Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stand Up and Count

It’s 2010 — the year of the Census. From coast to coast US census workers are going door-to-door to gather the last bits of data about who we are and where we live.

But did you know that right now, on every continent, someone is probably counting something, and it’s not just people? In these strange times species are disappearing from one place while others are appearing where they never were before. Scientists want to track these trends. This short slide presentation explains why such research is important.

No matter where in the world you live, chances are good that someone would like you to record data about some living thing residing somewhere near you. Citizen scientists are counting bats in my state of Connecticut, freshwater sponges in Wisconsin, and opossum in South Australia. In New York City volunteers are recruited for the Cricket Crawl. In California’s Central Valley the subject of interest is the long-billed curlew. They are searching all over the place for butterflies, fireflies, and ladybugs. The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, takes place for four days each February.

There are opportunities to monitor water quality and invasive plant species. And for the generalist in the group, there is even a call out for people to record absolutely everything they observe in a location they visit regularly. These and many more opportunities can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. 

There should be a project right for you  — no matter who you are or how much time you have on your hands. If by some chance you don't find one that is a perfect fit, you can use the tools at Citizen Science Central to organize your own.

Go outside and count something, even if it’s from your back porch while you are sipping something cool (or hot if you decide to count birds in February). Science needs you!

FYI In March I had decided to participate in the Lost Ladybug Project, but I have not seen another since that lucky day in early spring.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meatless Monday: Make Your Own Butter

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

It’s vacation time. Some of you may have out-of-school kids who occasionally whine that they are bored. This DIY experiment might be just the boredom fix you need.

The idea for our Great Butter-Making Experiment came from my friend Kevin, who told me how easy it had been for him to make butter from organic cream he had purchased on sale. He sent the following synopsis:

“Leave an opened pint of heavy cream out overnight, pour it into a mixer or blender & whisk for about 10 minutes, voilà… I used organic cream which was on sale for $3.25. One pint yielded 14 ozs. of butter; the cheapest organic butter in the store went for $5.89.”

This sounded like a very good and very easy thing to try.

Kevin also posted a link to a video which showed how to make butter merely by shaking cream in a jar. “How green,” I thought. I clicked and I watched.

This outrageous and educational video by the eccentric Robert Krampf has been viewed over 81,000 times! Whether or not you decide to make butter, you have got to check this video out. Krampf made it look like so much fun, I decided that his method was the way to go.

With the thought of trying butter-making sometime soon, on my most recent visit to Whole Foods I bought a pint of organic heavy cream with a good date, and I set it in the fridge.

On Saturday I decided the time had come. Blueberries are in season, and I had bought a quart at CitySeed on Wednesday (too hot here to pick my own.) We both agreed these plump, sweet beauties would be excellent on pancakes topped with homemade butter. I duly set the cream out overnight —  guessing that “room temperature” was more likely to be in the room with the A/C set to  76° than in the kitchen where it was 85°.

The next morning we poured the cream into the jar. Don began shaking it, vigorously, once a second, as Krampf had instructed. Nothing much happened. After about ten minutes of this, I took the jar and, Ignoring Krampf, shook it back and forth vigorously. I soon ended up with a jar of whipped cream, with no liquid.

By this time the pancakes were almost ready, so I decided to switch gears and see if I could salvage the butter by use of a machine. I got out the Bamix, plunged it into the cream, and soon after had a nice jar of whipped butter. It looked beautiful when scraped into a paté bowl.

Our "whipped" butter
What had gone wrong? We were ready to blame it on an incorrect “room temperature” when I decided to read the cream carton. There was another ingredient besides cream listed — carageenan. Carageenan, derived from red seaweed, is added to products to keep them from separating. I suspect that no matter what the room temperature, this cream would never have turned into butter with the Krampf method.

I will have to give this experiment another try with 100% cream bought at the farmer’s market.

