Month: December 2014

Meat(less)

Although I did not ration food in 2014, and do not plan to in 2015, I have noticed a definite shift in my eating habits, especially in the last 6 months: I am eating much less meat. I’ve always been aware of the ethical implications of meat-eating — in the past I was a vegetarian for years and vegan for a while, too. What I didn’t understand then but understand now is that vegetarian does not automatically equal ethical, as anyone now familiar with the quinoa story will understand. It also hits closer to home — we have cranberry bogs close by, and when dried cranberries (craisins) became popular, much land in the Pine Barrens that was the home of wildlife was turned into cranberry bogs. So many animals lost their homes and were killed for this “vegetarian” food. It’s complicated, and I think it does a disservice to everyone to make it a black and white issue (meat: bad, not meat: good).

What I’ve been doing: for each shopping trip to Whole Foods (which is probably once every two weeks to once a month) I buy one or two pieces of meat and use it sparingly. This week we got enough beef for two hamburgers as a treat (probably a half pound total for both of us), and a teeny tiny ham (I just ran to check it — it’s 1.85 lbs) — we’ll eat this once as an entrée and the rest will be used to flavor soups, stews, pasta dishes and the like. Back in November we got a whole chicken — not only did the meat provide many meals, but I made a stock of the bones which provided broth for soups. We also got a little under a pound of  meatball mix (this is veal, pork, and beef) for an enormous pot of gravy (this is tomato sauce for the non-Italians). We had endless dishes of pasta with this, and I also froze little bits in half cup containers which is the perfect size for saucing a home-made pizza.

We also shop at Costco, but do not buy any meat there. Although they say they have ethical standards, they do not have the very transparent numbering system Whole Foods does. We also shop at the farmers’ market (which is not operating currently — they reopen in May).

A little digging revealed that a WWII ration of meat for one adult in Britain would be 4 oz of ham or bacon, and 1/2 lb meat (this sounds like it was in the better days of rationing). Adults in America got a whopping two and a half pounds of meat a week! That’s more than I am eating. I’m glad to see that the allotment of meat we’ve become comfortable with is at or under ration portions — see what I mean about this project spreading its influence into all areas of your life? 🙂

I eat most of my meals at home or bring food with me, which makes it easy to stick to this plan. I also share meals with coworkers occasionally, but the majority of them are vegetarians. This makes things easy — our “bring stuff in” communal meals are always vegetarian and when we go out, we always go to places that have fantastic vegetarian options. When I’m out and about, things can get murky. In Chicago, I ate the local specialties including sausage on my pizza, and slow roasted brisket sliders at the holiday party I attended. I am a firm believer in “When in Rome…” (in fact, I was a strict vegetarian whilst traveling to Italy and was offered some wild boar from a family’s farm in Chianti; I only hesitated a moment before saying, “Of course!”).  We are also going out for my husband’s birthday in January to our favorite local restaurant, and I’d be very surprised if I didn’t order an entrée with meat in it. I had the rabbit the last time we went and it was incredibly good. In short, I plan well for our home meals,  do the best I can when out without feeling like I’m missing out on An Experience , and try to make it all balance somehow.

Looking forward, this dovetails nicely with one of my 2015 goals — to expand my garden! I’ve had the same raised beds for the last three years because I’ve been so busy with school when garden starting happens (previous to that, I had increased it by one bed a year for the previous 5 years). This year, I plan to add at least two more to increase my food production. Victory garden indeed! I am still in the dreamy stage of looking through seed catalogs and choosing what to add — so much fun! I’ll let you know what seeds I order when I finally stop dithering 🙂

(image: US Department of War Information, 1942)

Hands, Smallness, Love, and Defiance

I just finished the book Heat by Bill Buford. It’s ostensibly a book about food and learning to cook, but I found it to be an exploration of all I hold dear and am trying to work on in this Life During Wartime project. The first half, about chefs and restaurants is illuminating if sometimes hard to take, but the second half about Buford’s time in Italy was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. He’s writing about food, but I think one can apply his words to everything: art, clothing, everyday objects, culture . . . modern life. I can’t stop thinking about hands, and smallness, and love, and, yes, defiance. What fortification to bring into a new year of this project. Here’s a little bit:

