February 2013 - Our Daily Green

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

US High Speed Railroad Vision

United States High speed rail system
US High Speed Rail System concept is made by Alfred Twu; distributed via Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Green Housing: In Buffalo, It's Not Just for Rich People Anymore (YES! reprint)

Can we build sustainable housing that's affordable, too? The city of Buffalo did, and created a community jobs pipeline in the process. Here's what can happen when neighborhoods take the lead.
Buffalo Green Zone photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell
Scenes from PUSH Buffalo's green rehab of 10 Winter Street. Photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell /PUSH Buffalo.
Massachusetts Avenue Park was not a place you'd want to take your kids. Before, the small neighborhood park in the heart of Buffalo's West Side was little more than vacant land with a small playground and a crumbling basketball court. “It was a real mess,” says Terry Richard, a neighborhood resident who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and later moved to Buffalo by way of Brooklyn. “So we figured … why don’t we just take this on as a task to really force the city’s hand to take care of their problem,” she adds, standing next to the park’s new playground with a bright smile.
Buffalo is located where the waters of Lake Erie feed into the swift currents of the Niagara River. It was established as a major grain shipping and storage center in the late 19th century, but as shipping routes changed and heavy industry packed up and left the Great Lakes region, Buffalo's population rapidly declined. In 1950, Buffalo's population was about 580,000, but by the 2010 census it had fallen to about 260,000.
It isn't just the population that's been shrinking though: Employment numbers are down, and like other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo has struggled to support its infrastructure with a shrinking tax base. The rebirth of Massachusetts Avenue Park echoes many other stories taking shape throughout the city. Instead of waiting for the city to make things better, residents like Richard are taking matters into their own hands.
Richard is a board member for People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), a grassroots organization based in Buffalo that seeks to provide affordable, environmentally friendly housing and job training.
In early June PUSH celebrated the opening of Phase 1 of the small but pleasant new Massachusetts Avenue Park, which resulted from about two years of petitioning City Hall to fund the project. The park is just one piece of PUSH's broader plan to create a Green Development Zone within the West Side—a 25-block area where the group is developing sustainable, affordable housing and creating new career pathways for neighborhood residents.

There Goes the Neighborhood

Like many Buffalo neighborhoods, the West Side is full of vacant properties, and PUSH co-founders Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker wanted to know why. When they launched the organization in 2005, their first order of business was to conduct a survey of Buffalo's West Side, which meant going door-to-door in the community for about six months.
Eric Walker photo courtesy of TEDx
Eric Walker, co-founder of PUSH, promotes the mission of creating strong neighborhoods with hiring opportunities and community resources. Photo courtesy ofTEDxBuffalo.
With a bit of digging, they discovered that a sub-agency of the New York State Housing Finance Agency was in control of nearly 1,500 tax-delinquent properties in the city—about 200 of which were on the West Side—that were being left to rot. In 2003, the state of New York's Municipal Bond Bank Agency bought the delinquent tax liens for those homes, which were then bundled and sold as bonds to investment bank Bear Stearns.
But there was one major problem: According to a report published in Artvoice, Buffalo's main alternative weekly, the assessed value of the properties was much higher than they were actually worth. In effect, the state was using vacant houses in Buffalo to speculate on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, nothing was happening with the houses; the state was neither maintaining them nor selling them. "There just was absolutely no due diligence done as part of the transaction," Bartley said. "If there had been, they would've seen that bond was fraudulent."
The value of bonds was based on revenue that was supposed to have been generated by the houses, through either selling them or collecting unpaid taxes. But the state made little effort to sell or collect taxes on the properties. Why? Because doing so would reveal the true value of the properties, according to Bartley, and the house of cards would come crumbling down. "The reason they didn't do that is that would've shown the lie to the deal, because they would have sold for $0, and it would have indicated that it was worthless," Bartley explained.

PUSH renovation photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell
PUSH renovation in Buffalo's Green Development Zone. Photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell / PUSH Buffalo.

