Monday, November 29, 2010

Meatless Monday: Thanksgiving Successes, Near Misses, and Discoveries

I’m particularly happy to observe Meatless Monday today after attending two bountiful Thanksgiving feasts with turkey as the main event, featuring some two dozen kinds of pie for dessert. My friends and family do love pie. Today I’m still in recovery.

As a guest bearing food to these feasts I had several dishes to produce. The request for Feast One with friends on Thursday was for a rich cranberry tart featured in Yankee Magazine some years back. Its ingredients include a crust made with sugar, two sticks of butter, and 3/4 cups of walnuts. Upon this crust 6 oz of blue cheese is spread, and then topped with cranberries cooked in cherry preserves and brandy until they’ve popped. It looked beautiful and we were able to turn it onto the glass serving plate without any damage. More importantly, it tasted great. Success.

With Feast Two, the Friday family celebration, there were a number of near misses.

Near miss number one involved the Butternut Squash and Wilted Spinach recipe recently featured in my blog about binging on beta carotene. By now there were high expectations for this dish: failure was not an option. The recipe is quite simple, and I had made it before, so you might wonder what the problem could have been. Here goes. What I learned last week is that butternut squash is not as easy to find as it was a month ago. With no whole butternut squash in the fresh produce aisle, I bought organic butternut squash peeled, cut, and shrink wrapped with a sale date of November 27, on sale at a reasonable price in the refrigerated section. But when I went to use the squash on the 24th, I discovered long, delicate, strands of black mold growing in both packages. Luckily I had four cups in the freezer, left over from a very large squash I had previously roasted, and access to a microwave, so the dish was saved. There were no leftovers. This was a dish nearly everyone loved (except the vegans).

Now might be a good time to mention that only omnivores (and one guy who only eats white vegetables) attended Thursday’s feast, but Friday’s guests included vegetarians and vegans. The vegans posed a challenge. While we knew the vegetarians would pass on the turkey, gravy, and stuffing cooked in the bird, we knew the vegans would also pass on both my squash dish and my celeriac gratin. And on the potatoes if we mashed them with milk and on the pies if the crusts were made with butter or if the filling included eggs or dairy products. So we offered more kinds of cranberry sauce, and plain roasted vegetables and potatoes mashed without milk or butter. I had just started mashing the large pot of spuds with some potato water when my husband took over and I ran off to set the table. At dinner I simply could not get over how great these vegan potatoes tasted. And then I learned the secret: one head of garlic and 1 and 1/2 sticks of Willow Run margarine! Although no animals were harmed in making this vegan dish, I am sure a few humans would be if they had this on the menu every day!

Now on to the dessert course. For my vegan-friendly pie, I turned to an old Shaker recipe. Shaker Cranberry Pie (from The Shaker Cookbook by Caroline B. Piercy) called for sugar, flour, vanilla, raisins, and cranberries (no butter) in the filling. I had long ago switched from shortening to butter to make my crust, but butter wouldn’t do this year. I turned to Betty Crocker for help and found a recipe for crust made with oil. I used organic canola. Because I was using a liquid instead of a hard stick of butter, the crust was very easy to make and it rolled out well. I did find it not as supple when I went to crimp the crust, and I could not be as ornate as usual with my finishing. But all seemed to be going well for a first experiment. So, what was the near miss? Apparently oil crust bakes quicker than the other kinds, at least in a glass pie plate. The crust browned right through my crust protectors! The crusts were a little too brown for my taste, and I think next time I will reduce the heat by 25° and check the pie 10 minutes sooner. It was certainly not the most beautiful pie in the world, but I decided to take it anyway. Imagine my joy when the crust turned out to be flaky, and the filling delicious. It seems this pie was kid- as well as vegan-friendly. To be honest, its flavor and texture called to mind an unfrosted pop tart (one of the organic ones of course!) and was one of the first pies to be finished. I’ll be making this one again.

Now for the error of omission. The vegetarians didn’t say anything, perhaps because they were satiated with cheese. However, the vegans asked about gravy. My sister and I had never considered this request so they had to do without. Next time I suppose we can grab a container of Tofurky gravy, but I’ll be checking online to see if there is a recipe for making my own. Does a hunk of tofu produce drippings if roasted? Any tips from readers would be most appreciated.

