Zero waste cooking scorecard: peach cobbler

Peach season is winding down at this point, so if you are interested in making this recipe, get to it quickly! I actually made this twice already because we liked it so much the first time. It all started when I saw a cardboard basket of peaches at Trader Joe’s for a better price than the loose peaches. Not the greener option…but my frugal side won out in this case. As soon as I got home, I started researching recipes for peach pie. Since I’m not a very experienced baker, I quickly abandoned that pursuit in favor of the lazy baker’s dessert – cobbler.

I used this recipe from Southern Living. While reading through the instructions, I thought for sure that something was wrong, as it called for putting down the batter and then the peaches. Was this like a pineapple upside-down cake, where the dish would need to be flipped at the end? Luckily, someone explained in the comments that the peaches would sink and the batter would rise during the baking process, so I stuck to the recipe pretty closely.

First, I heated the oven to 375°. I chopped up a half cup of unsalted butter (one stick, in this case) and put it in a 9″x13″ pan, then popped the pan into the oven while it preheated to melt the butter.


Meanwhile, I chopped 5 peaches into thin slices. I also measured 3/4 cup of sugar (reduced from the recipe), and about a tablespoon of lime juice (although the original recipe called for lemon). I actually forgot to save limes for this recipe, so I ended up squeezing the remaining juice out of a few lime slices, which worked pretty well!


The peach slices, sugar, and lime juice got mixed together in a small pot that I brought to boiling. I mixed the peaches for a few minutes, stirring fairly frequently.


While the peaches were cooking, I mixed 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar (also reduced from the recipe), 1 tbsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Once they were combined, I added in 1 cup milk and stirred just until mixed. The batter then got poured over the melted butter in the baking pan.


Finally, I topped the batter with the cooked peach mixture. Again, the peaches sunk during the baking process, so even though it looked weird at this point, it turned out well.


I put the baking pan in the oven and let it bake for ~40 minutes. Towards the end, I checked the cobbler every couple of minutes. When the edges were starting to brown and the middle was a golden color, I pulled it out of the oven.


As you can see, the batter did rise!

We got eight servings out of this dish, each served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It was the quintessential summer dessert.


+/- The butter came in a cardboard box and each stick was wrapped in paper. From what I’ve read, this doesn’t seem like an easily avoidable situation. At least I’m no longer buying foil-wrapped butter.

+/- Both times I made this, I bought the peaches in bulk to get a better price. Unfortunately, this meant that they came in packaging. The first time, they came in a cardboard basket that I reused for other counter-ripening produce for the next few weeks, and then recycled. The second time, they again came in a cardboard box, but there was a plastic bottom for keeping the peaches separated, which I unfortunately didn’t think about until after the purchase.

+ The flour and sugar came wrapped in paper.

– The baking powder, which I’ve had forever, is in a paper canister with a metal top/bottom and plastic lid. The inside seems to have a metallic lining, so I’m guessing it’s not recyclable.

+ The salt is in a huge cardboard box that lasts a long time. It was actually in my parents’ kitchen before they moved, so we’ve really gotten a lot of use out of it.

+/- The first time I made this, I used milk that came in a returnable glass bottle. The second time I had to resort to a plastic container, as I’ve had a hard time finding glass milk bottles locally.

+ I squeezed real limes for the juice, and actually reused limes the second time around (mostly out of desperation).

– The ice cream we served the cobbler with came in a standard ice cream carton, which is not recyclable.

+ I used a large beeswax wrapper to cover the pan when it went in the fridge rather than plastic wrap.

As I try to go zero-waste, I’m cooking more and more items from scratch. This was one of those instances where I would have simply bought a pie in the past, but chose instead to make the dessert on my own. So, there was no box, disposable pie pan, etc. wasted in this process. And, I actually think it tasted better than most store-bought desserts that I’ve had lately, although I’m probably biased. I’d highly recommend this recipe and might try to squeeze in a third round myself before peaches are out of season.

Monthly charity challenge: My plan to cut back personal spending and share with others

If you read my August purchases summary from earlier this week, you might remember that one of the things I resolved to do was donate more to charity. I’ve been thinking about this ever since and came up with an idea that I’m pretty excited about.

My plan is to identify a charity to donate to each month, and save up money throughout that month by mindfully setting aside funds that would have otherwise been spent on myself or my family. I suppose this is partly inspired by One Dollar Diet Project, which I just stumbled upon this week. If you don’t already know about it, way back in 2008, a couple decided to allocate themselves each $1 daily for food in order to understand the effects of a (very) small food budget. Over the course of the month-long challenge, people who read their blog donated over $1000 that went to a local food bank.

I’m not planning anything on that scale. Instead, I’m hoping to cut back on my own purchases in order to benefit others whose needs are much greater. So, my plan is to not purchase certain items, keep track of money I would have spent on them, and donate that amount to the designated charity at the end of the month.

This month, I’m going to focus on one of my pain points from August – money spent on our dog. He already has pretty much everything he needs, but we always seem to find more things to buy him. For the remainder of September, whenever I am tempted to spend money on him, I will instead earmark those funds for the adoption group that we got him from, ARF Aruba. Obviously, if there is something he needs desperately (like a vet visit or medicine), I’ll make an exception. At the end of the month, I will donate however much I’ve saved up to ARF Aruba (or $100, whichever is greater). I know that the money will be much more appreciated by the dogs in need than it will by my increasingly spoiled dog!


