Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five-minute bread

This simple bread recipe comes from the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois. The book is a great guide to fitting homemade bread into busy lives.

Basic bread
(these quantities can be cut in half for a half batch)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 ½ tablespoons regular yeast
1 to 1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt (the recipe calls for 1 ½ but I have cut it back
6 ½ cups whole white or white flour (one cup can be whole wheat or multigrain)

• Warm the water slightly (to a little warmer than body temperature). Add the yeast and salt to the water. Give it a stir and add the flour, mixing until it is completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a wet, shaggy dough.

• Scrape it into a plastic, food grade container with a lid and let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours. By this time it’s ready to use but the dough will be easier to work with once it has been refrigerated for a while.

• You can either bake the bread on a pizza stone (recommended for best results) or on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

• Sprinkle an un-sided cookie sheet with cornmeal (so it will slide easily onto the pizza stone).

• To make your bread, sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, and pull up and cut off a grapefruit-sized clump of dough. Shape it into to a ball by gently stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (You can add a little more flour as needed during this, so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands). It should take less than a minute to shape.

• Set the ball on the cornmeal-covered cookie sheet and let it sit for 40 minutes (You can cover it at this point, but it isn’t necessary).

• Twenty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 450 with the pizza stone placed on the middle rack.

• When you’re ready to bake the dough, dust the top lightly with flour and slash it with a serrated knife (only a surface cut).

• Slide the dough onto the pizza stone (if using) or place the cookie sheet in the oven. On a lower rack place a baking pan filled with a cup of hot water. (This creates steam that helps a nice crust form).

• Bake for 30 minutes and cool on a rack.

A loaf of bread shouldn't be immortal

I have always thought that making your own bread is the kitchen equivalent of living off-grid. Not only does it feel like the ultimate in self sufficiency, there is great satisfaction in creating something so fundamental with our own hands. And few things are more delicious or comforting than a slice of still-warm bread spread with a bit of butter. If you need convincing to give it a try there are other reasons to consider making your own bread, especially if you eat it a lot.

You may have noticed that much regular grocery store bread can sit on the counter a very long time without a hint of mould. You might also have noticed that the ingredient list for bought bread is a lot longer than the traditional water, flour, yeast and salt. A variety of engineered sugars and preservatives have turned your average loaf of bread into an immortal foodstuff. Even the wholesome-looking loaves at in-store bakeries can be packed full of a dozen or more additives.

Bread should be a very nutritional food. After all, stone ground flour has a substantial protein content, B vitamins and lots of fibre. But unless your bread says 100% whole grain chances are it’s made from refined white flour that nutritionally isn’t much different, or better, than white sugar.

Independent bakeries usually have healthier bread, especially if they bake from scratch with stone ground flour (look for the Speerville Flour Mill sign or ask if they use Speerville flour, or another stone ground product).

I dislike processed foods loaded with additives and rarely get to independent bakeries so make a lot of bread. It’s one of those things that, once you’re in the habit doesn’t seem like a big deal. But I know for most the idea of making your own bread can be as daunting as it is appealing.

Making bread the traditional way, that is. Happily I recently came across a method for making homemade bread that is as simple as baking cookies. It’s from the book titled “Artisan bread in five minutes a day”, a practical, easy-to-follow guide to making traditional loaves in a non-traditional way: no proofing the yeast, no kneading, no punching down. While some if the tasks of traditional bread making are gratifying in their own way, you need time to take pleasure in the process.

This five-minute method is simple: Mix up the dough (yeast, salt, flour and water), leave it in the fridge for up to 10 days. To make your bread, clip off a grapefruit-sized clump of dough, shape it into to a ball, sit it on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 40 minutes then bake it for about half an hour. There are many variations but the principle of simplicity is always the same.

If making homemade bread is on your bucket list, or if you’d simply like to be more self sufficient, search out this book, or visit my blog for the basic recipe and method. (www.bridgetsgreenliving.blogspot.com)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Treat water like a precious resource (because it is!)

When I was in grade six my teacher asked who in the class left the water running while brushing their teeth. I can’t recall my answer but I do remember that the idea of wasting water was quite a revelation. That was in the late 1970’s. Thirty some years later a considerable number of Canadians continue to view clean water as a bottomless resource (and leave the tap running while they brush their teeth).

Canadians in general take our abundance of clean water for granted and it’s that laissez-faire attitude that puts this precious resource most at risk. Although we hold seven percent off the world’s renewable freshwater (and some 20 percent of fresh water overall) this resource is threatened every day. Climate change is impacting our fresh water stores as glaciers melt and weather patterns change. Industry uses vast amounts of fresh water and often pollutes rivers and groundwater. Many scientists, those who understand best the real threat of water scarcity, believe the government is doing little to protect our fresh water from pollution, overuse and bulk exporting.

