zero waste ice-cream

Let it be known, I am fanatically dedicated to ice-cream. To me there are few things in life as joyful as taking a walk with a friend on a summer’s eve and imbibing some well crafted frozen milk-fat (OK, it doesn’t necessarily even have to be all that well crafted, I like it all). Cass of course knows this, and bought me an ice-cream maker for Christmas (squeeee! I’ve always wanted one!), so I thought that tackling a WasteNot batch would be a great project for this past week.

It’s taken a little bit of wrangling, but our local milk hook-up has finally materialized, so I started the project off with a trip out to a farm to pick up some super legit cream.

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Side-note: Yes, I’m aware of the inherent contradiction in burning enough fossil fuel to transport myself 32km in order to buy dairy in my own re-usable packaging. Weening ourselves off of reliance on fossil fuels is definitely a goal in the long term, but for now we’re focusing on tangible garbage creation. Eventually I envision a Tesla vehicle charging on a combination of solar and wind power (as well as a perpetual motion machine, scoff if you will!). But for now I simply embrace the contradiction of driving long distances to score local cream. It just means it’s a treat and not something I do every day. Right?

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OK, so let me tell you about this cream. Holy geeze. It seriously looked like a vanilla milk shake. It wouldn’t even really pour, we had to spoon it from it’s original container into my 1.5L pickle jar, lest it glorp all over the counter. The heavy whipping cream you buy in the grocery store is 33% milk fat. This stuff had to be at least 60%. It was amazing. Not only that, you could actually taste the grass that the cow was eating. You could almost taste the cow itself, haha XD

When I got home I created a maple goop (a la butterscotch ripple) out of some ย syrup that we were gifted for Christmas, and some brown sugar boiled together. The syrup came in a tin can, having been given by family members that perhaps weren’t aware of the WasteNot project yet, so we re-purposed that as an incense burner once it was empty. The brown sugar we still had on hand from before the project (like I say we don’t use a tonne of it), but you can get it at Bulk Barn no problem.

I envisioned pouring the liquid sugar goop into the ice cream maker once the cream was almost fully set, and it swirling majestically through the concoction to form a perfect toffee-like strata in the substrate of frozen milk-fat. Things didn’t pan out that way :-/

Unfortunately, the syrup goop was still slightly warm when I poured it into the ice-cream maker, and it instantly melted the cream and dissolved into the resulting liquid. The goop that didn’t dissolve promptly sank to the bottom and we were left to serve a strange buttery maple syrup slop to our house full of guests.

They all said it was good.

I was crushed.

Dejected, I scooped the remainder of the failed experiment into a lidded glass bowl and stuck it into the freezer where I would never have to look at it again.

But then!

The next morning, to my surprise it had re-set and was actually very ice-cream-ish! Of course the syrup goop was still sitting on the bottom and the cream was a little crystallized, but all in all for only my second attempt it was pretty damned palatable… Aside from being so rich I couldn’t finish an entire bowl!

OK, that’s not true I finished a ย bowl. OK, OK, two bowls. GAH! Allright! I made myself sick on it OK? I could feel the fat oozing out of my pours and I mostly loved it!

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So…

What have we learned?

Perhaps that one need not necessarily sacrifice the finer things in Life in order to live in accordance with one’s deepest values?

Perhaps that a seeming failure can rise from the ashes and triumph against all odds?

Almost certainly that farm cream should be cut with milk before being made into ice-cream if you don’t want your liver to shut down due to egregious fat intake.

the little things

One of my favourite things about our waste not goals is that it gives us so many new projects! It’s fun to be forced to slow down and figure out solutions to household needs, and it really gives me a sense of ownership and self-sufficiency that I didn’t realize I was lacking before we began this. Of course, another benefit of new projects is that they can aid in keeping you humble when they don’t all go exactly to plan…

Part of Jesse’s Christmas present from me was the start of our indoor herb collection! I started them off as seeds in little jiffy peat pods (pictured above), and they worked like magic, sprouting and growing to their pictured size in about two weeks! Once they hit about two inches, I transplanted them to some terracotta pots that I painted myself, and we had little plant babies for parsley, oregano, and dill!

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Unfortunately, the seed babies ended up having an infant mortality rate similar to that of the 1600’s. Today the parsley is still growing strong, the dill only has one little tiny sprout still struggling along, and the oregano is long dead (I just continue watering it out of denial). I’m not what I would consider to be a plant person, so I’m actually pretty happy that we may end up with a parsley plant out of this, and I’ll definitely be grabbing some plants that are perhaps a little further along in the growth process once some local greenhouses are stocking them!

