Saturday, September 22, 2018

Gardeners' Holidays 2018: Harvest Home

Well, we finally made it through this brutally hot summer. For once, fall weather has arrived right on time according to the calendar, and my house is already decked out in its fall colors, with a little basket of autumn leaves on the side stoop and a row of Jack Be Little pumpkins in the front.

That means it's also time for Harvest Home, the Gardeners' Holiday that celebrates the peak of the fall harvest. This year, however, we celebrated it in an unusual way: rather than feasting on produce from our own garden, we did a little foraging. Or at least, Brian did.

A couple of days ago, one of his coworkers showed up with several pawpaw fruits that she said had come from a tree located close to their workplace, just outside of the campus boundaries. Pawpaws, for those who don't know, are a native fruit found throughout the entire eastern half of the U.S., as far west as Texas. The landscaper we consulted about our yard back in 2012 actually suggested a pawpaw tree as a possible good choice for our front yard, but we were reluctant to commit to a tree whose fruit we'd never actually tasted. You see, pawpaws are pretty much impossible to find in supermarkets, because they're too delicate and fast-ripening for large-scale shipping. So the easiest way to get a taste of it is to find a tree growing wild, as Brian's coworker did. (That may be changing, however; according to NPR's "The Salt," interest in pawpaws has grown dramatically in the last couple of years, to the extent that some have labeled it "the hipster banana." In fact, right after we both tried them for the first time on Thursday, we discovered a bin of them at the Whole Earth Center that identified them as the produce of a local farm—something we'd never seen in there before, as far as I can recall.)

From the outside, these weren't much to look at: sort of mottled, brownish-green ovoids about the size of my fist. According to a video Brian found online, there are two ways to eat them: you can slice them or just cut them in half and scoop out the pulp. (The peel isn't edible, but there's no good way to remove it from outside without destroying the squishy inner portion.)

So he sliced one open, revealing soft, creamy-yellow flesh studded with large, dark-brown seeds about the size of an almond. We each sampled a cautious spoonful, not really sure what to expect. A piece I found on NPR's "The Salt" described them as "a cross between a mango and a banana," with possible hints of pineapple, but to me, the flavor wasn't mangolike at all, though the soft, slippery texture was a bit reminiscent of a slightly overripe mango. It was more like banana than anything else, but with a distinct perfumey quality—I really can't think of any other word for it—that was unlike any fruit I'd ever tasted. I honestly found it a bit off-putting, but Brian liked it enough not only to finish the fruit he'd started, but to go out in search of the tree the next day and scavenge a couple more. After eating one more of them today, he says he's still kind of on the fence about it; he mostly likes it, but he can't decide whether that odd perfumey element to the flavor is appealing or disturbing.

Nonetheless, he's intrigued enough by the fruit to save the seeds from the ones he's eaten so far, carefully keeping them moist and cool in the refrigerator as The Survival Gardener recommends. He admits he's not sure yet where he could plant them; the site described them as an "understory tree" that likes to grow in the shade of larger trees, so he thought perhaps the shaded back corner of our yard (currently home to a massive pile of concrete chunks left over from our patio project) would be a good spot for one.

However, I'm not sure it's really worth devoting space in our yard to a tree neither of us is sure we like, especially when the California Rare Fruit Growers site says "Avoid heavy, wet, alkaline soil." I think a better use of the seeds might be to seek permission to plant some along the Meadows Trail, a short hiking trail through woods adjoining the Raritan River just outside of Donaldson Park. That would give everyone in town—including the local wildlife—a chance to try this unusual fruit, rather than saddling us with a whole harvest to dispose of on our own.

All in all, I'd say that I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to try this unusual native fruit, but I'm in no hurry to eat it again. However, if Brian persists in his plan to grow them—and succeeds—I'll probably give them at least one more try. Our old edition of The Joy of Cooking, in a single brief paragraph on pawpaws, says "The taste for these, we feel, is an acquired one"—so I should probably make at least a little bit of effort to acquire it.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Why I've made peace with Walmart

Lately, I've started to wonder if everything I know about shopping responsibly is wrong.

