Jul 182015

peachesI made jam with my son yesterday—from a mass of little peaches and crab apples we gleaned from a local school garden (it was either us or the squirrels as few urban dwellers connect fruit on trees with fruit in their bellies).

And I have to say that this jam was delicious. I’m sure if I bought it in a store I’d think it’s just pretty good. But knowing that I made it, and that it was essentially free—both in the ecological and financial sense (minus the little bit of electricity, lemon and sugar I used)—made this jam some of the best I’ve ever eaten! Plus the fact that my son, Ayhan, helped me cut the fruit (his first attempt with a knife, albeit with my hand on it too) and pour in the sugar, added some fun to the process too.

My recipe is based closely off the advice and instructions in this great blog post for making a small batch of jam from The Kitchn, but I didn’t follow it very meticulously, figuring there was a lot of room for improvisation in jam making.

cutting fruitIn short, I cut up about 10 small peaches, leaving the skin on (I didn’t want to waste anything), grated 12 very small crab apples (I grated them as they were too small to easily cut), threw in half a cup of sugar (the recipe suggested more but I wanted to err on the side of too little rather than too much) and squeezed in half a lemon (half of what the recipe called for but was still too much as there’s a lot of natural pectin—and sourness—in crab apples).

I then cooked it—in a wide pan—on a medium high heat until the fruit boiled for about 10 minutes and was thick in consistency. Towards the end I added some shakes of some ground cinnamon (this blog post from Northwest Edible Life has a great flavor guide on what spices to add to enhance jam). Then, once it was finished cooking, I pureed the jam with an immersion blender to make it a bit smoother and break up the skins better. And that’s it! I filled up a big jar with jam and put it in the refrigerator (I didn’t glean enough to consider the challenges of true canning—but put most in the refrigerator and froze a bit for later. As I can already attest, the jam is perfect for toast, pancakes, or even straight from the jar. Enjoy!

Step By Step (for next time I make it):

cooking fruit1) Glean a few pounds of fruit

2) Wash fruit

3) Cut fruit into small pieces removing damaged bits (or grate in the case of really small fruits)

4) Put in pan and add 1/3rd cup of sugar and mash with a potato masher

5) Squeeze in a quarter of a lemon

6) Bring to boil on a medium heat and boil for about 10 minutes (until a thick jam-like consistency is achieved)

7) Add cinnamon (or other preferred spices) while jam is boiling

8) Let cool and put into jar. Enjoy!

 July 18, 2015  Posted by on July 18, 2015 Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Jul 262013

“Like a healthy organism with healthy organs made up of healthy cells, sustainability needs to operate at all levels: the individual, the household, the neighbourhood, the village, and the city. A flourishing, sustainable “eco-city,” by definition, would include many flourishing, connected ecovillages and neighbourhoods.”

Site plan of Earthsong Ecovillage (courtesy of Earthsong)

This insight comes from Robin Allison, in her Communities Magazine article about Earthsong, a 3-acre eco-neighborhood in the western suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand. Often articles about ecovillages or eco-neighborhoods focus on how they are an oasis of sustainability in an unsustainable society, and Earthsong certainly sounds like that—with parks, gardens, a pond, small clustered homes (to facilitate community), and car-free design.

But more important than their design is ecovillages’ role beyond their borders: how they influence the larger communities they are nestled in—whether directly in the neighboring cities and towns, or globally through how they serve as training ground for like-minded individuals who come for eco-living courses, or ideally both.

In my own travels to ecovillages, I saw the potential of this broader influence especially in places like the Los Angeles Ecovillage, nestled right in the heart of LA, offering both affordable housing and community to environmentalists but also serving as a hub of local eco-activism—from helping to commission a local park that processed street run-off water to organizing events to get mayoral candidates to declare their green credentials and commitments publicly.

The eco-neighborhood is too often the overlooked piece in the puzzle of how to make cities more sustainable and resilient. But this piece is essential as individuals can only do so much (and are often easily manipulated into buying “green” products rather than making the harder lifestyle changes), as can top-down city approaches—as the resistance to recent efforts by New York City Mayor Bloomberg reveal. But it is the energy of the neighborhood that could play the key role both in bolstering commitment of individuals (as they keep up with the eco-commitments of the Jones down the street) and in serving as a counterbalancing lobbying force to help pass bold citywide initiatives (rather than them being killed by industry lobbies or others that may be opposed).

Look at this impressive visualization of New York City 50 years from now that the students from the University of Michigan’s Master of Urban Design Program created.

A future sustainable New York City (courtesy of University of Michigan’s Master of Urban Design Program)

As this Atlantic Cities blog post describes, it includes major design overhauls: tidal marshes and bus rapid transit systems, redesign of new skyscrapers and retrofitting of old buildings. It would cost billions and at every step of the way would anger someone—whether architects, builders, industry lobbies, property owners (what do you mean my restaurant needs to be turned into a wetland!?!) and so on.

But if neighborhoods were engaged—if neighbors were helping to flesh out the local eco-vision and lay the groundwork (and even more basic: keep the energy and spirits up of community activists who spend day after day fighting for these changes)—the odds of success would increase significantly.

So how do we catalyze the neighborhood? Existing self-defined ecovillages and eco-neighborhoods will certainly play a role. They are filled with committed individuals who understand both the need for major changes and for community engagement. But obviously they’re not enough of these out there. So we’ll need other drivers beyond the declared eco-neighborhood—whether that be Transition Town groups, Neighborhood Associations, church groups, Resilience Circles, or informal networks of neighbors who gather regularly (or in reality all of the above). Each of these will not only play a role in the actual greening process of neighborhoods and their town or city, but also help to sow the seeds of cooperation and political energy that will be essential in the process of building a sustainable civilization in the decades to come (or in the worst case, at least help facilitate a smooth and orderly evacuation if their neighborhood is one of the many eviscerated by a changing planet).

 July 26, 2013  Posted by on July 26, 2013 Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »