Friday, August 14, 2009

Sending Out Some Zucchini Love

Photo Credit: ILoveButter on Flickr.

Plagued with too much summer squash? Here's a tip - dump the guilt and be ruthless. The big ones are tough, filled with seeds and not worth your time. Compost is a lovely thing - consider those too-big squashes as nutrients for next year's garden and be done with them.

As for the smaller, more tender lovelies, here is one of my favorite recipes. Any summer squash works beautifully - zucchini, yellow crookneck, pattypan... The flecks of different colors of skin in the fritters make them all the prettier.

I grate the squash in a food processor, which makes quick work of it. If you get carried away and grate too much (I often do this - I become mesmerized by the whirring blades and before you know it I have six cups of grated squash...) it stores really well in a covered container in the fridge.

There are lots of recipes for Squash Fritters; I like this one because the cornmeal gives it a nice tooth, and the onion provides a nice balance. When you lay each spoonful of batter into the sizzling oil, spread it out a bit so that the fritter will cook all the way through.

Now, go forth and fry!

Summer Squash Fritters

2 cups grated summer squash (zucchini, crook neck, pattypan)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 small onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
pepper to taste

oil for frying

Mix all ingredients together.
Drop by teaspoon into hot oil.
Brown one side.
Flip and brown the other side.
Drain on newspaper, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.

These are great just as is, but are even better when topped with a dab of sour cream and a spot of salsa.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cat Litter Conundrum - What's an Eco-gal To Do?

I recently received the following plea from a friend via email:

Dear cat-lovers, I'm making temporary home in a small apartment here in here in Washington, and my live-in landlord has a fat white basically-paraplegic cat. Now, I can tolerate a cat being in the house, especially if it's not around very much. But I'm wondering about the cat litter situation. How normal is having cat litter in the kitchen? And what do people normally do with the poo? Do they clear it up each day, dump it somewhere? Scoop it up with some of the litter? I get grossed out by cooking food when I can see or smell poo. Also, occasionally I nearly slip on pee, because the cat's peed on the kitchen floor. Is it normal for a cat to occasionally poo in the bathroom? Maybe I should just make sure the bathroom door is shut. Any thoughts would be welcome, and would be input to my upcoming discussion with my landlord. Your friend in Puget Sound.

Oh my. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV. I am simply the person who feeds and takes care of Fionn MacCool, one of the best cats to ever roam this universe. I sent the following reply:

Dear Friend,
I can only tell you what we do here in Milkweed World. It seems fairly straight-forward, as we only have one young, healthy cat. But here is my interpretation of what might be going on, and a few suggestions.

I'm not sure what "basically-paraplegic" means, but please rest assured that “Missy Big Head” is doing the best that she can. Cats do NOT mess on the floor or out of their box unless they are in distress, sick, or simply cannot make it. Has the cat’s routine changed lately? Is her owner gone most of the day, when previously he/she was home a lot? Has the cat box been moved? Has a cat-detesting room mate moved in? All of this could be upsetting to the cat, causing a litter-related reaction.

Cats that are spayed/neutered and kept in the house often get fat. It is not his/her fault. A cat food designed for mature indoor cats would probably be beneficial. And as cats are carnivores, reading the ingredient label on his/her current food might be quite enlightening – I was horrified when I saw that I was feeding poor Fionn corn, corn and more corn. I got rid of the Purina Cat Chow and now feed him Castor & Pollux Organic Food. We also give him a few tablespoons of organic baby squash a couple of times a week. I read somewhere that that will help alleviate fur balls. In the 3 years we have had the very furry Fionn, we have yet to see a fur ball. Coincidence? You be the judge.

As to where to keep a litter box - people seem to keep litter boxes everywhere. We keep our litter box in the bathroom, which seemed to make sense, both odorifically and sanitarily. Moving the box away from its normal spot, while making you happy, may confuse Missy Big Head and actually encourage more accidents.

We use Swheat Scoop cat litter, which is made from wheat. We think it is healthiest for the earth and the cat (the bentonite clay used in most conventional litters is mined). Oh, Lord, Kum by ya. I don’t know about you, but I can’t in good conscience use a product with so much embodied energy when there are more ecological options.