“What do you mean, no new toys this month?”

I already have ideas for the upcoming months and will be checking in with my progress every so often here. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Tracking shopping habits: August summary, part 2

At the end of July, I made the decision to track all of my purchases in a google spreadsheet. This includes all grocery purchases, dining out/takeout costs, and non-food purchases. Part 1 focused specifically on groceries. This part covers all of the other expenses I tracked during the month.

Halfway through the month, I was patting myself on the back for the low number of non-food purchases that I’d made so far. It turns out that I was a little premature in that celebration, as my purchases quickly ballooned after that. Looking back on the purchases, I’m not sure that I regret any of them – but I do wish they hadn’t happened in such quick succession! Here are some insights into what went down.

1. A trip to Costco is an easy way to increase your monthly purchases. We went to Costco hoping to replace the lenses in my boyfriend’s glasses (which they weren’t able to do anyway). I knew heading in that we were setting ourselves up for some (likely impulse) buys, no matter how much we tried to fight it. My main goals were to a) avoid lots of packaging and b) try to only buy things that we would be buying within the next few months anyway. We ended up buying the following items:

  • Food: peaches (since I was planning to make cobbler), ketchup and BBQ sauce (I’d like to make both of these eventually, but in the meantime I’m getting the most utility out of the huge plastic containers), and ice cream bars (boyfriend’s splurge)
  • Pet: dog bed (he outgrew his original one) and bones (he’s teething…)
  • Clothing: wool socks and waterproof jackets for both of us, and men’s dress socks, underwear, and winter gloves for my boyfriend. I’m trying to buy more items secondhand, so I kind of wish that I’d waited to find a jacket that way, but I’m okay with buying the other items new.
  • Toiletries: toothbrush head replacements for my boyfriend’s electric toothbrush

All in all, these purchases were pretty boring, which I consider a good thing considering all of the temptations that Costco has to offer. Unfortunately, we still ended up spending over $200 in one trip, which is something I’d much prefer to avoid in the future.

2. We’re spending a lot of money on our dog. We got our new puppy back in July and have been spending a lot of money on him ever since, between vet visits, stocking up on new supplies, etc. I created a pivot table in my spreadsheet to see which categories we spent the most money on…and surprise, surprise, that was the #1 category:

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To be fair, we bought a lot of items that we won’t need to buy again for another few months (dog food) or maybe even ever again (dog bed, nail clippers), so I expect expenditures in this category will decrease greatly from here on out. But, I also need to remind myself that we don’t want to spoil him with lots of new toys and treats, and I plan to think twice before purchasing anything else for him.

3. I could be a much more charitable person. Breaking down the money spent in this way also makes it clear that ~90% of the money going out this past month was for our benefit, while ~7% went to friends and ~3% was for charity. I started volunteering last month, but am in a position to do much more for the community. This month I’d like to research some local organizations that I can start contributing to.

4. Selling things on ebay can be worthwhile…and kind of fun. I had some old phones that I was planning to donate, but I decided to put them on ebay to see if anyone would bite. I actually used to help my mom sell things on ebay when I was in high school, but she did most of the hands-on work (packing everything up, weighing it, bringing it to the post office), so that part was still intimidating to me up until now. I forgot how fun it can be to see how many people are tracking your item and watch as the bids go up on an item. I ended up making about $75 on three items that I would have otherwise donated. I don’t plan to start dedicating a lot of time to this, but probably will list a few more higher-yield items over the next few months.

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What next?

I’ve decided to continue tracking non-food purchases (and sales) this month as well. It’s been handy for keeping me accountable, and I really enjoy looking back on the things I bought through different lenses. I’ve been tracking my purchases through for over five years, but this more hands-on approach really has been making me think twice before buying something. Instead of retroactively thinking about my purchases every month or so as I look over the list of automatically tracked transactions, I think about them immediately after as I enter the information into the spreadsheet. I’m looking forward to watching the trends change and evolve over time as I become more mindful of where my money is going.

Tracking shopping habits: August summary, part 1

At the end of July, I made the decision to track all of my purchases in a google spreadsheet. This includes all grocery purchases, dining out/takeout costs, and non-food purchases. For part 1 of this summary, I’m going to focus specifically on groceries since I surprisingly learned a lot just in this category. Part 2 will cover lessons learned in the other areas.

First of all, I got super nerdy with the google spreadsheets because I wanted to glean as much data as possible from this exercise. In addition to the “ten most expensive items” query, I also added color coding for items that I had not yet used or only partially used, as well as a percent breakdown for money spent on each category of food (produce, meat, dairy/eggs, etc.). Looking at these results really helped me understand certain things about my spending habits. These were my overall thoughts as I wrapped up a month of tracking how much I spent on groceries:

1. Mid-month I noted that I’d spent more than I thought I would on food…and that trend only continued. All in all, my weekly expenditures were almost twice what I thought they would be/what they used to be (ouch!). Again, this is partially due to the fact that I’m focusing on buying less-packaged items, which means I’m often at the mercy of the store’s bulk aisle pricing. I can’t choose the pasta brand that’s on sale, because there is only one type of pasta being sold in bulk. Luckily, I have enough flexibility in my budget that this hasn’t caused any problems, but I would still like to get the amount back down. Now that I’ve been to more stores in the area, I’m getting a better sense of appropriate price ranges for each item I buy in bulk and will try to take this into account when I draft my shopping list for a particular store. Rice in particular seems to vary widely from store to store, so I definitely want to figure out where I can get the best deal.