Italians have a word, casalinga, homemade, although its primary sense is “made by hand.” My theory is just a variant of casalinga. (Small food: by hand and therefore precious, hard to find. Big food: from a factory and therefore cheap, abundant.) Just about every preparation I learned in Italy was handmade and involved my learning how to use my hands differently. My hands were trained to roll out dough, to use a knife to break down a thigh, to make sausage or lardo or polpettone. With some techniques, I had to make my hands small, like Betta’s. With others, I made them big, like the Maestro’s. The hands, Dario says, are everything. With them, cooks express themselves, like artists. With them, they make food that people use their hands to eat. With the hands, Dario passes on to me what he learned from his father. With the hands, Betta gives me her aunts. The hands of Miraim’s mother, her grandmothers. The hands of Dario’s grandfather, his great-grandfather he never met, except indirectly, in what passed on through his hands.

Miriam, who can’t get a pastina to roll out the dough, no longer makes handmade pasta. When her daughter takes over, will she roll it out by hand? In Tuscany, you can’t get the meat at the heart of the region’s cooking, so Dario and the Maestro found a small farm that reproduces the intensity of flavor they grew up with. How long will that taste memory last? The Maestro will die. Dario will die. I will die. The memory will die. Food made by hand is an act of defiance and runs contrary to everything in our modernity. Find it; eat it; it will go. It has been around for a millennia. Now it is evanescent, like a season.

❤ (and fight for what you believe in!)

PS: I was always told by my family that my last name, Manni, came from the Italian mani, hands. Besides all of the feminist implications, I always wanted to (and did) keep my name when I married because of that.

PPS: Thanks to the Zero Waste Chef, who had a quote from this book on her blog, which intrigued me, so I sought it out.

(image: illustration by Bruce Hutchinson)

Anatomy of a Handmade/Reused/Reusable Holiday/Gift

Even before my interest in sustainability blossomed, I was always a bit horrified by how commercial and shallow the holiday season was celebrated around me. When I was little, it was about family and home and traditional, special foods — I looked so forward to the season! …and then something shifted in the 1980s. Like everything else in America, it became about “getting and spending”* — my grandmother’s generation gave the holidays to the next generation. Our little homemade Christmas eve dinner, for example, got replaced with a giant open house party at my cousin’s house filled with a catered meal, business associates, and flashy gifts. People I never met before or barely knew milling amongst my near and dear, in and out, on to other parties and other dinners, bigger, better. Trash bags and trash bags of wrapping paper and uneaten food were whisked away by a hired hand at the end of the night. It felt so empty.

Fast forward to now — I’ve taken the holiday season back. Not to my grandmother’s time, but something much older. I’m in tune with the darkness, and approaching light. I rest with my most loved ones and try to stay warm. I make special meals, and special gifts. Special for me means handmade and low impact. I thought it would be interesting to “dissect” one of my gifts to show you what I mean.

Each year at work, we have a secret santa/Pollyanna. We go to Monk’s for a late lunch/early dinner, and each place our gift in the middle of the table. After a drink or two one of us gets out some paper, writes a number for each person present, folds it up, and puts them in a hat (which is usually one of mine! The hat I knit for Chicago held the numbers this year!). We pass the hat, and choose the number which represents the order in which we get to choose our gift from the middle of the table.

First — the outside:

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The box is from some tea that I ordered many moons ago and saved. The glittery bird is from a holiday card I received two years ago, saved, and then cut the back part off, and then cut around the image with my scallopy scissors. The little nod toward holly are velvet leaves that were on a package of chocolate I got maybe 5 years ago and saved, and the berries are beads that were in my bead stash. I used the wires that were on the leaves to rig up the holly-esque bit, then glued the image on the box, then the holly. What I like about this is no wrapping paper! The recipient can re-use this box for a gift that they give, or save it to store things in — maybe even their holiday decorations they save from year to year.

Inside:

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Here you will find two of my handknit hand towels in holiday colors! Of course, the recipient can use them any time of the year for drying things in the kitchen or hands in the bathroom, as reusable napkins for meals, as place mats or trivets or any number of things!

