One change—many benefits

“Harbourview Park” by Jeff S. PhotoArt at

I have long been a fan of small actions that create multiple benefits. Things that are both frugal and healthy, for example, or that both save money and have less of an environmental burden. I have realized one of our daily habits has not one—not two—not even three benefits—This action has four amazing benefits and I’m going to tell uou about it right now.

This quadruple-win that I’m going to share with you touches on health, food, finances and ecology; I think you’re going to love it!
My partner and I are fortunate to both work within walking distance from our centrally-located neighbourhood. When he first started his job, he decided to try to “get healthy” and he got a membership at the YMCA across the street from his office. He would go and work out on his lunch hour, and then grab a coffee and maybe a baked item from the bakery in his office building.
This seemed like a “healthy” choice except:
– he hated the treadmill
– he was spending close to $10 a day on eating out
– he was not eating the healthiest lunches
– he was spending over $50 a month for his membership
After a few weeks of doing this, he found out that his co-worker (who happens to be our neighbour) was walking home for lunch some days. It didn’t take him long to figure out that the extra 15 minute walk each way was equal to the amount of time he was spending on the treadmill. He quit the gym, saving around $600 per year, but more importantly, he LIKES walking!
This alone is great, but it gets better! He and I were already walking together in the the morning and after work, but we started coordinating our lunch times too. I often make a big batch of soup for us to warm up at our weekday lunches, or we snack on “home food” that is always cheaper and healthier than anything from the cafe. At a restrained estimate, the home lunches and coffees alone are saving around $5 per day, which equals $1200 per year. (I was already doing these things so I’m not counting the savings on my end.)
The quadruple benefits of walking home for lunch with my loved one are:
– Healthy, sustainable food choices (with no packaging waste)
– Enjoyable exercise outside
– Quality time together as a couple
– Saving around $1800 per year
We’ve never felt closer as a couple, or healthier or happier in our lives. In our conversations, we find ourselves naturally talking about our financial and health goals, so consequently we are making more progress in those areas. I feel so fortunate and grateful that the stars have aligned and we have made the choices that allow us to enjoy this wonderful life.
I would love to hear about any small habits or changes you have made that bear fruit in several different ways. Leave a comment or shoot me an email! I love hearing from you!

Foraging Friday: Burdock Root

Last Friday I went out foraging for Burdock root. This edible weed grows everywhere in the city. You can recognize it easily as it looks just like rhubarb, only its leaves are fuzzy and the stems are green rather than pink or red.

Armed only with a tiny spade, I went to work on digging it out. I dug and dug. I dug some more. I encountered rocks, roots and earthworms, and still I dug. I dug down nearly a foot! And that isn’t even a big one–I’ve seen online pictures of burdock roots nearly 3 feet tall!

I finally released my root from the earth and celebrated with a little dance and photo op. I took it home and stuck it in the fridge while I decided what to do with it.

In the end, I decided to slice it up and stick it in the dehydrator, as it is recommended as a herbal immune booster. I will read more about the medicinal qualities before trying it, but I am quite excited as its list of benefits is quite extensive.

On the downside, both the taste and the smell are . . . well, awful! Very bitter and astringent. I’m not sure if burdock is supposed to be so awful tasting, as it honestly doesn’t taste “edible” to me. Once again, more research is required!

But at least, for now, my curiosity about harvesting burdock is well satiated.

Slow Cooker Bread–for real???

I believe it was Suzanne who left a comment on my “Heatwave” post about using a crock pot in the summer to avoid heating up the house. That got me thinking. I’ve been doing a lot of reading over on A Year of Slow Cooking, and have been feeling very inspired about my crock pot. Apparently they’re very efficient little cookers, letting off very little heat, which also means very little wasted energy.

And then, I think it was the Roasted Garlic Spoonbread recipe that got me thinking . . . is it possible to bake bread in a slow cooker? Is that crazy? Or is it a wonderful, wonderful way to make bread all summer long without heating up the house?

