30 May 2008

recipe: fiddlehead ferns two ways

So I did it. I overcame my unnecessary anxiety of fiddlehead ferns. I conquered it by cleaning, cooking, and eating them. Two ways.

These Northeastern treats are the shoots of the ostrich fern, and need to be cooked or marinated overnight to be safe for eating. Their season is only a couple of weeks and very nearly over by now, but because their taste and texture is most closely akin to asparagus, these recipes would go nicely with that as well!

After going though my bag of ferns, discarding ones that were unseemly, trimming the ends, and removing any of the brown papery chaff from the outside, I gave them a water bath with two changes of water, and boiled them for about 5 minutes, until they were tender, drained them, and then made this:

Recipe: Fiddlehead Ferns in Warm Lemon-Garlic-Dijon Dressing

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pint fiddlehead ferns, cooked
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil until warmed through and well mixed. Turn off the heat.

2. Toss in the fiddlehead ferns to coat and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or allow to cool and eat cold or room temperature.

I ate this alongside some brown rice pasta with red sauce. Yum!

Recipe: Fiddlehead Ferns with Ginger, Sesame, and Shoyu

1 teaspoon organic canola or extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
pinch red chili flakes (optional)
5 thinly sliced rounds of ginger, or 1 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 pint fiddlehead ferns, cooked
1 tablespoon shoyu or tamari
1 teaspoon black or white sesame seeds

1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, warm the two oils, chili flakes (if using), and ginger. Add in the ferns and the shoyu. Mix until heated through. Remove from heat and toss in the sesame seeds. Serve immediately or allow to cool and enjoy in a salad.

The consensus? Well, they're good. Maybe more interesting to look at than to eat. They're not life-changing, certainly, but I think for me, it became more about just doing it. Less thinking, more doing, right?

27 May 2008

come party with me on wednesday!

Remember back in February when I catered that film shoot in snowy New Hampshire? Well, the editing process of the film is nearly completed, and it's time to party for the cause! Palehorse Productions, the non-profit organization behind 'The Tell-Tale Heart' is throwing a benefit party this Wednesday at the Professor's Loft in the East Village to raise money to complete 'The Tell-Tale Heart' so it can be entered into festivals, etc.

Entrance is free, there's a bar, and they will be taking any donations you care to offer all night long. At 9pm, the director, Robert Eggers, will be introducing a preview of the film and talking a bit about the project.

This is sure to be a fun event, and I'm super excited to support this group of childhood friends who are some of the most talented and ambitious artists I know and have had the pleasure of working with!

You better believe I will be there, glammed up, and ready to have a great time! Come join me!

See all the details below, or click here.

25 May 2008

an impassioned book review and reaction: 'in defense of food' by michael pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is the second Michael Pollan book I've read, after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma last year, and well, I think I'm in love, and I'm not the only one.

He's done it again! I love his writing style-- full of facts, but casually written, so there's not much that goes over your head. I feel like every other page (at least), I am wanting to take notes, highlight, or find a scrap of paper to mark the page-- I borrowed this copy from the library and read it almost exclusively on the subway, and found myself tearing up receipts to tag pages for future reference. This book is much easier to get through than Dilemma, at only 200 pages in a paperback sized, easy-read format.

With "Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants." as his mantra, Pollan discusses American's and 'nutritionism', the difficulties of finding real food in the supermarkets, the consequences of the Western diet, and how we can do something not only to shape our own lives and health, but also to change the view and use of real food in this country. I was excited when one of his sections began "Eat food: Food defined," because I've previously discussed (food vs. not food), we now have to decode the food products we find in the supermarkets in order to determine what's fit to eat. It's not so simple as it should be. (Or as it actually is when you got to the farmer's market). He argues that the biggest detriment to our health as Americans is the Western diet we ascribe to.

"...two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, that fully a quarter of us have metabolic syndrome, that fifty-four million have prediabetes, and that the incidence of type 2 diabetes has rise 5 percent annually since 1990, going from 4 percent to 7.7 percent of the adult population (that’s more than twenty million Americans)..."