2. Only 42% of the money spent went to items that I completely used up in August. And 18% of the money spent went to items that weren’t used at all in August (though, to be fair, I went food shopping on August 31 to get food for the rest of the week). This comes out to about $16/week for items that I didn’t touch. It’s important to note that this food won’t be wasted – all of the items are shelf-stable (e.g. dried chickpeas, rice, jarred pasta sauce), and they will get used soon; but I could have deferred buying them. Again, part of the issue is that I’ve often been buying things based on what’s available in the bulk section, so for example I stocked up on dried chickpeas when I saw them, not knowing if I would find them at the next store or not. Once I have a better grasp on what each store in my area offers, hopefully I won’t have to “hoard” bulk foods quite as much.

3. I spent more on snacks than I ever did before trying to go zero-waste. Like I mentioned above, I broke down the amount of money I spent on each category of food. Snacks accounted for 10% of the amount spent, which is certainly not the largest category, but it’s more than I used to spend. I attribute this to a need for normalcy in the household. Since I’m still trying to convince my boyfriend that zero waste is great, I feel like I need to have lots of enticing snack foods around so he doesn’t notice or care that I’m no longer buying packaged snacks. So, when I see an interesting snack in the bulk section (coconut almonds, yogurt pretzels, chocolate-covered raisins, etc.) I buy a small amount regardless of the price. Well, the outcome is that I bought 11 different snack items at an average cost of $3.51 each this month. That is way more than I want to spend moving forward. This month, instead of buying more snacks from the bulk section, I’m going to focus on finding recipes for healthy snacks that we’ll both enjoy and buy just the raw ingredients instead (which should be much cheaper).

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Expenditures broken down by category.

What next?

I’ve decided to keep tracking my grocery spending for at least another month. Especially since I’ve been changing my spending habits pretty drastically by trying to go zero waste, I think reviewing all of the data will continue to be helpful. In addition to tracking this month’s expenditures, I’m going to continue tracking when I use up items purchased in August (both to prevent food waste and to make me more mindful of the “hoarding” issue mentioned above).

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Spreadsheet tracking purchases made in August that haven’t been used up yet. I’ve already used the chickpeas and sliced almonds!

I hope that being more aware of these points will help me balance out the heavier expenditures of August with lighter spending this month. Plus, look at all the food I already have in my pantry/freezer to get me started!

Check back with me soon to see how spending on non-food items went in August (spoiler alert: it wasn’t very pretty either!).

Minimalism challenge: Days 21-30

I did Into Mind‘s 30-day minimalism challenge during the month of August to try out some new things and get out of my comfort zone. I swapped out some of the daily challenges with ones from Lauren, etc.‘s 30-step minimalism challenge (indicated with an asterisk). Feel free to follow along with me as I log how each day went.


Day 21: Evaluate your last five purchases*

Since I’m tracking my spending anyway for the entire month, this was easy! Here are my most recent non-grocery purchases:

  • Card for friend’s wedding: My best friend is getting married in just under two weeks. I saw a card that I thought she’d love, so I picked it up. I usually scramble at the last minute, so I think this was a good buy (although it did come wrapped in plastic – I hate that Trader Joe’s does that…)
  • Baskets for shelving unit in entry area: I recently bought a shelving unit off craigslist, and finally found some baskets to put on the shelf. These will be used to contain items that are currently cluttering our kitchen table. I haven’t decided if I will keep the baskets yet or not – I don’t love two of them, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find baskets that will fit the space properly. Shopping for them has reminded me of the cycle I used to get stuck in when I shopped for clothes regularly – I would buy items, then return some and buy more, and so on. I would love to just find a set that I like and be done with it!
  • Side table: We decided to move our TV to a different spot in the room, and needed a lower table to hold it. I found this one for $10 at a thrift store, and it worked perfectly.
  • Loaf pan: Also picked up at the thrift store. I’m excited to try out some bread recipes!
  • Set of bowls: Picked this set up at the same thrift store. They match well to our current plate set (plain white Corelle dishes) and will replace our current plastic bowls.

Day 22: Create a relaxing bedtime routine

My bedtime routine is often rushed, but luckily this fell on a Saturday so I had plenty of time to wind down. I took a shower, went through my normal routine, and added on some pampering at the end (like applying lotion to my feet and putting on socks to seal in the moisture). Then I read a book in bed while my boyfriend watched a movie. I won’t always have the time to go through this routine, but by adding in even small indulgences like a quick facial massage, I hope to go to bed more relaxed in the future.

Day 23: Go barefaced

I dressed up today to attend church in the morning. I am not really into makeup, but I do wear concealer, face powder, and mascara most of the time, especially when I’m wearing nicer clothes. Today, however, I just curled my eyelashes and headed out the door. It was nice to speed up my routine, and I don’t think anyone treated me differently. It was a refreshing change that I’ll keep in mind for future outings.

