Anti-spam apps

AT&T offers these apps (smartphone only) to help block fraudulent calls and phishing attempts.

PaperKarma is an app and associated service that help stop junk mail. You take a picture of the address label on junk mail and the app magically unsubscribes you from it. The app is free to download, but the actual service costs $2/month. So, save up your junk mail for a year and unsubscribe from it all at once?

Making olives

Last fall, I made olives from fruit gathered from a neighbor’s tree. As it turns out, this neighbor had been interested in making olives for a while, but never looked into it. He was very excited about the project and readily let me pick his olives.

I hadn’t cured olives before, but I’ve did some research on it (and have a lot of experience with other niche food projects!). As it turns out, it’s pretty easy and makes an item that is relatively expensive to purchase, so definitely worth it.

There are four basic ways to cure olives: in water, in salt brine, in lye brine, and in salt (dry). The lye method is the fastest- it can take less than a day, but lye is rather dangerous, of course. Curing in water is also supposed to be relatively fast (a month), although it seems of questionable veracity to me. Dry-curing takes 1-2 months. This method is also called oil-curing, since these types of olives are often marinated in oil after being cured. The low water content makes them taste richer and oilier. The slowest, but one of the easiest and most common, methods is brining. It takes 6-12 months and produces a “normal” olive.

The salt-based methods rely on lacto-fermentation for flavor and additional preservation. The salt prevents the wrong types of bacteria from growing (which is why it’s important to use enough salt and why I’m dubious about the water-only method!); the fermentation adds flavor and acidity.

All methods can be used on all types and ripeness of olives, but there are combinations that are more common. For example, dry-curing is more common with ripe olives. Brining is more common with green (unripe) or half-green olives. Unripe olives tend to have a stronger taste, since they start off more bitter.

Here’s a review of the process, plus improvements:

  • Collect olives by shaking branches towards a tarp. Gather olives from the tarp (e.g. pour into a bucket). Picking by hand is laborious and bumping the tree as you pick causes nearby olives to fall off and be lost.
  • Many (~75%) of the olives I collected had been impacted by the olive fruit fly, which lays its eggs in the olive meats. Impacted olives are safe to eat, but may be more acidic and have a shorter shelf life. I didn’t use any of the impacted olives this time, but would in the future since I was left with so few olives!
  • I dry-cured the olives, leaving them in a jar of salt for ~3-4 months. Turns out this was too long, as the olives were overly salty and desiccated, so make sure to taste-test periodically. I rehydrated and de-salted by soaking in plain water for a few days, then put the olives in a brine (because they started getting moldy…).
  • Dry-curing works best on ripe olives. I cured some green and half-green olives that turned out kinda hard and bitter, so I would avoid those in the future.

I was impressed with how easy the process was and how olive-like the finished product was.

Leftover salt. I still have it. Maybe I can use it in the next batch of olives.
The finished olives! I eventually put them in a brine (sniped from some commercial olives) for storage. I intend to give some to the tree-owner.

Dumster diving

Expired snacks put out on trash day. I got a previous load of food from the same house last year. I’m really enjoying the fruit leather. Everything else is meh.
Preserved lemons made from dumpster-dived lemons from an Austin Råndålls.

And the newest acquisition:

From the local CeeVeeSss’s dumpster. Includes some weird sauerkraut-tortilla chips. Other stuff I didn’t get: diapers, makeup sponges, shower scrubby.

New hat

I lost my hat on the train back from LA a few months ago. 🙁

In my defense, I don’t usually lose things. I was distracted by another train passenger being disruptive. He had had the police called on him for “acting threateningly” towards an Amtrak employee. I was eager to disembark.

Me in my old hat (source).

The new hat is distinctly less cool, and cost $8, twice as much as the old one. At least it has a wider brim!

I look like a gardener now. Picture is from an ocean-side hike in spring.

Furniture-moving trip

I recently took a trip to LA to pick up desk-bed parts. It was a success!

My original plan was to have a friend drive the furniture up for me, but I couldn’t find a willing driver (and car rentals got complicated). Instead, I used uShip! uShip is an online bid-based marketplace for shipping items (especially large, unpackable, awkwardly-shaped items, like motorcycles and furniture).

When shipping something through uShip, you start by making a “shipment” on the website. You enter details about the items (size, weight, number), where you’re going from/to, and when you need the items by. uShip automatically generates an expected price based on the information, so you have an idea of what you’re going to pay. Once you publicly list the shipment (at least 2 weeks before the intended move, please!), movers start bidding on it. You can accept any bid at any time, at which point you should contact the mover directly to iron out pickup/dropoff details.

Pros:

  • uShip provides a money-back guarantee, where you don’t pay the mover until you get your items. uShip holds the money until then. If anything goes wrong with the move, you can contact uShip for help.
  • The auction-based format of uShip helps get you a lower price, both because of mover-mover competition and because movers can combine shipments to the same destination.
  • I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
  • I didn’t have to pack anything (unlike using Fedex, e.g.). The movers provided all of the padding material (nothing disposable!) and loaded all of the items.
  • Items can be delivered to someone else, so I didn’t need to be at both ends of the shipment.

