Homemade croutons

Homemade croutons

When I’m reaching the end of my homemade bread loaves, I usually have some dried ends hanging around because of the shape of my loaf pans. Rather than let these go to waste, I use them to make croutons.

I originally got the idea from back in the day when I worked for Panera. Did you know that they make their own croutons out of their freshly baked bread? Well, at least that’s how they did it ten years ago…

Anyway, nowadays I do the same thing when I’m looking for ways to use the bread before it goes bad.

It’s SO simple and a great zero waste option if you love croutons as much as I do.

How to make your own croutons:

  1. Cube the bread.
  2. Add enough oil and seasonings to coat lightly. [I use the same seasoning mix I use for my homemade salad dressing here, or you could use regular Italian seasoning.]
  3. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 450° for roughly 8 minutes, shaking the tray once to stir. [Time will depend on how dry the bread is to begin with, so watch closely.]
  4. Enjoy in soups or salads or, as my kids like to have them, as a crunchy snack.

For dinner tonight I had day old bread that needed to be used up, so I made grilled cheese sandwiches and used the ends of the loaf to make these croutons to top squash soup which my Auntie Paula had given us.

Mmm-mmm. Delicious.

Karis

Zero Waste: Shampoo Bars

Zero Waste: Shampoo Bars

Last November, I ordered our first shampoo and conditioner bars.

These Ethique bars come in biodegradable boxes and are cruelty free, sustainably sourced, fair trade, palm-oil free and plant- based.

Are they cost effective?

I was curious to see how long the bars would last because I paid a whopping $33.20 for them. With my husband and I both using them exclusively, the shampoo bar ran out in the beginning of March – so basically four months. The conditioner bar is still going strong five months later.

Note: I also purchased the shower container [pictured above] to store them in because they logically need to be kept out of the water in order to last longer. The container is also biodegradable. 👍🏻

I’m honestly not quite sure whether these bars save money because I’ve never kept track of how many bottles of shampoo I was buying or how long they were lasting or how many washes I was getting out of them.

Then why switch?

Well, let me tell you…

Whether shampoo bars save money is not really the issue. I don’t use them because they save me money. I use them because they save a TON of plastic.

80 billion plastic bottles are thrown out around the world each year from shampoo and conditioners alone.

Plastic bottles take 400 years to breakdown – and will NEVER decompose.

8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.

So, the answer to “why” is simply that we have a responsibility to this planet that we enjoy so much. And plastic is literally destroying it.

Bars are also less wasteful in general. With bottles, there is no measuring device that keeps you from wasting the product. In fact, I’m pretty confident [now that I’m using bars] that I’ve been using way too much shampoo for years. With a bar, you run it over your hair [or in your hands, as my husband prefers] and then lather and rinse. You’re not pouring an unspecified amount into your hands.

When our shampoo bar ran out, we got a bar from Lush – another great ethical company that produces cruelty-free, sustainable bath products.

Not very exciting to look at, but I actually like this bar a little better, though it is more expensive per ounce than the Ethique bar. It lathers like a dream and works great. Lush also has brick and mortar stores in the US so you don’t have to have them shipped to you. My husband conveniently works in a mall with a Lush location which makes these super sustainable and convenient.

Have you tried shampoo bars? Any recommended brands?

Happy hair washing!

🧼 🧼 🧼

Karis

Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

Food Waste: The Problem and What We Can Do About It

There was a time [not too long ago] when I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away the ends of the bread loaf or the bag of wilted spinach, and I have most definitely been guilty of tossing leftovers that I willfully ignored until they were no longer edible. But now, every time I throw away food – even into the compost bin – it is a reminder of my life of excess which provides me with so much food that I’m letting it go bad and throwing it away, and even more importantly, it is a reprimand for not being a responsible consumer of one of life’s most essential resources. Needless to say, I don’t throw food away without feeling badly about it anymore.

As a family, we began actively trying to reduce our waste [in general] at the start of 2018. To be honest, food waste wasn’t a primary focus until a few months ago when I read statistics about food waste in America being as high as 40% [read it for yourself here].

I am APPALLED at that number – especially when I think of the 49 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table , not to mention the millions around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. And here I am, throwing out grapes because they are a little squishy…

Part of the solution to this problem is recognizing that I am a contributor to the food waste problem in the world and accepting that it is my responsibility to reduce my waste as much as I am capable.