Part way through the book, a few days ago, I read the above passage and a few additional pages focusing on obesity and diabetes on the train, on my way to my favorite natural foods store (Commodities, in the East Village), I stood outside in the rain and called my mom, 'impassioned and frustrated! passionately frustrated!' about how I was mad and annoyed and crazy over how so many people, including many in my extended family, let their health slip away so carelessly, when there's more than enough to be said for eating well (or better, at least) and for living actively. As I vented to her, breathlessly, I wanted to immediately do something, but what? In that moment, I wanted to shake my aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers by the shoulder, give them a slap or something to wake them up, call them out, make them accountable. I imagined myself storming into their houses, having them run around the block while I emptied out their kitchen of all of the 'not foods'. I imagined gathering them all and serving them a feast of whole and healthy foods-- brown rice, kale, aduki beans, oh my! I don't feel right knowing all I do, feeling like I do, and idly standing by, helping those who will hire me or else easily listen. I think there is a bigger difference to be made.

"In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. Scientists can argue all they want about the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, but whichever it is, the solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: stop eating a Western diet."

And it's easier said than done, I'm sure, but I gotta try. Who's with me?

Pollan has also written a bevy of articles for the NYT, many of which are excerpted, or mini-versions of topics from his books.

24 May 2008

the market is alive with the smell of spring

By Wednesday of this week, I'd already been to the Union Square Greenmarket shortly after opening hour three times in one week. And I have to say, as I don't usually go that early, there really is something to be said for getting there in the early morning. All of the produce is glistening and beautifully displayed, not at all picked over or wilted, and the market is fairly quiet. Everything looks perfect and you want it all. I can't express enough how much I love going to the farmer's market, even when I don't buy anything, so if my reward for waking up early is getting to explore food, well, I am down with that. It's a happy way to start my day.

That being said, even though the weather has been a little too cold for my likes, springtime produce is here and in full-swing! Stored apples and potatoes are winding down, asparagus and ramps are still abundant, but probably not for much longer. First of the season strawberries and cherry tomatoes, lots and lots of herbs and baby greens and bitter greens, radishes, rhubarb and even some raspberries are brightening up the stalls.

And here in the Northeast we're in the middle of the very short fiddlehead fern season. Every year, I see them and honestly, while they are fascinating and quite beautiful visually, I get a little afraid of them, not sure why, maybe it's because they look a little alien. I just want someone to make them and put them in front of me to eat, so I can get over it. Well, I forget that I'm the more adventurous cook of most of the people in my social circle, so I figured it's up to me. So I did it. I bought them. I haven't cooked them yet, but be sure to check in a day or two to see what I created. No sense in getting anxious over a cute spiraled wild , right? I'd much rather be excited! Today I also picked up some yummy red spinach, baby head lettuce, and some fingerling potatoes.

So I implore you Stem+Leaf-ers to grab your canvas tote and get your booty over to the greenmarket and see what spring in your area has in store for you! Pick up something new, and tell me what you thought of it!

22 May 2008

think less, do more: turning over new 'leaves,' or, the girl with the healthy reputation

I spent the first few days of this week working 9-6 in an office of a colleague. I'm not really a 9-6 or really an office kind of girl, in general, but I wanted to make the best of it. In the spirit of my recent dedication to stop being late, I committed myself to waking up much earlier and... going to the gym. I'm not really a gym morning person, or okay, much of a morning person in general, but I can oddly muster up the energy and desire when there's a deadline looming. But why subject myself to the early rise? Well once I considered the benefits (missing rush-hour traffic on the train, streets, and gym; having the evening free to relax; and starting the work-day off energized instead of sluggish), I stopped thinking about it and decided just to do it, and get over the feeling that waking up early was self-punishment.

Not only that, but because of my quasi-fear of growing bored, or worse yet hungry, while trapped in an office with only mediocre over-priced food awaiting in the streets below, I also each night prepared an enviable cargo of lunch and snack items: homemade salt-and-pepper popcorn (yes, as in, I made it in a pot), brown basmati with peas, cashews, garlic, lemon, and turmeric, Dr. Kracker seeded spelt crackers (they're from Texas!), soy yogurt and Ezekiel sprouted grain cereal (I love this stuff, it's similar to grape nuts, only sugar-free, organic, and overall healthier. It's the only cold cereal I'll eat now), mixed nuts, and fresh fruit.

