[Resolution] #112 The Re-Usable Filter and 4 Other Ways to Green Your Coffee Habit

The whole “green” thing has been steadily gaining popularity for a while now. Almost anyone you meet is doing something to reduce their footprint whether its for morals, because its trendy, or just for the tax break. Businesses are going green, products are making an effort to use less packaging, cities are putting plans into place to support recycling or ban plastic grocery bags.  It’s a good thing too.  We’ve all seen Wall-E right? So, i aimed to do at least one thing this year, even if it was a small thing, to green one of my own habits. And, why not the biggest most obtrusive habit I have?  Coffee. So far I’ve only taken a little step, but I found 5 different ways to make your daily coffee habit far less impactful on the environment. You may even save yourself a little money too!

1. Skip on the paper filters.

This was my little step! 🙂 Guess what, this baby cost me $3.99 at the grocery store, just a dollar more than the paper filters I usually buy, and it’ll last me for 3 years. Anyone want to do the math? And, on top of saving money, I’m eliminating 2 discarded paper filters a day.  That’s 2,190 paper filters saved over the lifespan of this one re-usable filter.

2. Pick up a reusable cup.

Photo by: Rakka

If you’re more likely to run to Starbucks than to fire up the coffee maker, this is for you. You don’t realize how much waste comes from all the paper cups people get from Starbucks until they come out with reports that explain the millions, and in some cases, billions of pounds of waste that can be saved each year by recycling or using reusable cups. It’s insane! I guess my one cup a day doesn’t seem so big, but when millions and billions of customers are tossing a cup a day…that adds up.

The money saver here?  Many places including Starbucks will give you a discount if you bring in your own cup.  Whole Foods gives you a whopping $0.25 off. It doesn’t take many of those to pay for one reusable cup.

3. Reuse coffee grounds.

Photo by: lizziecow

Starbucks (sorry to keep using the corporate giant here, but everyone knows who they are) gives away free 5 pound bags of coffee grounds in their stores to eliminate the bulk of it going into landfills.  You re-use your grounds at home too.  Coffee grounds are notorious for being a great fertilizer for acid loving plants, and can be used for a number of other things like deodorizing a refrigerator or as an exfoliating scrub, even a celluite reducer!  Check out this article for 15 ways to use up those grounds.

4. Splurge on the organic, fair-trade, or shade-grown stuff.

Photo by: Dave Kent

Organic coffee is getting easier and easier to find these days, simply based on customer demand.  The world’s concern with the amount of chemicals and artificial everything that we’re consuming has prevailed in many markets.  Organic is probably the easiest to find and, although it’s more expensive, it’ll be the smallest jump in price above your regular bag (or can?).  Along the same lines, shade grown coffee is grown as coffee should be naturally: under the shade of other plants and trees. Among other long-term environmental benefits, having it in the shade instead of in full-sun like it is on commercial farms allows the growers to use less fertilizer, chemicals etc. to keep it growing and flourishing.

Fair-Trade more of a commodity, but well worth the extra price.  The reason the price is higher is because Fair-Trade coffee is purchased directly from the coffee growers for a higher (read: fair) price which in turn affords them better quality of life for themselves and their communities.

5. Go small or go home.

Photo by: coffeeaddict

If you’re a singleton or the single coffee drinker in your house like me, no need to go for the big honkin’ 10 cup coffee maker.  Whether you’re making 2 cups or 10, that big thing is going to use just as much energy to heat up the water. Go for a smaller 4 cup coffee take a look into the many different “single cup brewers” out there.  Keep in mind though, while the Keurig or any other “pod brewer” is certainly popular, you’ll spend more money and create more waste on those k-cups or pods than you’ll likely mean to, or want to. And, unfortunately I’ve found that the “create your own k-cup” pack that allows you to use your own ground coffee produces an extremely weak cup.  It brews too quickly to get any real flavor out of it.

Try out something like the Black ‘n Decker Brew ‘n Go or eliminate electricity entirely and go with a personal sized french press or something like the Aerobie AeroPress (it also makes espresso!). Note: I do note own or exclusively endorse either of these, I just found them online doing a Consumer Reports search for good single cup brewers.

For an added green-boost look for features like permanent filters and automatic shut-off.  It’s the little things that count.

So, who says you can’t love your coffee and love the earth too, eh? Just a few tiny investments (most of which eventually pay for the themselves) and you’re doing your part to cut out pounds of waste, cut down your electricity usage, and help promote organic farming and fair coffee trade.

I think I might just have to grab a cup right now.

Question of the Day: How green is your coffee habit?

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[Resolution] #9 Attempt an Eating Challenge

Has anyone heard of the Dos Equis ‘Feast of the Brave’ challenge?

