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

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!