How to Freeze Food Without Using Plastic

When I post pictures of my jar-filled freezer on social media, I get lots of questions about it, usually along the following lines:

  • Is it safe to freeze food in glass? (Yes)
  • Do you use special glass for the freezer? (No)
  • Don’t your glass containers break? (Only that one time…)

I have had little trouble freezing food in glass. I do however take a couple of precautions:

Always leave headspace when freezing liquids. I prefer wide-mouth jars for freezing or at least jars without shoulders (i.e., straight sides all the way up to the top). I have broken only one glass container in the freezer—it’s one of those things you do only once. I filled a narrow-neck milk bottle with liquid (likely broth, I forget exactly). Even though I had left head space, when the liquid froze, it expanded and snapped the narrow neck cleanly off the (very nice) bottle. Oops.

Occasionally I’ll use pyrex round or rectangular containers with plastic lids, which I bought before I went plastic-free. I don’t use these very often in the freezer because I like to keep the glass portion of them free for roasting food.

Don’t overstuff your freezer with jars stacked all over the place willy-nilly. When you open your freezer door, jars might fall out onto the floor and break.

What I Freeze

Beans. Depending on the recipe I plan on using the beans in, I freeze these with or without liquid. I love having cooked beans on hand in the freezer. I make channa masala or hummus with chickpeas, a spicy bean dish with black beans and refried beans with pinto beans. I dislike the texture and taste of canned beans, not to mention the BPA (or an equally nasty equivalent) present in the plastic lining of canned food. (Click here for directions on slow-cooker beans.)

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Beans freezing on the right-hand side

Sourdough crackers. These freeze very well! They taste so delicious, they never stay in the freezer long though. (Click here for the sourdough cracker recipe.) Continue reading

How to Respond to Zero-Waste Naysayers

Perhaps you’ve taken the Plastic Free July challenge. You’ve banned plastic wrap in your home, started carrying your reusable water bottle everywhere and maybe you’ve learned how to make yogurt. You feel very excited about your progress (as you should)! Then your friends and family criticize you and burst your bubble. Sound familiar?

“You don’t make a difference.”

Well, if nothing else, I have made a difference in my own life. I don’t eat processed food. I eat more delicious and healthier food. I get sick way less often. My kids know how to cook—a valuable life skill. I am happy. No, I can’t save the world, but I have had friends, neighbors and followers on social media tell me they have adopted some of my habits. Beth Terry’s blog influenced me and my daughter when MK found it in 2011. Imagine all the people she has encouraged to change their lifestyles. We all do make a difference.

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Food, glorious food!

“Yeah, well, I still say you don’t make a difference. If you actually do want to make a difference, quit your day job and go protest Big Oil in the streets full-time.”

I do what I can in my circumstances. I am not perfect. I started a blog because I enjoy writing and needed a creative outlet and felt I had something to say. I think activism doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition—either you dedicate your life to the cause and give up everything (including your family) or you don’t bother. I would like to do more, such as teach more people how to cook and take care of themselves. Cooking mitigates so many problems (dependency on Big Food, obesity, diabetes…eating nasty food!). As one of my heroes Ron Finley puts it, “Food is the problem and food is the solution.” 

“We have bigger problems than plastic pollution.”

According to the World Bank (not exactly a liberal institution),

The world is barreling down a path to heat up by 4 degrees at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change, triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes that include extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people.”

Yes, this is a bigger problem than plastic pollution. But our problems all relate to each other.

For me, plastic epitomizes our consumer, throw-away culture. It represents the kind of thinking (and action) that led to our current environmental crisis. We’re addicted to convenience (much of which plastic makes possible), we demand what we want when we want it, we want it cheap and we dispose of what we no longer want without thought. We consume mindlessly and behave as though we have infinite resources. At our current rate of plastic production, consumption and disposal, by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic than fish. Plastic not only kills marine life, it is in marine life. Fish eat it, we eat the fish and so we eat plastic. Blech.

When you cut plastic from your life, you examine every aspect of your life because plastic is a part of every aspect of modern life. You naturally slow down. You change your lifestyle. You reduce your footprint.

“I don’t eat those plastic-filled fish, I’m vegan and you’re not, you fraud.”

