Monday, June 02, 2008

6 easy tips to save water

I spent most of my childhood growing up in drought years, or near drought years in Northern California. Even though the exact location that I did was serviced by a very deep, clean and ever plentiful well, we were constantly bombarded with news from the San Joaquin Valley area cities about the booming population, agricultural demands, dwindling Sierra Nevada snow pack, etc. As children, we would see our beloved river rise and fall, ( the south fork of the Cosumnes River ) but it was always accessible to us. The overall color of Northern California at that time was some green, with some beiges and tans being the majority. Something like this color. Anyways, this news always frightened me as a child. What if the river went down too far? I would have lost the best playground that any kid could ask for. I guess it was this that started me off doing things unconsciously to preserve water. I get asked a lot, "What are you doing?" when it comes to water use, and it always catches me off guard, until I realize that most people simply take for granted that since it has always been around, that it will always be around. I would like to illustrate the ways that you to can help reduce water usage. This will not likely translate into any significant reduction, but I cannot see it hurting, and when it becomes "second nature" to you, perhaps it will become second nature to your children, and so on. In no particular order:

#1. Brushing your teeth. Some people leave the sink running when they brush their teeth. I have never been able to figure this out. During the 2-3 minutes that you brush your teeth with the sink running, you are wasting at least a gallon of water. I have a cup that I exchange on a weekly basis, fill it, and use that for the whole procedure. Just a quick splash at the end is the only time I turn the faucet on again. Savings per week average: 14 gallons.

#2. Washing dishes. We never had a dishwasher growing up. So all dishes were done by hand. Though I believe that hand washed dishes are using less water, most new dishwashers use about 10 gallons of water, not including your "pre-rinse routine". Just like in the tooth brushing principle, I could never fathom how someone would have a double sink, and simply have the tap running on one side, while they scrub away at something on the otherside. I would venture to guess that 10 gallons of water is wasted this way every day. If you have a dishwasher, DO NOT PRERINSE. Here is why we do this. Because about 25 years ago, dishwashers were crappy. And out of habit, we still do. Plus, the "energy efficient" cycle that most people like to use, often poorly washes the dishes. Here is my source. If you do not have a dishwasher, or use it infrequently, here is my suggestion. Get the largest dirty bowl that you have to wash, and place it inside the sink. Fill it with hot soapy water, and then begin to place your least dirtiest dishes (usually cups and glasses) in and scrub them, (with the water off of course), place the scrubbed and soapy dishes into the other sink. Go progressively dirtier until you are finished. Then, go to the other side, and rinse everything. This will cut your water use by 90%. Notice someone who is doing the dishes and you will see that only a few seconds is spent actually rinsing, and the majority of the time is spent scrubbing. Savings per week: 70-100 gallons a week

#3 Shaving. Nearly exactly like the toothbrushing scenario, gents will run the tap while they are lathering up, shaving and looking at themselves in the mirror. A large heavy coffee mug or deep corning wear bowl will work just fine, and save gallons of water every time you shave. It's easy.
Savings per week: 10 gallons a week.

#4-Laundry- I am like a lot of people in my position. I hate "Laundry day" Too much time is spent waiting for cycles to finish, then waiting for dryers to finish. So, a solution is to do the loads, "as they come in" throughout the week. This has a problem though. You end up washing loads that are "not full" or at best, you have a "load size selector", but I doubt that they save any real significant amount of water, and therefore, waste water. To beat this, I always make sure that I have exactly a full load in the basin. But, I also separate and bleach my whites. So how can I do this, especially as a often single or with one other person type guy? I found my solution watching people hand wash. I notice they utilize a soaking period in the washing routine, and there it was. So I have a bucket, that I put about 1.5 gallons of water in. Then I put a TBSP of bleach in. Next, I put my whites in and let them soak for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, I put the washer to full, and fill with my usual colored clothing. Then, I dump out the water from the "bleached whites", and rinse them for 10-15 seconds. That about does it, then I toss them in with the regular load. I have never had any "residual bleach problem" and the whites are always brilliant when they come out. 20-50 gallons of water per week.

WARNING here is where I get "exotic" by some standards in water conservation

#5 Showering- First of all, if you take a bath in this day and age every time you bathe, you are outrageously wasting water. I can't see the harm in the occasional weekly "treat", but to do this day in and day out smacks of greed and insensitivity. Also, who the heck has the time to do this everyday, and what about the other people in the house that may need to use the bathroom? I digress. But we can do so much more with our daily shower than we believe.

1. Go into the shower.
2. Turn on the water and soak your head, then immediately turn off the shower
3. Shampoo
4. Turn on water and rinse, then immediately turn off the shower.
5. Soap up a loufa, or whatever you use if anything, and "soap up"
6. Rinse off and turn it off.

Not only can and do I complete a shower in less than 5 minutes, but I probably use 1/10 the water that most people do. I like a relaxing shower as much as the next guy, adn usually treat myself to one "normal" shower per week. My total "on time" for the water is usually about 1 minute or so, or about 3-5 gallons of water, saving: 24-45 gallons of water with each shower.