In the end, I think it is somewhere in the middle, or possible both: a little crazy and a little wonderful (though I’m willing to go a little crazy to try to amp up the wonderful, in classic Frugal + Urban experiment stylez).

Parchment-lined loaf pan baking inside my slow cooker

So what I did is this: I made a batch of miraculous no-knead bread and stuck it in the fridge over night. Then this morning, I hacked off a hunk of dough, shaped it and stuck it into a parchment-lined small loaf pan. I let it warm up to room temperature and then I stuck it into the slow cooker on high, which I had warmed up for 15 minutes beforehand.

My slightly misshapen loaf

After about an hour, the delicious aroma of baking bread started filling the house. I let it bake for about 3 hours total, until I could see the sides were browned, and it had a nice hollow thump sound when I knocked on the bottom. I removed it and let it cool out of the pan.

In the end, it tasted very good! A little misshapen, but that was because of my sloppy parchment papering. The weirdest thing was the crust: it was crunchy and browned on the bottom and sides, where it had come into contact with the heat of the pan, but soft and pale on top where no heating element had the chance to crisp it up, and where it may have been exposed to a lot of moisture falling from the lid.

That didn't last long!

But none of that stopped us from eating the whole loaf.

It was good enough to inspire me to try more experiments! For my next one (two loaves of bread in less than 24 hours!!!) I hacked off my hunk of cold dough, shaped it into a small boule, and stuck it directly into the cold slow cooker. I’ve turned it on low, and I’m going to leave it on all night. What will I be greeted with in the morning? Hopefully breakfast 🙂

The morning loaf, baked on low overnight

June 23 update: Another yummy loaf of bread! This one, baked right inside the slow cooker insert, without a baking pan, was only crisp on the bottom, and, maybe because I let it cook longer, the top was not as soft. I did vent the lid with a toothpick before going to bed (just used the toothpick to hold the lid open a tiny crack, enough for some steam to escape), which may have been a factor in the improved top crust. I didn’t leave it overnight, but woke up around 4 or so and went and shut it off. In any case, it worked out well because the loaf is halfway eaten already!

All this bread baking is a clear inspiration to go and pick some local strawberries and make a big batch of jam!

Waste-Less Wednesday

So many blogs have a “thing” for Wednesdays: Wordless Wednesday being the most popular I’ve seen. After reading a lot about garbage and waste and gleaning lately, I’ve decided to create “Waste-Less Wednesday” where I look at ways of reducing our household waste.

Today I’m thinking about paper waste. I feel like I’ve always got bits of paper going out the door–mostly to the recycling bin, but that doesn’t clear my conscience, because how much of that actually gets recycled? And when I think about the amount of energy required to recycle it, it doesn’t quite seem like the free ride we’ve been told it is.

Some of our sources of paper waste include:

– food packaging like cereal boxes

– art paper from our daughter’s projects

– old bills

– store receipts

– packaging from new things we buy (pretty rare in this house, except at birthday/xmas time)

– flyers and junk mail

Of all of those, the last one might be the easiest to take care of, with a simple note on our mail box. For reasons beyond even myself, I’ve never indicated my displeasure with flyers. They come in with their “amazing deals” and “this weekend only” sales and take up far too much of our time, money and landfill.

Actually, if truth be told, I secretly enjoy a couple of them, particularly the Canadian Tire flyer. There’s something so nostalgic about leafing through the new Canadian Tire catalogue while eating a bowl of cereal.

But no more! Today I will put a little note on my mailbox that reads “No Flyers Please–We’re Saving Trees”. And then, when I see my neighbours’ boxes stuffed with the CT savings of the week, I’ll look mine up online.

Heatwave! Frugal ways to stay cool in the summer heat.

There are dozens of places to go for lists of ways to stay cool in the summer heat. Here is my list, as extensive as I can come up with, as much for my own peace of mind as anything. I start to get scared of the heat when the humidity starts to set in here in Ottawa, but I’m determined to get through one heatwave at a time this year, and maybe we won’t have to pull out the air conditioner!

At Home

– obviously, put your fans to use. Even your bathroom or kitchen vents can be used in the daytime to churn out some of your hot air and suck some cooler air up from the basement if you have one.

