Nine on the Ninth - True Confessions

We're doing our Nine on the Ninth a little differently this month. Some readers may think that because we try to live a sustainable lifestyle we eschew anything that doesn't fall under the eco-friendly/sustainable umbrella. That just isn't true. It's about choices and education. We make choices that make the most sense for us in a specific moment - based on knowledge, budget, and need. Those choices are not always the most sustainable or eco-friendly. And, honestly, sometimes we're just lazy. So, without further ado, here are nine ways in which we do not always make sustainable choices. (This was also inspired a bit by the Christian lenten season, because, let's be real, this is confessional.) 1. We do a lot of dishes by hand, even though we have a portable dishwasher. Dishwashers have been shown to use less water and energy than hand washing, but we have a number of items that aren't dishwasher safe and we cook so much that we have to hand wash most of our cooking utensils because we're going to use them again immediately. All this is to say, we often use more water than we should to wash dishes. (Excessive water usage is only going to become a bigger issue as climates around the country continue to change.  We may be blessed to have the Great Lakes, but who knows how long they'll be around.)

2. We both have a soft spot for peanut butter M&Ms and they do occasionally jump into our basket when we're at CVS or Target. (Ditto for Kristl and gummy candy.) Eating candy isn't 100% unsustainable, but supporting multi-national companies that benefit from exploiting workers and the agriculture system in the U.S. is not sustainable.

Kristl loves gummy candy (though, to be honest, the gummy tummy series from Trader Joe's is not her favorite)

3. We tend to buy our clothes at national retailers who likely have terrible practices and exploit the garment industry (Gap used to be notorious for this). Though we would like to buy well-sourced, fair trade, organic clothing, a lot of it is out of our budget and/or doesn't suit our needs. Rachel has a little more luck, since there is more available in her size, but there just isn't much out there for Kristl's plus-size needs.

4. Rachel has a habit of putting hot soups directly into old plastic containers, even though she knows that can cause the chemicals to leach out. (In Rachel's defense, the liquids are rarely boiling and it takes high temperatures to release anything potentially dangerous.) What is more of a concern is buying canned vegetables/beans in cans coated with plastic containing BPA (specifically tomatoes, because of the high acid content).  See this article for some legitimate pros and cons.

5. We use more plastic and paper in the kitchen than we would like - specifically ziploc bags and paper towels. Even if you are buying paper towels and plastic bags made from post-consumer recycled products, the best choice here, for all of us, would be to use rags and reusable containers (like Pyrex glass containers).

Seriously, we weren't kidding about using a few too many Ziploc bags (also, it's hard to resist a Costco deal).

6. We have a car and use it a lot, definitely more than we need to. It's a luxury we aren't completely willing to give up, even though we know it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice. We're hoping to decrease our car use with some upcoming changes, but we're not going to get rid of it. Check out this infographic about how wasteful it is to idle your car (which is sometimes unavoidable in traffic or extreme weather conditions like we get in Chicago).

7. We don't always eat well-sourced food. Sometimes we just want some chicken wings and fries from the local bar, and that's okay.

8. We LOVE a good sample. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, Costco, or Whole Foods, we gobble up the samples (sometimes more than one per person - shh!), even though they're frequently in non-recyclable plastic cups. Even the ones in paper cups are problematic, as they are likely not made out of recycled material and probably won't get composted. And don't even get me started on toothpicks! The best way to get around this would be to only sample the things that are served in a sustainable way (e.g. chips served with reusable tongs.)

9. *GASP* We have thrown away perfectly good containers because they'd gotten pushed to the back of the fridge for months on end and were filled with some unidentifiable substance and we couldn't stomach the thought of opening them. Real talk, though, if you haven't done this at some point in your life, more power to you. (We had to have a friend of ours who works in a hospital to get rid of some former pumpkin that had transformed into a many-splendored mutant multi-organism that probably is still lurking out there somewhere and will start the zombie apocalypse.  Thanks, Ashleigh!)

So, that's it for now, since we're keeping it to nine.  We aren't perfect, we aren't even trying to be perfect or preachy or bastions of sustainability in our community.  We are simply sharing our struggles and successes when armed with knowledge and faced with a global system that has (d)evolved to the point of self-destruction.  Swimming against the current is super exhausting and sometimes we fall back on our old habits simply because they are the paths of least resistance. Our hope, the only hope out there really, is that small changes can help, and that our stories will inspire you to make small changes too, so we can get the current moving in the right direction!

The Bitten Word's Cover to Cover Challenge

Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise
Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise

Most of y'all probably don't know this, but The Bitten Word is one of my favorite blogs. They did a cover to cover challenge last year, in which people were assigned one dish to cook from one of six magazines, the goal being to feature every recipe in those six magazines. I really enjoyed reading everyone's experiences and swore that I would participate if they did it again. Well, this year they did, and we signed up!