So, in our home, we’ve been taking extra measures to reduce our food waste. I’m going to share them below, but before I do, here are the statistics that I hope you will find as shocking as I did and will motivate you to join the cause.

Food Waste Statistics

The waste is HUGE.

  • An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. (Source: NRDC.org, read it here.)
  • On average, 197 pounds of perfectly good food goes to landfills EVERY DAY. (Source: FeedingAmerica.org)

The problem is serious, and seriously EXPENSIVE.

  • Approximately $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year in the US. (Source: USDA, read it here.)
  • Food waste is costly to our environment as well – using 21% of fresh water, 18% of crop land, and taking up 21% of our landfills. (Source: ReFED)
  • We are paying $218 billion annually to produce and ship and dispose of food.

American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.” ReFED.com

The biggest problem is in American homes – not grocery stores and restaurants.

  • 43% of wasted food is happening at the consumer level.

The chart above, from FeedingAmerica.org, shows the breakdown of where the food waste is happening.

What you can do about it

1. Buy only what you need. Only buy enough fresh food to last you a week or two, depending on the item’s shelf life. Then EAT IT. Don’t stock up on foods with expiration dates unless you are certain you will eat them.

2. Eat leftovers – including leftovers from restaurants. Store them in clear containers so you know what you have available in your fridge. Set up a “first in, first out” rule, eating oldest leftovers first.

3. Store food properly. Prolong the life of your fresh foods by storing them properly.

4. Freeze or preserve excess. When foods are nearing their expiration, eat or freeze or preserve them. Don’t just let them rot and then toss them in the trash.

5. Take inventory regularly. Make it a habit to frequently take inventory of the contents in your fridge and freezer and pantry – noting expiration dates – so that you know what you have, what needs to be eaten soon, and what you need to purchase.

6. Compost your food scraps. Composting is not as intimidating as it sounds and while it is easier to do if you own land, there are a growing number of urban composting resources to help you compost in your apartment or townhome or penthouse with a view. [Read this article by The Washington Post about how to get started.]

7. Donate to organizations that are rescuing food like Feeding America and ReFED. Look for organizations in your area and donate or volunteer.

8. Spread the word. We all have a sphere of influence and are capable of multiplying our impact by encouraging our social circles to join us in ending food waste.

Food is one of life’s most vital resources. Let’s not waste it.

👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

My son, Theo, turned three a few days ago. In keeping with our new sustainability and zero waste principles, we made a big deal of our time together [at Chuck E Cheese for the afternoon] and downplayed the gift portion of the celebration. We actually never even mentioned a gift and he never asked for one.

But, of course, we did give him a gift – a set of used Paw Patrol characters and their vehicles [one of which I used to decorate his “Paw Patrol” birthday cake that all the kids helped decorate.]

A few weeks ago we began looking for someone selling a used set of these Paw Patrol trucks because we knew how much Theo would love them. Living in the Chicagoland area meant that they were easy to find. We ended up buying a set of six vehicles and eight characters for $15. At Target, these Paw Patrol vehicle/character sets sells for $15 each.

We’ve already lost a few characters…

But the point here is that it’s actually not about the money at all. Yes, there was a savings, but it’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy it all brand-new.

Why buy used?

The motivation for buying used is to give a second [or third or fourth] life to something bound for the garbage bin. Rather feeding the machine that is constantly making new toys [especially plastic toys] we should be intentionally prolonging the life of the current toy population. I basically rescued these trucks from a landfill. I am essentially a super hero. And they are perfectly fine toys. In fact, my son ADORES them and couldn’t care less whether they were purchased new.

Why not buy used?

So it got me thinking about why I would still never show up at another kid’s birthday party with a gift purchased second-hand. It’s one thing to buy a used gift for my own kid, but a completely different story if I’m going to give a gift to someone else.

There is some unwritten social code that says it’s unacceptable to give gifts that are second-hand.

We even frown [although slightly less so] on “re-gifting” and most people would agree that the appropriate way to re-gift an item is if the recipient doesn’t know it’s re-gifted.

Isn’t that strange? Why should it matter?

Gift giving today is about the represented dollar value, not how much it will be appreciated.

I think that what has happened to our society is that gift giving has become more about the ritual [i.e. gifts are required at certain holidays and events] and the dollar value [i.e. gifts need to be within a certain price range] than it is about the recipient’s enjoyment of the gift.

