How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

How We Eat: Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition

What you choose to eat or not eat in this time in history is probably one of the most confusing and baffling parts of life. This is true, especially, if you are interested in good health, animal or environmental welfare, or your pocketbook. If you are at a point in your life where you don't care about aforementioned concepts, by all means, skip to the next blog post. If figuring out the "best" way to eat is a constant internal conversation, stay and have that conversation with us for a bit. Let's talk about Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. Kristl and I have come to this way of eating after struggling through thousands of dollars of mediocre restaurant food, easy convenience food, and home cooked food ranging from the lavish to the very simple. We have been those people who eat out every meal just because there is a restaurant they haven't tried. We have also eaten just potato chips and soda for dinner. Or brownies. And this isn't all like "in the past" either. In December, we definitely existed on nothing but white pizza for three days, and on Easter, we pigged out on candy (and then seriously suffered the consequences. Seriously.) No joke.

Those are the exceptions. Let's talk about the rule. The rule is we want to eat what makes us feel good. We don't particularly care about weight gain or loss, or packing on muscle. We do have some things to take into consideration. I have epilepsy, and my neurologist, who doesn't seem to care about my diet at all, will admit that limiting your sugar consumption is better for your brain. There are numerous studies to back this up. I can tell you, without the help of any studies, that sugar does not make my brain feel good. Sugar also tends to make Kristl's gallbladder issues act up. So, for the sake of feeling good, processed sugar gets the boot.

Ok, back to Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. What does it mean? Why is it healthy? What can you feed us if we come over for dinner?!

If you think way back before globalization, before industrialization, people ate what was available to them on their farm, in their community, and what was in season. There weren't factories to break down the food into boxes, and then put it in your freezer so you could heat it up in your microwave. People were confronted with the whole cabbage, the whole chicken, whole food. Now, no one is suggesting that we all go back to subsistence farming. However, the closer you are to your producer, the fresher the product is likely to be (not always, but usually.) This is sustainable because you are supporting the local economy with your dollars, and giant trucks are not going as far to bring you delicious food.

Ok, these are our ideal standards:

  • For meat: Locally raised (five state radius), grass-fed, pastured (able to graze on grassland in appropriate weather), never treated with hormones, only given antibiotics in appropriate situations. Limit beef, and try to only cook with meat 3 days a week. Try to eat parts other than muscle.
  • For fish: Salmon should be wild caught from Pacific waters, small fish are almost always better, avoid farmed seafood, especially from Asia. Eat fish 1-2 times a week.
  • For eggs: Locally raised, grass-fed, pastured in season, organic feed otherwise. We eat as many eggs as we want.
  • Limit tofu, but fermented bean stuff, like tempeh is a-ok
  • Limit dried beans, only because they upset Kristl's stomach in large quantities, but see above, we are experimenting with tempeh
  • For dairy: We eat only grass-fed dairy products, and only whole fat (4%). This is a lot of Kerry Gold cheeses and Kalona cottage cheese and sour cream. Also, for butter we usually get Kerry Gold or Organic Valley Cultured. Grass fed is preferred, then organic local, then local, in that order. But we always want to avoid added hormones and antibiotics in our dairy.
  • Eat all the fermented food! This includes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, etc, etc, etc. If it's cultured, we want it. Good bacteria to the maximum. Anything is easier to digest with fermentation!
  • Consume bone broth daily. We make bone broth from bones left over from other dishes, and vegetable scraps. We do not necessarily consider bone broth a magical cure all, but there are lots of good minerals and collagen inside.
  • Eat 8-9 servings of locally grown vegetables a day. "Locally grown using sustainable practices" trumps "organic" from California/Mexico/Peru. If it is not the growing season, we check out the Environmental Working Group's Pesticide Residue Data (a la Dirty Dozen) and make an informed decision about buying organic. We do eat frozen organic green beans and peas, because they are frozen very fresh, contain no salt, and are a great value from Costco.
  • Eat nuts sparingly. Nuts are a great snack, and we enjoy a mixed nut butter called Nuttzo, but since few nuts are found locally we don't pig out on nuts.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The sugar from fruit is still sugar, so we snack on vegetables over fruits, but we probably average about 1 fruit a day.
  • Limit natural sugars. We love honey and maple syrup, but they still give Rachel a little bit of brain fuzz, so we use them sparingly
  • Avoid processed goods. If it comes in a bag or a box, isn't in the same shape it was when it came off the plant, has more than five ingredients, contains alcohol, and/or includes preservatives, "natural flavors" or fake colors, you can bet it's not coming home with us.
  • Avoid processed sugar and alcohol. It makes us both sick and sad, but if processed sugar is as addictive as science says it is, then it probably makes a lot of people sick and sad. And Kristl is super allergic to alcohol. Womp.

