Monthly Archives: February 2012

Economist’s Dish Soap

Let’s not be tree huggers for a moment. I know, it’s difficult, and I promise it won’t last. Here’s the thing. I’ve been thinking about making my own dish soap, and I just can’t decide if it’s worth it.

I have not yet done research on the scary chemicals in commercial dish soap, though I’m sure they are many. But since we’re pretending not to be tree huggers for a moment, maybe that’s not the only reason to do it. It might, just might, be cheaper. I’m willing to find out.

Let’s meet the contenders:

Option A: I’m currently using opaque, pink Dawn dish soap. It looks like this. It costs $0.23/fl. oz. at my local Safeway.

Option B: I’ve found a fabulous recipe to make my own dish soap. How much would that cost? Let’s do some math. Makes approximately 2 cups (16 fl. oz)

Castile Soap – 1/2 cup. – 32 oz. for $17.99 = $.055/oz. = $2.20

White Vinegar – 1 TBS (1/2 fl. oz) – 64 oz. for $4.09 = $0.06/oz = $0.03

Super Washing Soda – 1 TBS (1/2 fl. oz.) – 55 oz. for $4.25 = $.08/oz = $0.04

Water – let’s call that free. It’s not, but let’s call it that.

So we get a grand total of $2.27 for 16 fl. oz. That’s $0.14 /oz! The home-made dish soap is the winner!

Of course, in up-front cost, to make 2 cups of dish soap you have to spend $25.53. And that’s a lot, for dish soap that you can just spend a couple of dollars on at the supermarket. One of the trickiest things about trying to live more sustainably is that the up-front costs are often greater. If you have the capital – awesome – as this analysis shows, is can be cheaper in the long run. If you don’t have the capital, you can be stuck with less-sustainable alternatives. Bummer, that, but I don’t see any way around it.

No cost benefit analysis would be complete, either, without a calculation of my time to make it, but I’m leaving that out too. It seems like just throwing a bunch of stuff in a bowl and whisking. Additionally, if it takes longer to do the dishes with this stuff, that should be a consideration, but I’m willing to at least try it before I decide that it will definitely take longer.

These are prices I found on the internet, and are approximate. The washing soda will likely be the most difficult, as I have never seen it in a store, and it costs, HELLO $11 to ship on the one site I found. That seems like a lot, for a $4 box of washing soda. This may require some more searching. Maybe I can find it in a physical store and not pay any shipping at all! A girl can dream.

I shall make a search for these ingredients, and I shall make my own dish soap, for it is in fact, less expensive than the alternative.

So. Home-made dish soap. Looks like it’s on!


Stockpiling Recipes

The CSA check is in the mail, but winter is still in the air. So for now, I will not be making delicious things out of vegetables in a box, but there is nothing at all that says I can’t get ready.

I’ve heard that two things in particular show themselves in abundance in CSA boxes around these parts: greens and peaches.

What better place to begin in stockpiling recipes, then, than to start with recipes for greens and peaches. The internet tells me there are oh-so-many ways to make these two raw ingredients even more delicious. These are some of my favorite places to look for tasty things.


From 101 cookbooks: Winter Pasta, Poached Eggs Over Rice

From SmittenKitchen: Baked Kale Chips, Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens, Spinach Quiche

From Simply Recipes: Kale with Sausage and White Beans, Colcannon

From Cooking Light: Autumn Apple and Spinach Salad, Swiss Chard Spanikopita Casserole


From 101 Cookbooks: Plum and Peach Crisp

From SmittenKitchen: Peach Cupcakes (which I might turn into muffins)

From Simply Recipes: Blueberry Peach Fruit Salad, Peach Salsa

From Cooking Light: Summer Peach and Tomato SaladSparking Peach Sangria!

Looking those up brought such a cascade of deliciousness into my life. Can I make these all, right now, please?



Spicy Love

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but a little holiday called St. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. While some adhere to the traditional celebration of the holiday by reciting a verse of Chaucer*, most celebrate with some combination of heart-shaped paper and sweet-tasting things.

I myself will be baking heart-shaped cookies and hope to eat a tasty chocolate treat at some point on the day. Any holiday that brings more tasty chocolate treats into my life can’t be all bad, right?

That’s the problem, isn’t it. Valentine’s Day is not the nicest of holidays, since it tends to separate the coupled from the non-coupled, and that’s a shame. Anything associated with love and chocolate should be nicer about it. For that reason, I propose giving Valentine’s love to everyone you love, romantically or otherwise. It’s nice to reclaim it a little by celebrating friends and family as well as sweethearts.

If you’d like to celebrate with sweet-tasting things that are of the sustainable variety, may I direct your attention to Equal Exchange. They have many wonderful things, but perhaps the most apropos for this particular day is this cayenne-infused hot chocolate.

For what, pray tell, says, “I love you” quite like saying, “And I also love when workers are paid a fair wage, and when the chocolate in your gift is grown organically?” Nothing, I tell you. Nothing at all.

*He wrote “For this was on seynt Volantynys day/ Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” To my knowledge, no one recites this on Valentine’s Day.

It begins – the CSA box

I did something very exciting over the weekend – I signed up for my first ever CSA box!

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it works like this: you sign up and pay at the beginning of the season, and then every week you pick up a box of vegetables. The fruit of the farmer’s labor. Farms that offer them tend to be superearthfriendly-type outfits.

