NWEI Eco Challenge: Eve

The Eco Challenge is an event held by Northwest Earth Institute to help facilitate little everyday changes that can really add up. I’ve decided to do it for the next two weeks because I feel like I’ve come to something of a plateau in my green life changes. …Well, more than plateau, I’ve just become lazy and need a kickstart to help me get back into thinking sustainably.

My challenge for this year will focus on my morning and evening behavioral patterns and how I can change them just a little bit to save a lot of electricity:

I’m… not a morning person. I’ve never been a morning person. I’m so not a morning person that getting up before 8 am usually means that I have nausea. It’s so bad that people ask me if I’m pregnant. Every doctor I’ve seen about it has shrugged it off, but I’m now starting to think it might be blood sugar-related as I do have a tendency to become hypoglycemic. For the last few years, I’ve been indulging myself by sleeping in and staying up late to get things done, but that means that I miss out on the morning sun and use electricity to light up my night. I’m pretty much on the internet for most of that time, too, so being able to turn off the lights and the computer will save at least a modest amount of electricity.

It sounds horrendously simple and not as eco-friendly as installing solar panels or starting to use my local university’s bus system (which is another can of worms), but I’m going to get more sunlight into my life by getting up earlier and going to bed earlier. Stupid simple, but I know that it’s not going to be easy for me. Here in the Palouse, the sun has been rising around 7 am – which I still consider early, but is a moderate goal at the moment. If you’re interested in the Eco Challenge 2014, there’s still a little time to check it out!

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NaNoWriMo ate my brain

So NaNoWriMo, the annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November,  was well over two months ago. It was so amazing* that it took me about a month to get back to normal life. Endless nights of boredom and worry! Characters who have no meaning! Normal life being intrusive at every turn! It was wonderful*.

This was my 9th NaNo novel — well, to be honest, my 7th true NaNo novel (I did two novels for Camp NaNo, so does that count?) —  and perhaps it will be my last. I really haven’t been too crafty/inspired as of late, so I really didn’t do very well this year.

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NaNoWriMo is bad about properly labeling their graphs. X axis is time (day), y axis is # of words, and the constant line is 1667 words/day.

Yep. Look at that graph. That really is 24.5k words in the last day. I think that the last time I had procrastinated so much was in 2011, when I did 13k on the 30th, and that was less procrastination and more not being able to get to a computer.

So what did I write about this year? I don’t know, weirdos in Seattle, something like that. There was an apartment complex. It was mainly character-driven, so there was a lot of talking. It really looks like chunks of ideas and that’s about it. I wrote 50,023 words, but I don’t feel like sharing any… I’m probably going to let the characters stew in my mind a bit more before I give up on the draft, but I’m not going to think about it anymore. I’m going to make tasty fair trade cookies instead.

*I’m really not good at sarcasm.

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Recipe: Last Minute Chocochip Bars

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Do you guys have friends who suddenly invite you to events the day they happen? I was lucky this year that I didn’t receive such an invitation, since finding something to bring to an impromptu potluck can be difficult. This is especially true for where I live — everyone’s vegetarian/health nut/anti-Walmart-bakery, so trying to figure out what won’t insult the host(ess) has been a problem for me.

I’ve found that desserts kind of slide, especially if they look simple — and what could look simpler than bar cookies? I can whip up a batch of these bar cookies in the same amount of time it takes my sister to get ready (approximately an hour), so it’s our go-to recipe when a party suddenly pops up. The original recipe was from my family’s landlady when I was growing up, but we’ve edited it through the years.

Chocolate Chip Bars
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, softened or melted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional, edit volume as per your taste)
1/2 cup dark/milk/white chocolate chips/chocolate pieces/raisins/dates/other dried fruits (edit volume as per your taste)
1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional, sweetened or unsweetened)

Heat oven to 375*F. Grease and lightly flour 13″x9″x2″ baking pan.
Mix granulated and brown sugars, butter and vanilla in mixing bowl. Beat in egg.
Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt (can be sifted together beforehand).
When dough is formed, mix in nuts/chocolatechips/raisins/cocount/other add-ins.
Spread mixed dough throughout pan evenly and bake 12-14 minutes or until light brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting into roughly 2″x2″ squares.
Makes about 3 dozen, store in sealable container.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can edit the mix-ins to whatever suits your tastes, since the dough has a good balance of salty and sweet. I’ve found dark chocolate, pecans, and unsweetened coconut shavings really taste good together.

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Inspiration: Last minute upcycled gift tags

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I’m a lazy gift wrapper, so if I can really avoid it, I’ll ditch the gift tag. As long as I remember who it’s supposed to go to, that’s fine, right?

Not this year. Instead of my normal habit of forgetting to shop until the week before Christmas, I decided to get most of the important purchases done during the first week of December. My family opens gifts on or around Epiphany, so trying to remember which gift is for whom after a whole month sounded a bit too much for my aging brain. Instead, I figured I’d use leftovers from around the house to make gift tags instead of buying them and save myself the embarrassment of giving lipstick to my father.

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Organization: Shoelace pin hanger

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Over the course of my life, I’ve collected a whole lot of pins. I just have always loved them, even though I never wear them.

My sister showed me this trick to easily organize my smaller pins as well as use some of the cute shoelaces she’s given me that I’ve never used.

What you need:

A massive number of adorable pins

flat/wide shoelaces, preferably adorable ones

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I also have Hello Kitty laces. …I’m a nerd, I admit it.

Fold one shoelace in half. It’s not necessary, but your line will be more stable.