Packing them all in various reusable containers and tucked into my canvas tote, I smiled at this image, thinking that 'Hey! These new people at the office are going to create this reputation of me' as being, if not just particularly thrifty, then totally living up to assumed expectations of my 'natural foods chef' title. With fresh market goods, organic green tea, refillable water bottle at my side, and a note to register for the upcoming half-marathon in my planner, I sat at my desk and thought, 'This is a reputation I would really like to have.' So now that I'm finally doing some of the things I've been wanting to do more often (bring my own lunch, compost, use home-made green cleaning solutions), I'm figuring out how else to best live up to my own created idea of what my reputation should be.

Having just moved, I am using the opportunity to implement more overall green practices than I have in the past. I am using all-green cleaners (yesterday I cleaned the bathroom entirely with different combinations of baking soda, an all-purpose vinegar and water spray, and a little dr. bronner's). One of the ones I'm most excited about is composting. I have done this off and on before, especially when I am doing a lot of cooking at one time, I'll save all the food scraps in a bag and take them to the compost drop-off at the Greenmarket. However, now that I have sufficient freezer space (where I store the scraps) and dedication, I am collecting acceptable food scraps and dropping them off once a week. I hope my roommates begin to feel inclined to participate as well! I mean hey, I know I make a lot of easy-to-do suggestions on here, but I also realize it's not always feasible to do it all at once, if it all, and I'm not excluded! So making the at-home composting commitment feels good!

On Wednesday morning, after the gym I breezed through the market and picked up a multi-grain roll from Bread Alone to go along with the Mediterranean tuna salad and market baby greens I'd brought from home. Whenever possible, I prefer to use real plates, bowls, and glasses-- I think it makes every dining experience significant and intentional-- and at lunchtime, I made myself this cute little meal and sat down and enjoyed it.

recipe: Mediterranean tuna salad
I don't really like 'traditional' over-mayonaised tuna salads, and while this one has a touch of vegenaise (you could use regular canola mayo), it's totally optional, I just like it for added moisture and consistency when I use it for a sandwich. Use whatever vegetables you have on-hand, but the olive and sundried tomatoes are most important in keeping with the Mediterranean style. This salad mix works really well just atop fresh salad greens, which is how I usually have it, generally substituting olive oil for the mayo.

Makes 2-3 Servings

1 6 oz. can solid tuna*, drained
1-2 tablespoons vegenaise, mayonnaise, or extra virgin olive oil (optional)
4 halves sundried tomatoes, chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped olives (whatever kind you like)
1/4 cup chunked artichoke hearts
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup cucumber, sliced or diced
1/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 clove raw garlic, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (lemon thyme, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, etc.)
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
mixed salad greens of your choice
salt and pepper to taste

If you're intending to make a sandwich, simply mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl, eat immediately or cover and refrigerate. Keeps up to 5 days.

If you're making this to top salad greens with, I like to marinate the tuna in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper while I prepare the other ingredients. Arrange your lettuce in a bowl, top with desired amount tuna mixture and prepared vegetables.


*As I don't eat much fish or meat, and concerned with mercury and sustainable fishing practices, I exclusively use American Tuna as they are a small multi-family run business out of California that only pole-catches Albacore tuna, and they consistently score well below standard mercury-levels, and they keep their product simple, which I appreciate.

guest blog: fish: follow the rules

This guest blog is part three of a 4-part series about the benefits of dangers of eating fish, and how to consume it responsibly. Janet Watkins is a freelance writer living and blogging from the Midwest at www.insidewords.blogspot.com.Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Having decided that the benefits derived from eating fish outweigh the risks, what do you do to ensure that what you’re eating is safe? Some basic rules to follow:

• Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish– they contain the highest levels of mercury.
• Eat varieties low in mercury like shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish.
• Canned tuna comes in white and light. Albacore, a large species of tuna accumulates moderate amounts of mercury, and should be eaten cautiously. Chunk light tuna a smaller type of tuna contains approximately 30% the mercury levels of albacore.
• Check the EPA National Listing of Fish Advisories– a map tool on the site can tell you about the safety of fish from your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
• Download a pocket guide– see below.

Cooking Tips to Reduce Pollutants
Those pesky pollutants like mercury, PCBs, dioxins and some pesticides concentrate in the fatty tissue of fish. Mercury binds to the protein in fish tissue; it cannot be removed by cooking. But you can reduce the chances of consuming contaminants by prepping your fish before cooking.

