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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pop it like it's hot // low-waste snacking

Lately it seems like I am on the go non-stop. Between work, volunteering, house responsibilities and social commitments it's hard to find time to stop and relax. As social as I like to be, I'm an introvert at heart and sometimes I need some time alone, at home, to unwind and catch my breath.

Last weekend I took some time for myself and stayed home on a Friday night while Josh left to spend time with friends, always the extrovert. I finished a book (Goodnight June by Sarah Jio - highly recommend it), caught up on a few TV shows and spent some time writing, all while lounging in my pajamas.

When I find myself with a night at home by myself, I snack. A lot. Instead of eating a real meal, I find myself snacking on various things in the cupboard and fridge that need to be eaten before they go bad. But really, all of those things are just  accompaniment to my favorite snack to gorge on while alone at home - popcorn.

I love popcorn. I don't remember exactly when my obsession started, but looking back, it probably had to do with the fact that it was a family tradition to make popcorn and watch The Wonderful World of Disney on Friday nights. I distinctly remember watching my dad pop corn in the air popper and then drool while he added salt, melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese.

Fresh popping corn in its natural state
When I went to college, things didn't change much except for the fact that I didn't have an air popper so all I ate was microwave popcorn, coated with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" spray instead.

Of course eating junk food is part of any college student's diet, but had I known how unhealthy and wasteful my popcorn obsession was, I probably would have sought out a better alternative for my favorite snack.

Luckily, I've since become educated on the negative health impacts of microwave popcorn and the fake butter that I used generously. Not only that, but I also realized how wasteful microwave popcorn is. Sure, the box may be recyclable, but the plastic packaging each bag comes in, plus the bag itself, has to be thrown away afterward. And don't even get me started on all the kernels that don't pop or that burn and become inedible.

Lately I've been inspired by several zero waste bloggers who focus on reducing waste in their households, but especially their kitchens. It got me thinking about my snacking habits and how much packaging I produce in the process of getting my snack fix, especially popcorn.

The good news is, it's not much, so I thought I would share my favorite popcorn popping technique and recipes with you in the hopes that maybe it will inspire you to start making low- and zero-waste snack foods at home.

To get as close to zero waste as possible, I purchase my popcorn from the bulk bins at Winco or, if it's in season, from the farmer's market. Buying it in bulk is more convenient because the kernels have already been removed from the cob, but the popcorn that comes from the market is still on the cob so it's really fresh, not to mention fun to pop the kernels off! If you live in Portland near the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University, I highly recommend buying Sun Gold Farm's popping corn. Unfortunately it does come in a plastic bag but I have seen other vendors who sell it without plastic for a truly zero waste snack.

There are so many good ways to prepare popcorn that are easily found online but I thought I would share my two favorite recipes and my favorite popping method - no fancy popper or unusual ingredients to buy. The best part is that it takes about five minutes to prepare - about the same amount of time you'd spend preparing a bag of microwave popcorn, which makes it an easy substitution.

Popcorn in a Pot
[makes 1 quart, serves 1*]

You'll need:
  • 1 tablespoon oil of your choice (I use coconut oil)
  • 3 tablespoons popcorn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add a few kernels to the pot.
  2. Once the kernels start to pop, add the remaining kernels and shake the pot until they cover the bottom evenly. 
  3. Cover the pot and shake intermittently until the popping slows to 5 seconds between pops. 
  4. Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the stove and transfer the popcorn to a bowl.
  5. Sprinkle with salt immediately, tossing gently to coat. 

Curry Popcorn
Follow the instructions above and then add:

• 2 tsp curry powder
• 1 tsp cumin
• 1 tsp coriander
• 1 tsp tumeric
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 

Cajun Popcorn (spicy!)
Follow the instructions above and then add:

• 2 tsp smoked paprika
• 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
• 1/2 tsp chili powder
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

    Happy snacking!

    *Unless you're eating it with me. I always double this recipe and eat it all myself. 

    Thursday, April 2, 2015

    Our Second House-iversary!

    One of my favorite things to do is look at "before and after" photos of projects and home renovations on Apartment Therapy. I am continually impressed by the skills others have when improving an object or space, which is probably why I love to write about our house so much -- we're constantly moving between the "before" and "after" stages ourselves.

    As you can tell from the title of this post, Josh and I just passed the two-year mark in our house. And as you have seen before and will see more of below, we have transformed nearly every space in and outside our home.

    All along our primary motivating factor has been to make our home as comfortable, safe and functional as possible for our current and growing family. We have also known it would positively impact our home's value and therefore our ability to make a profit on its sale down the road, but that was secondary to how we would feel while living in it.

    Until now!

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Fermentation experimentation

    It's no exaggeration when I say that fermented foods changed my life. Four years ago I was sick and unhealthy, and had no idea that the problem was not only what I was eating, but what I wasn't eating. Thankfully, my nutritionist taught me that there was a solution, and that food can be a form of medicine.

    I've learned a lot about food since I started my journey to get healthy, but the most important lesson is the crucial role that fermented foods play in a healthy diet. Of course a healthy diet means something different for everyone, but through experience, I can tell you that if you don't have fermented foods in your diet, you're missing out.

    If you know my beer-loving, beer-brewing husband, you might think I'm talking about beer, but no, I am not talking about beer. Instead, I am talking about fermented vegetables.

    Thursday, March 12, 2015

    It's going down, I'm yelling efficient...

    Yes, I know Ke$ha wasn't referring to energy bills when she wrote that song, but for the past few months I have been actually cheering whenever our new electricity bill comes through because it keeps going down, down, down.

    From the moment we turned on our ductless heat pump last fall, we knew it was a smart decision to replace our old, inefficient wall heaters. I had forgotten what it felt like to be warm in our house during cold weather, so when I didn't need to wear multiple layers plus gloves to be warm, I was thrilled. And the warm, happy feelings kept coming month after month as we saw our heating bills go down while maintaining (or rather increasing) our comfort.

    Wednesday, March 4, 2015

    The Garden of Merrick: 2015 edition

    Despite our efforts to live a more relaxed and not so overly-planned life, we seem to be awfully busy. I'm not complaining, because the plans we have almost always involve spending time doing things we love, but I miss being away from our house so much. Thankfully, the clouds happened to part (literally) this past weekend and Josh and I found ourselves with a Saturday free of commitments. After a trip to the Portland Farmers Market for our weekly groceries, we decided to spend some time in our backyard, prepping for spring.