When Bartley and Walker made the discovery, they tried to bring it to the attention of state officials through standard channels, but when that failed they launched a direct action campaign. Using a big stencil, they painted an image of then-Gov. Pataki's face on more than 200 houses across the city. Eliot Spitzer was campaigning for governor at the time, and he took an interest in the issue. When Spitzer took office, his administration unwound the bond, gave the houses back to the city of Buffalo, and created a small housing rehab fund. The houses were turned back into the city's inventory, and when PUSH or one of its partner organizations wants to redevelop one, they ask to have it transferred.

The Green Zone

Two years later, PUSH invited hundreds of residents to a neighborhood planning congress to draft a development plan for the largely blighted 25-block area on the West Side that would later become the Green Development Zone (GDZ). The plan went far beyond energy-efficient affordable housing to include the creation of employment pathways and promoting economic stability within the zone.
"Sustainability" in the context of PUSH's agenda means reducing the neighborhood's environmental impact, but also strengthening the local economy and creating green jobs.
On the surface, the GDZ still looks similar to other Buffalo neighborhoods: The streets are lined with 100-year-old two- and three-story houses, and in the summer, they teem with people. Old ladies sit and talk on first-floor balconies, while kids weave in and out of slow-moving traffic on bicycles. But this small neighborhood is in the midst of a pretty radical transformation.
"Sustainability" in the context of PUSH's agenda means reducing the neighborhood's environmental impact, but also strengthening the local economy and creating green jobs in the building rehabilitation and weatherization industries. PUSH was instrumental in getting the Green Jobs - Green New York legislation passed, which seeks to create 35,000 jobs while providing green upgrades and retrofits for 1 million homes across the state. PUSH recently established PUSH Green to implement the GJGNY program in the Buffalo area, functioning as an independent outreach contractor in the region. For the work, PUSH has established what it calls a "Community Jobs Pipeline," a network of contractors who agree to provide job training, pay living wages, and hire local workers from target populations.

Energy-efficient—and Affordable Too

In September, PUSH held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for three gut-rehab buildings with a total of 11 affordable housing units, bringing the total number of residential units PUSH completed in the GDZ to 19.
Green buildings enjoy lower operating costs, but they're more common in luxury real estate portfolios than in the inner city.
But the organization has much bigger ambitions. In December, PUSH announced plans to build nine new-construction buildings and to renovate seven existing properties, adding a total of 46 more energy-efficient, affordable units to the neighborhood. "We're very strategic in our development work, so we've taken a small section of the West Side, and we're really trying to concentrate our development," explained PUSH Development Director Britney McClain. "We don't want to contribute to the scattershot development work that is also common in the city of Buffalo."
Ensuring that the homes it produces are energy-efficient is an important component of PUSH's work, because heating and energy costs account for a large percentage of living expenses in Buffalo. "A lot of the houses in this city are over 100 years old and poorly insulated, so to have an apartment at an affordable rate but also that is totally energy-efficient, through the new windows and insulation, the utilities bills will be drastically reduced," McClain told me.
PUSH renovation photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell
PUSH in action. Photo by Whitney Arlene Crispell / PUSH Buffalo.
Green buildings enjoy lower operating costs, but they're more common in luxury real estate portfolios than in the inner city. That's a perception that PUSH is looking to change.
In 2011, PUSH completed a net-zero energy house—a home that produces as much energy as it uses. The project was launched to showcase renewable energy technologies and to help give low-income residents paid job training. In the process, the builders found another innovative use for vacant lots: They dug a deep trench in the adjacent lot to provide geothermal heating and cooling for the house. On all of the buildings, PUSH reuses existing materials where possible, upgrades the windows and insulation, and installs Energy Star-rated metal roofs that help to passively cool the buildings.

