Friday, January 28, 2011

Flat Sheets to Curtains!

A guest post from Vanessa! Thank you so much for this post.

In an effort to live more frugally, I have found myself looking more and more for ideas of how to reuse or re-purpose items already in my possession in an effort to minimize the expense of purchasing new items. One of these items are flat bed sheets. In the US, with every sheet set you buy comes a fitted sheet, a flat sheet and two pillow cases. The fitted sheet and the pillow cases are what I'm looking for, the flat sheet is an item that wanders straight to the bottom of my linen closet, rarely to be seen again.

I am not a fan of the flat sheet..I find it NEVER stays tucked for more than half the night, and so I simply refuse to use it anymore. But what a waste of perfectly awesome sheet fabric!

When we first moved to Connecticut, I wanted curtains for our new apartment. The first set I made with store bought fabric (on sale), which even after the sales discount cost too much to justify outfitting an entire apartment of windows.

My next attempt involved using some of those flat bedsheets, which while clearly not as nice as those made with store bought curtain fabric, still do the job of making my apartment look like a home. And I have yet to have a friend comment on them in relation to bed sheets or general oddness, etc. (I like to think this is not just out of kindness to me...)

On recent forays though the internet, and my continued quest for finding things to do with my remaining flat sheets (still quite a few remaining as we also inherited a bunch from family), I found out that you can sew fitted sheets out of flat sheets! And while I have yet to try this (it requires some space and dedicated time, which I am hoping to find within the next month or so), I am very excited and see no reason for this not to work. I am also very excited to increase my currently dwindling stash of fitted sheets (mostly due to old age deterioration).

I have no foolproof set of directions yet, but an internet search will yield many how-to guides, and I hope my success will warrant a follow-up post with results!

Do you have other things you use flat sheets for, if you're like me and don’t like them for the beds they were intended for? Or are there other items in your house you have found a new purpose for? Another excess in my apartment at the moment are old socks...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Best Lentil Recipe Ever (Stolen from Eritrea)

I know, I know, I keep on telling you I'm going to South Africa and then not going. The last post just didn't seem to be the right note to leave on. Weather permitting, our flight leaves in the evening.

So, while my parents and I stayed in Eritrea there wasn't a lot of meat (and I was vegetarian except for when someone killed a chicken they wouldn't have killed had I not been visiting for lunch-- now there's hospitality). Or actually, there were some animals but no butcheries, and we don't know how to turn an animal into a meal.

But lentils, oh, there were lentils. And remarkably, lentils that tasted wholesome and filling enough to be meaty. Not in a fake-meat-tofu-chicken (of which I'm not a fan) kind of way. But in an unashamedly I'm-an-awesome-lentil kind of way. We've been eating lentils the last few days to tide us over before our trip, so that we could switch off the fridge while we're away, so it seemed fitting to share the recipe here. Please excuse the canned tomatoes. You can use fresh tomatoes, it'll just take a lot of them.

crushed ginger (or 2 tsp powdered ginger if that's all you have)
cayenne pepper or paprika (to taste-- as spicy as you like it)
bulb of garlic, crushed (yes, not a clove, a bulb)
3 onions
2 cups of red lentils
tomato paste, puree, crushed or whole peeled tomato in tomato juice-- you want the equivalent of 3 cans of tomato paste. I usually use one large can of tomato puree, and two large cans of whole peeled tomato. I once heard that they use better tomatoes for the whole peeled than for the others.

1. Soak the red lentils for a couple of hours, or overnight. (if overnight, pour off the water once).
2. Dice the onions and fry them in a little oil (medium or low heat). While they're simmering away, peel and crush the garlic, and start adding it. Add the ginger and red pepper.
3. Add the lentils (without the water) and after a couple of minutes add the tomato.
4. Allow to simmer until lentils are falling apart-- sometimes as long as 2 hours, for a really great sauce. (transfering to a slow cooker before step 4, and leaving on low for 8 hours, would also be fine.) Add water if necessary.

Enjoy! How do you make lentils and beans a part of your meals? Do you have recipes you really like?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

100 Changes

Hi everyone,

Before going to SA, I've put up one new page. I've done it hastily, and I decided to stop at 50 and hand it over to you.

One thing I'm not sure of is where all the changes fit. Change to what end? I think I'm motivated by the idea that changes towards simplicity and sustainability make space for myself, and also space for others. And space, in a society that often seems stretched and stressed, is a great thing.

Anyway, this is me handing it over to you until I'm back from South Africa! I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Can Freecycle be A Tool for Redistribution of Stuff?

Congratulations Bridget, winner of last week's giveaway!

As we prepare for our move, which will likely be the second in a series of moves, we've been getting rid of a lot of stuff. One of my goals by the end of this year is to be able to list all the non-food items in my life. Right now it's still too daunting. I'm not simplifying because I think stuff is necessarily bad, but just because it's so hard to actually use very many things every day or even every week. And things take up time-- to organize, to find space for, to replace, to repair. (Married ladies, what have you done with your wedding dresses? I'm very attached to mine, but it just sits in the cupboard, which seems sad.)