Then there is your average Canadian who uses the resource with abandon. The average Canadian's water usage is 125,000 litres of water per person per year and New Brunswickers on average use 152,000 litres. (The average European uses 73,000 litres.)

Are you curious where you net out for water use? There are a couple of online tools that help you calculate your water footprint, highlight the real water hogs in your household and provide tips on how to reduce your usage.

Environment Canada has an online calculator that takes about three minutes to complete. You click through questions ranging from how many washes you do a week to whether or not you water your lawn. The final tally shows your usage alongside your provincial average and the national average. www.on.ec.gc.ca/reseau/watercalculator

If you want to see real-time where you use the most water and how changes to your daily habits can impact your overall score visit http://goblue.zerofootprint.net/. This simple tool helps measure your water use in the yard, the kitchen, laundry, and in the bathroom, and recalculates on the fly so you can see what a difference changing to low flow toilets or shortening your showers can make to your annual consumption.

We can all cut our household water use, simply by making small changes in our everyday life:

• Take shorter showers (5 min or less).

• Don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth.

• Install low flow shower heads and faucet aerators, which can cut your sink and shower water usage nearly in half.

• Choose water efficient appliances like front-loading washing machines and low flow toilets.

• Keep a jug of drinking water in the fridge rather than letting your tap run to get cold water.

• Let Mother Nature wash your car and water your lawn. Or, to water your gardens or lawn set up a rain barrel to collect rainwater. (Hardware stores carry the necessary supplies.) If you do water with a sprinkler, remember that oscillating sprinklers lose as much as 50% of what they disperse through evaporation.

Make sure water conservation crosses your mind when you shower, flush and turn on the garden hose this summer.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

LUSH henna hair dye...today I test

A good friend with the most gorgeous hair has been telling me about LUSH, an earthy company that makes natural henna hair dye. I bought a couple of bocks when I was last in Montreal (you can buy it online too) and have set aside the morning to give it a try.

This is what it looks like:
I have a lot of grey and after reading up on some of the possible effects of henna on grey ("...the grey bits will sparkle bright red amongst the darker hairs.") I decided to be a little less caviler and do a strand test on a lock of hair than can be hidden away if there is too much sparkle.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Your greenwashing guide

In this season of spring cleaning a posting on green washing is timely. Although green washing isn’t an eco-friendly sort of cleaning. It's a wool-over-your-eyes sort of marketing intended to dupe consumers with eco-friendly intentions into buying green-sounding products and services.

Green washing is when companies deliberately mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product or service. These claims make companies and products more appealing to consumers who are trying to make better choices. The term was coined by Terra Choice, an environmental marketing company that for the past few years has published a report about the state of “green” product marketing in Canada.

According to Terra Choice there were 73% more “green” products on the market in 2010 than there were in 2009. This is great news since companies are responding to increased consumer demand for more eco-friendly products and services. But it also means that it is more challenging than ever to separate the good from the not so good. To help consumers find their way among the “green” sounding products available today Terra Choice publishes “The sins of green washing”, a guide of sorts that points out what to beware of when you’re scouting eco-friendly products.

Below are two of the more common of the seven “sins” of green washing identified by Terra Choice:

The Sin of no proof - This is when products make claims that are not substantiated or supported by credible third-party certification. Product labels aren’t regulated so companies can pretty much claim what they want. Credible certification programs are the only way to back up these claims.

The Sin of Vagueness - The best example of this is when a product (usually a personal care product) claims to be all natural. Many toxic compounds are natural but certainly not “green” including the examples given by Terra Choice like arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde. In this case consumers and companies have very different definitions of “all natural”.

Here are some tips to help you make more informed decisions when you’re looking to buy eco-friendly products and services:

Rely on legitimate eco certification labels. The EcoLogo symbol is a trusted and recognized certification program for everything from cleaning products to paint. Green Seal is another. If a product doesn’t back up its claim of being eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, green, or earth-friendly then there is a good chance they’re simply riding the green wave of popularity. You’re better off choosing a product that’s certified.

For food, the packaging must state “Certified organic” to be truly organic. Any other use of the word organic is meaningless. The term “organic” is also meaningless outside of the food and botanicals spheres.

Certified organic botanicals in personal care products are great but don’t lose sight of how safe the other ingredients are (or aren’t).

For more information on green washing and credible certification standards and labels visit http://www.sinsofgreenwashing.org/