30 July 2009

good grillin!

When considering charcoal, the words "eco friendly" do not exactly spring to mind. But with beautiful weather, visiting friends, and summer festivities, we're inclined to break out the grill more and more. Traditional charcoal, however, is no welcome friend at the party: the burning of those black blocks can set off great amounts of CO2 as the lime and petroleum added to the briquettes break down. As a green-minded person, what are your options?

Hardwood Briquettes lend a smoke-kissed flavor to your food, making them an excellent choice for thick cut vegetables or smoking meats. You can get them by the bag or by the pallet at www.wickedgoodcharcoal.com.

The uGO FlameDisk is a small, ethanol-based plate which you light in your grill. It heats quickly and can easily fit into smaller grills, making it perfect for fire-escape grilling! You can read reviews and get your own at www.ugogrill.com.

Biochar is a charcoal alternative made from a low- to no-oxygen burn (thermal conversion) of feedstock or biomass under intense pressure. Biochar is a carbon-negative, meaning its use is actually beneficial to the environment. And since it's organically derived, there are no harmful emissions absorbed by your food in grilling.

27 July 2009

one saturday and a belly full of food, part 1

What an amazing weekend of food!
I'm still full.

Saturday morning, after my regular 9am run with the North Brooklyn Runners, I skipped over to the Greenpoint Farmer's Market to grab a post-run peach. As I pulled out a sweaty dollar from my pocket for my single peach, the teenage boy running the stand just said I could have the peach. Really? Really, really? I won't say no to a free peach.

I slurped down the ripe peach as I hurried home to shower, change, and head down to Ft. Greene to meet my friends Chelsea and Taylor at the Brooklyn Flea. I'd been wanting to go there for awhile, and now that I finally have the time I was able to make it! And boy is it a food mecca. (And a little *too* easy to get to from my apartment.)

Grateful for once that I didn't get a proper breakfast in, I helped myself to a "Mel&Steve" Veggie Dog from Asia Dog. Yummy grilled tofu dog on a grilled bun with Asian slaw and pickled jalepeno mustard. Washing it down with alternative sips off my Sigg bottle and my friend's Lemon-Ginger and Lemon-Basil-Thyme shaved ices from People's Pops, I was in a food and vintage goods induced haze. As the afternoon progressed, I messily ate (because there is no other way) a huarache from Red Hook Food Vendor's tent, a sort of open faced burrito chock full of veggies, salsas, and was mind blown by the beans IN the giant handmade corn tortilla. I cooled down on the crazily hot and sunny day with a farmer's market fresh Blueberry-Cardamom popsicle from People's Pops (but not after stealing a bite of Chelsea's Sweet Plum and Tarragon one), and picked up a King Bar and Beer-Pretzel Caramel for later from my friends at Liddabit Sweets.

Also hanging out at the Flea were my favorite local pickles, McClure's, featuring their new mustard, tasty sweet treats from Whimsy & Spice including a refreshing Passionfruit Mint Limeade, Red Hook Lobster Pound, and more than I can try in a day. But maybe not more than I can try in a month. There was grilled Mexican corn, fresh fruit, aguas frescas, pizzas, fresh riccota and canolis, organic ice cream, pupusas, and family farmed coffee. I recommend hitting up the Flea with a friend. You'll get to taste more.

I stumbled out of the Flea very full, hot, and sweaty, but amped for more, because wait... it gets better. That night I went to the Hudson Valley for a 5-course vegetarian feast on an organic farm.
More to come!

23 July 2009

what's the buzz?

2009 marks the third year in a row that America's honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing - 29 percent of honey bee colonies vanished between September 2008 and April 2009 alone. The presence of these fuzzy little buzzers is crucial for the pollination of everything from almonds to avocados, and contribute an estimated $15 billion dollars to America's agricultural industry (that's billion, with a b). Though no one cause has yet been named for this baffling bee behavior, there are a few things you can do to help save them:

Buy Organic! - Is this really a surprise? Vast amounts of evidence have suggested that chemicals and pesticides are one of the main culprits of the bees' disappearance as these toxins enter their bodies in great quantities. Bees, too, can be raised organically, and many farmers have made the switch to their benefit.