We've been using freecycle a lot, and I've been pondering how it's used. In our neighborhood, it's people with a lot of stuff giving to other people with a lot of stuff. Which is great because it helps stuff avoid the landfill longer, and maybe even helps people save so they can hang out more or eat better (I'm not sure). So on the one hand, freecycle is awesome.

But I wonder if it could be something more.

My mom is part of freecycle Cape Town, and she mentions that sometimes people give away great stuff. The same stuff (it seems to me) that people are committing crimes (with guns... with guns they sometimes use...) to get their hands on. And the crimes are obviously not just about the stuff, but what if they weren't part of the equation at all?

We're all living in cities with invisible borders-- whether it's above the railway/below the railway; the neighborhood google maps takes pictures of and the neighborhood they don't go into (see Umhlanga in Durban, and the no info zone in the township); or just the places we don't go because we don't know. Particularly in Boston, stuff is not the [only] difference between poverty and wealth. Education, savings to survive the unexpected, and health-- and being empowered to make choices for good health (whether good food, safety, or safer sex)-- are much deeper markers of inequality in our society.

But the great thing about freecycle is that it's not mindless dumping of junk at Goodwill or the Red Cross. It's mindful. Can this be useful for someone? If freecycle helps us get to know our neighbors, maybe it can help us cross boundaries, just a little. And maybe those boundaries can get a little fuzzier. I'm not talking about some kind of paternalistic giving-gifts-to-those-less-fortunate. I'm talking about figuring out how to get to know our neighbors, and giving gifts across neighborhoods, not just within them. The how is the question. Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Refrigerator Bread

Tiffany shared this recipe with me on her recent visit to Boston, as shared from her mother-in-law. I'm excited to try it out as soon as we return from South Africa. The main bread I'm eating now is the basic bread from the Tassajara Bread Book.

Over to Tiff:
I like it because not just because it's easy and it makes wonderful bread, but also because 1) you can use sweet potatoes in it, which have good vitamins and things and are really tasty, and 2) it has some eggs and butter, which means that it boosts the nutritional content of the bread (ala Michael Pollan's philosophy that "low-fat" isn't necessarily always good and that some fat with one's carbohydrates enables the body to process the food slower, making high-glycemic index foods less "unhealthy" for one).

1 cup mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes
1 1/2 cups potato water (the water leftover from boiling the potatoes before you mash them)
2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 packet (1 tbsp) yeast (fast-acting works a little better, from experience)
2 eggs
2/3 cup butter, softened
7 to 7 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1. Mix together 1 1/2 cups potato water (should be lukewarm, not cold), 2/3 cup sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. salt
2. Crumble into mixture 1 packet/1 tbsp yeast.  Stir until dissolved.
3. Add 2 eggs and 2/3 cups softened butter.
4. Mix in first with spoon, then with hand, 1 cup mashed potatoes (also lukewarm, not cold) and 7 to 7 1/2 cups flour.
5. Knead until smooth. Place in an air-tight container in the fridge or a bowl covered in moist cloth. Keep for as long as 7-10 days. Maybe even longer!  As long as it doesn't smell "off", I think it's fine.

When you want to eat bread:
1. Cut off as much dough as you need and shape into desired shape (loaf, cloverleaf rolls, crescent rolls, knots, regular rolls, etc.) in/on the thing you're going to bake it in/on (a greased loaf pan, cast-iron skillet, cake pan, muffin tins,cookie sheet. Don't forget to grease) . Cover with damp cloth.
2. Wait 1 1/2 to 2 hours for dough to rise until doubled (it takes longer in colder temperatures.  In such cases, I often preheat the oven to 190F and turn it off immediately, then wait for it to become just warm, not hot. Then I stick the dough in.)
3. When ready, preheat oven to 400F (take bread dough out of oven first, if relevant) and bake bread for 12-15 minutes for rolls, longer for whole loaves (consult other loaf recipes, as I've never made a whole loaf with this dough...I know it's possible because my mother-in-law has made loaves.)

Be Creative! This dough recipe works for EVERYTHING. I usually make rolls and add extra butter (brushing it on the top, or on the dough-surface before rolling it up). But I've also made cinnamon rolls (add cinnamon-sugar and butter before rolling up), basil rolls, cheese rolls, and marinara sauce rolls.  You can add cheese or ham, or garlic, or thyme, or olives, etc.

Do you have a bread recipe that you really love?  How do you fit bread-baking into your busy lives?  How did you decide to start baking your own bread?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How do you Motivate Yourself to Change? (And A Giveaway!)

I found another multi-use bag on Etsy: they're made by Elena Berlo, and you can check out her shop here. These are bigger than the flipflap sacks, and can be used for any snacks-- they have a velcro closure so you can keep little foods in. As an aside, they also work wonderfully for a kindle, Eug's Christmas/anniversary gift this year.  They're durable and compact enough that they can stay with you for the long haul.

