On Thursday Channing and I leave for our vacation on the French Riviera. I’ll be continuing the No Stuff Experiment there—only food and wine expenses for this traveler*—and then I’ll write a series of two or three wrap-up posts in January. For now, let me leave you with a handful of year-end tidbits that didn’t quite make the cut for full-length blog posts.

First, I must confess that I did a little pre-vacation clothes shopping—at consignment shops, of course. In mid-October, Channing announced that he would not be wearing jeans while we were overseas; I looked at my wardrobe the next day and panicked. (For the record, I think this ridiculous proclamation had everything to do with our recent viewing of the first four seasons of Mad Men, an AMC series with an extremely well-dressed cast. Oh, the dangers of television: it can turn keeping up with the Joneses into keeping up with a fictional 1960s advertising genius and his numerous pocket handkerchiefs.) I had been meaning to hit the used clothing circuit in hopes of picking up a few basics that would help me streamline my wardrobe, so now I decided to look for pieces that I could wear for both work and vacation (think comfortable clothes in neutral colors). Long story short, I spent some time at Chic Envy, the new consignment boutique at Fairfax Corner, and then made the rounds at the vintage shops in Alexandria. I ended up with a couple skirts, a cocktail dress (for office holiday parties and Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners), and a couple blazers to dress up slacks or jeans.**

Second, to continue my kitchen disposables saga, earlier this month I ran out of plastic wrap and freezer bags. These are two disposables I don’t use a ton of unless I’m displaying baked goods on platters (rather than storing them in Pyrex), transporting food to parties on platters, or freezing stuff (in this case, cookies). The plastic wrap problem isn’t too dire. We have a roll of Glad Press’n Seal under the sink that I’ve been using as a plastic wrap alternative—although the stuff kind of freaks me out. Glad’s website says the seal is made with “the primary [FDA-approved] ingredients typically found in chewing gum” and assures customers that Glad products do not contain phthalates or BPA. I remain skeptical and avoid letting food in contact with the sticky side of the wrap. Oh, I’ve also been reusing the last couple pieces of regular plastic wrap like crazy. And when those scraps aren’t big enough and the Press’n Seal won’t do, I find creative solutions: I took cookies to the office potluck in a shirt box lined with festive tissue paper. Party guests took home cookies in gift bags from our stash from holidays past.

The freezer bags were more of a problem. I wanted to freeze a several dozen cookies over the course of the month and didn’t have enough Pyrex containers to hold them all. So, I took a few bags from Mom’s gigantic resealable bag stash. The woman has an entire kitchen drawer devoted to Ziplocs of various sizes and weights, plus another shelf full of them in the basement. As grateful as I am for Mom’s stockpile (the cookies froze beautifully), it seems a little excessive, no?

Third, I started a post on Freeganism last month, but I haven’t been able to finish it—in part because I wanted to go on a dumpster dive and write about the experience. I keep checking out the dumpsters behind Whole Foods whenever I’m at Plaza America, and there appears to be loads of good stuff out there, but I can’t bring myself to start rummaging. For one thing, all the dumpster-diving tip websites suggest wearing rubber gloves, which I do not own and cannot buy. For another, they suggest going at night with a buddy, and I have been unable to convince Channing that helping me dig through trash is an activity worth his time.

In any case, the primary reason the Freeganism post has not seen the light of day is I can’t write it without making Freegans sound like moochers or freeloaders. They aren’t moochers; they’re resourceful. Freeganism is exciting, terrifying, daring, and maybe a little bit gross. You can read up on Freegans and their philosophy here, here, and here.

Finally, I have started to brainstorm my next blog project, The Rosy Skillet. It’ll be about good meals and the stories they inspire (and how to host a dinner party for sixteen when you have only eight plates in the cupboard). I hope to have the first installment written by March 2012.

Happy holidays, everyone! Thanks so much for reading my musings this year!

*Plus plane and train tickets and hotel stays, but we’ve paid for that stuff already.

**For every item I added to my wardrobe during those trips, I put at least one item (and often two or three) in the donate pile.

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I’ve seen a lot of buzz about the second annual Small Business Saturday on Facebook in the last couple weeks. For those who aren’t aware, Small Business Saturday, falling the day after Black Friday, is a marketing ploy by the folks at American Express to encourage consumers to shop at independent and locally owned stores in order to boost neighborhood economies. It’s a pretty great idea, but it does seem a little odd that the day was dreamed up by some folks at a large corporation and has a number of corporate sponsors, right?

