29 January 2008

NFL player goes vegan

This is an interesting read from yesterday's Wall Street Journal about an NFL tight-end who went vegan for his health. I'd be interested to read a follow up in a year!

27 January 2008

austin to phase out blue recycling bins in favor of sortless carts

The City of Austin just announced its plan to expand what's currently recyclable through the city and a new plan to phase out the small blue bins put out weekly in favor of using 90-gallon carts to be put out every other week. In these large carts, recyclables would not need to be sorted.

While this decision presents a concern small households and seniors living alone, as the large carts are bulky and heavy, even when empty, I think it's will encourage increased recycling in many households, and it will also save the city money on fuel for the trucks. And because the trucks will have the ability to mechanically lift and unload the carts, it will better protect the physical health of waste management employees.

El Paso and San Antonio are already using systems like this.

Read the whole story in The Austin American Statesman here.

22 January 2008

nancy pelosi, you go girl

I'm only just hearing about this, but apparently Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, introduced a mandate last spring to make the House of Representatives a more environmentally friendly place to eat and work. These recently instituted changes, from composting, increasing overall energy efficiency, and changing the menus and service materials used in the cafeterias-- Nancy is totally rockin' the House. The cafeterias actually sound worth eating in! Let's hope this has some influence on other policy makers...

Here's the brief, read-worthy New York Times article.

21 January 2008

open-faced avocado bagelwiches for two

I'm always game for the challenge of making a yummy meal of seemingly meager refrigerator contents. I suppose some would say my own 'meager' refrigerator contents are still pretty nice, but it can still be difficult to make something quick, easy, and tasty out of leftovers, or random bits of this and that found in the kitchen. The other day my friend and I found ourselves getting hungry and lunchtime looming nearer.

Here's the story of what I did with: 1 bagel, 1 avocado, a spoonful of hummus, 1 roasted red pepper, a small bit of feta, 2 tiny pears, a sprig of cilantro, and some spring mix.

I first cut the sesame bagel in half, and toasted it to medium-toastyness. Meanwhile, I preheated the broiler in the oven, thinly sliced the avocado and red pepper. When the bagels were toasted, I spread the hummus on them, topped each half with the sliced avocado and peppers, topped with the cilantro, feta, and some salt and pepper. Put on a sheet pan and put under the broiler for about 5-10 minutes until the cheese softened and browned a bit. I put some spring mix on two plates, sliced up the pears and put those on the sides. Placed the finished bagel halves on top of the lettuce, garnished with a lemon wedge that would serve as the dressing for whatever leftover bits of sandwich fell off onto the plate. Voila! A delicious, quickie meal.

17 January 2008

starbucks, organic milk, and cow hormones, oh my!

From a consumer perspective, I'm not a huge fan of Starbucks, even though they are better than a lot of other big corporations. (But, please, support your local coffee shops and other businesses!) And from a health perspective, I'm certainly not a fan of over-caffeinating the masses with silly sounding sugar-laden concoctions masquerading themselves as coffee. Hmm, did that sound bitter?

So right, Starbucks, who best as I can tell, has been offering organic milk at a premium price in their stores, is now taking all of their 'conventional' dairy products to the next level and it will now all be rBGH-free. This commonly administered hormone increases milk production in dairy cows, and is something I would definitely recommend steering clear from. Sounds great, huh? But it's also at the expense of Starbucks no longer offering organic milk in their stores. They say it's because the organic milk presented an option to customers who wanted to avoid the hormone-ridden milk products. Organic milk is about more than just the absence of hormones, but goes further and doesn't include any milk that comes from cows who have been administered antibiotics, the cows must be fed organic feed, and the cows are more likely to be better-treated than in conventional dairy farms. And while I'm not really a milk drinker myself, I buy only organic dairy products whenever I need them.

I just came across this great website that rates the organic dairy producers in the U.S., maybe it will come in handy in your explorations.

See the Treehugger.com blog on the Starbucks milk subject here.

P.S. If you often find yourself at Starbucks or another fill 'er up hotspot, take your own reusable travel mug. You'll often get a discount, or more for your money, and then your share of the paper/plastic cups, cozies, and plastic lids madness will be reduced or eliminated altogether!

16 January 2008

Chef Aja T. Marsh News - January Newsletter

Happy New Year!
2008 is going to be a fabulous year. I can just feel it.
Already it's getting off to a pretty interesting start. I am in New York City for most of January, picking up some work, making new connections, and setting some wheels in motion for the months ahead. Coming up, I'll be doing catering and some behind-the-scenes documenting on a friends' movie in New Hampshire in February, and have a few other exciting projects in the works you'll be hearing more about soon. I'm also planning this year to completely offset my carbon emissions and continue to travel more with my work.

As we begin to re-emerge from the post-holiday haze, all of these ideas of what we 'should' or 'want' to be doing begin to appear. And while I've never really been one to make resolutions, throughout the year I do continuously set new goals for myself and go to work on them. If your own New Year's resolutions include trying to be a healthier you, don't feel pressured to have to make an immediate, drastic transition. Gradual and simple steps make a huge difference in the long run, without putting too much stress on your in the 'now.' Do one little thing each week, or each month, and you'll be well on your way!

