BORED BY YES // elspeth

I read a really great interview the other day in the New York Times with a woman named Amy Pressman. She founded a company called Medallia, a provider of customer service technology, a subject that sounds about as exciting as going to the dentist. But the title of the piece caught my eye. "Amy Pressman of Medallia," it read. "BORED BY 'YES,' INSPIRED BY 'NO.' I clicked through. And while the whole thing was interesting—there was a lot about overcoming "imposter syndrome" and facilitating faster learning environments and ownership and victimization—the most interesting part was the one referenced in the title.

"I heard this saying about 10 years ago that really resonated with me," says Amy. "'An entrepreneur is someone who gets motivated by the word 'no.' Whenever I hear 'no,' I think, there's a way to solve this. I get really excited by 'no.' 'Yes' bores me."

Aha! I thought. Yes! Ding ding ding diiiing

Solving problems, after all, is what makes life interesting. Luckily/unluckily we have plenty of problems to solve right now. It's a daunting time to be young and hopeful. There are many ways to create change, and a million different directions to go in. So, finally, as promised, here are some thoughts from my small corner of the world, focused on home and sustainability and cooking.



Don't buy plastic wrap, tinfoil, plastic bags, paper towels or really disposable anything. You don't need them! You can spend way less over time using these awesome reusable/washable alternatives:

—Fill a cupboard with Mason jars (or just save glass pickle, olive, juice jars, etc.). Use these for everything from canning homemade pickles to freezing homemade chicken stock.

—Invest in 5-6 pieces of Bee's Wrap, which works like plastic wrap using nothing more than linen, beeswax, coconut oil, and the heat of your hands. It's reusable for at least a year or two, and then it's excellent as kindling.

—Stock up on every shape and size of glass tupperware in multiples. Use these to pack lunches, store leftovers, or even shop for fish or meat or get to go food. Goodbye, plastic!

—Pack lunches in Bento Boxes with cloth napkins and real forks and spoons and water bottles. Use dish towels and cloth napkins for spills, dirty faces—everything—and keep a laundry basket under the kitchen sink for all the dishrags and aprons and lunch sacks and bibs.

—If you own a splatter screen for cooking bacon, let the bacon cool and drain on top, over the pan. This will save you from dirtying a dish rag, and you won't need any paper towels!

—Get 15 or so of these reusable produce bags and 7-8 Flip and Tumble grocery sacks, and keep them in a large tote (I use this large beauty from my friend Siobhan's store) and keep it somewhere handy so that everything's together when you need to hit the market or store. I also save my egg cartons in the tote and our returnable milk bottles so that I can return them on shopping day.

—Keep a black washable marker in your grocery tote and use it to label bulk items purchased in reusable produce sacks, i.e., fill one with pistachios, write the price per pound or item number on the bag, empty into a storage jar when you get home, wash, and repeat! (More on that from Bea Johnson.)

Snack Taxis! We're obsessed. Bye bye, plastic sandwich baggies. Or, as Sally calls them, "snaxis."

—Keep a few bamboo travel cutlery kits, a water bottle, and a handkerchief or cloth napkin in your purse. Especially with kids, they constantly come in handy.

—If you have a choice between a product in plastic and a similar quality/price product in glass or cardboard, always choose glass or cardboard. Plastic is bad news for our health and the environment, and paper and glass are so much more useful! Paper can be recycled or colored on or in the winter used for kindling, and glass jars in good sizes are great for freezing stocks, crushed tomatoes, etc.


—Set up a compost pile or subscribe to a compost service and compost everything biodegradable: meat, bones, grease, paper take out containers, wooden chopsticks, rotten milk, you name it.

—Dedicate recycling bins in the kitchen for the waste you produce: we have big tins for plastic, glass, and paper and we also save textiles in a large basket in a closet and batteries and corks in smaller jars.

Food Prep

—Make some basics: crushed tomatoes from the garden, meat stocks, big batches of cooked beans, granola, homemade bread—whatever you can get into. This will save you from buying these things in disposable containers and they will also probably taste better and be better for you. I also occasionally make yogurt (easy enough if you have a thermos) when I have the time.

—Ditch appliances you don't need. We don't own a toaster or a microwave, since we have a small kitchen. We reheat food in the oven or on the stove, and we make toast (and everything else) in a large cast iron skillet that lives next to the teapot on the stove.