Well, regardless, Small Business Saturday overlaps with one of my personal guidelines for the No Stuff Experiment: when buying necessary material goods, like groceries or toiletries, or going out for dinner or to the movies, choose local and independent sources over big corporations.

I haven’t stuck to this guideline like glue; in fact, in the last few months, I’ve been a little careless about it. I’m flying Continental/United to Florida for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We stayed in a Holiday Inn in Huntington for Marshall University Marathon weekend.* I regularly buy dry goods, dairy products, and cleaning supplies from Whole Foods.

But, earlier this month, I renewed my buy-local efforts when I found out that a new MOM’s Organic Market had opened just down the road, in Herndon. MOM’s is an independently owned chain of organic grocery stores that started in Beltsville, Maryland, in 1987. Since then, it has expanded to eight locations, two of which are in Virginia (one more VA location, in Merrifield, is due to open in 2012). For such a small space, the selection at the Herndon location is fantastic, and I found nearly everything on my grocery list (save white vinegar in cleaning quantities and plain cow’s milk yogurt). MOM’s has a decent local wine selection and shelves full of organic nut butters, but what’s even better is they have the Story of Stuff playing on a loop on one of the aisles.

It’s pretty darn exciting when a business that shares your ideals—with the mission “To Protect and Restore the Environment”—opens up your neighborhood. I am looking forward to giving MOM’s my business this winter.

But since I will be in Florida visiting family for the weekend, I will not be stopping by my new favorite grocery store on Small Business Saturday. Instead, it’s more likely I’ll participate in twentieth annual Buy Nothing Day, which coincides with Black Friday and this year has an OWS theme. I wonder if Occupy St. Pete will do something for the occasion.

*Got my PR by 22 minutes, by the way: 4:24:00. Woo!

Test-Driving Cookbooks

October 13, 2011

One of my favorite new hobbies since starting the Experiment is checking out cookbooks from the library. At the beginning of the year, I gravitated toward specialty cookbooks, such as The Gluten-Free Gourmet and Super Natural Cooking, and borrowed them one at a time. Once I got the book home, I’d flip through it, page by page, and mark the most appealing recipes that highlighted seasonal ingredients. Then I’d incorporate as many of these recipes as possible into our meals for the three weeks before the due date. I experimented with different pizza crusts, innumerable preparations for beans, and two or three sweeteners for homemade ice cream (honey is by far the best). At the end of each three-week trial period, I logged the best dishes in my iPad recipe app before I returned the book to the library.

Once the CSA pickups started in June and I had specific vegetables in the fridge that needed to be cooked pronto, I had to change my strategy. These days, I borrow three cookbooks at a time, and I favor more encyclopedic volumes, like The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook (first the “new classics,” then the “original classics”) and Gourmet Today. These types of books are more likely to include recipes for unusual ingredients like celeriac and to have several ideas for dealing with hearty greens. (Am I the only one who’s become totally bored with chard sautéed with garlic and kale and white bean soups?)

Each week after I bring home my veggies, I scour the indexes of my borrowed cookbooks for inventive ways to prepare squash and eggplant and green beans and cabbage—or whatever it is that’s now in the refrigerator. Sure, I could conduct similar searches on Epicurious or Chow, but I prefer a better curated collection. A good cookbook is the product of years of meticulous writing, testing, and rewriting, and even the larger tomes have personality and a point of view. For example, I trust Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook at times I need a cake to come out perfectly on the first try.  I rely on The Art of Simple Food for good basic recipes for soups, meats, vegetables, and pastas that can easily be embellished. If I need practical advice, say, an appropriate herb substitution for mint, I turn to the Joy of Cooking.

Borrowing cookbooks from the library has introduced me to new chefs, home cooks, and palates. I’ve become more familiar with the best of the best without sacrificing my limited shelf space—which will become even more limited if Channing and I can find a used butcher’s block to put in the place of our kitchen bookcases. Some of the cookbook authors I’ve met via the library, like Ruth Reichl (Gourmet Today) and  Lynne Rossetto Kasper (The Italian Country Table), write recipes perfect for my cooking style, i.e., local, seasonal, American, often vegetarian, and occasionally adventurous. Others have been less helpful. I checked out Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef a few weeks ago because I dig his food philosophy. But not one of the recipes spoke to me—I could find very few of my CSA veggies in the index—and I ended up returning the book unused. I haven’t given up on Jamie, but now I know to try him in a different season (spring, perhaps?) and to pick up one of his more recently published titles.

