March 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Paper Towels

One item our family has given up is our use of paper towels.  It took some sweet-talking, but after I got Amelia's ok it has been smooth sailing and got rid of one of the items that we regularly threw out in the garbage.



In our efforts to be more environmentally friendly we've tried to take a look at the items that go into our recycling and trash cans and determine how we can eliminate or reduce those items.  Paper towels were an early and somewhat obvious choice.  For the following reasons we decided to get rid of paper towels:

  • Single-use - after using a paper towel there is no opportunity to reuse, and usually no opportunity to recycle either.
  • Cost - although paper towels are not an expensive item per unit (around $1 or $2 each) it is a cost that can be almost entirely eliminated by using reusable cloth towels.  Cloth towels have a similar, or often lower, up-front cost, but can be reused many, many times (we haven't yet discarded one in about a year and half of use).
  • Readily available alternative - Cloth towels / tea towels have been around for many, many years and are more durable than paper towels.  We use these towels to dry dishes, clean off the table and countertops, and for any other kitchen cleaning need.  It is also easy to add cute animal designs, as you can see here.  
  • Lower environmental impact - paper towels are usually not made from recycled materials and utilize a number of chemicals in their production including chlorine related dioxins (from the bleaching process to make paper towels white).  We use an environmentally friendly detergent to wash our cloth towels and the usable life is long - I would guess at least 2 or 3 years per towel.
We put out a new cloth towel every day or two, and put the used towel in the laundry to wash with our clothes.  When the towels are too worn for use in the kitchen we plan to use them for cleaning around the house.

Suggested action steps:
  • Stop purchasing disposable paper towels and enjoy the cost savings
  • Purchase a set of 6 to 12 cloth towels to use in your home.  
    • We do keep a paper towel roll (non-bleached recycled paper towels) in a cabinet in case we have blood, motor oil, or some other harsh material to clean up but have rarely had to use them and have had the one roll for about a year now.

March 3, 2012

Awesome Bread - Recipe and Video Demonstration

One of our New Year's resolutions for 2012 is to cook more at home.  Cooking at home allows us to spend time together, learn some new culinary skills and recipes, save some money, and know what's in our food.  One item we have committed to making at home this year is bread.  Below is a recipe that was shared with us, as well as a video demonstration.  Thanks to Danny for sharing this easy, quick, delicious recipe!

To keep us motivated we have a tally on our dining room wall of the bread bought vs. bread made this year.  As of today the tally stands at:
  • Bread made: 20
  • Bread bought: 2
(Lame excuse: the 2 breads we bought were baguettes when we had company in town.)

Making our own bread also saves us money.  It costs us sixty-two cents a loaf (cost calculation link) for delicious, fresh bread compared to three or four dollars for a loaf at the store.

Below is my first YouTube video.  It's a demonstration of making the bread to show how simple and easy it is.  (It's also a good opportunity to laugh at me for a low-quality, but highly informative, how-to video.)

Awesome Bread Recipe
  • 3 cups flour
  • .25 tsp yeast
  • 1.25 tsp salt
  • 1.5 cups water

  • Dutch oven (cast iron or glass)
  • Large Bowl (ceramic or glass)
  • 1 cup measure
  • 1/4 tsp measure
Combine dry ingredients in bowl. Mix by hand (approx. 10 seconds). Add water and mix by hand until a sticky, uniform consistency is reached (approx. 2 minutes). Stir in any additional ingredients desired (chocolate, herbs, nuts, dried fruits, etc.).

Cover with tea towel or cloth for 12 - 18 hours.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees with dutch oven inside during preheating. Mix risen dough by hand in bowl. Spread a small amount of flour on bottom of dutch oven, just enough to cover bottom.  Place dough in dutch oven.

Bake covered at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook for additional 5 - 15 minutes to brown.  Remove from oven and enjoy with butter, jam, avocado, or plain.

Happy baking!  We love this recipe and hope you do too.

March 2, 2012

First Contest Prize Package

Congratulations again to Beverly for her winning guess of 142 (correct answer was 162) in the lemon counting contest from February 18.  I'm planning to do similar contests in the future so keep an eye out for those.  To help entice you to join future contests, here's a peek into Beverly's prize package.

To the Victor Go the Spoils 
Prize package contents:


  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  This book was first published in 1962 and is credited by many with starting the modern environmental movement.  If you haven't already read it I highly recommend it.  It's a fairly quick read, and is incredibly relevant for being publish 50 years ago.
  • Mexico 21 de Septiembre coffee beans from San Diego roaster Cafe Moto.  These beans are from the Oaxaca region of Mexico and are certified free trade and organic.  Additionally, Cafe Moto is a solar-powered local business.
  • Izola bamboo toothbrushes.  Mentioned in a prior post, these toothbrushes are compostable and made from natural materials.  They also include motivational phrases, hopefully they are useful to Beverly and her significant other, both of whom are in the midst of rigorous studies.  (Close-up included at right.)
  • Two lemons.  Last but not least, two lemons from our soon-to-be-prize-winning lemon tree.  Although I'm not organic certified yet, I vouch for the pesticide and herbicide conditions under which these lemons were produced.  I will also vouch for the wonderful lemon bars they are capable of being made into.

Have a great weekend and keep a look out for tomorrow's post which will include my first YouTube video and a wonderful, and super simple, recipe you can use this weekend.

March 1, 2012

Houseplants - Improve Your Indoor Air Quality With Easy to Grow Plants

Although I'm fortunate to have a yard I can experiment in with my plants and gardening, I wasn't always so lucky.  My first forays into growing plants were houseplants.  After reading a bit more, I've learned that houseplants can help to improve the air quality in a home, and provide other benefits as well.

If you've shopped for houseplants at a Home Depot or Lowe's you've probably noticed that many of the tags will note that "NASA recommends having houseplants to improve air quality at your home" or something to that effect.  Reading this was enough to convince me to buy a few plants, but I'm a pretty easy sell when it comes to plants anyway.  I got to wondering what exactly NASA did have to say about houseplants.  It didn't seem like the typical study subject for an institution trying to find E.T.

I did find the NASA study and it's an interesting read although it's not very recent, from 1989.  Basically they tested the ability of houseplants to filter out common toxins found in homes (formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene).  They tested a number of common houseplants including bamboo palm, english ivy, ficus, gerbera daisy, and others.  The study recommends using activated carbon filters with houseplants to maximize the detoxifying effect that plants can bring to a home and has a number of graphs showing the absorption rates of the different plants tested.

Although I haven't installed carbon filters yet, I do have a number of plants around the house and think the make a real difference in the quality of the air.  A couple of very easy to grow plants I would recommend to anyone (and that grow in nearly any sunlight conditions) are:
I have had these plants for a number of years and have had great success with keeping them alive and healthy.  I consider being able to keep a plant alive a big victory so I tend to gravitate towards the 'easy care' section of nurseries.

Bayer (the headache medicine maker) also recommends having houseplants to help ease breathing, improve air quality, improve personal health, and improve attentiveness.  I think a trailing philodendron adds a nice aesthetic touch to a room too.

Suggested action steps:

  1. Add a couple of houseplants to your apartment, condo, townhouse, or house
  2. Surprise your significant other with a gift of a living plant rather than cut flowers.  It'll last longer so you'll reap the rewards of your thoughtfulness longer too. :)