Extreme Neighborhood Makeover

Back at the PUSH headquarters I met co-founder Eric Walker, who I instantly recognized even though we had never met. Walker guest-starred on an episode of ABC's reality TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that aired in 2010. In a typical episode of the show, a handful of hyperactive celebrities and local volunteers target a distressed home that is owned by a family undergoing illness, disaster, or some other hardship, and they quickly fix it up for the family in need. Instead of just fixing up one house, though, PUSH and some 4,500 volunteers teamed up with the show's producers to fix up several surrounding properties in the neighborhood as well.
House IllustrationThink Small: A New Model for Housing
Why go back to the way things were when we can create housing that embraces the best of tradition and the best of new thinking?
Extreme Makeover brought the West Side some positive national exposure, but Walker still has mixed feelings about the show. Neighborhood improvement can either come from external forces or it can come from within, and the forces of change portrayed in the show weren't entirely homegrown. "In organizing, we talk about three kinds of power: power over, power for, and power with," explains Walker. The TV show gave PUSH an opportunity to inspire, but the tools of change were in the hands of the ABC producers and the celebrity hosts—not members of the community. "It was one step removed from the power we're trying to build," Walker says.
The TV cameras packed up and left, but the transformational power remains in the neighborhood. It is evident in the carefully restored Victorians that line Massachusetts Avenue; in the raised beds the community has acquired through PUSH; and in the fact that parents now take their children to the once-dangerous park they fought for and won themselves.
Check out Eric Walker's talk at TEDx Buffalo.

Mark Andrew Boyer wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Mark is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in GOOD, Inhabitat, and Mindful Metropolis.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What’s Cheaper than Solar, Slashes Carbon Emissions, and Creates Jobs in Kentucky? (reprint from YES!)

Having an energy-efficient home saves the owners money, but they often procrastinate on improvements. When energy companies in Kansas and Kentucky figured out a way to sweeten the deal, the results brought good news for homeowners, contractors, and for the planet.

by Erin L. McCoy
Blower door test.
Chris Woolery, a residential energy specialist for How$mart, explains a test of energy efficiency to Larry Watson of Flemingsburg, Ky. Photo by MACED.
Jamie Blair had owned his own business for about seven years when he started to think it was missing a crucial piece. He was installing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in and around Paintsville, Ky., but heated air isn’t much good if it leaks out through poorly sealed doors or underinsulated attics. That was right around the time he discovered How$martKY, a collaborative program designed to encourage better energy efficiency in Kentucky homes.
“Ten years ago, you never really thought about it,” Blair explained. “You went in and put the unit in, and you didn’t care how tight the house was or how well it was insulated.”
The Kentucky pilot works with 17 contractors, but Kansas works with hundreds—all of them now advocates for energy efficiency.
But all that is beginning to change. In 2011, Blair and his employees joined up with How$mart for hands-on training, learning how to perform energy audits and install higher-efficiency insulation. The homes where this training took place belonged to customers of four local energy cooperatives, which had partnered with How$mart.
“Now we feel pretty comfortable that we can come in and do a full-service retrofit,” Blair said.
Operated by the Eastern Kentucky-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), which seeks "economic alternatives" to "to make Appalachian communities better places to live," How$mart collaborates with homeowners, energy co-ops, and contractors to make local houses more energy-efficient. The houses get better insulation, HVAC, heat pumps, sealing—or all of the above—and the homeowners pay for everything on their utility bills, so there’s relatively little paperwork. The program not only helps the homeowner save money on every bill, but also creates an economic ripple effect by training contractors and cutting expenses for energy companies.
The potential environmental impact is profound. The pilot program has cut energy usage by an average of 20 percent in How$mart homes. That amounts to an annual projected savings of 552,829 kWh—equivalent to 390 metric tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide. It’s more energy than the entire country of Vietnam saved during Earth Hour 2010, when 20 cities and provinces turned off their lights for an hour—an impressive feat for just 108 Kentucky homes.
The program hasn’t just cut carbon emissions—it’s also spurred small-business growth. Since starting with How$mart, Blair has hired three new people to keep up with the extra work. His company now conducts energy audits with customers whether they’re with How$mart or not. And in the next few months, he plans to expand his business to include insulation and add on another three men.

