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!