The .001 Mile Diet (Day 77)…

May 16, 2007

herb garden

It doesn’t get more local than my balcony, which I’ve just adorned with a cute little herb box full of mint (as I’m not chewing gum anymore), lemon balm (because I miss not having lemons), basil (risky, I know), swiss chard (even riskier) and an organic cherry tomato plant (totally not going to happen, I don’t know why I even bought it).

I got the wooden box and brackets from Home Depot and some soil from the corner store (I meant to get some Woop! but forgot), then planted away. Unfortunately, I have no idea what I’m doing; my thumbs are the opposite of green — so, basically, red. I have red thumbs. By the time I finally crammed all five plants in, there was dirt all over my arms, pants, my two chairs, the floor and surely on the balcony below me. Even my cat looked unimpressed (then again, cats always look unimpressed).

Anyway, feel free to comment below about how my herbs will never survive. I can handle it. In the mean time, however, when it comes to flavouring my home cooking, I’m officially restricting myself to using only these balcony bits and whatever other spices I still have in my pantry (let me check: dried oregano, cinnamon, celery seed, garam masala, fenugreek, turmeric, cayenne pepper and ground coriander … I like curry, OK?). The logic is that if I can grow it on my balcony, I don’t need to buy entire bushels of it from the grocery store, which have surely been driven there by truck.

But if any of them die, you’re going to have to cut me some slack and let me try again, maybe with something like parsley instead of a friggin’ tomato plant. And I’ll gladly take any suggestions for which herbs and vegetables thrive the best in confined, smoggy and mostly shady places.

Loose-leaf tea leaves more leaves on trees (Day 69)…

May 8, 2007


Whenever I’m hungover — which is totally rare; the last time was probably yesterday a couple years ago — the only substance my stomach will accept is tea. Everyone has a different hangover routine, whether it’s a greasy breakfast, hair of the dog or just plenty of water. But the absolute only thing I can keep down is tea. It’s my ultimate, all-purpose elixir.

So when I realized that I might be hitting the bars this weekend but had finished all my boxes of Sleepytime, green pomegranate and good old-fashioned English Breakfast tea, I thought the most eco-friendly thing to do would be to abandon the plastic and paper packaging of the regular brands and invest in refillable packs of the loose-leaf variety, as well as buy a stainless steel infuser so I wouldn’t require disposable tea bags.

I also supported a new local business just around the corner from my building. Tealish, owned by a charming young couple with very white teeth who loved that I brought my own tote bag, has over 130 different types of premium and fair-trade loose-leaf, including green, black, white, Oolong, herbal and Rooibos, as well as shelves of gorgeous merch (it took all my frugal will power not to buy an $85 pot-and-cups set) and a menu offering iced tea, tea smoothies and Matcha tea lattes.

Of course, if I happen to be out at a café, I’m not going to demand that the wait staff serve me loose-leaf tea (although I will demand they serve it to me in a mug or thermos instead of a paper cup), but from now on, all the tea I brew at home will be unrefined, unconfined and ultimately give me peace of mind.

Canadian whine (Day 55)…

April 24, 2007

rieslingAt some point in my drinking life — between swigging my last bottle of Zinfandel at university and sipping my first Pinot Noir at some overpriced resto-lounge — my parents gave me some invaluable advice: always abide by the ABC rule of wine: Anything But Chardonnay. Sure enough, the one time I broke the rule and tried a glass, it was so revolting I actually thought it was corked; but no, apparently, it’s supposed to taste like you’re licking mouldy wood chips.

I’ve always thought, however, that the letter “C” in the ABC rule could also stand for Canadian, because our vineyards are pretty much useless, other than maybe for ice wine, which frankly I don’t get — I mean, we already have stuff to pour on our pancakes.

As of late, however, I’ve been tentatively sipping a few here and there with some positive results; enough so that I’m officially ready to restrict my wine intake to what’s grown, produced and cellared here in Ontario.

My personal favourites so far include: For white wine, Cave Spring‘s dry Riesling; for red, 20 Bees Baco Noir or Cab-Merlot; for rosé, the Grange in Prince Edward County is where it’s at, although it requires a special order or a road trip to get; and for sparkling, well, I might be in trouble.

See, my dad splurged on Veuve for our annual Christmas lunch back in December and, ever since, I’ve found the taste of cheaper sparkling wines too artificial (Ed. note: clearly this is all in my head, which is clouded with oenophile pretension; I blame the French), so chances are I’ll abandon the bubbly entirely until my challenge is over, then I can blow all my savings on real champagne.

None of the above wines are certified organic, but most of the ones that are come in Tetra Paks, and although they can apparently be recycled, I’ve read that this isn’t always the case — plus, I’ll take the sound of a cork popping any day over the sound of a cap seal being twisted off an over-sized juice box.

The few organic wines that do come in bottles are usually from Australia or New Zealand, and buying these will weigh me down with too much carbon guilt. Besides, I’ve been to the Niagara region, and I know the vineyards there aren’t being run with some Mondavi-esque, Big Wine mentality — if anything, they’re being run by people with way too many lawn ornaments — so with that in mind, I say, organic shmorganic. Bring on the local!

P.S. Friends, neighbours and coworkers: This does not mean I want any of that homemade wine you have sitting in your basement. I’m not that desperate. Yet.

Thankfully, I’m already a choco-snob (Day 49)…

April 18, 2007


Until a couple years ago, my tastes in chocolate fell into the shameful realm of Snickers bars, Lindt balls and those sickly sweet Pot of Gold nubbins — especially the orange ganaches everyone but me always gags on. But then I interviewed British food critic and author Jay Rayner, who gave me a real truffle that he’d brought on the plane with him from London’s L’Artisan du Chocolat, and after five seconds of such heady, silken chocolate perfection, I could barely ask him anything other than, “HOW DO I GET MORE OF THIS?”

