Monday, May 28, 2012

Meatless Monday: A Month of Strawberries

Summer doesn’t begin for nearly a month, but for many Americans, the Memorial Day weekend signifies the beginning of the season. We gather with friends and family, fire up the grills, picnic, and share lots of food, including the first of the summer fruits – the strawberry.

In fact, May has been designated National Strawberry Month for some years now [at least since 1997 which I discovered through a Google search], inspiring festivals, celebrations, and countless articles and sites singing the praises of this delicious fruit. One of the most entertaining strawberry sites I found is one from the U of Illinois Extension Service packed with historical facts, nutritional data, legends and lore, growing tips and recipes. 

Eighty-five percent of the nation’s strawberries come from California, where the fruit is grown year-round. In 2010, over 2 billion pounds of strawberries were harvested in the state, with a value of $2.1 billion. It should be no surprise that the California Strawberry Commission (enacted in 1993) has a comprehensive site promoting the strawberry with details on its economic importance, its health and nutritional benefits, and  its taste and versatility (lots of recipes).

One topic not covered extensively in this site, however, is the use of pesticides in strawberry cultivation. The Environmental Working Group includes strawberries in the Number 3 spot on their “Dirty Dozen” list in their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated in 2011.

The good news is that since I wrote about this topic in 2010, organic strawberries have become easier to find in supermarkets, including the Elm City Market, and their price has come down.

We’ve been enjoying them at my house all through the month of May. Local varieties are still weeks away, but I just can’t resist the seductive strawberry, especially at such an attractive price.

The new way I’ve discovered to enjoy them is — dessert as real food — fresh strawberries with sweet ricotta “cream.” Here is my recipe, tweaked from a couple of things I found on the internet.

Fresh Strawberries with Sweet Ricotta “Cream”

  • 2 cups, sliced, fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese (I use the local Calabro from East Haven, CT)
  • 1/8 cup low-fat milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 3/8 teaspoon vanilla (I use Baldwin’s made in W. Stockbridge, MA)

  1. Whisk (or purée) all ingredients  EXCEPT strawberries in a pyrex measuring cup, metal bowl, or other freezer-safe container.
  2. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir.
  4. Keep very cold until serving time. 
  5. Place strawberries in two bowls or glasses. Spoon “cream” on top.

This dessert is best if you can have the topping finished as close to serving time as possible. This is a delicious treat without any of the guilt sometimes associated with dessert. By my calculations, based on the nutritional facts for strawberrieslow-fat ricotta, and sugar, each serving provides 160% of your vitamin C, 18% of your calcium,  and 8% of your dietary fiber for a mere 142 calories. 

Go ahead, enjoy! This is a perfect dessert to contribute to your next pot luck.

Have a great holiday.

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things 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, May 23, 2012

Worthy Diversions

It’s a pre-holiday Wednesday. Summer is just around the corner. Schedules and commitments are in a state of flux. Perhaps you are occasionally having a bit of difficulty staying focused on your work.

Perhaps you are in need of a worthy diversion or two. Here are a few, just In case that’s the case.

The first is for TODAY. I am a big fan of Google Doodles and today’s is in the DON”T MISS IT category. It honors the birthday of Bob Moog, pioneer of electronic music with an interactive playable doodle inspired by the Moog synthesizer. You can even record your composition with the doodle’s 4-track keyboard and share it with your friends. Try it here  and read more about it here

Next up for tree-lovers is Leafsnap, an electronic field guide  being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. It uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs the user snaps with their camera phone. It is available now as a free app for  iPhones; Android users have to wait. In the meantime, check out the beautiful images on the Leafsnap site. Leafsnap contains high resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark. It currently includes trees of New York City and Washington, D.C. but will soon cover trees of the entire continental US.

Finally, “10 Brainteasers to Test Your Mental Sharpness” from Forbes. [Yes, all you doubters out there, I have many sources for my news.] Don’t peek at the answers. And be sure to read the analysis at the very end. We are, indeed, hard-wired and it is a challenge to keep an open mind.

Happy Wednesday. Enjoy the rest of your week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Meatless Monday: Stalking the Wild Carrot

Their leafy tops are sprouting up everywhere — in lawns, along fences, in the sidewalk cracks. What are these weeds that look like carrots?

The answer? Wild carrot — Daucus carota — a member of the parsley family and the close relative to the big orange carrot we love to eat. In fact, it is from the wild carrot that the cultivated carrot was bred. 