So I guess you’re wondering how I’ll use this knowledge once the Experiment is over. Will I go on a cookbook-buying bender? I doubt it. I’ve stopped logging recipes from my library books in my iPad because it’s time-consuming and just adds to my digital clutter (hmm, topic for another post?). I figure these books and tons more will still be in the library next time I want them (assuming they aren’t burned). And besides, how can I make a lifetime commitment of shelf space to a new cookbook when I haven’t even started my way through the library’s Jacques Pepin collection or cracked the cover of Baking with Julia?

Wedding Wrap-Up, Part 2

September 16, 2011

Casual Dress. Local Food. Good Times.

When our event designer saw the venue for our wedding celebration, he said, “I feel like I’m at summer camp.” I know this is not the mood everyone wants to set for their wedding reception, but for us, it was perfect.

We chose the Walker Nature Center as the venue for our party primarily because it felt like Reston—nestled in trees off Glade Drive and walking distance from our house. It also reflects our values. According to its website, the center’s mission is “to foster good environmental stewardship through the use of direct experiences and interpretive media. The center enhances people’s awareness, knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of the environment.” Right on!

The Nature House, which opened in November 2009, is a LEED Gold–certified building with a ground-source geothermal heat pump system for heating and cooling, regionally and sustainably harvested cypress siding, and low-flow and dual-flow plumbing fixtures. The porch posts are made from wood salvaged from a nearby construction site and the flooring is natural marmoleum and recycled carpet. We rented not only the multipurpose room in the Nature House but also the picnic pavilion just outside. Guests were able to walk outdoors to enjoy the landscaping (primarily native plants), the trees, a few raindrops now and again, and of course, the second bar.

That bar and the bar in the multipurpose room were stocked and manned by Main Event Caterers, who provided what was by all accounts a downright delicious buffet of food and beverage.* Our event designer, Spencer, won us over with his attention to detail and some freaking amazing chocolate truffles. Because Spencer knew highlighting regional meat and produce was important to me, he included a list of local sources in his initial menu proposal. We had meat from Polyface, dairy from Trickling Springs Creamery, and produce from Virginia Green Grocer, to name only a few on the list. We also had some delectable short-smoked salmon (served with peach chutney—oh my!), which, though not locally caught, came from a sustainable source—or at least a source more environmentally responsible than unregulated ocean aquaculture.

But it wasn’t the menu that set Main Event apart—in fact, our second-choice caterer also proposed a mouth-watering menu full of local foods. Rather it was their commitment to doing business in an eco-friendly way. Main Event Caterers purchases electricity from Dominion Power, but offsets their usage by purchasing an equal amount of energy from a wind farm. This energy is then funneled to the electric grid to reduce reliance on unsustainable power sources. Over the past few years, the company has reduced its landfilled waste by 70 percent by recycling plastics, aluminum, glass, and cardboard; composting food waste; and using only biodegradable, compostable disposables made with corn, palm, balsa, and bagasse. Most recently, the catering company installed a water purification and filtration system that allows them to bottle their own still and sparkling water in handsome, reusable glass vessels, so they no longer rely on water from plastic bottles. Heck, even Main Event’s website is hosted by a green web-hosting company, AISO.

As a sort-of side note, I’ll mention one of the biggest perks of working with Spencer and Main Event. Two or three weeks before the party date, I approached Spencer with a request that the bars serve only craft beers, not just because they generally taste better than the domestic standards but also because I would feel better supporting, say, Starr Hill than, say, Budweiser. Neither Channing nor I had any specific beers in mind when I made this request, so Spencer took it upon himself to consult Main Event’s beverage director. The two of them came up with a fantastic idea. Main Event had in storage a whole variety of cases and half cases of microbrews that other parties had requested. For the same price it would have cost us to serve their usual trio (one domestic, one import, one craft), we could serve a grab bag of eight to ten different varieties of beer. Make use of leftovers and offer our friends and family more options? Yes, please! (Of course, I drank bellinis all night—but, hey, it was August and peach season is only so long.)

