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Certainly you’ve heard of BPA (Bisphenol A) over the last few years – it’s an additive used to make plastics. I had read of its hormone-like properties and the associated dangers it posed because it is often used in plastic food containers. I did some reading and began phasing out as many plastics in the kitchen as possible. About this same time, I saw Bag It at the Heartland Film Festival (best week of the year in Indy!) with some friends. It is a very eye-opening documentary about the prevalence of plastics in our lives and the unforeseen consequences both for the greater environment and for us personally. It is on Netflix and at the local libraries. You should grab a copy, invite some friends over, and have your eyes opened. A few easy changes that we made after watching Bag It include:

  • We like to party. So do a few of our friends. Rather than buy disposable party-ware, we and a few other couples share our reusable party goods, like plates, napkins, cups, silverware, etc. That way, we’re eliminating all of that disposable stuff, plus none of us has to own (and store) all of that stuff on their own.
  • We compost, which eliminates tons of trash, which in turn eliminates the plastic bags that hold trash.
  • We cloth diaper, which eliminates all of those plastic disposable diapers (and more trash bags). Check out our friends’ local cloth diaper shop/natural parenting store if you’re interested in learning more – they are the experts! 
  • We buy our soaps and shampoos from a local artisan, Herbal Arts, so as to avoid all of those nasty parabens and phtalates and other scary additives in most commercially-available products (plus, it’s like a visit to the spa every time I get to go to the store!).
  • We bring our own bags every where, we’ve eliminated single-use items like napkins and paper towels, and we buy in bulk as much as possible.
  • We garden and participate in CSAs and co-ops, which eliminates lots of single-use items in the process.
  • I know there’s plenty more that we could do…what suggestions  do you have?

All of this came to mind after reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in last week’s NYT, in which he discusses some new research regarding endocrine-disrupting chemicals (like BPA):

Just this month, a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that endocrine disruptors that are sometimes added to PVC plastic cause mice to grow obese and suffer liver problems — and the effect continues with descendants of those mice, generation after generation.

And

Another study found that women with a pesticide residue in their blood bore babies who were more likely to be overweight at the age of 14 months.

And

Dr. Blumberg, the pioneer of the field, says he strongly recommends that people — especially children and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant — try to eat organic foods to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors, and try to avoid using plastics to store food or water. “My daughter uses a stainless steel water bottle, and so do I,” he said.

Read the whole thing. And watch Bag It too!

 

“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

Wendell Berry

Cold
Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

–to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

mealI finally got around to reviewing one of my favorite books of 2012: An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace (I’m pretty sure I’d be thrilled if my family described my cooking that way). Here’s my review. As if you couldn’t tell from the review, I loved this book. I think you need to read it – and soon!

Indianapolis Green Congregations and Epworth United Methodist Church are hosting an exciting workshop called Awakening the Dreamer: Creating an Environmentally Sustainable, Socially Just and Spiritually Fulfilling World on January 26, 2013 at Epworth UMC. It sounds like a great event and opportunity to meet like-minded people. The cost is $10 + an item to share for a potluck lunch. Childcare is also available. For more information, check here.

Be sure and report back if you’re able to go!

Wendell was honored with an award from the Tulsa Library Trust last month. In an interview with a local paper, he said, “Every day, I go outdoors because I have to, which is a good thing. Some days, I’d just as soon stay inside and read or write, but I have to go out,” he said. “And always, within minutes of getting out, I’m delighted to be out. That’s been one of the great advantages of this place is that it’s required me to live my life outside.”

This week’s WFW isn’t anything too poetic or eloquent – just a casual remark in an interview – but it struck me as profound because for so many of us these days, it isn’t necessary for us to go (or be) outside, especially during these cold, dreary days on winter. As Berry pointed out in his Jefferson Lecture, “it all turns on affection.” We can’t have affection for something that we don’t know, and we can’t know nature if we don’t spend any time in it.

I’ve made a few changes to my chicken tortilla soup recipe. I made it for friends and family a few times over the holidays, so I thought I would update the original recipe with my changes here. I think the original is still tasty, but I prefer this version because it is a bit smokier and spicier. This is another recipe in the chicken rotisserie series.

Chicken tortilla soup
A Sara Original

Ingredients

Depending on how much chicken you have leftover – we usually use about one cup of shredded chicken, if that, and we typically save the darker meat for this soup*
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
1-2 chipotles in adobo sauce (we use two, but only use one if you prefer it less spicy)
1 tsp cumin
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp oregano
2 cups cooked beans – our favorites are chickpeas or black beans (1 cup of each for a little variety), but use whatever you like
4 cups chicken stock**
2 cans fire-roasted chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen or make your own – I’ll be doing these soon, so I’ll report back!)
1 cup tortilla chips
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: jalapenos, shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado, cilantro

Directions

Preheat large soup pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and wait until oil begins to shimmer. Add diced onion and peppers. Saute until onions turn translucent. Add garlic and spices and saute just briefly (about 30 seconds). Add chicken and stir around to thoroughly combine ingredients. Add beans, stock and tomatoes. Cook for about twenty to thirty minutes, until soup is slightly thickened.

