Monday, September 24, 2012


I've been in classes for 3 weeks now (it does not feel that long, wow) and I'm starting to realize that I formed some bad habits over the summer the last four years.   Mainly one bad habit.  When I'm frustrated with work, or just don't want to focus on it anymore, I go on the internet.  To lovely and entertaining but utterly useless websites.  Since I still don't have a full schedule (I haven't worked out my research situation yet. I still have a week), I feel like I have a lot of free time.  Which is more feeding my desire to procrastinate than actually being a legitimate cause, but sometimes I like excuses.  The habit isn't going to fly, though, in the long run. 

Enter LeechBlock, a FireFox add-on that can serve as internet blinders for the easily distracted.  Give it a list of websites and it will prevent you from accessing it during certain hours or after spending a specified amount of time on one.  Lifehacker has setup instructions.  Currently, I have 2 lists set up, but it's possible to set up to 6.  One list blocks websites that are never productive, like Tumblr or Facebook, for significant portions of the day.  The other allows me to access sites like Twitter or certain professional blogs for 10 minutes every 2 hours, but then will send me back to work.  You can lock the program so it won't allow you to change the settings while it's actively blocking websites, but since I'm adding URLs frequently right now, I don't have the lists locked yet. 

Since LeechBlock allows you to use any URL as the page that shows up when a site is blocked, I've also shamelessly recruited a few friends to help me block the websites:

(that's four cast members from The Avengers and Benedict Cumberbatch on Sherlock, if you're wondering.  Sadly the webpages that I got them from don't seem to be around anymore, although the first one is all over Tumblr.)

Thus far I'm annoyed at having my websites blocked but I know that means the program's doing what I need it to do.  With minimal fuss, I'm happy. And my customized block pages at least make me laugh a little bit :)

Admittedly, this is only a browser-based solution.  I think there are other programs out there for different browsers, but since the only thing on my work computer is FireFox, I'm not worrying about it.  Gradhacker has some total internet control apps (all Mac-based) reviewed here

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Small Sucesses: Bulk Spices

After last week, anything would have been exciting, but this week I finally made it down to the 4th Street Food Co-op, which is in downtown Manhattan, about a 45-minute subway trip from me.  Why go so far? Because they are a full-on sustainable, organic, and bulk store.  Not just nuts, granola, flour, and sugar.  They had bulk spices, pasta, a bunch of different types of flour (whole wheat, gluten-free, etc), and shampoo and other household products.  I bought rolled oats and whole wheat pasta, plus three different spices.

The best part was I could use jars, not just bags.  At Fairway and Whole Foods, the bulk section was completely self-serve and there was no way to tare my bags, much less anything heavier like a jar.  At the Co-op, I tared my spice jars at the counter, and then took just what I needed from the bigger jars on the wall.  I didn't bother to tare the cloth bags I used for oats and pasta because they hardly weigh anything.  My love for this place means I'm living without cinnamon for a few weeks because they were out, and after paying so little for spices in my own jars, I can't bring myself to walk into a store and pay $4.

Did I mention the cost?  $7 $5.50 for spices, pasta, and a lot of oats.  I also bought soy sauce and a new storage jar, which took the cost up to $11.50.

And, if I'm being honest, it was great to go to a place where I didn't have to explain myself.  Where the cashier was appreciating the store anew after 6 weeks in another state where she actually had to buy food in packaging.  Where nobody commented on my bags.  Bulk is an absolute way of life in that little store. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Learning the rhythms

The reality of the challenge I'm facing has begun to sink in, as evidenced by my somewhat unhappy post last Thursday.  My enthusiastic beginnings are being lost under the recognition of what it means to live a sustainable life.  But it's not all rainclouds - the lessons are mostly good ones, about getting into the rhythm of my new department, the farmer's market, and my own habits. 

Learning the rhythms of the Greenmarket took me a few weeks.  Milk and yogurt? Only midweek. Bread? Still haven't found one that balances taste, freshness, and price, but I bought a loaf yesterday that seems promising.  Eggs? Both days, but one of the midweek sellers is from near my undergrad, so nostalgia's making the decision there.  Fish? Only on the weekend.  And there's a daily rhythm as well - essentially, shop in the morning because by mid-afternoon there's not much left that's worth eating.

I'm still learning the rhythms of the department.  A light breakfast is ok on these days, because we have department coffee/tea & snacks mid-morning.  Don't bring lunch on this day because we have department pizza, or on that day because grad students go to lunch with the visiting speaker.  Some other days I'll go to lunch with the other grads, I'm trying to see if anyone else carries theirs and maybe we can eat together so that we aren't just eating at our desks.

