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Dinner Belles

c (copyright) 2003 Mary Beth RamseyMary Beth Ramsey Copyright 2003

Anne and I live on the same floor of a large condo building. We were “hello, how are you” neighbors until we started talking about food, movies and all matters green. Real convo. As we both are good cooks (I am a vegetarian and Anne will forgo meat for our meals), we started our own supper club we call the Dinner Belles.

Dinner Belles happens whenever we like — once every two or three weeks – and can be whatever we like. It can be a shared dinner in one of our apartments (I’ll make soup and bread if you bring salad and dessert) or a collection of finger foods before checking out the latest production at a nearby informal experimental theater.

Why it works:

The Dinner Belles appreciate.

A friend’s husband once said he thought a can of spiced beans was just as good as the recipe she had worked so hard to produce for her family. We cheer on each others efforts, because the cooking is part of the relationship, and we take time to notice what we are doing.

The Dinner Belles experiment.

Anne has been working on a recipe for baba ghanoush for months (see the latest variation below). My soup explorations have included a jar of organic spaghetti sauce as a base for bean soup and another jar with different seasoning for a lentil stew.

The Dinner Belles surprise.

Since we rarely get too specific with menu planning, we delight ourselves with serendipitous menus and unusual combinations. For a recent warm summer evening, we wound up with a spread of five salads, including cold Szechuan noodles — Anne’s frequent shopper reward from a local grocery store.

The Dinner Belles share.

The visiting Belle takes her leftovers home in eco-friendly Tupperware. Neither has to cook a meal or two.

The Dinner Belles relax.

Dishes away, we watch arty videos. We are exploring Anne’s likes: British sci-fi — Blade Runner, Torchwood, Dr. Who — with some Eddie Izzard for variety now and then. And then there is the after-movie discussion. Delicious mini staycation.

Anne’s Most Recent Baba Ghanoush Recipe

For those who prefer subtitles on British videos, an aubergine is also known as an eggplant.

Bake whole aubergine for 1 hour at 450 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

In some sort of blending apparatus:

  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro or flat parsley depending on preference
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cool meat of aubergine (if you salted the skin whilst baking, include some salt)
  • Dash of liquid smoke (or BBQ sauce in a pinch)

Now add:

  • Just enough tahini — not too much to overwhelm the subtle flavour of the aubergine but just enough to provide a nutty aftertaste and also create the essential consistency. (This balance comes only with trial and error. Lots of error.)
  • Lemon Juice (for flavor but also to activate the tahini.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


Refrigerate until tahini and lemon react and desired consistency is reached. (At least an hour.)

NB: Amount will swell so leave a little extra room in the container to accommodate.

Cinderella Shoes

If the shoe fits, keep it. But what happens when your comfy solemates get scruffy, or boring, or so out of style you don’t want to be seen in public with them? Before donating them to a thrift, consider giving them the Cinderella treatment. You don’t even need a magic wand to change the color, and from there, recycling techniques range from very to moderately easy to do. Then you have new shoes you can enjoy without having to break them in.

Shoe Bling

Dress up plain pumps as people have done for centuries, by making or buying accessories that clasp on to the shoe’s toe or behind the heel or to sandal straps. Alligator clips attached to bows or faux flowers, old clip-on earrings, or decorative buckles found in thrift shops or scrounged from other repurposed clothing items are all good candidates for clip-on bling.

Golden Slippers

To extend the life of comfortable but grungy leather shoes, Neville Medhora, a personal finance blogger, bought a can of gold spray paint and gave the pair a total paint job, top and bottom. He likes the results which cost him all of $2.99. To be as eco-friendly as possible, look for a low VOC spray paint.

Neville Medhora gilded his old pair of Aldo shoes with spray paint after "shoe touch-up paint" no longer made them look any better.

Urban Batik

Threadbanger gives old Chuck Taylors new life by spray-painting the soles and tagging the sides with a bleach pen. Safety pins attach additional bling to the canvas uppers. (Safety pins attach additional bling to the uppers) (See how it’s done in the quick tutorial below.)