I love that Etsy offers me a way to get home-made, made-with-love-with-great-raw-materials, things that I'm totally incapable of making. (Don't worry, I'm not paid to endorse Etsy.)

I've been learning more about social marketing (the marketing that makes you really crave chocolate right when you're checking out at the grocery) and I'm convinced you're trying to reduce your waste, it's good to have a lot of easy alternatives to ziplocs. You may have to trick yourself.

Elena is offering a set of three snack bags to one lucky reader.   I wanted to use this opportunity to hear how you motivate yourself to make changes-- To be included in the draw, leave comments about how you deal with choices: How do you make the good choice the easy choice in your life-- whether in reducing waste, cooking from scratch, or stopping your home from having stacks of stuff? How do you make the choice stick?

An Update:  Keep commenting until this Thursday, January 13th, at 5pm.  That's when we'll do the draw.  Your chances are good!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beyond One Trash Bag

Coming up tomorrow night is our second giveaway, and it's a BIG one. I am becoming a huge, huge fan of Etsy as a means of connecting with people and avoiding the world of mass production.

My focus on trash the last couple of months has been transformative. I tried a number of your suggestions in the comments of our first giveaway. I'm the proud owner of portable chopsticks, I'm reusing glass jars like crazy, and I even tried making blocks for Mr. Noah out of cartons.

We're down to one small shopping bag of trash a week. We still have a lot of paper recycling, but our plastic and metal has been markedly reduced. These are the foods whose packaging fills our trash and recycling:

Frozen vegetables and fruits-- I still buy large bags of frozen berries and vegetables, mainly because it really helps reduce my trips to the grocery store and stretches out our fresh vegetables. Give me time...
Nuts-- the bulk bins at our coop are still very expensive.
Milk cartons (yup, they’re lined with plastic)
My honey containers are still usually plastic. An easy fix, I know.

Can you relate? Do you have a food that is your achilles' heel when it comes to packaging? Reading the list, I reckon honey is probably the item where we can make the first change.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Growth in 2011 Means Getting Smaller

We decided just a couple of days ago that we need to move at the end of the month. Having moved just 6 months ago, it's bittersweet. I'm excited to be moving into the city-- Allston, to be exact. I'm tentative about another transition, which will likely just be for six months.

There's something about not quite getting comfortable that I like. I like that this year will be intense and focused. Three (four?) moves in one year just has to be. I'll be about 4.5 miles from my work, which means I will try to become a bike commuter in the Spring (or whenever I feel like I'm getting enough calories for me and Mr Noah, with some to spare).

I'm looking forward to year of growth-- growth sometimes involving getting smaller. Some of the ways we'll be getting smaller will be in our belongings-- appliances, clothes and books. We're even selling our breadmaker (unless someone we know wants it...) because I'm ready (thanks to the Tassajara Bread Book) to bake bread without it.

In January, with our move and a trip to South Africa, I'd welcome guest posts from readers. For Concrete Gardener, I'd like 2011 to be a year of increased community-- it's ok if the blog stays small if it's helpful to a few people. So thank you for reading, and let me know if you have a guest post for me! (e-mail me: Adams at

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How Not to Get Your Baby to Sleep through the Night

First, some links:
Before we received some surprise shortening from a friend, we tried this pie crust recipe and liked it a lot. It's a step up from the no-roll crust (a little more work), and you definitely notice it in the texture and taste of the crust.
I keep going back to Enjoying the Small Things because I always feel refreshed after reading.
And, in case you need some inspiration for reducing your plastic consumption.

Things are busy here in the Adams household, as we prepare to move (again- within Boston though!) and visit South Africa, while working and taking care of Noah.

And Noah, oh Noah. We were having pretty significant difficulties getting him back to sleep when he wakes up in the middle of the night, so we decided we'd try having his little mattress and our little mattress on the floor, side by side. And it was awesome, at first. He was SO happy to be so close to us, he just went right to sleep if Eug so much as patted him. And then that wasn't quite enough. He didn't like to be moved after he ate. Then, at some point I don't quite remember, he decided that occasionally he'll try to climb the only dangerous piece of furniture as soon as he woke up. In the dark. Then he decided he was only fully comfortable if he had his leg kinda over my waist after eating. And last night, he decided not only does he need to be on the floor with us, in bed with us, eating on demand, with his leg over my waist for assurance, he also likes it if I could just scratch his back. Continuously. All night.

This seems to be pretty much the textbook what not to do, but hey, we prefer it to crying. For now. And he's teething and sick so it always seems like a bad time to make life difficult. Our plan is to try to stop feeding him at night when we get back from South Africa and have made our move to Allston.

Sorry readers, I know this post is not very related to anything. But we are getting rid of the box spring since we're just sleeping on the mattress on the floor, so I guess that counts as a move towards simplicity...