Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Destination GCT

If you face 42nd Street and look up, slightly, while you wait for the NY Airport Service bus in Pershing Square, this is your view — the impressive 48 foot high sculpture  “Transportation” by French artist Jules-Alexis Coutan, with a clock at its center containing the world's largest example of Tiffany glass. This sculptural group, unveiled in 1914, depicts Mercury (god of speed) flanked by Minerva (goddess of wisdom) and the mighty Hercules — a fitting ornament for the facade of a magnificent structure which would serve as the hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s network of rail lines and provide a link to New York City’s new subway system. 

Grand Central Terminal is one of my favorite man-made destinations. On a recent evening as I admired its facade, I found myself reflecting on the marvelous beauty of this intricate building and also upon just how fortunate we are that Grand Central Terminal is still here to admire. After all, a large piece of “being Green” is appreciating and preserving what we already have.

Grand Central Terminal’s glory days were once nearly numbered. In 1964, Pennsylvania Station was demolished, despite a public outcry, and replaced with an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.  The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, formed In response to this demolition, designated Grand Central Terminal as a landmark in 1967, making the terminal subject to the protection of law. Grand Central Terminal was seemingly safe, but a new threat arose the very next year.

As a result of bankruptcies and mergers of the railroads operating in New York, Penn Central had become the new owner of Grand Central Terminal. Penn Central then leased the property to a developer who proposed constructing a 55-story tower above Grand Central Terminal. The building’s facade would have been preserved, but rendered insignificant; the entire Main Waiting Room and part of the Main Concourse would have been demolished. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, joined by other prominent preservationists, rallied New Yorkers in opposition to Penn Central’s plans, asking, "Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes."

New York City filed a suit to stop the construction. The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), eventually reached the Supreme Court. The Court, in its first-ever decision on a matter of historic preservation, ruled that New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a "taking" of Penn Central's property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.

Grand Central Terminal was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. It suffered years of decline, but its “extreme makeover” began when Metro-North took over operation of Grand Central Terminal in 1983. Since then Grand Central Terminal has been renovated inside and out. The interior shines. On a sunny day shafts of light illuminate the voluminous space with a sublime golden glow. People still meet at the information booth with the four-faced clock. And tourists marvel at the elaborate astronomical ceiling, which is the backdrop for a music and light show during the winter holidays.

Grand Central Poster New York City Vintage Art Nyc 3632The NYC Architecture site has many images of Grand Central Terminal through the ages, including the Cold War period when a Redstone missile was prominently displayed in the Main Concourse. The Grand Central site contains links to a self-guided walking tour, to information on the free guided tours offered on Wednesdays and Fridays at 12:30, and to a guide listing the terminal’s many shopping and dining opportunities.

Grand Central Terminal is an inexpensive destination for a day trip, with a low carbon footprint. There are several off-peak Metro-North trains from New Haven that arrive well before the tour. After the tour there should be ample time to shop and dine at a leisurely pace before your off-peak train back. Lovers of Penzey’s, be sure to look for their stall in the Grand Central Market. It will save you a drive to Norwalk. The cost for your Metro-North ticket Round Trip/Off Peak is $28.00 — $18.50, if you are a senior.  That’s a bargain for a very Green day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Haiti Rising

Once the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon hit the front page, the plight of the people of Haiti, living in the aftermath of the devastating January 12 earthquake, faded from my mind. But last week I had an experience that got me thinking about Haiti once more.

I attended the opening reception of Haiti Rising, a fundraiser at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music to benefit ongoing Haiti earthquake relief efforts. This extraordinary exhibition of painting and sculptures by Haitian artists has put Haiti back on my front burner. These 50 works of art, by some 30 artists, have been carefully selected from the extensive Stanley Popiel and Ingrid Feddersen collection of Haitian art at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU). Some are realistic, some abstract, some whimsical — my particular favorite is a steamroller fashioned from a Bayer cockroach poison tin. (Above: Haiti Rising, 1986. Joseph Marcellus, oil on canvas.)

In the words of exhibition curator Elizabeth H. Peterson, “This selection of work in this exhibition differs widely in style from primitive to abstract expressionist to the surreal, and in subject matter including the juxtaposition of Voodoo and Christianity, village or city life, poverty and wealth, or peace or destruction. Haiti Rising reflects the vibrancy of Haiti’s history, the depth of Haiti’s need particularly now as the nation rebuilds, and the wealth of its people in spirit to rise and emerge stronger.”