Training local professionals

East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) first approached MACED with what might seem like an unlikely problem for an energy generator: Its customers were using too much power. As a result, EKPC had to purchase power from other providers, which was hurting its bottom line.
As it happened, MACED was already exploring ways of making energy efficiency more appealing to people in Appalachia. That’s how How$martKY was born.
Midwest Energy saw customer satisfaction among How$mart participants soar to 97 percent.
In two years of cooperation with four energy co-ops powered by EKPC, How$martKY has created five to 10 jobs for local contracting companies and saved customers almost $61,000, according to program coordinator Bill Blair.
The process starts when a homeowner asks his or her energy co-op for an efficiency audit. How$mart or a co-op staffer conducts the audit, though local contractors like Jamie Blair join in to learn the ropes. If the homeowner qualifies for the program, the contractor sets about repairing or replacing anything that is driving up the bill—whether it’s insufficient attic insulation or an oversized furnace. Finally, How$mart checks the quality of the contractor’s work. The contractor is welcome to come along during these inspections, but either way, he’s responsible for fixing any problems. It’s a part of the education process, Bill Blair explained—a way for contractors to learn from their mistakes.
Homeowners pay for their retrofitting in installments on their monthly bill. The average monthly installment comes out to just under $40, but homeowners save about $50 a month on average. In fact, How$mart won’t take on a project unless it’s sure the homeowner will save money each and every month.
Blair doesn’t like to call that financing a loan, perhaps because it makes it sound riskier for co-ops than it is. After all, customers pay back installments at 3 percent interest like any other loan—but unlike most loans, customers end up with more money in their pockets and fewer reasons to skip payments.
John Smith, owner of Smith Insulation Inc. in Flemingsburg, Ky., says he’s had trouble convincing customers that highly efficient spray foam insulation is ultimately a worthwhile investment.
“I’ve always been looking for ways to help the homeowner to be able to afford spray foam insulation by looking for tax credits and rebates,” Smith said, “and that’s how I found MACED.”
Experienced contractors like Smith appreciate How$martKY because it offers third-party validation of their work and the chance to spark word-of-mouth interest. But for those contractors seeking more extensive training, How$martKY’s namesake program in Kansas offers continuing education credits and a set of standards for HVAC size. The Kentucky pilot works with 17 contractors, but Kansas works with hundreds—all of them now advocates for energy efficiency.

Green customers are happy customers?

When Barb and Steve Ritchie signed up with How$mart to install a new furnace and insulation in their house in Ewing, Ky., the bill came to nearly $14,000.
It’s a daunting number. But a Kentucky Home Performance rebate helped, and their monthly bill is lower than it was before.
The results were striking: In 2011, the Ritchies used 28,406 kWh of energy. In 2012, that number dropped to 14,651 kWh. Barb Ritchie estimates they’re saving $400 a month now that they no longer have gas delivered for heating—not to mention the savings on their bill.
“I just feel like I was very blessed,” she said. “This is the warmest and coolest our house has ever been.”
Mr. and Mrs. Purdon, How$mart customers
Mr. and Mrs. Purdon, of Maysville, Ky., are How$mart customers. Photo by MACED.
Ritchie’s reaction isn’t unique.
“Most of the time they’re not going to say, ‘I’m saving a lot of money,’” Blair explained. “They say, ‘I’m actually comfortable in my house.’”
Customer satisfaction is a powerful incentive for utilities to take on programs like How$mart, Blair added. And Mike Volker, director of regulatory and energy services at Midwest Energy, Inc., in Kansas, has the numbers to prove it.
Midwest Energy took its inspiration for the original How$mart program from Pay As You Save, a plan developed by the Vermont-based Energy Efficiency Institute. After making a few tweaks, How$mart Kansas became the first utility in the world to implement the concept comprehensively, starting in 2007 with a four-county pilot.
Since then, Midwest Energy saw customer satisfaction among How$mart participants soar to 97 percent. Compare that to the 85 percent customer-satisfaction rate the company observes overall, and you can see why the program has expanded to 41 counties covering most of western Kansas.