Day 24: Practice gratitude

I’m pretty new to this concept, so I wasn’t 100% sure what to do. I decided to mindfully notice things throughout the day and express my gratefulness. For example, throughout the morning I thought to myself, “I’m thankful for _______ because _______.” For example, “I’m grateful for this coffee because it’s helping me start the morning with a less foggy head,” “I’m grateful for this gorgeous weather because it’s making this walk extra pleasant,” and “I appreciate this 90s radio station because I get to listen to all the songs I used to hear while waiting for Backstreet Boys/N’Sync to come on the radio, and now realize that I like these songs way more.” Framing everything in this way made my morning so much more pleasant. Unfortunately, I let things slip in the afternoon and ended up having a few grumpy hours. By the end of the day, I had made a conscious shift back into the thankful frame of mind, and noticed that I became much happier again as a result.

Day 25: Define your goals for the year*

I came up with a list of goals that I’d like to focus on for the remainder of the year. Some of them are concrete; some are more nebulous. I’d like the review the latter ones at some point to make them more actionable/measurable.

  • Put family first
  • Keep training the puppy (I would eventually like to go through therapy dog training with him)
  • Work back up to a higher fitness level
  • Become a better contributor to my community
  • Take out the trash just once a month (right now we’re at twice a month)
  • Keep tracking spending and try to minimize extraneous purchases
  • Meditate for a minute a day
  • Work on becoming a more effective manager
  • Increase confidence (in all areas of life)
  • Finish the 100 fewer things challenge (I’m up to 32 items right now)

Day 26: Identify your stress triggers

I don’t normally buy into these types of things, but I think my classification as an ISFJ personality type is spot-on. There are a few things that really stress me out: conflict, e.g. when two colleagues are butting heads at work; fear of breaking the rules/getting in trouble, e.g. when our EZPass recently didn’t seem to register when we drove through a toll; and doing something new, e.g. driving somewhere I’ve never been before or meeting a new group of people. Writing them out now, I realize that these examples are rather small and shouldn’t cause me as much stress as they have in the past. One thing that has helped me deal with some of these issues is stepping back and considering the worst case scenario – for example, in the second case, the worst outcome would be getting a ticket from EZPass that I could presumably work out with the company. It also helps to remember that lots of people deal with these problems and significantly larger ones every day, so I should be able to get through a minor conflict or setback. This is something I need to continue to work on, though.

Day 27: Let go of a goal*

I’ve started the C25k program multiple times…and actually finished it just once. Running is one of those things that I always think I’d like to do, but I can never seem to get the motivation for it. I was hoping to get back into it this year, but I think I’m going to cross that goal off the list. I much prefer taking the dog for a long walk than going for a solo run. Maybe I’ll eventually be able to train him to run with me when he’s older, which would make it much more appealing. For now, I’ll stick to long walks, hikes, and strength training (although I’d also like to throw yoga into the mix at some point).

Day 28: Clean out your fridge & pantry*

I’ve been keeping fairly good tabs on both of these, so I didn’t need to check for things like expired items or rotten fruit. I did, however, reorganize some of the cabinets after noticing that there weren’t clearly defined categories in my pantry post. I also wiped down the refrigerator and rinsed out the produce bins, a task that I normally put off for way too long. That simple task made the fridge look much more appealing!

Day 29: Turn off notifications*

Even though most of my apps don’t show notifications (has anyone ever gotten a notification from the calculator app?), I blocked all apps on my phone except for Gmail. I also blocked all notifications on my tablet. I already had the most annoying notifications blocked (cough Pinterest cough), so this will mostly block the more rare notifications that I sometimes get, like ones from Groupon. Having fewer interruptions is something I am definitely looking forward to.

Day 30: Leave a whole day unplanned*

This fell on a Sunday. I did have plans to attend church, but besides that my day was open. I woke up early enough that I was able to take the dog for a walk before I headed out for a morning service. My boyfriend had worked a Saturday night shift, so he got home right around the same time as me. Normally I would plan to run errands while he was napping, but I decided to just make it a relaxing day instead (luckily we had just enough leftovers that I could put off food shopping until the next morning). While he slept, I read for a bit and then chatted with both of my grandmothers on the phone and tidied up downstairs. Then he and I hung out on the couch for the rest of the afternoon. We watched a documentary on Netflix (The Imposter – it was a little unsettling but also intriguing), ate leftover chili and cornbread, and ended the night with ice cream in bed. It was cozy and a great way to relax before starting a new week. Sometimes I over-schedule myself for no good reason, so it’s nice to remind myself that errands will get done eventually, and that spending time with my family is of the utmost importance.


Overall, this has been a really great way for me to stop living on autopilot and really think about what I’m doing from day to day and what I want to change moving forward. It wasn’t always easy to remember the daily challenges and make time for them, but I generally found afterwards that the results were valuable and rewarding. I’ve started thinking more about intentional living and want to continue paying attention to my inner thoughts, needs, and wants (something I previously tried not to think about too much). I’m now listening to a few different podcasts that I think will help me continue on this journey, but would love to hear suggestions from others on how to continue exploring this route. Please leave a comment if you have any ideas!

Zero waste food shopping VII

I’ve been deliberating over whether or not to continue showing my food shopping purchases here. I feel like it might get boring for some readers, but I’d like to have a record for myself to see progress over time. So, I’m going to continue posting for a while…

This is an amalgamation of multiple shopping trips made over the course of about a week. I think I missed one trip. I’m still trying to find the balance between buying too much/making fewer trips and buying too little/making more trips, and this week I ended up having to go back out quite a few times. It’s also worth pointing out that my strategy is to hit different stores so I can get a variety of items in unpackaged form, so I often have to visit a few shops even if I plan ahead well.