Sole-deep Makeover

Marty Stevens-Heebner’s book, Altered Shoes, provides 20 step-by-step guides to transforming stilettos, boots, flats, pumps, loafers, espadrilles, flip-flops, sneakers and sandals into anything but dull incarnations of their former selves. Makeovers range from the super-easy Flower Power Pumps — beads (as many as you like) attached with a glue gun — to easy but more time-consuming projects involving stamping, gilding and iron-on transfers. $17.24 at the Eco-Artware bookstore

Marty Stevens-Heebner spray painted her nondescript black leather granny boots and then attached fabric, lace and a transferred image to them with rubber cement and a hot glue gun. She also embellished the shoelaces with metallic paint.

John Boak’s Cabin in the Sky

Graphic artist John Boak lives with his wife and son in Denver. In 1998 they decided they wanted a vacation home, a cabin with a view somewhere in the nearby Rockies. After an intensive search, in 2000 they found their ideal half-acre covered with aspen trees, almost two miles above sea level. They hired a contractor to build a functional 1,200-square-foot building with all the necessities; the Boak family completed the exterior trim and all the interior finish using recycled, reused and repurposed material

The cabin was sited around this view, a vital part of the project

The cabin was sited around this view, a vital part of the project

Boak has sketched glyphs in odd moments for most of his life, and now some of them, cut from wood, adorn the outside of his second home.

Boak has sketched glyphs in odd moments for most of his life, and now some of them, cut from wood, adorn the outside of his second home.

Boak takes an improv approach to finishing the cabin: “Use available materials to feather your nest,” he says. Throughout the years, he has consulted the “endless dumpster” behind his house in the city and it has rewarded him with two oriental rugs, a hotel vacuum, a coffee maker, a toaster oven and a bed and springs, among other useful items that he has used in his work and the cabin.

Cabinets in the "Aggressive Rustic” kitchen are made from aspen logs, the doors from recycled industrial pallets. The decorative work is fashioned from pine branches and willow twigs found on hikes in Colorado and Utah.

Cabinets in the "Aggressive Rustic” kitchen are made from aspen logs, the doors from recycled industrial pallets. The decorative work is fashioned from pine branches and willow twigs found on hikes in Colorado and Utah.

Boak cut a lot of dead aspens to make these 36-inch long log tiles for the East Bedroom's walls.

Boak cut a lot of dead aspens to make these 36-inch long log tiles for the East Bedroom's walls.

Boak knew he would eventually find a use for the VW windshield he found 30 years ago: A coffee table, supported by aspen logs cleared from the cabin site.

Boak knew he would eventually find a use for the VW windshield he found 30 years ago: A coffee table, supported by aspen logs cleared from the cabin site.

The Boaks’ mountain retreat is still a work in progress. The family plans to start some landscaping and build a toolshed so they can move the bandsaw from their living space. Boak’s website features detailed drawings, photos, and explanations of the evolving cabin.

The Back Story: Arghand Soap

Eco-Artware’s naturally scented soaps are handmade by the Arghand Cooperative in Kandahar, in the southern part of Afghanisan. It is a fertile agricultural area and for centuries has been renowned for its fruits, flowers and nut trees. Currently, the area also experiences crossfire in the war between the government and the Taliban.

American journalist Sarah Chayes started the privately funded cooperative in 2005 to help strengthen and diversify the local economy. Making a luxurious soap for export to Western markets brings together local artisans and local farmers in a sustainable way.

Arghand Skin-Nourishing Soap "Pebbles" Sampler

SOAP STONES: Each of the Arghand Cooperative's long-lasting naturally soaps is shaped by hand to resemble a different marble stone found in the rivers of southern Afghanistan.

The co-op creates its own scents, cold-pressed oils and colors from locally grown almonds, pomegranates, mint and other produce. The eleven women and eight men craft the soaps in the shape of pebbles from nearby rivers using a traditional, labor-intensive process that takes about six weeks to complete, including three weeks for drying.

Unlike other places in current Afghan society, the Arghand co-op treats the women the same as the men and pays them fair wages for their work.

Below is a slideshow presenting an overview of the daily life at the Arghand Cooperative. These pictures will give you an idea of the complex and painstaking process that Arghand members perform with care every day, under difficult circumstances.

