Mar 27, 2017

Green Beer for St. Patrick's Day

I was at a friend's house for St. Patrick's day and they had green beer, and it was delicious! I quickly had to find out what it was. Well low and behold it is the SIMPLEST thing in the whole world to make. I may or may not have had another couple of green beers this week. It was, uh, research. The sacrifices we make.

The blue curacao turns green when mixed with a lager and gives it an orange flavor. It reminds me of a blue moon. In fact, I'd be curious to make this drink with blue moon.

Green Beer: blue curacao and light beer

12 oz light beer
1 teaspoon to 1 shot blue curacao (for color and flavor)

Amount of curacao changes the color
1 teaspoon of blue curacao on the left and 4 teaspoons on the right

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Mar 24, 2017

8 Things They Don't Tell You About Going Zero Waste

After your aha moment you are very motivated to do a trash audit and work toward reducing the amount of trash you create. Like all things it's shiny and new and great, but here are eight things that aren't usually advertised.

1. You will have plastic guilt.

I try to make good decisions and get the most environmentally friendly thing, but sometimes you just want to buy the hummus in the plastic container rather than make it. Hopefully you experience less guilt than I do, but it's there when I buy it and dispose of it.

2. People will look at you strangely.

You are doing something that most people don't so whether it is simply asking not to be served a straw or are bringing your own containers to the deli to have them filled, someone will give you a weird look or maybe even say a snarky comment.

3. There will be days you want to throw it all in.

We can't be perfect, so I say embrace those days or moments and then start over again the next day.

4. You will question everything.

I mean everything. I have stood looking at the dairy case trying to figure out the best way to buy milk. The tetrapak is paper, but we don't have recycling facilities around here so it will go to the landfill. Is that better than the plastic container? Cause the plastic container can be downcycled.

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5. You will be disgusted by things that used to be normal.

All of a sudden you will start to see the amount of waste you used to create and it will make you sick to think about what you did and to see that people are still doing that today.

6. Your eating habits may change. 

To prevent packaging waste you will likely be seeking out other food options like buying from bulk food containers or farmer's markets. You will likely be eating less processed food because the more processed something is generally the more packaging it has.

7. You will realize that recycling is a help, but not the solution.

Recycling an item still uses resources and virgin materials, albeit maybe not as much as non-recycled products. However buying package free items will help to eliminate that altogether.

8. You will have an impact/influence on others.

That person standing next you in the grocery store may not have know that you can bring your own containers. Your co-workers may not have ever thought about not getting straws with their happy hour drinks. But you doing things and talking about them will help introduce people to the zero waste lifestyle.

What have you found out about going zero waste that you were surprised by?

Ready to start or continue your zero waste journey? Have you read 5 simple plastic-free swaps for the bathroom?

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Mar 20, 2017

How To Do A Trash Audit

The average person creates 4.3 pounds of trash per day. That translates to 30 pounds a week and over a 1500 pounds of trash per year. The unfortunate part is that two-thirds of what is put in the trash can, like food, could be composted.

Are you doing better or worse than average? The best way to find out is by doing a trash audit.

What is a trash audit?

A trash audit is where you examine the trash you have created over a given period of time. It can be done daily, weekly or monthly. The contents are recorded, analyzed and weighed. The weighing is optional, but it can help you keep track objectively and see how you compare to the average of 4 pounds. 

Once you know what you are throwing away you analyze it to see if there are improvements that can be made. Are you throwing away recyclables or food that should be going to the compost pile?

Remember to include all trash cans, from the kitchen, bathroom, offices and other rooms of the house. Also if you want to be really thorough be sure to include trash from outside the home like while shopping, dining out, or working. Including trash outside of the kitchen can sometimes be more enlightening. For example I realized that I would recycle quite a bit in the kitchen, but was not recycling plastic bottles I used in the bathroom.