Another new project that I’ve taken on is making bread; sourdough, to be exact. I love how complex the process seems, and how if I get a good starter going, I can continue to feed it into the next loaf – that cyclical recipe appeals to me somehow. The instructions I’m following are found HERE

Step one is to simply combine warm water and flour (I chose to use brown, but all flour will work), and let it sit out with some exposure to air. Stir it a few times a day, and eventually (within 3 – 7 days) it will become bubbly and fluffy/frothy. That’s when you can proceed to step two!

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Alas, I have no information on step two, because I didn’t even manage to make it that far on my first attempt. My mixtureย did become bubbly and frothy around day 3, but I was waiting for something more earth-shattering, and thought I should leave it sit for a little longer… I then watched as it slowly hardened and became impossible to stir over the course of the next 5 days. Lesson learned! When it has bubbles (subtle or otherwise), proceed to step two! I now have a second attempt (which I’ve named Jeremiah to help me cultivate a sense of attachment to how he turns out) sitting on our counter, and I’m very much looking forward to making it past step one with him this week!

Finally, some fun successes! Many of you guys suggested keeping our veggie waste in the freezer to eventually make vegetable stock out of. Great idea! We threw 1 1/2 months’ worth of veg leavings into our slow cooker last night and filled it with water to simmer overnight. It turned out a deep brown, and apart from being a little bit bitter (I’m guessing because we had some squash leavings in the mix?), it was an easy and gratifying success. Off to the compost with you, used veggie leavings!

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Jesse is a quiche master, and last evening he made us his very first totally waste-free quiche for dinner! Eggs from our farm hookup, pie plate which we re-use (we could also use our glass one), pie crust made from mix obtained at Bulk Barn, and veggies purchased sans packaging. Yummmmmmmmmmm!

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apple cider vinegar!

Both Cassandra and I try to put a hard limit on how much refined sugar we eat. I won’t get into how ridiculously addicted to the sweet crystal demon I am, but suffice it to say that we don’t generally keep much around the house, lest Cass wake up to me clinging to the ceiling and cackling like a goblin. So with no jam or honey immediately at hand, we’ve taken to using unsweetened apple sauce as tasty substitute.

Once we started the zero-waste project, this meant learning how to make apple sauce on our own – which is not hard at all, by the way… just chop up a bunch of apples and boil them until they break down, then buzz through them with an immersion blender… yum! This creates a steady supply of apple cores, so I decided that I’d try my hand at making apple cider vinegar. We already use vinegar to rinse our hair (right after the baking soda), and now that we’re looking at zero-wasting our cleaning products we’ll likely end up using it as a disinfectant around the house as well. I really like the idea of developing a kind of symbiotic relationship with the apple, and not letting any of it go to waste. There’s a kind of hunter-gatherer, everything has it’s purpose aesthetic to it that rings with my heartfeels.

So I did a little bit of research, and found out some stuff about simple home fermenting (but pleaseย let me say don’t take my word as gospel here. I’m very new to the subject and I’d hate for you to end up eating a pickle saturated with botulism on my say so).

SO!

Fermentation is probably the oldest method of food preservation known to humanity. Basically what you’re doing is creating the conditions to allow healthful (or at least non-harmful) bacteria to thrive, thus out-competing any other micro-organisms that you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth. In the case of apple cider vinegar, yeast (our little microbial buddy who is responsible for rising bread and itchy vaginas) eats all of the sugars in the apples and excretes alcohol. If we were to stop the process here, we would end up with plain old apple cider. Once the sugars have been consumed, the population of yeast drops and acetobacteria (that is bacteria that produce acid through their digestive process) take over and eat the alcohol that the yeast left behind. Both alcohol and acid create environments that are not conducive to the life-functions of harmful bacteria, so the resulting high-acid liquid (vinegar) is very unlikely to spoil.

Now if you, like me, were educated in the traditional school system you were probably indoctrinated with a lot of “germs are everywhere”, “wash your hands”, “milk is a time bomb that will explode on its best before date”, “your body is dirty and should not be trusted” sorts of messages. Like me, you might be a little leery about drinking something that’s been sitting tepid in a jar for three weeks. Most of the information I’ve found has assured me that home vinegar is pretty bulletproof, but I’m thinking about pasteurizing this first batch, just for my comfort zone’s sake. We’ll see. For now, I’ve got three old peanut butter jars sitting in the furnace room that need stirring.

Oh yeah! Here’s the method I used. And here’s a link to a site I really like that has a bunch of home vinegar recipes.