Scaling it up

In Kansas, the original How$mart program now saves more than 1.9 million kWh of electricity and 234,000 therms of gas per year. Over 20 years, the reduction could amount to nearly 50,000 tons of CO2. Midwest Energy has invested $5 million in How$mart, but the program has also disproved the notion that green-friendly projects must be a financial drain.
A 2009 report estimates the U.S. could cut energy consumption 23 percent by 2020 by implementing efficiency measures alone.
In fact, How$mart consistently breaks even and could do even better. Midwest Energy doesn’t turn a profit on the program because its funding options are designed to be accessible to a wider demographic, including low-income households. But according to Volker, it has the potential to be just as profitable as regular utility service.
That profitability is possible in large part because efficiency measures beat out renewables for cost-efficiency hands-down. A 2009 report from consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates the U.S. could cut energy consumption 23 percent by 2020 by implementing efficiency measures alone. Another study estimated that while wind power costs $38 per ton of CO2 saved, replacing incandescent lights with LEDs saves $159 per ton.
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That means any utility, co-op or not, could find a program like How$mart beneficial, Volker said.
Similar programs have already sprung up in Georgia and South Carolina. And when MACED launched How$martKY, Volker was there to help.
Clean drinking water, photo by Living Water InternationalHow Renewable Energy Is Rescuing Schools from Budget Cuts
Educators across the country are finding millions of dollars in savings through cheap and simple forms of renewable energy.
“Doing energy efficiency is a lot less sexy, shall we say, compared to putting in some shiny black photovoltaics or a wind turbine,” Volker says. “But very few people would disagree with me when I say the most cost-effective kilowatt hour is the one you never use.”
MACED and three of its partner co-ops have applied for a tariff with the Kentucky Public Service Commission to transform How$mart from a pilot to a permanent program.
“We’re hoping to add four or five new co-ops this year,” Blair said. “Our goal really is to see every electric provider in the state pick it up.”
For contractors like Jamie Blair and customers like Barb Ritchie, environmental benefits are just an added bonus. Better lives and livelihoods are the everyday results they see — and that might just be enough to inspire grassroots efforts that help reign in carbon emissions on a nationwide scale.

Erin L. McCoy wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erin worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer in Kentucky for almost two years. She is now a Seattle-based freelance writer specializing in education, environment, cultural issues, and travel, informed by her time teaching English in Malaysia and other travels. Contact her at elmccoy [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter @ErinLMcCoy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No Fast Food Challenge Days #9 and #10

We're wrapping up the end of the challenge today. We combined days because we didn't post on Sunday and got a day behind. One of the other bad habits I had that often caused me to slip up is boredom. According to Dr. Susan Carnell in Psychology Today,

Eating out of boredom, on the other hand, is generally pointless. It almost always happens when we're not in physiological need of food, there's usually something much more useful we could be getting on with, and after the first couple of bites it's not even that satisfying as we weren't really hungry in the first place.

So why do we do it? At the risk of demonizing one of my favorite neurotransmitters, I'm going to go ahead and level my accusation at dopamine. Neuroscientists are still figuring out what this clever little chemical messenger does, but current thinking is that it's crucial to the experience of motivation and drive.
no fast food challenge
photo courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons
Probably my worst offenses have been during that down time, when I would drop off the kids for a lesson and have to wait until it was over. If my daughter had a music lesson, I'd grab something from a fast food drive through while I was waiting. It wasn't logical to want something to eat at 3 PM, it was just a way to fill the time I was waiting.

A much stronger strategy would again be to plan ahead for that down time. Bring a book to read, know where you can take a walk during that time, catch up on phone calls. Anything to fill that time with activity so you won't be tempted to eat. I even have done knitting, but honestly, I no longer have anyone left who needs more scarves, myself included. Time on your hands need not mean food in your mouth.

The second part of this challenge is boredom at home, which I combat in two ways. I brush my teeth because food always tastes funny when your teeth are freshly brushed or I play with my dog, who seems to have boundless energy. And frankly, at least in my house, there is not a lot of boredom. There is always laundry to fold or something to clean. I try to reward myself by turning up music only I like or putting the television on a show that only I like. (I have an irrational fondness for reality television, instead of junk food, it's junk programming).  

Lastly, learn to allow boredom or as I prefer to think, silence, into your world. Allow quiet time to exist. Embrace opportunities to stop and reflect. We are a busy world and sometimes busy-ness leads to mindlessness. Practice mindfulness in all activities and before long, you'll be filling your inner self with satisfaction that has nothing to do with putting unhealthy food into your body.