The whipped butter did taste great on the pancakes. And the next time I have extra cream, I will know to turn it into butter rather than pour it down the drain. You can read more about making mixer butter at Cooking for Engineers.

I hope you decide to give DIY butter a try. Just be sure to read the ingredients on the cream carton first. And you might consider making the butter before you start grilling the pancakes.

PS I mentioned our butter-making experiment to my mother-in-law, who grew up in rural Illinois during the Depression. She told me how the kids in her family would churn cream into butter which would then be traded for groceries at the local store. She added that the kids would fight over the buttermilk in the process. Some things never change.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where Have All the Codfish Gone?

For at least one boat in the Chatham fleet, July 5 was a good day. We watched it dock and unload its catch at the Chatham Fish Pier late that Sunday afternoon. The crew came home with a considerable amount of cod. But I have been going to Cape Cod since the ’60s, and this is not the catch I remember as a kid, or even a decade ago. These cod were smaller and made up less than half of what was unloaded — most of the remainder was dogfish.

Dogfish, a species of shark, were rarely seen in the past — certainly not when cod were longlined. The Pier Host on duty explained that in longlining some 4500 hooks, spaced 6 feet apart, would each be baited by hand.  As soon as the line was set out, the fishermen would begin to haul in the catch. Each fish was alive and fresh, and the small fish could be thrown back. This was how our host used to fish. But baiting is labor intensive, and the bait fish hard to come by. Boats in the Chatham fleet all use gillnets now.

Dogfish, a type of shark.
Dogfish get caught in the nets along with the cod — both are groundwater fish. They are subject to regulations of the New England Fishing Management Council and are currently worth 15¢ a pound. Each boat is allowed to net 3,000 pounds a day (until the regional maximum of 12 million pounds is reached) which about pays for the trip’s gas. The dogfish are shipped to New Bedford for processing—the flesh is sent to the UK for fish and chips, the fin to Asia for shark fin soup, and the reminder goes to fertilizer. Nothing is wasted.

Seals patrol the pier area.
In days past only sea gulls patrolled the dock area, waiting to nab any fish that might drop as the catch was loaded into the lifts. Today both gray and  harbor seals are a common sight. Seals have been protected since the Marine Mammal Protection Act became law in 1972. A rarity in Chatham waters in the 1980s, they have since become commonplace. They feed on the same small fish that cod eat and traveled to the Cape in pursuit of food and have stayed there. Seals are voracious eaters and ruthless killers. They have been known to catch a large fish, to rip out its highly-prized internal organs, and to leave the remainder of the carcass on the beach. Seals are certainly not a fisherman’s friend.

Cod used to be the average person’s fish. I remember a price of $1.99/lb. This year it was being sold for nearly 5 times that – $9.99/lb.

Where have all the cod gone? Why are they so scarce off Cape Cod?

The short answer? Over-fishing.

Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the WorldIn Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (Penguin, 1997), Mark Kurlansky weaves a fascinating and well-documented tale of this remarkable fish, its impact on the world’s economy, and its twentieth century decline. Gastronomes will enjoy the latter pages which offer six centuries of cod recipes.

Fishermen have been chasing cod around the world for over a thousand years, ever since they discovered a way to preserve the fish, traveling farther and farther as the nearby stock grew scarce. It was upon the trade of salt cod that early entrepreneurs in Massachusetts made their fortunes. A ten inch female cod can lay 9 million eggs in a single spawn, and a world without cod would have been unimaginable to the American colonists.

Cod, with their signature white stripe.
But cod is now, without a doubt, endangered. The governments of Canada and the US have each put regulations in place in the hopes that the cod biomass can once again reach a sustainable level. There are 200 mile fishing limits off the coasts of both countries. Some areas in the Georges Banks are totally closed to fishing.  Other legislative constraints include size limits, catch limits, and gear restrictions. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has listed Atlantic Cod as a species to avoid.