Trip 1: Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, & local deli


I actually ended up going out the day after my last posted shopping trip because the watermelon I’d bought from Wegmans was rotten and I wanted to return it quickly. I bought bananas on the way out since I was feeling shaky and figured a banana was the quickest zero-waste snack available. Next, I figured I’d stop at Trader Joe’s to return the flour I’d initially bought at a higher price. Trader Joe’s is smart when it comes to returns – customer service gives you a slip to give to the cashier upon checkout rather than giving you the money directly. It totally worked on me, because I decided to pick up a few extra things.

I also visited my local deli to get some chicken in my own container for making red curry chicken later that day. Since the container was so light, the employee just put the chicken right in it…so no paper this time!

Trip 2: Stop & Shop and local deli


This trip was about five days later. I went back to the deli to get some deli turkey, sliced cheese, and more chicken in my pyrex containers. I also went to a conventional grocery store because I needed chipotles in adobo for making chili. I’ve been trying to cut down on my can purchases, but the chipotles were really necessary for flavor and will go a long way (I froze the additional servings for later use). I also picked up tomatoes, garlic, and onion for the chili recipe, zucchini and green onion to make kung pao chicken, and two jars of pickles to pair with sandwiches. The cucumber was for adding to smoothies (so awesome!) and the bananas were for smoothies and other breakfast items.

Trip 3: Local health store & Trader Joe’s


I recently spotted another health store in a neighboring town and read online that it had a good bulk section. Since the store closest to me has a fairly meager selection, I decided to check this place out. This store seems to be vegan and didn’t carry any fresh produce; however, it had bulk spices and teas and a much larger selection of grains, legumes, and snacks than the other place. I purchased two containers of oats (since I plan to make granola soon), rice, lentils, chickpeas, unsweetened banana chips, and dark chocolate covered raisins from the bulk section. I also found some local honey in a glass jar, and decided to get lime essential oil to see if that would help with a spider problem we’re having with our mailbox (spoiler alert: it didn’t help, but at least I can also use the oil for homemade cleaning products). I’ll definitely be returning soon, especially when I need to restock some of my spices.

I was hoping to find milk or cream in a glass bottle at the health food store, but since it was apparently vegan, no luck. So, I decided that my weekly splurge would be on half & half, which I prefer to use in my coffee. I stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way back to get that, and naturally picked up a couple of other things as well: Asian pears and decaf coffee. Yes, I did buy a new canister of coffee, but I’m currently reusing this type of coffee canister for my regular coffee and it’s working really well. Since the coffee at the health food store was pretty expensive, I decided to buy a new canister of decaf, then reuse that container as well. The lid is a different color from the one I currently have, so it should be easy to tell the two canisters apart.

Bonus: In between the two trips, I stopped at a creamery to see if they sold milk or cream. Unfortunately they didn’t, but I was able to pick up a cider donut without any packaging. I popped half of it into the tiffin I had brought with me. It was a great (unexpected) zero-waste treat!

The woulda-coulda-shoulda effect

I’ve moved around a lot over the past ten years. I enjoyed living in each of the different areas, but always found positive things about the new place I was moving to and subsequently became excited to move. As it is, I enjoy our new life in Massachussetts (although ask me again this winter, considering our city was “the snowiest of 2015”); however, there are times when I look back on a place I lived in and am mad at myself for not exploring more or doing something that sounds really cool that I’m just learning about now. I consider this the “woulda-coulda-shoulda” effect (credit to Shel Silverstein).


Some examples:

  • I recently read a blog post about Gather Baltimore, a really cool initiative that prevents food waste by repackaging leftover produce and sending it back out into the community for a small price. I instantly thought, “Of course, now that I’ve just left Baltimore, I’m hearing about a really cool organization that I’d love to get involved in but can’t.”
  • Before living in Baltimore, I lived in San Francisco for a year. If I had started my zero-waste journey then, things would have been super easy! I literally lived a block away from a store that had a great bulk section. I also took the compost pickup for granted, using it sometimes but definitely not consistently. And, while I went on small hikes, I never pushed myself to do the numerous awesome longer hikes in the area.
  • Prior to that, I lived in the Bay Area peninsula (Burlingame and Palo Alto/Stanford). Again, so many amazing opportunities including the Palo Alto farmer’s market, which was three blocks away from my apartment in Palo Alto. I also lived by myself for a year and now feel like I squandered that time by watching TV and shopping at the local mall. I had so much time for self-improvement and self-growth, but just let it slip away.
  • Finally, before that, I was living in the Princeton area in NJ (where I grew up). I thought I knew a lot about the area, but just recently learned about the Whole Earth Center via Saba Ahmad on instagram. Again, it seems like shopping zero waste would be so much easier if I still lived there!

Luckily, that’s all the whining that you’ll have to sit through in this post, because I’ve decided to focus on the “one little did” from the poem. We’re going to be living here for five years (longer than I’ve stayed in most places), and I’m determined to find my niche here. I’m going to seek out interesting opportunities and find the diamonds in the rough.