Whatever kind of litter you use, get the CLUMPING kind. It is easier to scoop. We scoop into old plastic bags and then throw them away. DO NOT FLUSH the used litter, especially where you are (in a coastal area). Sea otters are dying from Toxoplasma gondii from cat feces. The following is from the Environmental News Network

"According to Dr. Melissa Miller of the California Department of Fish and Game, cat feces can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that gets into feline systems from the eating of infected rodents, birds or other small animals. When cats later expel these parasites in their droppings—sometimes hundreds of millions at a time—each can survive in soil for over a year and also contaminate drinking water.
Most municipal sewage treatment systems are not designed to filter out Toxoplasma, and so the parasites also get into storm drains and sewage outflows that carry them out to near-shore ocean waters. Here, researchers have found, sea otters prey on mussels, crabs and other filter feeders that can concentrate Toxoplasma. Hundreds of sea otters have been found dead on California beaches in recent years with no obvious external injuries, and Miller and other scientists think that Toxoplasma may be the cause.
So what’s a responsible cat owner to do about dumping the contents of their cat’s litter box? According to Dr. Patricia Conrad, a veterinarian and parasitologist at the University of California at Davis who has studied Toxoplasma contamination in sea otters, cat owners can start by keeping their cats inside, where they are not able to hunt the small animals that can pass Toxoplasma along to them in the first place. (Bird lovers have been requesting this for years.) NOTE: Here at Dancing Rabbit cats must be kept indoors during ground-nesting bird season, usually late spring through July.
Those cat owners unwilling to keep their cats inside should do their part by at least not flushing cat litter or cat feces down the toilet. Cat fecal material should be placed in double plastic bags and included in the household trash. As such it will end up in the landfill where precautions are taken to prevent environmental contamination.”

Most importantly, scoop every day. A messy box will not only smell but will make the cat not want to use it. Add enough new litter to keep the litter at least 3" deep.

We do is add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to the litter after we scoop out the clumps. Mix the baking soda in with the cleaned litter, stir it about with the scooper. This really works at minimizing the odor. Change out the entire batch of litter every couple of weeks. You’ll know when to do it – the ammonia smell will no longer be able to be absorbed by the baking soda.

Also, there are plastic lids for litter boxes (tall, with a hole at the entrance, making the whole think look kind of like a cave) which would make it so that you would not have to see the contents. An extra-deep litter box might be helpful if your cat tends to scatter litter everywhere.

Lastly, adding cat litter in plastic bags is not an ideal solution. We are hoping to try a home composting system soon – we’ll take the bottom out of a 5-gallon bucket and bury it almost to the top. Our thought is that we can dump the litter box contents into the bucket, cover with some straw or other material, and then put the lid of the bucket back on. Eventually it will all compost. I’ll let you know!

good luck!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

True Confessions: My Green Life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

It has taken almost ten years for many of our beloved friends to become comfortable with the fact that Kurt and I live in an ecovillage. This is not, we hope, a reflection on our attitudes, but rather their own. We find that we (unintentionally) inspire a lot of guilt and eco-shame where ever we go. Once we utter the words "eco-village" we become unwilling confessors to many perceived eco-sins. I don't need to know how many miles you drive a day, alone, in your SUV, or how many disposable Starbuck's cups you go through. Really. I'm living my life the best way I know how, and trust you are doing the same. I do not claim to have ANY of the answers - I'm just working on my own stuff here.

In the spirit of full disclosure and knowing how far I still have to go to reduce my footprint on this planet, I am presenting a peek into my life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. I'm sure I've forgotten a lot of things, and included some that many would consider TMI ("too much information").

This is just the way Kurt and I live our lives; it is not necessarily the norm at DR. One of the most important things we've learned while living here is that green is a wide continuum - we're just one spot on the spectrum.

Additionally, while the list below may look like shilling for the Milkweed Mercantile, I view it as walking my talk. We only carry items that I believe in and use (or would use) myself. Neither of my blogs nor the Milkweed Mercantile sites carry advertising - we're in this to change the world, not to sell our souls.

Home: Our house is a 2-story, gabled-end 1,200 square foot building. Built of straw bales, reclaimed and locally harvested lumber, sheet rock, and lime plaster (hydrated lime, straw, sand, water). Downstairs we have a poured concrete floor stained with a non-toxic agricultural fertilizer. Upstairs is reclaimed wood flooring.