At my first baby shower, a cousin of mine gave me a gift for the baby – purchased new, obviously. After I opened it, she handed me a pair of baby girl Sperrys that she had found used and thought were so cute she had to get them for my baby, but she gave them to me separately because she wanted to explain that they were second-hand.

I LOVE those pink cheetah-print baby Sperrys! It didn’t matter if they were new or not. Both of my baby girls have worn them – and I’m sure this third baby girl will as well.

I find it perplexing and rather sad that we don’t feel free to give gifts just for the sake of their enjoyment value.

Similarly, when I started dating my husband, he and his siblings had a Christmas tradition of trading names for a gift exchange. They had set a value of $75 and then provided a detailed list of things they wanted. I went shopping with Brett that year and watched him cross items off the list and tally up the total dollar amount for his sister-in-law.

I couldn’t even believe it. Is this what gift-giving has become? I felt, even back then, that this was the total antithesis of what giving a gift should be.

Have you been out shopping for a gift and had some sort of mental idea of how much you needed to spend? Somewhere between being “too cheap” and being “too flashy”? And have you been invited to a party or shower or event and known without any overt statement that a gift is a requirement – or at least you would be viewed as a party crasher if you showed-up empty-handed? Have you tried to make sure that each of your kids gets the same general value of gifts or the same number of packages on Christmas morning?

Can we go back?

Can we go back to giving a gift purely because we want to, rather than because it’s required? Can we go back to giving a gift just because we know someone will love it and not care about how much it cost or where it came from?

I’m hoping that by continuing to exchange used gifts [whenever possible] in my immediate family that I will teach my children that gifts are for the purpose of making people feel loved and appreciated by giving something that they will love – not out of obligation or to follow social customs or to show that we have the means to buy new, expensive things.

Buying used isn’t being cheap, it’s being responsible.

Theo was so excited about those Paw Patrol toys that he didn’t even want to eat cake. Everyone else ate cake while Theo played with the trucks. All the other kids came to the table for cake eventually, but Theo only wanted to play.

These toys were the perfect gift – because they were used and because no one cared that they were used. They represented our commitment to sustainability and our belief that the value of a gift doesn’t come from how much is spent or where it is purchased, but from whether it is given out of love.

Theo’s Birthday Video

As is my new tradition for the kids, here is a short video highlighting Theo’s third year.

Happy Birthday to my sweet, handsome boy!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market finally opened a new location close to my home!

Yes, I was there on opening morning waiting in line with some one hundred other people.

No, I am not ashamed.

Though…I did accept the bag of free groceries that was FULL of packaging.

I am slightly ashamed of that…

Still, I was glad to show my support for a grocery store that encourages customers to reduce their waste by putting bulk bins front and center and by making it easy to bring your own containers.

I’ve been a few times since they opened, but most recently I made my first bulk liquid purchase.

I brought my own jars [and a dry erase marker] and weighed them with the cashier before filling them with maple syrup, local honey, and freshly ground peanut butter [it literally ground the peanuts right into my jar – doesn’t get any fresher than that].

Fresh Thyme also sells bulk oils, vinegars, nut butters, and even kombucha – which I fully intend to purchase in the future.

I frickin LOVE this store.

And on top of that, the prices are reasonable. I paid less for the maple syrup than I do for a jar of pure maple syrup from Aldi.

They also don’t give me side eye for checking out with cloth bags and my own jars. My cashier even said it was “so cute.”

🤷‍♀️

Just doin’ what I do. Being cute AND saving the planet.

The only waste from the purchase was [once again] produce stickers and the receipt.

All in all, a huge success!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Cutie Valentine’s Day Gifts

[Nearly] Zero Waste Cutie Valentine’s Day Gifts

[I know this post is a day too late to be helpful for anyone this year – sorry ’bout that.]

Now that my oldest is in preschool, I get to prepare the obligatory Valentine’s Day gifts for my daughter to distribute to her classmates. As an avid Pinterest user and someone who loves all things crafty, I’ve been looking forward to this day, imagining all the cute, clever homemade card possibilities. However, I had the added challenge of finding something eco-friendly and plastic free and not candy and not wasteful and not crap that the other parents are just going to throw out and not wrapped in a plastic bag and [hopefully] not requiring me to go to the store and spend any money at all.

My solution: the cutie.

