Monday, November 4, 2019

A recycling challenge: bike helmets

So I went to my local REI the other day to pick up the new rain pants and bike helmet I'd ordered -- a fancy new MIPS helmet (Matt had convinced me that it was time to get a new one that better protected my witty cranium). On the bike ride over, I got to thinking about how I buy myself a new bike helmet about every year or so, and how I've been learning along with my students how challenging it is to dispose of some materials. I have a pretty good idea of what can be recycled curbside in DC; clothing I don't wear any more ends up at a clothing swap or Goodwill; I bring my compost to the farmers market now; and I've even gotten Matt to start saving plastic bags beyond reuse to take to the plastic bag recycling bin at the grocery store. But what the heck can I do with old bike helmets? I have gone through a lot of them over the past ten years, and I hope to be biking for many more years to come.

You probably know, readers, that if you are in a crash in which your bike helmet makes contact with anything substantial, you need to replace it asap. Some of you might not know that bike helmets become less effective over time -- even without daily/regular usage, the helmet materials become less effective in just a few years, and should be replaced. So most people should be replacing bicycle helmets every 1-3 years. But for all I could find on the all-knowing Internet, there does not seem to be a place to send old helmets for recycling. Even REI -- one of the most environmentally conscious companies I know -- doesn't recycle them or offer a solution to the problem. I know this because I asked at customer service when I was picking up my new helmet. (They did recycle the cardboard box the new one came in, at least.)

The next day, at a World Food Day event I was at in Anacostia -- I wore my new helmet on the ride there and was still noodling on this problem on the ride over -- I got to talking with some folks about this conundrum and one of them told me they'd read an article recently about meal worms that eat Styrofoam. What?! I came home and looked that up later, of course. Maybe a stepping stone would be for REI and other sellers of bicycle helmets to have bins of these meal worms, Yeah, that'll happen.... but it still doesn't account for the outer hard plastic part or the straps.

Here is my challenge for you, readers: FIND a friend or relative who is an engineer. Encourage them to invent a SAFE-BUT-RECYCLABLE bicycle helmet.
The person who comes up with a solution will make millions. They should remember us little people when they do. All I ask for is a lifetime supply of these helmets. And maybe a few weeks a year at their apartment in Paris... because if I became a millionaire I would of course have an apartment in Paris to visit from time to time and would let friends stay there.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Girl Scouts, Improved

It's been a bit lonely around the apartment, with Matt in Nepal for work. But I've been making the best of it, mostly by deep cleaning the refrigerator and cooking up a storm. Today, my kitchen has been filled with delicious -- if incongruous -- smells of chickpea curry, roasted broccoli, various kinds of homemade pickles, and my test batch of spent grain thin mint cookies.

What? Thin mints?? Made with spent grain?! Yes. With my Oktoberfest party coming up in a couple of weeks, I figured it was time to start testing some festive new recipes.

Now, don't get your lederhosen in a bunch trying to explain to me how girl scout cookies aren't authentically German. I know that. Neither is spicy pickled okra, but both are on the menu for Oktoberfest. And if you're coming to the party you will be glad I am departing from the traditional kraut-pickle-sausage-pretzel regimen (though all of these will be represented as well). The cookies turned out so well it is only because I really like my landlady that I have decided to share some tonight while we catch up on the latest John Oliver....

For your baking pleasure, I offer this easy recipe, courtesy of The Brooklyn Brewery's delicious Mash recipe blog:

Spent Grain Thin Mints


  • 1 stick of butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cups Spent Grain Flour


  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (a half block of Trader Joe's Belgian dark baking chocolate, in this case)
  • 1 teaspoon mint extract (or use 1/4 teaspoon mint essential oil) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Add in cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla and mix until well combined. Fold in the flour 1/4 cup at a time until fully incorporated. Using your hands, form dough into a disk. (If super sticky, put in the freezer for 5 minutes to chill. This will give you time to lick the eggbeater and wash some dishes.)

Roll out dough on a floured work surface (and with a floured rolling pin) pretty thin, @ 1/8" thickness. Using a circle-shaped cookie cutter cut out dough and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Depending on the size of your cookies, bake for 8-10 minutes. (They are thin mints, so they bake quickly. Be careful not to burn them!) Carefully transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely.