I can count on one hand the number of times a vegan has attacked me for, well, not being vegan, but it has happened. I do eat lower on the food chain. I rarely eat meat and when I do, I eat pastured. I buy pastured dairy from either Straus Family Creamery or St. Benoit Creamery. I eat pastured eggs and know the vegetarian farmers who provide them to me. I’m pretty sure they chant oms over those happy hens that run up to humans visiting the farm.

So, no, I’m not a vegan but I am very conscientious. Not everyone subscribes to veganism and some people will feel excluded and overwhelmed if I go all dogmatic on them (which I try not to do). As a result, they may never start. I try not to proselytize. It only annoys people rather than winning them over.

Ananda eggs

Does your egg farmer meditate?

“Your reusable and thus germ-infested cloth bags and containers will kill you.”

We are a country of germophobes. Our fear of germs and attempt to completely annihilate them plays a role in the mass extinction facing our gut microbiota, which affects not only our health but also our mood and weight. Our love affair with antibiotics—we overuse these useful drugs—has resulted in antibiotic resistance, which according to the CDC, sickens over 2,000,000 Americans every year and kills 23,000.

When they get dirty, I wash the cloth bags and glass jars that I use for shopping. I can’t possibly sterilize them and they don’t need sterilization.

“I won’t change because technology will save us.” 

This one will drive me over the edge. Electric cars, edible packaging and apps for dilemmas we can figure out ourselves (e.g., apps that alert you to the apple on your counter about to turn) don’t go far enough. We actually have to change our lifestyles, not merely create a greener version of our consumer culture. I’m not suggesting we all go live on a farm and raise goats (although I would love to…). But what’s so terrible about slowing down, simplifying and enjoying life? I suppose it’s terrible for the GDP, an artificial construct. It will help keep the air, water and soil healthy though (those are real).

“Just enjoy yourself while you can and take all you can get because we’re doomed.”

Even if I accepted our doom as a given, how does our consumer culture make us happy exactly? Self-medicating doesn’t count (speaking of which, global pharma sales hit the $1 trillion mark in 2014 and should reach $1.3 trillion by 2018). Slaving away at a job so I can earn money to shop at a crowded mall for more junk I don’t need does not appeal to me. I’d rather read a book. Or go skating. 

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“Cooking requires too much work.”

This is a tough one. I recently wrote a post that can help: “18 Time-Saving Tips for Cooking Real Food.” Please don’t shoot the messenger but if you eat, you need to master some basic (and easy) cooking skills, unless you have a personal chef, which most of us can’t afford. If you learn a few skills (like how to make soup), you waste less food (and save money). You know what to do with what you have on hand, you buy real ingredients you actually cook with and can use in infinite ways.

“Living the way you do costs too much money.”

My daughter says the zero-waste lifestyle is “out of reach for poor people who are actually the most hurt by corporations and are victims of environmental racism.” No, I don’t live in a food desert, yes, I have time to cook real food (I don’t work two jobs, for example) and yes, some things I buy, such as milk in glass bottles, do cost more than their plastic-packaged counterparts. However, I do spend less money on food than I used to. Since I cut the plastic, I decreased my meat and dairy consumption (they are difficult to find plastic-free), and started eating more beans, legumes and vegetables. Those cost less. I could save more money if price was my only concern.

Not everyone can afford milk in glass bottles (or milk for that matter) but I think almost everyone can make different choices. For example, most people (unless they live in Flint, Michigan) can make tap water their drink of choice and stop wasting their money on bottled water and unhealthy sugary beverages—packaged in plastic.

I don’t think reducing your carbon footprint is an all-or-nothing proposition. In the long run, you’ll certainly save money on healthcare. Read more about the “too expensive” argument in this article “Is zero waste unfair to low income or disabled persons?” from Paris to Go. 

“You had kids.”

Yes. Twice.

“You’re alive and so you have a footprint.”

Yes.

“You’re frivolous/naive/insane.”

Whatever dude. I have no response. Just remember:

what people think

Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans

Click here to jump to the recipe

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“Hi my name is Anne-Marie and I’m a jaraholic. It’s been one day since I salvaged a jar from the recycling bins.” (Some empty jars ready to pack.)

I am in the throes of moving.

Packing ALL of your cookbooks, several pots and pans and even some of your food really forces you to get resourceful in the kitchen. I feel like I’m camping indoors, except I don’t have to look out for bears when I use the bathroom in the middle of the night, just a cat I might trip over, sending me to an early death.