Aaron and Thomas applying lime plaster to the west gable end of the Milkweed Cottage.

Downstairs is a bathing room (shower & tub), a toilet/sink room, open living room-dining room-kitchen, and Kurt's office. Upstairs is our bedroom, my office and my art studio. Actually, the studio is currently in recovery from being the storage facility for all the Milkweed Mercantile merchandise. Can't wait to get it cleaned up!

Power: Our electricity comes from 8 solar panels and a 400 watt wind turbine. Power is stored in 8 deep-cell batteries. We run everything in our house off of this system: fridge (the biggest draw), pump for water system, Kitchen appliances, lights, tv, fans, sewing machine and serger, computers, etc. During sunny/windy days when we have an excess of power (the batteries are full, it is sunny out, and it is only noon) we have a number of “dump loads” so that we can utilize the power still coming in, like food dehydrators, and an electric convection oven. We also feel free to indulge ourselves and watch NetFlix movies on our TV, run the ceiling fans, make waffles, etc. In the winter, on dark, cloudy days when power gets low, we use as few lights as possible, make coffee in a press pot instead of the electric drip coffee maker, and read or play games in the evening rather than watch movies.

The solar panels, part of the garden (tomato seedlings that I didn't have room for anywhere else), and assorted wood piles and lawn chairs...

Water: We collect rainwater off our roof into a 3,000 gallon cistern. It is built below our house and made of steel reinforced, poured concrete. It is sealed with DamTite. Many Rabbits are choosing to go with ready-to-install plastic cisterns, but we did not want to be drinking our lovely rainwater out of plastic.

Storing the water and then filtering it for drinking has proven to be quite an art. I hope to post a complete description soon, as we receive many, many questions about it.

Waste: We use a composting toilet (Joe Jenkins’ Humanure system, his website is here, with lots of videos) with sawdust from the local saw mill which would otherwise be burned. All food scraps are composted. Paper, glass, steel, aluminum and #1 and #2 plastic is recycled. We use rags (old t-shirts, boxer shorts, etc.) and household hemp cloths instead of paper towels.

Appliances: We have a Planet DC fridge which we dislike (but it does have a high efficiency Danfoss compressor and runs on DC power directly from our batteries) and which will soon be replaced with a Sundanzer chest fridge. The other appliances are pretty normal – a KitchenAid mixer, Braun coffee grinder, my grandmother’s toaster, etc…Many of these we’ve had for years; when it comes time to replace them we’ll either consider doing without or investigate who makes them, and where. Our computers are Dell laptops. NOTE ON PAPER: We have friends who work in the publishing industry and so get reams and reams of paper that has been printed on one side only. This is perfectly fine for the majority of our needs, especially internal DR paperwork.

On the windows: we have Roman Shades made out of Warm Windows fabric. A five-layer system which includes a vapor barrier, these help keep our home cool on hot summer days, and keep the warmth in on freezing winter nights. They are relatively easy to construct (although are a bit unwieldy) and even have a magnetic strip along the edges to seal the shade tightly.

Scrubbing the Sinks: Bon Ami. Yep. Just like grandma. It works like a charm, doesn't smell like something you'd find in a nuclear dump, and is blissfully non-toxic.
Soap: Dr. Bronner’s (Peppermint or Almond) or one of the many lovely soaps made by friends and Mercantile vendors. I like to put them in an organic cotton soap bag which keeps all the little pieces together and foams up fabulously!
Laundry Soap: Moon Works All Natural Laundry Soap This is what we use in the Dancing Rabbit Laundry Co-op, where the gray water goes out to a constructed wetlands area. It cleans really well, and remember, lots of suds does not mean lots of cleaning!
Laundry Spray: Earth Friendly Everyday Stain and Odor Remover When I moved to Dancing Rabbit I was reluctant to give up my SHOUT. Oh, how it worked - I tend to slobber a lot of food onto my clothes, and Kurt works construction. We're really not neat and tidy people at heart (well, we are first thing in the morning, but as the day goes on...). At the risk of sounding like a cross between a 50's housewife and a cheesy TV commercial, this stuff really works!
Dish Soap: Dawn - oh, this is bad, I know. But I needed to be honest! Our gray water goes out into our garden into a sand and gravel trench, and so gets filtered before getting near any plants or ponds. I just haven't found an eco-groovy dish soap that actually removes grease. Arrrggghhh! I use organic cotton/hemp Household Hemp Cloths or hand-crocheted wash rags.
Furniture Polish: Earth Friendly All Natural Furniture Polish On the RARE occasion that I actually clean instead of handing out dark glasses to guests at the door, I use this. I have one really lovely table that belonged to my grandmother and this polish is keeping it that way. It removes dust, leaves a delightful shine, and has a very light, very clean fragrance.