I was fully prepared to try to eat 25 mouth searing hot wings, or go head-to-head with someone to see who could eat the most pancakes, but this challenge (again brought to my attention by an amazing friend) was just strange enough, gross enough, and all around perfect for this resolution.

It’s been a good week for food, I’d say.  First the donut burger, then the eating challenge within days of each other.

The Feast of the Brave is a nation-wide eating challenge perpetuated by the one and only Dos Equis beer company.  In Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas and my own beloved Austin there are taco trucks sitting on street corners shelling out some street food that you wouldn’t really expect here in the states.  Maybe on one of Andrew Zimmerman’s Bizarre Foods adventures, but certainly not at 6th and Lamar downtown.

Depending on the city, you can walk up and receive a taco filled with things like hog ears, beef intestines, corn fungus, crickets, shark and bird gizzards. They’re even FREE.  No payment required if you are brave enough to actually consume them.

On top of that, each taco earns your city a certain number of points, and each city is competing head-to-head to see who’s the bravest of them all.

My beloved foodie friend Jake was the one who found out about it in the first place and insisted we track down the truck. Without hesitation, and determined to uphold Austin’s fearless foodie reputation, we headed out to catch the truck at an office building up north.  In the fifteen minutes we were there we consumed (collectively):

  • A shark taco (with habanero apple relish) 20 PTS
  • A beef intestine taco (with grilled onions and salsa) 30 PTS
  • 2 Hog Ear Tacos (with shredded wild boar, onions and salsa) 10 PTS EA. = 20 POINTS
  • 2 Mystery Tacos (we still don’t know what was in them, but in included an entire jalapeño) 100 PTS EA. = 200 PTS

Grand total earned for Austin, TX: 275 POINTS

Even though I was eating a bunch of exotic foods I couldn’t help but feel afterward that it wasn’t too much of a challenge.  Every single one was delicious.  The mystery taco had us both tearing up from the spice, but I felt a little cheated that I didn’t have to pick insect legs out of my teeth or fight back my gag reflex.  Is that masochistic?  In fact, I left with plans to go back the next day to have some more beef intestine. (Tastes like jerky.)

Hog Ear Taco - See, looks delicious right?

Mystery Taco - Can anyone identify? Jalapeno and possibly a serrano? Still not sure.

But, I feel that justice came the next day when we realized that we played a part in helping Austin jump from #4 to the proud Top 3.

I may have to repent with some atomic buffalo wings later this year, but for now I’m very proud to have competed in the Dos Equis Feast of the Brave!

Has anyone else in the other cities tried the tacos there?  I’d love to hear how those cricket tacos are.

[Resolution] #10 Bringing People Together with the Power of the Donut Burger

This post isn’t about a burger.

Okay, well…maybe it is.

The donut burger, or for those who aren’t familiar, that mythical burger creature with Krispy Kreme donuts in place of buns, was something that was consistently on my “I have GOT to try that one day” list.  It shows up on the Food Network, it makes cameos in food blogs, graces the booths at state fairs, but that calorie monstrosity didn’t quite fit into my healthy eating plans….anywhere.

But, this year’s not about thinking about trying something, it’s about trying them all.  One donut burger won’t kill me.  At least not instantly.

This post is not only about the burger, though….it’s about how a ridiculous culinary creation brought together 4 people who would have never ordinarily been found at the same lunch table on an ordinary Wednesday, but somehow bonded over one similar artery clogging interest.

1) An ordinary girl on a mission (me), 2) A close friend who just happened to ask me to lunch on the day I went on said mission, 3) A Facebook follower / night club acquaintance, and 4) A morbidly curious vegetarian spectator.

Behold, my friends Marcus (left) and Enrique (right).  Morbidly curious vegetarian spectator William stepped out for a phone call during this photo and we just couldn’t keep our hands off of our food until he got back, so the world will never know what he looked like I suppose, but he lives on in my heart as the man who willingly gave up his lunch break to, in his own words, “watch a skinny girl eat a burger capped by donuts.”

How did this turn into a group affair?  Social media my friends.  A simple post to my Facebook revealed a few friends who were more than willing to trek out to Big Daddy’s Burgers & Bar to see what the “Hangover Burger” was all about.  They weren’t even close friends really, and the one serious taker (Enrique) I’ve seen all of two maybe three times at a night club that I frequent.

I guess when you look at the menu online and see “1/2lb Texas Beef Patty, pepper jack, a fried egg, bacon on a Krispy Kreme Donut. Served with bloody mary ketchup and fresh-cut fries,” it doesn’t matter how well you know a person. It’s on.

Next my unwitting friend Marcus, who is usually across town, was in my neighborhood for a job interview and asked if I wanted to grab lunch.  “Funny you should ask,” I said, and proceeded to explain to him the glory and the greatness of the Hangover Burger.  Always up for something new, he was in too.

