Learning Project Conclusion

ECMP 355 is winding down. The formal, documented aspects of my learning project are thus ending, though the project will continue in spirit.

My Goal was to reduce waste and plastic use in my life. I didn’t know how to begin exactly, so I started saving vegetable scraps in the freezer. Eventually, those turned into some delicious chicken soup. I turned my eye to condiments, and how much wasted plastic goes into mayonnaise jars, so I learned how to whip up my own. Thanks to some prompting and encouragement from Celina and Matt, I went on to create home-made ketchup and BBQ sauce.

IMG_20160307_181405831At this point, about halfway through the semester, we all got feedback on our progress in the course and it turned out I wasn’t completing the learning project as desired. I was focusing too much on what I was learning, and not enough on how I was learning. This threw a wrench into my Inception Cooking Series, and Parts III and IV were never released (for the curious, I made BBQ shredded chicken, and then created a home-made BBQ Chicken pizza).

IMG_20160409_201621380I reoriented myself and started writing about the process of learning online. This was a challenge, because while I was learning new things (new recipes, new ways to reduce waste, etc) the process of learning wasn’t particularly new to me – I’ve been using the internet to expand my personal abilities for almost a decade. However, I wrote about discovering trust in online sources, and then went on to review comments sections – are they useful or not? I started exploring some myths about appropriate and ecologically friendly practices, and as a result, I’ve been scrubbing my cast iron pan in soapy water (after I use it) for the last month.

UntitledEssential to my learning project was the input and feedback I got from readers online. I’ve mentioned Matt and Celina above, but they were only two among many. Liam encouraged me to start buying meat from a butcher, to avoid wrapping, and I’ve been doing so (thanks Ukrainian Co-op!) Later, because of his and Kirsten‘s feedback on Kosher saltMarty expanded my mind around compaction of grains in storage. He provided, and I shared, a resource on this more advanced consideration which would have radically changed the way I taught Workplace 20 during internship. The next time I have the opportunity, this will be included. Jessica was a constant source of inspiration, suggesting growing herbs out of wine bottles, and out of old egg shells.

IMG_20160210_163103825This project has changed the way I shop. I’ve always used reusable shopping bags (thanks Mom) but I’ve become especially cautious when at grocery stores. I don’t put vegetables in those thin plastic bags – I’m going to wash them anyway, so they go straight in my cart. Sobeys made the horrific decision to only sell eggs in Styrofoam, so now I shop at Safeway. Whenever possible, I make multiple, small trips to the store, so I can fit groceries in my backpack and ride my bicycle, rather than drive. I avoid buying bagged bread, instead going to a bakery or baking my own.

The #LearningProject is done, but the learning doesn’t end here. This is a mission for life.


Cleaning my Cast Iron Pan with Soap

Don’t clean your cast iron with soap. It will ruin it. That’s the conventional wisdom. There are even gifs to go along with it:

“MRW I walk into the kitchen to find my aunt cleaning my cast iron skillet with steel wool, soap and water.” – From Imgur


As part of my learning project, reducing plastic and chemical use, I wanted to stop using (and eating) Teflon. So I’ve been primarily frying with my cast iron pan.

Cleaning and seasoning cast iron is a small chore. I’ve been doing it for years with my parents’ pans, and my own. Generally, I don’t use soap, I scrub out a used pan with paper towel and re-oil it. Every few weeks (depending on use) I’d re-season it in the oven. If food was really cooked on, I’d scrub the pan with coarse salt, or boil water in it on the stove top.

However, a few weeks ago, when I was researching J. Kenji Lopez for this article, I found his notes on myths around cast iron. I read through, and one of them is to clean and scrub cast iron in a soapy sink. This was a radical suggestion and went against my beliefs about how the world worked. However, my article had been on trust, and I’d just finished blogging specifically about my trust for JKL, so I couldn’t be a hypocrite and discard his advice.

So, for the past several weeks, I’ve been washing and scrubbing my cast iron in soapy water. Once it’s clean, I pull it out, dry it a little bit, then throw it on a high heat burner to dry it completely. Once it starts to smoke, I rub in some oil with paper towel, leave it for another minute, give it another rub, then let it cool. Results?


