June 14, 2019

Make It Last: Celery

Having not done a post in the "Make It Last" category for some time (7 years!), I decided now was the right moment to mention a make-it-last kitchen hack I learned recently from one of my simple living mentors. 

I have always been frustrated by how quickly celery goes down in the fridge. Limp is lame. 

Now that celery is insanely expensive, there is even more reason to store it so it stays crispy and fresh for a long time. 

I didn't know I have been doing it wrong until recently when I read a simple suggestion that I immediately tried to great effect. First, I had to get my celery out of plastic.

The (new to me) storage method is simple: after your celery bunch is delivered via armoured car, wrap it in aluminum foil. 

I have had a roll of tinfoil for years, because we don't use it very often, so it was good to have an actual use for it. 

After the celery is used up, I flatten the foil so I can reuse it next time I have saved enough money to get more stalks. 

This method is simple, it keeps the celery crispy, reduces food waste, and will save you money, or at least help you avoid having to eat rubbery stalks.

On a final note, have you noticed how over the years things you don't need like TVs have gotten cheaper, while things you do need, like food, have gotten more expensive?

All the more reason to store your food to make it last, and keep as much as possible out of the garbage.

Up to 1/3 of global food production is lost to waste every year.

June 12, 2019

Beyond Recycling: Toward Zero Waste

There is a reason recycling is the most promoted and well known of the many environmental Rs. It does not affect consumption. Recycling is system friendly.

We can never talk seriously about anything that will reduce consumption. Never. Even if it means saving the planet. That is why they only pay lip service to the other Rs: refuse, reduce, repair, and reuse - these will all reduce consumption.

Rethink is my favourite rebel R that gets little to no fanfare in places where ConsumerThink is the only state sanctioned mindset. 

Billions of dollars are spent every year to make sure we think the right way, and buy the right things. And then you use recycling as a (system friendly) way to help consumers feel like they are doing something meaningful - saving the environment!

Considering the dire straights we find ourselves in, I have to think we are beyond (for the time being) recycling. We have to rethink our whole way of life. 

The current system is set up for a liner waste stream - crap in, crap out. Do more of that every year, or the economy will collapse. We know continuing this will eventually collapse planetary systems, but they don't want us to stop. 

Never mind the planet, what will happen to profits?

Recycling is not enough in a system that requires more resource extraction, production, and consumption than the year before in order to function. 

Along with infinite growth comes infinite waste. Both are choking the life out of our planet, and are currently washing up on the beaches of the collective consciousness.   

Our economies never bothered to make themselves into nature-imitating circular, closed loop systems, and this has been their undoing. The linear waste stream leads to collapse if followed to the end.

At this stage it makes more sense to move some of the more unloved Rs to the forefront of our consumer craniums. A zero waste world is possible.

However, we currently don't have a closed loop in which recycling would be an integral part. Far from it. 

“The smallest loops also create the highest social benefits because they are labour intensive. They use very few material and energy resources, and as they are decentralized, they benefit regional economies by providing local employment.”
- Walter Stahel

In recent years, many of the nations where we used to send our (dirty) recycling materials to be reprocessed far away by low wage labour, are saying "NO" to further imports of the results of our prodigious consumption habits.

In Canada's case, the nations are sending several of the containers of recycling/rubbish back to Canada so we can, perhaps, deal with our own stuff right here where it was generated.

Until we have a zero waste system where no waste is produced, I will continue recycling while concentrating on the other Rs that are most likely to lead to a lower consumption lifestyle, and eventually, a complete system change. 

A closed loop system where recycling is a common sense and seamless part of waste free living, is where we want to get. The other R's are the way to get there.

Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Repair, Reuse. And then Recycle. 

June 7, 2019

The High Price Of Materialism

Regular readers of this blog will agree that basing a life on materialistic values is a losing proposition. The video I am highlighting in this post will be a reminder of sorts for them.

If you are new to the NBA blog and the concept of simple living, or find the whole rat race thing to be tiring and futile, then this video may help nudge you toward adopting a way of living that is healthier for you, your family, your neighbours, and the environment.

The end (of materialistic lifestyles) is near. The time to get started on the alternative, a more resilient and enjoyable simple life, is now. It is a movement that has been thousands of years in the making.


"Psychologist Tim Kasser discusses how America's culture of consumerism undermines our well-being.  
When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that "the good life" is "the goods life," they not only use up Earth's limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others. 
This animation both lays out the problems of excess materialism and points toward solutions that promise a healthier, more just, and more sustainable life." 
Research cited: click here.

