic that, in the last few weeks, it was on Earth Day and its weekend that we used our car the most.  It was that darn rain that shouldn’t have kept me off the bicycle but did (I’m not being so wimpy about the wet and wild weather this week) and various family Easter gatherings that led to more than 150 miles of driving.  Yeesh.  And gas prices were nearing $4.30 in our neck of the woods and even higher near the city.

But, one good thing that came from all that fuel-burning (besides all the food we ate and the quality time spent with loved ones, of course) was that we passed a billboard for Earth Hour.  Remember that?  It was in March.  I told you to participate.  The billboard said, “This Earth Hour, go beyond the hour.” That means regularly unplugging your electronics when you’re not using them.  Turning off the lights when you leave a room (like, duh).

We’ve been unplugging our TV, digital converter, and DVD player, which are conveniently connected to one power strip, as well as our amplified antenna (rabbit ears you can plug in to boost their reception), before we go to bed at night and just anytime we’re not watching a show.  We also unplug the microwave and coffee maker whenever they are not actively heating or brewing something for us.  It means when we do use them, they don’t display the right time, but how many digital clocks do we need in the kitchen, anyway?  And, of course, of course, if we’re not charging the cell phones, the chargers are not plugged in!  Yes, the chargers suck energy even when they’re not charging something.

A fun experiment is to watch your electric meter outside and see how the speed of the numbers rolling along changes when you run (or don’t run) certain things in the house.  Len was watching ours slowly count our kilowatts when it spun a little faster for a few seconds.  “What just happened?” he asked. “What did you change?”  It was our fridge cycling on.  Interesting.  Well, interesting for nerds like us.

So that’s taking Earth Hour beyond the hour.  What about taking Earth Day beyond the day?  Lots of people already are.  Lots people still need to.  And, what that means to each person is different.  Maybe organic gardening, public transportation, rain barrels, eating only local produce.  

For us, it means the trash can is a last resort, it means bicycling in the rain so we don’t have to use the car, it means stirring the compost more frequently in anticipation of a vegetable garden, and it means hanging the laundry out to dry...just as soon as it warms up and stops raining.  It could mean more, though.  Water conservation, to name one category, is something we need to work on.  We're not complete water gluttons, taking 30-minute showers, watering a vast lawn twice day, but it's an area in need of improvement.  Future post?

What does it mean to you to take Earth Day beyond the day?  What more could it mean to you?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last of 2010's Bounty - Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

You may not believe what we had for dinner the other night.  Butternut squash from our garden.  That's right, until a few days ago, we still had three small butternuts left from our 2010 garden.  And I mean fresh ones, not frozen or canned or dehydrated.  These babies have been sitting patiently in our pantry for more than five months without rotting or drying out or going bad in any other way.  You gotta love the shelf life of winter squash! 

As you may already know, we keep our thermostat quite low over the winter, which conserves energy and makes us very uncomfortable unless we are under lots of blankets, with the added benefit of creating a root cellar–like atmosphere in our kitchen.  Our pantry then works like a basement, where most people would normally store their autumn harvests for the winter months.

So, that's the last of last summer's garden, not counting anything we froze or canned.  And, here's what we made with it:

Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup
(adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes)

1 cup dry lentils
2 1/2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala*
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

Rinse and drain lentils.  Then mix all ingredients in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 9 hours (or on high setting for 4 to 5 hours). 

Before serving, we like to puree the soup using an immersion blender.  You could also do it in batches in a regular blender.  It comes out looking like baby food, so, if that grosses you out, just don't puree it.  You may also want to add extra broth if the soup seems too thick.

*Garam masala is an Indian seasoning, and it makes this soup what it is.  You can probably find it in the spice aisle in most large grocery stores.  It's actually a savory and harmonious blend of spices like nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cumin, and pepper, among others.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Loaner

I’m sorry, I thought it was spring.

This cold weather has been especially disappointing considering the groundhog did not see his shadow this year, signifying an early spring. Maybe no one around here remembers that rare occurrence because we had two feet of snow February 2, but it happened! Now, I ask, where is the spring? The calendar says it is spring. The air outside begs to differ. Grrr. (Or should I say, brrr.)

We’re still biking, though. If you’re like me, once you’ve been on the bicycle for the first time each year, your addiction awakens. I don’t care that it’s cold; I want to avoid the car at all costs. And it does cost—it costs us comfort and time. But it saves us money that would have been spent on gas (which was $3.89 today!). And it makes us fitter, so you could argue that it saves us a trip to the gym (if we normally spent time at the gym, that is). I admit we broke the biking streak (not to be confused with streaking while bicycling, which we did not do) last week when rain was forecast for a couple of days and when we had an evening engagement that just didn’t allow time for biking. But this week, we’re back to freezing our buns off on the bikes everyday. It sucks, and yet it’s invigorating. I feel alive and self-sufficient and strong.

Also this week, I’ve been using a borrowed bike while mine awaits some repairs—most importantly, my back wheel is out of true and some ball bearings could be replaced, and while we’re at it, the chain is old and slack and one of the brake cables is shredded. Oh, and how about some new handlebar grips? But we must not be the only ones who’ve kicked off bike season, because the bike store’s repair shop was booked until next Wednesday! I can’t go back to using the car everyday for a week and a half! Thankfully, Len’s parents were kind enough to lend me one of their bikes.

It is very different from my bike, which is a path-and-pavement hybrid. This loaner is a cruiser, more pleasure than business, so the tires are much fatter, the handlebars are wider, and the pedals are a little out in front of the seat instead of directly beneath it. It's basically the Buick of bikes, and it’s a very comfortable ride. Very comfortable. But it’s meant for cruising around town in a leisurely fashion. So, I’ve discovered that my commute, which I thought was about equally up-and-down in each direction, is actually mostly uphill on the way to the train station. I discovered that the gears on this bike are not really calibrated for speed, and the pedals are not positioned for powering up hills, because I missed my train Monday morning. I now know I have to give myself an extra 10 minutes in the morning to compensate for the slowness of this very comfortable, temporary transport. The ride home, on the other hand, took about the same amount of time as it would have on my own bike—because it’s mostly downhill that way. I wouldn’t have known.  Now I do.

Anyway, I’ll gladly take the slow bike over the car. Like I said, I’m addicted to biking after that first week. Or is it more of an aversion to the car than an addiction to the bike? Doesn’t matter. The point is, I strongly prefer to bike, so I’m happy to have the loaner. Besides, it’s a very comfortable loaner. Did I mention that?