Guilty Pleasure: Dr. Pepper. On ice. Served by a cabana boy.

Photo credit: on flickr

Shampoo: BWC and a few others. I'll post more later on this. In the mean time, check out the Environmental Working Group's recommendations here at Cosmetics Database.
Sunscreen: a big hat and Badger SPF 15
Bug Repellent: Badger Anti-Bug Balm
Menstrual Products:
Seventh Generation Organic Cotton Tampons
Hemp/Organic Cotton Menstrual Pads and hydrogen peroxide for soaking
I blow my nose on: vintage cotton hankies or organic cotton flannel hankies

Transportation: I am part of a vehicle co-op which shares two VW Jettas, a Ford Truck and a tractor (this IS rural Missouri, after all!). All vehicles are run on biodiesel. When going further a field, we drive to LaPlata, MO (43 miles from Rutledge, to destinations south or to Chicago), Quincy, IL (64 miles, to Chicago) or Ottumwa, IA (73 miles, when headed west) to catch Amtrak.

Meat comes from the Rutledge Meat Store (local) or HyVee grocery store in Kirksville (34 miles) where they carry organic meat trucked in from God-knows-where.

Still life with salsa (2007).

Produce: In the summer just about all of our produce comes from our own garden, the gardens of friends here at Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill Farm or Red Earth Farms, or is ordered from a local Mennonite family who grows their produce organically. This usually gives us large enough quantities to can tomatoes, pickles, fruit, etc. for the winter. It is a lot of work but the trade-offs are huge – fresh delicious food just the way I like it (the tomato sauce has my own home-grown basil and oregano in it!) and I know exactly what is in it and where it came from.

Dry Goods: We are able to purchase bulk goods such as beans, rice, sugar, oil etc. from a Natural Foods Distributor through our local grocery store. We are also able to get organic cheese, tofu, meat, ice cream, etc. They add a 5% surcharge to the wholesale prices but it is still quite a deal, and enables us to find organic and Fair Trade goods in what is often a less than sympathetic to organic area.

All of the other "stuff": we have the delightful Zimmerman's General Store in Rutledge, which carries everything from 20 kinds of bulk flour to local milk in glass bottles. They also have soft serve ice-cream cones for 75 cents, and the best quilting fabric selection I've seen outside of San Francisco (far better, in fact, than many quilt stores I've been to!)

Shopping: Shopping no longer has the allure it used to. After working 30 years in retail and knowing just how exorbitantly prices are marked up it just kills me to pay full retail price. Also, it is important for me to know where items come from and who produced them. I grew up in a union family, and prefer to support American labor when possible. It is not worth it to me to pay a “less expensive” price at somewhere, say, like WalMart when I know that the true cost is not reflected. Items made by exploited workers, possibly underage under inhumane conditions do not feel like bargains to me. When purchasing imported items I look for a Fair Trade label.
I find a lot of things that I need online.

Relationship: married and monogamous. There are many ways to be in a relationship; Kurt and I have found that being a respectful monogamous duo works best for us. At DR, however, relationship forms are all over the spectrum; I like living in a place where people can find what works best for them in all aspects of life, including love.

Alline & Kurt in the garden. Photo credit: Dan McCoy

Our wedding rings: if we knew then what we know now (where diamonds come from, the devastation caused by mining, etc.), we would have done things differently (perhaps a ring from an antique store? A ring from a Dr. Pepper can?). We both have hand-crafted gold bands from a shop in Berkeley, CA. My engagement ring has a diamond. I hope to gift it to one of my nieces or Kurt’s grand daughter someday.

That's all I can think of for now. If there are more lurid details you'd be interested in knowing about life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, let me know!

NOTE: Read an updated version of my Dancing Rabbit life here, written January 2012.