How, you might ask? Here are some of the ways:

  • We might not have “Gather Baltimore” here, but tomorrow I’m going to volunteer at a local food pantry. I’m also looking into volunteer opportunities at local farms, including one in the city that teaches children and young adults about urban farming.
  • I’m seeking out new places to visit every week, from stores to check out to places to walk my dog. I’ve already found a lot of shops that have bulk sections. Combined, they make up a pretty good network of options.
  • I’ve been reading local forums and news articles to learn more about my new town and get insider info on the cool things to do around here. I’ve also been working on starting up conversations with locals to get their take on what to do.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to settle into a new area and sniff out the interesting things to see and do?

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State of the pantry

A few days ago, I posted the contents of my refrigerator. Here is the other half of that…a look into my “pantry,” or really the three cabinets that hold food products in my kitchen. You’ll notice that there are still a good number of packaged products. I think that is to be expected since the turnover of shelf-stable foods is slower than that of refrigerated foods. I’m planning to use up the items currently in my pantry, eventually finding replacements for the heavily packaged items (for example, I recently learned how to make coconut milk after using my last can recently).


This is our main stock of food. I’m still figuring out the best organization system. I’m hoping that we’ll eventually clear out some of these categories of food, and I’ll be able to come up with a better layout.

Top left: tom yum spice mix, fried shallots, rice paper, rice noodles

Top right: Chef Boyardee cans that my boyfriend insisted he’d eat when I travel for work. Not something I plan to prepare.

Second left: Oats, sticky rice, regular rice, pasta (mostly bought in bulk)

Second right: Various nuts and dried druit (sliced almonds, dried apples, and dried mangoes bought in bulk)

Third left: Quinoa, steel-cut oats, shredded coconut, dried chickpeas, dried black beans (some bought in bulk)

Third right: Plethora of granola bars, all my boyfriend’s (he works crazy hours and sometimes that’s all he’ll eat). Also some cereal bowls he brought home for me from work (I’ve since asked him to only bring me these if they are going to be thrown away).

Bottom left: Microwave popcorn, a bag of potato chips, and bags of Popcorners (also for my boyfriend to eat at work)

Bottom right: Various candies, cough drops, gum, and sauce packets from take out


This is a corner cabinet, so it’s difficult to capture all of the items since some are hiding on the sides. I’m now realizing how disorganized this cabinet is as well! I’m planning to dedicate one row for baking supplies after noticing this…

Top: Chia seeds, flour, cornmeal, coconut flour, Italian seasoning, hot sauce, olives, capers

Middle: Molasses, baking powder, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, almond extract, kosher salt, Hawaiian sea salt, Lawry’s seasoning salt, Old Bay seasoning

Bottom: Baking soda, various spices on a lazy susan. Not all of the spices fit, so some of them sit off to the side. There are also a few small bags of spices since we didn’t want to bring almost-empty containers with us when we moved.

Top: Vitamins, supplements, and medicine, which neither of us take often. I need to check expiration dates to see if they are even still good.

Middle: Curry paste and seasoning packets, onions/garlic, blocks of curry mix and pho bouillon

Bottom: White vinegar, premium olive oil, rice vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, premium balsamic vinegar, regular olive oil, canola oil, vanilla extract, another rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil spray, soy sauce, coconut oil, regular balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil spray. Clearly we could do some minimizing in this section, but it takes a long time to get through these items. We won’t be replacing about half of these.

Believe it or not, the cabinets are looking a lot better than they did a month ago. I’m able to find replacements for most of the packaged goods we eat, although some will probably be difficult to find without packaging or make myself (e.g. rice paper). I’m looking forward to continuing to use up what we have and clearing out some room in the cabinets, even though as it is we have plenty of extra room. It has been really fun making my own versions of items rather than purchasing them (granola, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic glaze, and coconut milk of late), and I am excited to keep going down that path.

Minimalism challenge: Days 11-20

I am doing Into Mind‘s 30-day minimalism challenge this month to try out some new things and get out of my comfort zone. I will be swapping out some of the daily challenges with ones from Lauren, etc.‘s 30-step minimalism challenge (indicated with an asterisk). Feel free to follow along with me as I log how each day went.

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Day 11: No email or social media until lunch (swapped with Day 10)

Since this was a weekday, I decided to make the cutoff 10:30 AM. I was hoping to run errands, but didn’t really want to go out in the rain, so I made it into a lazy morning instead. I read almost half of the The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less, which I would recommend so far. I spent some time cuddling and playing with the puppy (we didn’t go on a walk this morning since both of us are rain-averse). I also focused on some household chores that I had put on the back burner, like doing some laundry and cleaning up the clutter that inevitably converges on the kitchen table. Once again, I found that time went more slowly when I wasn’t tuned into social media. I’m considering giving myself time restrictions for things like going on instagram and reading blogs, e.g. only allowing it at certain times of the day.