For dessert we had fresh-baked blueberry, cherry, and peach pies from Albemarle Baking Company, thanks to my generous friend Nan. And then there was the cake: three tiers of greatness brought to us by Buzz Bakery. Buzz is a member of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG), which, for the benefit of the locals out there, includes Vermilion, Rustico, Tallula, and Evening Star Café, among others. Last fall NRG launched the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria. The center’s programs include an educational farm, a wholesale local food outlet, a mobile market, and the D.C. Farm to School Network, all with the mission to “improve the health of our community, the viability of local farmers, and preserve our environment for future generations by combining education about healthy food and its sources with better logistical connections between local farmers and the urban and suburban core of the region.” Clearly Buzz is part of a happy, well-meaning family.

Buzz itself doesn’t claim to use local or sustainable ingredients, but they do have “reverence for great ingredients, a passion for careful baking, and a steadfast dedication to serving only the freshest items.” Hear, hear! Our cake coordinator, Dawn, insisted on seasonally inspired tiers, which was obviously fine with me. I chose lemon cake filled with lemon curd, almond cake filled with cherry curd, and vanilla cake with both lemon and cherry. The whole thing was covered in buttercream and studded with fresh, organic flowers (the same flowers I picked up from Potomac Vegetable Farms). Stunning.

And that, my friends, ends the story of our low-stuff wedding. It goes to show you can get hitched in style without fancy dresses and multiple fittings, pricey photographers, florists, DJs, inspiration notebooks, wedding websites, gift registries, bridesmaids and groomsmen, save-the-date cards, reply cards, place cards, tents, programs, limousines, rehearsals, churches, speeches, and jordan almonds. I know this kind of casual affair does not appeal to everyone, and that’s OK by me (I like formal events as much as anyone else does). Still, I think a traditional wedding could take some environmentally minded cues from our more simple celebration. The focus of our event was on what was most important to us: gathering our family and friends, all together in one place at one time, to celebrate the start of our new life together.

*And I mean seriously delicious. We have a ton of positive feedback about the food. Thank you so much, Main Event!

Feeding Channing

July 20, 2011

For the last six or eight weeks, I’ve been spending a lot more on groceries than I’d like to—despite weekly CSA pickups (which began in June). Sure, the first couple CSA shares were a little light, but under our previous food regime, Channing and I would’ve had no trouble surviving a week on a couple heads of lettuce, some kohlrabi, garlic curls, and a handful of zucchini.

But things have changed. These days, Mr. “I Don’t Eat Breakfast” is sitting down with me for a meal every morning before work. Plus, he’s given up his daily sub and soda for brown-bag lunches prepared by yours truly. I’ve been waiting four long years for Channing to establish some healthier eating habits. Yet, as exciting as this change of heart has been, it’s meant I need enough food in the house to cover ten to fourteen extra meals per week!

Thus, I’m in the process of re-learning how to buy local, organic foods on a fixed budget. The variety and bulk of the last few CSA shares have made rationing food expenses a bit easier, and I thought I’d share a few recipes I found for making every last bit of produce count—even the most unpalatable.

Chard and beet greens: While I adore dark leafy greens of all types, Channing hates them. I mean, really hates them. To the point that he won’t even try them anymore. Even when they are the #1 hit of Thanksgiving dinner 2009. To ensure Channing eats his share of the chard and beet greens that appear just about every week in our CSA share, I’ve had to be a little sneaky. I mix them in with one of Channing’s favorite foods—eggs—and amazingly, he’ll eat them with no complaints.

Beet Green and Garlic Curl Quiche
Adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook
Yield: one 9-inch pie, serving 6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic curls
10 oz fresh beet greens, chopped (chard or kale work too)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1 9-in. prebaked pie shell (I like Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée, but any pie crust will do)
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3 eggs, lightly beaten with enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Saute the garlic curls until tender (but not browned). Add the greens and stir over heat until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Let the mixture cool slightly.

Sprinkle the bottom of the prebaked pie crust with 2 tbsp of the cheese. Top with the greens mixture. Pour the eggs and milk over the greens. Sprinkle on the remaining 2 tbsp cheese.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a 375-degree oven, until lightly puffed and patchy brown.

Beets: I have been hoarding beets for the last few weeks because, though I love beet greens, I have little interest in eating the roots. On occasion I’ve enjoyed beet and goat cheese salads at fancy restaurants, but I find I can’t replicate them in my own kitchen, nor do I want to eat them on a regular basis. This week, though, I decided I needed to make use of the two pounds of beets in the fridge. After assessing the items in my pantry, I whipped up some whole-wheat beet coconut muffins, using only ingredients I had on hand. OK, the first bite of these muffins is a little unusual, but by bite two, they’re pretty darn good.