One last thought: let's collectively acknowledge that sometimes all this positive change stuff can feel frustrating or even embarrassing. We go up to Wellesley fairly often to visit Alex's family, and often I shop at the Whole Foods there before we drive back to the Cape. I was in line there one day this winter, going through the check out counter with all my produce in my reusable bags and olives from the salad bar in a glass container. The very nice woman at the check out counter was having trouble with the tare (.75 pounds is entered as 75, .06 as 6 and so on, I have since learned, for those who might ever need this information).

At any rate, a very perfect, sporty blonde woman was waiting behind me, and she was watching all this very closely. I assumed she was thinking how annoying this whole charade was, and how nice it would be if I could hurry up and finish so she could head to yoga class or out for coffee or whatever it was she was going to do. I turned to her as I was leaving and apologized for holding her up, and I expected maybe a polite nod and moving on. But instead, she shocked me. "I was watching because I'm totally inspired by what you're doing," she said. She asked for the names of the produce bags and the grocery totes, and said she was going to go home and order some on the spot.

Which is just to say: you don't know what anyone else is thinking. Some people, inevitably, will think whatever it is that you're into or doing is annoying or frustrating or maybe both. That's a fact of life. But other times, every once in a while, you might find yourself out on a limb and and in surprisingly pleasant company.

Finally, these are just some things that I have gotten into doing, and that I like doing. I recognize that not all of them are for everyone, and I also am sure that some of you have other/more/different/awesome tips to share. Please do! That is the whole point of this life thing, I think: to keep learning from and getting inspired by each other.



Right-oh. Hello! That post about keeping a sustainable kitchen; it's coming. Really and truly. In the meantime, I made a dress and a really good fish stew and I thought I'd share. I don't have any photos of the stew because we devoured it so fast there wasn't time. And this happened without red curry paste! Wonders never cease. 

As for the dress: sometime during the summer when I was working a lot and dreaming about not working quite so much and winter, I made this list of things I wanted to do over the off season. The list was written on the back of a test print of the bar menu in black Sharpie, and it had the weirdest things on it. Some things were as tinily specific as "buy striped shirt from Siobhan's store" and others as big and awesome as "green power." (Don't worry people! I got it. Ha. But seriously, we're s l o w l y going solar. Hooray ! ) What's weirder is that without so much as looking at the list all winter, I did almost every thing on it. I guess these were things I really wanted to do. 

Anyway. Somewhere near the bottom of the list it said "sewing for girls." I don't know if you've ever read any of Kyrie Mead's blogs—she's had a lot of different homes online, and I wanted to send you a link to one, but she seems to be without a spot at the moment—but she's an amazing writer and photographer. She also home schools and is a nature explorer and an avid cook, and she knits and sews all kinds of beautiful items for her four girls. Sometime a few months ago, I tracked down her Pinterest page for sewing (who am I? I no longer know. . .) and got reeeaaally into the idea of doing some sewing for my girls. Hence the dress. 

Sally picked out the fabric—strawberry print—and has been after me for weeks to get sewing. Finally this weekend with all the snow, we picked out a pattern and got to work. The process reminded me how challenging and rewarding it is to do something new with your hands. There were several hiccups, but we got through them, and it came out just right in the end. We are all more capable than we think.


This recipe came from a new-to-me site, Alaska From Scratch. So far, so good. A note: I was out of red curry paste, something I almost always have on hand. I followed an online tutorial for a quick substitute and instead used garlic, fresh ginger, fish sauce, dried lemongrass, and red chili paste (which I did have), and it tasted exactly the same! Wonder, gratitude, and amazement. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots, diced
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste (OR! roughly 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, 2 5-inch stalks dried lemongrass, 1 teaspoon red chili paste, and roughly 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste)
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon honey
1 bunch kale or chard several large handfuls spinach
4 monkfish fillets
a handful of chopped basil, for serving

Warm up the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes, until tender and fragrant. Add the curry paste or substitute ingredients, the chicken broth, the coconut milk, and the honey and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Stir in the greens, then arrange the monkfish fillets in an even layer around the pan. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, occasionally turning the fish and spooning the curry liquid over top, until the greens are wilted and the fish is cooked through. Serve hot. If rice is your thing, it'd make a nice accompaniment. 


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.