And, on to the happy discoveries. We had a stop to make in West Stockbridge before heading home on Saturday — Charles H. Baldwin & Sons where I purchased vanilla (see my blog post on gifts for the cook), table syrup, and some ground vanilla beans. We were told to use these in addition to liquid vanilla to enhance the flavor of baked goods, but I bet I can use the ground beans to make my own vanilla sugar. I’m going to email the proprietor to inquire. I’ll let you know what I find out. If you ever get a chance to visit the store in the Berkshires, be sure to check out the photo booth. For $3 you can get 6 photos in just 10 seconds. The machine talks, too. It’s hilarious. If you can’t visit in person, check out the Charles H. Baldwin & Sons website for all you might want to know about vanilla or to place an order online.

Finally, in time for the next holiday cleanup, my friend Polly gave me a package of Scotch-Brite natural fiber non-scratch scour pads made from the agave plant, part of a new line of green cleaning products from 3M. It would be a lie to say I can’t wait to try these, but I am glad to have them.

Hope your week’s off to a good start. I should return to blogging on Thursday with another list of eco-friendly shopping ideas.

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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10 Things Thursday: 10 Kits

The Story Behind 10 Things Thursdays
For most of us there will be some level of gift shopping to do in the coming weeks. On each of the 10 Thursdays from October 21, up until the day before Christmas Eve, it is my goal to present 10 ideas, in 10 different themes, for eco-friendly gifting. Many suggestions will be places I know or products I've purchased or received. One hundred ideas by no means makes a comprehensive list. But it's a start. It’s a day to give thanks, so I’m posting this for after dinner viewing. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday looming, here is List 6:

10 Kits
  1. Anni Albers Jewelry. Four different kits are available, each of which is based upon an original piece from a 1941 traveling exhibition of jewelry made from common objects by designer Anni Albers and her student Alex Reed. I assembled this kit “Bobby Pin and Ball Chain” and wore it with a little black dress to a formal occasion. Hardly anyone noticed the materials; those who did had to take a very close look. There were many accolades.
  2. A Back to the Roots (BTTR) Gourmet Mushroom Garden. As seen on TV — I can’t wait to try this at home! BTTR (pronounced better) was founded in 2009 by Alex Velez and Nikhil Arora as a 100% sustainable urban mushroom farm, BTTR has transformed into a company focused on bringing sustainable grow-at-home products into households across the country. The growing medium for the kits is recycled coffee grounds collected from Peet’s Coffee & Tea, at the rate of 8,000 lbs a week. The kit comes with everything you need for your windowsill farm, including a spray mister. The description promises up to one lb of oyster mushrooms a crop, with at least two crops per kit (although some customers have had as many as four). The price of $19.95 may sound a little pricey, but if you purchase three, shipping is free. Without the cost of shipping, and with two crops, this works out to slightly less than the going rate for these beauties in the produce aisle. And you will have the thrill of growing them yourself. Alice Waters and Carson Daly are among the celebrities offering testimonials on the company site. Look for a future post after I see just how good a farmer I am.
  3. A Windowsill Garden. There are a huge number of indoor garden kits available, for herbs, flowers, and even catnip. offers an excellent selection. Before you make a purchase, you might check out this article as a guide. Or give the gift of Winter Flowers by supplying everything needed to force flowering bulbs such as Paperwhites. White Flower Farms in Litchfield, Connecticut has many offerings in a wide range of prices.
  4. Make Your Own Beer Kit. This article reviews a number of products in several price range. The name Mr. Beer (“Nothing says Holiday Cheer like Mr. Beer”) comes up in many posts. The Mr. Beer site sells every you need to get started.
  5. Paper Crafts. Make City postcards are paper crafts for grownups. Designed by Japanese designer Keisuke Saka, these models of famous city icons are sold in sets. New York City is available at the MOMA store. Others are available here.
  6. An Adirondack Furniture Kit. Everything you need to build your own Adirondack chair. There are kits for the woodworker who wants to cut, sand and drill as well as for the person who wants just to assemble and finish. Both types of kits are clearly described to help you decide which one is right for you. Only the finest mahogany or cypress is used; none of the wood is pressure-treated. (You can also buy pre-assembled, but what fun is that?) You can read many testimonials on the site.
  7. A Composter. I have one similar to the “Deluxe Pyramid.” It’s been turning kitchen scraps into black gold for over two decades now. Some assembly is required. For the more adventurous, might you consider a “Worm Chalet?” This site offers a lot of choices, but you might shop around before you buy.
  8. A Snowshoe Kit. Snowshoeing is a popular winter sport for boomers with fear of skiing. Country Ways has been providing high quality outdoor gear kits for twenty-five years. Their site offers up a tremendous amount of info on this hobby and the pros and cons of different types of gear.
  9. Anything Klutz. For the young and young at heart, Klutz offers a wide variety of kits with themes ranging from Crafts to Science and Building. Each kit is self-contained and is perfect for traveling. Klutz kits are carried in many stores, but you can also shop online where there is currently a sale going on.
  10. A Solar-Powered Attic Fan. This is a serious gift for the serious handyman, with a serious return. You can read more about the SunRise Solar-powered fan in my blog post “Cooling with the Sun,” published on 9/1/10. A purchase now could score someone a 2010 tax credit. The giftee can always hold the installation for warmer weather. No wiring required. It works. 

