The recyclable/compostable Christmas tree

startree

I must confess: Erik and I are Scrooges. Ask anyone who knows us and they will tell you our Christmas spirit is measured in negative numbers. There are a lot of reasons for this, but those are beside the point. The point is that this year we’ve decided to embrace the madness instead of rejecting it. We’re getting our Christmas on.

To do this right, we needed a tree, a real tree.* Sticker shock prevented us from getting a big tree, but we’ve got a cute little tree balanced on, of all things, a stack of bee boxes in the living room. (Bees Not Included.)

Because of our essential scrooginess, we have very little in the way of Christmas decorations, especially for people of our advanced age. Usually Christmas decorations grow and multiply over the years like a tinsely coral reef. Kids, of course, generate many decorations. And some families give or buy commemorative ornaments every year. Ornaments get passed down. And some people just can’t resist a new ornament. None of these things apply to us. And, as I said, we are scrooges. I started this tree pretty much from scratch, like a kid in her first apartment. We had a string of white lights, and a couple of random things here and there.

buck tree

I just had to throw in the demented cat.

Since I was starting from scratch, I could saddle up my high horse and take her for a ride. I declared this tree and its decorations would all be compostable, or at a stretch, recyclable. Except the lights. I don’t know if the high horse would allow me to buy lights or not, so I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.

As I mentioned in the wreath post a couple of weeks ago, I really like the idea of natural, ephemeral holiday decor. There’s pleasure in finding decorations in nature, and in crafting by hand. There’s also pleasure in being able to send most of it back to the earth when the holiday is over. It saves money, saves storage space and gets you in touch with nature and your own creativity. What’s not to like?

So anyway, this year’s tree is fairly minimalist so far. I may make/find some more ornaments before Christmas, including a classic popcorn/cranberry chain. But  one thing I’ve realized is that this can be a year-round project in the future, because you never know when you’re going to find something wonderful in nature. And what better way to remind yourself to keep a sharp eye on what’s around you?

I want to collect bird feathers, and small pine cones, and young acorns and rose hips and pretty sticks covered with moss and dried flowers. I have more ideas right now than I have time. I do know that next year’s tree will be more wilderness themed than this one. This one I like, though.

Ideas for Ephemeral Ornaments

Most of these are classic, old-fashioned ornaments. I love the fact that they are free or inexpensively made, and don’t have to be stored from year to year.

  • Sturdy fruits and berries
  • Popcorn/cranberry strings
  • Paper chains
  • Dried herbs and flowers
  • Moss
  • Feathers
  • Cool looking seed pods
  • Nuts
  • Origami
  • Paper snowflakes
  • Homemade rock candy
  • Gingerbread figures

There’s tons more possibilities. What have I forgotten?

Some of my ornaments

sugared sage

This is a sugared white sage leaf. I added sugar because I decided the tree needed a little bling.

sugared toyon

Ditto with these–sugared toyon berries. I will do a separate how-to post on sugaring.

pepperberries

But berries don’t need sugaring to look nice. These are pink peppercorn tree berries.

twirl ornament

These  pretty twisty spiral things fall off a tree in our neighborhood. I’m sorry that I don’t know the name of the tree.

origami ikea

Next year I’m going to do my own origami for the tree. This year I’ve got some paper stars I dug up, which I believe came from Ikea.

snowflake

And there’s always snowflakes.

xmastree3

*We considered a potted tree but decided against it because first, we could never plant it–we don’t have the space, and second, most of these conifers aren’t meant to live in the LA climate. I didn’t want to keep a potted tree on life support on our back patio. I think it would be unhappy. This little tree will be dismembered after Christmas and will become part of the ecosystem of our yard.

An Early Resolution

coffee cup

Last night I wrote a rant against disposable coffee cups, aka to-go cups. I didn’t post it this morning because I didn’t feel good about it. It was too negative, and worse, I was projecting. My rant went into some detail about the fraudulent idea of “disposability”, and how this idea degraded both our environment and our culture.

And this is true. A to-go cup is not particularly recyclable, despite its pretenses. Many (most?) communities don’t find it worthwhile to recycle dirty paper cups. And by culture, I mean that is far more civil, not to mention communal, to share beverages from a common pot. To sit together and drink, instead of run and gulp alone. I said that is important to share a communal drink, leaving aside your own preferences for this happy wholeness and communality– i.e. your choices comes down to “cream or sugar?” rather than a whole menu blackboard full of incremental and ultimately insignificant customization options. I find that in the case of coffee, individualism is a lonely business.

At any rate, I realized I was spending too much time on my high horse (her name is Princess and she has a pink mane) when I am a frequent enough user of disposable cups. True, I don’t work in the office, so I’m not lining up at Starbuck’s twice a day, and I often carry a travel mug, but I don’t say no to hot beverages when I’m at meetings and gatherings, or when I’m on the road, and these almost always come in disposable cups.

If I try to imagine how many disposable cups I’ve used in my life–say the earth (justly) vomited them all back at my feet–how high would the pile be? As big as my house?