Enjoy, and if it moves you, please share your reaction to the video in the comments section below.

June 5, 2019

Less Stuff, Less Housework

Housework. It seems that no one actually likes it. However, since it is as unavoidable as a nasty Trump tweet, something must be done to make it manageable.

While it is possible to enjoy cleaning house, how many people would rather do housework than other possibly more enjoyable activities? 

I have tried saying to myself, "I get to clean today" instead of "I have to clean today" to make it feel more like a choice, but I would still rather be in the woods, or be playing guitar and singing with Linda.

Having said that, I do believe I have found the secret to housework. 


Have less stuff.

That is my personal solution to the challenges of home maintenance. The way I see it, less stuff means less work overall. Life is more than buying and cleaning and storing and upgrading an endless number of things. 

Less stuff maintenance means more time to spend on more enjoyable things. For me that is just about anything. 

Less stuff, less housework, more life.

June 3, 2019

Making Refrigerator Pickles

Easy to make, and very tasty.

On my last grocery shopping trip I got 15 medium sized cucumbers for 1/2 price. They were in excellent condition, so we decided to try making cucumber pickles for the first time. Now I wonder why we waited so long.

If I had known how easy refrigerator pickles were to make, I never would have bought pickles at the store. Now that I know, I may never buy them again.

I don't like that I haven't been able to buy Canadian pickles for years now. In the grocery store, my choices are pickles from the USA, or India, and I don't particularly like either of those options. Now I can add a new choice - pickles from my very own kitchen.

The thing I love about home cooking is how you can make everything to suit your particular tastes. Mass produced foods are often bland so as to appeal to as wide a consumer base as possible. 

But what if you like BOLD food? What if you like a BOLD, spicy, hot pickle? Make it yourself. 

What I discovered about pickling is that it is an extremely adaptable process. We made refrigerator pickles (good in the fridge for several weeks), but if we grew cukes, and had lots of them, we could also can them using our hot water bath canner, then keep them in our pantry for months. 

We decided not to can this time because we only made two jars, and judging by the way they turned out, they won't last long.

In pickling, the vinegar, sugar and salt do the preserving, and the spices add to the flavour. Spicing is variable and depends on your taste. There is a huge variety of spices that can be used in an infinite number of combinations, only limited by your creativity and your spice collection.

We used mustard seed, black peppercorns, dill, turmeric, crushed red peppers, and whole garlic cloves. We made the pickles in jars one day, and tried them the next. It was hard to believe how easy they were to make, how quickly they set up, and how tasty they were only 24 hours later.

There are many good refrigerator pickle recipes on the net. All you have to do is find one that suits your tastes, or take a standard recipe, like this one, and modify it according to what you have in your pantry.

Why buy bland pickles shipped from the other side of the planet? Our food should be as fresh and tasty as possible. The best way to get that is to buy the ingredients from area farmers, and cook them up in your own kitchen.

Save money, eat better. 

Do you have a favourite pickling recipe?

May 29, 2019

Hours Are Like Diamonds

Hours are like diamonds, but even more precious.

What do you say to Death? 

"Not today."

But eventually the time will come when Death will say, "Yes, today." 

4 days ago that time came for a friend I have known since elementary school. He had been fighting cancer over the past few months. 

On the day he passed, Linda and I planted the seeds of this year's garden. We were feeling elated and full of life when we got the news. 

Emotionally we went from one extreme to another. 

Life to Death in an instant. 

And so it goes.

Jeff Olson, was 57. He was one of the most solid human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. We shared a love of the outdoors and being in the wilderness, and probably spent more time together under the sky than we did under a roof.

Jeff was not one to waste his time. He followed his dreams, and took care of business. He was a helper in his community, and provided service to anyone that depends on oil and gas and the many products made from them. Which is most of us.  

Thank you, and farewell my friend. 

May 23, 2019

Live Simply, So The Birds Can Simply Live

- photo credit Brian Sullivan

I wait for the return of the swallows every spring. For me, they rival the robin for the position of Official Harbinger of the season. 

On the west coast we lived close to a vehicle bridge under which many swallows nested in their little mud homes built on the girders. Now on the east coast, we live on an old farm that has old, open outbuildings, including a small barn, that provide perfect nesting sites for swallows. 

Over the years the wait for the swallows in spring has become troubling.

In Nova Scotia (like most of North America), swallow numbers are down dramatically since the 1980s. It is hardly an isolated case in the bird universe. These ancient descendants of dinosaurs are finally being done in by the new kid on the block, Homo consumericus. 

There are so many threats to the ecosystem that it is difficult to finger any one cause for the decline of birds. More than likely, these threats operate synergistically and therefore become a greater threat together than any one individually.

"The main causes of the recent decline in Barn Swallow populations are thought to be:
1) loss of nesting and foraging habitats due to conversion from conventional to modern farming techniques;
2) large-scale declines (or other perturbations) in insect populations; and
3) direct and indirect mortality due to an increase in climate perturbations on the breeding grounds."
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 

And I would add: 

4) high consumption lifestyles.

Because of the above, each spring when I spot the first barn swallow of the year, my heart skips a beat. Each returning individual is cause for celebration.  

Before long, small groups of swallows are squeaking and hunting acrobatically around our house, in the yard, and over the fields. When successful breeding takes place, the numbers increase in a most joyous way.

Each barn swallow can eat up to 1000 insects every day. They are perfectly designed to inhabit a specialized niche, which happens to encompass the human world (they like us!), and they do so with balance and efficiency. 

Something else I appreciate is how they demonstrate fearlessness and confidence in their flying skills as they zoom through the air, seemingly recklessly, but in full control.

If only I could live as simply and efficiently as these wonderful birds, without doing any harm, being supremely good at what I do, while adding beauty and a useful service to the circle of life. 

I live simply, so the barn swallows, and other birds, can simply live. When it comes down to choosing between a high consumption lifestyle and the birds, I choose birds.

It would truly be a "silent spring" if the swallows and other birds continued their current vanishing act right into extinction. I would miss them dearly.

May 16, 2019

Change Is In The Air This Spring

I smell flowers. And change.
(Thank you, Nancy, for the flowers.)

Spring brings us into an energetic, creative, get-things-done cycle. And this spring, more than previous ones since we moved to Nova Scotia 4 years ago, I am feeling restless. 

Is that change I smell on the wind?

Since Linda and I left Edmonton, Alberta (a city of one million) in 2005, we have been progressively simplifying our lives in preparation for a low carbon world that will be more simple and sensible than the one we are now unsuccessfully trying to prop up in denial and desperation.

How does one best prepare one's self for this dawning less energy intensive world? 

We feel that renting does not give us the control over our own destiny to the degree we would like to enjoy. But how do people who don't like to buy things turn around and buy the biggest single purchase of their lives? 

Linda and I have always rented, and we have enjoyed the freedom of movement that it has given us. Now we see purchasing an inexpensive rural property as the way to fulfill our the goals we would like to meet over the coming years. 

Thankfully, it looks like that may be a possibility for us because someone that aspires to a more self-sufficient lifestyle that is closer to nature, can buy a liveable rural property here for prices unheard of anywhere else that I know of in Canada (at least in the areas where most people want to live).

For what we would pay in rent in our current location over 5 years, we could acquire an acreage surrounded with forest with a small older home. That would give us the room, and the freedom, to cut our own firewood, grow fruit trees, install solar power and hot water heat, and have a huge garden. 

Linda's wish list includes a walnut tree. Mine, a Rails to Trails system within riding distance of home. Maybe, eventually, the trails will be converted back to rails (The Great Trails To Rails Movement of the 2020s) and we can take the train to our destination. 

In the meantime, I would be able to ride my bike through the woods unimpeded by fast moving, noisy and smelly vehicles blistering by just off my shoulder.

One big goal is living without a car. There it is. I said it. 

I bought my first car before I was legally able to drive it, that is how excited I was to add tons of gasses into the atmosphere while enhancing my lifestyle by endlessly looking for greener grass. More freedom. Better views. 

That freedom of movement and experience came at a cost that is now exerting itself in atmospheric changes we have never seen before. Each year breaks more records than the one previous.

Still, the thought of being without a vehicle makes me anxious. Is a rural lifestyle consistent with being car-free? 

But I also hate that most of the vehicles I have owned have been depressing money pit, smog-spewing, insect slaughtering monsters. 

It should be said that a lot of what we want to do has been modelled for us by readers of this blog. We are inspired by you because you see where this thing is going, and are instigating much-needed changes in response. 

We thank you for sharing your experiences here as we create a synergy that helps to gently nudge the world back to more Earth-friendly ways of living that are low  on stuff and high on satisfaction. 

