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Double Duty: Tips for Lowering Impact in the Kitchen

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After No Impact Week, I continued to observe some kitchen habits of mine and thought I'd share some simple routines that reduce the use of resources while preparing meals. By definition cooking burns fuel and resources. It's true that just eating raw food would significantly lower our carbon footprint. And certainly going vegetarian would do the same. Solar ovens and cooking on the hood of your overheated car or on summertime sidewalks are also novel approaches. But even without making those choices, to use less fuel and water we can pay attention to and implement some simple steps in the kitchen while preparing our meals. The point is that change occurs in small, mindful steps. Like everything else in life, we need to start where we are.

I like the over-all concept of "Double Duty": Once you have turned on that burner, grill or oven, or opened that package, make sure you maximize its usefulness. Here are a couple of examples of "Double-Duty" in action:

1. Don't throw those paper or styro trays in the recycle bin or trash so quickly. I often use mine to protect my cutting board or counter when chopping, especially when I am preparing fish or poultry. It makes clean-up easier and reduces contamination.

2. Boiling water for pasta: place a bamboo steamer or a stainless strainer on top and steam some fresh veggies, seafood or poultry. You are saving vitamins and nutrients. When you are done you can toss the pasta with what you cooked on top and add a little pesto, olive oil, parmesan, or other condiments to season up your meal. Serve in a single big bowl for each diner with fork or chopsticks to reduce the dishwashing later. Or set aside some of your steamed goodies and chill to use for another meal or as an addition to that salad in tomorrow's lunch box.

3. And after you have finished with that boiling water, why not pour all of it in a dish pan or sink filled with your dirty utensils. Just add soap and by the time you finish your meal, you should be able to wash up using a lot less fresh water.

Or, cook with the water again -- it can be used to steam another time. Many Italian chefs like to use the same water repeatedly for cooking pasta. Or throw in some chicken bones or carcasses and carrots, onion and celery to make a stock or soup base.

4. Roasting a chicken, braising some lamb shanks, baking that turkey meatloaf or bread? You might have enough oven space to roast some vegetables to serve on the side or reserve for another meal. Besides, roasting vegetables with a little olive oil or butter intensifies the flavors. Add some baking potatoes or fingerlings tossed in rosemary and garlic for a great side dish. No need to use the top burners at all.

5. If you really must fire up your grill to smoke or grill some local seafood or veggies, think about what else you might have in your fridge or pantry that would love basking in a little smoke: some bell peppers, fresh tomatoes to make a smoked tomato soup, even fresh cheeses such as mozzarella or gouda. I like to throw on a couple of things to cook gently while we eat dinner knowing I'll have some tasty additions for the next day's meal. Depending on the size of your grill, you can even heat up or keep warm some of your other side dishes such as polenta or risotto while you cook the main course by using oven proof pots or serving bowls set away from the direct heat of the coals.

There are lots of other ways to employ this method. Feel free to share your ideas here. What is intriguing about Double Duty for me is how to use the method to inspire some yummy innovations in food like caramelizing a butternut squash or smoking a pepper. In the best of all worlds, cooking in a mindful way is not only fun and satisfying, but simply delicious.

Kay Goldstein, MA teaches meditation and writes about food, poetry, fiction and articles addressing the challenges and joys of daily living and spiritual practice. www.kaygoldstein.com

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