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I also included a bottle of my homemade vanilla extract. I’ve been including this in my handmade holiday gifts for years. This stuff is goooooooood and I also mention that it comes with refills — and guess what — recipients take me up on it 🙂 I’ve gotten many bottles back with polite requests for some more, please! My pleasure 🙂

I also like to include some tea with holiday spices and flavors such as clove, cinnamon and orange peel:

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(check out how to dry your own orange peel to add to tea and other goodies — this was easy and I’m blown away by how fragrant it is! Plus — you get to eat the orange first!)

The little tin can be reused indefinitely!

I also threw in a bunch of peppermint swirl candies for color. These were my mom’s favorite candies, and whenever people came to visit she would ask that they bring them. When I got her things, I found 7 enormous bags of these mints (!) in her closet. I took 3 home (David loves these, too) and left 4 for the other residents, because they used to come into her room and ask for some. There is also red tissue paper underneath all this that I saved from a gift and reused.

A little magpie packrattery, some making, some small nods to the past, and ardent hopes for the future add up to a holiday celebration I can feel good about. I wish you and yours a joyful holiday season, any which way you choose to celebrate it (but choose!)!

*The World Is Too Much With Us

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Chicago: City on the Make

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I had quite the jaunt to Chicago! I won’t bore you with all of the details — just the Life During Wartimesque details 🙂 If you want to hear about what deep dish pizza place to go to, my favorite paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, what a Gilded Age era toilet looks like, or the Wonderland That is Eataly, just ask! So — onward:

*The day before I left, I noticed that my suitcase had holes in all four of the corners. It’s a tapestry bag which is lined in some sort of black plastic-y material and is about 20 years old, and was a hand me down. I didn’t have the time or funds to purchase a new one, and had terrrrrrrible visions of the holes getting bigger and bigger on my trip only to have all my things flying out in the middle of … somewhere they shouldn’t. Thankfully, I bemoaned of my situation at work, and my coworker suggested gaffer taping the living daylights out of the insides. Ding, ding, ding! We even had the tape at home. It worked PERFECTLY! I also think the bag can withstand another journey with a little more tape applied! It was a rough trip for Stuff, though — when we were leaving Chicago, the handle of David’s suitcase broke, and I discovered the lining of my coat ripped! I am tempted to tape it with gaffer tape since it’s one of those linings that is attached to the body of the coat, and I can’t get inside to sew it properly (!)

*The Train Experience was everything I hoped it would be. I loved walking to my local train station with my lightly packed bags (in short — wear things more than once, wear only the footwear on your feet), transferring to the El in Philadelphia to get to the train station, basking in the gorgeousness that is 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, then getting on my on-time train to DC, arriving in DC with plenty of time to get a latte, then boarding my on-time train to Chicago for 17 hours of staring out the window, thinking, and best of all listening to an audiobook version of Middlemarch.

I wound up packing my food because I wasn’t feeling up to chatting with strangers whilst eating in the dining car — and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t very hungry during the appointed dinner hours and preferred to nibble on my sandwiches, or chocolate, or shortbread as I was hungry, all whilst listening to my book. After a few chapters I drifted off to varying states between waking and sleeping, sometimes hearing the comforting English accent talking to me and relaxed for the first time in weeks. I arrived in Chicago feeling refreshed and excited and warmed by the tea that the one person I made friends with on the train shared with me.

The train station to the hotel was only a 10 minute taxi ride. I learned the basics of the Chicago public transportation system when I was there, and now know how to take public transport, too! (Conversely, the airport was almost an hour away, much of it sitting in traffic in the taxi and the airport is horrid and the plane is horrid and my ears hurt so much I cried and I hated, hated, hated it! I won’t even go into how my air ticket got screwed up and we had to cancel it and rebook it at twice the price and uuuugggghhhhhh)!

*If ever you need a place to stay in Chicago I can recommend the Days Inn on Diversey. It’s not one of those new plastic modern Days Inns, but an old brick building, only 4 stories, in the middle of a neighborhood filled with little shops and houses and life. I loved being able to see real people walking their dogs and doing their food shopping each day instead of a bunch of tourists and businesspeople! The rooms are small, but clean and comfortable. There is a Trader Joe’s right on the street and a little refrigerator in the room, so you can get a few things to eat for your stay. The people that work there are really nice, and their free breakfast was really yummy — not every gratis hotel breakfast has bagels and make your own waffles!