And what about the day boaters in Chatham and Provincetown, the last remaining commercial fleets on Cape Cod? Besides the rules about how they fish and what they catch, they are also required to equip their boats with costly radar so their location is always known. They must travel farther out to fish, and the cost of fuel has gone up. The invasion of the seals is not helping the situation.

Many Chatham fishermen were born into fishing families and see their way of life endangered. Some have retired from commercial fishing to operate charter fishing boats or to offer seal tours. But others have chosen to remain in the fleet. They know the supply of cod must be restored for their way of life to be preserved. Many of them are supporting a community-based strategy to help their fishing fleet survive.

And did we eat cod while on the Cape? I have to admit we did. It is not the day boater’s type of fishing that has wrought the real damage. Supporting the local economy and indulging a craving for fresh seafood trumped the Monterey Bay Aquarium pocket guide this time. The fresh cod cakes and fish and chips tasted great.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Times Are Strange

In the words of Bob Dylan,  “People are crazy and times are strange …”

Free-ranging turkeys have been spotted from backyards in Massachusetts to the streets of downtown New Haven, where they casually stroll down the center line oblivious to the traffic they are tying up.

In June, a coyote attacked two children in Rye, New York.

Seals are seemingly everywhere in the waters off Chatham at the elbow of Cape Cod.

Great white sharks have been swimming in New England waters for the past two summers.

My theory? These phenomena have one commonality. Each would seem to be the unintended consequence of a human action or actions.

The turkey in residence in a Richmond, MA backyard.
Wild turkeys were abundant in North America when the colonists first arrived.  Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey to become the national bird. Through hunting and loss of woodland habitat, their numbers had dwindled so greatly that the government re-introduced them to “recovering woodlands” in the 1940s. The program “took.” The turkeys have done so well that they are repopulating  urban areas, such as the New Haven Green, and appearing in places where they did not live at all when the Europeans set foot on these shores.

Coyotes originally inhabited the Pacific Northwest. They are opportunistic eaters and have been migrating across the country following man’s footsteps in search of easy food. They now occupy territory that once belonged to the wolves, a species that was hunted and nearly decimated. Wolves and coyotes are normally enemies, but recent studies show that hybridization has occurred. The coywolf is larger and more aggressive than the coyote, preying on mammals larger than mice, the normal coyote target, including dogs and deer. It is suspected that coywolves may have carried out the recent attacks on children. Some speculate that this new species will fill an ecological niche and may actually help bring the deer population under control. Plans to re-introduce the gray wolf into the Adirondacks have been put on hold while more research is conducted on the coywolf population.

Seals were a rarity in Chatham waters when we took a boat ride in 1995 with a teen-aged “Captain Andy” to have a closer look at them and recorded the event with the photo on the right. Andy was the one who first told us that seals are not well-loved by fishermen and explained why.  Seals are voracious eaters and ruthless killers. They have been known to catch a large fish, to rip out its highly-prized internal organs, and to leave the remainder of the carcass on the beach. We also heard from Dave Brooks, the owner of Judie's Bakery in New Haven, that in Wellfleet last summer his brother-in-law lost a bluefish on his line to a gray seal, who popped its head out of the water and glanced back at him to show off the fish held in its teeth.

In Massachusetts there was a bounty on both harbor seals and gray seals until 1962. The passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 ensured that they would be protected. The population of both harbor and gray seals in Chatham, the part of the Cape I know, has grown considerably in the decades since then. Instead of migrating, many seals have become year-round residents. One benefit to the local economy is that seal watching tours have become big business.

But guess for whom seal is a favorite meal? Bingo — the great white shark! Another determining factor in great white happiness is water between 59° and 67°F, the typical mid-summer temperature for the water on the ocean side of the Cape between Orleans and Chatham, where shark sightings led to beach closings last year. Jim Horna, Chatham’s marine operations supervisor, stated on on June 29 that with this June’s warmer than normal weather, the waters around Lighthouse Beach currently ranged from 58° to 64°F — just how the great whites like it.