Even though I let Enrique know that I had another taker, when Marcus and I arrived, he was there as he said he would be with a co-worker (vegetarian spectator William).  Regardless of whether we ate together or not, he’d show up to get one for himself.  But we were all there, and the donut burger had us feeling such a sense of camaraderie that we opted to get a booth together.

There was a bit of that “let me tell you what I do for a living” talk, Marcus tuned in and out of the baseball game on the TV behind us, and curious vegetarian spectator William doled out some pretty inspiringtimidating stories about how he had a 9 year streak of accomplishing his new year’s resolutions, one of which was going vegetarian. That one stuck for the next 6 years.  …You don’t know what you’re missing here…

But I respect you.

Point is, I worried for a moment that we may be too diverse a group of characters to maintain a conversation for an hour, but I was glad to be proven wrong.  Suddenly we were talking like old friends: bonding over television shows, our pets (blue heeler owners forever), and the upcoming NFL Draft.  …And then the burgers came.

I’ve described this burger to friends as tasting a little like a combination of unicorns and guilt.  But, more realistically it’s like…the McGriddle on steroids.  Anyone remember that thing?  The perfectly mouth-watering combination of savory and sweet, of breakfast and lunch.  The glaze from the donut melds with the salty fattiness of the beef patty and bacon while the richness of the egg and the cheese hug it all in their decadent embrace.

Look, I’m not a professional food writer here, all I’m trying to get across is that this thing is good.  Real good. I’d nominate it as a rite of passage food for any foodie.

So, with good food and great company, I entered the league of chicks who eat donut burgers.  And it feels good.

I wish I could end this story with something profound about the spontaneous gathering of strangers, but we really did just part ways without incident. Of course even if we never see each other again, I can say with certainty that it’s always great to meet new people, always interesting to hear new stories, and of course…we all left with food memories we won’t soon forget.

[Resolution] #1 Get an Arm Tattoo

I went back and forth about this for a long time.  There’s a lot less stigma around tattoos these days, but I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t worried about my tattoos drawing judgement from strangers or preventing me from getting future jobs.  And, a tattoo on the arm is–well–not that discrete.  Especially in Texas where long sleeves are appropriate about 3 and a half weeks out of the year.

The thing is, though, what the heck am I doing if I’m prevented from doing something I really want to do because I’m worried about what other people will think or say?  In fact, my boss of all people said it best. In response to the statement “I’m just worried about future jobs and stuff…” he said “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be working for the kind of people who won’t accept you with tattoos.”

I hope he meant it…because today I showed up with one big a** tattoo.

A beautiful one, though.  And, one that I am completely and utterly in love with.  I usually have “tattoo remorse” after I come back home with a pretty big piece.  I stare at it constantly and analyze whether or not I’ll regret it when I’m 40 or 60.  I wonder what my grandkids will think. This one? Not so.  It really is a piece of art and I’m GLAD it’s not discrete.

I have Katja Ramirez at Perfection Tattoo here in Austin to thank for this one.  I searched long and hard for an artist that I thought would really turn my pretty vague idea into something stunning, and by vague I mean I walked in and said “I need a deer, a wolf, and the cosmos.”  She took it from there.

The deer and the wolf and two of my spirit animals, as I know them.  I know, I know.  I actually told that to an older gentleman today (he asked) and he called me a “fucking hippie.”  In a nice way, if that’s possible.  The whole concept of spirit animals is kind of…uncharted, I guess would be the word.  There’s no definitive way of discovering what yours are; it’s mostly animals that you’ve had a strong connection with since childhood, or animals that show up frequently in your dreams, or there’s even a few psychics and clairvoyants who can read them for you.  For me, it was a combination the first two.  But, on top of having a spiritual connection with them, the deer and the wolf are powerful symbols on their own that both have a very special meaning to me.

The Deer

Deer symbolize the powers in nature that are not easily subdued.  They are native to every continent except Australia, thus they are able to adapt very well to many habitats.  They represent instinctual energy, independence, and regeneration…This instinctual energy that deer represent tells us to trust our gut reactions, because those instincts will tell us when to fight or flee.

Deer also symbolizes the gentle, enticing lure of new adventures…But there is also a cautious element to deer.  Their antlers grow behind the eyes and offer protection…

Deer has many sides—deer is powerful and feisty, cautious, adventurous, and protective.  But deer has great individuality, calling for people to trust their instincts and trust themselves.

