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Archive for the ‘Being Green’ Category

Oven-roasted mushrooms and asparagus.

This post is long overdue. Well, as you know, Easter came — and with it a ridiculous brunch featuring bacon, ham, and several roasts. After six weeks of abstaining from all meat, it was surreal stabbing into a slab of prime rib (thankfully, there were mimosas to go with it), and I couldn’t really eat it. More than anything, I just felt my usual brunch-is-so-wasteful guilt — but times ten.

Still, it’s been nice to be a carnivore again, mostly because I don’t have to think quite so much about what to make for dinner; I never realized how much I depend on chicken in my mealtime repertoire.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the things I discovered by giving up meat for 40 days.

Even though I was training for a marathon and really depleting my energy stores, I never felt especially hungry or weak due to my lack of meat. I think it’s a myth that we truly need meat for optimal nutrition — even protein. (My kids loved the Greek yogurt and almond butter smoothies I made for breakfast.)

It’s a fun challenge to experiment with substitutes for things like taco meat (add a little cornmeal to your beans before mashing) and chicken salad sandwiches (egg salad with curry powder and olive oil mayo on toasted Ezekiel bread, mmmm). Since the pasta-rice-potato rotation got old very quickly, I was forced to be creative with main dish veggies — like my favorite oven-roasted eggplant — and protein-packed vegetable soups like this one.

I also found that having limited choices is easier in a way, especially at restaurants, where three vegetarian options is about the norm.

My overall impression is that eating less meat is a really good idea — for your family’s health, for the environment (cows being one of the main sources of greenhouse gasses), and for your wallet. And it’s actually pretty easy to do. Here are a few tips for becoming a less-meatatarian:

1. Start by going veg one day a week. You’ve probably heard of Meatless Mondays, but if Mondays don’t work (maybe that’s the day you’re eating leftover roast chicken from Sunday dinner), then pick another day. It can be a different day each week. If once a week freaks you out, go for once every other week.

Arugula with avocado and roasted potatoes.

2. Instead of focusing on the meat you can’t eat, focus on all the delicious foods you can eat. This time of year, the vegetables are especially enticing. I recommend visiting the farmer’s market or join a CSA; you’ll be drooling over all the gorgeous produce you’ll get. And don’t forget super satisfying starches like pasta (I know, how could you forget pasta?), sushi rice, and roasted new potatoes. An arugula salad topped with warm roasted potatoes and a lemony vinaigrette is definitely as delicious as a chicken breast.

3. Eat real food. I’m not a big fan of fake meat. It’s usually very highly processed, full of salt, and made from weird things like hydrolyzed soy protein. I know I might sound a little harsh, but I bet we can all live without sausage patties for one day a week.

4. Try new recipes. There are some good vegetarian recipes here (Have you tried the farro risotto yet? Italian Vegetable Soup?), but beyond these, definitely branch out and try some new stuff. If you still equate vegetarian cooking to the starchy funkiness in the Moosewood cookbooks, I suggest treating yourself to a new(er) vegetarian cookbook, like The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook or Mark Bittman’s encyclopedic How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both of these books are very inspiring and are well used around here, even on our meat-eating days.

5. Enjoy what you’re eating. It’s okay to feel a little deprived once in a while, but you shouldn’t be miserable. Plant-based foods can be every bit as satisfying and delicious as meat, even more so when you think about it. All it takes is a little positive spin — and of course some tasty recipes. While a pile of steamed kale might not satisfy your cravings, maybe some delicious oven-roasted mushrooms would? Not feeling inspired by your pot of pasta and summer squash? Toss it with some cheesy basil pesto. The fruit bowl isn’t enticing you? May I suggest making (fresh strawberry) lemonade?

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There are many good reasons why you should eat wild salmon instead of farmed salmon, and a few good reasons why you probably don’t (I’ll get to those in a minute). In case this isn’t something that keeps you up at night reading internet blogs about sustainable fish, here’s a rundown of some of the issues:

1) Wild salmon (which, by the way, is almost always from the Pacific side of the world, including Alaskan, Columbia River, Copper River, king or chinook, silver, and sockeye) are generally higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids than farmed.