My pan has never looked better.

Following Online Recipes

My Learning Project has been focused on reducing the waste and environmental damage of my household actions. A lot of my work has ended up focusing on creating my own condiments, to avoid the plastic of buying them. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time perusing online recipes.

Here’s the big question (phrased as three separate questions – don’t be fooled!) when learning from online recipes:

  1. Do I follow the recipe verbatim?
  2. Do I make adjustments as my experience sees fit?
  3. Do I *shudder* read the comments and follow their advice?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my exploration:

  • If it’s a baking recipe, follow the directions fairly precisely.
  • If it’s cooking, make your own judgement calls.
  • If there’s sugar or salt, you can normally reduce it.
  • If the recipe calls for “no-salt butter” or “sweetener” ignore it and use regular butter and sugar.
  • Recipes often add adjectives, things like Kosher salt, Brand Name flour, or fresh basil. Just ignore the adjectives.*

The last third of the question is the killer. Do you listen to the comments? For an answer, please read this article. You won’t regret it.

All The Comments on Every Recipe Blog


*A bit of a joke here. Fresh and dried herbs are quite different. And Kosher food may well matter to you – it just doesn’t to me.

Sext Up Kids, Shock Therapy, and Solving an Epidemic of the Soul

In my creative writing class, with the lovely Melanie Schnell (review of her novel here!), we’ve discussed “character as desire.” The big idea: a well written character has a deep, driving desire. This influences every action, every thought. However, the desire may be abstract. For instance, they may desire “self-respect,” but you won’t see them walking around saying that. Instead you’ll see them trying to reach short term goals, like winning a football game, or learning a new skill, or repairing a damaged relationship. How they express their desire will change with the situation, but they’re always driven by that deep goal.

Speaking of desire, a timely poem excerpt.

Speaking of desire, a timely poetic excerpt.

This concept of “character as desire” has helped me to resolve a conflict I’ve been struggling with for almost a decade.

My Conflict

My opinion since I started teaching youth (circa 2006):

  • “Wherever I go, kids are all unique individuals, but for the most part, they’re more similar than they are different. I really doubt they’re that different than kids have always been.”

Every demagogue/ letter-to-the-editor writer ever:

  • “Kids these days! What punks! What rapscallions!”
  • “Back in my day, kids respected their elders!”
  • “Generation X (or Y, or Z, or Millennials, or Hipsters,  or whatever) are the worst generation yet! They’re completely morally corrupt! They can’t even sign their name in cursive writing!”

To the authors of these ideas:

  1. Who raised the generation you despise? Was it you? Should you take some blame here?
  2. If you shouted less (the exclamation marks above are not exaggerations) I’d be more likely to respect, rather than dismiss, your opinion.

Some examples of the corruption of youth throughout the ages:

The Time cover is from 2013. Quotes from Mental Floss.

The Time cover is from 2013. Quotes from Mental Floss.


So who’s right? Have we as a species been devolving, generation after generation, for millennia? Are the most recent generations truly the worst yet? Or are kids still kids as they’ve always been?

My latest theory is that these view points are all true, but at different levels:

  • The deep desires, the underlying aspects of being a child, haven’t changed. Youth still want:
    • Support
    • Love
    • Independence
    • To test boundaries
    • To be with their friends
    • To have social acceptance
    • To make a difference
  • Youth meet these goals in new ways as our society changes and as their situations change.

It comes back to “character as desire.” The character of youth hasn’t changed – the expression of their desires does change with time. To preceding generations, these new expressions may appear morally decrepit.

Sext Up Kids

I chose to watch this documentary for class (one of two options). While watching it, I came to the above realization. You wanted proof of cross-curricular thinking being beneficial? This is it.

I assume everyone prefers logical proofs to be expressed symbolically. That's not just me is it?

I assume everyone prefers logical proofs to be expressed symbolically. That’s not just me is it?