• Remove skin, fat, internal organs, and lobster and crab roe, where toxins can collect.
• Drain fat away when cooking.
• Fish sticks and fried fish fillets are generally made from low-toxin Pollock. However be careful of what you fry at home. Frying locks in pollutants in the fish’s fat, whereas other cooking methods let the fat drain away.

Downloadable Guides
To make selecting fish a bit less bewildering:

Environmental Defense downloadable Pocket Seafood Selector lists the best and worst choice for the environment and also notes which ones within those categories are high or low in environmental contaminants.

Oceans Alive Contaminated Fish Chart– a guide to consuming making the best and worst eco-choices.

Seafood Watch Pocket Guides – provides up to date regional information and allow you to choose fish from your part of the country.

21 May 2008

what's new? (a lot!)

I have finally had some time in the past few days to begin to sift through the many emails in my many inboxes, catch up on some news, and read some new blogs. I've posted many of the worthy ones in the articles, links, and blogs lists on the right hand side of this page, but I wanted to bring a few to your attention.

food for your inbox
Like many of you, I'm sure, I subscribe to several daily or weekly newsletters. There are a couple however, that I want to be sure you know about:
-Vital Juice Daily, a colorful email blast with a short, holistic health-related tip or news, often with links to recipes, and comes in general, NYC, or LA editions.
-Ideal Bite, which will send you a fun-spirited eco-tip daily, with editions specific to several US cities.
[Both of these you can check out online instead of the mailing list, but I find the emails more convenient].

in the e-news
-New York Times included an article on food waste in the U.S. in comparison to food shortages in other countries, and the current rise in food prices. It's also got a photo illustration worth checking out. (photo illustration courtesy of The New York Times)
-Jetblue has just publically launched their green initiative, 'Jetting to Green', complete with an easy carbon-offsetting* hookup and mileage calculator with carbonfund.org, and a sweepstakes to win a Prius.
-Sierra Club's page 'A Pain in the Gas' which is full of gas-saving tips, news and info on the oil crisis, and clean-car info. The Sierra Club's blog, Scrapbook, also recently posted an article about Hawaii's recent landmark passage of a mandatory solar water heater bill.

blogs of note
-Wasted Food is a well written, informative, but wholly approachable and entertaining blog written by Jonathan Bloom on world food waste. A must read.
-The New York Times' blog, Dot Earth, on Climate Change is more wordy (as well it would be), but a wealth of information mingled with subjectivity- an ideal one-stop spot for global warming news.
-And for the dedicated foodies, Mark Bittman's (author of How to Cook Everything)food blog, Bitten, is funny, irreverent at times, and full of yum.

and a couple of green incentives
-If recycling on its own didn't make you feel good enough, in select cities, you can now get paid to recycle curbside. RecycleBank isn't available everywhere yet, but they're working on it. Their site also includes a lot of basic information on how recycling works anyway.
-Green Dimes will pay you to stop your junk mail. It's not much padding for your wallet, but you probably are tired of all catalogs and brochures and other junk from stuffing your mailbox only to go into the recycle bin, barely touched. So save a tree or two and let your mailbox be used for things you actually want to read.

*For those of you who aren't yet off-setting your carbon usage, it's actually remarkably cheap. For a roundtrip flight from NYC to LA, it's less than $9. That's not much extra to tack onto a flight. But don't forget about off-setting your vehicle and energy usage as well! Go to carbondfund.org to learn how.

19 May 2008

a poem on the cost of rice

Maybe you noticed food costs keep going up?

the cost of rice is up
and corn and wheat and oats
and food costs more and gas costs more
it all goes up while we
sink down.
if we can't change our ways
how can we behave
if we can't make change
how will we pay?
who will eat who if this becomes
dog eat dog?
who wins when everyone is losing?
what's the solution to our social pollution
if you scream you might not be heard.
but sit too quietly and you're ignored.
don't become a problem you can solve.

17 May 2008

think less, do more: the 10-miler

So, there will at some point be a blog up here about how I thought less and did more of something that wasn't running, but for the time being, the most obvious way I've been employing this 'think less, do more' philosophy is in running races like crazy in New York. (This is my 3rd road race since April).

This past Sunday, I ran a TEN MILE women's race in Central Park! Yeah! I'd never run ten miles in a row before. I was pretty sure I could do it (I knew I could run 8), but I didn't feel very well prepared for it, having worked out scarcely in two weeks. BUT, I not only beat my 'slow goal' of 1 hour 30 mins, but also beating my 'ideal goal' of 1 hour 20 minutes. I ran it in 1 hour 19 minutes and 13 seconds! I placed 133 out of 1341 runners. And since it was Mother's Day, I ran for my Mommy!

