Saturday, November 26, 2011

Resurrecting the Pressure Cooker

If you grew up at a high altitude, you probably know all about pressure cookers. For the rest of us, they may be something you heard your Grandma talk about.  Pressure cookers are sealed vessels that won’t allow air or liquids to escape below a preset pressure. Because the boiling point of water increases as pressure increases, pressure cookers bring the liquid in the pot to rise to a higher temperature before boiling – and cook food …especially beans and grains that take a long time to cook a LOT faster. Soaked kidney beans will cook in less than 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Brown rice will cook in 12-15 minutes and artichokes in 10.  You can even cook meat and chicken in them. Think of all the energy..and time you’re saving by cutting down on the cooking time!
Using a pressure cooker is not rocket science, but there are some things you need to know to avoid a mess or even getting hurt.  This YouTube video gives a great overview, (even if the woman might be one of the Stepford wives).  I also found this very comprehensive timetable for the length of time to cook various foods.  I found my pressure cooker (one of the old ones with a manual pressure release valve) at a garage sale.  I’ve seen them for sale at Value Village and several thrift stores.  There are new and improved models on the market these days that are more straightforward to use..but don’t shy away from learning how to use one of the old models.  It’s not that complicated, and your friends will think you’re a really sophisticated cook! 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rethinking the water filter

For the last few years, I've dutifully filtered all the water we drink in the house.  Recently, I noticed green algae in the bottom of my plastic filtered water pitcher.  Ewww.  While, I realized I could stop this by keeping the pitcher in my frig, it got me wondering if I really need to filter my water.  I'm antiplastic, and here I am filtering my water through a plastic filter and storing my drinking water in a plastic pitcher.  While some Whole Foods will recycle used Brita filters, not all stores do.  Preserve will also recycle them, but I have to go to the Post Office to mail them in. These filters are only good for 3 months and they generate a lot of plastic over time. Alas, was I on an off-ramp on my road to a plastic free - or at least plastic-less life??

The Brita vs. Kishu Experiment

About the same time, I started hearing about binchotan- a white charcoal made of oak trees found in Japan that is used to filter water.  So, I bought a water sampling kit, a stick of  Kishu and put it to the test against my Brita.   The results: there was no detectable difference in the water quality. Hmmmm.
Living in a house that was built in the 1880's, I'm most concerned about lead in my water.  As I know charcoal filters only have limited ability to filter out lead, I bought a lead test kit, and found that the water that was coming RIGHT OUT OF MY TAP was below the EPA action level of 15ppm.  Yay!

Then, I interviewed my neighbor Carl, who works on water quality at EPA about his drinking water consumption.
  • You work at EPA on water quality issues, right? YUP,specifically drinking water quality issues and overseeing regulation of drinking water systems and Underground Injection Control (UIC) wells.
  • Do you filter the DC water that comes out of the faucets at your house? NOPE, no filter on faucets.
  • Why or why not?  I believe what bad stuff is likely to pass thru the DC treatment thru the distribution system to the house will not make me immediately sick (i.e, no acute effects), the closest contaminant of most concern to me is lead and I flush the sitting water out of the faucet before  using, and the pathogens and other chronic contaminants that were in the source water have been removed before reaching my faucet.  I'd be more cautious if young kids or old folks lived in the house.
So, I'm not sure whether I need a water filter at all. I am convinced that I don't need to buy Brita filters anymore, so I'm putting my pitchers up on Freecycle DC.  I'm not sure if I'll keep buying the Kishu or not (it's got quite the carbon footprint if it's shipped here from Japan)...but for now it looks cool in the bottom of my glass water pitchers and in a few months, I'll just throw it in the compost bin.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One of the 99%. How I Broke Up with My Mega Bank

So, I'm still on this theme...and I'm proud of myself as I really have broken up with my mega bank.  Here are the steps I followed:

1) I found a Credit Union I could join. (See my previous post...or check out this credit union locator).  Community Banks are another option, and this locator tool is great for identifying local banks...that really are local and invest in your neighborhood. I joined and established a new account.
2) I ordered new checks and an ATM card IMMEDIATELY as I knew having these would help me move any automatic deposits from your old account to my new one.
3) I moved SOME of the money over from my old account ...but not all as I wanted to make sure that there were funds available for any automatic withdrawals that might hit before I'd had a chance to move all my accounts over. Even after making the change in accounts, it can take a few days or even a week before the changes take effect.
4) Then, I made a  list of all the automatic withdrawals that come out of my old bank account.  I did an initial list and then put it on the back burner for a day or two to make sure I had all accounts covered.  (Think mortgage, water, gas, electric, cable, card...charible may have more than you think.  In a worse case scenario, missing one payment won't mess up your credit rating...but if you get e-statements, pay attention and make sure no payments are being missed.)
5) I started moving accounts over. This can be a tedious process that requires yoga breaths and intermittent sojourns to the outdoors.  "You are doing the right thing" became my mantra. You can transfer many accounts on line..but some - like Washington Gas...still require the old voided check...and it took a while to get new checks for my new account.
6) I monitored automatic withdrawals from my new account.  When I saw that all major utilities and my mortgage were being deducted, I proudly walked into a local branch of my mega bank and announced that I wanted to close my account.  The bank employees (who I really like) asked why...and I told them that I didn't want to pay their fees.  Check out:
7) I cut up my old card and sent it back to the mega bank headquarters explaining that I was closing my account and why. 

Green America has a great toolkit for breaking up with your mega bank.  Do it!