What to ask while analyzing the trash:

  • Can you recycle it? Check with your local recycling agency to see what they recycle. The contents vary by location. 
  • Can you compost it? If it is a food or paper product it can probably be composted. Some lucky areas have commercial composting facilities, but most of the time this means starting your own compost pile.
  • Can you get it with less packaging? Shopping at other locations may provide you with alternatives that have less waste.
  • Can you get it with recyclable packaging? Glass and metal are always best. Then comes paper, then plastic, then non-recyclable items. It's a little counter intuitive, but getting milk in a plastic container rather than those paper tetrapak containers might be a better option as recycling facilities for the tetrapak are less common. And remember plastic can pretty much just be downcycled
  • Can you make your own? Are you finding lots of packaging from processed food? Start making your own. Sometimes you'll find it is so easy to just make your own you'll wonder why you ever bought it in the first place. Or maybe your trash is filled with health and beauty products. You can find homemade alternatives to just about every makeup or beauty product. 
  • Can you get a reusable version? Are you finding that you dispose of a lot of a specific kind of product like straws or napkins? Purchase reusable ones that can be washed and used over and over.
  • Do you need that product at all? This probably should be the first question, but most people's gut reaction is "yes." So after analyzing the packaging you may be more willing to say "no." 

After analyzing the trash start to make some changes and implement those alternatives you found. Then repeat the audit after a few months to see how much things have changed and if there are any other changes you can make.

If you want to take things a step further than you can do a recycle audit. It works very similarly to the trash audit, but this time you analyze what you send to the recycle bin and see if you can find any package free alternatives there.

Have you done a trash audit? What did you find?

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Mar 17, 2017

The Aha Moment of Zero Waste

Parking lots aren't usually the location for aha moments. You expect them in classrooms or presentations or during conversations, not while walking into the grocery store.

I think everyone who starts living a zero waste lifestyle has an aha moment. The point in time when the veil starts to be lifted and their eyes are opened to the amount of trash that is created personally and by society as a whole.

Mine started in the parking lot walking into the grocery store. I was passing cart after cart filled with groceries and plastic bags. As I entered the store I saw a row of cash registers filled with hundreds of plastic bags and people accepting them without thought. Now I'm sure this is a common sight throughout the US and the world, but for me it was a rude awakening. I was no longer in Hawaii!

Leaving Hawaii I experienced all sorts of culture shock. There was so much space, so few people, cold weather, inexpensive food, and plastic bags. The plastic bags was one I could do something about. While I was living in Hawaii Oahu pass its plastic bag ban. Each island had passed a plastic bag ban effectively making Hawaii the first state to ban plastic bags. By the time I moved back to Florida it had been 6 months since the law went into affect and a year since I basically had given up plastic bags.

So suddenly being surrounded by something I had barely seen for the past year was shocking to my system. I started researching about plastic bags and their impact.I found out that plastic bag bans are illegal in Florida so if something was going to change, it was going to be on the personal level. I then started reading about how all plastic has environmental and health impacts, so I wanted to reduce the amount of plastic our household consumed. That then lead me to the zero waste movement where the goal is to reduce all waste whether it is plastic, recyclable or compostable.

I think my path is similar to that which most people go on. They are busy living their lives when BAM! Suddenly they are confronted with something that doesn't jive with them. Maybe it's being introduced first hand to the ill effects of all the packaging or maybe they see someone doing something radical which opens their eyes.

Either way they start looking at how they do things and seek for options that produce less waste. They have their aha moment and are motivated to change.

What was your ah-ha moment?

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Mar 13, 2017

New Year Green Resolutions - 1st Quarter Update

Less that 10% of people feel they are successful at keeping their new years resolutions. That's not overly surprising. Most people aren't making clear goals or keeping it simple (remember the KISS principle?)

Well 2017 is almost a quarter of the way gone. How have I been doing on my 2017 Green Resolutions?

1. Get reusable napkins

Success! My sister-in-law got me a set of napkins for Christmas. (I didn't get them until she visited for New Years, so don't worry, I didn't cheat with this resolution). She got us a set of 6. Three matching pairs with them all having the same pattern. It's awesome because any of them really 'go' with all of the rest.

In related news I think Hubby and I just finished up the last of our paper towels. We would have been done months ago, but some friends stayed at our house and bought some paper towels as a replacement/thank you. We have some rags around the house, but I'm guessing we may need to pick up some more towels or rags to fill the gap that paper towels had been filling.

2. Pack my lunch at least twice per week.

Success! I'm glad I set the bar pretty low on this. I have for sure averaged more than twice per week and I think I still meet it by the strict definition of bringing it twice per week. I have probably saved 30 styrofoam containers and forks from the landfill since making that decision so far. It's not always easy, but I usually have time to at least make a sandwich before heading off to work in the morning.

3. Shop at the bulk store at least once per quarter.
Success! I have gone once in the quarter. It was a great trip and I was able to iron out my bulk food shopping tips, so it was really easy. We've also got fruits and veggies from the large store that sells them mostly package free. So I'm definitely doing more than I was, but could always do more.