The reception coincided with the International Festival of Arts and Ideas and drew a good crowd to eat some Island food and to hear Haitian music played by Robert Lamothe, Yale ’77, trained in architecture and a professor at Norwalk Community College, who was born in Haiti and maintains strong ties to his country. Jordan Lorrius, a native of Haiti and a student at ECSU, also performed his soul-stirring song Haiti Kanpe (Haiti stand), composed in reaction to hearing the news of the Haitian disaster while he was in Serbia, far from his home.

Just yesterday, a college classmate who lives and teaches in Nicaragua reminded the ’75 listserv of the tropical storm season which has already begun, earlier than usual, in the Caribbean. Haiti has been hit hard with rain from the first of the storms, and a second one is on the way.

The people of Haiti truly are in dire straits. The groups for whom the contributions are being accepted at the exhibition and through the OMSC site will put the funds to good use, teaching Haitians to do the work of rebuilding the country now that the initial disaster response phase has ended.

I urge all of you who live in the area to make the short journey from the central campus, just past the Yale Farm, to 409 Prospect Street to see the art with your own eyes. Even without the live music, it will be a moving experience. A walk to the ISM is good exercise on a nice day; there is also free parking for those who need to drive.

Those of you who live too far away can see some of the art at the ISM site which has a link to the OSMC, and at the Akus Gallery at ECSU site which includes an image of the steamroller.

Haiti Rising is presented by Eastern Connecticut State University, the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, with support from the Yale Divinity School. It will be on display weekdays from 9-4 through September 17.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekend Updates

It seems a good time for some blog updates, from oldest to most recent.

In response to my March 24 post, a couple salvaged some metal from their basement, turned it in at Alderman-Dow, and now have $24 they didn’t have before.

The Cove, the Academy Award winning documentary about the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, discussed on this blog on April 30, was deemed too controversial for showing by many theaters in Japan. It was banned on a U.S. military base in Japan as well. On June 9, over 600 people crammed into a public hall in Tokyo for the first public showing of the film in Japan since the Tokyo International Film Festival, sparking a nationwide debate over free speech.

It is now two months since the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana Coast. On May 6, I first posted the link for the Google Crisis Response to the oil spill in the Gulf. Matter of Trust is still collecting hair, but clearly no amount of hair boom by itself will get us out of this mess. There are widely differing points of views about who is to blame and how much progress is being made. You can check out the facts at PolitiFact.com, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning site of the St. Petersburg Times. The first dead whale has been reported in the Gulf, and concern about how far the spill will spread mounts in light of the May 27 prediction by NOAA of an “active to extremely active” hurricane season. In an article entitled “Gulf Oil Spill: A Hole in the World,” which appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, Naomi Klein compares the disaster to a violent wound inflicted upon the Earth. In this compelling piece, the author, trained in economics, writes, “It's one thing to be told by an incomprehensible chaos theorist that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas. It's another to watch chaos theory unfold before your eyes.”

On a happier note, the trees planted on State Street (May 17) are being well cared for. I saw a water truck there today.

The wind turbine at Phoenix Press (June 5 blog) now has a name. Gus(t) was selected as the winning entry in a contest for New Haven schoolchildren. Runners-up include: Win(d)ston, MELVIN (Manufacturing Energy with a Large & Valuable Impact Now), PEG (Produces Greener Energy), Kilowally, and Urban Blossom.

My post on Marshmallow Fluff (June 8) resulted in a flurry of e-mails from native New Englanders who thanked me for the happy memories it evoked. I was told of readers who had to sneak the treat at the home of a friend since their mothers refused to buy it. I was also reminded that Fluff was an excellent topping for hot cocoa and was outstanding in a sundae when placed under the hot fudge. Those born outside the Northeast didn’t get the post at all.

Which brings me to the Woodchuck Wednesday post (June 16). The last I heard, Woody’s widow and children were still alive and well in Beaver Hills. There have been no woodchuck sightings in my yard. But we did have a very dirty non-avian bather in our birdbath one recent steamy evening. The prints it left behind lead me to think that it was a raccoon, but feel free to draw your own conclusion.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Woodchuck Wednesday

A tale of three neighbors and a woodchuck (Marmota monax, aka Woody) who lumbered over a fence from one yard to another.