After exhaustive research (well, doing some research and then going with the one my friend recommended. you know, like you do), I’m happy to be a subscriber to a half vegetable share at Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

Things I am excited about, about he CSA box:

1. It’s going to be so easy to eat in-season vegetables. I am totally convinced that it’s better to eat what’s growing right now, both because it cuts down on how far the produce has to be shipped and because it tastes better, but I can never keep track of what that is. I know, I could look at a list. I could spend more time at the farmer’s market. I could check up on blogs about it, but usually, I do not do those things. Because to do them, I would have to think to check, and that’s clearly just too much of challenge. Now my just-picked produce will come conveniently in a box. Excellent.

2. It was surprisingly cost-effective. I am used to paying a premium at the farmer’s market for this kind of superearthfriendly stuff, but this seems to be a much cheaper way to do it. Mine is averaging out at $17/week. That’s really not bad. Even my broke grad student budget can handle that.

3. I get to get creative with the raw materials I’m given. I get in food ruts VERY easily. When I was cooking for just myself, I would eat pasta, frozen vegetables that I microwaved, and pasta sauce out of a jar for an alarming number of meals. The other meals were usually stir fry. I still make these things when left to my own devices. Not that there is anything wrong with either of them, but I am excited for extra motivation to branch out in cooking. This is an excellent excuse to try new things.

4. The pick-up spot is 2 blocks from my house. Short commute! (I’m a little concerned that 3 of the first 4 things on my list at least vaguely have to do with my being lazy, but that is really the truth of the matter. This is me!)

5. Supporting local agriculture feels like a good thing to do. I know it won’t save the world, but I love going in with farmers on their season and then sharing in their bounty. I even like that there is an element of risk to it — if it’s a bad year, I won’t get as much. I like that in a small way, we’re in it together.

6. The produce comes in a box. Like Christmas.

7. My darling husband has agreed to take a picture of the box each week, and I will post it here. And then I will tell you what I made out of it. I know you absolutely can’t wait, right? What?! Me either!

CSA box. It’s happening.

Linked on:

Healing Love and Soap

Some beauty for your Friday. The workday’s almost done.

This whole sustainability thing is, for me, about more than just loving the planet. It’s about loving each other. Sustaining community, if you will. I’ve found some people who are all about that and I wanted to share them with you.

hello. i love you.

So this is so cool. The community of Magdalene is a community of women who are have survived prostitution. They run a business selling beauty products that are good for the earth. So planet sustainability AND community sustainability all at once in these little bottles. I love it.

They have this to say about themselves:

Magdalene stands as a witness to the truth that in the end, love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the streets.

I think we can all say the world needs more of THAT.

I first heard about Thistle Farms on NPR right before Mother’s Day. (That was some excellent timing on that interview, whoever planned that out). Their hand soap made the perfect Mother’s Day gift. You know those times when you need a present to wrap up, but want to support something awesome at the same time. This! This is for then!

Also the soap smelled really good.

I used to work for an organization that used job training to help get people off the streets. They did it with culinary training and have a for-profit arm that provides catering services. It’s a similar idea Thistle Farms, and I think they both show why community sustainability is so important. Giving up on people wastes their talents. Training and creating opportunity means more good things in the world, more lives that are lived fully, and really, I’m pretty sure, more total love in the world.

The Thistle Farms people don’t know me. I’m just a fan from afar. I salute their willingness not to give up on people who society at large gives up on, and for creating something beautiful and wonderful and sustainable.

Their motto is “Love heals.” Just now, I can’t think of anything truer.

Have 7 or 10 dollars? Go buy some soap!

The Next Step

I have my friendly neighborhood local government to thank for changing my behavior on the grocery bag front, but it’s possible I’ll have to take any further steps into my own hands. And what’s the next step?

Reusable Produce Bags. It’s happening.

But Oh Lordy Me, the options! A quick googling of “reusable produce bags” yielded a plethora of choices. This, I feel, is one of the problems of trying to be more eco-friendly (and really, let’s be honest, of trying to do any little piece of good in this world). The choices are just endless.

Let’s review. I could go





Rainbow Colored 

Or, in perhaps the most frugal and committed option, I could

Make My Own

And that was in just the first 2 sets of results. Counter-productively, my first instinct was to throw up my hands, curse the heavens that I would never be able to choose, and lament my fate as a plastic-bag-using produce shopper until the end of time. I never said I didn’t have a hint of the drama queen.

Helpfully, my inner drama queen then calmed down, but unfortunately, she was overtaken by my inner Rational Profit Maximizer, as we call them in law school. I like to think of this mythical person as Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. Sure he’s charging people and arm and a leg for substandard housing, but the market supports it! It’s efficient! Efficient!

In my case, my rational-profit-maximizing instinct usually takes the form of being an unrepentant cheapskate. Frugal, I like to call it. Thrifty. So I looked at these choices and thought – how much do I really want to spend on some produce bags. How much harm can my little bit of plastic really be doing to the planet. Is it really really worth the money to buy these mesh bags, use them, clean them out, dry them and use them again?

It’s an interesting question, and one that any small eco-friendly step raises.  Because truthfully, any one person’s actions do a vanishingly small amount. Does that mean it’s not worth doing anything? I’m inclined to say that it’s still worth it, not just because our collective actions eventually have some effect, but because it’s good to try to do good. I have far from the most sustainable life possible, and there are any number of areas where I fail at this task of doing good spectacularly. But if it occurs to me that if there’s a little something I could do better, at minimal cost, then why not do something? Why not contribute just a little less to the demand for plastic? I really can’t think of a good reason.

So, off I go, choosing some produce bags. I will NOT be paralyzed by indecisiveness! I will NOT be dragged down by the insignificance of my action in the grand scheme! Instead, I will happily click on one of the options above, I will use them, and I will report back.

Stay tuned for the final choice.