It seems like it should be obvious, right? You shop at local businesses when you can, but when you can't, you go for the businesses that have a greener, socially responsible image, like Trader Joe's, Costco, or IKEA. And if you absolutely have to go to a big box store like Target, you can at least console yourself that it's better than the most truly evil of all evil megacorporations, Walmart. (I've only set foot in a Walmart store once, when we wanted to get my parents a bread maker for Hanukkah and literally could not find one anywhere else, and I felt dirty for the rest of the day.)

From time to time, I've questioned whether Target is really any less evil than Walmart. Occasionally I try running a Google search to dig up an answer, but usually I can't find a straightforward comparison between the two. The closest I came was a 2013 rant by Ralph Nader on Huffington Post, and since he also insisted there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush, he's lost all his credibility as far as I'm concerned.

However, last week, I was taking a survey that asked me about my views on various major retailers, and I decided, before giving Target higher marks than Walmart, to look once again for information on how they compare. This time, I tried searching on "Target vs. Walmart social responsibility"—and that search led me down an Internet rabbit hole that appeared to end up in some sort of Bizarro World, where all the facts I'd come to take for granted were turned on their heads.

First, I found a piece on Retail Dive entitled "Why Wal-Mart is a retail sustainability leader (but doesn't really want to talk about it)." I was flabbergasted to read that it's actually been over ten years since Walmart adopted three major sustainability goals: to use 100 percent renewable energy, to eliminate waste in its operations, and to offer "more sustainable" products in its stores. Today, the article continued, Walmart is "the leading company in the U.S. for total on-site solar capacity and installations," with 25% of all its operations powered by renewable energy and a goal to double that by 2020; it has reduced its plastic bag waste by more than 38% (since 2005) and has diverted 81% of all material from its stores and distribution centers from landfills; it cut its carbon footprint by nearly 650,000 metric tons in 2016 alone.

Why hadn't I heard any of this before? Because, apparently, Walmart has deliberately chosen not to talk about it. Its typical customers don't really care about this stuff; they care about value, and green labeling might actually turn them off because they assume it will mean higher prices. So far from engaging in corporate greenwashing, Walmart is doing exactly the opposite, what you might call brownwashing. The article also notes that in its letters to customers, employees, and shareholders, Walmart talks about its green initiatives (when it talks about them at all) in terms of the money they can save the company. In other words...they're ecofrugal.

Reeling from this discovery, I tried to recall what else I'd heard about Walmart over the years that had led me to boycott them. Well, they treat their workers pretty badly, right? Like, forcing them to work after they've officially clocked out so they don't have to pay overtime, and paying so little most of their workers qualify for public assistance, thereby foisting off their costs onto the state? That's bad, right? Not anymore, apparently. In 2017, the Employee Benefit Advisor reported that Target was raising its starting wage for workers to $11 an hour—in an effort to one-up Walmart, which had already raised its minimum hourly wage to $10.

Still searching for an answer to my original question, which big box was better, I turned to The Good Shopping Guide. This site doesn't directly rate or rank different companies, but you can search for a company name to find out what news has recently surfaced about it, positive or negative. There I learned that Target had also committed to 100 percent renewable energy—but in November 2017, ten years after Walmart. It had also set a goal to source 100 percent of its cotton sustainably by 2022, so that looked like it gave them a slight edge over Walmart in terms of eco-cred. But then, I searched Walmart on the same site and discovered that it was one of 900 major U.S. companies that had pledged to abide by the Paris Agreement even after President Trump had officially pulled the country out of it. This group also includes Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg's—names that green bloggers normally only mention to revile them for their alleged Earth-trashing practices. (I checked the website of the group, the "We Are Still In" coalition, and found Target has signed on also.) Big businesses pledging to to the right thing when our government won't? What in heaven's name is going on here?