How've you done? Did you take the challenge? Do you have new strategies for avoiding fast food binges?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

No Fast Food Challenge Day #8

We are in the homestretch of our 10 days. It's been pretty easy, but not totally. Part of the ease was mindfulness. Thinking ahead. Preparation. And that takes time, although, we have to admit, it's a lot easier taking a block of preparation time than scrambling at the last minute to figure out what to feed the family.

This is what a lot of folks call investment cooking. It's a brilliant idea to spend a day cooking for a month instead of in piece meal. It's efficient. I have done investment cooking on a smaller scale. I've made 5 pounds of ground beef into meatballs. I've cooked a soup in a double batch and frozen half. I did that yesterday with my lettuce wrap fillings.  But to set aside one day a month cooking and freezing food, with the idea that it will be a quick dinner sometime in the next 30 days is one I wholly endorse it.

As much as I love cooking, there are days I just am not in the mood. Those are the sort of days that would be best served by a meal in the freezer that I made on a day I was in the mood to cook. Investment cooking is a way to ensure a home cooked meal even when you don't have the time or inclination to cook at home.

Freezer Cole Slaw

One of the most intriguing recipes I've found is for Freezer Cole Slaw, from the Organized Home website. Wow, how interesting is that?  I will not say that I've tried it, but instead say that now I want to. Basically, today's post about investment/freezer cooking was to inspire you to think ahead about your meals. But how great would it be to have a crisp salad ready to go, straight from the freezer? How many folks have tried something like this?

Meanwhile, while we contemplate Freezer Cole Slaw, I have two meatloafs I need to prepare. One for tonight, and one for the freezer. So the next time I'm not in the mood to cook, I just have to heat and eat. Fast food, without the garbage or lack of nutrition.

Without further ado,

Freezer Cole Slaw


1medium cabbage head --about 10 cups shredded
1carrot, shredded
1green pepper
1Teaspooncelery seed
1Teaspoondry mustard


In a large bowl, combine shredded vegetables and salt. Let stand for 1 hour.
Place remaining ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. Cool.
Drain vegetables and add vinegar mix. Stir gently.
Freeze in tightly-sealed freezer containers.
To serve, thaw and serve chilled.

Monday, February 4, 2013

No Fast Food Challenge Day #7 (late posting)

Our Daily Green's pantryOver the past several days, I've been sharing tips that have helped us avoid fast food. Admittedly, a well stocked pantry is the first step for me. Admit it, peeking in someone else's cupboards is a voyeuristic thrill. Although I confess, there are things I really wanted to hide before I posted this picture. Things I don't want my fellow adherents to healthy eating and green living to see. Photos don't lie and my pantry reveals that we keep chocolate drink powder and commercial cereals in the pantry. We have cake mixes and jarred pasta sauce. We have regular store bought peanut butter (as well as the natural stuff that only Mr. Daily Green eats and we keep that in the fridge), not to mention plastic bags and straws. But there also are enough essentials to put together just about anything we'd like to eat on any given day. 

With yesterday being the Superbowl, a day second only to Thanksgiving with potential for gluttonous eating, we had a full family schedule. After getting home from a morning at church, we all grabbed a quick bite for lunch, before heading separate ways. I was in the kitchen prepping for our evening grazing. I had a taste for lettuce wraps, the kind that I like to order when we eat out. My daughter asked if I was going to make buffalo chicken dip like I always did. I hadn't planned on it, but honestly, when I realized that she thought of that as a Superbowl tradition, I decided I needed to do so and surprise her when she got home that evening. Besides a well stocked pantry, I also recommend investing in a chest freezer. We buy our meat from local farmers and always have something on hand to thaw and eat. I also freeze fruit and vegetables for when it's not in season and beef and chicken broth (although I do keep instant soup base in the pantry if you look at my photo confessional). 