2) Wild salmon are significantly lower in contaminants (things like PCBs, heavy metals such as mercury, and dyes) than their farmed brethren. While the health benefits of eating any salmon (wild or farmed) probably outweigh the risks from contaminants, this is not necessarily the case if you’re pregnant, nursing, or a small child.

3) Eating wild Pacific salmon helps keep the market for sustainably fished salmon strong and protects fish populations. Since wild Atlantic salmon (a different species than Pacific) have been overfished to the point of becoming Endangered, almost all Atlantic salmon for sale in stores or restaurants is now farmed (this includes Norwegian salmon, Scottish, etc., although there are Atlantic salmon fish farms all over the world, including in the Pacific).

4) Wild salmon lead a truly amazing life — you know, spawning in a river then traveling to the ocean and then swimming sometimes hundreds of miles back upstream to spawn. All that swimming and living (and eating) in a variety of environments makes the fish magnificent pictures of health and robustness. Obviously not happening on a fish farm.

5) Most conventional fish farms are pretty awful in terms of overcrowding, disease, and contamination. The fish live in nets about the size of a football field and are fed a diet of pellets made from fish byproducts, grains, and of course dye to make them the pretty pink color they would naturally turn if they were eating their usual diet of crustaceans and whatnot.

5) Because the fish farms are so crowded (and I imagine lousy places to live if you’re a fish who wants to swim hundreds of miles), many fish escape into the wild, which seems okay but it’s not. These escapees disrupt the spawning habits of the wild fish and have overrun wild-salmon habitats; this competition puts even more pressure on wild fish to survive.

6) The fish farms also spread disease and parasites to the wild-salmon habitat. Ick.

Okay then, those are the reasons why wild fish are a better choice. But as I mentioned, there are perfectly reasonable reasons why we all don’t “vote with our dollars” and make unsustainable fish farming a thing of the past. Here, in a nutshell, is the rub:

Wild salmon cost about three times more than farmed, are only available fresh during the summer and fall, and definitely don’t always have that uniformly sumptuous, creamy-rich taste that farmed Atlantics are known for. I was at a dinner party a few weeks ago where the host served a behemoth salmon fillet, which was fresh (in January) so obviously farm raised. It was delicious, and she was able to feed 10 people (adults and kids) for, oh I’m guessing, probably about 20 bucks. Whereas, wild salmon would have cost easily three times that much, plus it would have been frozen, and it might have been a little dry…

So, I get why we haven’t all eaten our last bite of Atlantic salmon.

I can relate. I am also fortunate because my husband goes to Alaska every summer and brings back an embarrassment of frozen king salmon fillets. We had to buy an second chest freezer to store it all. So we eat wild salmon once or twice a week. What I suggest for people who don’t have a freezer full of wild salmon is to treat salmon like meat. Eat it occasionally and, since it costs about $20 a pound, don’t screw it up when you cook it. (Another tip is to buy more when it’s fresh, and probably a bit cheaper, and freeze it; wrap it really well and it should keep for a few months. Canned salmon is almost always wild, by the way, but of course, it’s in a can.).

Wild salmon is less fatty and therefore slightly less moist and rich than farmed. I suggest instead of grilling it, which can dry it out quickly, bake it in the oven. I recently tried this and eureka! it was delicious, tender, and very simple to make. Here’s the recipe:

Baked Wild Salmon

Ingredients

1 salmon fillet, cut into serving-size (3-5 oz.) pieces
Lemon slices
Garlic cloves
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Butter, softened (an herb butter is especially nice and you can make it while the salmon is cooking; see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 425. Lightly oil a shallow roasting pan or baking dish and put the fish pieces in skin side down. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the lemon slices and garlic on and around the fish (this isn’t crucial to the recipe, but I like the way the lemon and garlic infuse the fish with their scents — and they make your house smell like them instead of fish). Bake for about 10-20 minutes until the flesh doesn’t look raw. It will be still pink and should be slightly underdone when you take it out of the oven. If some pieces are thinner than others, you can remove them as they get done. As you can see in the photo, my pieces were too large so they didn’t cook evenly; smaller ones work much better. Once it’s out of the oven, let the salmon rest under a tin foil tent for a few minutes. While the fish is resting, put a pat or dollop of butter on the fish and let it melt.