That's our way of eating. That's the long and short of it. That's what keeps us healthy, makes us happy, and shines a little light on the world around us.

What I always tell people is that if it's not sustainable for you, then it's not going to be sustainable for the planet. If we had jumped in and tried to start eating this way when we started this blog two years ago, we would have started the week with an armful of vegetables and sunshine and ended the week with a bucket of frozen custard and shame.  The vegetables would have rotted, we would have wasted our money. We weren't ready then. Big changes don't necessarily happen overnight, and it often takes more than good intentions to push you in that direction.

The purpose of this post isn't to coerce you into adopting a Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition diet. Although, let me tell you, it is quite tasty. The purpose of this post is to demystify what these Sustainable Queers are doing over here and to inform you.

We'd like some company. We are essentially pinging the depths. We want to know if there's anyone out there who eats like us. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Do you value local food? Do you geek out over fermented foods and making sustainable choices? Do you cook most of your own meals? Maybe you don't right now, but you could find yourself heading that direction... let us know in the comments.

How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Two

Hello friends and readers! We have just entered the second year of this blog and another year of concentrated sustainable queerness! Last year, shortly after starting our blog, we provided you with an introductory post about why and how we live sustainably and call ourselves Sustainably Queer.  We decided that as a means of looking back and celebrating our one year anniversary, it would be fun to revisit that post.  Please find a revised and annotated version of "How We Do" below! Spoiler alert: there have been some pretty big changes!

Note: This may go without saying, but new actions/changes are listed in bold, things we are no longer doing are crossed out, and notes are in green. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning   - We decided that we don't mind the smell of vinegar enough to go through this process regularly, plus the one batch I made last year lasted almost an entire year. We may do this again, but it's not high on the list.
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood - We took one class from the Rebuilding Exchange, but we haven't continued woodworking. We still have three unfinished table tops chilling in the basement, so hopefully eventually they will become tables, but who knows when.
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - We do this as much as possible, though we still haven't found a good substitute for paper towels for draining bacon (we're going to try some of these options soon).
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house - This is still the rule, but we've been scaling way back on our buying, so sometimes we give away things even without buying something new. A larger purge is planned for early summer, so we can put stuff away without feeling cluttered about it.
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it’s cheaper too!) - Still going strong!
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads - Love these still!
  • Recycling basically everything we can - We are planning a "How to Effectively Recycle in Chicago" post at some point, there are tricks to it.
  • Leather-working with Chicago School of Shoemaking - You can check out our blog about the experience here. We're currently saving up to take Leatherwork 201, with the end goal being saving up enough to take the Beginning Shoemaking class because, really, what's more awesome and sustainable than being to make your own shoes?!
  • Large-scale refrigerator/freezer organization - Things got real about a week ago when we bought some Fridge Binz. Yes, we try to avoid bringing more plastic into our home, but we also try to avoid wasting food. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with the plastic bins for now, with the idea of switching to bamboo or metal sometime in the future, if we find something that fits our needs. 

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - It took her years, but Kristl finally figured out a way to make this work for her hair. She's planning a post on it soon.
  • Making homemade deodorant - Rachel uses this exclusively, Kristl's pits are more delicate, so she's still searching for a recipe that her skin can handle.
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures - With the addition of epilepsy to her life, Rachel is now obligated to take a Western medication to control it, but otherwise, we are mostly reliant on acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine to keep us healthy.
  • Using OraWellness tooth oil instead of toothpaste
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice - We both really could stand to meditate more often and for longer, but it's still helpful even in small doses!
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products - We're planning a post about menstrual cups and cloth pads/liners in the next few months. 