When I had that what-on-earth-will-we-eat-for-dinner moment Tuesday morning, I remembered that I hadn’t packed the black beans or rice and that I had fresh jalapeños (I have fermented also, for when jalapeños are out of season). Time for beans and rice. I needed cilantro, so on my bike ride home from work, I grabbed some at the store.

ingredients spicy black beans

Improvisations for this post

Olive oil. I like to cook the onions in lard but I cooked this for a vegetarian, so I opted for olive oil. Also, I haven’t rendered lard lately, and so have none…

Onions. Ordinarily, I would use a white or yellow onion for this but I only had shallots, which Anthony Bourdain says separates the chefs from the cooks, so maybe this is a good thing.

Citrus. I would prefer lime juice in this rather than lemon, but I grow lemons and so lemon it is.

Quick soak. Because I am obsessed with my pressure cooker, I hadn’t packed it. I didn’t think to soak the beans the night before though, so I did a quick soak in the afternoon. I brought the black beans to a boil, turned the heat off and let them sit covered for a couple of hours. I then drained them, added more water and cooked them to perfection in my pressure cooker in a mere four minutes! Here’s a post on cooking beans in a pressure cooker. If you haven’t tried using a pressure cooker, I highly recommend it. It will change your life.


Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dry black beans
  • 2 tablespoons fat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeños or to taste, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Juice of 2 limes or to taste

Directions

1. Cook dry beans and reserve the liquid.

2. Saute the onion, garlic and jalapeños in oil until tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add beans with some of their liquid and simmer until most of the liquid has cooked off (about 30 minutes).

4. Add salt and lime.

5. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro and sour cream or yogurt, if desired.

spicy black beans

Food Politics and the English Language

With apologies to George Orwell…

I work at an English factory (a small publisher) and in my past wayward life, wrote marketing copy on the side. So I know how powerful language can be—powerful enough to entice you to part with your hard-earned cash to buy things you don’t actually need and that might actually make you sick. You have to give food marketers—and marketers of consumer products in general—credit for their creative use of the English language in order to dupe us.

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Sourdough bread

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9 Tips for a Successful Plastic Free July

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“Think about it…why would you make something that you are going to use for a few minutes out of a material that’s basically going to last forever. What’s up with that?” — Jeb Berrier, Bag It movie

Plastic Free July kicks off Friday. For the entire month, tens of thousands of people around the world will forgo plastic. You can find out more about the challenge, sign up for it, and check out a toolbox and many helpful resources at the Plastic Free July website.

Why cut plastic? Consider this from the Plastic Free July website:

“By 2050 it’s estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Most comes from land and was once in our hands. Refuse single-use plastic and together let’s keep our oceans clean. Join over 40,000 people, schools and organisations from 90 countries and let those same hands be part of the solution.”

If you want to participate but don’t know where to start, I’ve compiled the following list of steps, beginning with extremely easy, followed by easy and ending with still pretty darn easy.

1. Refuse the big offenders

The Plastic Free July website refers to single-use plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws as the “TOP 4.” Replace these items with reusables: shopping bags made of natural fibers; metal or glass water bottles; and a ceramic mug or metal thermos. Just ditch the straws. My daughter has a medical condition that makes drinking with a straw easier, and even she rarely deploys her reusable metal straws.

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Enjoying my Philz tea in my reusable thermos as I write this post

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DIY Mouthwash

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This easy-to-make mouthwash passes the I-avoid-putting-anything-down-the-drain-that-I-won’t-eat test, which I mentioned in my recent TMI post. You might actually want to drink this, since it contains only vodka, spices and water. With just these few edible ingredients, you can make a large amount of inexpensive mouthwash that works really well to freshen your breath.

Original Listerine, on the other hand, contains:

Active ingredients

  • Eucalyptol 0.092%
  • Menthol 0.042%
  • Methyl salicylate 0.060%
  • Thymol 0.064%

Inactive ingredients 

After you’ve polluted your mouth with this chemical concoction, you then have to deal with the disposal of the plastic pollution that comes with it—the bottle and lid. Yes, you can recycle the bottle (but not the lid), however, plastic is downcycled, meaning it is recycled once or twice only before it ends up in—yes—landfill.

