Day 24 --
A group of friends and I made this mandala as part of a birthday celebration several years ago as our impermanent gift. We used lentils, rice, seeds, petals, cranberries, limes, things I've forgotten and things we found in the yard, with everything in individual bowls or bags. Throughout the evening everyone contributed to the mandala while we cooked and ate, laughed and visited.
The birthday lady thought we were talented from the beginning with only the center built to begin. And at every phase along the way there was a camera flashing, a conversation happening or someone silently placing grains of rice in a row.
Everyone's personality came through in how they placed rice on the mandala. One person practically slung it, another put it down, picked it up, put it down again. Another found a pair of tweezers to use for more precision. Someone else requested a different colored rice we didn't have. And it was all perfect.
The other beauty of the mandala was its impermanence. At the end of the evening, with everyone in tow, we lifted the board it was on, carried it outside (fortunately we were in the country) and broadcast everything back to nature with one united cheer.
The creatures in the night were happy.
Day 21 --
Rent a Prius
We're traveling after the holiday to the cute guy's youngest son's wedding. (Hey, Canyon!) A friend suggested we rent a Prius. She's brilliant and as soon as I can find our flight information I'm going to go on line to reserve one.
Day 22 --
The cute guy and I are close enough to town to walk. In fact the town is right out our front door. A little too close. We're happy when people finally go home and leave us a bit of peace and quiet.
But we still believe in shopping local. Here's ten reasons why.
Day 23 --
Share Your Green Ideas
I started this blog after years of having dinner with a girlfriend, the muse, once a month. As part of our visits we share one environmentally friendly action we've taken since our last visit. They are small things; I stopped eating bananas because they are imported, she sends her daughter to school with cloth napkins instead of paper.
Overtime I realized that I was using cloth napkins at work and recently she told me she rarely buys bananas.
And now I have conversations with everybody about the environment, about food, stuff, about how we can better use our resources. Except sometimes I get excited and light my hair on fire and the conversation turns into an annoying monologue right before the room empties and I'm alone. Smoldering.
But I'm learning. Asking questions and listening generally leads to dialogue and if not, it's a good idea for me to let the topic go.
Which is so much easier on my hair.
Day 20 --
Reduce, Reuse and Recyle
The other day, yes, I was at work, I needed some green inspiration and ventured out on the web to find some.
There is a ton of green information on the web. There are green businesses, green gifts, services, ideas, parties. There is a town in Ohio, named Green. I wanted something green I could do right away though.
The inspiration I found that stuck, and it may be because I saw it repeatedly were the three words above; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Succinct. Manageable and immediate. Beautiful.
This holiday is a good time for me to take action and start practicing.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Day 19, 2007
The Story of Stuff or The Story of Food or Santa's Little Workshop
A co-worker sent me a link today to a video (I'm dating myself) called The Story of Stuff by Free Range Studios. After reading an accompanying synopsis I replied, "It could be called The Story of Food." And after watching the movie, that statement is truer than I knew. It's the same stuff.
The title of The Story of Stuff sums up what this movie is about. It's narrated by a young woman, Anne Leonard. Behind her are elementary black line illustrations that are charming in their simplicity. Nothing else about the movie is elementary however. It moves fast and is packed with information.
At the beginning of the movie I felt like taking to my bed because of all my stuff and everybody else's stuff but then I realized, No. Damn it. I'm excited. Excited that this young woman is passionate and knowledgeable about the consequences of materialism. Excited that people are watching this. Excited that the conversation of where we get our stuff, produce it, buy it and throw it away is being talked about. Excited that I'm becoming more aware.
Excited that we care.
And when the movie was over I got up and turned off three lights I wasn't using and the heater. And the radio. And I unplugged the cell phone charger that wasn't being used too. She's good.
The entire movie is 20 minutes and if you're in a hurry you can watch a four minute segment by clicking onto any one of the major points of stuff. Or you can skip right to the happy ending called Another Way.
Day 18 --
I realize I'm protecting the environment by not adding greeting cards I receive to the landfill. I hoard them instead.
I have every card and handwritten note I've received from the last fourteen years. There's a three shoe box size shopping bag full in the princess room closet. There are 100's hidden in a plant pot I've converted to a night stand. And more in the cute guys storage unit downstairs.
And that's after throwing away the envelopes that they came in. Ummmm... I'm adding to the landfill after all. Damn it!
After taking that into consideration, I'm sending postcards this year.
But don't get excited, you're more likely to get a squash than a card.