I made one final attempt to locate a simple ranking of the two companies by searching for "retailer report card," and that led me to a site called Mind the Store that was almost what I wanted. It had rated 30 major retailers and given each one a grade, but only on a single issue: toxic chemicals. Yet here, once again, I was baffled to see that Walmart was almost at the top of the rankings, with an A-minus. (Only Apple, the only company to earn an A grade, did better.) My much-beloved IKEA, I was relieved to see, came in just behind, with a B-plus, as did Target...but Costco, which I'd always viewed as the responsible alternative to Walmart, only had a C-minus (though even that mediocre grade was high enough to put it in the top ten). And which retailer came in dead last, with a score of zero out of a possible 135 points? TRADER JOE'S! According to the site, the company has made "no significant public-facing commitments to address the safety of chemicals used in its private brands or in the other products it sells." Say it ain't so, Joe!

Now, I realize there's more to being a responsible company than just screening for unsafe chemicals, and Trader Joe's still gets high marks for its workplace practices. But Walmart—the company I used to look on as the epitome of corporate evil—appears to get high marks on every measure of corporate responsibility. They're doing a great job of avoiding toxins and shrinking their carbon footprint and paying workers a decent wage. And while Target is not doing too badly on these points either, they appear to lag behind their larger competitor for most of them.

Under the circumstances, there simply seems to be no way to justify shopping at Target while continuing to boycott Walmart. I have to either declare that neither one is virtuous enough to suit me—a decision that would also put pretty much every major retail chain in the country off limits—or acknowledge that they're both basically okay.

So today, on the very blog where I first announced and then withdrew my boycott of Hershey, I'm announcing that I am officially no longer boycotting Walmart. Mind you, this probably doesn't mean I'll be shopping there very often; of the two, Target still seems to offer a better selection of sustainable products at a reasonable price (as highlighted in the Harvard Business Review). And, as Business Insider observes, Target stores just have a more appealing atmosphere.

But the next time I'm searching for products online and the best price I can find is at Walmart...into the cart it goes.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

A new low in plastic packaging

Back in July, when I embarked on the Plastic-Free July challenge, I discovered just how hard it really is to avoid single-use plastic, particularly in packaging. Even though I almost never buy prepared foods of any kind, I couldn't get through a grocery shopping trip without bringing home more of the stuff—a bag of popcorn, a carton of eggs, a gallon of milk. Even containers that weren't made of plastic, like a cardboard box of tea bags or a tin of ginger mints, came in a plastic wrapper.

However, the most absurd, ironic use of plastic packaging I noticed during that month was something I spotted on a trip to the H-Mart. Next to the checkout was a display of kids' plastic toys and dishes with labels boasting that they were made of environmentally friendly sugar cane bagasse. Now, bioplastics like these have problems of their own, as this post on Columbia University's "State of the Planet" blog points out. Although they have a smaller carbon footprint than petroleum-based plastics, they also produce more pollution over their life cycle, from the chemicals used to grow the crops they're made from to the processes that turn those materials into plastic. Also, they're harder to recycle, at least at present, so they usually end up in landfills, where they produce methane as they break down. They use up land that could be devoted to food crops, and they're expensive.

However, as bioplastics go, plastic made from sugar cane bagasse is better than most. Bagasse is a by-product of sugar production that would just go to waste normally, so it's not using up valuable cropland. And it be made about as cheaply as petroleum-based plastic, according to the MIT Technology Review. So, that's good, right?

But now here's the catch. All these eco-friendly, plant-based plastic items come packaged in...plastic. Good old-fashioned petroleum-based plastic.

I suppose the absurdity of bioplastic packaged in petroleum plastic is probably some sort of metaphor to do with environmentalism or society or life itself, but unfortunately, I'm not feeling sharp enough at the moment to figure out just what it is. The only moral I can spot in the story is that greenwashing is everywhere, and you need to keep a sharp eye out for it. Pretty much any product can slap some kind of a green claim on its label, so if you want to buy truly sustainable products, you need to look beyond the label and take a hard look at the products themselves, including how they're packaged.

