Monthly Archives: August 2014

Cloth Napkins: A Step Towards Sustainability

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When you gather friends or family for dinner, how do you set your table?  Do you have a set of dishes you use everyday or perhaps a ‘good’ set that you save for special occasions?  Besides the dishes, glasses (or cups), and silverware, do you set out napkins?  If your answer is yes, do you use paper ones or cloth?

Most people use paper napkins for the convenience.  What this means is that once the napkins are used, they are simply tossed in the trash rather than being cleaned and used again like their cloth counterparts.  But that convenience comes at an environmental cost.napkins-in-basket-cr

According to Enviro Napkin, there are several interesting statistics for paper napkins.  They are:

  • 2.5 paper napkins are used by each diner per meal
  • over 160 billion paper napkins used annually in the U.S.
  • equates to 34 million trees cut down each year

Paper napkins are not a sustainable choice.  Look at the quantity of trees used to produce a throw away product.  What about the cost of paper napkins annually compared to buying a set or two of good quality cloth napkins?  Cloth napkins are a sustainable choice for your home.

Reasons to Use Cloth Napkins

  • Cost savings over time of cloth over paper
  • Less trash using cloth over paper
  • Durability of cloth over paper
  • Multiple uses (years of cloth compared to single use of paper)
  • Provide greater protection from spills on clothing
  • Available in  fabrics that launder well
  • Become softer with each washing
  • Conveys a sense of occasion over paper napkins
  • Can readily be packed into lunches for school or work
  • Available in colors and patterns that coordinate/complement your dinnerware

Now if you are thinking that cloth napkins means more laundry and work, don’t worry.  Based on the type of fabric and colors, toss them in with specific loads of laundry.  Dark blues or burgundies… toss in with a load of darks.  White or very pale pastels… toss in with your whites.  As far as ironing, the choice is yours.  Initially, I ironed every single napkins after every single wash.  Now?  I just remove them from the dryer, smooth flat with my hand and fold.

Over the years, I have picked up napkins at a variety of locations for not much money.  Flea markets.  Garage sales.  Tag sales.  And even the occasional estate sale.  In many cases, the napkins were either brand new or just lightly used and still looked new.  If there are an odd number of them… such as five, don’t worry, just get them anyway.  I have a collection of damask napkins in a rainbow of pastel colors.  Most of them are orphans that came from many different places, but yet when the table is set, they look like they go together because of the type of fabric and the colors.variety-cloth-napkins-cr

If you worry about the durability, let me ease your fears.   Most of the napkins that grace our table have been in use for over 25 years.  While the fabric has softened and there has been some color fading, the napkins are still going strong.  There are no holes or rips in the fabric, but then  dabbing around a mouth or wiping hands does not cause wear and tear on the fabric.  And should a napkin no longer look nice enough to set out on the table, it will be relegated to ‘dust cloth’ status.

Go ahead and buy cloth napkins.    They come in a range of colors and fabrics.  Are extremely durable.  Are easy to just toss in the wash with other laundry.  Provide much better clothing protection than paper napkins.  They provide a cost savings over time and they are a sustainable choice for your home.

Farmers’ Market: What are 2nds?

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I have a love affair with farmers’ market.  These weekly events provide a vast array of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, wines, breads, eggs, and canned goods offering the very best of the season from early spring through the fall.  With very little effort, it is easy to compose a meal from a single pass through the vendors.

But at the farmers’ market and various CSAs around the country, there is a secret that has been around for decades.  But don’t worry, you no longer have to be an insider to find out about this secret.  Go ahead.  Ask the vendors.  They just might have an unexpected surprise.  It’s 2nds!

Okay…. I can hear you, “What are seconds”?  In the world of fresh produce, 2nds are less than perfect produce.  Seconds can be based on appearance… the ugly produce.  Or perhaps they might have a slight flaw or blemish such as a small bruise or a crack.  Maybe a bird pecked a hole in it or perhaps there is minor damage from flea beetles.  For some vendors, perhaps it is fruit that might spoil in just a few days.  In other words, 2nds are what most shoppers would skip over in favor of something that has a better appearance.  As far as taste, 2nds are the same as first quality produce on the table.  First quality is what everyone sets out in front of everyone.  The ruby-red tomatoes.   The perfect pile of straight cucumbers.   Bundles of gorgeous basil.  Yes, those gorgeous items will be snapped up quickly.  But if you are like me, you can save some money and get great tasting produce for less.  Depending on the market or vendor, seconds may cost two thirds or half of their first quality counterparts.