Instead of cooking all the recipes from six magazines, they decided to cook all the recipes from the September issue of Bon Appétit, and instead of having one recipe per person, they assigned multiple people the same recipe. That way they didn't have to cap the number of participants, and if for some reason someone didn't get a chance to make their assigned recipe, they could be sure it would still be covered.

We got the email with our assignment on Thursday, August 29. We'd planned to cook on Labor Day, but an impromptu cookout with friends pre-empted our cooking time. The submissions were due on Friday, 9/6, and Rachel had a terrible sinus infection all week, so we weren't sure we'd actually get a chance to cook. In fact, we'd kind of given up hope of submitting it to The Bitten Word, but pledged to cook it sometime to feature it here. Well, perfectionist that I am, Thursday came and I decided that I wanted to do it, whether or not Rachel could help me.

We actually had a choice between two recipes - Fish and Chips with Malt Vinegar Mayonnaise and Striped Bass with Lime Broth - because I'd requested an alcohol-free recipe and the fish and chips is made with lager. I let them know and they offered us the option of making the fish and chips with alcohol-free lager or making the striped bass. When looking for ingredients, we saw that the bass was $29.99/lb and the cod was $10.99/lb, so that made our decision for us.

The first step is to make the mayo. I've made mayo in the food processor before, but the recipe called for whisking by hand, so I figured I'd try it. Listen. I'm right-dominant. Like, extremely right-dominant. I'd try to switch to my left hand to give my right arm a break and it was like my brain couldn't control the left side of my body. I'd attempt to whisk, oil and egg bits would fly out of the bowl, so I'd switch back to my right hand. This happened a few times before I just gave up and whisked the heck out of it with my right hand, achy, shaking forearm be damned. Let me tell you, though, this mayonnaise was delicious.

The recipe recommended we serve the fish with french fries. Since I had never fried anything in my life, Rachel had only fried doughnuts, AND Rachel was sick and unable to help very much, we cheated and bought frozen crinkle cut fries. We did fry them in the oil, which made them extra crispy. We couldn't wait to try the mayo, so we ate a LOT of fries with mayo while making the rest of the meal.

Clumpy Batter
Clumpy Batter

Rachel cut up the fish (we wish we'd done smaller pieces than we did), while I worked on the batter. Whisking the dry ingredients was fine, when it came time to add the beer, club soda, and vinegar, it turned into a lumpy mess. I never did get the batter to be all that smooth; it was a weird combination of liquidy and lumpy. Next, we seasoned the fish with salt and pepper, dredged it in the corn flour, and dipped it in the batter.

Fish, corn flour, batter
Fish, corn flour, batter

Now we're getting to the exciting part - the actual frying! First off, we used a 3.5 quart dutch oven to fry. The recipe called for "about 4 cups" of oil and says it should be 3" in a large pot. We used 4 cups of organic safflower oil and it was maybe 2" deep. I'm still confused by how those measurements were supposed to work out. We were waiting for the 2" of oil to get up to temperature (375°), when all of a sudden it shot way past 400°. Damn it. We turned off the heat and waited for it to cool off. When it did, we turned the heat back on and put the first few pieces of fish in. Rachel helped with timing how long the fish was in the oil and putting it on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet when it was done. We had a heck of a time keeping the oil temperature consistent. It always seemed to be at 350° or 400°...375° was an elusive, mysterious, unattainable thing. We had to do 5-6 batches of frying, which took longer than we expected, but the fish looked beautiful.  The frying part wasn't really difficult at all, but we never did really get the hang of dropping the fish in the oil without it splattering back at us.

Frying the fish
Frying the fish

Now for the moment of truth! We plated two pieces of fish, some fries, lemon wedges, and the mayonnaise. We topped the fish with chopped dill, but completely forgot the sea salt and the Old Bay. Whoops. Having almost completely filled up on fries and mayo, we shared the one plate and declared the meal delicious. It was a fun stretch for us to make something like this, since neither of us ever really think to order fish and chips. The mayonnaise was definitely the best part of the recipe (though when I went to use it for some leftovers the next day, it had broken! I have to figure out what went wrong).

We definitely should have halved the recipe. Not only did it make way more fish than we could possibly eat, but it made a ridiculous amount of batter. If I were to make it again for just the two of us, I would have halved the amount of fish and quartered the batter recipe. We tried to fry the extra batter into some sort of malt vinegar fritter surprise, but the batter seemed to both liquify and become lumpier as soon as it hit the oil. It was unappetizing, to say the least.

We dropped off most of the leftovers with our friend Jess later that night. Almost as soon as we got back in the car, we got this text: "OMG. That's like legit delicious restaurant quality. I just devoured half of that! YUM. Thank you! It was so amazing I stood up and ate it in the kitchen. I'm lucky you two are my friends." We couldn't have asked for a better review!