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Start pinning your pins through both layers of shoelace. I like to pin the heaviest one on the bottom so that it stabilizes the line.

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When you place your next pin, try to make it so that it doesn’t overlap with your first pin — that helps the line stay straight when hung.

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Keep adding pins until you are about one inch from the top fold.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAI usually leave that one inch at the top so that I can add a thread or thumbtack to hang the pins up. I have a corkboard to hold my larger pins, but it gets difficult to try to work the smaller ones around them. This way, I can easily see my pins… and hopefully that will help me find ways to wear them…

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In case you’re interested in any of the pins I have shown, here’s a list of where I got them:

Music = life, biohazard, Ninja pin: Hot Topic (Music = Life pin was from the Hot Topic Foundation. I wasn’t able to find HTF on the HT website, so I’m not sure if they’re still doing the program).
I know my Onions and swan pin:  PotatoPotato on Etsy
Mermaid pin: Loungefly
Pick a Chick pin: Heifer International
Photosynthesis pin: Beanforest on Etsy
All others: thrift stores in the area.

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Inspiration: Pineapple chicken

After using fresh pineapple to make a whole freezer full of popsicles, I had some leftover pineapple. While it was good enough to eat straight, I wanted to try something.

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Pineapple has proteolytic enzymes, so it makes a really good addition to marinades. These enzymes break down chains of proteins in the meat, making smaller protein chains — and thus making the meat more tender. My family doesn’t usually eat meat, and I’m honestly not that fond of meat dishes that are sweet or sticky (barbecue sauce is for baked fries, not meat~~), but I was interested to see how pineapple was with chicken. I used about 1/8 of a whole pineapple per breast. The pineapple could probably be pureed if you would rather have a saucier look, but I wanted cooked chunks of pineapple.

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Pineapple chicken dishes are usually Asian or Pacific-based, simply because pineapple is such a tropical/Pacific-island fruit. With that in mind, I checked around the web for simple yet flavorful marinades, and soy sauce was used as the base in most of them. I measured about 1/2 tsp per breast.

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Since my family likes spice, I added some sriracha sauce to taste — however, red pepper paste or pureed pepper would also work. Sriracha has vinegar, which is also useful in marinades. However, some brands also use xanthan gum, which is a bacterial product (so be careful if anything bacterial grosses you out).

I used chopsticks to thoroughly mix the marinade and coat the chicken pieces; afterward, I poked holes in the chicken on both sides. If the marinade isn’t wet enough to coat the chicken, add some vinegar (white vinegar works well, but rice vinegar would also work). However, be careful when mixing vinegar and soy sauce — it can get very salty very fast.

I prepared this the night before and placed it in the refrigerator to marinate. However, I think this would work after an hour or two if the chicken was cut into chunks. Once ready, I removed the chicken and pineapple from the marinade and grilled it.

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Putting rings of raw onion underneath the chicken not only added flavor, but also protected the meat from being burned or sticking to the metal. I grilled these breasts with tin foil covering the pan at about 250-300 degrees F until cooked through.

My family likes to use aluminum pans on the grill nowadays — we used to cook either straight on the grill or with a sheet of tin foil, but we’ve found that it’s so much cleaner to just have a pan (besides, we have wood-plastic composite decking, and getting grease stains out of that is nigh impossible). The problem with pans is that excess fat doesn’t drip off — we’ve solved this issue by choosing lean meats like chicken breast. By containing all the liquids, this allows for the meat to remain moist, which is important for white meats. What’s also nice is that the pans can be soaked in soapy water and the stuck on foods come off pretty easily — which means that the pans can be reused.

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The only way to explain this is that the meat itself was creamy. It was juicy throughout, but had something of a layer of pineappley-chicken all over. The pineapple cooked thoroughly, with some of the smaller pieces incorporating into the almost-sticky oniony chicken sauce — if the pineapple were pureed, it would definitely be a thicker sauce. This is far more a base inspiration for how to prepare a simple marinade than anything else, but there are quite a few flavors that can be added  to make this even better — perhaps ginger, coconut, anise, or cranberry? The chicken can be sliced and added to a salad with mango or papaya, or served alongside rice and a coconut-based vegetable curry. The chicken could also be cut up and skewered with bell peppers and onions as American-style kebabs for an easy outdoor party entree.

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Inspiration: Coconut Cream Summer Fruit Popsicles

This last week has been hot. Mid 80’s to low 90’s may not sound hot to some of you, but for me, it’s migraine-inducing. I have survived -40° in Alaska, and I would rather have that. To be honest, though, the big problem here was that it was humid. Add to that a broken air conditioner and a power outage due to an underground wire being disrupted on the day I was going to photograph this post’s main content and you have a pretty unhappy blogger.

I was planning out this recipe for a long time, since I was anticipating a hot summer. I’m not much for frozen sweets, but spring and summer fruits are my culinary weakness. I’m lucky to live on the western side of the US (despite this odd weather and all these fires), because the coastal states have some of the best fruits — Cherries from Washington, watermelons from Oregon, and everything else from California. ….None of them can touch Idaho’s potatoes or apricots, but that’s another story. (side note: Idaho is part of the Pacific Northwest due to its seaport, Lewiston. No one can tell me otherwise.) Add to this tropical-region fruits, and everything gets better.

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Pineapple is ok canned, but I like it fresh.

I’ve looked around at various popsicle recipes online and found that most of them follow the same general pattern: mix pureed fruit with a liquid and sweetener, then freeze. The majority of these looked far too sweet for me, so I played around and made my own style of popsicle:

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