Or maybe it's just that a Korean supermarket isn't necessarily the best place to go looking for them.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Plant-based milk experiments, phase 2: Coconut milk

After last month's unsuccessful experiment with making our own oat milk, I decided to take a different tack with plant-based milks: this "semi-homemade" coconut milk recipe from Our Four Forks. It looked simple enough to make: just combine a can of light coconut milk with two cans of water, add a bit of salt and vanilla, and sweeten to taste. The blog notes that you should "gently shake before each use," but that seemed simple enough to do if I mixed it up in one of the bottles we use for powdered milk.

Well, I tried this last week, and I'm sorry to report that it isn't the perfect low-carbon milk alternative I've been looking for.

The first problem appeared when we went to Trader Joe's for the coconut milk. It cost $1.29 a can, rather than the $1 a can the bloggers said they had paid. Since their recipe made about 5 cups, that worked out to a price of about $4.13 per gallon for just a straight coconut-milk-and-water mixture, without any salt, vanilla, or sugar added. That's nearly twice as much as we normally pay for cow's milk, but I comforted myself with the thought hat it's still cheaper than most commercial plant-based milks, which typically cost around $6 a gallon. And there would be less packaging waste, too—just one recyclable metal can, rather than a plastic-lined cardboard carton that can't be recycled in our curbside collection.

The second problem showed up when I started mixing up the coconut milk. For some reason I'd overlooked the fact that our milk bottles only hold a quart (four cups), and this recipe makes about five cups. The only container I could find big enough to hold it was a gallon-sized plastic pitcher, which doesn't have a snug-fitting lid like the milk bottle. So I had to settle for stirring it thoroughly, rather than shaking it. This wasn't enough to dissolve to the coconut milk completely, but I managed to get most of the solids suspended in the liquid.

First I tasted the mixture plain, with nothing added. Not surprisingly, it tasted strongly of coconut—a flavor I happen to like, but one that's definitely not as neutral as milk and wouldn't work in every recipe. It also wasn't as sweet as dairy milk. I added the salt and vanilla and tasted it again, and interestingly, this seemed to make it taste a bit sweeter—but I decided to go ahead and add a bit of sugar anyway. I stirred in a teaspoonful, decided it needed just a bit more, and eventually ended up using about two teaspoons of sugar for five cups of coconut milk. Since we now pay only 80 cents a pound for organic sugar at Costco, that works out to about 1.5 cents' worth of sugar. Add another 8.5 cents for the vanilla and salt, and the price of the milk comes to a total of $4.45 per gallon.

Another thing I checked as I mixed up the milk was its calorie count. According to the label, the can contained six servings of coconut milk, each with 70 calories. That meant the entire batch of milk had 420 calories' worth of coconut milk, plus 36 calories' worth of sugar. Divided by five cups, that's about 91 calories per cup—roughly the same as the skim milk we usually drink.

For my first taste test, I tried the coconut milk straight, as an accompaniment to a chocolate chip cookie. Once again, it tasted like coconut, not like milk, but that worked out fine, since it was compatible with the flavor of the cookie. The more noticeable difference between this and the skim milk I'm used to drinking was the mouthfeel, which was slightly greasy. It wasn't creamy, like whole or 2 percent milk; it felt more like a cup of skim milk with a bit of added oil that coated my mouth and left a faint film on the cup. Still, it was drinkable, so I wasn't too discouraged at this point.

Next, I tried the coconut milk in an egg cream. This was a little more problematic, since the milk had separated slightly since I mixed it up, and even a vigorous stirring didn't dissolve all the solids. But once I mixed it up with the chocolate syrup and seltzer, the coconut oil seemed to blend in fairly well, and the greasiness wasn't noticeable. I noticed that the seltzer didn't create quite as much foam with this coconut milk as it normally does with dairy milk, but that wasn't really a problem. The coconut flavor was only faintly noticeable and didn't clash with the chocolate. At this point, things were looking fairly promising.