In a double boiler (or a heat proof bowl over a pot), melt your frosting ingredients: chocolate, mint extract, and butter. Carefully dip cookie in melted chocolate, flip to fully coat and remove with a fork. Return to lined baking sheet and repeat for all cookies. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set chocolate coating.

Just try not to eat them all in one sitting. They are FABULOUS.

Oh? The stuffed dragon? That's Werner. I needed a little help with some key parts of the process. I'm hopeful Matt will be around for the actual baking for the party itself. I'm going to need to by more chocolate. And more milk for dunking.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Plant more plants

Last night, I finished reading an excellent book that my friend Amanda recently gave me about women's sexuality. While the focus of Come as you Are is on cultivating a sex-positive attitude amid a sex-negative culture, the parts that resonated so deeply with me were the sections on letting go, on allowing oneself to do what author Emily Nagoski calls "completing the cycle" of painful feelings -- be the feeling fear, grief, or anger, it needs to be recognized and expressed. Crying. Yelling. Exercising. Sharing a bottle of wine with a friend and talking til three in the morning. There are many ways to process painful emotions, and sometimes the process takes a while. Often the processing itself feels painful and endless, but it has to happen if we are to move on. (Yes, this is a blog about gardening and cooking and sustainability and not particularly about sex beyond the occasional reference to the literal birds and bees. Stay with me here....)

This morning, I attended a memorial herb garden dedication for my friend Tricia at Common Good City Farm. I've been mourning my friend's absence over the past two and a half years, grappling to make sense of a senseless murder and struggling to find a way to move on. Her memory, and my sadness, have caught me off guard more than a few times, and I've found myself suddenly misty-eyed while biking around her old neighborhood or meditating during a yoga class or just mixing up a cocktail in my apartment. Apparently I'm still processing. Making bitters, hosting clothing swaps, gardening, joining an herbal CSA to learn more about medicinal herbs -- all of these have been attempts to continue the joy and learning that my yoga teacher and go-to herbalist Tricia inspired over the course of our years of friendship.

It was only today that I finally felt the beginning of real healing around the raw place in my heart, when others shared stories about her exuberance and welcoming spirit and passion for the earth and growing things and building community. When we wrote messages on ribbons and tied them to the fence -- akin to Tibetan prayer flags -- behind the Tricia McCauley Memorial Herb Garden. When we took home smooth stones with Tricia quotes and medicinal herb seedlings to plant in our own gardens. When we honored her legacy by continuing to connect with and educate and look out for each other. I myself picked up some chamomile and holy basil plants for my school garden's herb bed, and mentioned to a few gardening newbies asking about what to grow that holy basil is especially good for calming and quieting the mind -- it's a nervine and an adaptogen, which I learned from my more recent herbal guru, Holly. Everyone left with at least one herb to grow at home or in a community plot. Because if there was one quote we could all agree on that encapsulated our dear Tricia, it was "Plant More Plants!" It's the best way to heal ourselves, each other, and the planet.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Do the rot thing

"You're asking me what my favorite vegetable is to eat? I don't really see how that question is relevant,"  grumbled Nate after giving his impassioned testimony at last week's Oversight Hearing for the Department of General Services down at City Hall.

I ducked my head and winced, but the autistic 6th grader had a point. We had come to advocate for environmental responsibility within the DC public school system, not chit chat about carrot sticks. Nate had just suggested on-site composting as a possible solution to our school's need for responsible food waste disposal, perhaps even better than the heavily polluting transfer trucks that had been picking up our food waste. We didn't understand why the composting program we'd been participating in for the past three years at our school had suddenly stopped mattering to the DC government: last June, the compost pickup contract had mysteriously lapsed and now all school waste was going into the landfill. We were there to find out why, and how to get things up and running again.

"We were taught how to put things into recycling, trash, and compost bins. We have done it and it worked. But then -- kaboom! -- it stopped. We want to know how this happened. Who exactly is responsible?" demanded 8-year-old Zia. The audience actually clapped. In spite of the clear "no applause allowed" sign posted outside of the hearing.

