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

Soup and Bread: Delicious Community

Tofu Matzo Ball Soup
Tofu Matzo Ball Soup

Our process of choosing which posts to write and when sometimes makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.  Writing a post about the Good Food Festival within a week or two of going to the Good Food Festival makes sense, but writing a post about a weekly "winter" event as spring is (finally) dawning does not make a whole heap of sense.  However, Kristl and I were finally able to make it to Soup & Bread last night and were inspired to share it with you ASAP, even though there's only one week left for you to try it out this year.

Rather than recreate the wheel, I'll let Soup & Bread's website explain what they are and how it got started:

 

Soup & Bread is a free weekly community meal based at the Hideout, a bar and music venue in Chicago.

Each week we round up a handful of chefs, caterers, musicians, writers, artists, and home cooks of every persuasion to donate pots of soup. We serve them up to all comers — along with fresh bread donated by Publican Quality Meats — until the pots run dry or the late-night jazz guys kick us out. It was designed to be an easy, low-key way to get folks out of the house and socializing in the dead of a dark Chicago winter — not to mention, when we started this up in 2009 our friends were losing their jobs left and right. At times these past few years it’s seemed the entire city could use a nice hot bowl of soup.

Toward that end, while the meal is free, we solicit pay-what-you-can donations each week that are donated in turn to a wide range of neighborhood food pantries and hunger relief agencies. Over the last five years, through events at the Hideout and out of town in Madison, New York City, Seattle, and beyond, we have raised more than $40,000 for Chicago-area food pantries as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository (the central food bank serving the Chicago region), the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and Western Washington’s Food Lifeline.

 
Vegan Thom Kha Soup
Vegan Thom Kha Soup

So, basically, you show up between 5:30 and 8pm on a Wednesday in the winter, grab a bowl, give a cash donation if you're able, and get in line. There are usually 4-6 different soup offerings loosely grouped under a theme.  The cooks are stationed behind their soups and serve you, plus they are usually excited to talk about their soup and offer additions.  There are tables and chairs set up throughout the bar and the tables have giant baskets filled with hunks of crusty, donated sourdough bread.  People are encouraged to try multiple soups and mingle with the other folks in the room.  There are a few buckets sitting around for donations, and usually the charity or non-profit benefiting from the event will have their literature out to peruse or take home.

I think we've been 3-4 times total, and the soup has been consistently delicious.  There is always a good variety, and I think the organizers try to have a solid mix of professional chefs and home chefs, and meat, veggie, and vegan options. This week was a good example of that.  The theme was "Tastes Like Chicken" and there was a vegetarian tofu matzo ball, vegan tom khai, rabbit and pork pozole, spicy sicilian chicken, vegan cream of chicken, and ramen with hard-boiled eggs and pork belly.  Lots of different flavors, but I think our favorite of the evening was the pozole, with the ramen as the close second.  The cooks had clearly put a lot of care into their creations and the atmosphere was jovial. Drinks were available at the bar and we even saw people we know! What's not to love?

Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)
Pozole (L) and Ramen (R)

All this is to say that you have ONE MORE WEEK to try it out for this season. The theme is "The Fields", and there will be pie... Check out Soup & Bread on April 16, and you might just see us there.

Here are some basic tips we've come up with if you're planning on going to Soup & Bread:

  • Bring your own bowl and spoon. This way you're helping the environment AND making the stash of disposable bowls and spoons go a little further.
  • This is probably obvious, but bring cash. There are a few donation jars throughout the space and you can put in as much or as little as you like.
  • You can go up to the soup bar multiple times - we tend to go about three times per person, to try different soups and get a good meal in.
  • Talk to the people at your table. This event is about community, so at the very least, smile and say hi to those with whom you're sitting.
  • This may be our own rule, but we don't go back for seconds of a soup we liked. The quantities are limited and we want them to last so that as many people as possible can enjoy them.
  • We also tend to steer away from the soups that cater to dietary restrictions because we do eat meat, gluten, and dairy, so we want people who don't eat those things to be able to enjoy their experience at Soup & Bread and have as many options as possible.
  • Get there early! They've run out of at least some soup every time we've gone, so if you want to have the most variety, get there early.