Recommendations for Books on Sustainable Homes?

December 5, 2008

A question for the experts out there… Christmas is coming, and that usually means I’ll get a few gift certificates to places like Amazon, Borders, etc.   My library has plenty of titles for cooking, homebrewing, gardening and things like that.  Living in Minnesota, one area I think I need to read up on are ways to keep a house warm in the wintertime without relying totally on natural gas and HVAC systems.

I live in a new house that’s pretty tightly constructed… there are a few tweaks here & there that I could do to keep the cold out, but overall I don’t think that’s the big issue.  What I’m wondering about are ways to keep homes warm that make sense in a low energy future.

Anyone have some recommendations for books dealing with this subject?  I’m looking for ideas about retrofitting existing homes as much as new sustainable construction methods.

Thanks in advance…

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Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy”

April 16, 2007

I was fortunate enough to check out Bill McKibben’s latest book, “Deep Economy” from my local library before the wait list started filling up. I take it as a positive sign that new books covering subjects like these are sought after among other members of the community.

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Book Review: “Gardening When It Counts”

April 7, 2007

NOTE: I originally wrote this review last year, but with spring planting season upon us again, I thought I’d repost it.

Like most people, I like to eat. Shortly after I came to the conclusion that the peak oil issue was a real concern, I decided that I needed to learn more about how to raise my own food. Since the city and homeonwers’ associations usually frown upon people raising livestock in their backyards, I decided that a good first step would be to learn how to grow some vegetables. I hadn’t touched a garden implement willingly in my entire life. I was conscripted into the weeding and transplanting duties around my folks’ house growing up, but that was about it. Being a bookish sort of individual, I decided to buy some books on the subject. I started with some basic book on container gardening before discovering permaculture. Permaculture is a wonderful set of practices, but it’s focused more around trees and perennial plants, not the annual plants that make up the majority of vegetables & herbs that I like to eat. So, more research was needed. It was at that point that stumbled across the holy grail of vegetable gardening, or so I thought.

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Book Review – “Wild Fermentation”

March 29, 2007

In the last few years I’ve spent more time learning how to prepare food. While I’m still no wizard in the kitchen, I am learning and there are a few things I can actually do better than my wife, who is quite the cook. Most of these talents are based around fermented foods: bread, beer and wine. The process of fermentation brings many benefits to food; it can improve the flavors and nutritional value as well as greatly lengthen the amount of time it can be stored before spoiling, even without benefit of refrigeration.

With my interest in fermenting piqued, I recently picked up the book “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Cultured Foods” by Sandor Katz. Part recipe book and part manifesto, “Wild Fermentation” is a very good introduction to the world of fermented foods and beverages. In its pages, Katz details the nutritional benefits of fermenting, along with a discussion of how modern society’s obsession with eradicating bacteria and micro-organisms is in many ways counter-productive to the health of both our bodies and the planet as whole. There is a personal angle to Katz’ discussion on health; he is a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor and believes that having fermented foods making up a large part of his diet enhances his body’s ability to heal itself. He also briefly discusses the history of fermentation throughout history, showing that most every culture in the world has a history of fermenting food.

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Updated Booklist

March 17, 2007

My whole family has gotten sick with whatever form of spring cold that’s making the rounds currently.
I have added a few new titles to my booklist, and encourage you to check them out.


My February Reading List

February 20, 2007

Winter is loosening it’s short-lived grip on Minnesota, and as such my reading list has switched from doom & gloom to food.

I’ve been on a Michael Pollan kick lately. I’m on the library wait list for “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and based on how fast my priority ranking changes, I should be able to read it next fall. Alas… In the meantime, I’ve been reading some of his earlier works. “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” is a collection of essays based around Pollan’s forays in gardening for the first time since childhood. “A Place of My Own” likewise covers his construction of a small writing studio from the viewpoint of an amateur. Both books are part philosophical explorations as much as narratives of his actions. Pollan is a great writer, and I can’t wait to get ahold of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which has been highly praised here and elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Having read “Nourishing Tradtions” again recently, and done more research on modern food, I’ve been curious to learn more about what exactly goes into the foods we take for granted and eat everyday. “The Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children” bills itself as the “Silent Spring” for food additives. I’ve only just gotten into this book, but the author, Carol Simontacchi, lays out a comprehensive argument about how over-processed foods and chemical additives are having a negative effect on both our overall health and the development of small children. The book covers the usual suspects, MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, etc. It seems to agree with the information the Weston A. Price Foundation supports, and as such I have high hopes for the rest of the book. More on this in a later post.

As you may know, there is a lot of disagreement regarding aspartame. Some groups feel it is a safe replacement for sugar in food products, while others think that it is a dangerous neurotoxin that should be banned. Janet Starr Hull supports the latter viewpoint in her book “Sweet Poison: How the World’s Most Popular Artifical Sweetener is Killing Us – My Story.” Again, more on this in a later post.

Spring is coming, and I’ve also got my head buried in seed catalogs. More on that later as well.


Mmmmm…Bread!

January 28, 2007

I’ve picked up a new skill:

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Regular reader and fellow GroovyGreen contributor Beo recommended the book “Bread Alone” in the comments section of my sustainable library post, and I picked it up a few weeks back. This is my first attempt at making bread of any sort, let alone from scratch. It’s the Country Hearth Loaf recipe from page 64.

I learned a fair bit while making the loaf:

  • I didn’t put enough flour in the dough before trying to knead it and ended up with a sticky mess until I wised up and added more flour.
  • I also figured out that for scoring the loaves, a regular kitchen knife just doesn’t do the trick. I’ll have to save one of my razor blades after it’s become too dull to shave with anymore and try that.
  • My oven has some hot spots, and the crust got a bit dark in certain spots. Next time I’ll bake it for less time before inspecting it and rotate the loaves more often.
  • Finally, I tried to move the loaves into the oven without the benefit of a peel, and thus excessive manhandling resulted in my nice round loaves turning into the deformed blobs you now see. I’ll look at either the silicone baking mats or perhaps getting an actual peel.

All in all, it was a great experience. The crust, as I mentioned before, got a little overdone, but the bread itself was nice and chewy with a great wheat/nut flavor. We had my wife’s parents over for a dinner of home-made turkey noodle soup and bread, and they loved both of them.

Cut Loaf

Thanks again, Beo!