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things (like sweet potatoes, yum!) - This isn't actually a new thing, we just forgot to include it on our initial list.
  • Making staples for the week (baked/boiled eggs, congee, etc) - We still do this, though the staples themselves have changed.  Recently, we've been making a lot of breakfast bars, and soups/stews that are good for eating over 3-4 days. 
  • Making bigger batches of the meals we create so we can freeze portions for when we aren't able to cook - This has saved us on many occasions! We can pull a container out of the freezer and have it for lunch or dinner instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. 
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far) - Rachel has infused vodka with all manner of things, including pineapple, blueberries and a specific spice blend to make it taste like gin.
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs  - We love a good shrub, but we make so much kombucha now, making drinking vinegar also would be too much
  • Making our own kombucha - So much cheaper than buying it!  
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheez-its, etc from scratch - Again, the actual things we're making from scratch has changed, but we are still committed to buying as few packaged/processed foods as possible.
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • We bought an upright freezer - We can keep more meat and veggies in the house and put up fruit and veggies from the summer without messing with as much canning. We now have more versatility in how we "preserve" produce.
  • Bringing lunch to work/school
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share  - We've changed our approach on this since Rachel is in farm school this year.  We will probably have some access to vegetables that we didn't have before and hopefully we will be able to grow more than we did last year.  The egg share we had last season has been restructured to only be offered to CSA members, so we are no longer getting a carton of eggs a week.  This is kind of a relief, as at one point last summer we had 4 dozen eggs in our fridge.
  • Joined a meat and egg co-op - True Nature Foods has a relationship with a local, pastured farm where the consumer pays $60 a year for membership and is then able to order/purchase a wide variety of meat products and eggs for a reduced price.  This makes eggs cheaper than our egg share and we only have to buy them when we need them. We are doing our best to only eat meat from local, pastured, humane farms.
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food - This is a huge consideration especially where meat is concerned.  Every choice you make about where to spend your food dollars impacts how safely and sustainably food is produced, in general. Cheaper food is almost always cheap due to government subsidies or externalities (pollution, run-off, inhumane practices, lack of oversight, diminished workers' rights, etc), higher quality food is often more expensive because care was put into it's production and little harm was done to third parties (consumers, workers, animals). Not only do you vote with your money, you also farm with your money, by proxy.
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap, Soup & Bread, Good Food Festival

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts - We didn't buy any Christmas presents in 2013.  We either created or re-gifted everything we gave out or we didn't give gifts at all.  It worked out perfectly.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot and backyard to grow food - We just got clearance from our landlord to use some of our backyard space to grow more things.  This is a very exciting development and we are still deciding how to make it functional and beautiful.
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting - Worms and composting took a little bit of a hiatus over the winter.  They hung out in our basement because the "earthy" smell was a bit much for us in the apartment.  The basement was cold, given our wily winter, but I have seen signs of life, so hopefully worm composting will be back in order soon. 
  • Bugeting via You Need A Budget (YNAB) - With Rachel quitting her full-time job and Kristl going through an office relocation, we knew 2014 was going to be a different picture financially.  We took the pro-active approach and started zero-sum budgeting in December with a program called You Need A Budget.  Things have been going very well so far.  We have been able to save in advance for big bills (like car insurance) and put money away for upcoming big expenses (new car?).  It's pretty awesome. They offer a free trial, so you have no reason to try it out for a bit. Full disclosure, if you sign up using the link above and subscribe after your trial ends, we'll both get one month free - it's a win-win!
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way
  • Kristl is moving her practice to a location with-in walking distance of our house - This exciting for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because she will not need to use the car!

Well, that's about everything, it is a bit overwhelming, but we're managing ok on a day-to-day basis.  As always, feel free to check out anything we link to and ask us more questions about the products/processes.  We are always willing to write posts based on reader interest, so if there are specific topics you want to hear more about, please let us know in the comments below!

Thank you for all your support! Here's to the success of year one, and plenty of sustainable queerness to fill year two and beyond.