Day 17 --
Holiday Hostess Gifts
My favorite game as a six year old was Birthday. My best friend and I would take turns wrapping up our toys in blankets while the birthday girl closed her eyes and then we would yell, SURPRISE! We never got bored of being excited.
I still play that game when I bring a hostess gift to a friend's home for dinner. I scramble through my house looking for something perfect while the cute guy is in the garage. With the car running. Inspiration under pressure is my grown up element of excitement.
This month I'm set though. I have glass cylinder jars of artisan honey from Sonoma County. The honey is collected by a woman I call the Good Witch of the West. I have pickles and peach jam from Canvas Ranch. Persimmons that aren't really food but art and an extra square jar of Stonehouse Olive Oil. I have hyacinth bulbs waiting to be gifted so they can drop their roots and do their fragrant thing. And I have winter squash.
Yesterday with a little forethought I showed up at a friends house with a bunch of rainbow chard. I had to dissuade her from putting them in a vase.
I'm just playing. And it's good green fun.
Day 15 --
Don't be blue.
This was my green tip for myself after finishing up the Christmas list for the kids in our life; be forgiving of the choices that aren't green.
Day 16 --
This year the President of our company was the first to walk into the room at our holiday lunch.
"Whooooa, look at that," he said.
We'd skipped the bubble bowls in the center of the tables. No candles. No imported red tulips. No twigs with three red berries on them. No big check for flowers to look at for two and one half hours.
He kept standing at the opening of the room smiling. Looking from table to table.
There was a long red truck, it's cab jackknived to miss a water glass; a turkey platter size backhoe with it's scoop lifted off the tablecloth. There was a tall yellow crane. Not a piece of evergreen anywhere.
"They're for the Toy's For Tots program. We'll deliver them after the lunch."
"Good idea," he responded. "They'll love 'em."
The best part of eating local the last week was pulling food from the freezer.
First there was the pork butt roast from a farm in Tomales that the cute guy and I made into chili verde with Canvas Ranch tomatillos. I'd cooked them with Brother Bill's backyard jalapenos. I could still taste the sunshine in them.
Twice this week I made corn muffins with Full Belly Farm cornmeal, the chicken hat lady's eggs, Stauss milk and blueberries bought last summer from the seasonal farmers' market in Fairfax. The berries seem bigger now that it's winter and bake up juicy and sweet. The muffins disappear so fast the cute guy claims the neighbors help themselves while we are out.
I also experimented for the first time with Rancho Gordo pozole. I read recipes online, waved the advice aside and used what I had, which was celery, onions, garlic, serrano peppers, carrots, a couple chicken legs with thighs and oregano. And I served it to guests. My brother and I had seconds and still the leftovers lasted two nights. And it got better. Especially when the leftover chile verde was added.
Faced with no more pozole I made a pan of potato and leeks with rainbow chard tossed in at the last minute and served it in a bowl with eggs over easy. It wasn't picturesque but it was hearty, fragrant and perfect for a ridiculous cold night.
It goes without saying we are still eating squash. Baked squash. And it's good. But I'm not ready to admit that I may have bought a couple too many or a few more than we are excited to eat.
I am determined they will not go to waste though. I know way too many people for that!
If you find one on your doorstep you can bet it's from me.
Day 14 --
Choose something other than shrimp on the menu.
I know. I love them too. But read this.
Fortunately we have so many good foods to choose from that not eating shrimp can simply be an excuse to eat more of something else.
And I'm always looking for an excuse to eat more.
Day 13 --
I read these ideas in the Chronicle a couple of weeks ago and can't get them out my mind.
First, using strings of burnt out Christmas lights as ribbon substitutes. This is genius. At least it would be in my family.
And this one - buying an old couch pillow at the local thrift store, opening it up and using the stuffing as snow on the mantle. That is, if you need snow on the mantle. I don't, but if I did I would wash the pillow first. It's clever.
Don't let the 25 Green Days of Christmas be misleading - this is still a careening blog about eating local foods as a way to reduce my carbon bite.
My initial picture of eating local was somehow being able to stomach gruel and mushy potatoes that grew wild Einstein like eyebrows that would have to be composted before cooking. It was a scary prospect that I tentatively entered.
Pollan showed me the door, Kingsolver opened it and the Eat Local Challenge blog was there when I stepped in. Nearly every day for those first weeks I would visit the ELC website and take heart that I wasn't crazy and people weren't starving or ugly because they had chosen to eat foods grown where they lived. The people on the website seemed to not only lead regular and varied lives but they were eating really good food. And they could cook. There was no gruel. They cared about the environment and how their food was grown and labeled. And that gave me hope and still does.