There are several guides online for stocking a pantry, I adapted the lists to my own needs, as a starting point. Take into account what you liked to cook and how often you'll make the effort. I have a ton of cookbooks, that I frequently peruse for inspiration, although with all the recipe sites online, a future project I have in mind involves becoming a minimalist on my cookbooks and (gasp) cleaning out my inventory. 

cookbook collection


  • Flours (wheat, white and bread)
  • Sugars (brown, granulated, powdered)
  • Pasta variety
  • Grains (couscous, brown, wild and white rice, quinoa, oats, cornmeal)
  • Oils (olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil)
  • Canned/Jarred Tomatoes (sauce, diced, stewed, paste, sundried)
  • Natural Sweeteners (honey, maple syrup)
  • Vinegars (balsamic, white, red wine, apple cider, rice wine)
  • Specialty Sauces (hot sauce, soy sauce)
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, peanuts)
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned Beans and Dry Lentils (black, cannelini, garbanzo, kidney)
  • Capers and olives (black, green, kalamata)
  • Vegetables (onions, potatoes, garlic)
  • Coffee and variety of teas

Herbs and Spices

  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosemary
  • Bay Leaves
  • Nutmeg
  • Cardamom
  • Dry Mustard
  • Paprika
  • Saffron
  • Spice Blends
  • Pepper (ground and whole, and red pepper flakes)
  • Salts (kosher, sea salt, pickling salt, rock salt)

Baking Supplies

  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Cornstarch
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Chocolate Chips or Chunks
  • Extracts (vanilla, almond, lemon, peppermint)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

No Fast Food Challenge Day #6

Here we arrive at the weekend, past the halfway point of our challenge. One of our other downfalls with convenience food is snacking. Not just for meals, but even the need for a snack and suddenly the vending machine or drive-through is a quick fix.

dehydrated apples
Again, the key is preparation. One of my favorite new kitchen toys is a food dehydrator. I actually have the very inexpensive Ronco one pictured in this post. I've been experimenting with a number of foods since I acquired it, but my favorite is truly dried apples. They key to drying apples is to slice them thin, but not too thin and not to over-dry them. They should still be flexible and chewy.  Unlike the prepackaged fruit colored and flavored roll-ups, fruit dried in a dehydrator does not contain any artificial flavors or added sugar. It is pure fruit, just more concentrated. 

The one quart canning jar in the photo holds 7 dehydrated apples. One secret to dehydrating apples so they don't look like the shrunken apple heads kids made in elementary school is to soak the slices in either a lemon juice and water mixture after slicing, or citric acid and water. I prefer the powdered citric acid because it really draws out the tart flavor. I order citric acid online from a cheese making company. What is great about the dehydrated apples is that they don't get bruised in a bag and they are lightweight, making them an easily portable snack. I sliced the apples in the evening and plugged in the dehydrator. In the morning, they were ready. 

If you've never used a dehydrator, we highly recommend them. It's a great way to make a bunch of easy to carry snacks, from fruit to vegetables to jerky. Part of the challenge involves having a strategy in place to avoid the easy lure of unhealthy fast food. 

How many of you are trying the challenge? How are you doing so far? 

Friday, February 1, 2013

No Fast Food Challenge Day #5

foods high in fiber
By Keith Weller, USDA ARS [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
We are at the mid-point of the No Fast Food Challenge. It's going well and I want to continue to share tidbits that help me avoid the dreaded drive-through window, as well as my personal downfall, frozen convenience foods.

Today's hint is about filling up on fiber. I am a huge fan of fiber, even without alliteration. The Mayo Clinic recommends 25 grams/daily for adult women and 38 grams/daily for adult men. Dietary fiber is found in plant based foods and is the part of the plant that the body cannot digest or absorb. Other food components such as fat, protein, or carbs is broken down and absorbed by the body. Fiber passes through your stomach and small intestine, and colon relatively intact.

Fast food contains little, if any fiber. Instead it is loaded with fat, carbs, and some protein. The body doesn't feel full from such foods. Fiber on the other hand, because it stays in the stomach, keeps the hunger pangs away. Foods that contain fiber also can be considered "fast", fresh fruit, nuts, canned beans, high fiber bread.

I keep an array of canned beans in my pantry at all times.
I want to share a favorite bean salad recipe, adapted from Real Simple magazine. This salad is great to keep on hand for a quick lunch on the go.

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Whisk the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper together. In a larger bowl, mix rest of the ingredients. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad. Tastes best after it marinates overnight.

The best way to avoid fast food is to have something ready to go and to know it will keep you full. A high fiber diet is your best defense against mindless and unhealthy munching.