It was a lovely day for a run. Sunny with a nice cool breeze, and tenderly warm in the sunshine. Around the 7th mile, I spotted a couple of runners near me that I would drift in front or behind of every once in awhile. There was another woman in bright pink further ahead that I was gunning to pass up by the end. Well, I didn't catch the bright pink runner (she picked up her speed quite a bit), but the last mile and a half, I was in a pretty steady race with a woman who would speed up and run beside me every time I picked up my pace a little-- oh that was incredibly motivating-- I like a chance to be competitive on that kind of level! But once I passed the 9-mile mark, I surged big time and was on the move-- leaving her her in the dust.

Nearing the finish, through the din of my headphones pumping fast-moving jams, I heard a man who was running along side the route say (probably *not* to me) "You're almost there! Only about 400 meters!" Thankful to this man, I began my sprint, and channeled my high-school track coach's yells and gave it a powerful finishing kick. This part of the route was the same as a 4-mile run I did last month, so I already knew that the finish line snuck up on you after a sharp curve in the road. I finished in great time, and hung near the line for a minute until the woman who was giving me a good race earlier crossed. I smiled at her, shook her hand and we exchanged a 'great race!' with each other.

This run was a tester for me, to see what it might feel like to run a half marathon. I figured, once I'd run 10 miles, tacking on another 3 miles wouldn't be so bad. I'm signing up for the Nike NYC Half which is at the end of July. Let's hope I get selected (it's registration by lottery) and you can come out and cheer for me!

Here's me, moments off the finish line, feeling tired, but happy. (And with complimentary carb-refueling agents in hand!)

If you are curious about my or overall results, click here. And if for whatever reason, you want to see the rest of the awkward running photos of me taken by Brightroom at the event, just click here!

NYT: "Ask About Cycling in New York"

In recognition of National Bike Month (here's the NYC-specific link), The New York Times City Room blog is now taking questions from readers for the bicycle program coordinator of NYC's Department of Transportation. This can include anything from policy and rules, to safety issues, and anything else that has to do with biking in NYC!

Click here to go to the NYT page!

16 May 2008

greywater, anyone?

While I don't know a ton about greywater and sustainable water systems, I think whatever we can do to conserve water, keep polluting substances out of our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans, is an a-plus idea! A friend of mine just passed this link for the Greywater Guerillas on to me, encouraged by a friend to begin focusing on water reclamation strategies.

Essentially, greywatering is simply recycling water and is akin to what those of you who've lived out in the country in old days may be familiar with-- saving dish and bath water for things like watering plants, flushing the toilet, etc. The website gives a lot of easy examples and explanations and even hosts workshops (mostly in California, it seems). They also discuss rainwater reclamation and composting toilets.

Maybe greywatering isn't for you, or isn't feasible just yet, but think about other ways you can support healthy water ecology and conserve water in general:
- Get a grip on leaky faucets and running toilets.
- Install a water-saving shower-head.
- Take shorter showers and limit the amount of baths you take.
- Don't let the water run when you wash your face or brush your teeth.
- Instead of keeping the water running while you wash dishes, fill a bowl or pot (ideally one that needs washing) with warm soapy water, and dip your dishes and sponge in there, getting all of the dishes rubbed down and then doing all the rinsing at the same time with cool water. I like to save the greasier or dirtier dishes for last so that I don't have to change the water.
- And I know not everyone is down with this, but when I can, I'm down with 'if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down.' Just keep the lid down, geez, it's no big deal.

If you have some more tips, by all means, post them in the comments!

14 May 2008

Chef Aja T. Marsh News - May Newsletter: Use Your Words - Making 'Fun' of 'Work'

Hello and Happy May to You!

A few weeks back, I went out to breakfast with a friend and a friend of his visiting from out of town. With most of the food gone from our plates, the waitress came around and asked the out-of-town guest if he was still ‘working’ on his food. He looked at her kindly and with a smile said, “I was never working on this food. I’ve been enjoying and having fun with it.” After, she walked away with a smile, the three of us discussed how important it is to be conscious of the words that we use. But it’s really kept me thinking.