Crush a handful or tortilla chips in each bowl, and ladle soup over top of tortilla chips. Add additional garnishes of your choice. Serves about eight.

*If you just want to make this soup and don’t have a whole chicken to work from, here’s my trick using bone-in chicken breasts: preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Dry the chicken breasts and salt and pepper them generously. Then heat a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet, brown the chicken on both sides in the pan, and then put it in the preheated over for about 20 minutes (the internal temperature will be 160 degrees when it’s done if you aren’t sure). Let it rest for about 5 minutes so it soaks back up the juices, and then shred it into pieces to put in the soup. Be sure to dump all of the juices from the pan into the soup too (you can thin it with a bit of water to make sure you get up all of the tasty bits stuck to the pan) – yum! I make my soup with just two chicken breasts (local, happily raised) and have used that to feed 12+ people, so a little bit goes a long way.

**The homemade stock really makes this soup, so be sure to save the chicken bones from this batch to make some stock for next time. Stock making tips here.

chickpeas

Grant and I have never been big snackers, but the little man seems to need a near constant stream of calories. Seriously, I might have to take a second job when this kid is a teenager just to pay the grocery bills. At any rate, I’ve had to get a little creative with snacks because we don’t have processed stuff in the house, but, at the same time, I don’t want to spend much time on throwing together a snack to tide him over until mealtime. These roasted chickpeas have become a staple at our house. Jasper loves them, and now Grant and I find ourselves sneaking handfuls throughout the day too. I try to make a big batch every few weeks and just keep them in the fridge for a quick protein fix. They are ripe for experimentation, so feel free to try your own spice variations.

Roasted chickpeas
Barely adapted from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Ingredients

4 cups cooked chickpeas*
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Throw the chickpeas in a large bowl with 1 tbsp of the olive oil, garlic, and the spices and mix the ingredients. On your stove, put a large rimmed baking sheet so that it covers two burners. Add another tablespoon of oil to the baking sheet and turn the heat to medium-high. Once the oil is shimmering (a minute or two), pour the chickpeas onto the baking sheet (you want to make sure the baking sheet is large enough, so that the chickpeas are in a single layer) and cook them for about a minute, using a spatula to spread the chickpeas around to ensure that they’re all covered in the spices. You just want to cook them on the stove top just until the spices “blossom” (i.e. you can smell them). Throw the pan in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

These taste best that first day. I just throw them in the fridge once they have cooled off, and we eat them all week long. I really like them on salads, but they’re great just as a quick snack too. Experiment with other spice variations. I’ve seen people do a sweet variation too, although we’re so addicted to our slightly spicy version that I haven’t ventured out much further. Some ideas:

  • Just salt and pepper
  • A little maple syrup and cinnamon
  • Coriander or tumeric in place of the cumin above
  • Garlic and dill
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Be adventurous!

*I buy the chickpeas in bulk and cook them in large batches. Then I use some for roasted chickpeas, and freeze the rest in two cup portions to add to soups or tacos for an easy weeknight meal. Feel free to double this recipe, but just use two baking sheets so that the chickpeas are in a single layer to ensure that they cook evenly.

 

I don’t love butternut squash, but Grant and the kids do. I first made this take on chili back in October, and the family has requested it often for Meatless Monday nights since. Minus cutting the squash, it’s super easy, and even I like it despite not being a huge butternut squash fan.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 tbsp chili powderchili
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup vegetable stock, tomato juice, or water
  • 1 pound black beans, cooked*
  • 2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup quinoa

For garnishing:

Sour cream
Monterey jack cheese
Diced red onion chopped
Fresh cilantro
Pickled jalapeño rings

Directions

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent . Add garlic and stir just until fragrant. Stir in spices just until fragrant. Add tomatoes with juice, beans, stock/water and chipotles. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Stir squash and quinoa into chili. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until squash and quinoa are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with the toppings listed above. As with most chilis/soups, this is even better on the second or third day.

*Alternately, you can cook the dried beans with the soup, as the original recipe calls for. Add the dried and rinsed beans at the same time as the recipe above, but add an additional 10 cups of water. Simmer for 2-3 hours, until the beans are tender. This makes a bit soupier chili, as opposed to the thicker, stew-ier version above.

Please, please, please do yourself a favor and listen to Wendell on Diane Rehm’s show back in November. I’ve listened to it three times already, I think. I kept meaning to transcribe some of it here to share with you in segments, but that just hasn’t happened. So listen for yourself instead and share your favorite part in the comments.

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