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Zero-Waste Apple Cider Vinegar

1. Take your apple scraps (peels, cores, etc.) and put them in a wide mouth glass jar, about two thirds full. I had a couple of containers of frozen scraps from my last batches of apple sauce.

2. Put a glob of honey in each jar too, this will give the yeast lots of sugar to eat, and theoretically raise the acid content of the vinegar.

3. Cover withย water by a couple of inches (some recipes say not to use chlorinated water, or to let your tap water stand overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate… I didn’t do this, but I probably will next time).

4. Stir half a teaspoon of yeast per jar into some warm water and add an equal amount of the mixture to each jar. You could also add a couple of glugs of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar to each jar. Make sure you get the kind that says “with the mother”, (the mother just means the colony of acetobacteria). Again I just did the yeast and not the vinegar, but I think it would likely help the process along to do both. (EDIT: Adding extra yeast turned out to be a bad idea in future batches. You’re probably best to stick with wild/naturally occourring yeast here).

5. Securely cover the opening of the jar with fine mesh cheesecloth – you don’t want to seal the jars because the acetobacteria create carbon dioxide and the resulting pressure could make your jars explode. I used an elastic salvaged from a head of broccoli, and two broken shoelaces to tie my cheesecloths in place. I commented to Cass how I was now officially living the dream.

6. Store somewhere warm and dry, and stir every day. Accounts differ as to how often you should stir. Some leave the jar on the counter and stir it multiple times a day. Some leave it next to the furnace and stir it less often.

Within a few days the concoction should start to bubble and smell boozy. Once the bubbliness has stopped, and the apples have sunk to the bottom of the jar (about three weeks) the vinegar should be ready!

a waste not Christmas break

The last few weeks of 2015 were a wonderful whirlwind of food and social time… and we brougt our waste not principles with us to the best of our ability! We spent most of Christmas with our families and didn’t want to impose our values on them, so itย ended up looking a bit more like “waste less” than “waste not” in some cases.

We wrapped gifts in scrap paper that needed to be reused anyway, we hosted a brunch consisting of bread pudding made from all our accumulated bread heels and waste-free fruits (no berries, as they’re out of season and only come in plastic this time of year), we hosted numerous potlucks and used actual dishware and mugs, rather than their disposable counterparts…. there were dozens of small shifts like theseย that really ended up adding up over December. All said and done, we generated about a quarter of a kitchen garbage bin full of waste throughout the month of December and we have yet to need to empty our recycling bin since the beginning of the project.

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We also experienced some definite challenges. I bought Jesse an ice cream maker for Christmas, but due to not planning ahead, found myself resorting to buying cream from the store so that he could actually use it as immediately as he would want to. Since then, we’ve found a lead for a cream hookup who will let us bring our glass bottles out to collect cream directly from the farmer, which honestly feels so cool – Jesse will soon be able to make custom ice cream concoctions using the freshest possible cream. It doesn’t get more “from scratch” than that!

Right after Christmas, we headed out West to visit our friends Keith and Greg in the mountains near Nelson, B.C. We didn’t plan out our food strategy as well as we could have, so we found ourselves simply not buying a lot of things that we wanted because we didn’t have an effective way to bring them home without a bunch of excess packaging. In the end, we ate simply and well, and came home with one more plastic bread bag as our compromise. One additional note – our grocery experience in B.C. was notably more relaxed. There were no eyebrows raised when we asked if we could purchase some cheese from the counter and take it home in our own container, and the attendant then tried to help us solve our bread bag dilemma. We were able to compost and cook from scratch just like at home while staying in Greg and Keith’s cabin, and we even got to see what life is like when your home is heated by a fire.

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All-in-all, our waste free kitchen mission for December has been a much more manageable transition that it seemed at first! By simply planning ahead for what we’ll want and need, and accepting that there will be some things that we just won’t be able to have if we can’t figure out how to get it without packaging, we’ve adjusted pretty easily.

While we haven’t fully mapped out what 2016 for this project looks like, we do know where we’re going for January: cleaning and hygiene! As we run out of our hygiene projects, cosmetics, bathroom materials, and cleaning supplies and products, we will begin replacing them with our waste free principles guiding the way. Jesse has already been researching how to make our new cleaning staple, apple cider vinegar, from the apples that we use to make our applesauce (we eat A LOT of applesauce), since that takes some planning ahead – the vinegar will need a few weeks to sit. We’ll be welcoming even more baking soda into our lives (we already use it for tooth brushing and hair washing), to act as our scouring agent for household cleaning, our deodorant, and whatever else it seems able to handle. We’ll post more about what sustainable solutions we come across along the way!