Plant Native Wildflowers - These pretties attract pollinators (including increasingly rare butterflies) and provide them with food and shelter. You can check out the best buds for your 'hood at www.pollinator.org. Living urban? Contact your local park and ask what they plant! Or better yet, go guerrilla build your own seed bomb!

Have a Bowl of Ice Cream! - Ok, maybe not the MOST helpful thing you could do, but some of the proceeds from bee-made Haagen-Dazs flavors (such as the honey-sweetened berry selections) go towards bee research. Bee-utiful!

Photo c.o. Long Island Bee Keepers Club

21 July 2009

today's breakfast - recipe: blueberry polenta porridge

In the past year or so, I've gotten into hot cereal breakfasts. Mostly, I've stuck to steel cut oats, but lately, I've been enjoying the quick cooking pleasure of Bob Red Mill's 10 Grain Cereal (thanks, roomie!). Mostly I haven't been doing anything too crazy with it other than adding a little butter or olive oil, some agave, and whatever fruit I have lying around.

Yesterday and today, I decided to change things up by doing half 10 Grain cereal, half polenta grits. As I was eating this, I felt like it was something my Italian nonna would have made me. If I were Italian. I loaded up my porridge with a handful of local blueberries, a splash of rice milk, a little coconut oil, a pinch of nutmeg, a few chopped cashews, and some local basswood honey. Ahh, breakfast happiness.

Recipe: Blueberry Polenta Porridge
Serves 1

1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal
1/4 cup polenta grits
pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons coconut oil, olive oil, or butter

To add into cooked porridge:
pinch of ground nutmeg
milk or non-milk alternative, as desired
handful local blueberries or other fruit
local honey, maple syrup, or agave, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cashews or other nuts

1. Stir grains, salt, water, and oil together in a small pot. Put on low heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally (if you remember).

2. Pour your porridge into a nice bowl, stir in nutmeg, milk, berries, honey, and nuts. Mangia!

Note: This would be just as yummy made just with polenta. If you're feeling extra healthy, add in some ground flax seeds and/or some wheat germ.

20 July 2009

product placement: sula paint n' peel

We're at the height of summer, and toe-flashing is at an all time high. So you can only imagine my delight to discover Sula, the non-toxic, paint n' peel polish. Completely free of phthalates, formaldehyde, and toluene, Sula's polishes are as wearable as they come with a wide range of colors to suit your style. And because they peel right off, there's no need for polish remover (and its unquashable stench)!

You can check out Sula's polishes - in addition to their other great products - online at www.sulabeauty.com.

16 July 2009

book review: animal, vegetable, mineral by barbara kingsolver

Fast, cheap, and on demand. That’s the American way, right? Especially here in New York City, where you can eat your weight in vindaloo at two a.m. and wash it down with something bright, sweet, and fizzy (or dark, thick, and boozy, if that’s how you roll). But what some know (and what many are becoming aware of) is that is way of living – this corn-syrup-guzzling, citrus-fruit-importing, two-dollar-iceberg-lettuce way of living – is so far removed from nature’s true course that our entire food system has been pushed to the edge of sustainability and now teeters on the verge of collapse. What’s more is that we as human beings no longer recognize or even comprehend the normal order of agriculture. Who among us even knows where peanuts grow? Or how cheese gets made? Or what season asparagus actually grows in?

Barbara Kingsolver does, and she knows because she’s harvested, made, and grown all the above. (The answers, in case you were wondering, can be found here, here, and here, respectively.) In her bestselling book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver describes how she and her family engages in a year-long pursuit of sustainable, local growing on their own Appalachian farm, detailing (at times, hilariously) their myriad successes and failures along the way. From tomatoes to turkey sex, no detail is spared. Kingsolver’s husband and daughter (Stephen Hopp and Camille Kingsolver) pepper the book with essays and anecdotes of their own, providing readers with a well-rounded viewpoint of how, in these times of sliders and Twinkies, the family’s endeavor managed to succeed.