Cons

  • I paid $320 to the movers ($25 fee to uShip), $130 more than uShip originally predicted (and J accidentally tipped 40% upon delivery…). I do think that it was a good value, considering that I didn’t have to drive and a new bunk bed of questionable quality costs around $900.
  • It was scary to use uShip for the first time D:

My experience was excellent, although it heavily depends on which mover you use (reviews are provided on the website). The movers I worked with were very organized and fast! The furniture was delivered the same day as pickup. The movers even helped carry it up to a second floor apartment. I would use uShip again, and would generally recommend it if you are moving a small number of items (i.e. not a whole house of furniture).

Bunk-bed and desk parts, half-shelf, dresser, and a stand mixer (in the suitcase) to be moved.

 

Smaller-than-expected van, although big enough to hold a motorcycle!

By the way, I took Megabus to LA ($37), and BoltBus back ($23). I did not take any overnight buses, due to the last miserable experience. The bus rides were fine by day, since I didn’t need to sleep. They were much cheaper than flights (would’ve been $150 each way), and cheaper and faster than the train (would’ve been $80 each way, since the cheapest tier of ticket was sold out). A friend in the area housed and fed me 🙂

New frontiers in boba!

Someone online said that no Bay Area boba establishment has turned them away for asking to use a non-disposable boba cup. That sounded amazing, so I implored sibling C (visiting) to attempt it for the first time. It was too nerve-wracking for me to try in untested waters.

When asked if it was okay to use a jar (wide-mouth quart jar in this case; pint jars wouldn’t be big enough for a normal serving of milk tea), the cashier not only agreed, but did so immediately without any weird looks! Maybe she just saw us coming and prepared herself, or maybe it’s common here! I will definitely do this at Teaspoon again 😀

A quart of milk tea. The bigger jar was awarded bonus tea!

I usually use the provided plastic boba straws (or wrapped ones that ended up on the ground that no one else wants), but am thinking of buying or making a reusable one. J and I get boba a couple times a month with friends, so it would make sense.

Birthday beans

Guess what my mom gave me for my birthday (so long ago now I’m sorry)?? Beans!!

They’re from Rancho Gordo, a company that grows and sells heirloom beans and traditional Mexican beans (to help preserve local food traditions!). Even though these are just about the fanciest beans that exist, they only cost ~$6/lb. That’s about as cheap as the worst-quality factory-farmed beef you can buy. Amazing.

I wish Rancho Gordo sold in bigger bags!

I also got scarlet runner beans, which I ate before photographing everything. They are huge!!! The cooked beans are the size of the first segment of my thumb. You have to eat the beans one by one, they’re so big.

 

Granola attempt

Granola! I already ate most of the oats out. The sorghum is the yellow beads.

I made granola a few months ago, using this recipe, which comes down to:

Combine 6 parts dry ingredients (usually 3 parts rolled oats, 1 part nuts, 1 part seeds, 1 part something else) with 1 part wet ingredient (about half oil and half liquid sweetener) + 1 egg white (optional; makes the granola extra crispy and browned). Bake at 300°F for about 45 min until dry and browned, stirring every 15 min. If you want to add dried fruit, stir into hot granola once you take it out of the oven.

I made a super exciting novelty batch of granola using oats, millet, quinoa, flax seeds, amaranth, and (unfortunately) sorghum. The sorghum did not cook in the allotted baking time. It is like little stones mixed into the granola. You’d think you were going to break your teeth. For the past few months, I’ve been painstakingly picking the sorghum out of the granola. There was a cup of sorghum to start with, so I’m about halfway done…

Takeaway message: don’t get too excited with your granola. If you’re going to add non-oat ingredients, they should be edible raw or small enough to cook in the same amount of time as the oats, which have a stovetop cooking time of 5 min.

Do I avoid plastic?

I’ve been drafting this follow-up to the pros/cons of plastic post for a long time, but can’t quite articulate my thoughts (which probably means they are irrational…). This is my best attempt.

I try (although not suuuuuper hard) to avoid disposables, plastic or not. Plastic is of particular concern when in contact with food because of leaching concerns, but I also avoid multi-use plastic products. When buying something, I consider these characteristics:

  • Apparent quality. I perceive metal, wood, glass, and natural textiles to be higher quality than plastic. Part of this is correlation, since companies often make higher-quality products out of non-plastic (i.e. more expensive) materials, and part of it is an appeal to nostalgia and tradition.
  • Repairability.
  • Durability.
  • Recyclability/end-of-life concerns. If it breaks, will I be able to dispose of it so that it can be reused in some way?
  • Safety. Does it offgas? Does the material have a long history of use? Is there any doubt about the material’s safety? (That aluminum pressure cooker is still on probation.)
  • Does it have desirable qualities for the intended purpose? For example,
    • Plastic food storage isn’t dishwashable without a degradation in quality. For example, tupperware seals worse after enough dishwashes.
    • Cooking utensils must withstand high temperatures without degrading or melting. Plastic is particularly bad for this purpose.
    • Synthetic textiles often don’t breath well or age well (pilling, sagging, smells), although this is also true of low-quality natural fibers, and contribute to microfiber pollution during their lifetimes. They perform poorly in various late-in-life textile uses (e.g. you definitely want natural fiber rags), and often feel strange. They require polluting, sometimes toxic synthetic dyes, since most natural dyes won’t adhere to synthetic fibers.
  • Is there a good non-plastic, non-electronic, non-electric alternative available? E.g. Teflon pans are easily replaced with cast iron; plastic cooking utensils are easily replaced with metal or wood utensils.

