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Archive for January, 2008

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Now that we’ve been thinking greener for a while, I thought it would be interesting to find out what kind of an impact our lifestyle has on the planet. Using a carbon footprint calculator, I plugged in all sorts of information about our family from the number of kilowatt hours of electricity we use every year to whether we own a motorcycle or if we’re vegetarians. The calculator figures out the impact of human activities on the planet by calculating the amount of greenhouse gases we produce in our daily lives. It measures the impact in tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

You can see how we did above: 11.5 tonnes, which I was very happy to see was below the Canadian average but still far above the ideal world average, which would be two tonnes. There is a lot we could do to reduce our footprint, such as turning down our thermostat, reducing our water temperature by a degree or two, eating less meat, and one I really want to look into — recycling our grey water.

I’m going to check back in at the end of the year and see if our footprint has shrunk.

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Want to leave a legacy your family will never, ever forget?

How about letting the funeral home that cremates your body use the heat from burning you up to heat the room where your funeral is being held? That’s what a funeral director in England is proposing to his customers.  “It is a generous gesture,” he says.

You can read all about it at mediamatinquebec, the newspaper being put out by locked-out journalists at the Journal de Québec, Quebec City’s daily tabloid. The labour dispute began last April but they have been putting together this newspaper every day.

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 We’ve toyed with vegetarianism over the years. Sick of meat, we launch into delicious veggies, legumes, tofu,  eggs and even texturized vegetable protein for a few weeks. But we always slide back into meat eating, either with a hamburger or some crispy slabs of bacon. Or a big juicy steak from The Keg.

Our flip-flopping on food was in my mind as I read this piece in the Globe and Mail. The author, from the Vancouver Humane Society, argues that we should reduce our meat consumption in order to reduce the impact of climate change. He’s not saying go veggie, just eat less red meat.

The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the scientists who won the Nobel Prize) recently called on us meat-eaters to cut back on eating meat by 10 per cent, use bikes and stop shopping for the sake of shopping.

Well, our Christmas credit card bills continue to roll in, so that’s put a big damper on the shopping. Our bikes are packed away for the winter, but we are walking more. So I think it’s time we look at the meat question.

In the past week we’ve eaten meat almost every day. Mostly chicken, but there was some lamb and a meal of pork chops. One thing we eat very rarely is beef and that’s because the sight of a big slab of raw beef turns me right off cooking. It makes me think of flesh, which I know all meat is, but there’s just something about the raw beef that brings it home every time.

We can’t all be like British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who adores meat and is always suggesting to cook it way rarer than I could ever consider eating it. In her latest cookbook, Nigella Express, she recounts how she tells restaurant staff how she’d like her meat cooked. No rare or medium for her: “I tell them just to hit it on the head and walk it straight through.”

Bring on the vegetables.

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Our quest to leave our car in the driveway to reduce our family’s contribution to climate change continues.

I’ve learned it takes excellent organizational abilities, superior time-management capabilities and the skills of a cultural animator to persuade some people in my family that taking a wagon, or God forbid, walking, is a fun way to get where we’re going.

So far walking has gotten us late to school (once only) and to yoga class, but I figure the 20 minute walk made up for the first few minutes of the missed class.

But I’ve decided that we are going to not use the car for trips under one kilometer, which covers school and most after-school activities. In a one-kilometer radius of our house there are grocery stores, pharmacies, a coffee shop, bakeries, a dollar store, a bank and an excellent Italian butcher shop. 

We are definitely going against the flow on this one. New research by Statistics Canada found nearly 69 per cent of Canadians travel everywhere by car. The number is a bit lower in Montreal — 66 per cent — which experts attribute to the fact that Montreal is a high-density city and we live closer to the places we need to go.

Maybe we’re just afraid to walk. According to this story in the Montreal Gazette, increased traffic in the city is causing everything from miscarriages to cyclists being hit by cars to increased hospitalizations for respiratory problems.

There are four bus routes within a five minute walk from our house, but really, I’d much rather walk. At least with walking you know approximately when you’ll get there, which I wish was true for travelling with the STM. One of our local bus routes is totally unpredictable. The bus is almost always late, if it even shows up.

It takes a new way of thinking to get things done this way. You have to take into account the slow walking of a five-year-old. But on the upside we are having much better conversations than when we’re in the minivan, separated by three rows of seats and a radio that is always on. And it’s excellent exercise.

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Remember waaaay back in the early 1990s?

Brian Mulroney was still the Prime Minister, the Northern Pikes were all over MuchMusic (remember She Ain’t Pretty?), and the environment was hot, hot, hot. But in a good way, not a climate-change-is-warming-the-planet kind of way.

It seems our love of things retro has brought the environment back as a hot topic, at least for university applicants. This story says environmental studies are popular with graduating high school students, and several Ontario universities are creating new programs just for them. 

Somebody play Spirit of the West’s Save this House.

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As part of our family’s quest for a greener lifestyle, I’ve been baking a lot of bread.  Like most people, we love our carbs, but I don’t really like the long list of ingredients on the whole-grain breads we’ve been buying at the supermarket. Sodium Stearoyl-2-lactylate anyone?

We have a bread machine, which takes a lot of the work and the mess out of bread baking. Apologies to bread purists, but we have to take some shortcuts sometimes! I dump all the ingredients in ours and set it on the dough cycle to mix it all up and let it rise. Then I take it out, shape it into a loaf, let it rise again and bake it. Delicious.

There are a few good breads in our collection: a basic whole-wheat, a whole-wheat cinnamon raisin, and our family’s favourite healthy grain bread. But we had a hankering for something different, so before Christmas I got some advice from a bread-baking friend. He suggested sourdough, which I thought would be a great change in the bread department.

I remember my mom having sourdough starter on the kitchen counter when we were kids and her baking it into bread. So I threw together some flour, water and two grains of yeast and let it ferment away. The first batch worked out well, once I scraped off some pinkish stuff that seemed to be growing on top. After four days, it baked up into a couple of loaves of bread that had a tiny sourdoughish flavour.

Then I forget to “feed” the starter — which means to add more water and flour, so it basically shrivelled up over the Christmas holidays. My second attempt turned black so I abandoned that one. I’m going to do some sourdough research and try again, but in the meantime, I’ve got a nice fresh loaf of whole-wheat on the kitchen counter, just waiting to be made into delicious sandwiches for lunch.

And not a speck of Calcium Propionate.

Here’s the recipe:

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup carrots (chopped or grated)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup bran flakes
2 tbsp wheat germ
1 cup unbleached flour
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
2 tsp bread machine yeast

Add ingredients to bread machine in order listed. Choose whole grain setting & back, or choose dough setting to shape your own loaf.

Makes 1 loaf.

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Bac de recyclage design - Le contenant vert classique a fait son temps à Montréal

The city of Montreal has chosen a new recycling tool to help people who live in apartment buildings recycle better. The new reusable bins have handles, close at the top and are apparently easier to carry up and down stairs than the current green bins.

 You can read a story about the new bins here .

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