End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

IMG_2195Here’s another non-recipe for super easy, super delicious summer salsa. I have all these ingredients growing in my garden so it’s a great way to use up piles of my bounty. You can change any amounts or throw in other veggies depending on what you have on hand. If your garden is looking a little empty of these ingredients, all these items are in season for a few more weeks so you can pick them up at your farmers’ market or local supermarket at good prices.

End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

Possible Ingredients (use whatever salsa-type veggies you have on hand)

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro (I like lots and lots)
  • Jalapenos
  • Bell peppers

Turn your oven to broil (high). Lay vegetables (except cilantro) on lightly greased cookie sheet and broil until just blackened  and soft but not burned, approx. 10-15 minutes. Throw all veggies plus big handfuls of cilantro into food processor or blender and process to your preferred consistency. (I like mine fairly smooth but some people prefer chunkier salsa.)  Add a pinch of salt and voila, you have delicious salsa.

The trick with this recipe is the roasting. Everyone will ask what your secret ingredient is. Many salsas made with raw ingredients are too acidy or bitey, especially if the onions are strong. Roasting mellows out all the flavors and condenses the sweetness for a more intense salsa.

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Audited, Energetically

IMG_2189Last week we were audited and it was great! In fact, we initiated the audit. No, I’m not talking about inviting the IRS into my home. I’m talking about an Home Energy Review from Energy Trust of Oregon.  Signing up for a home review has been on my mental to-do list for months. I finally got around to it after seeing our very high August electric bill thanks to our heatwaves.

At no cost to us Energy Trust sent James to spend an hour at our home measuring temperatures, crawling in the attic, examining window seals and generally figuring out where we can improve our home’s energy efficiency. They scheduled it at a time convenient for us and, unlike the cable guy, gave us a tight one-hour window of James’ arrival to which he was perfectly prompt.

Here’s what we learned through the process:

1) Our 4-year old home is quite energy efficient.  We have great insulation, efficient appliances and insulating window shades that help keep our home cool in summer and warm in winter.

2) Our water heater temp was a tad high so James turned it down just a few degrees, from around 128 to closer to 124. So far we haven’t noticed a difference in the shower temp in the morning and he said even a few degrees difference can save a few dollars.

3) Our flat screen TV uses 25W even when turned off. This is equivalent to running 2 compact florescent lightbulbs all the time. That amounts to only about $2/ month but, during times when we’re gone for a week or two, it makes sense to unplug the TV.

4) Our laptop computers are the same, using about 25W of electricity when in sleep mode (the mode we generally leave them in when we’re not using them). Instead James recommended we shut them down at night or even if we’ll be away from them for an hour or two. That should amount to savings of a few dollars a month as well.

5) James switched out 10 regular lightbulbs to CFLs for us. For free. As I recall from the last time I bought CFLs, they cost around $5 each so that’s a good $50+ of free lightbulbs.

6) James also noticed we did not have low-flow water aerators in our sinks or showers. He offered us free water aerators but, since his didn’t match ours, we opted instead to head to Home Depot and pick up aerators for a few bucks ourselves that match our hardware. Again we should see savings of a few dollars on water and electric bills for reducing our hot water usage, without noticing a difference in performance.

7) Much to my chagrin I learned that unplugging the toaster and Kitchenaid mixer does not result in any energy savings. Zip. Zero. Nada.  How many seconds of my life have I wasted unplugging both appliances when not in use? Even worse, how much goodwill in my marriage have I eaten up nagging my husband to do the same?  He was delighted when James tested both our toaster and mixer to inform us that, when plugged in but not in use, they use 0W of energy.  Who knew.

James also found a few spots where the ducts could be sealed better and gave us names of contractors to follow up with. He introduced us to the tax credits available for solar power, something that might be worth investigating for anyone who knows they’ll be in their home for 10 or 15 years. There are a boatload of state and federal tax credits available that make expensive solar systems much more affordable.

While we didn’t find any major ways to knock down our energy bills, it was reassuring to learn we’ve already done most everything we can to be energy efficient. And those little things James pointed out to us will help us save a few dollars here, a few more dollars there, all which adds up both in our pockets and in caring for the planet.

Have you had an energy audit of your home? What changes did you make as a result? Did you end up saving money?

If you haven’t had a Home Energy Review, give it a try. If you’re in Oregon contact Energy Trust. Elsewhere check with your local utility companies to see if something similar is available in your area (or move to Oregon).

What To Grow In The Winter?

I’m really starting to feel like a bonafide suburban farmer. Terms like “fall crops” and “cover crop” are becoming an everyday part of my vocabulary. Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, my current gardening goal is to have something edible from the garden year round, fall and winter included. For the first time I’m planting a full garden of cool-weather crops and am hopeful when temperatures plunge, the veggies will keep on coming up.

So far this season I’ve planted broccoli, carrots, kale, cilantro, parsley, lettuce (a cool-weather variety) and fava beans. For the most part they’re coming up great, especially the fava beans. Those seeds have already sprouted foot-tall plants that look like a miniature forest in the open swaths of front yard where lettuces grew just a few weeks ago. A side note about fava beans – I chose to plant them because I read they are a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. The good stuff they put back in the soil is akin to adding wonderful compost to my soil (they’re called a “green manure”) but with the return of some pretty flowers in a few months and a crop of beans next spring. Territorial Seed Company has a nice variety and some good info about planting this crop.