So I’m making a resolution. Instead of berating others, I’m declaring a personal moratorium on to-go cups–all disposable cups for both hot and cold drinks, actually, because why not? I banned plastic water bottles from my life long ago. Why it took so long for me to eschew the cups, I don’t know. I guess I was always able to mutter, “Well, at least they’re paper.” Denial is a beautiful thing! But it’s time to face facts. They’re just as bad as the bottles.

Thus the resolution: no more disposable cups personally, and I also vow to help groups/organizations I belong to wean themselves from disposables, even if that means me doing a lot of dishes in random bathroom sinks. Oh yes, I’m going to be that person.

One hopeful note: in researching I discovered that use of personal mugs at Starbucks  is up by 22% in one year:

In 2013 customers brought their own tumblers into our stores 46.9 million times, up from 35.8 million in 2012, saving more than 1.4 million pounds of paper from landfills. As more customers brought in their personal tumblers over the previous year, the percentage of customers choosing reusable mugs saw a 22% increase over the prior year from 1.5% to 1.84%.  (Starbucks blog)

Okay, so it’s not even 2% of their customers, but those few kept 1.4 million pounds of paper from the landfill, and that’s significant. Individual choices do matter.

A few more thoughts:

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.26.07 PM

To-go cups c. 1963, from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. See? Not so hard.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.21.22 PM

Bitter intelligence agents share a nice pot of tea. Also from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (I just watched it, so I noticed the cups.)

Part-time_Women_War_Workers,_Bristol,_1942_D10550

A Tea Lady in Britain keeps the war workers well-caffeinated, without the use of disposables.

coffee urn

This is so common, and yet so very unappealing. The plastic stir sticks! The creamers! Seriously, does anyone approach this situation with any more enthusiasm than you would a port-a-potty when you really have to go? Meaning, it’s there to fulfill a basic need, not to give anyone joy. Photo credit Colin Harris

CMOC_Treasures_of_Ancient_China_exhibit_-_large_grey_mug

Guess how old this coffee mug is. Guess. This mug was made in China 4000 to 4500 years ago. Humans have appreciated a good brew in a good mug for a long time. Let’s get back to that.

Saturday Tweets: Barbra Streisand, Urban Farm Troubles and Thoughtful Plants

Pizza Dough in a Pan Recipe

renaissance-baker-1500s

Renaissance flatbread (this skillet method dates back!). Via pizzanapoletanismo.com.

I’m spending the month of December developing some classes for the Meetup group I co-founded, the Los Angeles Bread Bakers. I’m going to put the recipes on the blog starting with this pizza dough, which is based on Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread recipe. If you try this recipe, please send me some feedback.

A note on flours
My favorite flour for pizza is the Italian 00. This will give you a Neapolitan style thin and crispy crust. If you want a Chicago style pizza with a bread-like texture, go with a high gluten bread flour. You can add a small amount of whole wheat flour but I would not exceed 10%. Pizza is not a health food. It’s a special occasion food and I think it tastes better with white flour.

A note on sourdough starter

This recipe requires sourdough starter. If you’d like to make one, check out our how-to video.

Tools
Digital scale (always use a scale!)
11-inch cast iron skillet or other oven proof skillet
Thermometer

Pizza Dough Recipe

Makes four small pizzas

  • 100 grams sourdough starter
  • 500 grams Double 00 or high gluten bread flour
  • 375 grams 80° F water
  • 10 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) sea salt

1. In lidded plastic container, stir the starter into the 80 degree water until dissolved. Mix all the ingredients with your hands or a dough scraper until water and flour are incorporated. There is no need to knead, just combine the water and flour. Put the lid on the container.

2. Bulk fermentation: 4 to 5 hours. Let the dough sit in your covered container at room temperature. Each hour, stretch and fold the dough pulling the right edge to meet the left and then pulling the left side to meet the right. You can do this stretch and fold without removing the dough from your container.

3. At this point you have a choice. You can divide the dough into 220 gram sections, shape them into balls and then use them to make pizza in another hour or two. I prefer to shape the dough into balls and put them in the the refrigerator, in a sealed container, and use it the next day or even the day after that. A longer, slower fermentation will give you a nice sour taste. Dough can come straight out of the fridge and be shaped into pizzas. You do not need to let it come up to room temperature.

4. Stretching your dough: you can do this by hand, but I prefer to cheat. If you want to do it by hand Peter Reinhart has video here. It’s heresy to admit this, but I use a rolling pin. Stretching by hand is better but using a rolling pin is easier. Your choice.

5. Preheat a frying pan on high heat. Add a teaspoon of oil to your pan. Stretch your dough and put the dough in the frying pan. You have a generous three minutes to add your toppings while the bottom of the crust cooks in the pan. A note on toppings: do not use too much sauce and toppings! Around two tablespoons of sauce will be enough. Too much sauce results in soggy crusts! Start by brushing on some olive oil and then add your toppings. Finish with some salt and/or pepper.

6. After three minutes put the pizza under the broiler until done, probably an additional three minutes. Watch for burning. Remove and place on a rack for a minute or so to cool, then slice and enjoy.

Suggested toppings:

  • Classic Margarita: tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil.
  • Crème fraîche and caramelized onions
  • Feta, figs (dried or fresh), olive oil
  • Pistachio pesto: pistachios, garlic, Manchego cheese, ground in a food processor
  • Eggs: crack two eggs and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and pepper.