*There was a TeaGschwendner on the same block as my hotel. As in the tea company who won best Earl Grey at the World Tea Expo with their Earl Grey No 69. As in, you know I’m a huge Earl Grey aficionado. As in, dear reader, I have now gone over my tea coupons. It was not a decision I made lightly, but a decision I’m glad I made. I had a wonderful conversation with the person working in the store, she gave me a cup of their Winter Magic tea as I was walking around, she let me smell everything, she gave me a few scoops of a fancy oolong for free, and it was such a great in the moment experience that I went for it. Sure, they sell online, and sure, I could have waited and placed an order when I had more coupons in 16 more days — but that wouldn’t have produced the memories I’m having of Chicago as I sip my tea here at work today. Sometimes ya gotta break the rules.

Now, how should I “pay” for my black market purchases? I played around with a few scenarios (use next year’s coupons? show an overage for this year? take remaining coupons from a different category?), and settled on taking coupons from my remaining soap coupons for the tea. I purchased 100g of Earl Grey No. 69 and 100g of Earl Grey’s Lady Violet, which makes 200g or 7.05479 oz — let’s just say 8 oz as a little hand slap 😉 2 oz of tea equal a coupon, so that’s 4 coupons. I have 14 soap coupons left, so now I’m down to 10. I think this is fair (but pipe up if you think it isn’t!).

*I didn’t purchase anything else in Chicago except for museum entrance fees, public transportation, food, and a postcard from the Driehaus Museum for $1.04 USD including tax 🙂 …which was interesting because no matter who I talked to, when they asked me what my plans were for the weekend, they said, “Shopping, of course, right?” and I would tell them, “No, actually!” Apparently Chicago is a big shopping destination — not only in the giant Magnificent Mile stores, but even in the indie, artsy neighborhoods. We even visited what we thought would be a quaint German Christmas market but wound up being a mob scene where people were stepping on babies (seriously! so many crying toddlers from being stepped on!!!) to get to the ornaments and Christmas mugs (we left as soon as we could get out of the pressed bodies!).

This contrasts uncomfortably with the large population of poor and homeless citizens that live in Chicago. I ate in a “donation only” Panera Cares location (not understanding what it was until asked for “what I could pay” rather than “the price.” I then noticed the bagel I was eating was a bit stale (all of the baked goods served are “day old”) and the people I was eating with were, ah, not your regular cafe customers with money to burn. Sobering. It was one of my first experiences after arriving and it stayed with me as I accessed places of privilege such as museums and holiday office parties, snapped photos on my iPhone, got to make the choice to go over my tea coupons, and slept in a warm king-sized bed in a hotel. I enjoy traveling as a broadening, eye-opening, and yes, joyful experience, but I am always aware that I am having a “holiday in other people’s misery” (Sex Pistols!). Aren’t we always.

Planned Obsolescence

I’ve talked quite a bit about my love of tea, but I also am a huge fan of ye old coffee bean. I start my day with a large cup. Unlike all of my drama around tea, I just buy a giant bag of organic free trade coffee at Whole Foods and use it until it’s gone, then buy another. I use a French Press currently (I used to use a stove top Yama Syphon but after I broke the top part, got another, then my husband broke it a week later I’ve given up!) and grind my beans fresh each morning.

I noticed that my electric grinders tend to last two years before they break. Maybe three if I’m lucky. No matter if it’s a fancy one or an inexpensive one, a tiny plastic part breaks off or cracks and the grinder will no longer run, and no replacement parts are sold. I hate to be paranoid, but since this breaking is so clockwork-like, I can’t help but think it’s intentional! After this going on for like, 20 years (!) I finally said to myself, “Hey! Maybe you should get a manual grinder!”

…and so when a bitty plastic part on my latest grinder cracked off and the grinder would no longer work, I did just that.

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I’ve been using this Hario Ceramic burr hand crank coffee grinder for a little over two weeks and I love, love, love it! You can fully adjust the grind, the beans grind so evenly, and it’s very easy to use. It does take time — grinding 4 little scoops of coffee beans takes about two minutes – about as long as it takes for the water to heat for the French Press. I find it pleasurable and a nice way to start my morning. Best of all — the grinding mechanism is supposed to last a lifetime. The glass part on the bottom is sturdy and thick, but if I happen to break it (not wildly improbable with my butterfingers) I can replace it, and it even will screw into a standard mason jar in a pinch.