Day 12: Create a bucket list for your hometown*

I moved here less than two months ago, so I’ve already started keeping track of cool places I’ve read about and want to visit for the first time. Here’s the list I came up with:

Grocery shopping (for zero-waste exploration purposes, of course)

  • pickle factory where you can get a reusable pail of fresh pickles
  • Mediterranean shop that has bulk spices and coffee
  • local brewery where I can get growlers of beer
  • local farmer’s market

Exploring the outdoors

  • local hikes
  • park near my house that’s right by a lake


  • get involved with a local volunteer organization
  • join a special interest group

Day 13: Practice single tasking*

This one was tough for me. I spend most of the day on the computer for work, and I often have anywhere from six to 20 tabs open in each of two windows: one with work-related items, and one with personal items. When I’m waiting for some code to compile or for someone to respond to an IM, I’ll often click between the tabs and sometimes lose track of what I was initially doing…which is so bad! So, for this challenge, I tried to close tabs when I wasn’t actively using them. I also minimized the window that I wasn’t currently using to keep my desktop more clear. Another thing I started doing was listening to podcasts while taking the dog for a walk. Yes, that is still technically multitasking, but it’s a much smarter type of multitasking than listening to podcasts while trying to do other things on the computer. I’m planning to keep doing this, as it makes the walks more enjoyable and productive for me, and therefore gives me motivation to go on longer walks (which is much appreciated by the puppy).

Day 14: Take a step towards learning a new skill

I have been trying to learn Vietnamese forever. My boyfriend is Vietnamese, and his entire family speaks it fluently. They usually remember to speak English in front of me, but I would love to be able to understand the jokes they make as well as the words that are difficult to translate from Vietnamese to English. We are also hoping to visit Vietnam sometime soon (we were supposed to go this past spring but ended up going to Thailand instead for various reasons), so I’d like to have a grasp on the language by then. Up until this point I’ve been using Rosetta Stone to learn vocab, but the trickiest part for me is the pronunciation and intonation of the various words. So, I decided to look into classes nearby to see if anything is available. From my research, it looks like I can either travel to Boston on Saturdays for an in-person class, or I can do online sessions with a tutor via I’m not quite ready to jump on either of these yet, but now I feel more motivated to work on the Rosetta Stone lessons, so once I’ve gotten a little further with those I’ll continue to pursue one of those options.

Day 15: Examine your daily habits

This challenge was a little…open-ended, so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Here are some of the bad habits I noticed throughout the day, and my thoughts on how I could make healthy changes:

  • I often sit down at the computer to look something up, then end up getting pulled down a rabbit hole and spending way more time than I had planned. Maybe I should consider standing if I just want to check something quickly, or use my phone instead.
  • I’ll open the fridge and cabinets multiple times a day to see what’s in there, even though it hasn’t changed since the last time I checked. I tend to do this when I want to snack mindlessly. This would be a good opportunity for me to work through my stash of tea instead.
  • When chatting with an acquaintance, I caught myself saying negative things in response to a benign question, and also realized that I was answering all of her questions without posing many of my own. I’m a little out of practice when it comes to making new friends, and I think I could do a better job of it. From now on, I’ll try to be more mindful of my interactions and maybe even read a book on the topic…

Day 16: Don’t buy anything for 24 hours

This challenge fell on a Sunday. I did end up spending money this day – but rather than buying something, I donated the money. I finally got up the nerve to attend a local church for Sunday mass, something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. I enjoyed the service and was happy to contribute during the offertory. The deli I frequent is actually right next to the church, and I had considered stopping by on my way home, but I decided to put it off for this challenge. I went home and had a nice relaxing afternoon with my boyfriend instead. Overall, it was a mellow, enjoyable day, and it was really nice to take a break from running errands.

Day 17: Clear out your junk drawer*

Since we have only been living here for about two months, the junk drawer wasn’t too junky yet; however, it was starting to get pretty disorganized. I didn’t actually end up getting rid of anything, but I did do the following:

  • clipped together mailing items (envelopes, stamps)
  • clipped together takeout menus
  • used rubber bands to corral all the writing utensils
  • used a magnet to put my sister’s birthday card up on the fridge so I’ll remember to mail it soon
  • relocated the trash bags to the drawer where the trash can resides
  • pulled out receipts and coupons to sort through and clean out

The drawer is a lot easier to navigate now, but still has all of the essentials that we might need in a pinch.

Day 18: Unfollow and unfriend

I’ve had Facebook since my senior year of high school, and honestly, I really don’t like using it. I barely update it, and when I do go on it, it’s usually because I want to see what articles other people are linking to. My boyfriend recently suggested that I link our dog’s Instagram account to one of our Facebook profiles (yes…I keep an Instagram account just for him, although to be fair it’s mostly a way to keep our families up to date with pictures). I strongly dislike the idea of people I only tangentially know being privy to the daily ins and outs of my life. So, I decided to do the following: 1) unfriend people who won’t even remember that we used to be Facebook friends, e.g. people I met at camp with whom I have no mutual friends, and 2) limit who can see most updates to my profile, so I’m still technically friends with the remaining people but only real friends can peer into my life. Wow, that was pretty complicated for a minimalism challenge!

Day 19: Go for a walk and practice mindfulness

Lately I’ve made quite a routine out of taking the dog for a walk. While we’re walking, I’ll listen to a podcast and pick up trash I find along the way. It’s become a nice productive part of my day, but I definitely wouldn’t consider it relaxing. For this challenge, I decided to go back to basics and just take him for a walk without any distractions. I actually decided to try going to a nearby park that’s right next to a lake, which seemed like it would be a really great place to take in the sights and sounds. The weather was cooler, so we were able to make the longer trek, and it really was peaceful to just walk, think, and look at the lovely views. We will definitely be adding this walk into our regular rotation, and in the future I’ll evaluate my state of mind first instead of just deciding to play a podcast each time.

