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Musings of a Green Slow Food Chef

August 13, 2008

I recently have been cooking up a storm and being more aware of ‘from where’ my food comes from and how far it traveled to get here and into my town’s grocery store. And though I am very concerned about the prices of food; (and who isn’t these days!), I do my best to stick within my limited budget, I find there is still a way I can serve amazing meals without breaking my budget as well as being more green. And I am not talking about veggies here people!

Paper Towels VS. Dish Towels
Now some people are concerned (or maybe they are not) about being more green. Personally I recently have had great success with limiting my use of paper towels. I have now had a row of paper towels last over two weeks, yes two weeks! Ok, whoopie doo for me and so what’s the big deal about paper towels?

Well, think about it actually – how many paper towels do you use in any given day? How many rolls do you go through in a week? And how much does those huge 8-12 rolls of paper towel packs cost you? – I see an average (in NY) at around eight to ten dollars per large package. Then there is the thought of where do you store such a large package of paper towels? And are you really saving a lot of money in the end? – and of course, are you really helping the environment by using up so many paper towels? OK, Lots of questions….but have you ever actually thought to ask these questions of yourself? Go ahead, it doesn’t hurt – nor costs a thing to ask! Would it actually make a difference? (not only by asking these questions of yourself, but by using less paper products in your kitchen. So Yes People, Naturally you would save money and help your carbon footprint in your use of paper products in the kitchen!

How it all started for me – A few years ago, I was reusing paper towels, for those few which were used to dry cleaned hands, I would lay them flat to dry, then use them up to wipe up spills. Believe you me, I did not go crazy about this – but it was only a few weeks ago I thought long and hard about my own actual use of paper towels. And I wondered how hard would it be for me to not use paper towels for a week. Well it happened one week out of necessity. I was out of cash for the week, and paper towels were literally a splurge – as there were other things more necessary for me to have in the house. What did I use instead? Well clean dish towels actually.

I could share here the amount of paper towels we might use in one given day – but why waste time about that – what I can tell you is that by using tea towels and dish towels which can be reused is far better for you and the environment, period.

Since I survived the week without using paper towels, I was hooked. I loved how the dish towels cleaned up my kitchen counters better than paper towels among other mundane tasks around the kitchen. I now use about two to three clean dish towels per day and add them to my wash. I also happen to have a large stash of dish and tea towels of 20 if not more (I have never counted)…and mostly are 3 years or older…so most are nicely worn in and clean up in a jiffy.

My recommendation if you are curious to try this trick in being more green in your kitchen, is first have yourself a good supply of dish towels. I bet your mother and even your grandmother has a few towels they can spare. Those cheap ones available at a ‘Walmart’ type store or dollar store are not really good due to the type of fabric used. They will not last six months of continued use! If you shouldn’t have extras laying around I suggest stopping by a department store or online kitchen store to get real cotton dish towels if you don’t have any. The costs of this initial investment will easily be counter-balanced by two months of purchased paper towels.

Here are some great online sources for long lasting dish towels:

The above links also have a lot of colors available to match your kitchen decor. I also researched for affordable dish towels for you as well as read their customer reviews to find the ones most suitable and cost-worthy.

How I use my dish towels to be more green in my kitchen – I keep and reserve one dish towel on the handle of my refrigerator door whose sole use is to dry hands once cleaned – I also use this to grab open the refrigerator door so I help keep my fridge door extra clean and ‘food free’ while I am in ‘preparing the meal mode’. At the end of every meal that I cook, this dish towel gets replaced. I also have several that I use while I cook. And since I have white counters, I may use one underneath my antique trivets that love making and leaving marks on my counters – which helps me pick up crumbs which have fallen off an amazing just baked pie.

And what do I use to clean my windows and other surfaces without using paper towels? Old towels turned into rags. Old t-shirts work great too! Simply cut up into 10 x 20 inch pieces and naturally these ‘new’ upcycled rags can be used to clean anything – and do a better job then paper towels leaving lint marks on your windows. And once dirty, off to the laundry they go.

Cloth Napkins
But I don’t just stop there, I have also used cloth napkins. I actually do not have any paper napkins in my house, and can honestly tell you that I do not recall the last time I actually bought paper napkins. It might be hard for my guy to get used to the idea, he always worries he is going to stain the cloth napkins – my reply with that is that is what the cloth napkins are for – to wipe one’s mouth with. Doh!

Now I wouldn’t use those antique white linen cloth napkins everyday – but will share with how to get them sparkly white in a bit. But using cloth napkins not only cleans your mouth and lips better, but is certainly a nicer way to eat your meal and of course are a lot softer on your face then paper napkins.

Again, I am lucky to have a good supply of cloth napkins that I have had for years. But why leave them in that drawer never using them unless it is a special occasion. Isn’t any meal a special occasion? If you have read some of my other articles on Feng Shui in attracting wealth into your life, I have stated that meal times should be shared and served as nicely as possible. By living your life well, you are creating the energy out to the ‘universe’ to continue with such ‘extravagance’ and it helps bring in the right kind of energies that enhance one’s wealth.

With the added cloth napkins and dish towels to my laundry – I find it is not a huge extra effort and doesn’t add any extra real work to my doing the laundry. But I love that I easily pass the paper towel and paper napkin isle in the store and am not contributing to the cutting down trees as I possibly can. And those monies saved there allows me to have money for fennel or more fresh fruit or an extra package of meat.

How to get stains out of antique white cloth napkins easily:
Place white cloth napkins into a large pot and add water to completely cover. Then add 2 additional cups of water and add 2 cups of white vinegar. Let come to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. Rinse and let air dry. My mother used to then take them outside and lay them on the grass out in the sun to dry and ‘naturally bleach’.

If you do not have a lawn or a place to hang them to dry outside, simply place them on top of a towel placed on a large table to dry. When they are almost dry, this is the best time to iron them flat. Then gently fold them – and don’t iron them folded. This way, if you want to make pretty napkin arrangements for your next dinner party, there will not be ‘creases’ in your napkins.

So I hope I helped a few of you and given you some ideas about saving money and being more green in your kitchen by reducing the use of your paper towels and paper napkins. Heck, don’t forget about paper plates too….Share with us how you go green in your kitchen!

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