What is “work”? A place we dread going? Something we aren’t looking forward to doing? We work out, work it out, and work it in. Working on our relationships, projects, and we work on things that we enjoy and get pleasure from. I’m still thinking about what we talked about because it made me realize how easy it is for us to lose focus on the things we are enjoying, or not. And sometimes we even have to use more positive words to encourage us to do things that maybe are not as fun as we would like.

The language we use so unconsciously sinks into our psyche and creates a pattern. Why are we “working,” laboring over our food, when we should be savoring, playing, and relishing in it? By reducing eating to a chore, we forget how pleasurable flavors and textures can be! Sure, it’s important to ‘eat well’ but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.

Since this breakfast conversation, I’ve really tried to get out of saying “work” when it isn’t necessary. I remember to chew and eat slowly, and enjoy the experience of my meal and of the food, as well as offering gratitude to the cycles of energy that helped to create the food. And sometimes I’ll even play with my food, because I am a grown up and can do whatever I want! Beyond the plate, I’ll ask someone what they’re playing around with, how their day was, not “how was work”, sign-off phone conversations with “have fun!” and I sprinkle my own to-do lists with smiley faces and happy doodles. Maybe it seems silly, but actually, that’s the point.

I know I have been neglectful, and never sent out an April newsletter. But in my defense, I was traveling to and from Texas, establishing new clients and contacts in the NYC area, and apartment searching in Brooklyn, which is incredibly time consuming. But now that I'm mostly settled back in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I should hope not to leave you hanging again.

In the meantime, there have been a couple of great guest blogs posted here including a new installment from Janet Watkins in her multi-part series on Fish and Sustainability (I posted an informal Italian-inspired Sardines on Toast recipe in the comments).

My dear friend Shannon McCarthy also posted a great account of her experience and know-how with Sugar Addiction (there's also a yummy and very special cookie recipe she posted in the comments to accompany the entry). As always on the blog, continue to leave comments, let me know if you tried any of the recipes, etc.! I want to provide content that you will use and enjoy.

This coming weekend I will be donating my services to a fundraiser for Feel Your Boobies, sponsored by S-Factor here in NYC. Should be a great time for everyone-- you should come out if you're around!

Coming up, you may find me with a cooler of sandwiches in McCarren Park in Brooklyn. That's all I can say for now...

Read my article in E-Print!: Another article of mine was published in the April Green Issue of the Ladies Who Launch Online Magazine. My article, entitled 'How to Be a Greener Shopper' focuses on green shopping tips, which if you've been keeping up with the newsletters and Stem+Leaf, you've probably already read about.

Guest Blogger Opportunities: I am still 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.

Enjoy the fun of every day!

13 May 2008

plastic bag police!

There are some days when I am especially aware and notice every person passing by or sitting in my subway car that is carrying a plastic bag, or as more often the case, multiple bags. When I am feeling especially impassioned, I count how many bags in comparison to people. And then there are the people at the grocery store putting a bunch of bananas in a plastic produce bag. Or an apple. Or a couple of onions. What?!
I just. Don't. Get. It.

It drives me insane. I am almost always fighting the urge to explode in someone's face (as nicely as possible, of course), chastising them for the plastic bag in their hand that is holding one t-shirt or paperback book, or for the produce that is unnecessarily in a bag in their shopping cart. 'What are you DOING?!' I want to ask. Or maybe, more what I want to do, is blast some sort of wonky siren and embarrass the ne'er-do-well-er on the street, spouting off some facts about how plastic bags (and well, plastic in general) are giving us cancer, choking cute baby animals, leeching chemicals into our soil and water, and just being generally unaesthetic (in your hand, on the land). Plastic bag police! It might make for good poli-social performance art though...

We use plastic bags and the like so much, it becomes a completely unconscious consumption. Almost as if the thought of plastic bags not existing at all would be impossible to swallow. Awhile back, my now former roommate made an interesting observation-- the vendors at our heralded farmer's markets are often overly quick to put your purchases in a plastic bag for you. You've looked down for a quick moment to grab your wallet, and swoosh! all of your produce has been deftly tossed in a bag or two. I usually make my tote visible and/or say 'I don't need a bag' as I hand over the goods to be weighed, and I do see lots and lots of people using their own bag at the market (just another reason why the Greenmarket is my 'happy place'). And all of the Whole Foods in the country are now plastic-bag free (except in the produce department), so the whole choice of 'paper or plastic' is now more like 'your own bag? oh. no? well, we sell an assorted bunch of snazzy ones ranging from $1 to $30. but we will otherwise begrudgingly, but with a smile, pack your goods into a 100% recycled paper bag.'

