All Photos: Vivian Johnson, Special To The Chronicle
Wiebke Liu and her daughters Mia and Josie prepare lunch with Liu’s mixes that she creates from scratch.
The sycamore-lined street of Wiebke Liu’s Oakland home was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and feels straight out of a fairy tale. “He designed it with people rather than cars in mind,” she says. That means electrical and phone cables are out of sight, and in view are cottages full of character, wide sidewalks and lush foliage, including an oak garden at the rear of the neighborhood homes where kids and deer explore yard by yard, fence-free.
Renovations since then have included building a small guest house on the property in the same 1920s style and expanding their narrow galley kitchen with 2 extra feet of marble countertop space, where guests can linger as they wait for dinner to be served in the dining room or al fresco. One family tradition that Wiebke brought back from Germany is always leaving an extra place setting at the table so drop-in guests can feel welcome.
Wiebke Liu, creator of Blisshaus, helps families organize their kitchen by using jars.
This aha moment set Wiebke on the path to rid her kitchen of plastic, stocking up on jars to store bulk foods like pasta, rice and beans (“the airtight jars keep everything fresh longer”) and rid her freezer of frozen foods like pizzas and quiches. (“Turns out cooking a quiche from scratch takes the same amount of time as heating up a frozen one!”)
Fred and their daughters, Josie and Mia, had to follow one simple rule: Don’t buy anything wrapped in plastic. “It’s amazing how that rule shifts your behavior,” Wiebke says. Now she helps other families organize their kitchens and pantries with her company, Blisshaus.com, and shows them how to cook from scratch in 20 minutes or less (with simple recipes printed on elegant jars). “Marketers have brainwashed us into thinking that making dinner is complicated and takes forever. We’re the grandchildren of Betty Draper, who prides herself on TV dinners.”
Fred and the girls were game for the experiment, making it a family affair. “My daughters are my chief product and recipe testers,” says Wiebke. “Josie’s specialty is the split pea soup. Mia makes fabulous salads and pancakes, using the pancake mix out of our jars.”
Of course, it’s not all easy being green. Wiebke has yet to dream up a life hack for dental floss or her favorite electronic toothbrush head, and Fred’s penchant for potato chips keeps them from kicking the potato chip bag. “Making my own potato chips is just way too laborious,” she adds.
Follow your bliss
Josie Liu, 9, pours bulk beans from a Blisshaus bag into a Blisshaus jar.
Keep it uniform. “The more uniform your jars, the better. Storing food in jars is a great step to keeping food fresher longer, but when your jars are a mix of different sizes and shapes, it’s difficult to keep them orderly and to have your inventory in your mind’s eye.”
Sometimes more is more. “Invest in enough jars to stock up on shelf-stable foods like pasta, rice, grains, cereals and flours for months at a time. These foods will keep for a long time, so save the shopping time by loading up once every few months. This way you need only one run to the market per week for your fresh produce and meats.”
Keep it real. “Most importantly, make sure your pantry is a source of joy and not stress. It is way better for you, your family and the environment to do the Blisshaus thing 80 percent of the time and cut your waste by that much rather than burning out trying to be perfect. Don’t beat yourself up for making an exception to your no-more-plastic-packaging rule every once in a while.”
Theresa Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org