"What I see in the adult world looks like you don't care. Kids do. It matters to us more because we will live longer than you. We want to live healthier, too." explained her classmate, Eli.

"Are you calling me old?" joked the panel chair, Councilman White. Eli visibly blushed, and squeaked out a timid "Um, yes?"

I know our eleven-person group was primarily comprised of people too young to vote (yet), but we knew our stuff and presented an articulate and compelling case for restarting composting at our school. Was Councilman White taking us seriously? I found out later that we'd ended up on his twitter feed, but maybe kids testifying was simply an unusual form of entertainment, a break from the norm. Would anything be done to get cafeteria composting up and running at our school any time soon? I was proud of my students' civic activism, but dubious about our impact.

Well it turns out that someone was listening after all. Earlier this week, our friend Bobby at DGS stopped by the school to thank student testifiers in person for their efforts that have apparently lit a fire under the new DGS director. He demanded that his department prioritize school composting, and indicated that he would visit our school and others doing this critical environmental education work. Until we testified, and wrangled a few other passionate environmental educators at other public schools to submit their own testimony, Bobby had been pretty sure nothing would happen this school year. Now there was an urgent demand from the top to get a compost pickup service in place, and retraining for custodial staff on the calendar in the near future.

I'm so proud of our students!!

Maybe in coming years we can even get composting going at City Hall. I mean, seriously, Mayor Bowser, for all of this talk about DC's focus on the environment, the security guard didn't want to let me into the building with a non-plastic fork to eat my salad and I had to pack out the banana peel left from my lunch so I could compost it at home....

Friday, February 8, 2019

I didn't even know I needed that!

Some women, I am told, have trouble walking out of a shoe store without purchasing 3 new pairs of heels. Others find themselves with closets overflowing with blouses or handbags or sexy underwear. Me, I seem to have a problem wandering around hardware stores unmonitored....

Earlier today I went into the ACE Hardware up the street. I had a clear mission: I needed new burner liners for my electric stove. It turned out that they didn't have enough of the kind of liners I needed, and while I waited for the friendly gentleman at the shop to put in my request to order some I perused the aisles. You know, just looking around. I ended up leaving 10 minutes later with one burner liner... and a box of small-mouth jar lids... and a Ball-jar citrus juicer attachment. What a cool gadget!! Obviously I had to go home immediately to whip up a couple of Boulevardiers for me and Jacky. You know, test out how well the juicer juiced.

One of the coolest things about my new juicer is that once you're done juicing you can add in the booze and ice, screw on a regular lid, and shake up your drink. No fancy cocktail shaker needed! (I have one of those, too, though.) In case you want to try one of my favorite cocktails of late, here's the recipe for a version I made last year on Valentine's Day (before Matt, my boyfriend of almost a year at that point, admitted that he didn't actually like bitter cocktails -- I love them, and him.)

Blood Orange Boulevardier(courtesy of the Washington Post Food Section)

  • 1 shot fresh orange juice -- I like blood orange for the color, but any orange will do
  • 1 shot campari
  • 1 shot bourbon
  • 1 shot sweet vermouth

Combine in a jar or shaker with a few ice cubes. Shake well. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

American Pie

What could be more American than apple pie on Thanksgiving? Readers, you know that I am more of a cook than a baker, so when I got so many compliments on the pie I made this year at mom and dad's house it inspired me to get back to blogging after a few months off. I need to make this again.

The crust is adapted from the Foolproof Pie Crust recipe in Cooks Illustrated, courtesy of my neighbor, Marilyn -- one of the best bakers I've ever met, which is the sole reason I set aside my long-standing bias against all-purpose flour and shortening to try it out. See, I'm not a purist! The pie filling and baking instructions are adapted from Epicurious' Favorite Apple Pie recipe.

The pie itself resulted from a group effort: my landlady, Jacky, supplied some of the ingredients, including delicious Cortland apples from her recent trip to upstate New York; mom did serious KP duty peeling, coring, and slicing the apples; Matt mixed up the pie filling ingredients, with extra cinnamon for good measure (or perhaps a lack of looking closely at the measuring spoons); dad supplied the butter pecan ice cream to top our still-warm pie during the Thanksgiving dinner.