Whole-Wheat Beet Coconut Muffins
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Minimalist
Yield: 12 muffins

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, more for greasing tins
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 c sugar (or 1/4 c Stevia)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup grated beets
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp plain yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 12-cup muffin tin. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, grated beets, coconut, egg, and yogurt. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture until just combined.

2. Fill muffin tins; bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top. Serve warm. (Store at room temperature.)

Cucumbers: I have a great dislike for cucumbers (Channing calls them my kryptonite) and avoid them as much as possible. But lately they’ve been impossible to avoid. We’ve been getting several each week from the CSA—too many for Channing to eat on his own. So, I scoured the food blogosphere for a recipe that might make these nasty vegetables tolerable. And I found one. The key is lightly salted roasted peanuts and toasted coconut. I can actually get through a good portion of this salad without wanting to puke, and for me, when it comes to cucumbers, that is a ringing endorsement. You can find the recipe at 101 Cookbooks. (I used finely grated coconut, a mix of olive and flax oil, and yellow mustard seeds because that’s what I had in the pantry.)

Cilantro: When I have too much of any herb, I usually find a good pesto recipe or toss the excess into a salad. It’s pretty easy to use up basil and parsley this way. Cilantro, on the other hand, tends to linger in the fridge a bit longer, i.e., until it turns brown and slimy. A couple weeks ago I found a yummy cilantro salsa recipe to solve the lingering herb problem. (I’d also recommend this cilantro-peanut pesto recipe. It’s not only scrumptious; it freezes well too.)

Cilantro Salsa
Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Yield: 2/3 cup

1 jalapeño chili, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large bunch cilantro, stems removed
1/2 c basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, halved (or 2 garlic curls, coarsely chopped)
1/3 c olive oil, plus more to taste
1 tbsp lime juice, freshly squeezed, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Salt, to taste

Combine the chili, cilantro, basil, and garlic in a food processor with 1/4 c water and the oil and pulse to puree. Stir in the lime juice, cumin, coriander, and salt. Taste, add oil if dry, and correct the spices. Serve as a dip with chips or over grilled fish, chicken, or vegetables.

This month I joined my first CSA. For twenty-four weeks, beginning in June, I will receive a share of the harvest from Potomac Vegetable Farms and three other organic farms in the area that PVF collaborates with. I am particularly excited because a portion of my share will actually be grown in Fairfax County, only a handful of miles from my house—anyone familiar with this area knows that farmland is hard to come by around here.

Fairfax isn’t the only area in the country where farmland is dwindling. Between 1982 and 2007, more than 23 million acres of U.S. farmland were lost to development, and farmers make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population. More and more of our food supply is coming from overseas (most notably, from China). Between 1993 and 2007, U.S. consumption of imported fresh fruits and vegetables doubled; by 2007, more than 20% of the fresh vegetables Americans consumed were imported.

CSA, or community-supported agriculture, is one locavore effort to combat this trend. The concept originated in Japan and Switzerland in the 1960s and ’70s as a means to increase food security, promote organic farming, and keep food dollars in the local community. The European model migrated to New England in the mid-1980s and has since spread across the United States. Most sources I found counted more than 1,400 CSAs in the country; Local Harvest lists more than 4,000.

CSAs take different forms and offer a variety of products, from fruits and vegetables to meat, eggs, bread, cheese, milk, and even ice cream. Typically, members of a community pay a farmer (or group of farmers or producers) a flat rate for a share of the year’s harvest. Payment is usually made before the growing season so that it can be used to cover the costs of farm operation, including seed, equipment, and employee salaries. Clearly this is a benefit for the farm. As farmer Jeff Poppen puts it, “When a group of people cover the farm’s annual budget, as in CSA, the farmer is able to put all his or her attention into developing the farm’s unique possibilities.” Plus, the farmer is allowed some financial cushion, even if crops are spoiled by weather or disease.

CSA members also reap numerous benefits from this arrangement: access to fresh, local, and often organic produce, exposure to a wide variety of vegetables, and a direct relationship with a farmer, to name only a few. In the past I’ve found these same benefits shopping at the farmers market, and of course, a backyard garden or community garden plot would do the trick (unfortunately, I have neither). What has finally won me over to the PVF CSA, though, is the challenge of it. You never know what’ll be included in your weekly share and in what quantity. Planning good, diverse meals around an abundance of zucchini or eggplant or lettuce will flex my creative cooking muscles.