Giving Thanks

Friends and followers
who click, tweet, and buzz my posts
whether short or long

For joining me on
my winding road to greenness,
thank you one and all.

For your reflection as you prepare for your celebrations, I offer these words from Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-waututh Nation in Burrard Inlet, British Columbia (born Geswanouth Slahoot), who lived from 1899-1981 and was both a well-known author and an actor in films:

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
     speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
     speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dewdrop of the flower,
    speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
     they speak to me.

And my heart soars.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Meatless Monday: Celebrating the Cranberry

On this particular Monday it seems only fitting to blog about the cranberry, a seasonal fruit which graces nearly every Thanksgiving table, traditional or vegan. Native to North America, this fruit was originally known as the “craneberry,” so named because the plant’s small blossoms reminded the colonists of the head and bill of a Sandhill crane.

For years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of what is now Massachusetts, Native Americans had been crushing this wild berry for use as a fabric dye, as a medicine to treat arrow wounds, and in a high-protein food called “pemmican,” which was composed of cranberries, dried deer meat, and melted fat.

The cranberry requires several special conditions to thrive (all found on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts): sandy soil, abundant fresh water, and a growing season that lasts from May to October. When the Pilgrims arrived in the 1600s, the cranberry was growing wild on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel, and clay-like material. Known as “bogs,” these beds were originally formed by glacial deposits. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Association website, in 1816 Captain Henry Hall of Dennis observed that the wild cranberries in his bog grew better when sand blew over them. He began sanding his vines, his technique was copied, and the cultivation of cranberries began.

The inspiration for this post came about one very hot day last summer when I learned from a tourist pamphlet that the Harwich Historical Society Brooks Academy Museum was Stop 7 on the Massachusetts Cranberry Trail. Harwich is just one town over from Chatham where we stay and this looked to be a great way to escape the mid-day sun. Harwich’s Captain Alvin Cahoon is credited with producing the first cranberry crop for commercial sale, and Harwich was the center of a thriving network of small independent cranberry farms for a number of years. The museum is located in historic and picturesque Harwich Center, and the exhibits were staffed by enthusiastic volunteers eager to talk about cranberries to interested visitors. It features a large collection of pictures and artifacts (including a working model railroad display) related to the history of cranberry culture in the Harwich area. We learned that the school year was tailored to accommodate the cranberry harvest, that cranberries can be harvested in either of two ways — wet or dry, and that in winter the bogs are flooded with water that freezes and protects the vines from drying out (among many other facts). It was a great way to spend a leisurely hour or two: there is much information on the museum website if you can’t make the trip.

Fall is the harvest time for this fruit. The other 8 stops listed on the Cranberry Trail map are working farms on the other side of the Cape Cod Canal. Many of the farms offer tours; some sell Christmas trees. Most growers use Integrated Pest Management, but Cranberry Hill in Plymouth, is an organic farm which sells its products online. (Be warned, at Whole Foods on Saturday, organic cranberries were selling at 2x the cost of conventional ones.) Some 14,000 of the 47,000 acres of land devoted to the cranberry industry are in Massachusetts. I was surprised to learn that Wisconsin has bested Massachusetts as the industry leader since 1995.

Cranberries are high in vitamin C; in fact, sailors carried them on voyages to prevent scurvy. They are also purported to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, one of the reasons cranberry juice is such a popular drink. Dried and sweetened, cranberries are a tasty snack. They can also be baked into breads and pies, turned into compote, and added to stuffing and jello molds. But far and away their most common use is in cranberry sauce. 