Daucus carota is a biennial plant (as is its domesticated cousin), meaning that it takes two years to complete its life cycle. In its first year it has a frilly green top and puts its energy into its tap root, a long, grayish-white one in the case of the wild carrot. The wild carrots in the photo were all found within two blocks from my house; the largest one was plucked from the edge of the dentist's yard just up the street. It is pretty good-sized and did indeed exude the strong scent of carrot when I yanked it from the ground.

In its second year Daucus carota blooms with a flower cluster known as an umbel (like an umbrella) and sets its prolific amount of seed. In this stage it is known as Queen Anne’s-Lace and is quite beautiful. Check out photos of its entire life cycle here and here

Daucus carota  grows throughout North America (with the exception of the Canadian province of Alberta). It is concerned a “noxious weed” in several states and is under plant quarantine in the state of Washington. It can cross with the cultivated carrot, wreaking havoc by hybridizing the crop and ruining the seeds.

However, some consider this “noxious weed” a thing of value. Foraging has become very trendy. New York naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill, who in 1986 was arrested in Central Park for eating a wild plant, is renowned for his foraging forays into urban parks. The wild carrot is indeed something for which some adventurous people forage. Among the recipes I found was one for sautéing wild carrots in olive oil with mint. Others describe shredding the root for use in salad or simmering the roots until tender. Some prize Daucus carota for its uses in alternative medicine

I, however, don’t intend to eat my recent harvest – for two reasons. The first being that I do not know the lead content of the soil in which these wild carrots grew. In New Haven, a former industrial center with many miles of heavily traveled roads and old housing stock, lead content in the soil runs very high. Most people who want to grow food resort to raised planting beds. In what type of crop is lead most likely to accumulate? The roots! In fact, the U Conn Soil Test Lab advises refraining from growing beets, carrots, or potatoes if the results for lead run high.  

Here is the second caveat. If you are planning to eat it, be certain that what you have plucked is indeed Daucus carota and not its close relative, poison hemlock, Conium maculatum. Poison hemlock lacks the carrot scent and does not have the fine hairs you will find on the wild carrot leaves and stalks, but the two plants are otherwise very similar in appearance and are found in many of the same settings. BE SURE.  Hemlock, you may recall is what killed Socrates.

If you decide to forage, be careful out there.

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things 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.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Meatless Monday: Big Food

“Big Food: Health, Culture, and the Evolution of Eating” is a HUGELY popular exhibit which opened in February at the Yale Peabody Museum. The Peabody has long been THE destination for lovers of dinosaurs and dioramas of wildlife. Big Food provides another reason to pay this gem of a New Haven  attraction a visit. According to the Yale Office of Public Affairs & Communications, the exhibition has attracted over 40,000 visitors since its opening, and in March Big Food set the record for the most monthly visitors to the Peabody in a decade. 

Big Food examines Americans’ complex relationship to food. Food is essential to life, but how we eat in America involves much more than meeting our nutritional needs. Big Food offers the visitor the opportunity to learn about the neuroscience of eating, the genetics of eating, culture and environmental influences on our food choices (including marketing), and what the impact of all these influences has been on our collective health.

Big Food opens with a bang! The entrance to the exhibit is a passageway between two walls of “food” which illustrate what (and how much) the typical American consumes in a year. Here is just a portion of what is on the list: 17 pounds of red meat, 607 pounds of dairy products (including 12 PINTS of yogurt and 5 GALLONS of ice cream), 79 pounds of added fats and oils, 149 pounds of fresh fruit, 29 pounds of French fries, 14 pounds of potato chips, 64 pounds of sugar, 66 pounds of corn sweetener, 45 GALLONS of soda, and 22 gallons of milk.

Kids will love the interactive exhibits with buttons to push and loud sound effects, including a game in which you try to guess the sodium, sugar and fat content of a familiar food before it is smashed, and another in which you try to strike a balance between calories in and calories out while walking on a tightrope over shark-infested water. I rode a stationery bike until I had burned enough calories to eat a small strawberry with no net gain [more work than I expected]. 

Kids will also be able to relate to  a number of visual displays. “Eew, that’s gross,” is likely to be heard near the plexiglass box containing a representation of 5 pounds of body fat. I saw some tweens  examining the box containing a series of sweet drinks juxtaposed with a series of stacked spoons which indicate the number of teaspoons of sugar in each drink. 