In the relatively quiet neighborhood of Beaver Hills, nestled between downtown and Westville in New Haven and known for its fine single-family homes, the woodchuck population is on the rise. Woodchucks (also commonly known as groundhogs as in Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator of Spring’s return) have been dining in our friends’ gardens for years and are a common sight in Beaver Ponds Park, a few short blocks from their home. Over time our friends have modified their garden to suit Woody’s tastes — planting their tomatoes in hanging pots and in the ground growing only things in which Woody has no interest — primarily raspberries, herbs, and garlic. You see, one year Woody took up residence under their backyard shed, and despite all their attempts to make him feel unwelcome, he decided to call the shed his home.

This Spring Woody had a family, and pickings in this yard were too slim to support them all. Woody climbed some fences, did some exploring, and discovered two adjacent yards full of things he loved — tender veggies and sunflowers. One fine day he left mama and the babies behind to visit the garden next door. The neighbor had been away for two weeks. When he returned and saw the damage Woody had wrought, he became enraged. He owns a shotgun. He was ready and waiting for Woody to lumber over to his side. BAM — a shot heard ’round the ’hood! Woody was no more.

A second neighbor, also a victim of Woody’s passion for local produce, came running over to investigate. He happily took Woody home, skinned him, and cooked him for dinner.

Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006Woodchuck is considered a delicacy, at least by some. In my well-worn edition of the Joy of Cooking (1973 edition) there is a section on “Game” with recipes I have read but never tried, including instructions for cooking woodchuck. On page 454, Irma Rombauer cautions the reader to “remove 7 to 9 small sacs or kernels in the small of the back and under the forearm.” She continues to explain that after “soaking overnight in salt water you can then cook by any recipe for rabbit or chicken.” A recent post “Cook thine enemy” at the Winona (Minnesota) 360 site explains that these sacs are scent glands. The author, Peggy, includes a recipe for and photo of the woodchuck fricasseé she prepared from the woodchuck her husband brought home (as well as photos of the naked and dressed woodchuck meat).

But before you hatch any plans for getting your own fresh “chuck,” you better check the firearms laws in your place of residence. Woody’s shooter did not need a license for his shotgun. But to hunt in Connecticut, a permit is required. Even with a permit, there is a hunting season. More importantly in this instance, there is a 500 foot rule — “It is prohibited to hunt with, shoot, or carry a loaded firearm within 500 feet of any building occupied by people or domestic animals.” The distances are far smaller in this neighborhood.

Havahart 1079 32-by-10-by-12-Inch Professional-Style One-Door Cage Trap for RaccoonsUnless you want to face criminal charges, I suggest using legal methods to rid yourself of these pests. I have read about how difficult they are to drive away, and I know they are clever enough to avoid Havahart traps (Woody’s eater was unsuccessful there). Since woodchucks have not yet made their way to East Rock/downtown where I live, I have absoultely zero experience in dealing with this problem, but my research has turned up one product that sounds promising. If you don’t yet have resident woodchucks, or if you can manage to drive them from your yard for a short while, perhaps Shake-Away groundhog repellent is the answer. This product is a powder made of fox urine that when sprinkled around the perimeter of your property is purported to have the same effect as if a fox had “claimed” the area as his own, thus creating a “wall of fear” which will keep the groundhog away. This sounds ideal as long as humans can’t smell it, as long it doesn’t require re-application after every rain, and, of course, as long as groundhogs are absent when the product is applied. Otherwise they will be afraid to leave! Good luck to all you gardeners in Beaver Hills is all I can say.

Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated SprinklerMy thoughts on the subject? I sympathize, but NIMBY. I’ve bookmarked the Contech Scarecrow Sprinkler, which “scares away all invading outdoor critters with a blast of water and sound” just in case. It covers approximately 1200 square feet. I’m sure my human neighbors will love that.

And, for those of you pining for woodchuck meat, perhaps you should contact Peggy in Minnesota. She seems to have plenty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Once Discarded Scape

The garlic scape's existence managed to escape my attention until last year when my friend gave me a small bagful of them. They called to mind stiff, curly, scallions without the white part. I had to ask what they were and what to do with them.

My friend explained they were the trimmings from the garlic that she had planted in her garden for the first time, that cutting off the curl allowed the garlic bulb to grow bigger, and that the scapes were both edible and delicious.

I realized how fortunate I was to have received the scapes as a gift when I began to see them for sale at the farmers’ market and in the local gourmet stores. What was once discarded had been discovered as a flavorful, seasonal ingredient and was commanding a very good price.

I was not alone in my ignorance. I checked all my cookbooks (of which I have quite a few) and found no reference to this ingredient anywhere. I asked around, did a few searches, and decided to mince and then sauté my scapes in olive oil. They were delicious in a cheese omelet.