And I have heard entirely too many excuses from people saying 'Oh, well they put my stuff in a bag before I had a chance to say I didn't need one.' Yeah, that's nice. TAKE IT OUT OF THE BAG and kindly leave the bag there and say 'I brought my own' or 'I don't need a bag'. This surprises and befuddles some cashiers, and sometimes I emphasize my point by saying 'I'm trying to reduce the amount of packaging I use.' I promise you, if you do this enough, everywhere you shop-- grocery stores, clothing stores, book stores, etc., you will not only get more in the habit of bringing and using your own bags, but you will also influence store employees and managers, and maybe even teach someone something new along the way.

So maybe you think I'm up here on my repurposed sustainable lumber soapbox making big noise over something that's 'not a big deal.' But I believe that we must all realize everything we do makes a difference and has consequences. One person makes a difference. One household makes a difference. You, YOU make a difference. So it's 'just saying no' to plastic (and paper) bags today, and it's another step tomorrow.

I hardly have any plastic bags in my house. Or paper ones for that matter. I try not even to use baggies (or I often wash and re-use them when I do). I am 95% a-okay with this, until the time comes when I need to transport my grungy kitchen clogs to an event, or throw wet items into, or help someone take leftovers home, and then I'm scrambling around improvising. But I can live with that so long as I know I'm doing my part. Are you doing yours?

FYI:If you have an excess of plastic bags sitting around your house, most Whole Foods, Central Market, and conventional grocery stores have bins near the doors for plastic bag recycling-- for shopping, produce, and newspaper delivery bags. I know the Whole Foods at Union Square in NYC employs a sort of 'have a bag, leave a bag; need a bag, take a bag' system, so if you do need a plastic bag for some reason, you could just take what you needed.

09 May 2008

book review: 'alice waters and chez panisse' by thomas mcnamee

Wow. Just writing the title of this blog shot me right back to 4th grade book reports. Maybe I can make this a bit more exciting than those were. Well, hell, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse! Isn't that exciting enough?

Okay, let's see...if you don't know who Alice Waters is, essentially, she currently a leader in initiating and promoting healthy school lunch programs and school gardens across the country; she's one of the leaders of the Slow Food movement in the U.S. (what she called the 'Delicious Revolution'); she is a mentor to many, including Michael Pollan*, and back in the 70s, when she opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, she lead one of the first major restaurants to focus on organic, local, and seasonal food.

So this book incorporates interviews with her and her friends, family, and colleagues, and offers a pretty thorough glimpse of her life leading up to Chez Panisse, through it's timeline, and up to the present.

Prior to reading this book, I didn't know a ton about Alice Waters, but had heard her mentioned often in other things I've come across in relation to sustainable food, cooking, etc. Oh it was such a fun and easy read, and I loved it especially because I felt like I related to Alice in a lot of ways-- ambition, desire for quality and real products, and interest in children's health and 'real food' education and appreciation for the masses. And there was just so much she said and experienced that really resonated with me.

In the book she says, "I believe that the destiny of humankind in the twenty-first century will depend most of all on how people choose to nourish themselves. And if we can educate the senses, and break down the wall of ignorance between farmers and eaters, I am convinced-- because I have seen it with my own eyes time and again-- people will inevitable choose the sustainable way, which is always the most delicious alternative." Yes!

The book is sprinkled with informal, conversational recipes, photographs, funny and enlightening anecdotes, and just a cool glimpse at the making of an American cultural icon.

*Michael Pollan wrote 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' which is an amazing, amazing book. Please read it. You will be enlightened at every turn of the page. I just started reading 'In Defense of Food' which I am getting the idea is a response to 'Dilemma' and may be a better, quicker read if you need to cut to the chase like that.

07 May 2008

guest blog: fish: mercury, pollutants, contaminants, oh my!

This guest blog is part three of a 4-part series about the benefits of dangers of eating fish, and how to consume it responsibly. Janet Watkins is a freelance writer living and blogging from the Midwest at www.insidewords.blogspot.com.
Please contact me if you are interested in writing a topical guest blog.