(via pure-spirit.com)

The deer, I feel is my “full-time” spirit animal.  The animal that I am most like spiritually.  Gentle, a symbol of unconditional love.  They are a symbol, as mentioned above, of independence and the lure of new adventures, a lure that has had its hook in me since it was in my power to seek out adventure on my own. And, protective, looking out for those they love. I feel that I will always have that spirit of the deer in me.

The Wolf

[Wolves] are seen as teachers, instructing us in our daily lives and all the troubles that go with them.  The lessons wolf teaches are not always easy to swallow, but nevertheless necessary.  Wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty, and spirit.  Wolf has the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments, and often need to trust their own instincts.  Thus they teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds, and have control over our own lives.

(via pure-spirit.com)

Unlike the deer, the wolf shows up in my life only sometimes.  Mostly (and by mostly I mean exclusively) in dreams.  Without fail I will dream of a wolf when I am having a hard time listening to my heart and intuition, often when I’m facing a difficult time or life-altering decision.  Why, then, do I have one immortalized on my skin?  A constant reminder.  To listen to my heart and intuition at all times.  It’s the one thing in life that I constantly struggle with, with the exception of my ongoing sugar addiction, but I’ve pretty much given up on curing that.

The placement is symbolic too.  The deer appears on the front of my arm, always visible when I look at my reflection.  The wolf is near the back, not readily visible to me but there when I need him.

The Cosmos

The cosmos are the third symbol in the tattoo.  They’re a simpler symbol to me, just symbolizing my growing interest and understanding of the universe as a whole and all the dimensions in it, including the spirit world.  Like I said, I have a hard time trusting intuition, and therefore have a hard time giving myself completely to a belief in the spirit world at times. Though I’ve always known and believed that it exists, the extent and focus of my beliefs fluctuate dramatically.  The cosmos are less of a reminder and ongoing lesson, and more of a marker of my mindset at this point in time.

Recommended Reading

If you’re interested in more information about spirit animals and symbolism, there are three really great books that I highly recommend:

[Resolution] #46 Revisit a Childhood Memory

I’m not really able to say that I “grew up” in Belgium, since I moved back to the US when I was still so young, but childhood memories are more about perception than time spent exposed to them.  If someone were to ask me my fondest childhood memory I would say “sitting on the curb in the middle of Brussels eating liege waffles.”  That’s not a curb up there, but that’s my sister and I eating them in a mall in Belgium, unable to smile, evidently, because we’re too busy stuffing our faces with waffle 🙂 I’m still halted in my tracks by the smell of cooking waffle cones at ice cream parlors because it’s so similar and brings back the same wave of nostalgia.

Until–well today–I thought that this was the one childhood memory I’d have to go overseas to re-live.  I don’t know WHY no one thought of it before, but there was not a single place in the United States where people were cooking waffles the way they do on the streets of Belgium.

Liege waffles aren’t the Belgian waffles that you can pick up in the freezer section of the grocery store.  In fact, not even close.  While those are technically Belgian (Brussels) waffles, the waffles of my childhood are much different.

According to The Belgian Waffle Co. (who I will commence singing the praises of in a moment):

The Waffle de Liége is made from a richer, more sweet dough, who’s key ingredient is Belgian pearl sugar. During preparation, the waffle irons are carefully set to the perfect temperature in order to melt and caramelize the pearl sugar. This produces a crispy and cakey texture throughout the entire waffle, with a soft and warm center.

Sounds heavenly?  That’s because it is.

It looks a little something like this:

See that crispy caramelized sugar around the edges?  That’s where the magic is, right there.  This is the first ever moment that I really wished taste-o-vision existed.  You’ll also notice that there chocolate oozing from the dough.  That’s not a tradition liege waffle quality, but it was one I couldn’t resist and gladly paid the extra dollar for.

And, speaking of paying, let me mention the brilliant business minds that are responsible for finally bringing liege waffles to my backyard.

The Belgian Waffle Co. is the newest and hands-down greatest new food truck in Austin.  I’ve said many times that you don’t have to walk through a door to get the best food in Austin.  The best food is ordered through the window of an airstream trailer, or in the case a small bus?

Again, from their website, “We came here, to Austin, directly from Belgium. When we visited Austin last year, we loved everything this great city had to offer, and knew this was where we wanted HAD to be!”

YES.  THANK YOU. WELCOME. PLEASE STAY FOREVER.

Their menu also has a whole list of toppings that you can add on to your waffle.  Everything from fresh fruits and syrups to savory toppings like sausage or BBQ sauce.  Wouldn’t be a food truck without a little Austin flair, would it?  I had to go traditional today, just to see if it was the real deal (it was), and Nick went american-traditional with maple syrup and powdered sugar (a real no-no by the way if you’re actually in Belgium).  Both of us devoured those things like they might not be available tomorrow.  But since they will be, we might just go get another.

Thanks BWC.  For existing.