A great white was sighted off Nauset Beach last Sunday (July 11), the day after we returned home. Every sighting leads to a media frenzy, which may be helping to keep some visitors away from the Cape’s clean and refreshing waters — not what tourism needs in these recessionary times. My advice (and that of the experts) is simple and easy to follow — avoid swimming with seals. Keep in mind that the last death blamed on a great white shark in Massachusetts was in 1936.

We spied vacancy signs even during the long weekend when temperatures inland were reaching 100°. This would not have been the case 20 years ago.

As the rest of the song goes, “… things have changed.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meatless Monday: Musings

I have chosen the first day back from vacation to return to a thread from an earlier post — Meatless Monday.

Meatless Monday is one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet,” every Monday, all year long.

You might think I am returning to this theme out of guilt for writing about how to cook a woodchuck a few posts back, or you might rightly accuse me of not having my vacation adventures properly summarized and annotated. Whatever my motivation, Meatless Monday is the perfect opportunity to tell you about a couple of ground-breaking books with which you may not be familiar.

Diet for a Small PlanetIn the early 1970s, when the Joy of Cooking was THE cookbook on the kitchen shelf in many American homes, and Julia Child and James Beard were the decade’s culinary rock stars, two revolutionary books were published. Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé (first edition 1971) and Recipes for a Small Planet, by Ellen Buchman Ewald (first edition 1973) promoted vegetarianism as a way to save yourself as well as the planet.

In the politically-charge Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé introduced the concept of “protein complementarity,” which she defined on the inside cover as “the combination, in the proper proportions, of non-meat foods, that produces high-grade protein nutrition equivalent to — or better than — meat protein.” The book can be viewed as a guide for healthy eating, but the work was originally motivated by Lapeé’s realization that we as a nation “squander” protein and are part of a system actively reducing the “earth’s capacity to provide food for all humanity.” The first half of the book is a scientific explanation of protein theory (along with a liberal smattering of political ideology), illustrated by copious charts and tables. This is followed by a series of recipes, each of which includes information on the protein in the recipe and how it is derived. Many of the recipes might be perceived as bland in this day and age, but there are a few I still use with a few tweaks (Vegetarian Enchiladas, Ricotta Lasagna Swirls, and Lentils Monastery Style). The appendix is a wealth of data supporting all that has come before, as well as helpful hints on cooking items that might be unfamiliar.

Recipes for a Small PlanetThe two authors had become acquainted as they pursued their individual projects and each became a major influence on the other’s work. Ewald helped Lappé with her recipes. Lappé wrote the Foreword to Ewald’s book. Recipes for a Small Planet begins with a more concise narrative on protein complementarity and includes a generous appendix, but it is mainly a collection of delicious recipes, each one composed with the goal of maximizing the amount of protein in each serving. Many of my favorites come from the salad and dressings section.

Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about ItThe two books were published to be companion volumes. Both were revised, Recipes in 1985 and Diet most recently in 1991. Frances Moore Lappé has remained a political activist. With her daughter Anna she founded the Small Planet Institute, with the tagline “Living democracy, feeding hope.” Frances and Anna co-authored Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet in 2002. Anna has recently published her own volume — Diet for a Hot Planet “in which she continues where her mother left off and explores the intersection between global climate change and the way we eat.”

Ellen Buchman Ewald and Francis Moore Lappé changed the way a generation of Americans thought about food, cooked, and ate out. Numerous vegetarian cookbooks would follow as vegetarian dining became more mainstream, but these two authors paved the way.

One has to wonder if “Meatless Monday” would even exist without them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

GG2G “Saved and Made in the USA”

The next time you are driving past a billboard on I-95 in Connecticut, imagine this. You may well encounter the very same billboard again sometime soon — but in a state you may not recognize. If it is a billboard owned by brothers Bruce and John Barrett, there is an excellent chance that it will be re-purposed, perhaps as a designer bag.

