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live and eat

January 26, 2010

Recently, I had been giving serious consideration to starting an indoor compost bin. When I brought up this idea of introducing 1000 or so worms into the apartment, there were 2 questions raised: will it stink? And what would I do with the compost? The first issue, I found, could be avoided by poking sufficient air holes into the compost container, and only putting in non-rotting organic matter (including rinsed egg shells and toilet paper cores). But as for the second question..well, I’m simply stumped. Perhaps I could use the compost for the indoor vegetable garden I’ll never have time to tend? I realize that I’m easily taken with new ecological ventures, but in this case there is no practical application, at least not right now. I learned in Derrick Jensen’s What We Leave Behind that our system of waste management either dumps waste products into landfills where they are completely covered and unable to biodegrade or incinerates them along with toxic wastes. In either case, the nutrients that could be given back to the ecosystem are destroyed once they land in the trash bin. I can’t help but feel a little mournful that some of the things I throw away that could give nutrients and life to other beings are instead locked or burned away. On a macroscopic scale, this is depressing.

This winter has been fairly tame, but even as the temperature dips back into the 20s, my furnace doesn’t make a squeak. Last month’s gas bill was $15, and I’m aiming for lower this month. This is because being by myself at the apartment, I found it quite silly to heat so many rooms that I wasn’t using. So I turned off my heater and put a small space heater by my feet. This gave moderate warmth, but I found that my upper body was still chilly. So I put on more clothes and gradually realized that I was warm enough, even without the space heater. The trick, I have found, is in the layering. My personal combination for optimal warmth and comfort is such: 2 sweaters (both fairly insulating, or 1 thin and 1 thicker), 1 light/medium weight jacket, 2 bottom layers (long johns plus sweatpants), and 2 pairs of socks. At first it felt a bit cumbersome to wear so many layers indoors, but after a while it simply became normal. This article in the New York Times gives an intriguing perspective on cold living. My main consideration in this process was the financial benefit, but it’s also beautiful to think that I’m in the same unadulterated air as the critters outside.

My study habits have erred on the lax side lately, but I had a serious itch to cook yesterday. I had some vegetables on hand and made a big batch of wild rice soup. No recipe was used, but the components were roughly 3 carrot stocks, ~ 1 pound of celery, 1 onion, ~ 1 cup wild rice, 6 baby portabellas, spices (2 bay leaves, salt and pepper). The vegetables were roughly chopped and sautéed, then mushrooms were added and covered with ~2 quarts water. The rice was rinsed and added, then let to boil for about an hour. The result was hearty, flavorful, and highly recommended.

The other week I made this cake for a gathering with good results, but the large amount of butter in the recipe made the cake a bit dense when chilled, and the fat content was unsettling. I’d read from several sources that substituting butter for applesauce 1 to 1 is fine in cakes, but when I attempted the substitution in this recipe, the result was a gelatinous glob. So I looked for a recipe that specifically used applesauce as an ingredient, and found this one to be a winner. My measurements weren’t precise, using only 2 unseparated eggs and halving the sugar, but the result was a delicate, moist and spongy cake. I made two cakes and cut each in half, filling each layer with a chocolate ganache (8 ounces 70% cacao chocolate, 8 ounces cream – though I’d like to try skim milk next time), 1 pound total of sliced strawberries, and 1 pint total of whipped cream. Though each individual component has little sugar, they combine to create a soft, balanced sweetness. I credit the delicate texture to the applesauce, which can be easily made from scratch by peeling, coring, and slicing ~3 pounds (or any number of pounds really) of apples and covering them 2/3 to the top with water to boil for about 20 minutes, then puréed.

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