Youth still have the same underlying, deep desires. The way they try to meet those desires has changed. As the documentary points out, access to pornography is up, sexualization of youth is a reality, and there are disturbing trends towards sexual violence in youth. So what’s our solution?

Shock Therapy

Adults, including in Sext Up Kids, focus in on the elements of youth culture that they find most disturbing, most shocking. For these elements, they attack youth (with the best intentions!) decrying the generation. They ask things like:

  • “How could you even think to send a photo like that!?”
  • “Why would say that to a girl?”
  • “Do you have no respect? Did I teach you nothing?!”

I call this shock therapy. It has nothing to do with electricity. Adults think that by focusing in on the elements that they find most shocking, they will be able to change the behaviour of youth. As one teacher in the documentary lamented, kids are desensitized to sexual imagery – they aren’t shocked by it at all (unlike, presumably, he is).

Why Shock Therapy Fails

When adults focus on the “shocking” elements of culture, they are thinking about the way their own generations expressed desire, at a surface level. Recall those deep desires of youth, the ones that haven’t changed in generations. Those still need to be addressed in today’s youth. The current generation doesn’t respond in the way their parents did because they live in a different time, and so their desires manifest in unique ways. We can’t tell stories from our own youth and expect children to relate to them perfectly – their world is different. Our stories are disconnected from their reality.

An Epidemic of the Soul

The discussion around the sexualization of youth culture is deeply tied to generational moral perspectives. Many adults can’t accept the level of youth porn use, or sexting, or sexual desire because they view it as morally corrupt. This is an ineffective way to communicate and influence youth behaviour. We can’t present moral arguments, because morals change.

This is not to say that the sexualization of youth isn’t a problem – it is. Issues are developing, including sexual violence, child exploitation, and poor social development. However, to effectively address these challenges, we need to change our approach. Instead of attacking sexualization as morally unacceptable, we need to remove stigma, and open ourselves to meaningful conversations about sex and sexuality with youth. We need to address their deep desires, the ones with which youth have always struggled. We need to change our language, away from shock and revulsion, and towards acceptance and support. Overall, we need to remember: our goal is not to make youth into clones of ourselves. Our goal is to help them grow and thrive in the world we’ve left them.

J. Kenji Lopez and Trusting People Online

Is that not the most beautiful hard-boiled egg you've ever seen?

Is that not the most beautiful hard-boiled egg you’ve ever seen? From JKL @ The Food Lab

When I began my learning project I said it was ill-defined but underway. I was, generally speaking, interested in reducing my waste and plastic consumption. As I’ve learned and experimented, I’ve become primarily focused on things I do in the kitchen. Specifically, I’ve made several condiments to avoid buying their plastic containers.

With almost every project, my first step is to google a recipe/idea/approach. What arises is an issue of trust.

Uhoh! I went on piratebay. Guess I better watch my back.

Uhoh! I went on Piratebay. Guess I better watch my back.

Do you see all the little skulls? It’s a ranking system Piratebay uses to tell leechers that a seeder can be trusted. It’s the same idea (different security principle though) as when your banking website puts one of these – 1– next to your url. It’s a visual reminder to say: “Hey, you’re among friends here. All is well.”

Building trust in online spaces is very important for continued patronage. So it is with me and finding people I trust for my Learning Project. Which brings us to J. Kenji Lopez.

JKL Looking Dapper

JKL Looking Dapper – from The Burger Lab

I was first introduced to this chef by my brother, and I was skeptical. However, in an article on proper (curled) pepperoni for a pizza he said:

There are times when I’ll head into a bog-standard New York slice joint, see those pre-cooked squares with their flat disks of pepperoni, watch some poor sap order them, and think to myself: Ah, you’ve fallen victim to one of the two classic blunders, the most famous of which is “never question your pizza toppings in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: “Never order a Sicilian when you spy flat-laying pepperoni on the line.”

Anyone who can so tactfully paraphrase The Princess Bride is doing just fine in my books.

JKL’s use of humour brought me in, and his excellence as a chef keeps bringing me back. He’s managed to earn my trust in an online space, and that makes my learning easier – I have a routine, and a place I know that I can go for good information.