Grownups are more likely to focus on the wall showing the change in portion size of a number of common foods over the past couple of decades. [To test your knowledge on this subject, revisit this post from the past where I told you about the NIH’s Portion Distortion Quiz

The visuals conclude with “Expanding America 1985-2010,” a series of maps of the USA,  through which you watch the country succumb to the Obesity Epidemic state by state. In 1985, 8 states had adult obesity rates exceeding 10%. In 2010, all states exceeded 20%; 13 exceeded 30%. Today more than one of every 3 Americans is obese.

At the exhibit’s exit point, visitors are asked to vote for a healthy lifestyle change they will make in their lives. One of the choices is Meatless Monday!

Big Food continues at the Peabody through December 2012. For directions, hours, and cost of admission, visit the museum website.

Those of you who live too far away to make the trip to New Haven can experience some of the exhibit, including casting a vote and playing “Strike a Balance,” by going online

No excuses allowed. There are absolutely no valid reasons not to check out Big Food!

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things 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.”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Short Subjects: Calculating Your Handprint

It’s easy to succumb to the feeling of being hopeless or powerless if we read too many  op-eds such as the one from James Hansen published in the New York Times this week. This piece reinforces the idea that we are in big trouble already and makes the claim that if Canada proceeds to exploit the oil in its tar sand reserves that it will be “game over” for the planet. Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls for a drastic but reasoned change of our energy course, and for the American public to rise to the challenge. He is pretty much preaching to the choir when it comes to readers of this blog. 

Back in March, Time published a list of “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.” Number 3 was “Handprints,” the idea of Gregory Norris, lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. Norris had discovered that his students, after calculating their carbon footprints, often expressed the opinion that the planet would be better off if they had not been born. The students were simply overwhelmed by too much bad news. [The same thing can happen by reading to many Op-Eds.]

What was missing was the notion that each person CAN make a positive contribution to the planet. To make these benefits as tangible as footprints, Norris developed the concept of “Handprints,” and set up a website with an app in beta which lets you calculate your handprint and pledge ways you intend to enlarge it. [While you want your footprint to get smaller, you want your handprint to grow.] You then share the action through various social media networks (Facebook for now, but Twitter and Google+ soon). As friends make the same pledge, your handprint increases.

Time interviewed cognitive scientist Elke Weber about the concept. Weber feels that the handprint might remedy the difficulty many people have in moving from awareness of global warming to taking action to bring about change. “If we have a positive goal in mind that we can take small, manageable steps toward, we feel good —and are more likely to keep going. Step by step by hand.”

Small steps certainly work for me. It’s been a lovely spring day. This morning I helped plant a tree, a Yoshino cherry, in Wooster Square, as it turns out in front of the house of an old friend. I heard a beautiful baby girl was born in Denmark. And I’m about to go back to handprinter to make my pledge. For now you’ll have to look for it on my Facebook page.

If anyone still needs a Mother’s Day gift, just go to, make a pledge, and tell your mom what you did. If she’s like me, it will make her heart sing. 

Have a great weekend.

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

Monday, May 7, 2012

Meatless Monday: Looking Beyond “Organic”

It seems the mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GMO) ingredients is not likely to happen anytime soon, at least in Connecticut. We came close, but at the 11th hour, the bill was eviscerated, apparently in response to industry pressure and the threat of lawsuits. Rep. Richard Roy, the original sponsor of HB 5117, has withdrawn his support for it.

Until such a bill becomes the law, those of us who wish to avoid GMOs in the food we eat should be looking beyond the “organic” label on the products we purchase. Those labeled “NON-GMO Certified” in addition to “USDA Organic”  are the best choices.

The Non-GMO Project is a “non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.” In 2005, The Natural Grocery Company in Berkeley, CA and the Big Carrot Natural Food Market in Toronto joined forces to create the organization, founded with the goal of “creating a standardized meaning of non-GMO for the North American food industry.”  

The Non-GMO Project works in several different capacities to ensure the availability of non-GMO products and to help support informed choice. It offers North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products. 

In order to earn the NON-GMO Project seal, every “at-risk” ingredient (one which is currently being grown in GMO form in America) is tested. Following the test, which must indicate that the ingredient is below 0.9% GMO, the Project “requires rigorous traceability and segregation practices to be followed in order to ensure that the tested ingredients are what get used in the finished product … So in short, what our seal means is that a product has been produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients.” The NON-GMO Project states, “Certified organic products cannot intentionally include any GMO ingredients … You can be doubly sure if the product also has a Non-GMO Project Verified Seal.”