The New York Times describes Kingsolver’s book as “a useful guide for the apprentice activist”, and rightly so. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is thick with recipes, straight-forward explanations, and an endless list of resources on everything from where to find your nearest farmers market to how to contact the people who regulate our large-scale food production. Kingsolver’s folksy and all-embracing style makes the book very easy to read, and her non-militant approach to the sustainable food movement makes it work anybody could enjoy. (I don’t know about you, but nothing turns me off faster than a person who does nothing but preach about how wrong everything is without recognizing the fact that the world cannot change overnight)

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral certainly kicked my butt into gear when it came to planting my own mini-garden this spring. I finished it in April, before the farmers markets were are plentiful as they are now, and the book was incredibly effective in nudging me back into my desire to eat as locally as possible. I'm presently working on a "local-produce only" diet, supplemented by staple goods purchased elsewhere. Bye-bye bananas, helloooo sweet sustainability!

What are you waiting for? Crack open a copy and see how it might inspire you!
Have you already read it? Leave a comment and let people know what you think!

10 July 2009

cork it!

Though you know me as an environmentalist, chef, and organizational zealot, there is something about me you don't know: I...am a hoarder. A hoarder of cork, to be exact. Every dinner with friends, every special event, every night alone watching The Princess Bride for the ten-thousandth time: the memories of that evening are held in that simple little cork.

So imagine my delight (and vindication) when I learned that purchasing cork-topped wines (as opposed to the newer twist-top varieties) supports the development of cork forests! True to the laws of supply and demand, the more cork-wines the public purchases, the more cork (an incredibly sustainable and totally organic material) will be planted in order to meet the market's desire. The bark of the cork tree can be stripped down hundreds of times in the course of the tree's life, which can be well over 100 years. What's more, cork forests are home to endangered creatures such as the Iberian lynx, who require cork trees for their survival.

So go ahead - pop a bottle of your favorite vino and feel good about caring while you quaff. Now if you'll excuse me, I believe Cary Elwes is calling my name.

For more information and cork-fun, check out these links!

How to Chose an Environmentally Friendly Wine
- from Planet Green.
Make Your Own Organic Wine - Not a task for those of little patience.
Yemm & Hart - Send your corks to these guys and they'll turn 'em into something great!
A Zillion Cork Concepts! - From Terramia design blog.

07 July 2009

avoiding genetically modified foods

Genetically modified foods (or GM foods) have made big waves in the news lately, ruffling the feathers of public interest groups and environmental organizations across the globe. But what, exactly, are they, and how bad could a “modified” food really be?

A genetically modified food is any food whose genetic makeup has been artificially engineered. Some are designed for “pest resistance”, others are artificially beefed up with vitamins and minerals they wouldn’t otherwise possess. Both animals and crops can be genetically engineered (for example, in 2006 a pig was ‘modified’ to produce omega-3 fatty acids). On paper, it sort of sounds like a good idea: nutrient rich food that’s less susceptible to pestilence must be great. Right?

Well, consider the fact that GM foods not only alter the natural genetic makeup of an organism, but that they all companies to trademark and therefore own these organisms, regardless of where that organism might wind up. Because these foods are modified but sold as traditional meat and produce, there is a high potential for allergic reactions in people. As there is no way to prevent GM seeds from cross-breeding with non-GM seeds, the potential for mass spreading of modified foods is very high.

