Saturday, May 3, 2008

How Green Is My Kitchen?

With Earth Day come and gone, I am still thinking about some of my current kitchen practices and really how "green" they are. "Green" seems like such a buzzword, which I detest, but I think that some people, especially those that grew up in a rural area with little or no money, were always "green." You had to be! Nothing went to waste - as I mentioned in my Earth Day post entitled Green, Before Green Was Cool over at Destination: Austin Family.

So as I am making macaroni salad, cole slaw and barbecue baked beans for the weekend, I was going around the kitchen in "inspection" mode. Here are my thoughts:

Smart Storage Part One. I try not to use plastic but plastic 1 gallon and 1 quart zipper bags are a gift from which ever deity you do or do not choose to revere. If I am freezing bolognese sauce I would not use a hard plastic sealable container such as Glad Ware® or TupperWare® since it might crack and will definitely stain. How green is it if I need to spend extra resources (hot water, detergent, etc.) cleaning it?

Food Poisoning Is Mean Not Green. I never re-use zipper bags unless they have only been in contact with an item that will not spoil or mold. I know it might be seen as green to do so, but I'd rather not contract some form of food poisoning. I marvel at the fact that my mother-in-law can reuse these bags until they turn back to their original oil, but she is from the same generation of steel-hulled stomachs who could take a bologna and mayonnaise sandwich to work and leave it out for six hours before eating it. If anything will take my in-laws down, it will not be rotting food.

Smart Storage Part 2. I am considering some items by Pyrex® which harken back to the old-fashioned refrigerator containers from my great-grandmother's day. Remember these? The downside with the plastic lids is that they don't seal to the glass as well as plastic to plastic. The upside is this: one container to go from refrigerator to microwave. No need to take the leftovers out of a plastic container you can't microwave, place in a microwave-safe dish, etc.

Paper or Plastic or . . . I am still using plastic grocery bags when I shop at the supermarket but I think I better take action soon. I am certain that the City of Chicago is about to ban them just as San Francisco recently did. I am not sure what I want to use - right now, we keep a rugged cardboard box in the car trunk which holds our Costco groceries. I could take a similar box into the supermarket and use that. Or I could buy the mesh bags or cotton canvas bags. I need some ideas!

Reuse, reuse, reuse! I have always cooked the way Mom taught me: clean as you go and try to reuse a bowl or item without washing it if possible. Here's an example: with my electric pedestal mixer, I have one metal bowl. If a recipe calls for separating and beating the whites separately, I do that part first. I move them to an empty bowl and then proceed with the yolks. I know that if I did the yolks first, I'd have to thoroughly clean the bowl since any presence of yolks (or grease) will prevent the whites from beating. And, before I start with the whites, I just put a tablespoon of white vinegar in the bowl and wipe out with a paper towel.

Plan Your Oven Use. When possible, I look at what items need to be in the oven, for how long and at what temperature. I also figure in if I need the item piping hot if guests are involved. I "piggy-back" items and try to start with the highest temperature item first, then proceed down to lower temps. Also, if it is in the winter, when I am finished, I turn off the oven and leave the door open to heat the kitchen.

Gadgets? We Don't Need Your Stinkin' Gadgets! Can you tell how I feel about single-use gadgets? Some of the stupidest ones to me are, in no particular order of hatred: an ice tea maker, a popcorn maker, a toaster oven (unless that is your substitute for an oven), an electric can opener. Being green means consuming less, buying less, and storing less. To be honest, my storage space is maxed out and I don't have many items! Ice tea maker: what's wrong with sun tea (cold water in a large Mason jar and a few teabags sitting in the sun a few hours)? Who uses a hot air popcorn maker anymore? A manual can opener has always worked well for me. To me, one of the greenest kitchen items I own is a George Foreman Grill®. I cook steaks, chicken breast, bratwursts, Italian sausages, quesadillas and even French toast on it! And I have the same one I've had for over four years now.

Use The Dishwasher. With the proper settings, this is the greenest way to clean dishes and to do so safely. Why do some people use the dishwasher as storage? Also, I try to only fill the sink once and that, like using the oven, takes some thinking and planning.