By this time, I'd drunk enough of the coconut milk that I thought it would fit into one of our quart-sized milk bottles, which would allow me to shake it rather than stirring it before use. Unfortunately, transferring it from the pitcher to a bottle proved to be a messy and inefficient process. The globs of coconut oil clogged up the funnel, and I had to poke them repeatedly with a bamboo skewer to get them into the bottle. And even then, I was left with a fair amount of fat clinging to the sides of the pitcher, which wasn't that easy to wash off. I assume this problem would have been even worse with full-fat coconut milk, but even with the light stuff, it was pretty bad.

In the morning, Brian tried some of the coconut milk on his cereal and ran into yet another snag: even after shaking, the coconut oil wouldn't dissolve. So he poured some through a coffee filter, straining out the lumps, and poured the strained liquid on his cereal. He said the coconut flavor was compatible with most of the ingredients in his morning mixture—bran flakes, oats, flaxseeds, and walnuts—but interestingly, it clashed faintly with the raisins. So it wouldn't be ideal for his purposes, though the oat milk worked okay for him.

However, when I tried the coconut milk in my morning cocoa, it was an epic fail. Although I shook the bottle as vigorously as I could, the coconut oil just didn't dissolve; it formed a faint film on top of the liquid in the cup. It melted when I heated up the cocoa, but it didn't blend into the liquid; it formed a sort of oil slick on top, and the greasy mouthfeel when I drank it was more pronounced than ever. I was able to finish the cup, but I wasn't enthusiastic about using any more of the stuff. Brian thought maybe he could use it up in a batch of pudding, but he didn't have time, so the remaining cup or so ended up in the compost pile.

So, sadly, it looks like this DIY coconut milk isn't the ideal solution to the milk dilemma either, and I'm not sure what to try next. I noted on a recent trip to Aldi that their almond milk is considerably cheaper than most brands—just $1.89 for a half-gallon, or $3.78 per gallon, which is cheaper than this homemade stuff—but it still has the problems of the heavy water use from almond growing and the packaging waste created by the cartons. Ripple, or pea-protein milk, ticks all the boxes for sustainability and nutrition—according to this piece in Fast Company, its carbon footprint is only 7 percent as large dairy milk's, its water footprint is only 1 percent as large, and it has a comparable amount of protein and more calcium and vitamin D—but it's ludicrously expensive. And while I found a recipe for homemade Ripple at Matthew's Manna, it's frankly more work than we're willing to go through every time we need milk. It looks like our best bet for now may be to stick to cow's milk for a while and see if the price of Ripple drops with rising demand.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Recipe of the Month: Cucumber-noodle salad

As the end of August was approaching, I started hunting around for a new Recipe of the Month that would make use of what we had on hand. And what we had, as we usually do at this time of year, was cucumbers—lots of them. So far, our eight cucumber vines have provided us with a total of 35 cucumbers, and they just keep coming. We were starting to run out of jars to make pickles in.

So I hunted through the collection of recipes I'd been saving, and I found one that I'd clipped from Stop & Shop's Savory magazine a year ago: Noodle Salad with Shrimp. This actually called for only half of an English cucumber, but Brian and I figured one of our garden-variety cucumbers, seeded, would work just as well. The other adjustment he made was to halve the amount of shrimp the recipe called for, since we only had a limited supply. We considered substituting regular cabbage, which we already had in the fridge, for the Savoy cabbage the recipe called for, but it's really not the same thing, and since we had to go out to H-Mart anyway to pick up a can of water chestnuts, it was no extra trouble to grab one.

We served this modified salad up with two of the three garnishes the recipe recommends; we used the chopped peanuts and fresh basil, but left out the edamame. (We actually had some in the freezer, but it had been in there for ages and neither of us quite trusted it.) However, after tasting the salad both with and without the garnishes, Brian and I both concluded that it actually tasted better without the basil. Its strong, pungent taste tended to overpower the more delicate flavors of shrimp and cabbage, fish sauce and lime juice. Without the dressing, there was nothing to distract from these pleasant, milder flavors and the interesting blend of textures in the salad: soft and chewy rice noodles, tender shrimp, slightly wilted cabbage, firm but watery cucumbers, and crisp water chestnuts.