So it's no surprise that the Eat Local Challenge blog has been nominated as the 2007 Food Blog of the Year. WooooWhooooo! I want them to win.
They're doing great work and they include everyone. If you have ever compared a piece of fruit from say, another country, to the same fruit grown closer to your home and put the fruit grown nearby in your mouth, you have met the challenge. It's not always easy but it does generally taste better.
If you want to join the fan club and maybe get this work more press you can vote here. It only takes a second.
I also have to mention the Food on the Food blog, which was nominated for Best Food Blog of the Year for Humor. Sometimes I spit the way the laughter rises up so fast reading it. It's embarrassing. The author, Tammy, makes eating local food worthy of stand up comedy. But even better. And she can cook - with kids. The cute guy has a crush on her.
The humor category ballot is here. The blog is Food on the Food.
Day 11 --
I salivate over new books. Shiny, untouched covers. Pages that have never been folded. The scent of printing still fresh. I create altars of new books next to the bed with milagros and reading glasses, scrapbook worthy page markers, a holy glass of filtered water. My adoration knows no ends.
And one of the best gifts I received this year was a used cookbook from Thrift Books. It was like someone opened the window and a rush of fresh air entered the room.
The cover isn't shiny, there is a permanent crease in the corner and the edges are worn soft. The pages don't crack but are soft like old jeans. And I love it.
I carry it into the kitchen and set it on the counter. It doesn't stay out of the fray, relegated to the kitchen table, but gets in the action with flour and eggs. It's not afraid of the splattering that happens every time I turn on the food processor. It's like an old friend that visits when the laundry is on the living room floor. And then helps fold it.
Aside from Thrift Books being less expensive and the fact that reusing anything when possible is a terrific -- Thirftbooks uses a minimal amount of packaging for mailing.
Ideally buying used books at a local independent book store would be the green of all greens. Great choirs would rejoice. But Thrift Books is a great second choice.
Day 8 ---
Give fruit trees. Plant fruit trees. A kumquat is on my Christmas list.
Day 9 --
Farmers' Market Artisans
For the last six weeks I've been looking for the woman that makes ceramic butter dishes with tops the shape of farm animals, painted in mottled shades of kindergarden paint. They are individual works of art and I should have bought them for gifts immediately upon seeing them. But I didn't.
And every week that the doll maker is there I stand in the center of her display and pick a doll for every little girl I can think of. But I've yet to buy one. The time will come. I can guarantee it. I only hope she will still be there.
The wooden bowls at the market always draw me in too. I run my hand over the smooth rims, test the weight, inquire about the wood and dream. It's so fun.
Then there are the Sunday morning jewelry makers. My favorite is Gary Khler and Blue Flame. I'd like to give one of everything they have.
I don't know that it's more green to shop at the farmers' market for Xmas gifts but it feels good to be outside. It feels good supporting independent artisans, buying locally produced goods. It feels good not being bombarded by ever more merchandise and add on items at check out stands and so many choices the simplest one becomes a compromise to get out the door.
Day 10 --
Keep It Simple
One year the cute guy and I were traveling on Christmas in a country where we didn't speak the language. We were on the move, traveling light and came up with this idea.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve we set a gift budget of $5 each and set out to get gifts.
The cute guy bought a paint brush and red paint, found a piece of cardboard and painted a checkerboard that folded in the middle. With the remainder of money he bought a silk drawstring bag that he filled with two types of beer caps he found on the roads to and from town and we spent Christmas day playing checkers in a noisy jungle bungalow. It was one of the best gifts I've ever received.
And surely one of the simplest.
Give something that you already have.
My Mom does this all the time as my brother clearly pointed out this evening.
She once gave me socks that someone had given her. I love them. Their soft and too big and perfect for the couch. And she gave the cute guy a walking stick that has teeth. He growls each time he takes it out.
I once gave a friend my original four pieces of Fiesta Ware. She thinks of me each time she uses them on the table and I love that. We are creating history, building stories.
The cute guy is almost as good as my Mom at giving stuff away. I'm a beginner. He said he could make gifts of his musical instruments. I flinched which seemed a good test that the gifts would be good.
He suggested I could give away a couple of my little bowls. That flinch was bigger. "No way. I love those bowls."
He suggested some of my vases. I gave him the stare.
For me flinching is good though as it means the gift has meaning; it's not a throw away.