Inception Cooking Part II – Barbecue Sauce

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

This is where we left off. I told you there were special plans for those 2 cups of homemade ketchup, and here they are. The second level of inception cooking is to make homemade BBQ sauce.

Before (L) and after (R). I think I needed a pot with higher sides.

Before (L) and after (R). I think I needed a pot with higher sides.

This sauce was very easy to make – take ketchup, add spices, simmer for over an hour. Voila.

However, one ingredient, Worcestershire Sauce, I decided to buy instead of make. It takes anchovies, tamarind, and you’re supposed to ferment it for a year or so. I decided I didn’t have the time for that. Same reason I didn’t use a different BBQ sauce recipe that called for liquid smoke – I didn’t want to order it online.

Here's the finished product. A bowl (for Inception Cooking Level III), a little bit for the fridge, and two mason jars for the freezer.

Here’s the finished product. A bowl (for Inception Cooking Level III), a little bit for the fridge, and two mason jars for the freezer.

Difficulty: Very easy. The half tablespoon of pepper  was annoying to grind though. I recommend using a mortar and pestle (or two rocks)

Cost: low-medium (Again, many spices. Same ones as ketchup though)

Time: Medium (1.25-1.4 hours)

Pros: Delicious, can control spiciness to your taste.

Cons: A little bit splattery on the stove.

Future Implementation: Yes. Without a doubt.

Inception Cooking Part I – Ketchup

This is the first  in a four part series on Inception Cooking. The first layer – making my own ketchup.

These are the ingredients needed. Except the lemon. That's just there.

These are the ingredients needed. Except the lemon. That’s just there.

The recipe called for a slow cooker. I had a pot. Same principle.

Mix it all up and simmer for a few hours

Mix it all up and simmer for a few hours

Recipe calls for straining it, after a quick immersion blend. I did so, but I don’t think it was worth the effort and mess.

I got this chunky stuff left over, but I think I could have pushed it through. Post-strain ketchup didn't seem much smoother than pre-strain.

I had this chunky stuff left over, but I think I could have pushed it through the colander. Post-strain ketchup didn’t seem much smoother than pre-strain.

Here’s the result:


From (R) to (L): Ketchup for the freezer, ketchup for the fridge, ketchup for Inception Cooking – Part II

Difficulty: low-medium (Takes frequent attention [on the stove], and messy to clean up)

Cost: low-medium (Have to buy a lot of spices if you don’t have them. Though fresh ingredients would also work)

Time: High (3-4 hours)

Pros: Quite tasty, less plastic, avoid high fructose corn syrup

Cons: Time consuming and messy

Future Implementation: Yes. Next time, probably a double batch and with a slow cooker. No need to strain. Maybe reduce sugar a little bit.

Making Mayonnaise – Magnificently Manageable

**Warning: If you don’t like raw eggs and other jiggly things, this post is not for you**

We’ve all been there. You have a super important event to get to, you need to have a sandwich before you leave, and, bam! You’re out of mayo.

Why now mayonnaise, why now!?

Don’t Panic. There’s an easy solution: make your own mayo. You just need these things:

  • Immersion Blender
  • An egg
  • A Lemon
  • Dijon Mustard
  • A cup of canola oil
  • Salt

Let’s take stock of what I had:

Immersion blender, bam!


Egg yolk, bam! (Don’t want the white, so used a little shell separation technique. Save that white for later. some tasty omelette)


The recipe says dijon mustard. You have $3, Ukrainian mustard (Probably? You can’t read it) that expired 5 months ago. What can go wrong?


It says lemon. You have lime. Basically the same right?


Nice, fresh, Saskatchewan canola oil….apparently from Tennessee. Probably still great.


Pour it all into your blender receptacle…or a bowl.


Look at that! 15 Seconds of blending, no big deal.

Bam! Mayonnaise!

So, of course, the taste test. It’s absolutely terrible. I blame that on the expired, maybe mustard, the lime, and the American canola oil (in that order). Here’s my rating:

Difficulty: low

Cost: low

Time: low (2, 3 minutes?)