Since then, I’ve managed to sate my cocoa cravings with help from the fine chocolatiers at SOMA, who make a to-die-for Arbequina estate olive oil dark Venezuelan truffle cone and an eight-year-old balsamic vinegar dark chocolate cylindrical truffle — a bit of a mouthful trying to order them, but nothing compared to the mouthful of sheer bliss they melt into.

Occasionally, I’ll cave in and run to the 7-11 next to my apartment for a quickie with Nestle, but as eco-nerds know, Big Chocolate can be a big problem when it comes to the environment and fair labour. So from now on, I’m only eating local and/or fair-trade certified chocolate — if I can do both at once and make it organic to boot, all the better, but I’m not about to turn my nose up at SOMA or turn down the Green & Black’s Easter Egg my mom bought for me (it beats Cadbury’s Creme Egg any day).

For variety, I can always poke around Choco-Sol, JS Bonbons and Bernard Callebaut. But then again, when I’ve already found my ambrosia — in cone form at that! — why bother?

Photo courtesy of Inkygirl on Flickr

Just a hops, keg and a pump from home (Day 46)…

April 15, 2007

mill streetI was hoping to put off any green changes involving precious, precious alcohol until later in the game, but because Toronto happens to have two great micro-breweries — Steamwhistle and Mill Street — I’m going to limit my beer intake to these local brands, both within cycling distance of my apartment.

Now, when it comes to which is best, it’s hard to say. Steamwhistle boasts of its natural ingredients, which include “2-row malted barley from Saskatchewan, a selection of three imported German hops and yeast from the Swiss company Herlemann.” But it also trucks in Crystal Springs water every week — would using Toronto’s finest really screw up the flavour that much?

Well, OK, it probably would. But they could surely create some sort of large-scale, in-house water filter to do the trick, no?

Then there’s Mill Street, which obviously takes the lead with their Original Organic Lager, a 100% all-natural brew that contains no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.


But it also uses imported organic Hallertau Hops from New Zealand, which is a lot further from Toronto than Germany, where Steamwhistle gets its hops, and a brewer’s malt from Briess Organics, which is organic, kosher and apparently a “certified woman-owned business,” but is based in the U.S. — it would have been nice to see a Canadian-sourced ingredient somewhere in the mix.

I think the only answer here is to drink both beers, in mass quantities, until I’m too sozzled to care about which hops is tops.

Photos stolen while under the influence from Steamwhistle and Mill Street.

Happy Meat (Day 41)…

April 10, 2007


I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with vegetarianism since university, mostly aligning myself with the Peter Singer school of thought. I usually cave when there’s a bottle of beer in my hand and chicken wings on the table, or a glass of shiraz in my hand and filet mignon on the menu, but that’s pretty much it. I haven’t had pork in over a decade — watching the trucks full of innocent piglets turn into the abattoir on my way to work every morning (yes, for some reason there’s a slaughterhouse in downtown Toronto) makes me cry inside, plus I’ve always maintained that pig tastes like human … I know, I know, I’ve never tasted human, but just consider this next time you sink your teeth into a pork chop or ham sandwich and you will totally know what I mean.

But while I don’t want animals to suffer, I do believe in small-scale, family-operated farms with cows grazing in the fields and chickens running around spacious coops; animals who are slaughtered quickly and humanely without being transported long distances and made to walk up ramps with the smell of death everywhere. I think it’s natural to eat eggs and dairy too, as long as it’s hormone-free and not genetically modified.

My family has always tried, whenever possible, to get what we affectionately call “happy meat” — that being of the free-range, preferably organic and local variety (actually, there’s a farmer across the pond who calls it this, too). My parents have a great relationship with the cute boys down the street at Oliffe, and I always try to stop by The Healthy Butcher or Cumbrae’s. But I don’t even eat very much meat to begin with (probably only once every week, tops) because I understand its toll on the environment, from the methane to the land required for not only the animals but their feed — on a side note: there’s a fantastic documentary coming out soon called King Corn, which will make the most die-hard Big Mac addict swear off corn-fed beef for good.

So to make a long story short (too late): I’m officially restricting myself to free-range, hormone-free and, when it comes to the cows, grass-fed meat. I’ll also make an extra effort to see that it’s local. In terms of fish, I’ll ensure it’s not farmed and not endangered, but that’s about it for now. And no exceptions to any of the above for restaurants.

Most Disturbing Photo Ever from tombland at Flickr

And I’m free… freecycling (Day 24)…

March 24, 2007


I just joined the Freecycle Network and this morning gave away some lotions and potions I wasn’t using to a lovely gentleman who happened to live nearby. He needed a gift for his wife, as it’s her birthday today, and wanted to go beyond the breakfast-in-bed thing.

It took no time to sign up, then all I did was post what I was offering, wait a few hours, and there it was: an e-mail in my inbox asking when it could be picked up. He called to arrange a time and place, we met, shook hands, made the exchange and that was it.

As they point out, for the system to work, it can’t just be approached as a way to get free crap. Instead, it should be looked at as “a place to give or receive what you have and don’t need, or what you need and don’t have — a free cycle of giving, which keeps stuff out of landfills.”

Of course I’ll still drop off clothes and other things at Goodwill every now and then, but Freecycle is a great alternative for stuff that falls somewhere between thrift stores and Craigslist.