4. Purchase reusable menstrual products

Fail! This is still on my radar and something I want to start doing soon. I'm totally in the preparation phase. So if you have a product recommendation, that might just be what I need to be spurred into the action phase.

5. Make a food product each month

Success! I could have never told you that I would make soft pretzels, no-bake peanut butter oatmeal cookies or roasted red pepper baba ganoush. But I did and and I would love to make them again...especially those cookies. I'm excited to see what I make the rest of the year.

So how are your resolutions coming? Are you in the 10% that is still on board with them?

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Mar 10, 2017

Roasted Red Pepper Baba Ganoush

Eggplant dip

Just the thought of red pepper baba ganoush brings me back Hawaii. I was first introduced to baba ganoush at my dearest friend's house who I met in Hawaii. There were many a night spent laughing and talking in my friend's kitchen scooping up baba ganoush with a glass of wine in my hand and my goddaughter under foot. So when I had the opportunity to recreate this dish all on my own I had to try it.

Hubby and I bought the eggplant to make ratatouille. A fun change of pace as we normally make eggplant parmesan. We didn't use all of the eggplant so we saved the remainder with plans of making baba ganoush.

It was so easy to make and turned out deliciously! First you cook the eggplant and red bell pepper. In Hawaii my friend would make it on the grill. I didn't want to hassle with that so I decided to broil mine in the oven. Every five minutes or so I would stir the vegetables around to make sure that they all got cooked and none of them got too burnt roasted. At this point you can remove the skins if you'd like. I didn't and it turned out fine. Even recipes that recommend taking off the skins say you can leave some on for flavor and color.

It took about 25 minutes for them all to get cooked. Then I put them in the food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic until blended until mostly smooth. Then it was ready to eat with some bread, crackers, vegetables, or whatever you'd like to dip in it.

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Roasted Red Pepper Baba Ganoush

Makes roughly 2.5 cups

2 cups eggplant
1 red bell pepper
olive oil, 4 tablespoons divided, more or less to taste
salt, 1/4 teaspoon, more or less to taste
1/2 lemon juiced
2 cloves garlic

Cube the eggplant and bell pepper. Coat in about 2 tablespoons olive oil and place on cookie sheet. Broil on high for about 20 minutes or until cooked. Take care to stir frequently to prevent burning. Some charing is ok for flavor, but you don't want it burnt.

Place in food processor and add additional olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and garlic. Blend until mostly smooth. Serve as a dip with bread, crackers, or vegetables.

Looking for other ways to use eggplant?
Read here for Hubby's eggplant Parmesan recipe plus tips for how to harvest eggplant in your garden.

Or do you want to make some tasty sauerkraut?

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Mar 6, 2017

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: Bulk Buying Tips and Supplies

Glass bottle, wide mouth funnel, reusable bag

You don't normally think of grocery shopping as intimidating, but the first time you decide to go bulk shopping using your own bags it can be! I know I was certainly nervous: What do I bring? How do I do it? What if I do it wrong and they all laugh and point?

Ok, my insecurities aside I hope that some of the knowledge will make you feel more confident to SkipTheBag and do your own bulk shopping.

What is bulk shopping?

There are many different things that technically qualify as bulk shopping. Buying large amounts of food would be bulk shopping. For example, getting a 10 pound bag of rice rather than buying 10 one-pound bags of rice. You may find that food is cheaper when purchased in larger amounts. Also it can create less waste.

However this article is focused on bulk shopping by finding bulk bins where there are package-free foods. Hopefully you live somewhere that has an abundance of package free options, but if you are like me, you may have to hunt a little bit.

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What are the benefits of bulk shopping?

There are so many benefits to bulk shopping. 

  • You can get food without packaging. 
    • Eliminating packaging has a huge environmental impact. Not only is there less packaging to make, there is less to ship and store. It also leaves you without trash to worry about which is perfect for those trying to go zero waste.
  •  You can get the amount you need.
    • Say you are making a dinner that calls for a tablespoon of some spice you don't own. Rather than purchasing an entire container of that spice you can just buy a tablespoon! No more partially used containers of things you don't like or won't use. 
  • It may be cheaper.
    • Purchasing just what you need may mean your cost is lower, but also the price per ounce might be less than the package on the shelf. After all you aren't paying for that packaging. Now some people have found the cost per pound to be higher (which is so silly!), so if cost is important to you, do the comparison. 

What do you need for bulk shopping?