The only areas I can think of where synthetics clearly win are in backpacking, where gear needs to be lightweight, flexible, and waterproof, and electronics.

I don’t avoid plastic entirely, but definitely lean away from it. If I need to buy something plastic, I try to buy it used. I avoid disposable plastics and plastic items that I know to be less than durable (e.g. Teflon cookware).

 

 

Why would one want to reduce plastic usage?

A friend asked why someone would want to reduce plastic usage. It’s an interesting question. Plastics are very useful (versatile, lightweight, long-lasting, relatively low carbon footprint), but there are people who want to avoid all plastics (see My Plastic-free Life, for example). In fact, a lot of people in the zero-waste community are anti-plastic to the extent that they replace functioning plastic reusables with items made of other materials (not the best thing to do, by the way!) .

Pros of plastic:

  • Doesn’t decompose in landfills, which makes plastic good for sequestering carbon. (FYI biodegradable and compostable materials are only worth using if you actually compost them. If you put them in the landfill, they will produce methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plastic, on the other hand, sequesters carbon basically indefinitely. It is ideal for landfills.)
  • “Natural” materials, such as paper and cotton, generally require more resources to produce than plastic (for example, although this apparently isn’t true for some types of synthetic fabrics, where the plastic has a small footprint, but processing is very resource-intensive), so plastic may be a better choice of material for single-use items (e.g. packaging, medical disposables).
  • Durable, in some ways. Unlike glass and ceramic, plastic doesn’t usually break when dropped. This can be good for storage containers. Plastic is also resistant to many caustic chemicals.
  • Plastics have amazing and varied characteristics. Transparent, yet flexible. Lightweight. Remoldable (sometimes). Cheap.
  • Plastic is lightweight, making it cheaper and less resource-intensive to ship.

Cons of plastic:

  • Leaches unknown and hazardous known chemicals at unknown concentrations into whatever it is containing or touching (e.g. BPA from receipts can be absorbed into your skin when you touch them), or off-gases into the air. See Plastic Free for detailed info + citations. I’m sure there are articles online as well.
  • Plastic additives are largely unregulated. Despite the recent hubbub over BPA and a lot of scary research, the FDA’s stance is that current levels of BPA in food are safe (despite the fact that endocrine disruptors may have stronger effects at lower doses (source). They even have inter-generational effects. For example, one study concluded that higher blood BPA concentrations in mouse mothers was correlated with “loss of sexual dimorphism in brain structure and behavior illustrated by animal studies, findings concordant with human epidemiological studies” (source, text). I can only wonder if BPA and other hormone-mimicking plasticizers are the cause of the apparent uptick in the number of transgender people.).
  • Made from a non-renewable resource (fossil fuels). Petroleum and plastic are incredibly valuable and irreplaceable resources that should be reserved for uses where they are not easily replaced (medical purposes, for example).
  • Supports the petroleum industry, which has a history of “downplay[ing] the significance of climate change [using approaches] copied from tobacco lobbyists” (source) and damaging the environment through extraction.
  • Difficult to reuse. For example, many plastics are porous and can’t be properly sanitized for reuse. Others leach additives faster as they degrade.
  • Can break down over time and via exposure to UV, causing brittleness, flaking, and leaching. Unfortunately, the tiny bits of plastic will still probably not degrade for several hundred years.
  • Difficult to repair (although this is definitely not unique to plastic).
  • Difficult to recycle. Only plastics 1 and 2 are commonly and easily recycled. Glass and metal, on the other hand, can be recycled indefinitely. Paper can generally by recycled 7 times until the fibers are too short and weak to be useful. (However, recycling in the US is not stellar for any material, largely because people want single-stream recycling for convenience. Unfortunately, this causes contamination due to materials being difficult to properly separate, so companies don’t want to use the recycled materials.)
  • Not biodegradable. Stick around a long time (100-1 million years, estimates vary and depend on type).
  • Cheap. Encourages thoughtless consumerism, fast fashion, unnecessary disposables, etc.
  • Have a propensity to become litter. Plastic in general is lightweight and easily blows out of trash bins. Film plastics are particularly aerodynamic.
  • Synthetic textiles are flammable. They also melt and release more-toxic-than-usual smoke when on fire, making them poor choices for high-heat uses (cooking and welding come to mind).

These problems can be largely ameliorated by refusing single-use plastics and by regulating plastics additives. Durable plastic goods are exempt from many of these issues.

And here’s a well-written post on reducing your carbon footprint. In summary: eat less meat (especially beef), insulate your home, and buy less stuff.