The only trouble I’ve encountered with my fall plantings (and granted it’s still technically summer, at least for another few days) is that something ate all my carrot seedlings in the front yard. I had these beautiful tiny rows of inch-high carrot tops before I left for camping last week. I returned to discover a bare patch of dirt. The carrots I planted out back at the same time are still there and doing well. I hope whatever mysterious creature invaded the front yard does not discover the beautiful feathery tops coming up out back. Anyone know what kind of pest eats carrot tops (we don’t have bunnies) and a way to organically keep them away?

Besides cool-weather veggies, I was reminded the other day by our local paper that fall is the best time to plant just about everything else too. Cool weather is the best time for new perennials to take root and become established plus, since most people tend to plant in the spring, nurseries have pretty good deals on plants right now. I put in a grapevine the other day and plan to soon dig up some aster and spirea starts from a friend with a gorgeous perennial garden.  Think planting now, lovely healthy garden (and less work) come spring.

I’m new to this fall/ winter crop thing. Do you plant cool-weather crops? If so what do you plant and when? I still have space for my crops but am just not sure what to put in so would love some more ideas.

The Latest In Corporate Disappointments – Sigg Waterbottles

Why, oh why, do corporations knowingly hide information from consumers? Of course the answer is always the same: money.

But it’s especially disappointing when it happens with a company that seemed socially and ecologically conscious. My complaint today is with Sigg, the makers of those cute metal water bottles like the one I carry everywhere in my purse. In the face of the BPA scare with plastic water bottles I shelled out almost $20 a few years ago to keep myself “safe” with a Sigg bottle. Instead, I now learn, they all along have had BPA in the lining and the company knew about it. The company thought it would be OK with us consumers to advertise their bottles as BPA-free because, in their tests, the BPA didn’t leach out. That’s akin to advertising chocolate-chip cookies as fat-free because the fat doesn’t leach into the milk when you dunk it. If it’s in there, it’s in there and it’s false advertising to call it otherwise.

At least Sigg is taking their old bottles back and exchanging them for free for bottles lined with a new ecocare liner that really, honestly doesn’t have any BPA in it, they swear.  You can see pictures of the old and new liner here so you can decide if your bottle needs to go back. The exchange program is good through October 31st.

The CEO of Sigg wrote an apology letter published two days ago on the Huffington Post. Suddenly he’s more transparent than the water his bottles hold.

I don’t even care that much about the trace amounts of BPA in the old bottles. It probably doesn’t leach out. But tell me the truth. I’m glad to get a new water bottle since my old one is pretty dinged up anyway, but I won’t be buying anymore Siggs down the road. I’ll stick with companies that, at least up until this point, haven’t been found out to be lying to me.

World Pulse’s New Issue Is Out…And It’s Really Good

wp- fulfill cover singleOne my favorite magazines that I’ve blogged about before is World Pulse. It’s this fabulous collection of stories and articles about women’s issues worldwide. It’s unlike any other women’s magazine I’ve ever read, being globally-minded and focused on the most positive aspects of what women are doing worldwide.

This latest issue focuses on new economic models from women visionaries, including those in the fair trade movement. A number of the issue’s articles are available online but you have to get the print edition to read the full issue, including the excellent fair trade article.

The fair trade article, entitled Unraveling Women’s Fair Trade, takes a hard look at the model of fair trade company such as mine at Bambootique and how difficult it is to make such companies sustainable not to mention profitable. I know first-hand how difficult that is. Thankfully Bambootique has been financially sustainable (i.e. broken even) since day one, but the profitable side for the most part is still a future hope and dream.  This is the reality for many similar companies for a whole host of reasons. The market is certainly there for our products and it’s rapidly  growing, but there are so many challenges too. They include scale (we can be inefficient because we are so small), shipping and customs costs, the communication difficulties related to working with small groups of women often working in remote areas, getting our products to market, etc.  The article points out that the joy of running such a business and knowing how much good we are doing far outweighs the challenges, at least for many in this industry. And many of us are getting more sustainable and more profitable, both business owners and artisans, as the market grows and our businesses get stronger.

Look for the latest issue of World Pulse on a newstand near you. I know I’ve seen it in the Portland area at Powell’s, Borders and natural food stores like Whole Foods.

Plan Now For Reverse Trick-Or-Treating

trick_or_treatWhile poking around online today, I just noticed it’s time to order Reverse Trick-or-Treating kits from Global Exchange.  Last year our household managed to order on time (this year’s deadline is October 13th, but if they run out before then it’s your bad luck) and had fun giving away the fair trade chocolates and info cards to our neighbors.  This year we’ll do it again but I’ve realized I don’t need to be limited to the “reverse” idea. I mean, I don’t have to just have Grace hand out the cards and chocolate as we go door to door. We’ll also give out the fair trade info and chocolates to all the kids that come to our house, getting the word out even further.

What is Reverse-Trick-Or-Treating, you ask?  It’s a fantastic campaign put together by a variety of fair trade groups to get the word out about unethical practices in the cocoa trade. For just $5.50 (the cost of shipping the kit to you), you get a bag of mini-chocolates and a stack of informational postcards about the cocoa industry and the alternative fair trade chocolate industry. The “reverse” idea is that your kids give the cards and chocolates out as they go door to door, while of course still receiving the free goodies (fair trade or not) from all the neighbors. Our neighbors loved getting something in return plus hey, it encourages the trick-or-treaters to give not just get. See more of what our family did last year here.

I just ordered my kit and can’t wait to shower our neighborhood with fair trade chocolate love.