Eco baking?

My parents are ex-hippies. I consider myself a fairly environmentally friendly kind of girl, for someone living in a first world country like Australia. I turn off lights and taps, I don’t own a car (primarily because I don’t drive…), I buy environmentally friendly cleaning products and I care about the whales. But as I was walking home yesterday, sweltering in the ridiculous summer heat and pondering climate change, it occurred to me, how eco friendly is baking? Is my passion having a positive, negative or neutral impact on the environment and is there anything I can (or will) do to change this?

So first, the positives. While I haven’t got studies to prove it, it seems like common sense that cooking a meal at home is going to be more environmentally friendly than eating at a restaurant or buying takeaway. You reuse dishes rather than having to produce and then throw away takeaway containers. Home cooking is likely to be more simple and use less resources than a restaurant meal – no tablecloths to wash, you drink tap water not bottled and fewer ingredients in meals means less food miles, less water and fertiliser and land used. Also, eating at home means you don’t use your car or other transport to go out. And it’s not that I’m against eating out, I absolutely love it, but I’m trying to get an overall picture of the good, bad and the ugly of my baking and cooking habits.

Also in the positives is that I shop locally and buy a lot of Victorian produce at the Queen Vic Markets. This reduces my ‘food miles’, the carbon emissions needed to transport food from the farm to me. I do think about seasonal availability when planning meals. Just yesterday I made a cheesecake, choosing to make it a strawberry one since those berries are at their best (and cheapest) in summer. In addition, being vegetarian and cooking only veggie meals and baked goods does reduce your carbon footprint quite significantly, since meat production is resource heavy and animals like cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane. Methane is many many times more powerful than carbon dioxide when we’re talking about global warming. In fact, it’s so significant that there’s actually a National Livestock Methane Program in Australia aimed at reducing methane emissions on farms!

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

One of my eco friendly vegan salads using home-grown basil and market produce

On to the negatives now. I might not be eating meat but my baking does use a hell of a lot of butter, cream, milk and eggs – all produced by lovely yet methane emitting animals. Plus most of the baking ingredients I buy come in packaging, much of which is not recyclable. Then there’s my love of kitchen appliances. Chief among these is of course my Mixmaster, but there’s also a blender, juicer, rice cooker, sandwich press, toaster, kettle, ice-cream maker and vegetable dicer thingie. The ABS has actually done studies showing the trend for household appliance ownership is steeply upwards as we become more affluent and appliances become more affordable (apparently!). All those appliances I have use energy. On the other hand, they only use it for short periods of time, unlike, for example, a second television, my Mixmaster isn’t plugged in at all times. However, I would never plug them in if I didn’t own them because I didn’t do any cooking or baking.

My (climate busting?)baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

My (climate busting?) baking: caramel popcorn and marshmallow brownies

Sigh! Pondering this is now starting to give me a headache. Maybe it’s a sugar cravings headache from lack of baked goods…I certainly don’t have the answers and I’m not about to stop baking and become a raw food fruitarian. But there are sites where you can buy eco baking supplies (think unbleached baking parchment and mixing bowls made from recycled plastic or bamboo), so it’s clear others have pondered this issue too, even made successful businesses out of it. There’s also plenty of blogs out there with enviro-friendly tips for the kitchen. I’m a big believer in there always being room for improvement, so it’s something I’m going to look into. It’s definitely worth contemplating…while enjoying a slice of my strawberry cheesecake!

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2013 In Review: Salted caramel, soda streams and quinoa

Hello! After a month off on holidays, I’m back at work, back eating (and sweltering) in Melbourne cafes and back blogging. I feel a little reflection and review of 2013 is in order for this blog before I move on to a few new foodie delights (including upcoming blogs on yummy new Mexican menus and what vegetarians really eat for dinner).

So my partner and I hosted Christmas this year for both our families. Luckily this just meant 8 people (parents on both sides, one sibling each and us), as that was definitely the most that would comfortably fit in our little apartment. The morning started with the two of us exchanging gifts and enjoying banana pancakes (or ‘drop scones’ as I like to call them thanks to my Anglo heritage) with homemade blueberry coulis and vanilla yoghurt.

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Being the wanna-be domestic goddess that I am, I had a lot of fun planning the table setting for the Christmas day lunch. We had a green and gold theme for the table, being both Christmassy and Australian in one!

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The menu, designed to appeal to, and cooked by omnivores, pescetarians and vegetarians alike was:Image:

– smoked salmon on ricotta blinis with horseradish creme

– polenta rounds with guacamole, toasted pepitas and pomegranate

– tomato and goat’s cheese galettes

– a ham (not cooked by me obviously!) 

– chilli garlic prawns

– leek and cheese croquettes with red onion jam

– zucchini, hazelnut and baby bocconcini salad

– classic potato salad with organic dutch cream potatoes

– traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and homemade vanilla bean icecream

– raspberry custard tart with gold leaf

– pistachio slice, rocky road, rum balls, shortbread and lots of alcohol!

I’m feeling hungry yet exhausted just thinking about that meal, but it was great fun! We ate leftovers in a sort of lunch-cross-dinner on Boxing Day and I’ve only just finished off the last of the rum balls, which were made by my partner’s mum and are so so very delicious.

Moving on from Christmas though, to think more broadly about ‘the best of life, love and cake in North Melbourne’ in 2013, I have to say it has been a very big year for me. Some parts have been tough, some parts fantastic. I’ve felt very down during some weeks in 2013. I’ve completely changed careers and started re-thinking about what I want in life. I’ve had to let some things go and welcome other things into my life, whether I wanted to or not (including a couple of kilos!). A constant in 2013 has been the quality and variety of food in Melbourne and the joy I get from sharing a meal with family and other loved ones. Baking a cake is still the ultimate zen-like yoga for my mind. Putting down a delicious healthy meal in front of my partner for dinner still gives me immense satisfaction. And the opening of a new café, emergence of a new food trend or the purchase of a new kitchen appliance will always fill me with joy. To finish this review blog, below are my top 5 foodie trends from 2013 and what I predict is going to be the top 5 in 2014:

For 2013

– salted caramel: I’m not complaining, I love this flavour!

– coconut water: Miranda Kerr drinks it, now everyone else does too.

– cold pressed juices: I personally think these are overrated and overpriced, but a healthy trend and very big in South Yarra apparently.

– quinoa: I’m on board, it’s like couscous but hardcore.

– the soda stream: I hate bubbles in my drinks, so not one for me, but everyone seemed to be buying them in 2013

For 2014:

– artisanal ice-cream and gelato: given global warming and the arrival of N2 and Messina Gelato in Melbourne last year, I think this is on the rise

– cold drip coffee: Auction Rooms is doing it, Di Bella is doing it, everyone will be doing it in 2014! And again with the global warming thing, hot coffee isn’t so appealing in heatwaves…

– beyond Fair Trade: I read a great article recently on the problems with the Fair Trade system of certification (e.g. a global, non country specific pricing system and complex compliance rules) and what some people are doing to get more ethical and creative options out there

– blueberries: I’m not sure why, I just have a feeling about this one, I think this little berry’s time has come to shine.

– duck eggs: More interesting than a chicken egg and less cutesy than a quail egg, I can see the appeal, but to me they kind of taste the way ducks smell. This is coming from a country girl who had several pet clutches of ducklings, most people don’t know what ducks smell like, so it’s probably not an issue, hence the prediction on their growing popularity in 2014.

Thank you for following my blog in 2013, I hope to bring you lots more cookie-filled delicious joy this year!