So, what is the story behind the scapes? My friend began to grow garlic in her garden, partly in reaction to her discovery that much of the garlic for sale in the US now comes from China (a future post). The garlic commonly chosen by Connecticut gardeners is the hardnecked variety that grows in colder climates. It is this type of garlic that has the curled flower stalks that are cut off in the Spring to encourage better bulb growth. Somewhere along the line (c. 2007?), their wonderful flavor was discovered, and garlic scapes have been in demand ever since.
It is scape season in Connecticut. I have spotted them in a range of prices (from pricey to very pricey), but my friend just came through once again. This time I decided to be more adventurous and to look for recipes online. The first reference to garlic scapes I could find in The New York Times was an answer to a 2005 query about the proper time to trim them. On June 18, 2008, the garlic scape finally hit the big time when it was featured in the NYT’s Dining & Wine with a lengthy article accompanied by several recipes.

I chose the White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip as my experiment for this year. In preparation, I soaked and cooked a bag of cannellini beans (excess already frozen for future use). The remaining ingredients are probably on-hand in most of your kitchens: lemon juice, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil. Once the beans were cooked, the remaining prep time and clean-up was no more than the 15 minutes provided as the estimate. This dip is creamy and flavorful – as good or better than anything you might purchase prepared. With a little extra olive oil drizzled on top, it was the perfect accompaniment to the Rainin’ Grains Ciabatta, baked by New Haven’s Chabaso Bakery, that I had picked up yesterday at the first (and I hope annual) Orange Street Festival.

This season is almost over. But I’ll be ready next time, with the goal of turning the entire bag of beans into dip as long as I can score enough scapes.

Perhaps I should have kept this discovery a secret.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fluff: My Guilty Pleasure

It’s a special day and the 51st post on my blog. So today I am going to take a detour from the road to greenness to let you in on a guilty pleasure, my love of a local product meant to be eaten, but not quite a food — Marshmallow Fluff.

Anyone who was a kid in the Boston area in the ‘50s is familiar with “Fluff,” even if a jar of it was not perpetually in residence on their own kitchen counter. Fluff is a delicious, pure white confection, whipped in small batches — kosher by the way. It has been manufactured by the Durkee-Mower Company in Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, when two local WWI veterans, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower, formed a partnership. The two pooled their savings to purchase the Fluff formula from its inventor, who had been forced to cease production during the war. The partners made Fluff in their kitchen at night and sold it door to door in the daytime. In 1929 they moved their operation to a factory with 10 employees.

Durkee-Mower was one of the first companies to promote a product on the radio - via its own "Flufferettes" weekly 15 minute variety program. In the show’s jingle, the Flufferettes sang the recipe for the most common use of Fluff, the “Fluffernutter,” a sandwich consisting of two slices of white bread smeared generously with peanut butter and Fluff. The show and the product survived the depression. The company fell victim to war-time rationing in the early 1940s, but enjoyed a period of rapid expansion in the post-war boom when us boomers downed Fluff by the jar.

As the company sought new uses for its product, Fluff was promoted as an ingredient for never-fail fudge and other recipes, but its most common use was still in the Fluffernutter. Many a little kid rushed home to eat a Fluffernutter at lunchtime (yes, we went home for lunch in those days), and many a big kid toted a sackful of them to high school. There were, however, none at my house, where peanut butter was paired with the jelly my mom and the aunties made from the Concord grapes which grew on my grandfather’s grape arbor, and Fluff was considered too sweet to be a sandwich ingredient.

So, why the love? In 1966, Durkee-Mower and Kellogg’s co-promoted a recipe for a "Marshmallow Treat" © recipe utilizing Rice Krispies ® cereal product and Marshmallow Fluff. They were so easy to make, so crispy… a comfort food that could be whipped up in a moment at a moment’s notice, no matter what the weather. All you needed to keep on hand were three ingredients: Fluff, Rice Krispies, and margarine (or butter). You can get the recipe here from the online version of the Yummy Book. In my house of 5 kids these treats were made often, but rarely consumed. They became the quick fix bake sale item when one of the 5 forgot to inform Mom of the need until the night before. Sometimes we were lucky to lick the wooden spoon. Perhaps that is why I craved them then and crave them still.

For a couple of decades, I forgot about Fluff and Marshmallow Treats. But then I had a kid of my own and eventually he was old enough to need an introduction. I couldn’t find Fluff at first. I used standard marshmallows as a substitute, and then blue started to appear as an ingredient. Finally, I found Fluff. I have kept some in my cupboard ever since.