Somewhere in between, between flinching and not flinching, is the right shade of green. And if I'm not sure I can ask my Mom.
Day 5 --
No Gift Cards
I am in Safeway. No, don't even think about it. I am not buying food. I am buying bus tickets.
The woman in front of me is buying six dozen cupcakes that look as plastic as the boxes they're in and a man with a banana and a pear that looks hard enough to hammer nails is in line behind me. The checker starts wrestling a plastic bag onto two of the boxes of cupcakes but it keeps catching around the cupcake wells. The woman is looking for her credit card. I start looking for something to count.
I don't look far. The check out stand is filled with rows of plastic gift cards for every retailer ever incorporated. Thirty six different big names to be exact. "What happened to personal checks?" I ask myself. "What about plain old cash for Christmas? Why more plastic?"
"Yes, I know a recipient might go out and purchase a bottle of absinthe now that it's legal instead of a sweater or a book, but so be it. It's a gift. Let them do what they want. What's going to happen to all that spent plastic?"
My tirade is getting into full steam and the gentleman behind me clears his throat. I watch the woman competently manage her cupcakes without the bags that are now wrangled on the counter and move forward. Plastic bank card in hand.
"Thirty seven," I say silently.
Day Six --
I know I am not the first person to suggest this service as a great green gift but it's new to me and I'm excited about it.
Green Dimes stops junk mail. Seems impossible doesn't it? All those value pack coupons, credit card solicitations with 0% interest. All those catalogs! And Green Dimes makes them stop. Who wouldn't love this?!
Green Dimes also plants trees. The sign up cost is worth just that; stopping the junk mail is nearly an afterthought, a bonus, a dream that might come true.
I signed up a few weeks ago but it's too soon to realize a difference.
My secret guilty pleasure is Green Dimes only stops the catalogs I ask them to which means I can continue receiving Garnet Hill and Crate and Barrel, which makes this gift perfect for everyone, light green and forest green people alike.
We all make a difference.
Day Four --
Save the Ocean
This idea is inspired by the Takeout Queen who carries the Seafood Watch Guide in her purse to refer to at take out counters and restaurants across the county. I'm sure she would use it at the grocery store too if she went to one, although the only fish I ever see her eat is salmon.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a printable version of the guide that can be cut out and folded to half the size of a twenty dollar bill to include in holiday cards or gifts for all the Takeout Queens of any gender on your list.
There are guides for the different coasts, Hawaii, the central US and the southwest (which I find curious). There are even guides in three dialects of Spanish.
Day Three --
I read somewhere about using old business cards as gift tags but I'm taking the idea a different direction.
Using found leaves as gift tags. The cute guy came up with bay leaves, which is brilliant. I thought eucalyptus because they have interesting color patterns. Both types lay flat and are easy to write on.
We also have sycamore trees down the street with leaves bigger than dinner plates that we can't help but scatter about the house each year that would be plain art as a gift tag. They don't lay flat when dry however, but instead assume the shapes of wings in the moment before flight has begun.
I've written before about how the eat local movement has arms and keeps popping up outside of my kitchen. So no surprise that the focus now is to look for ways to reduce our carbon presence for the holidays.
I'm making an ongoing list, 25 Green Days of Christmas, and inviting everyone to post ideas that step outside the traditional red bowed box towards a greener, sustainable holiday filled with more good tidings and less garbage.
Day One --
I bought bad ties at the thrift shop for a dollar each to use instead of ribbon. If they don't get worn for real or costumes, or reused as ribbon they can be returned to the thrift store. Each one is a find.
Day Two --
This is the cute guys idea. Use canvas grocery bags as gift bags. "They'll forget the gift inside but think of us every time they get to the check out line and remember they left their bag in the car."
The cute guy is one happy man today. I cooked. Twice.
First we had an updated version of the goulash I ate as a child. That goulash had hamburger, green beans and potatoes. My updated local version had Prather Ranch Italian sausage, onions, garlic, harbanero, rainbow chard and Petaluma potatoes. We ate it watching the Silence of the Lambs. I won't talk about what was eaten on that film.
Then I made my first ever quiche pie from the Tassajara cookbook with mushrooms, more potatoes, oh what a day!, kale and thai peppers that should have been minced instead of sliced; whoa baby. And we watched Waitress. My pie was good but hers were over the top.
And because it was a day without rules and the oven was on I threw in winter squash for later and made corn muffins with Full Belly Farms cornmeal I've been longing to put to use. We ate them with honey and no napkins nested in blankets on the couch.
And couldn't stop smiling.