All in all, we both found this recipe very enjoyable, and generous enough to provide a dinner and a lunch the following day for the two of us. I'd certainly be happy to make it again, but I don't know that I'd be inclined to make it a regular addition to our repertoire. Not only does it call for several ingredients we don't usually have on hand—shrimp, water chestnuts, and Savoy cabbage—but all those ingredients are fairly expensive, so we wouldn't want to make a habit of using them all the time. However, it's a nice recipe to keep on hand for special occasions.

Perhaps this would make a good company dinner for summertime, a lighter alternative to our go-to Skillet Chicken with Rhubarb. Both dishes have the advantage of being gluten-free, so we can reasonably serve either one to most of our friends. However, we'll need to add some fancy veggie-friendly dishes to our repertoire if we ever want to impress any vegetarian or vegan visitors. A goal for a future Recipe of the Month, maybe?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Money Crashers: How to Get Cheap Concert, Event & Musical Tickets

This fall, Brian and I are doing something a little unusual for us: we're going to a show.

The reason it's unusual is that, come on, have you seen what tickets cost? People are dropping a grand at a time to see Hamilton, but pretty much any Broadway show will run you at least $100 a seat. We just can't bring ourselves to spend that kind of cash on a regular basis.

However, I recently started digging into this topic for Money Crashers, and I discovered that there are, in fact, ways to see a good show—maybe not the hit of the season, but a good show—for a lot less than this. And the same goes for concerts, sports matches, and other events with normally ridiculous ticket prices.

Some ideas include:
  • Choosing cheaper events—like a weeknight performance, a concert by a lesser-known artist, or a mid-season game that doesn't have as much riding on the outcome.
  • Choosing cheaper seats, which may be more isolated or have a less perfect view.
  • Knowing where to shop. Options include buying on Craigslist, going directly to the venue, or using a site that offers price alerts.
  • Knowing when to shop. Prices often fall closer to showtime.
  • Taking advantage of special offers, which include working for a seat, winning one in a giveaway, buying student rush tickets, or using a "seat filler" service.
In the process of researching this article, I looked at some theaters in my area to see their tickets cost—and lo and behold, I found that the State Theatre in New Brunswick was offering a one-night improvisational comedy performance by Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" fame. And the cheapest seats in the house, rear orchestra, were only $25 each. A total of $50 (plus tax, plus parking) is still a bit more than Brian and I usually spend on an evening's entertainment, but we figured for a special event like this it was worth it.

This bargain basically took advantage of several of the tips I covered in the article. The State Theater is a pretty major venue for New Jersey, but it still ain't Broadway, so we didn't pay Broadway prices—and since it's a weeknight, the price was lower than it would be for a weekend. We chose cheap seats, and we avoided fees by buying directly from the venue.

The show's in October, so I'll let you know afterward whether it was worth the money. In the meantime, you can check out the article for more details on how to get a good deal on an equally cool event in your area:

How to Get Cheap Concert, Event & Musical Tickets

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Homemade oat milk experiment, part 2

Last week, you heard about how Brian and I attempted to make our own oat milk using an ultra-simple recipe (blend oats with water, strain, sweeten to taste). As you may recall, this blend tasted okay straight and on cereal, but I had my doubts about whether it would work in cocoa, given that several recipes I'd seen online warned that homemade oat milk turns "very thick" or "gelatinous" when heated. And since my primary use of milk is in cocoa, which I drink every day for breakfast and frequently as a dessert, any milk substitute that doesn't work for this purpose would be pretty much useless to me.