It is exciting to ponder the possibilities for creating a beautiful, low carbon, low stuff simple life that builds on what we have already achieved, whatever that looks like over the next little while.

Is it the time of year, or is there a stronger whiff of change in the air this spring?  

I'm feeling' it.

May 7, 2019

Vegetarian Chipotle Baked Bean Recipe

Chipotle peppers are the secret ingredient in our baked bean recipe. We put the leftover peppers in a jar and refrigerate (we also use them in our Pea Soup recipe).

I never did like the meat in conventional baked beans, even when I ate meat. However, the flavour pork adds needs to be replaced. In our house, we do that with canned chipotle peppers and smoked paprika.

Chipotles are smoked jalapeƱos, so you get a smoky flavour from a plant based source. Be warned though - along with the smoky you also get the fiery heat. Cut back on the peppers if you prefer a milder dish. 

This vegetarian baked bean recipe uses Navy (Pea) Beans, the variety with the most fibre, which your colon will love (the colon requires about 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day to be healthy). It's hearty and healthy food. And they taste great.

Canned beans are convenient but often high in added sugars, fat, salt, additives, and BPA contaminants from the plastic-lined cans. Your healthiest option is to make them from scratch so you can control the ingredients, make a baked bean to your personal taste, and save money.

Vegetarian Chipotle Baked Beans

  • 2 cups (454 g) Navy (Pea) Beans
  • 5 cups (1.18 L) cold water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp. (7 ml) salt
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) Bragg Seasoning (or use soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. (15ml) prepared mustard
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) molasses
  • 1 can (398 ml) tomato sauce
  • 3 medium to large chipotle peppers, cut into small pieces (you can also add a bit of the sauce)
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika  
  • Pinch black pepper

Sort and rinse beans. SOAK BEANS OVERNIGHT in cold water. Drain. 

Add 5 cups cold water, cover, heat to boiling, then simmer until nearly tender. Drain and save the liquid (we use it to make a delicious vegetarian gravy).

Brown onion and garlic in oil, then place on bottom of casserole dish. 

Add remaining ingredients in with the beans, stirring gently to combine, then pour entire mixture into casserole dish. I prepare the chipotles by putting them into a small bowl and cutting them with a pair of kitchen scissors.

Add enough water to cover mixture. Cover with lid and bake in oven at 350°F for an hour, or until beans are tender.

When beans are tender, remove 1 cup of beans, mash, then stir back into pot carefully. Cover and bake another 30 minutes. Add water as needed to keep beans covered. 

Ten minutes before serving, remove cover to darken up the beans. Season to taste. 

What we don't eat immediately, we put in 500 ml canning jars and put in the freezer for a quick, easy addition to meals later. We often have them on a bed of rice with steamed carrots on the side.

May 2, 2019

Dandelions Are Food, Not Weeds

It's food, not a weed.

Can a perfectly good food plant be labelled as a weed? Ask the common and much hated dandelion. 

Right now my garden is waiting for warmer weather before it can be planted out. My lawn, however, is bursting with greens that are ready to harvest. But they are weeds.

I made up my mind to try dandelion greens the day I saw them being sold in the grocery store. It was something I had never seen anywhere else, and it caused me to do a double take.

Is it a noxious weed to be poisoned and picked relentlessly in the quest for the perfectly useless lawn, or is it an agricultural crop sold in grocery stores? How can a weed be of value? The very definition of weed means "something of no value".

Either the grocery store is ripping people off charging them for a valueless product that can be picked in almost any yard in the country, or the system has been lying to us about so-called "weeds".

Turns out the system has been lying to us about weeds, and many, many other things. In this case, the weed known as dandelion is about as nutritious as non-weeds, like kale. It is also delicious, having a lighter taste, and more delicate texture. 

The entire dandelion plant is edible - greens, flowers, and roots. They contain anti-oxidants, are beautiful, and are one of the first flowers in spring making them very important for bees. They have been used as a healing plant for thousands of years, just not in lawn-loving North America.

Linda and I have been using dandelion greens in smoothies and salads this spring, and I can see no reason not to use them all year. I might even plant a few in my - gasp - garden. 

If I was a plant the system might mislabel me as a weed. I have often felt like a single dandelion in a flat field of green grassy monocultural conformity. Not to worry, what the system labels a weed can actually be very valuable and ultimately useful. 

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