The group also works to educate consumers about GMOs. They urge consumers to be particularly vigilant about “at-risk” ingredients including soybeans, canola, cottonseed, corn, and sugar from sugarbeets. You can download a free Shopping Guide on the website as a pdf. The Guide is also available as a free App for your iPhone. 

The site also offers a number of action ideas. It is important to realize that as consumers we can exert a tremendous amount of power. 

Here is an example from last week. For months, a “Boycott Kashi” (cereal) campaign had been gaining momentum on Facebook and Twitter. Consumers, after discovering that the products contained some GMO ingredients, felt they had been misled by the “natural” label on the cereal boxes and called for higher standards from the company. Late in April, a Rhode Island grocer pulled the Kashi products from his shelves when he found out the cereals contained GMO soy. The boycott campaign, according to USA Today, “went viral.”

In this case, the consumers won. One week ago Kashi released this YouTube video in response:


Happy Monday, everyone. Remember, we have the power.

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things 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.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On My Radar 5.5.12

Recent News. Happenings. Discoveries…Here are some of the items on my radar.

The Green is on the mend. And thanks to a number of generous donations, the price tag for the City of New Haven is much lower than was expected. You can see photos of the air spading and composting here.

Rock to Rock met its $100, 000 fundraising goal (double the amount of last year’s)! The total raised was well over $90,000 on April 21, the morning of the ride. On May 2, event organizer Joel Tolman emailed this news: “This morning, IKEA New Haven chipped in with the amount we needed to reach our $100,000 goal.” Over 750 riders participated in the various rides (and had lots of fun). The money raised supports the efforts of 21 environmental groups. The money is still coming in. As of today, the total is $100,154! 

Chris Randall captured two loraxes passing West Rock.
Neighborhood Housing Service’s Home Improvement and Energy Conservation Lab was awarded Platinum LEED status. Read more about it and check out the before and after photos hereThis is a big deal. The lab joins three other LEED Platinum buildings in New Haven – Kroon Hall (Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies), Yale Sculpture Building and Gallery, and 360 State Street (a 500 unit apartment building).

Higher One celebrated the opening of its new headquarters in Science Park. 

MakeHaven, a gathering place and workshop for makers, creators, tinkerers and dreamers, has opened on 266 State Street. The May 16 workshop on “Light Your Bike(with electroluminescent wire) is filled. But you can purchase a ticket ($60) for a second workshop, date TBA.

There’s a new source of news in town – The Daily Nutmeg, an online publication delivered free to subscribers via email.

United Community Nursery School is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Happy Birthday UCNS! Thanks for providing a great start to school (and life) for hundreds of New Haven kids over the past 5 decades.

Sustainable fish is often on the IKEA New Haven restaurant menuThe fish? Saithe from Norway. More about this in a future post.

The number of owner/members in the Elm City Market continues to grow. When the store opened its doors on November 2, membership was at 750. There were 1505 members when the store’s site was last updated.

SlowFood Shoreline made a well-attended (as in sold out) foraging expedition to Wolfe Park in Monroe on April 28. I was sorry I had to miss it.

CitySeed Farmers Markets at Wooster Square (Sat.) and Edgewood Park (Sun.) resume their summer schedules this week.

11:34 pm ET
The perigee (closest to earth) full moon on May 5, 2012 will be as much as 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than other full moons of 2012. Don’t miss this spectacular free event!

May 12th
9:00 am - noon
My friend Tim and I will be planting trees in Wooster Square.

May 16th
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Marydale DeBor will speak on Plow to Plate
at Sitar Indian Restaurant
45 Grove Street, New Haven

ontheroadtogreenness NEWS: 
I passed my Master Gardener written test and am now out and about doing my community service hours and fielding questions in the New Haven County Master Gardening office. Need some free advice? Call us at 203.407.3168.

I have added a new gadget to the blog – Google Translate. You can now read my blog in nearly every language, including Esperanto, instantly. Give it a try.   

I survived a cyberattack from South Korea which resulted in an advertisement for Windows in my comments section on a number of posts. I think I caught them all, and  since I will now be approving all comments before they are posted, it should never happen again.

My page views continue to rise. Thanks for all the tweets, +1s and forwards. Please “visit” again soon. Together we can make a difference.