So this week, Brian whipped up another batch of oat milk specifically to test for this use. This time, he soaked the oats first for around half an hour, then blended them and strained them, but added no sweetener. Then he instructed me to make a cup of cocoa just as I usually do: mix 1 tsp. cocoa, 1 tsp. sugar, and half a packet of sweetener in the mug, add enough boiling water to make a paste, stir in the milk, zap it for one minute in the microwave, and trickle in a few drops of vanilla.

Here you see the cocoa just as it looked when it first came out of the microwave. Although you probably can't tell from the photo, it was already quite thick at this point; stirring it with the spoon felt rather like spooning up a thick soup. It also required an extra spoonful of sugar to make it as sweet as cocoa made with milk. With that addition, it was drinkable, and the flavor of the oat milk didn't noticeably alter its taste.

However, over the course of the next few minutes, the cocoa continued to thicken, to the point that its started to feel more like a semi-solid mixture, similar to applesauce, than any sort of liquid. Not only did it get harder to sip, it developed an almost slimy mouthfeel that was rather unpleasant. Before too long I handed over the cup to Brian, saying I just couldn't finish it—and before he was halfway through it, he also gave up the attempt, giving the lie to his earlier claim that he "could eat anything."

So it's apparent that this recipe for homemade oat milk won't work for us. Brian could use it on his cereal, but there's not that much point in switching over to a plant-based milk just for him when I'm the one who's most interested in getting off the moo juice. The question now is, could any other form of oat milk possibly work?

A little research suggested that a commercial oat milk, such as Oatly, probably wouldn't have this same problem with excessive thickening. According to the Plant Milk website, homemade oat milk
"contain[s] natural fiber (mucilage) which function as natural thickener." However, when commercial oat milks are pasteurized, "these substances (mucilages) disappear along with many other nutrients." The authors of the site try to make it sound like this thickness is a feature, not a bug, arguing it's what gives oat milk its "personality." They also claim that oat milk made according to the "basic recipe" (50 grams of rolled oats to one liter hot water) should be "substantial, but not overly thick when warmed up for consumption—which wasn't our experience at all.

However, the site also concedes that if you want a thinner milk, you can either reduce the amount of oats, use cooler water, or let the oats sit in the hot water overnight as it cools. Unfortunately, I'm skeptical about these claims, given that we actually did use cold water in our oat milk and it still came out so thick as to be undrinkable.

There's also a recipe on this site for Raw Grain Oat Milk, which uses oats blended with hot water—without pre-soaking—and then heats the resulting mixture for ten minutes before refrigerating it. This version, the site claims, "will keep its creamy texture without being too thick" when reheated. And on the section of the site devoted to hot chocolate recipes, it notes that hot chocolate made with other versions of oat milk become "pudding-like" as they cool, but it claims this version "won’t get too thick sitting on the fridge."

So I suppose we could try this recipe to see if it works any better in cocoa, but I'm not sure it's really worth the attempt. For one thing, this site already steered us wrong on its basic oat milk recipe, so I'm not all that inclined to trust it about the "raw grain" version. And even if this form of oat milk proves to be usable, the added step of heating the milk before storing it makes for considerably more work—more than we would probably want to go to every time we needed milk to drink. (I guess it's not really more work than going out to the store for milk, but when we do that, we can pick up two gallons at a time; this recipe only makes one liter.)

So it looks like it's back to the drawing board on plant-based milks. I found a collection of nine "easy plant milk recipes" on the Simple Vegan blog, but most of them call for nuts, which are pricey. The brown rice milk recipe would be reasonably cheap to make, but it calls for cooking the rice first, which, once again, adds an extra step that makes for a lot more work. The most promising recipe I've found is this semi-homemade coconut milk, which is simply coconut milk (not the same as the refrigerated stuff, which is thinner and costs a lot more) diluted with water. If you use Trader Joe's coconut milk, which costs only 99 cents a can, this recipe works out to only $3.16 per gallon—only around 50 percent more than the cheapest price we've found for dairy milk at Costco, and actually less than we've occasionally paid at Shop-Rite when there wasn't a good sale. So maybe mixing up a batch of that should be our next experiment.