In 2004, Dayan “Day” Moore started GG2G (the acronym for Green Gifts 2 Give and 2 Get) with her friend Alison Grieveson “to create accessories that were in keeping with their re-use & recycle philosophy.” Day was a guest speaker at a recent New Haven Green Drinks to which she brought samples of her bags and talked in particular about the challenges of finding local sources for the materials needed to fabricate her products. In her factory in Milford, Day manufactures two major collections.

ReVinylized® Bags are fabricated from recycled local billboards (those belonging to the Barretts). The billboards are cut locally, washed locally using a non-toxic cleaner made by a local company, and sewn locally. Day estimates that GG2G has diverted thousands of pounds of billboards from the landfill.

The Salvo! Collection is the newer, luxury line, offering bags created of vinyl scraps salvaged from a manufacturer of restaurant seating.

All GG2G bags are lined with 100% organic cotton created by Harmony Art. The webbing is made in the USA, as are the notions, whenever possible. A portion of each sale is donated to Farm Sanctuary. 

Dayan Moore is a 2009 Eileen Fisher Women’s Business Grant Recipient. Her eco- and animal-friendly accessories are carried in fine boutiques around the country.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Safe Fun in the Sun

It is now 10 days since the Summer Solstice, the day on which the Northern Hemisphere receives more sun than on any other day of the year.  The July 4th long weekend is on the horizon, and the beach beckons. Even though it will most likely not be as hot on the shore as it is in August, it is important to remember that it is now, at the very beginning of Summer, that the sun’s rays are the strongest. Everyone needs some good protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

The advice is relatively simple. Try to avoid being in the sun between the hours of 10 and 2, when the sun is directly overhead. When you do venture out, especially during those hours, be sure to use a good sunscreen, and do consider wearing a hat, doing some covering-up, and sitting in the shade of an umbrella when you are not hitting the surf.

The Environmental Working Group recently published its list of recommended sunscreens. Unfortunately, the list is very short, and not all the “best” sunscreens are easily found. If you go to the site,  you can also search for any sunscreen you already own to discover its rating. I found one of mine in the second tier and plan to use it until I can locate a better one. Whatever you do, be sure to use and re-apply your chosen sunscreen as directed.

I am not a hat person normally, but I picked up a couple of pamphlets in the dermatologist’s office a couple of weeks ago. (Don’t worry -  eczema flare-up, not skin cancer.) Tilley claims to have the “Best-Made and Most Practical ‘Outdoor’ Hats in the World. Their hats float (should they get away while you are on or near the water), are insured “against loss or grievous damage” for the first two years, and offer protection from insects in a couple of models. I have to say that theirs is a traditional line. Some Tilley hats are somewhat dorky looking and others have that “garden party” look which is definitely not me.

Adventure Hat Sand/Black LG by Sunday Afternoon HatsSunday Afternoons offers hats with a little more style, particularly in the women’s models. I can almost imagine myself sporting the best-selling  “Adventure Hat.” It comes in many colors, and the name is so full of promise.

Both Tilley and Sunday Afternoons have a choice of colorful hats for kids. Once again, the Sunday Afternoons models are a little less staid, with fuller coverage for the neck (without the Lawrence of Arabia look). I wish I’d known about these when my own kid was younger. Doubt I could talk him into any of these right now. They also list protective shirts and swim shirts for active kids, who just don’t want to sit in the shade.

Hats from both companies can be purchased online at the company sites, through Amazon (see search box at left), and at many retail outlets. Just visit their websites for a store locator. (Tilley can be found at DelMonico Hatter in New Haven.) I have one tip for you. These hats are a little pricey. You might want to consider choosing a model with a chin strap attached. I recently saw an attorney I know chasing her Tilley down Orange Street after a sudden breeze.

Protect Yourself. Skin cancer is on the rise; there are now over one million cases diagnosed each year. It can be deadly. But you can also lower your risk by following some or all of this pretty simple advice. Whatever you do, stay away from tanning beds.

Have a Happy and safe Fourth!