Mostly, though, is the simple fact that these organisms – organisms that have survived just fine for thousands of years without any technological interventions – don’t need modification. They have their own built-in ways of dealing with everything from bugs to drought, and each new hurdle thrown in nature’s way has proven to be a learning point from which plants and animals have developed their own natural resistances. Tinkering with their natural makeup puts our world’s food source in a very dangerous place, leaving it prone to any number of mass illnesses they would not be able to defend themselves from. Genetic modification is putting our foods and our bodies at great risk, and they are being distributed at an alarming rate. GM foods have been banned everywhere from Switzerland to Sri Lanka, but in the U.S. they are widely available and unlabeled.

What can you do about it? For starters, get informed! Research the foods you’re buying and the places you’re buying them from. Vote with your fork – what you consume and the money you spend on it is just as important as how vocal you are about why you’re buying it. Finally, let someone know how you feel! Write to your congressperson, your parents, your grocer, your friends. Let people know why you want non-GM foods and the lengths you’re willing to go to in order to get them.

Here are some helpful links to help you learn more and take action:

Ban GM Food – An activist group that aims to, well, ban GM foods!
Food Navigator – Keeping you informed on what’s happening in U.S. foods
World Health Organization – 20 Questions on GM Foods
Organic Consumers Association – Lots of great information and ways to get involved in your foods

a tale of two granolas

My love for the bulk section at Commodities and my general disappointment with boxed cereal leads me to this...

Orange Cardamom Pistachio-Date Granola
Makes About 6 Cups

5 cups organic rolled oats (thick or regular)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½-1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½-1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons organic orange oil/flavoring
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pistachios
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1/3 cup chopped almonds
½ cup chopped dried dates
1/3 cup chopped organic apricots
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
3 tablespoons wheat germ
½ cup melted virgin coconut oil or organic canola oil
¼ cup local honey (use agave or maple as vegan substitute)
¼ cup dark agave nectar
1-2 tablespoons unsulphured molasses

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
2. In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients and nuts and fruit together.
3. Stir in the oil and sweeteners until well combined.
4. Spread the mixture out on one or two sheet pans and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a rich golden brown and the mixture seems to have dried out.
5. Remove pans from oven and allow to cool on counter for at least 30 minutes before transferring granola to airtight container.

Note: This makes the dried fruit rather firm and a bit crunchy. If you prefer, you can add the dried fruits in after the granola has baked. Or do half and half, like I do!

Your All Purpose Fruit + Nut Granola
Makes About 9 Cups

5 cups organic rolled oats
½ teaspoon sea salt
dash each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves
¼ cup wheat germ
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
½ cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
½ cup chopped apricots
½ cup raisins
2/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup pecans
1/3 cup walnuts
½ cup melted virgin coconut oil or organic canola oil
1/3 cup dark agave nectar
1/3 cup local honey
¼ cup local grade b maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
2 T flax seeds, lightly ground

1. Follow instructions as above, except add flax seeds after you've baked the granola. The beneficial oils in flax seeds are burned off if heated.

Note: Be flexible with this recipe. Use whatever dried fruit and nuts strike your fancy. Add more spices if you like. Have fun!

As you can see, these recipes make big batches. That's good for you because granola keeps well for a long period of time so long as properly stored, or, according to Joy of Cooking, you can freeze your granola for extended keeping, about 3-4 months. I personally like to give granola as presents. It looks great in a glass canning jar or in a cute bag with a bow!

Most store bought granola is incredibly expensive, has a bunch of cane sugar in it (if not worse), and is low on all the fruity and nutty bits-- and once you see how easy it is to make your own customized granola, you'll never go back to store-bought!

02 July 2009

green 1 thing: fill up

Maybe you haven’t stopped buying plastic water bottles just yet, but you can stop throwing them out every time they run dry. TapIt, the water bottle refilling network, provides New Yorkers with ‘water on the go’ by partnering with local establishments who promise to provide free water to the public, regardless of what they do or do not buy. From Amy’s Bread to Zanny’s Café, TapIt is helping New Yorkers reduce their waste, visit local establishments, and even save up to $500 a year.

See what other people are saying about TapIt here, here, and here, or just visit them online at www.tapitwater.com.

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