Now for the recipe…
Many of us grew up thinking cranberry sauce came in a can, that you could cleverly get out in one piece by opening the can at both ends and gently, slowly, pushing the contents onto a plate for carving. This jelly-like substance is fine, but once you taste homemade sauce, with its vibrant flavor, I predict you won’t return to the canned product. Cranberry sauce is one of the easiest things to make. Every bag of fresh berries has a recipe printed on the back. The recipe goes: Dissolve 1 cup sugar in one cup water over medium high heat. When it boils, add the 12 oz bag of berries. Turn heat down to medium, stir often until all berries have popped. Remove from heat and cool. After your initial success, feel free to experiment.

Here is my most recent variation on the traditional recipe:

(pictured above)
Peel and cut into small pieces 2 medium apples (2 different kinds if you have them, ideally one being a golden delicious).
Dissolve 3/4 cup sugar in 1 cup orange juice.
When it boils, stir in one 12 oz package of cranberries along with
1/2 cup dried cranberries and the apple pieces.
Turn heat down. Stir occasionally until all berries have popped.
Remove from heat.
Add 1/2 teaspoon orange extract.

For many more recipes, check out the Ocean Spray website.

More trivia:
Since this is a Green Blog, I have to mention the “Great Cranberry Scare of 1959.” In November of that year, just before Thanksgiving, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Arthur Fleming started a national panic by announcing that cranberries should be avoided because some had been found to be contaminated with the weed killer, Aminotriazole, that had been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Despite the best efforts of both presidential candidates Kennedy and Nixon, who consumed large amounts of cranberry sauce and juice in front of news cameras, the damage to the cranberry industry was devastating. Schools threw cranberry products away, restaurants took them off the menu, and consumers refused to buy them. In fact, only one half of one percent of the 1959 crop, all of it from Oregon and Washington, was actually contaminated. The government’s $10 million compensation plan came too late for many growers. It took years for the industry to recover, but recover it did. The Cape Cod Times reported in 2009, “Cranberries are the No. 1 agricultural product of Massachusetts. The state produces over two million barrels a year, adding over $100 million to the state economy.”

And finally:
Whether you visit the Harwich Historical Society in person or online, take time to learn about this special and surprising “extra.” Two years ago tomorrow, Harwich was the subject of a CNN news story. A woman walking a trail in the conservation land in the town discovered a Baldwin piano, in tune and in good condition, with a piano bench nearby, as if someone had been planning to sit down to play. The mystery has never been solved, but the piano now calls the museum “home.”

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.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

10 Things Thursday: 10 Things to Wear

The Story Behind 10 Things Thursdays
For most of us there will be some level of gift shopping to do in the coming weeks. On each of the 10 Thursdays from October 21, up until the day before Christmas Eve, it is my goal to present 10 ideas, in 10 different themes, for eco-friendly gifting. Many suggestions will be places I know or products I've purchased or received. One hundred ideas by no means makes a comprehensive list. But it's a start. Suggestions for future lists are most welcome. Here is List 5:

10 Wearable Things
  1. Apparel from Novica. In association with National Geographic, NOVICA creates a bridge between artists and artisans around the world and the online community who wishes to purchase their products. There are choices for both men and women, ranging from cotton batik shirts and robes from Bali to alpaca ponchos from Peru. An artisan story card is included with each purchase.
  2. Locally-Sourced Wool or Alpaca Accessories. You might be able to find these at your local farmer’s market. Or look online at LocalHarvest to find a source. An online tool lets you calculate the distance from your home to the vendor. If you are a knitter or craftsperson, you can shop for yarn and fleeces (in the Shop section under Wool and Fibers) at LocalHarvest as well.
  3. Shoes. Let me tell you about two companies. First, TOMS Shoes, whose tagline is One for One. In 2006, entrepreneur (and former Amazing Race contestant) Blake Mycoskie was traveling in Argentina when he was struck by the number of children with no shoes to protect their feet. He returned home with 200 pairs of alpargatas, the traditional Argentinian rope-soled shoe, and an idea for a company. Mycoskie began making shoes inspired by the alpargata, and after he had sold 10,000 pairs, he returned to Argentina with 10,000 pairs to give away. The commitment continues: every time someone buys a pair, another pair is donated to a child in need. Over 1,000,000 pairs have been given away! Second, Simple Shoes. Simple Shoes is committed to making their product 100% sustainable. Their current product materials include: recycled carpet padding, plastics, inner tubes, and car tires, and sustainable bamboo and hemp. I own a pair of Black Satire-Hemp, a Vegan shoe, and one of the first offerings! The bottom is made from a recycled car tire, the laces from recycled soda bottles. They are certainly not stylish enough for a tennis club, but are perfect for the beach or the backyard (and nearly guiltless). The styling has come a long way since I bought them. D-Kay in light gray might pass for business casual at an outdoor event, if you keep the name to yourself.
  4. Eco-Friendly Denim. R.E.U.S.E. (Recycle.Environment.U.Save.Earth.) offers denim jeans, shorts, and skirts of 80% recycled denim which would appeal to the thin teenager. Sold online. goodsociety offers jeans of certified organic denim made from cotton raised by independent farmers in India. One quarter of the company profits are donated to charity. Nice, durable-looking jeans, but pricey. Sold in a few stores and online. Levi Strauss & Co., the one which started it all, has been taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of its products. Earlier this month the company announced the WaterLess jeans collection which dramatically reduces the amount of water used in the garment finishing process. The first such jeans will be available in January 2011.
  5. A Winter Hat of Turtle Fur (Headbands or scarves are good, too, especially if you are traveling from one climate to another). These high-quality products are made in Vermont from 100% acrylic brushed fleece knitted in the USA. The website has an extensive catalogue and a store locator, but the site itself is wholesale only. A number of items are available through Amazon. Or a Sun Hat from Tilley or Sunday Afternoons to provide protection from dangerous rays next summer or if you are headed somewhere south soon. (See my Safe Fun in the Sun post from July 1.)
  6. A Panther Vision PowerCap™. It looks like a fine baseball cap, but it is much more. Equipped with 3 LED lights and an easy on/off switch concealed under the brim, it can light up the darkness, focussing 3 levels of light just where you need it. As entertaining as a tie that can squirt water, the PowerCap™ is practical as well. It is lighter weight and less bulky (and dorky) than a headlamp and allows you to keep your hands free to tackle any task. It is perfect for outdoor nighttime activities, emergencies, or even reading in bed! The LEDs should last for 100,000+ hours. The battery should provide up to 75 hours of continuous light and can easily be replaced. Available in a variety of colors. There is a store locator at the site. I know the local Lowe’s is well-stocked.
  7. A GG2G Bag. “Saved and Made in the USA,” ReVinylized® Bags are fabricated from recycled billboards (formerly seen on I-95). The Salvo! Collection offers bags crafted of vinyl scraps salvaged from a manufacturer of restaurant seating. A portion of each sale is donated to Farm Sanctuary. You can read more about this Milford, CT company in this post from July 7.
  8. Jewelry from the Leakey Collection™. The Leakey Collection™ was founded in  Kenya in 2002 by Katy and Philp Leakey (the youngest son of paleo-anthropologists Drs. Louis and Mary Leakey). The Leakey Collection™ designs interior home and fashion accessories which are handcrafted in mobile work sites by Maasai women and men, employing over 1200 Kenyans. Using natural elements such as fallen wood, grass and ceramic, these designers create unique products while protecting the environment and providing economic opportunity to the local communities. You can shop through the site or use the online store locator.
  9. A RuMe™ (ReUseMe) Cuff. Designed as a reusable cuff for a coffee cup, this product  has an added zippered pocket, allowing it to function as a secure armband wallet (for your coffee money). Thin as it is, I know from experience that the cuff does keep your hands protected from a hot beverage. It is machine washable; one size fits all. Designed in Denver, Colorado, RuMe™ products are manufactured in a South Korean government-certified Fair Trade Factory.    
  10. A Solar-Powered Watch. I have a tiny wrist, and I had a tiny watch, with a battery so small that only a jeweler could replace it. It must be something about my chemistry, but a battery could never quite make it through a year, and the cost for replacements really began to add up. One Christmas my husband gave me a Citizen Eco-Drive watch, powered by a solar conversion panel and energy cell. It was an extravagant gift, but do I love it! The watch keeps perfect time, and only ran out of juice once, when I put it in a drawer on vacation and left it there for an entire week. After a few hours of sunlight it was good as new. If you can trust the one you love to take good care of a nice present, this might be just the one you’re looking for. It’s very stylish, too. There are both men’s and women’s models. 
Citizen Women's EW0700-98A Eco-Drive Silhouette Sport Watch
Eco-Drive Sport Watch 
panther vision BLK Lighted Hat head lights
Panther Vision Cap "Lights On"
NOVICA Men's alpaca wool poncho, 'Andean Hills'
Novica Men's Poncho
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat Tan Large
Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat

TOMS Men's Classic Canvas Slip-On,Black,8 M
TOM's Men's Shoe

Simple Women's D-Kay Leather Fashion Sneaker,Bark,9 M US
Simple Women's D-Kay

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Meatless Monday: Binging on Beta-Carotene

I’m hoping I won’t turn orange anytime soon. You see, I’ve been on a beta-carotene binge of late. I love brightly colored food, particularly winter squash and pumpkins, all rich in Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. The week before last will give you an idea of just how serious a binge I’m talking. Monday: Butternut Squash Lasagne (in Eataly, details of this adventure to appear in a future column). Tuesday: Sweet Potato Soup. Wednesday: Pumpkin Stew for lunch, steamed Curried Carrots for dinner. Thursday: Pumpkin Soup. Friday I took a break and ate pasta with red sauce and broccoli. Saturday: Pumpkin Pancakes in the morning, homemade Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup for dinner.  And what did I buy in the produce aisle? Golden beets and red kale, also rich in beta-carotene.

I know some of you think I’m kidding, but there really is a medical condition, Carotenodermia, a yellow discoloration of the skin resulting from high doses of beta-carotene supplements or the consumption of large amounts of carotene-rich foods. Tell-tale signs of the condition are an orange glow on the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet. Your eyes, however, remain white unlike jaundice when the eyes go yellow, too. The condition is reversible. The Linus Pauling Institute has a wealth of info on beta-carotene and other phyto-chemicals, and their site points out that high-doses of beta-carotene have never been found to cause vitamin A toxicity.  

Tomorrow just may be the day I achieve that orange glow. Last night I roasted a huge squash I had bought earlier in the season. It looked like a butternut at the base, but it had a long curly neck and easily weighed four pounds. I cut the neck at the base and carefully peeled it with my Oxo peeler, being careful not to slice my finger (unlike April in my new favorite holiday movie). I cut the base in half, scooped out the seeds and then peeled away the skin. I diced the squash into 1/2” cubes, tossed them with some olive oil and salt and then baked them in my two largest cast iron skillets at 350° until the pieces were tender (about 35 minutes). When they were done I had a generous helping over some basmati rice, sprinkled with curry powder and a few golden raisins, and topped with a dollop of lowfat Greek yogurt. 

Today I put a quart of pieces into the freezer, and used another quart in a recipe from Whole Foods called “Butternut Squash with Wilted Spinach and Blue Cheese.” Since it was a trial run for the upcoming holiday, I added a heaping 1/4 cup of organic dried cranberries to the dish when I was stirring everything together. The result was unbelievably delicious. I ate two bowlfuls straight up, not atop anything. You can put this recipe together in 15 minutes or so if the squash has been roasted ahead of time. I hope my sister lets me make this for Thanksgiving.  

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.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

10 Things Thursday: 10 Useful Things

The Story Behind 10 Things Thursdays
For most of us there will be some level of gift shopping to do in the coming weeks. On each of the 10 Thursdays from October 21, up until the day before Christmas Eve, it is my goal to present 10 ideas, in 10 different themes, for eco-friendly gifting. Many suggestions will be places I know or products I've purchased or received. One hundred ideas by no means makes a comprehensive list. But it's a start. Suggestions for future lists are most welcome. Here is List 4:

10 Useful Things
  1. A RuMe™ (ReUseMe) Bag. Available in a variety of patterns, these 15.5” x 15.5” x 4” bags fabricated of 180 denier polyester, with double-stitched seams, hold up to 50 pounds. The bags are water resistant and machine washable. They weigh next to nothing and fold down to a very compact size, making them perfect for carrying in your luggage or purse. You never know when you might need an extra shopping bag! Designed in Denver, Colorado, RuMe™ products are manufactured in a South Korean government-certified Fair Trade Factory.
  2. An E-Z Reacher® or E-Z Grabber®. Arcoa Industries has been making these rubber cup reaching tools since 1982. E-Z Reacher® is the outdoor model. Experience has shown me that a clean corner discourages would-be litterers, and with one of these babies I can pick up trash like a pro, without any need of disposable gloves. I can even pick up a cigarette butt or a used match. The E-Z Grabber®  is a perfect gift for a senior who needs to retrieve items from hard-to-reach spots without climbing on a step stool. The rubber cups are replaceable. I believe both models are made in the USA. These products can be found at Ace hardware stores, but you can also buy them online.
  3. Yaktrax® is a spikeless and ultralight product that fits over a sturdy shoe to provide greater stability when walking on ice and snow. With every step you take, hundreds of biting edges on the product’s abrasion-resistant coils are in direct contact with the ice beneath your feet. One caveat. The company site speaks of the ease with which Yaktrax® go on and off, but this can be tricky for an older person. At around $20 a pair, you might want to verify that the person for whom you are purchasing them will actually go to the trouble to use them. I would love a pair myself, but I am pretty sure that a couple I bought for gifts last year are sitting in the closet. I purchased them at Sports Authority, but you can also shop for them online
  4. A Reusable Coffee Mug. No explanation necessary. I love one called “I am not a paper cup…” by DCI. It is a double walled, thermal porcelain cup with a silicone lid. It holds up to 10 ounces.
  5. Filtered Water Bottle. Seychelle makes a line of BPA free plastic bottles, equipped with filters, that allow you to drink great-tasting, fresh, clean water wherever you are, whether it comes from the tap or a stream. Over three million of these products have been sold the world over: customers include the USMC and the International Red Cross. You can shop Seychelle products online. For those with access to filtered water, I suggest a high-quality stainless steel Kleen Kanteen for transporting it. 
  6. To-Go-Ware®. The idea for this company evolved in 1997 when a then college student in Michigan found it disturbing that she was served her ice cream “for here” in a throwaway dish with a throwaway spoon. To-Go-Ware® sells a line of portable eating utensils to help you “reduce your fork print” as well as food carriers, bags, and a ceramic cup that looks like the iconic Greek diner paper cup. These products can be found at Whole Foods and REI. You can also shop for them online.  
  7. Rechargeable Battery Charger. Rechargeable batteries are certainly the Green way to go. claims to be “The guide to highly efficient things” and offers up a guide to the “Best Rechargeable Batteries and Chargers of 2010.” Blogger Justin has done a lot of research on this topic: I defer to him on what is the “best.” Although his post is about a year old and there are most likely some new products worth considering, his reviews will get you started. I will say that we were gifted a charger last year and definitely appreciate having it.
  8. Recycled Flip-Flop Door Mat. Any beach lover will appreciate this useful gift. For those in colder climes, it will brighten a Winter’s day. These mats are made of scrap foam rubber from sandal factories in the Philippines, scrap that would otherwise have gone into the landfill. They are available in a variety of sizes from a number of online vendors. I have not seen them in any store.
  9. A Webcam. This will enable you to Skype with willing and enabled persons remote from you. Skype-to-Skype calls are free, webcams nearly so. The Skype site explains it all and even offers several webcams for purchase, one a very cute blue Buddy Cam for $19.95.
  10. Folding Rear Bicycle Grocery Baskets (for someone with a bike) or a Dog Backpack (for someone with a good-sized and agreeable dog) to get produce home from the farmers’ market.
  11. Shapewear. This is a useful gift, but perhaps best to buy only for yourself (or someone you know VERY well). Say you have a favorite holiday outfit that you trot out just once a year — a common enough scenario with casual everyday being the current norm. Say the outfit includes a pair of pants or a “defined” waistline. A good piece of shapewear will allow you to conquer any minor battle of the bulge, keeping that favorite outfit in circulation while avoiding a fashion faux pas. Spanx started it all, but Maidenform purchased at the outlet mall is what I know. Shapewear is not just for men. Guys, check out Sculptees. Contrary to what you may have seen on SNL, there is no such thing as Baby Spanx, at least not yet.
Rume Eco Friendly Set of 3 (Three) Regular Size Reusable Bags Totes-Spring of New York Collection
RuMe Bags
Yaktrax Walker Traction Cleats for Snow and Ice,Black,Small
DCI I Am Not a Paper Cup 10-Ounce Porcelain Travel Cup with Lid
DCI “I am not a paper cup…”

Large Flip-Flop Doormat (Handmade from Recycled Sandals Material)
Recycled Flip Flop Mat
32" EZ Reacher and Grabber (Pick Stick)
EZ Reacher
Dog Backpack Saddle Gear Bag Easy Fit for Dogs New (colors vary)
Dog Backpack