I know this love breaks a number of Michael Pollan’s rules (in Food Rules) including:

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualRule #2: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Since Fluff was invented in 1917, it is doubtful that any of the great-grandmothers used it as an ingredient.

Rule #5: Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.Two of the first three ingredients are corn syrup (albeit not HFCS) and sugar.

Rule #11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television. Fluff was advertised on the radio and is now advertised on TV. (You can hear the jingle and watch the video here.)

But, on the plus side, there are only four ingredients, and only one is artificial—vanillin. There are no artificial colors or preservatives. And the factory is only 149 miles away, so I am shopping locally using the definition of 150 miles. Also, Durkee-Mower has long been promoting its glass jar as a way to store leftovers in the refrigerator.

And finally, Rule #39: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Making Krispie Treats is almost cooking.

So, there, I’ve said it. I have confessed love for a product with 0 fat, 0 sodium, 40 calories and no food value beyond its 10 carbohydrates a serving. And I can’t deny that I pick and choose my rules sometimes. BUSTED.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. It’s a special day. It’s my blog. And I can write about Fluff if I want to. Join me next time when I return to my road to greenness.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Possible Dream

Where the Quinnipiac flows into New Haven Harbor, in plain sight from the Q-Bridge on I-95, Connecticut’s first free-standing wind turbine is poised to catch every passing breeze.

Not content to purchase “100% renewable energy” to run their family-owned business, Phoenix Press,  brothers Brian and Kevin Driscoll had a vision of generating their own wind power. That dream became reality when the 150-foot turbine they erected with the assistance of a grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund went online in March. The turbine should generate 165,000 kilowatt-hours of power per year, one-third of Phoenix Press’s annual operating requirements.

The blades turn when the wind reaches 8-9 mph, and they continue to turn until the wind reaches a velocity of 55 mph, when the turbine automatically shuts down. The turbine is elegant in design and quiet in operation, less than 55 decibels at the base of the tower. To give you an idea of just how quiet this is, casual conversation usually takes place around 60 decibels.

The turbine is a Northwind 100, originally developed with a NASA grant, and manufactured by Northern Power Systems. The Northwind 100 has a gearless design based on permanent magnet direct drive technology and is tailored for high energy capture and low operating costs. Its generator is cooled directly by the wind, with no auxiliary fans or air transfer through the generator needed.

Northern Power Systems employs over 100 people in Barre, Vermont, location of 19th- and 21st-century businesses alike. Barre, once dubbed the “granite capital of the world,” is still home to the Barre Granite Association, established in 1889, quarriers and manufacturers of granite products (including many of CT’s headstones). The photo at left is an image of the JK Pirie Estate Quarry from the early 1900s.

The turbine was installed by Wilton-based Alteris Renewables. Although the project was in the planning stages for several years, it was just six weeks (in the depths of the New England winter) from groundbreaking to going online. For visual details, check out this slideshow of the turbine under construction.

As one with a frequent and unintentional windblown appearance, I was surprised to learn that Connecticut ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in wind generating potential. Long Island provides a barrier to the open ocean, so the Sound does not have the same potential as the open ocean off the RI and MA coasts. And the Lithchfield Hills are no match for the winds prevalent from North Dakota south to Texas in the mid-section of the US. But Phoenix proves that at 150 feet, ample winds are indeed blowing.  On a particularly windy 3-day period in May, the turbine generated 2,500 kW of power, enough to supply the needs of a typical American home for 3 months. Since the press was not operating on two of the days (Saturday and Sunday), the power went to the grid, and Phoenix got the credit.  The Driscolls expect the project will pay for itself in approximately, 5-7 years. Or, as Kevin Driscoll, Jr. adds, “depending on the wind of course.”

Phoenix Press has been on the road to greenness for some years.  Not only is it the first business in Connecticut to have a major free-standing wind turbine on site, it is the first commercial printing plant in the nation to have significant on-site wind power being converted into power to print. Phoenix Press is a member of the Green Energy Council, is FSC certified, recycles 100% of its excess paper, and uses printing presses which require no toxic chemicals and use no-VOC inks. As printers go, I don’t think you can get any greener.
It’s tough going for printers these days. I know the jobs I have been handing off are few and far between. Here’s hoping that by choosing the green road, Phoenix Press will attract new customers and that its presses will stay up and running for many years to come. Keep Phoenix in mind the next time you need to spread your message the traditional way, with a printed piece that someone can hold in their hands and read anywhere, whether or not the location is a Wi-Fi hotspot.