Day 20: Bring the indoors outside outdoors inside*

The biggest downside of our current rental is that there isn’t really any outdoor space where you can just hang out. We have a fairly sizable front yard, but it’s hilly and on a busy street so it’s not a place where you can sit and relax. This was a bummer for me, because I love sitting outside during the spring, summer, and fall. Our last apartment in Baltimore had a roof deck that you could often find me on (in fact, all of the pictures from this series were taken from that roof deck). That being said, the neighborhood that we are in now is much more wooded and quiet than past places I’ve lived. All I have to do is open the windows in the back of the house to look out onto tall trees and hear birds chirping. So, that’s what I did. We’ve been keeping our blinds closed so the neighbors can’t see into our place at night, but it’s really a shame since the view is so nice back there. This morning I pulled up the blinds and opened all three windows (luckily it’s cooler here today). It’s amazing how such a small change makes you feel more immersed in your surroundings. This is something I definitely plan to keep doing moving forward.


This challenge has actually become pretty fun, especially since it gives me a chance to look back at my thought processes earlier in the month and see areas in which I’ve made strides. For example, I have already crossed two items off my bucket list (visiting the local brewery and the nearby park). As I’ve said before, I’m not naturally introspective, so giving myself some structure for making minor changes in my life and recognizing what is good and bad for me has been really helpful. I’m excited to see what the last ten days bring!

State of the fridge

As I continue on my zero-waste journey, I thought it would be fun to keep a record of what my fridge currently looks like at this stage. I snapped some quick photos without doing any posing or rearranging first to give a totally real view of where I’m at right now.

(Sorry for the poorly lit pics! I need to figure out how to take good pictures for the next time.)


So, what have we got?

Top shelf: Thai basil in a tall mug, lime water in a short mug, leftover hamburger patties in a tupperware behind that, a salad spinner containing lacinato kale, half a cucumber in a beeswax wrap, two lime quarters in a pyrex container, and our Brita filter.

Middle shelf: Quinoa chickpea salad in a mixing bowl covered with a beeswax wrap, extra quinoa in a tupperware, jar of homemade Worcestershire sauce, and old lemon water in a mug that I plan to use for cleaning the microwave soon (as you heat up the water the steam helps loosen the food particles).

Bottom shelf: Plastic container holding scraps ready for compost, mini watermelon, milk in a glass bottle, and lots of beverages – plastic diet coke and seltzer bottles, and glass bottles of beer behind those. We don’t go through the diet coke very quickly, but seltzer is something that I’ve restocked a few times to keep my boyfriend happy.

Drawer above bottom shelf: Pyrex containers holding deli meat and swiss cheese, plastic container of parmesan blend cheese, plastic (reused) container of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Left drawer: Peaches and apricots.

Right drawer: Asian eggplant, red bell pepper, and crimini mushrooms.


Top hutch: Butter (old foil-wrapped and new paper-wrapped, plus an assortment of sauces and dips accumulated from various takeout meals over the past two months.

Top shelf: Three types of chocolate, bouillon paste, mustard spread, caesar dressing, Garlic Expressions (garlicky marinade/dressing), Goddess dressing (unopened), ketchup, BBQ sauce, pickles.

Middle shelf: Carton of eggs, almond butter, chocolate-covered pretzels (from bulk section), red pepper spread, raspberry preserves, maple syrup.

Bottom shelf: Pretty much all of our Asian cooking supplies. Kung pao sauce, pho paste, chili garlic paste, hoisin sauce, sour soup paste, bo kho paste, oyster sauce, Sriracha, fish sauce, sesame oil, and sweet chili sauce. Also the tail end of a bottle of port that’s too tall to go elsewhere in the fridge.

Freezer top shelf: Bulk rolls put into ziploc bags four at a time (I’ve been reusing the bags), last two slices of rye bread in another bag, butter sticks, two containers of homemade chicken stock, caramelized onions in a reused plastic container, ground turkey purchased in a plastic container.

Bottom shelf: Plastic bag of cherry and peach pits that can’t be composted in my Nature Mill (I’m holding onto them in hopes that I can find something to do with them besides throwing them away), ice tray, cookies that I messed up and now use as an oatmeal topping. Finally, a waxy paper bag containing food-contaminated waste that I don’t want to put in the trash right away (e.g. paper around ground beef and deli turkey). I keep them out of the trash so I can wait as long as possible before taking the trash out. There is also a styrofoam container and a second waxy paper bag that should be thrown away, each of which I will fill with food-contaminated waste once the first paper bag is disposed of.


Freezer door top shelf: Dried shrimp, which is parceled out into a few plastic bags within a paper box and finally a plastic grocery bag. Parmesan rinds in a plastic container and a plastic container full of scraps ready for the next batch of broth.

Bottom shelf: Two ice packs, part of a bag of Mexican shredded cheese, and a bag of pecans.

Total number of plastic containers: 7 sauces + 7 beverage containers + 12 tupperware/reused containers = 26 containers

Total number of plastic bags: I count 12.

Single use containers from takeout: 9

I know that I still have a ways to go, but I feel like I’m starting to make progress. I wish I had photos from right before I got into shopping zero waste for comparison, but at least now I can better observe my progress moving forward.