Pros: I had mayo available like that! It was super easy. I didn’t have to waste a bunch of plastic buying more.

Cons: Atrocious flavour.

Future Implementation: 100%. Next time, I’ll follow the recipe with fresh ingredients, and probably it’ll be awesome.

Any recommendations/ requests for DIY, saving the environment, and eating good food project pieces? Very open to suggestions. “Share your thoughts” textbox is riiiiight there

Learning Project: Repurposing Kitchen Scraps

My first step in this learning project was to stop tossing usable food scraps in the garbage. So I started freezing them. Once I had enough wilted celery, carrot ends, and assorted vegetable detritus, I threw them and a couple chicken carcasses in water to boil.

Frozen scraps ready to be boiled

Frozen scraps ready to be boiled


After a couple hours of simmering. Apparently, if you never let it reach the boil, you get a clearer broth. I did not follow this advice.

After a couple hours of simmering. Apparently, if you never let it reach the boil, you get a clearer broth. I did not follow this advice.

Here comes the gross part. I had to strain and keep all the delicious broth and get rid of the now much less nutritious veggies and bones.

Bones and scraps and fats oh my!

Bones and scraps and fats oh my!


Two large bowls of roughly strained broth

Sometimes you don't own a fine meshed colander. When that happens, you make do with a loose tea strainer.

Sometimes you don’t own a fine meshed colander. When that happens, you make do with a loose tea strainer.

The grosser parts disposed of, this broth is ready for fresh vegetables to make into a soup. Also, since there’s a whole lot of it, I needed a way to store the soup. Luckily, mason jars are the (hipster?) solution to everything!

So much tastier than the wilted, frozen veggies.

So much tastier than the wilted, frozen veggies.

Cleaned up and ready to go

Cleaned up and ready to go

The outcome. There was more than this, but I ate a bowl and gave a few jars away.

The outcome. There was more than this, but I ate a bowl and gave a few jars away before I managed to pull out my camera.

I’m going to score the efficacy of each element of my learning project:

Difficulty: low

Cost: low

Time: moderate (3-4 hours)

Pros: Didn’t throw out nearly as many scraps for a few weeks. Got several delicious and healthful meals out of it

Cons: Apartment smelled like soup for awhile.

Future Implementation: Absolutely. I’ll need to adjust a bit though. Maybe do a pure vegetarian stock, or a beef. I’m kinda tired of chicken soup.

Learning Project: ill-defined but underway


By J.G. Parks – Cassell’s universal portrait gallery: https://goo.gl/Kbmox2, Public Domain

I remember being in Primary, so probably 1996. I was at Dawson Elementary in Pictou, Nova Scotia (named after this fine fellow. I find it neat: he was born in 1820; we went to the same high school).

It was an exciting day for a five year old. The mayor was coming to talk to us. He wanted to explain Nova Scotia’s new recycling and compost system. For waste disposal, Nova Scotia has been ahead of the curve in Canada and, as I recall, Pictou County was a bit ahead of Nova Scotia.

So there I was, a five year old learning how to sort garbage, recycling, and compost. We did it at home (we had had a backyard compost, but public composting meant we could compost more things, like meat and bones). It was great! I loved recycling too, especially refundables. Taking those down to the depot and getting money for them? A kid’s dream.

So I moved to Regina in 2014 and discovered that, starting January 1st, 2015, apartments and duplexes would have to have recycling provided. Public composting? Might get here by 2020. The city does run backyard composting classes though, and publishes a guide on how to do it, so there’s that.

There's a whole section in the guide on vermicomposting, backyard or inside! Just need to like worms.

There’s a whole section in the guide on vermicomposting, backyard or inside! Just need to like worms.

I’ve found it very difficult living here and throwing so much away, not sorting recycling, and generally feeling like a terrible human being (environmentally speaking). So, my learning project is going to be an attempt to correct that.

Here’s where the ill-defined portion of my title comes in. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be learning during this project – that will be part of the learning. However, I want to reduce my environmental impact, and I see myself focussing on things I can do in the kitchen/around my apartment to accomplish that. We’ll see how it goes!