I did have to buy the cuties, but they happened to be on sale this week at my grocer and I had everything else at home – which was very important because, even though I was looking forward to this occasion, it snuck up on me, and yesterday I found myself scrambling to put together seventeen preschool Valentine’s Day gifts.

I didn’t want to wrap them in plastic bags, so I carefully tied them with string and put a cute little card to the top that I printed on green card stock. [Thank you, prettyprovidence.com for the free printable!]

My daughter drew hearts and her name on the back of each leaf. And since cuties are her favorite snack, she was very excited to give these to her classmates.

What I love most is that every part of this Valentine’s Day gift is either edible or compostable. I have no idea how many other families compost – but at least I know I have done my part.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Why is it that taking care of the planet, protecting wildlife, and preserving our natural resources appears to only concern liberals and environmentalists? These are issues that affect all of us, so why aren’t we all on board?

If you watch the news, the “green” initiatives seem to be constantly touted by liberals while the conservatives are always on the other side of the screen shaking their heads, insisting “it’s no big deal.”

Since this is the impression I have always had of the two sides of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised to find in Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, that there are conservative Christians [even Republicans!] with the same concerns for our shared environment. Of course, Jen is the only one I have ever heard of – and she only cared for a month – but still. This is progress.

She writes with compelling sarcasm that a belief in God as creator of planet earth is a great reason to start taking care of said planet.

I wish I could quote her entire chapter on reducing waste here, but you should really just go get a copy of the book. In the meantime, though, here’s a snippet:

“I’m a Christian author, so my deal is to write Bible stuff, and the hippies can worry with creation.

Wait a minute.

Does ‘creation’ have anything to do with God whom I call ‘Creator’? Oh, pish posh. Surely God isn’t worried about how we handle His creation that He created. His main concern is making His followers happy and prosperous, yes? And if we need to consume the rest of His creation to make us happy, then I’m sure God doesn’t mind. I bet ‘creation’ mainly refers to us humans, and the soil and rivers and animals and forests and oceans and wildflowers and air and vegetation and resources and lakes and mountains and streams are purely secondary, if not inconsequential.

If I’m taking my cues from many mainstream evangelicals, then only Democrats and loosely-goose liberals care about the earth. It’s a giant conspiracy to distract us from the abortion and gay issues, which evidently are the only subjects worth worrying about. Ecology is for alarmists who want to ruin our lives and obsess about acid rain.

I’m beginning to wonder if the unprecedented consumption of the earth’s resources and the cavalier destruction of its natural assets is a spiritual issue as much as environmental…

This month the Hatmakers are doing their part, setting aside apathy and respecting the earth God made and loves.”

Thank you, Jen! I wish more Christians were drinking your kool-aid.

Truthfully, I don’t really care what your reasoning is for choosing to take better care of our beautiful planet – I just want you to do it. I want everyone to do it.

The American Waste Problem

America has a definite waste problem. It’s not like we are without resources to do something about it, and we can no longer claim to be ignorant about it. So, why aren’t we doing more? We know it’s possible. We’ve seen the impact of a country committed to sustainability. Sweden not only sends a mere 1% of household waste to landfills, but they are actually making money off of other countries’ waste by using it to fuel their incinerators [source article].

Then there is America…

According to the EPA, we send 52.8% of our waste to landfills each year [source article]. Don’t even get me started on all the reasons this is terrible [but you can read about it for yourself in this article].

The Solution

If both sides of the debate [virtually ALL OF AMERICA] could join hands and work together towards the goal of a greener future, then we could really get shit done.

And there is hope. If everyone identifying themselves as Christians would “go green” for the good of their religious beliefs, then a whopping 75% of Americans would be changing their wasteful ways. [2017 Gallup poll of religions in the US can be found here.]

Can we even hope for such a transformation? I don’t know, but I did get a little glimmer of hope from Jen’s book.

Ok, I’m almost done…

No matter your religion or political preference, everyone should be behind a more sustainable future for our world. I’m singling out Christians here because they make up the majority of people in this country with the greatest power to change the current consumer mentality that is doomed to fail in the long run.

Written by a Christian pastor’s wife, 7 is a great book that confronts our American culture through the lens of the Bible. For that reason, if you believe in the Bible, I highly recommend it. And I hope that reading it produces a wave of authentic Christianity like our country has never seen – one that encourages, rather than criticizes, recycling, composting, AND tree-hugging.

🌳 🌳 🌳

Karis