I don’t think it would have registered that this was a Thing I Could Do if I didn’t start this ration project (obviously — I have a 20 year history of re-buying grinders!). I now have started to examine everything I purchase with a long view. Something lasting two or three years simply isn’t acceptable any more, and researching a longer term solution has become second nature. Another amazing revelation thanks to this project. ❤

Cozy

I wanted to show you the fruits of my knitting labor today — I’ve been knitting so much to soothe myself that I actually made a blister on my finger! Alas, I tried taking some photos of the knitted pieces but it didn’t work. The sun was glare-y, I didn’t want to be the mannequin, I don’t have a mannequin, a chair really doesn’t look like a mannequin, and one of the things is a beret. Berets look like a pancake without a head (or a faux head) in them! I’ll try to take some photos whilst they are in action in the coming weeks.

My water bottle, though, was a willing model!

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My bottle tends to get condensation on the outside when I fill it with cold water, and I usually put it in a little bag inside my bigger bag, or wrap a napkin around it. I thought for my upcoming trip, knitting a cozy for it would be a nicer solution to the problem! It’s made of hemp yarn in a grey color which I think compliments the stainless steel well. It’s so much easier to handle with the cozy instead of a napkin or bag around it. I like that it has a bottom and is not just a strip around the bottle.

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I got the basic idea for what do from this water bottle cozy, but had to adjust the amount of cast on stitches because my bottle is 12 inches in circumference. I also chose to make it in a solid color, and have it end at the top of the bottle rather than the neck. I had the yarn, so this was a zero coupon improvement! I should have done this years ago.

Speaking of years ago, I realized I got this bottle in 2008 and use it whenever I’m out and about. Imagine all of the plastic bottles and paper cups I haven’t used since 2008 because of this wonderful bottle?! ❤

Clothing Coupons for 2014 — All Gone

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I finished spending my clothing coupons for 2014. I wanted to get some very useful basics that I haven’t been able to find second-hand or make. Here’s what I decided on, and why…

I chose Lands’ End as the place to purchase said items. They have classic pieces that are reasonably well made, and actually have a pretty detailed sustainability agenda for a big company. Would I have liked to get them from a small business that uses organic materials? Of course I would. 🙂 But I haven’t been able to find very classic pieces that are also from a small biz and green. They tend to be funkier pieces — and I’m drowning in funky! I also tend to make funkier things myself.

If you know of a small, green place that sells classic stuff at a reasonable price (not meaning low — I’m willing to spend a fair price but I can’t afford, say, $500 for a dress) I’m all ears! Please leave me a comment 🙂

I needed some tops — black ones that can go with my handmade skirts. I’ve mentioned before how hot my office is (old building and we can’t control the heat) so I wanted cotton, and something thin. I also wanted something dressier than a t-shirt. I found the perfect two tops for my needs — Supima cotton sweaters — one short-sleeved and one 3/4 sleeved. I’ve already worn them so many times even though I just got them! They look much nicer than a t-shirt, don’t make me feel too hot, and I love the way they fit — not too loose, not too tight, not too long, not too short. I also love how fine gauge they are — I would have to use 00000 needles to get something so fine if I made it myself. Bonus — I think I can wear these 3 if not 4 seasons a year.

As per the wartime coupon system, these sweaters require five coupons each.

I also mentioned how I really needed a plain black dress since I had so many print ones — I found one! It’s already sold out, but it’s this one, only all in black. I am saving this to wear for the first time in Chicago (hence the travel friendly fabric), but hope to wear it to my office holiday celebration, my mom’s memorial meal, and my husband’s birthday celebration in early January before putting it into workaday rotation. This was a big points eater — 11 points!

10 + 11 = 21, and I had exactly 21 coupons left. Ta da! Done! I’m pretty satisfied that I got super useful things that were exactly what I needed.

I have lots and lots of finished knitting to show you guys as soon as I take some photos of them. I hope to get to that this weekend. Until then!

COUPONS REMAINING:

Clothing: NONE out of 66
Soap: 14 out of 36
Tea: NONE out of 10

(image from wikimedia commons)