American Apple Pie

2 ½ cups + 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
12 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1 Tablespoon slices
½ cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup vodka, cold
¼ cup ice cold water
5 large fresh apples
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Additional sugar, for sprinkling


Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add 1 more cup of flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around the bowl and any masses of dough have been broken up -- this will only take a few quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium mixing bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and 1/4 cup ice water over mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix in the liquids, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Pat dough into two evenly sized balls, flatten each to about 1" tall discs, and wrap each in a piece of parchment paper or wax paper. Chill your piecrust dough discs in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (and up to 2 days).

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4" thick wedges. Place apples in a large bowl and mix with 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice. (Matt lobbied for more cinnamon. He got it.)

Unwrap the first ball of piecrust dough. Sprinkle with a little flour and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a uniformly thick circle that is about an inch wider than the pie dish on all sides. (You can eyeball the size, or place the pie dish on top of it to check.) Gently lift the dough, then flip into the pie dish and gently peel back the paper. Gently press the dough to fit the pie dish contours, then trim the excess dough using scissors. Fill the dough-lined pan with the apple mixture.

Take out and lightly flour the second disc of piecrust dough on its piece of parchment paper, then roll it out to the same size as the first. Drape your top crust gently atop the apple mixture, again peeling away the parchment paper, then press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together, trimming excess crust as needed. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Brush top crust with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Carefully cut five 1" vents in the top crust for steam to escape.

Gently cover the delicate crust edges with aluminum foil -- this prevents them from burning.

Place pie in the oven and bake until the crust begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Continue baking until the crust is golden brown and you can see the thickened juices bubbling, about 50 minutes more.

Cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes to allow juices to set before slicing. Delish. I just had the last slice with coffee this morning....

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bikers to the rescue!

Readers, there is nothing more attractive than a man doing good. Well, maybe a man on a bicycle doing good. And I am lucky enough to be dating one. Fancy that.

I hate wasting food. It is shocking the amount of perfectly edible food that is thrown away in this country every day, especially while an unacceptable number of Americans suffer from malnutrition and food insecurity. I regularly see giant trash bins outside of supermarkets and restaurants spilling over. I hear food waste and hunger statistics bandied about so frequently that the problems seem too big to take personally, and I worry that the majority of us don't understand that these problems concern each and every one of us. Some days I find it hard not to lose hope. But then there are moments that I realize that the solution can also concern each and every one of us....

Today I had the good fortune to accompany Matt on his first shift as a food rescuer: picking up already prepared, delicious, unsold food and delivering it to a great, local program that needed food. Usually a car is needed for this sort of assignment, but after a bit of research Matt learned that some food donations can be delivered on two wheels. It was actually pretty easy, and we ended what was otherwise a rather lazy Sunday feeling pretty good about life.

12:30pm - While checking his email at the farmers market, Matt learns that the load of baked goods he'd signed up on his Food Rescue app to deliver this evening was going to be a bit large for a single cyclist to haul, so he asks me to join him. I happily agree, eager to see the program in action.

1:00pm - Eat lunch near the farmers market.

2:00pm - Start watching Game of Thrones, Season 6. (Don't judge me, it's good. And don't you dare tell me what happens in Season 7!)

4:30pm - Thunder and rain begin.

5:30pm - Bike over to Seylou -- home to the most amazing whole grain breads, including croissants (I know, I couldn't believe such a thing existed!) -- to pick up bread donation.

6:00pm - Load 4 enormous bags of bread into our (thankfully waterproof) bike panniers and start heading north to Christ House. Rain intensifies.

6:30pm - Bread delivered. Delivery volunteers adequately soaked and smiling, and about 50 pounds lighter. Rain stops. Head back to my apartment to change into dry clothes and watch a bit more Game of Thrones. Easy peasy.

Interested in helping to address hunger in your area? Consider joining the Food Rescue project, as a donor, recipient, or transporter. Or maybe starting a chapter in your town. Learn more here.