- If you are seeking to be more active, first start with incorporating more movement in your every day-- take a walk after dinner, use the stairs when possible, don't use your remote controls.
- Want to eat healthier? Be a label-reader and cut out things like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), and artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, etc.). And make an effort to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains into your diet.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water continuously through the day-- I find the bigger the glass, the more I will drink, so I often carry around a 36 oz. bottle everywhere I go. If you consume caffeine regularly, you'll need to drink a bit more water to stay properly hydrated, so have a glass of water along side your morning coffee.
- When spending down time with friends or family, plan to bond while doing a healthy activity-- something silly like roller skating or bowling, making a healthy meal together and watching a movie, or trying something new like yoga.
- Feeling tired? Eating regular wholesome meals and snacks, as well as getting regular exercise can do wonders for your energy levels. Watching TV right before bed can make for a shallower, less satisfying sleep, and not getting enough sleep (7-8 hours is ideal for most people) weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses and allergies.
- And there are other things that nourish us aside from food, water, and exercise. Making and taking the time to laugh, smile, share love is so important to your emotional well-being, as is setting aside time for you. Feeling good in mind will have you feeling good in body.

Cooking Class: Introduction to Healthy Eating (Austin)
Friday, February 1st, 6:30-9:30pm

Website Update: The galleries have new photos!

Guest Blogger Opportunity: I am looking for interested individuals to write guest blogs for Stem+Leaf about green and healthy-lifestyle related subjects, from your own perspective. No need to be an experienced writer-- just enthusiastic with something to say! Please contact me for more information.

Be well, today and every day!

15 January 2008

spicy chipotle vegan brownies

There's something about that combination of heat and sweet, and I love these brownies for that. They hit your tongue soft, sweet, and chocolately, but finish off with a kick. Sweetened with agave, these brownies aren't overly sweet, but you could add a bit more if you like. I made these for a family friend's birthday party and they were a hit! I imagine they would go very well crumbled into some vanilla ice cream.

Spicy Chipotle Vegan Brownies
5 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch ground allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegan margarine, melted (I use Earth Balance) or canola oil
4 oz. dark chocolate, melted and cooled (equals about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease a 9" square baking dish.

2.In a small bowl, combine the ground flaxseeds and water, and mix well. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking soda, baking powder, salt. Then, add in all of the wet ingredients and the flaxseed mixture and fold well to combine. Fold in chopped nuts, if using.

4. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Notes:This makes for a pretty spicy brownie, so decrease the amount of chipotle powder if you want it less hot. If you can't find the chipotle powder, you can substitute 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper. Alternatively, you could omit the chipotle, cinnamon, and allspice altogether for a more traditional brownie.

09 January 2008

china plans plastic bag ban

Even though this ban isn't scheduled to take effect until June of this year, I'm thrilled that the Beijing Summer Olympics have caused China to look at it's various pollution issues under the scrutinizing lens of the rest of the world. Being the world's most populous country, I think that this move on China's part can only mean good things for the rest of the world, and I hope that other influential countries (ahem, the United States) will soon follow suit.

The story mentions encouraging consumers to 'return to carrying cloth bags' which I think is such a strong statement if only because it's too easy to forget that these plastic bags didn't always exist to carry our groceries and other goods in, and that they do overall more harm than good. And now, between all of the cute canvas totes, baskets, and recycled bags available (check out links to the right), it's all too easy, and fashionable, to avoid them and even paper bags altogether. Refuse a plastic bag when you can easily carry something to your car, or put it in your handbag. Encourage your friends and family to do the same (I certainly do!).

See the full A.P. story on China's plastic bag ban here.

02 January 2008

guest blog: the reluctant treehugger

This is the second in a series of guest blogs. Jason Lowell lives in South Florida, where he works as a website producer. He also spends entirely too much time watching baseball and makes a very respectable grilled cheese sandwich. Jason can be reached at jasonlowell35 at gmail dot com. Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Hi - my name is Jason, and I think I'm going green.

I'm trying to cut down on waste. I bring a fork and spoon to the office, instead of using a plastic set I'll throw away later, and I'll put my lunch in reusable containers instead of wrapping it up in plastic wrap or foil. No more coffee cups in the office either. I've got a mug that I keep there and wash on a (semi-) regular basis. I carry a backpack instead of bringing my lunch in a bag I would throw away anyway. And I don't buy bottled water anymore.

I harass my family incessantly about recycling. I read my news online (Google Reader -- it might change your life), and if I do pick up a paper or a magazine, I always make sure to toss it in the recycle bin. I also stopped asking for receipts at the gas pump and ATM.

I've replaced all of my regular light bulbs (or as many as I can reach without a ladder) with compact fluorescents. I now turn off lights and fans when I leave the room, and I'm *trying* to start to unplug things that I don't use very often while they're off. When I leave work, I always power down my computers, instead of just flipping the monitors off. I only wash clothes when I have a full load (probably too full a load).

Yes, it's a little more expensive, but I'm trying to eat organic when possible. I've even taken up eating more soy over the last few years, and I generally feel much healthier when I do. I've gotten funny looks from family and friends for the stockpile of chick'n patties and portobello burgers in the freezer, but those brave enough to try them are now just as addicted. I recently found my carton of Silk empty on the counter, and my brother sitting on the couch, large bowl of cereal in hand.

I bought tofu once. I think it lived in the back of my fridge for a while before I ended up throwing it away. I wasn't ready for that kind of commitment just yet.

Right now, I live in a city where public transportation isn't a reliable option (not unless I want to wake up at 5am to get to work by 9). Though I'm somewhat stuck with driving to work, I've cut back on excessive driving. I also own a pretty fuel-efficient car, and I'm planning on making my next one a hybrid. I also try to go without air conditioning when possible (which, yes, is rare since I live in South Florida).

No, I don't own Birkenstocks. None of my clothing is made out of hemp. I don't have a small shrine to Al Gore in my closet, because you don't need to be obsessive about all of this to make a difference. For me, I've started to pay more attention to the habits I have and doing my small part to break some of the bad ones. If you do a lot of little things, sooner or later, they'll add up.

And then maybe someone will ask you to be a guest blogger.

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