I primarily reuse containers. I have several mason jars in different sizes, I have some glass jars which I have repurposed, and I have some plastic containers I purchased with rice.

When reusing old containers be sure to remove the barcode. I had an issue once where I marked out of the barcode, but it still rang up on the register. Apparently the store sells that brand!

Mason jars make long term storage easy

Cloth Bags

If you get bags without holes you can fill them up with goodies. The nice thing about bags is they don't weight as much as glass so tare is less of an issue.

Cloth bags are nice since they are lightweight.

Wine bottles with screw caps

Unfortunately I don't have any liquids I can buy in bulk, but if you do, you might consider reusing a wine bottle with a screw cap. Other people buy ceramic flip top containers.

Screw caps prevent spills

Wide Mouth Funnel

This helps when the bulk container scoop or output is larger than the neck of your bottle. The one I've got is for canning so it fits perfectly into the mason jars and works alright for my other jars.

Wide mouth funnel prevents mess loading into jars.


You can write things on the containers. I generally say what it is (unless it is abundantly obvious), the code for the cashier to ring it up and the tare of the container. It lasts a long time, but will come off with some rubbing alcohol or soap and water and some scrubbing.

Sharpies are nearly permanent, but remove easily off
containers with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. 

Wine bottle holder bag or reusable bag

You wouldn't forgo all these plastic bags and then put them in a plastic bag to carry home! I really like using a wine bottle holder bag because they allow you to carry at least 6 containers without them clanking together. Some of the smaller jars I can stack on top of one another to hold even more.

Wine bottle bags will hold mason jars for easy transportation.

How does bulk shopping work?

This can vary a little bit by the store, but the general principles are the same.

First you weigh your empty container. This is called the "tare" weight. Then fill it up with food and get the code. Take them to the cashier and they will subtract the tare weight, enter the code and charge you for the product.

Some cashiers and stores do not have the ability to subtract the tare weight which means you are paying for the weight of the container. In these instances using the lightest container would be most advantageous.

Other stores have you weigh the product yourself. In this case you place the container on the scale, tare it, fill it and then print the label.

If you cannot write on your container, you can always take a photo of the code with your phone or write it down on your phone. I like the photo because it shows the cashier the product and the price and there is less chance of you writing it down wrong.

Ask your local store what their practice is to ensure you can bring your own bags, that they tare, and their process. For example at my local bulk store I can go to any cashier and get my container tared whereas others have you go to customer service.

What if they won't let me use my own bag?

Well first, talk to managers or corporate headquarters of the store. Often times there isn't a rule against using your own bags, people just don't see it very often so they are unsure. If it is prohibited, make sure you express that you would really like to use your own bag. If enough people do it, they may change the policy. In the mean time see if they offer paper bags rather than the plastic bags. You can write directly on the bag and compost it when you are done.

What food can you find in bulk?

The possibilities are nearly endless, but it depends where you live. Often times you can find dried goods such as beans, grains, and lentils. Baking supplies like flour and sugar are also available. If you are luck you can find chocolate chips too! Many places serve snacks like nuts, trail mix, yogurt covered pretzels, candy, gummies out of bulk containers even if they don't have the other items.

Hopefully this information has put you at ease and you are ready to tackle bulk shopping. And don't worry no one has laughed at me.

What bulk buying tricks have you learned?

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Mar 3, 2017

Cleaning and Care of Cast Iron

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Everyone loves cast iron, but not everyone knows how to take care of it (me included!) So I brought Hubby back to discuss how to season a pan, clean it, and prevent and take care of rust.

If you've decided to to the route of cooking with cast iron there are a couple of simple things you need to know about how to take care of it.

Seasoning Cast Iron

The best way to care for cast iron is to use it. That's right, cook with it. Specifically cook foods that have oil or fat in them or in the recipe. As food heats up, the oils and fats help build the seasoning layer on the pans by creating a layer of carbon that will progressively make the cooking surface more and more smooth. Older, well seasoned and cared for pans can have the appearance of being almost glass like. With new cast iron I like to cook bacon and brown meat in them.

New cast iron, while often advertised as pre-seasoned, has a tendency to be rough and have foods stick to it, especially when cooking at higher heat. Lodge pans are famous for being sticky when being used for the first time. They're great because they're inexpensive, but in my experience, they take the most work to get that perfect glassy surface. But, they can get there. Speeding up the seasoning process is as simple as adding oil (or fats) and heating until you get to the smoke point of the oil. Seems simple right? It is, sort of. The devil is in the details because while there are only two variables there are a multitude of options for each.