My own habits are proving to be the most challenging.  First off, I didn't plan that well in terms of how much I bought when I went shopping a few weeks ago - I didn't get enough snack-type food (nuts, granola, dried fruit), or any pasta, which is a staple for me.  I had to go to the store yesterday (to 4th Street Food Co-op - more on that Thursday!).  My goal is to only go to stores once a month - If I want to avoid future mid-month trips I'm going to have to get better at predicting how much I'm going to eat. 

Part of making sure I buy enough food is realizing how much food is required to make myself 2-3 meals every. single. day.  I'm realizing how much I depended on the dining hall and campus restaurant.  Just to see friends, I ate there with some frequency, but also if I was working late in my lab or didn't have any food in the fridge, I just headed over to the dining hall.  That's not an option any more.  Better planning to make sure I have a well-stocked pantry is imperative going forward.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Small Success: None, really

I don't really have any improvements that I made this week.  In fact, I've had quite a trash-producing week.  Ground turkey and fish at the farmer's market both came packaged in plastic.  I went out to eat with other grad students on Tuesday, but we went to a street fair so it was all disposable.  I bought yogurt yesterday, because I needed some kind of protein for lunch, but yogurt cups aren't recyclable in NYC so I'm either going to have to throw it out or wash it and take it to my parents' house at some time in the future.

I suppose I'm going to have to find a balance, at least right now.  I definitely need to improve my planning skills about when to shop and to make sure that I have enough food at the right times.  Nutrition and money may require me to purchase some food that comes with packaging.  I don't want to give up on lunch with other grad students, because I like hanging out with them and I don't want to be unsocial, but it costs more money and produces more trash.  It's a little frustrating because I feel like I'm compromising...and I am compromising, but it seems like it may be necessary right now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Freezer Cooking

After the sense of relief I felt when maintenance delivered the new refrigerator and I could actually keep dairy again, my next project was stocking the freezer.  The rather shallow freezer, but my roommate says she doesn't use it so I can use what space there is.

I started doing this last year.  Makes my life a little bit easier, to be able to grab lunch on the way out the door or have dinner mostly prepared way ahead of time.  In particular, it helps keep me from being tempted to go get takeout (which is more convenient now than it was in undergrad, except that produces a lot of trash and I have to spend real money and not dining dollars).  Right now, I've got 4 types of pre-prepared foods, plus some ground turkey that I pre-portioned and froze. 

My freezer! Top shelf has pyrex pans holding foil packets of fish and ground turkey.
Muffins in silicone liners on the door, compost bag, containers of soup concentrate and mini burgers.
I've made the first three items before.  Instant vegetable soup concentrate and pumpkin yogurt corn muffins make the base of a simple lunch - I usually add a greek yogurt for protein and maybe some fruit.  The recipe calls for wrapping portions in plastic wrap, but I've found that an ice-cube tray works just as well.  Once the portions of concentrate are frozen, I transfer them to other containers and wash out the ice-cube trays.  The muffins are really tasty; they get even better when made with plain greek yogurt.  Tangier and a little drier, but I like the contrast with the soup.

Mini burgers are delicious, a kind of cross between meatballs and hamburger.  In the past I've used meatloaf mix, but this time I just used ground beef from the Greenmarket: expensive but very good.  Probably higher in fat than your average grocery store ground beef which might be part of it...oh well.  They just need starch (rice, usually) and vegetables to make a meal.  Sometimes I mix them in with sauteed vegetables and marinara sauce to go with pasta.

All three of those recipes come from Just Bento, a website dedicated to healthy and tasty lunches.  Most of the recipes are Japanese or Japan-inspired and require cooking in the morning - I'm lazy and just hunt down the freezer recipes for lunches (occasionally I make one of the other ones for dinner though).  The soup/muffin/yogurt combo in particular is easy to grab out of the freezer/fridge in the morning.

My other recipe is an experiment that thankfully turned out very well.  The basic recipe is Lemon Caper Tilapia Packets from Once a Month Mom.  I didn't have capers and there wasn't any tilapia at the Greenmarket soooo...I bought flounder and just used parsley I had in the fridge.  I froze six prepared fillets and cooked one for dinner.  Turned out alright, a little blander than it's probably intended but still tasty.  The halved cherry tomatoes are my favorite part, I got good fresh red and yellow ones.

So with 12 servings of soup, 6-7 servings of mini-burgers, and 6 servings of flounder, that's at least 24 meals there.  Plus the pound of ground turkey and I'm not buying any more meat this month.  Vegetables are easy to get twice a week, and rice/bread are easily found in my kitchen to complete the meals.  Usually those two things require either a short amount of cooking when I want to eat them, or a long-but-mostly-unattended-time, which amounts to the same thing when I don't have much energy for cooking.