2nd quality peach

2nd quality peach

One of the best examples in our region is peaches.  They are ripe, luscious, and juicy.  These western slope favorites make wonderful jam, jelly, butter, cobbler, ice cream, and pie.  The flavor is so good, people wait in line for them.  But get this… they wait in line for the 2nds!  One of the big peach vendors has a line every single Saturday during peach season just for 2nds.  These 2nds go quickly.  As the saying goes, if you snooze, you lose. This vendor regularly sells out of seconds in less than an hour each week.

There is one thing to keep in mind when buying seconds.  Their shelf life is can be less than that of first quality.   Bruised 2nds can spoil quickly But if you are a canner, you can readily turn an entire case into canned pints or quarts long before the second quality produce has a chance to spoil.

The idea of buying seconds has been around for decades.  For a while, vendors were reluctant to sell less than perfect produce.  They were afraid it would mar their reputation.   Second quality produce frequently ended up in compost piles or being fed to livestock.   But along the way, someone convinced them to give it a try.  Canners have been buying seconds by the case for as long as vendors have been selling 2nds.

Produce Commonly Sold as Seconds

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Tomatoes
  • Pears
  • Nectarines
  • Peppers
  • Cantaloupes
  • Greens
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Tips to Make the Most of Your Seconds

  • Inspect each piece of produce when you get home
  • Remove any produce that has begun to spoil
  • Wash and thoroughly dry the produce
  • Store produce in a cool location and away from direct sunlight
  • Begin using immediately: fresh eating or cooked into meals
  • If canning, cut away any bruised or soft spot before placing produce in preserving pan.

While we all like beautiful produce, consider asking for 2nds the next time you are at a farmers’ market or CSA.  You just may be pleasantly surprised at what is available and the price compared to first quality produce.

 

Juice It: Fresh Produce in a Glass

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Summer continues to tick down the weeks.  Temperatures have dropped.  School has started.  Sunburns have faded.   Trees in the high country are blushed with fall hues.  And if you garden… you are overrun with fresh produce.  Yes, this is a prolific time of year.

Many of you have pulled out the canners, sterilized your jars, and stood for hours in a hot kitchen waiting for the ping to sound.   It is a great way to preserve the harvest for winter months.  Imagine opening those summer flavors during January when most of our gardens lay at rest?  Yes, canning is worthwhile.  But just how much more are you ready or willing to can?  Have you run out of jars?  Running out of space in your pantry?  Or perhaps you can’t face another day in a hot kitchen?

When I have trouble keeping up with all of that wonderful summer bounty, instead of reaching for the canner, I grab my juicer instead.  A modern juicer is capable of taking fruits and vegetables and turning them into juice within a matter of seconds.  Granted, items like a thick rind has to be removed first (check your juicer’s instruction manual for details).  For example with my Breville Juicer, it is recommended to remove the rinds of citrus, the top and skin of a pineapple, but is able to easily juice a whole apple (removing stems and seeds not required).

juicer in action

juicer in action

I love to experiment with different combinations of vegetables and fruit.  Kale juices beautifully, but a little kale goes a long ways and for me, a juice of nothing but kale would be too strongly herbal in flavor.  However, if a couple of kale leaves are juiced with a cucumber, small beet, and a couple of carrots, the overall flavor of the juice is slightly sweet and very refreshing.

Juicing is a great way to enjoy lots of fruits and vegetables at once.  Now while I would have a hard time eating three oranges at one sitting, drinking the juice of three oranges would be quite easy to do.  Now imagine doing that with tomatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, and assorted greens such as spinach and lettuce.  For those of you with small children, it can also be a great way to get vegetables in their diet if they refuse to eat things like broccoli or dark, leafy greens.  Adding a fruit, such as an apple, sweetens and brightens the flavor of an otherwise all vegetable juice and makes it much more palatable to young ones.

vibrant beet-cucumber-grape juice

vibrant beet-cucumber-grape juice

Besides enjoying the fresh juice, I like to save the pulp from the juicing process.  Not only does the pulp provide fiber, but it also serves as a great addition to soups, stew, and casserole dishes.  If you are not keen on the fiber, you could also feed it to animals such as chickens.  (My hens get the fiber leftover from the juicing process  as a summertime treat).

So the next time you have an abundant supply of produce and can’t bear the thought of canning another batch in a hot kitchen, reach for a juicer instead.   They juice items quickly, do not heat up a room, and are relatively easy to clean.