– instead of keeping the whole house cool, try to make one or two rooms “cool zones”. Get black-out curtains for mid-day, and good window fans to grab the cooler evening air.

– put some cold water in a bucket or the bathtub, and periodically soak your feet. This can cool down your whole body.

– wash laundry on cold. If you have to wash on hot, i.e. for diapers, do it at night when you won’t be adding to the heat of the day.

Out and About

– choose destinations with a/c: the library, city hall, museums, etc. Bring your snacks and go wild in air conditioned comfort. The only down side is that the heat always feels worse when you go back outside! Caveat: just stay out of the mall or your temptation to buy could outweigh all your smart frugal avoidance of the air conditioner at home!

– head to outdoor splash pads, or the beach, depending on where you live.

– stay home and put on the sprinkler, or fill up a kiddie pool. Wading in cold water can cool down your whole body.

– weird but it works: when I was younger I used to wear damp clothes in the summer to keep cool. Just make sure it’s not a white t-shirt!

– use a parasol to bring the shade with you.

Cool ways with food

– as counterintuitive as it seems, drinking hot tea can cool you down. Look at all the hot places in the world and you will notice that they are tea-drinking cultures. I think it works by making you sweat and thus cooling your body.

– if that’s not working for you, drinking lots of cool water will help you sweat and keep cool.

– cook outside. Use a barbecue, or build a solar oven. I’ve even heard of plugging in small appliances outside, though that is not recommended by the manufacturers.

– eat raw. Gaspatcho, hummus or steak tartare: none will add heat to your house through cooking.

– eat “cooling foods”. Do a search to find lists of these “yin” foods, including cucumber, pineapple and turmeric, which may lower your body temperature.

– build a solar oven and take advantage of the sun’s energy and high outdoor temperatures.

I’m actually planning on building a solar oven. My hope is to be able to bake bread on “the hottest day of the year” without scorn from my partner–or my brother!! I’ll update you with our progress.

Any other frugal cooling ways you can think of? Please comment, and I’ll add them to my list, with your name credited, of course!

Going for Straight As

According to the WWF, only 10% of Canadians give themselves an “A” when it comes to being green. The irony is that with this self-grading, the more you know, the less of an impact you feel like you’re having. I’m pretty damn green: no car, no dryer, cloth diapers, pee wipes, etc. but still I don’t give myself an A.

What could I do better?

– eat more local, less imported stuff

– buy less packaged food

– get Bullfrogpowered

– a miriad other small things,

and . . .

– recycle greywater.

I’ve always just sortof assumed that since I’m in an apartment, there is no realistic way for me to recycle my greywater. I can’t change plumbing, and I don’t have a garden to receive the rescued greywater. Plus, we don’t pay the water bill–the landlord does–so the motivation isn’t quite as high as if it would actually save us money. (I’m into enlightened self-interest here!)

But this weekend, watching the water empty into the sink from our portable washer, I had a brain wave: how easy would it be to catch this water, reserve it in a 5 gallon bucket, and use it to flush the toilet? Turns out, very easy.

Recycling GreywaterIt’s astonishing how much water we use. Watching it go down the drain, you just don’t get the sense of how much water we use and waste every day. Catching it in a bucket, you see: here are 5 gallons of almost clean water flushing down the drain. Using that water to flush the toilet, you realize: I’m using a couple of gallons of greywater to flush, but normally that would be drinking water.

Argh. So I’m a bit obsessed with this water thing at the moment. The only problem, it’s a damn pain in the ass. I mean, we already have a diaper bucket and a diaper bag hanging out in our tiny bathroom. Now I’ve added a 5 gallon plastic bucket of greywater, just waiting for my daughter to accidentally knock it over and cause thousands of dollars in water damage to our downstairs neighbour’s apartment. We just don’t have the room . . . and yet . . . it’s like using hankies and cloth diapers. Once you stop throwing something away, it just feels so wasteful when you use the disposable version.

So, for now the greywater bucket stays. But for how long?????