Ode to a Pressure Cooker

You guys, we've been holding out on you. We've been talking about blogging about our pressure cooker for at least six months, but life kept getting in the way. We were going to post about it last summer when we got it. Then we were going to do a roundup of our favorite kitchen gadgets for the holidays. Then we were going to write a love letter to our pressure cooker for Valentine's Day. Well, life obviously got in the way and we did NONE of those things. Enough is enough, it's time to extol the virtues of our Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker. Our beloved Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker

A lot of you probably think pressure cookers are dangerous. You've heard stories about pea soup exploding all over the ceiling or have memories of your mom or dad taking the pressure cooker outside to open it for fear of an explosion. Well, let us tell you that is no longer the case. Pressure cookers of today are safe, easy to use, and much quieter than those of years past. They have multiple safety mechanisms built in to ensure that nobody ends up with a face- (or ceiling-) full of dinner.

We talked about buying a pressure cooker for months, but didn't take the leap until last summer, when we'd spent time with not one, but two different friends who used pressure cookers to cook dried beans in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Our friends both had old-fashioned pressure cookers, but we wanted to get a new one that ensured safe use. (We're usually all for buying used, but we knew that we'd be way more likely to actually use our pressure cooker if we weren't afraid of it.)

A must-have pressure cooker cookbook. Seriously.

True to form, Kristl jumped head first into researching pressure cookers and decided to go with the one that America's Test Kitchen deemed their "Best Buy," the Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker. We also bought their cookbook Pressure Cooker Perfection, after giving it a once over at the library. If When you get a pressure cooker, you should absolutely get this book. Not only does it have a lot of great recipes, but it also goes into the basics of pressure cooking, buying a pressure cooker, troubleshooting problems, and is basically an indispensable reference to have on hand.

How do pressure cookers work? Water usually boils at 212°, but when it's under pressure in a closed environment the boiling point is closer to 250°. This is due to the steam being unable to escape the closed environment, causing the pressure to increase.  The temperature is increased because more energy is needed to boil the water under pressure. When cooking with a pressure cooker, you put the ingredients in the pot (following whatever recipe you're using, of course) and then seal and lock the lid on. If the pressure cooker you're using has two pressure settings, set it to either low or high (we do most of our cooking on high). Turn the heat on high and bring it up to pressure. There's a pressure indicator that shows when pressure has been reached, though you will also hear the steam escaping. Lower the heat to maintain pressure for the specified amount of time. When the time has passed, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and release the pressure. There are two ways to release pressure - quick release, in which you turn the pressure valve to release the steam quickly, or natural release, in which you let the pot sit off the heat until the pressure goes down on its own. Most recipes will indicate which type of release you should use.

Pressure Cooker Parts!

So, what do we make with our pressure cooker? Well, obviously, we make dried beans (in minutes!). We also make amazing stock in an hour (check out this post over on Serious Eats' The Food Lab comparing stock made on the stove top, in a slow cooker, and in a pressure cooker). Some of the dishes we've made include cottage pie, chicken and chickpea masala, pot roast and potatoes, chili, shredded chicken for soft tacos (we did this for our wedding lunch!), braised cabbage, polenta, turkey breast, a whole chicken with lemon and rosemary gravy, and a variety of soups. And you know what? Every single thing has been delicious. EVERY. SINGLE. DAMN. THING.

Have we convinced you yet? No? What if we told you that pressure cookers could save you money? Because pressure cookers cook so quickly, you will use less gas/electricity than you would cooking things the traditional way. You can also buy tougher (cheaper) cuts of meat that will tenderize easily in the high temperature/high moisture environment of the pressure cooker. We already mentioned dried beans, which are significantly cheaper than canned, and also produce less waste. Also, pressure cookers obviously save you time. Time is money, so...you do the math. (Not necessarily monetarily-related, but pressure cookers are great in the summer because you can cook delicious food without turning on the oven AND your stove doesn't have to be on very long.)

Honestly, the pressure cooker has transformed the way we think about certain types of meals.  We are so much more likely to eat beans, we are so much more likely to eat in rather than out, we are so much more likely to make things (like stock) that we might otherwise buy.  If you are one of those people who means well in the kitchen and wants to cook more, but can never find the time (or you always forget to start the crockpot in the morning), the pressure cooker is your jam.  But if you want to make jam, you might need a pressure canner. And that's a whole other post.


As further proof that we've been having a love affair with our pressure cooker for the better part of a year, check out this interview we did with the Windy City Times! We did the interview in September and were already raving about food we'd made in the pressure cooker. We hope you enjoy reading it and learning more about us!