6- The Toilet.- Yes, I am going there. First off, I was an early adopter in the day, for putting a bottle of water inside the tank. Nowadays, the Johns are all low flow. Of course, if you have an older toilet, go ahead and stick a 2 liter jug of water inside it. You will reduce volume significantly. But as a child, I saw that this was not enough. This was never more apparent than going to the aforementioned river with my brother, and coming back home late in the afternoon. The first thing a kid does when he returns from the chh-chh-chilly snow pack fed river is pee. This routine went on, where one of us would get there first, then followed by the other one. Right there, is two complete flushes for a couple hundred MLs of urine. One day, I knocked on the door and said, "Hey, don't flush, I will". After all, 5-12 year old boys are not known for their modesty anyways. This tradition has followed my brother and I for years. I don't know if he adopted it, but I always request others if ever convenient, to let me "piggy back" on their flush. I can't see everybody doing this, but urine is the only product allowed for this maneuver! And it isn't really that gross. Urine is "sterile" after all. Savings: 20 gallons a week

It all adds up.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Make your own Italian herbed crusty bread in 25 easy steps

This is a recipe to make a crusty on the outside, light and airy on the inside bread. You will rightly think "pizza crust taste" when you begin to smell it. That is because this is a pizza crust recipe. Maybe it's the beer lover in me, but I love the taste of yeasty bread. As a kid, I would eat the crust side first of the pizza. Anyways, one of the few things in a kitchen I have not had much experience in, is baking bread, or really any type of baking. Many people are turned off by the "rules" and complex "procedures" of bread making, so they avoid it.

A few weeks ago, Karen and I had talked about how bad we wanted pizza. (we are both on diets and have lost a lot of weight in the past few months, so obviously, nearly half of our conversations revolve around food). I decided then and there to finally overcome the last cuisine obstacle that truly sets apart the masters from the apprentices. I consider myself an excellent judge of good pizza, so there it was. A challenge. A quick run to the store, and I got the one part missing in my kitchen since forever. Yeast. And not just any yeast mind you, but a giant, one year supply of it for $3. I then got home, and began the work, and made insanely good pizza. I came to the conclusion that if I can make pizza crust, I can make really big pizza crust that is something like bread. This is a recipe for approximately a dozen large, yeasty, crusty, herbed rolls.

I first assembled the ingredients and various instruments. I get a nice big heavy pot, and put about 1.5 cups of water in it. Then I put the pot on the stove, and heat it until it is just slightly warm to the touch.

I put the pot on the counter, mix in one TBSP of sugar, and then pour in about 2 TBSP of yeast and mix it up for about 10 seconds with a whisk. Notice I am not measuring anything at this point, just eyeballing it.
After about 5 minutes, the yeast/water should be quite foamy and thick.

Next, I start dumping in the dry ingredients. First the flour, about 2 cups (I use 1 cup of whole wheat flour, and a cup of plain white), 2 TSP of "Italian seasoning", 1 tsp coarse black pepper, 1 tsp of onion powder (I like a real herby type bread, so you can just adjust for your taste and what you intend to use the bread for) , 1 tsp of salt and a TBSP of oil.

At this point, I just dive right in. Start mixing.

As you get it smooth, you should likely start adding flour in a little at a time. I like to do it this way because it is easier to adjust from a start of too wet, to hit the perfect mark, then to go from too dry to to perfect... I hope that made sense. ;) I got Karen to sprinkle it for me,because my hands at this point are insanely sticky.

As you progress, you should at some point be comfortable with your ball of dough. It should start picking up all the loose flour in the pot. Add you flour very slowly being careful not to go too dry.

At this point, you can take it out. If it is a little bit too wet, that is OK, because we are going to fix that momentarily. Sprinkle some flour onto your counter top. And plop your dough down. Now the kneading. This is where you need to get your wet/dry ratio just right. begin kneading and sprinkle with flour every so often. This should take about 5 minutes. Its a pretty good workout. At the end, you should have a nice, smooth"ish" dough ball.

Get it all smooth, and lightly coat it with some olive oil, then place inside a large bowl and put a towel over it. The yeast will begin to consume the starches in the flour and poop out C02. The C02 is what makes your dough rise to the occasion!

after about 20 minutes....

After about 40 minutes or so, take it out, and punch it once or twice! It should deflate like a balloon. Form it into a ball, and place it back inside for another 30 minutes.

OK, so you have your dough all ready. Get whatever you call an oven (I have a counter top convection) up, hot and ready.

Next, take a knife, and cut yourself off pieces of dough. I just cut around it, creating crescent shaped pieces. Be careful not to flatten your dough at this point. you want to keep it as fluffy as possible.

OK, so you have your pieces.

Next, grease your pan. I use a foil covered paper plate.

Put your pieces gently on the pan, and brush very lightly with olive oil.

Set everything aside for 5-10 minutes, hopefully they will rise a bit more.

I love garlic. So I take a few cloves............

And grate them onto the tops.

I then sprinkle yet more Italian seasoning.

At this point, you oven should be rippin' hot. Pop them in. In about ten minutes.....

After about 20 minutes (you might have to turn down the oven a bit).......

Another 5 minutes or so and here they are. I recommend you put on a wire rack for about 5 minutes so they cool properly. The steam will make the bottoms mushy is you don't. These are great with salad, soups, as sandwich rolls, with pasta, with eggs for brunch, etc...etc.

the pizza is the same, except you roll it out as thin as you can, drop it onto a foil covered paper plate (or toss if you want to have fun), make your edge, brush very lightly with olive oil, put a very thin layer of sauce, (recipe below) then cheese and bake for about 20 minutes on highest heat until cheese browns slightly. To emulate the "pizza stone effect" I just drop my near finished pizza onto a hot, dry skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, this will crisp up the bottom perfectly. Always let your pizza settle for about 5-10 minutes. I learn this rule every time I go for my second piece, because I rarely wait for the first one. It is MUCH better!! Always have a glass of red wine with this.

Sauce for Pizza
I make a simple sauce using a half a yellow onion, a small handful of celery tops and a few cloves of garlic, minced, sautéed with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and some capers. When the veggies are about to turn brown, I add a good scoop of tomato paste, and about 2 cups of water. I simmer this down until it is nice and thick. You could blend it at this point to get a nice consistency for your pizza, but you could also leave it "chunky". A few basil leaves are not unwelcome either.

Bon appetito!!