First, choose your oil. As with any craft there are a number of options that people advocate: vegetable oil, Crisco, bacon grease, olive oil, avocado oil, grape seed oil, etc. There's some thought that an oil with a higher smoke point, like avocado oil, creates a harder, tougher seasoning layer over time. I've tried multiple fats and oils and haven't noticed a significant difference in any of them. I'm sure that's heresy to some cast iron owners, but that's just what I've found. Your mileage may vary. If you're just starting out, I recommend using vegetable oil.

Once you've selected your oil, it's time to actually season your pan and apply some heat! If you're seasoning your pan for the very first time I recommend seasoning the entire pan, both inside and out, by applying your chosen oil with a clean cloth or paper towel and putting it on a baking sheet in a hot (450 F) oven for about an hour. After an hour, pull the pan out of the oven and, very carefully, use paper towels to wipe up any oil that has pooled in the inside of the pan while it is still hot. Oil that was on the outside will pool on the baking sheet, so simply wipe away any oil still on the exterior of the pan. If desired you can repeat the process. Once all the excess oil on the pan is wiped up, set it aside and let it cool to room temperature. With a new pan, I'll do this process twice to get a good seasoning layer on the outside of the pan before moving on to concentrating on seasoning only the interior of the pan.

If you only need or want to season the inside of the pan, simply spread your chosen oil around the inside of the pan and heat on the stove until it begins to smoke. Once it's heated to the point of smoking, turn off the heat and wipe up any excess oil with a paper towel. Let cool and repeat as desired. Depending on the pan I may only do this once or twice, or as many as seven or eight times. You'll notice after each time you do this that the cooking surface gets a little smoother to the touch.

Cleaning Cast Iron

Cleaning cast iron is also fairly simple. Just remember: no soap, and, for the love of God, don't ever put it in the dishwasher. Soap breaks down seasoning layers on a pan over time and can leave a residue in the pores of the iron. Dishwashers do the same thing but with much greater efficiency.

To clean up after using my cast iron, I drain any oil, wait for it to cool, scrape any food particles still attached to the pan, wipe with a clean cloth or paper towel, then spread a very small drop of oil (vegetable, olive, avocado, etc) on the cooking surface.

If food is really stuck on, I like to use a chain mail square to scrape with. The rings of the chain mail are tough enough to scrape anything clean, but won't hurt the seasoning coat on the pan because they have no edges. This being a zero-waste kind of place, they're also way more environmentally friendly than your typical sponge. As an added bonus they work well on almost any surface: glass, plastic, even wood cutting boards.

Plastic scrapers can also work well, but I recommend avoiding metal scrapers to clean because they can scratch the seasoning layer. If scraping food leaves lots of small particles that are too much to wipe out with a cloth or paper towel, you can use water to rinse out a pan. If you do, just make sure to completely dry the pan. If I feel the need to rinse out a pot or pan with water, I like to throw it back on the stove or in a hot oven to make sure all the water evaporates. If it doesn't you might have to deal with another issue: rust.

Rust On Cast Iron

Rust is one of the issues people tend to worry about when it comes to cast iron. Is it a big deal? No. Rust tends to show up on the exterior walls of cast iron when it has been wet and left to sit. This is why it is important to make sure water evaporates if you do get water on it. In most cases, rust wipes right off with a cloth. In more extreme cases a bit of steel wool will clean it right up. Once all the rust has been removed, rub a very small amount of oil all over the interior and exterior of the pan and heat it on a stove or oven. This ensures another seasoning layer to protect the pan.

Even if a pan looks completely rusted it's probably salvageable. While we were living in Hawaii, I was able to clean up a dutch oven for a friend that had left it sitting outside for more than a year. That particular effort required some extreme measures, but it goes to show that cast iron pans can be in a pretty sorry state and still be brought back into working order. Thankfully, as long as you use your cast iron on a fairly regular basis, you won't have to worry about having to take drastic measures to save it.

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Mar 2, 2017

Zero Waste Cause Spotlight by Zero Waste Living


Have you checked out the Zero Waste Living Blog? No? Well you should because their blog has some amazing stuff. 

They have some great Zero Waste Cheat Sheets covering the basics and some more challenging aspects.

I was featured as part of the Zero Waste Cause Spotlight talking about how I started SkipTheBag so be sure and check that out too!