Did you know that the average American uses up to 365 plastic bags a year? It was actually on Earth Day that I caught myself staring at some zip lock bags I had been using and when I had a minor epiphany about this: I realized that I had probably spent a small fortune over the years in disposable food storage bags. I also realized there were better, far more frugal options that were much better for the environment too. I decided then and there to make everyday Earth Day. I knew by reusing what I had and finding better options, I could not only continue my frugal ways but do better for Mother Earth. I quickly found far more eco-friendly storage options that were reusable, dishwasher safe and actually could also go from freezer to microwave, all made in the USA. Perfect. I bought them and resolved then and there to never use disposable storage bags ever again or buy any plastic containers for that matter.
Seems like a small thing but it has, over the long run, a big impact.
Inspired by this seemingly tiny victory, I cast around for other ways to make every single day Earth Day, finding new ways to reuse, repurpose and of course, recycle. For me, recycling is the easiest; I recycle out of habit and respect for Mother Earth. The city where I live has given everyone garbage containers allocated for paper, plastic, glass, etc., so long ago I made it a habit to recycle daily. I reuse a lot of course and repurpose as much as I can so I added a fourth category to the mix: redefine. I now try to redefine what I am doing or using and come up with better solutions, like the reusable storage containers. Those should last for years and years, affording me the habit of not adding to the oceans full of plastic or adding another unnecessary layer to the mountains full of landfill/waste.
I have made it a habit to also redefine certain ingredients in the kitchen. For example, my baking projects occasionally call for buttermilk which I refuse to buy because I know most of it will go to waste. I find I can simply add a teaspoon or two of plain vinegar to some fresh milk and let it set for a few minutes and voila, buttermilk. I’ve often made fresh ricotta instead of buying a tub full that I know I won’t use up. The Barefoot Contessa has an easy recipe although I usually cut it in half knowing I won’t need as much as the recipe usually makes.
On the other hand, I know that I use up plain Greek yogurt like crazy so I can take advantage of buying the big container at a discount. Same goes for onions and root vegetables, I never waste those, I am forever using up sturdy, long lasting produce so I never worry about buying in larger quantities. I know things I use a lot of won’t go to waste.
I try not to buy too much fresh fruit because I know it can go bad quickly and I don’t use up fruit very rapidly. In these cases, I freeze older bananas to use in muffins and breads on baking day and I find ways to use up berries like making my very berry cake, recipe below. But before I need to use up any berries, I douse them in a quick bath of water spiked with a tablespoon of vinegar. I find this extends the life of berries considerably. A generous pinch of salt in milk extends the refrigerator life of milk as well. Again, redefine how you use ingredients to either make them last longer or so you can use it to swap for some other ingredient.
Very Berry Ricotta Cake
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs room temperature
11 oz ricotta cheese (about 1 ½ cups) room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter melted and slightly cooled
7 oz fresh berries (about 1 ½ cups) (If using strawberries, cut them in quarters)
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray bottom with cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until combined. In another bowl, whisk eggs, ricotta cheese and vanilla until incorporated. Fold into your dry ingredients just until combined (do not over mix). Batter will not be smooth. Fold the melted butter and berries until combined. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cake is starting to brown at the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing from pan, dust with powdered sugar.