Sardines and saltine crackers with a can or two of Vienna sausages on the kitchen table could only mean one thing at my house—Dad and Uncle Italy were going night fishing. They would get us kids to dig for night crawlers (brown earthworms) for bait. Tackle box, rods, flashlights, thermoses of water and coffee were loaded into Dad’s 1955 Chevy and then he would drive off into the night in pursuit of male sibling bonding and a good catch of silver bass, catfish, and on less favorable junkets sheep head.

As a child I didn’t like sardines. There was something about seeing those poor little beheaded fish lying in a can of oil that caused my face and nose to turn up in disgust. Yuck. What a contradiction since seeing larger species of fish dressed in cornmeal and frying in hot oil never bother me at all!

Contaminants, Mercury and Pollutants
Sardines were my Dad’s favorite snack. They are one of the least contaminated fish you can eat. According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) sardines rank 5th among seafood with very low contaminant levels. Good news as they are some of the most heart healthy “brain” foods you can eat. But other species of fish, particularly the larger more mature varieties can contain high concentrations of PCBs, dioxins and other pollutants. Industrial and municipal discharges, agricultural methods and storm water runoff– including rainfall that rinses contaminants into the land, streams and rivers bioaccumulate in the skin, organs and other fatty tissues of fish. Many pollutants settle on the water’s floor and adversely affect bottom-dwelling fish like- wild striped bass, bluefish, American eel, and sea trout– all ten to be high in PCBs.

Mercury occurs naturally, but also comes from smokestacks mining and other industrial processes. As it moves from the air and settles in our waterways it turns into methyl mercury and absorbed by fish. Larger and older fish have a longer time to build up mercury than smaller and younger fish. Predatory fish at the top of the food chain broadly have higher levels of mercury. Without question or debate mercury toxicity poisoning from fish is a health threat. It is threatening to prenatal development and pregnant women are advised to avoid and use extreme caution when eating fish. Young children’s fish consumption should be smaller than adults. It is recommended 1-2 ounces for toddlers and 2-3 ounces for older children. Shrimp and “chunk-light” canned tuna canned are best selections to serve children. They contain lowest mercury levels.

Contaminants Impact on Health
Mercury, PCBs and dioxins build up and concentrate in our bodies over time. Eating contaminated fish may result in effects that are minimal to birth defects and cancer. It takes 5 years or more for women in childbearing years to rid their bodies of PCBs, 12-18 months to significantly free their body burden of mercury. Mothers who consume contaminated fish prior to becoming pregnant may have children who are slower to develop and learn.

To eat, or not to eat fish, that is the question?
It is about now that you may be thinking, “I’ll forego eating fish …”—a logical place to end up in this fish drama. But studies and statistics support the overwhelming benefits that come from eating fish cannot be ignored. Returning to that Harvard School of Public Health study shows a modest amount of fish per week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 36%.

Fish is high in protein low in fat and rich in Omega-3 fatty acid. Following the marine food chain, algae make one type of Omega-3 fatty acid. It is consumed by zooplankton and stretched to form two other types of Omega-3 acids. Zooplankton becomes the food for finfish and shellfish, resulting in a high concentration of Omega-3. The benefits show up in cardiovascular health and are important for prenatal and postnatal neurological development. There is also evidence that it may reduce tissue inflammation and alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Other maladies omega-3 may play a beneficial role include cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), depression and irritable bowel syndrome.

where've i been?

I apologize to all of the voracious Stem+Leaf readers. I have left you hanging with no recipes in forever, it seems, sporadic and sparse blog entries over the past month, no April newsletter, and overall lack of healthy lifestyle goodness.

It's been a rather interesting month of travelling, moving apartments, hunting for said new apartment (in East Williamsburg / Bushwick, Brooklyn!)which is barely four blocks to a library, and catching up on life in general. Not to mention that I've been sneaking as much outside time as possible on the days where it is too nice to be anywhere else. I soon hope that will be every day!

But! I'm back and full of new blog ideas and now that I'm beginning to get settled in my new place, I'm hoping to be cooking regularly and overwhelming you with culinary e-delights.

Additionally, if you haven't noticed I've added a few more things to the sidebar on the right-- links to all of the guest blogs, recipes, and super-current and relevant recommended article links or websites.

And for those of you who actually are voracious readers of this blog, you are awesome! Post a comment and show some love!

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