The other factor that weighed heavily for me was cost. The upfront cost to join a CSA is sizeable, but I’m anticipating a 40 percent savings in my food expenses for those twenty-four weeks (10 percent savings if I factor in the CSA cost). Of course, my current food expenses are significant: about 14 percent of my income. Americans spend on average slightly less than 10 percent of their income on food, a smaller percentage than any other people in history. So, even though I will be spending less than usual on food this summer and fall, I will still be spending (proportionally) more than the average American. By this measure, supporting sustainable agriculture is expensive.*

But, like many before me, I’d argue that not supporting good food and good farmers is even more costly. Conventional, monocrop farming causes loss of biodiversity and poisons our soil, air, and water. Processed and pesticide-laden food jeopardizes our health. Imported meat and produce threaten U.S. food security and cause other, more immediate problems (like the food-borne illness outbreaks so often in the news these days). So, if you haven’t already, please look into CSAs or other alternative food sources near you (for starters, try Local Harvest and Eat Wild), or if you have the means, plant a garden, raise chickens, or keep bees.

Sources and Additional Reading

  • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, rev. ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996).
  • Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1981).
  • Farmland by the Numbers,” American Farmland Trust: Farmland Protection, 2009.
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).
  • The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy,” Food and Water Watch, December 11, 2008.
  • Michael Pollan, “The Food Movement, Rising,” New York Review of Books, June 10, 2010.
  • Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (New York: Penguin Press, 2008).
  • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin Press, 2006).
  • Jeff Poppen, “Community Supported Agriculture and Associative Economics,” Biodynamics, Spring 2008.
  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).

*But it doesn’t have to be. Many organizations are making fresh, organic, local food available to low-income families. To cite just one example, last summer I harvested corn at a USDA farm in Maryland for Food for Others, an organization that distributes free food to people in need in northern Virginia.

Lessons Learned (So Far)

February 25, 2011

People who know I’m doing this experiment are always asking, How are things going? I have yet to come up with a good answer. Aside from the workplace gift-giving pickle, I haven’t run into any problems. I felt a little twinge when Channing and I drove past Ann Taylor on the way to the movie theater this weekend, but other than that, I haven’t missed shopping. So, maybe it would be best to focus on a few things I’ve learned these first eight weeks:

1. Making lasagna does not require aluminum foil (in fact, very few things do).

I made a pesto lasagna for a birthday celebration last weekend and baked it uncovered. Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything actually doesn’t call for covering the dish, and his suggested cooking time is super short—25 minutes at 400 degrees. The top layer of noodles was a touch dry, but no one complained because the lasagna was downright delicious. Isn’t anything with pesto?

Interesting note: I’m not using foil for much of anything right now, but I still feel the need to hoard it. When my colleagues and I went to Cosi for the boss’s birthday, I took the foil they wrapped my bread in home with me. It’s sitting under the sink with my one or two other foil scraps not in use. In fact, I keep reusing the same one piece (to store onion leftovers). It’s pretty worn out at this point and probably leaching all kinds of nasty things into my onions.

2. Pumpkin pie ice cream is awesome.

In my continuing effort not to waste food, I finally cut open one of the pumpkins I have had stored atop my fridge since November. The first half of it went into a roasted squash dish with beans, (local greenhouse) tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and onions. Despite the aromatics, the dish wasn’t that great, and the pumpkin in particular was bland. So, I decided I needed to bake the rest of it into submission, spice it up—and then turn it into ice cream. Best idea ever.

3. If I stay out of the stores, I don’t buy anything.

This lesson is a bit obvious, sure, but still worth noting. A couple weeks back, Channing and I were in Fairfax to see The Fighter at Cinema Arts. After the movie, we went across the street to the Record and Tape Exchange in hopes of exchanging some Christmas vinyl Channing had picked up from Freecycle last summer. The exchange was denied (the employee we spoke to had been forbidden from accepting Christmas music), but Channing decided he wanted to browse anyway. So, of course, I ended up browsing with him. It turns out, in addition to loads of used vinyl and CDs, the Record and Tape Exchange deals in DVDs, including full seasons of Gilmore Girls. If I were not hyperconscious of my spending at the moment, I would’ve dropped fifteen bucks on season 5—which then, after one or two views, would’ve sat on the shelf with my copy of season 3, collecting dust. (Hmm, maybe I should take season 3 to the Exchange.) I think it’s best for now to avoid temptation altogether and stay out of the stores.