Cut plastic at its source and make your own mouthwash for pennies, sans the nasty chemicals. I am able to buy spices in bulk and the vodka comes in a glass bottle I can reuse for my scrap vinegar, kombucha, ginger beer and so on.

DIY Mouthwash

This is one of those not-really-a-recipe recipes. You can substitute the spices, although I would stick with the cinnamon and cloves. Not only do those both have antibacterial properties, they also make this smell so good and taste more palatable (I’m not a big vodka drinker). Other spice options include rosemary or sage, also with antibacterial properties. Someone on my Facebook page suggested including neem tree in any form. Someone else on Instagram suggested adding myrrh and said it’s good for the gums. I’m not sure where to buy neem tree or myrrh but Google knows.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vodka
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken to fit your jar
  • Essential oil if desired (cinnamon, peppermint or tea tree oil would work well)

Directions

1. Pour vodka and spices into a jar. Replace the lid. Shake.

2. Wait about a month.

3. Strain. You’ve essentially made a tincture—alcohol infused with a medicinal substance.

4. To use, combine about 1/8 of teaspoon with 2 tablespoons of water, swirl around your mouth, gargle and spit out if desired😉

When I posted a picture of this on Instagram, a couple of people asked if they could dilute the entire tincture with water in advance and skip the step of diluting the mouthwash before every use. I’m not sure if mold with grow in a diluted form of this or not, so I’m giving it a try with just a small amount of my finished tincture. In the picture below, I combined about 1 part tincture to 10 parts water. I will keep you posted.

diluted mouthwash

Diluted mouthwash, ready to use, in an old honey jar

18 Time-Saving Tips for Cooking Real Food

Unless you already do cook everything from scratch, you’ll cook more when you decide to cut down on—or eliminate—your waste. That’s because you’ll cut packaged, processed food from your diet and replace these food-like substances with home-cooked versions.

I can do without a lot of stuff in my life—piles of clothing, cosmetics, the latest gadgets. But I can’t do without food. So I cook. Recently, a couple of interviewers have said to me, “Cooking is so much work!” I didn’t know how to respond. I don’t see a way around cooking, unless you can afford to hire a personal chef. Don’t get me started on Blue Apron and the amount of trash companies like it generate. The popularity of meal kits makes me lose faith in humanity.

My Buddhist neighbor best explained the need to cook. She told me that at the monastery she used to live in, she noticed one of the monks cooked every day. She said to him, “You must really like to cook.” He responded, “I really like to eat.”

If you want to eat tastier food, improve your health, cut down on your waste, reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you, spend more time with your family and save money, then cook real food. I know this all takes time. These tips will help save you some.

Plan ahead

1. Cook simple food
I make a lot of one-pot meals and other simple food—dal, frittata, soup, pizza, roasted vegetables. These types of dishes help you use up food you have on hand so you waste less of it. I don’t cook anything very elaborate but it all tastes good.

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Simple, delicious, minestrone soup

2. Stock up on non-perishable staples when you shop
When I run out of something, I add it to the grocery list I keep on my phone. When I need staples like rice, beans, sugar, salt, baking soda and so on, I buy lots. I hate to realize just as I start cooking that I’ve run out of an important ingredient.

3. Buy organic produce and don’t waste time peeling it
I don’t recommend eating the peels of industrial produce (I refuse to call pesticide-laden food “conventional”). Stick with organic, stop peeling potatoes and carrots and save time.

4. Start early
I love to eat steel-cut oats for breakfast. At night before bed, I combine them with water in a pot, bring everything to a boil and then turn off the heat. By morning, they have cooked and I simply heat them up. If I forget to do this, they take about 45 minutes to cook in the morning. I don’t have 45 minutes in the morning. Do what you can early and you won’t feel so daunted later when you’re tired or rushed.

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Steel-cut oats (aka Irish oatmeal) topped with seeds, coconut, fruit and yogurt

Equipment

5. Keep your knives sharp
Dull knives can slip and cut you. A sharp one will speed up chopping and help keep your digits intact.

6. Use a pressure cooker
Friends and readers kept telling me to get a pressure cooker and am I ever glad I finally did. I love it. I’m actually a bit obsessed with it. I can cook chickpeas in minutes and they taste spectacular. I have to admit that opening a can does take less time but the contents can’t compare with beans you cook yourself. You’ll save money too. (Read more about my pressure cooker here.)