The Arghand Soap Making Process


The Clothes Off my Back

Clothes in closet

I’ve edited my closet for summer and there’s a pile of unusable clothes on the floor. Now what?

My challenge is to either repair them or find suitable homes for them — anywhere but in the trash can. According to the EPA and the Council for Textile Recycling, used clothing or textile waste (including shoes, linens and related accessories) represents up to 5 percent of what’s filling U.S. landfills.

Some eco options for reusing or recycling the clothes off my back:

Sell: Take them to a local consignment shop or place an ad on Craigslist. If you have stylish vintage clothes/accessories, join others and open an Etsy shop.

Repair: You could DIY, but if you’re like me, unable to replace a zipper or shorten a hem, a tailor or seamstress can be your best friend. Ask local drycleaning or fabric stores for recommendations. I work with a seamstress who both repairs and restyles clothes. I discovered her through a tip from my neighbor, and we make a great team. I’m a thrift store junkie and she has fixed up more than one of my wardrobe “finds.” I never could have turned slacks into capri pants or changed a round neckline into a more flattering “V” neck, but she works miracles. Maybe that’s how my closet got so full in the first place.

Reena in a jacket.

My updated vintage jacket. A professional seamstress shortened the sleeves and changed the buttons to make it stylish again

Swap: Since I’m only reducing my wardrobe, not going naked, I checked out Six Great Online Swap Sites which provide new-to-me-and-you options for my retired garments.

I could also hold my own clothes swap party for eco and budget-minded friends — with fashion sense. eHOW provides a step-by-step guide

to make it run smoothly.

Donate: To the condo laundry room where we recirculate books, clothes, surplus raw sweet potatoes — anything useful but unneeded. To the local nonprofit charity shop, Goodwill or church rummage sale . To a group that needs specific kinds of clothing, like Dress for Success
which provides stylish and interview-ready outfits to women looking for jobs. You can get a tax credit for donations.

Recycle: Clothes that are beyond being useful to anyone can be sold by the pound to recycling centers where it is shredded and used for insulation, made into industrial wiping rags or, depending on the type of fabric, new material. Just bag them up, label them “Scraps” and bring them to the Salvation Army to add to their donation.

One Second of Convenience, 500 Years in the Landfill

I bought a veggie sandwich to go yesterday. At the very second I ordered, 2,628 other people throughout the United States also bought take-out food. According to the MSLK Design Firm, most carryout meals are packed in non-recyclable and non-compostable materials such as styrofoam, which can take five centuries to decompose in a landfill.

MSLK, a New York-based marketing and design firm committed to sustainable design, believes that people can better understand the damage done to the environment during one second than the enormous annual numbers we see all the time. Especially when environmental degradation is illustrated with objects from their everyday lives.

MSLK, which practices what it preaches by using wind power in its office and eco-friendly materials in its work, is on a mission to raise awareness about our unnecessary use of plastic and the waste it produces For this project, the designers asked people in neighboring office buildings to save their fast food and take-out containers, napkins and utensils. Then they mounted the throwaways on the numbers 2629, each number is is built of plywood which is 8′ high by 4′ wide.

Artist's photo of MSLK's installation

Artist's photo of MSLK's installation standing upright. It depicts the amount of take-out waste generated in one second.

The result? The “Take-Less” installation. The work also suggests eco-friendly alternatives to cut down on take-out waste: eat at home, dine in restaurants, support businesses that use sustainable packaging materials–compostable and recyclable containers. “Take-Less” will be displayed horizontally on a lush green lawn to remind viewers that our green spaces are being replaced by landfills.

Installation of numbers

Installation shown as exhibited. Do the math: 2,629 non-recyclable containers per second could fill this field faster than you can say, "Make that to go, please."

It will be exhibited at the upcoming Figment Art Festival on Governor’s Island in NYC on June 11-13. Take-Less will be displayed again at the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn, NYC, on September 24-26.

“Take-Less” is the third in MSLK’s series of eco-installations representing the amount of plastic consumed in one second in the U.S. In 2009 they created “Watershed” out of 1,500 disposable plastic water bottles, and in 2008, “2663 Urban Tumbleweeds,” a half-mile long chain of plastic shopping bags.

Visit the MSLK website to learn more about their designs for the environment and other projects.