7. Use a crock pot
I don’t cook that much in my crock pot but I do use it regularly for making stock. I have made good minestrone soup in it to. You just toss everything there and let it sit all day.

8. Choose the right tool for the job
For example, if you want to make a vat of soup, use one large pot, not four tiny pots occupying all the burners on your stove. Trying to cook with the wrong tools leads to frustration and inefficiency. I don’t own a lot of stuff but I do have a kitchen fully equipped to fit my needs.

At your station

9. Organize a mise en place
This French phrase means “put in place.” Before you start to cook, chop and measure out everything and set it out on your countertop. Then just grab what you need as you cook. I find this saves me SO much time.

From the ingredients in my mise en place below, I made balsamic vinaigrette dressing, a cucumber and beet salad with said dressing (I had cooked the beets on the weekend in my pressure cooker), and cauliflower “couscous” with pesto (I had made a large amount of pesto and froze it a couple of weeks before I took this pic).

mise en place

10. Organize your tools
I have a tiny kitchen. You can read a post about it here. One of my favorite accoutrements is the bar in the pic below, which holds all the utensils I constantly use. I don’t have to search through drawers or cupboards for these when I need them.

tools

11. Double or triple recipes
Cook a vat of soup and you can eat it all week and freeze some of it for later. Making extra doesn’t require much more effort and will save you lots of time in the long run.

12. Prep what you can in advance
My daughter sent me the pic below of garlic she minced and then topped with coconut oil. Mince once, refrigerate and use all week long. Similarly, when I come home from the farmer’s market on the weekends, I prep what I can. I clean everything, trim vegetables like carrots and beets, prep fruit like berries and freeze a bunch of them to eat later and get everything somewhat organized for the upcoming week.

minced garlic in coconut oil

13. Keep your compost bowl close by when prepping
This helps keep your countertop clean and organized. If you don’t compost, here’s a post on how I compost the lazy way.

14. Heat water up in a kettle while you prep
When I make soup, I sometimes boil water in my kettle and then pour that water in my soup pot. This helps heat everything up faster. I do the same thing with my pressure cooker.

15. Cram more into your oven
If you’re making, say, eggplant parmigiana at 350 F, bake a pie or cobbler while you have the oven on.

16. Clean as you go
I am trying to instill this in my kids. Every good chef knows this rule. Clean as you cook and you’ll work more efficiently and won’t face a sink piled high with dishes when you’re done.

Lifestyle tips

17. Get your neighbors and friends involved
Earlier this year, I did a webinar on zero-waste cooking for some students at USC. One of them asked, as busy students, how can they find the time to cook? I suggested that they each take turns making vats of food for the entire group at the beginning of the week. In other words, we can all work together and share! It’s a radical idea.

18. Farm out the cooking to your children
Yes, it will take time to teach them but once your kids have learned how to cook, they can cook dinner regularly. I don’t buy snack food because I don’t buy processed, packaged food. When my younger daughter wanted cookies a while back, I said you can have some but you have to make them. When I woke up the next morning, I found a batch of shortbread cookies on the counter! This is such an important skill—cooking in general, not just baking shortbread, although that is also very important.

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There you have it—18 ideas for saving time in the kitchen.

You may hear people say “I don’t have time to cook, so I eat convenience food” but you won’t (usually) hear “I don’t have time to shower, so I am encrusted in filth” or “I don’t have time to do laundry, so I go naked.”

Cooking is a necessity. But only if you eat.

Garlic-Dill Sauerkraut

I have converted several self-professed haters of sauerkraut with this garlic-dill blend. It tastes just like dill pickles. And almost everyone likes dill pickles, including kids.

People who tell me they hate sauerkraut often also say they want to like it because of the many health benefits that lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut offer. Fermented sauerkraut:

  • Is easier to digest than its unprocessed ingredients
  • Contains higher levels of B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin and niacin that the vegetables do when not fermented
  • Preserves the vitamin C present in the vegetables
  • Contains a diverse population of beneficial, probiotic and gut-friendly microbes (you may want to pay attention to this point most…)

If you want to learn more about how fermented foods improve your gut health and how your gut health affects your overall health in a major way (to put it mildly), you’ll love the book The Good Gut, by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, pioneers in gut microbiota research.

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Garlic-Dill Sauerkraut

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