Herb Butter

In a bowl, mix with a fork:
1 stick of (organic unsalted) butter with any herbs you like (preferably chopped fresh ones, about 1/2 cup) and some chopped garlic and salt.
I’ve used parsley and chives, but tarragon would be fabulous, too.

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When I first saw the headline that the USDA is planning to approve genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa next week, I thought, “Geez, that’s bad. But whatever.” I’m not a huge sprouts gal. But then it hit me, “hey that’s what cows eat” — at least the pastured cows who live on sustainable organic farms and give us organic milk, organic dairy products, and grass-fed beef.

According to an “urgent” email plea, sent out by Gary Hirshberg, “CE-Yo” (cute, huh) of Stonyfield Farm, this is a very important issue to anyone who cares about organic foods. In addition to concerns that GE crops (also called GMOs for genetically modified organisms) lead to pesticide-resistant super-weeds that require the use of more and more toxic chemicals, “the biggest potential problem posed by GE alfalfa is the likely contamination of organic alfalfa, which is used as feed by most organic dairies.”

The decision being made by the FDA is actually not whether to allow GE alfalfa to be grown — apparently that battle has already been lost — but whether to regulate production to ensure (or at least attempt to ensure) that organic alfalfa is protected from mingling with its GE counterpart under a mandate of “coexistence.” While I’m not always a fan of more government regulation, I do think we consumers and eaters deserve to be able to choose to buy organic foods that we know for sure are free of icky GE ingredients.

Here is link to a much more articulate article on the subject.

In case you’re wondering why GMOs are so bad, here’s what the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public interest advocacy group, has to say on the subject:

Currently, up to 40 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as is 80 percent of soybeans. It has been estimated that upwards of 60 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves–from soda to soup, crackers to condiments–contain genetically engineered ingredients.

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.

Well, all-righty-then. So, what to do? If you’re motivated and believe in the system, I suggest contacting your rep in congress and making sure he or she knows that you know and care about placing restrictions on genetically engineered alfalfa and that you support the integrity of organic farming. And if you want to keep GMOs off your family’s menu, here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy organic food. You are voting with your dollars here, and the more of us who vote for organic foods (which by law are free of pesticides and GE ingredients), the stronger the message we send to farmers, food producers, and the government.
  • Eat food. By “food” I mean real, whole foods and not processed ones (“edible food-like substances” as Michael Pollan calls them). You know there are no GE ingredients in a bag of organic apples. Can’t say the same about NutriGrain bars. This is probably the best way to avoid GMOs.
  • Look for non-GMO certification on the label, if possible. This is useful if you’re buying non-organic things (look for “rBST-Free” on Greek yogurt, etc.), but it doesn’t indicate anything about the use of pesticides.

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This topic falls into the “why didn’t I think of that?” category big time. Seriously, after feeling itchy about plastic bags (and especially about “baggies”) for years, why it never occurred to me to create and sell reusable sandwich and snack bags — cute ones at that! — is beyond beyond. But, luckily for the world, someone else’s synapses were firing, and adorable reusable bags exist.

Plastic bags take about 1,000 years to degrade and contaminate soil and water in the process, plus it takes a heck of a lot of non-renewable resources (i.e oil) to make the millions of bags we’re throwing away every day, so I’m thrilled to support the businesses that make a product I can (re)use instead. Granted, many reusables are plastic; still, at least we use them more than once before they hit the landfill. I really don’t want to get preachy, but if you’re not already using them, may I ask why?

  • Is it because you think they’re too expensive? Granted, some, like my favorites, LunchSkins, can run you about $9 each, there are others that come in at less than $5 — about the price of a box of Glad bags, right? And while LunchSkins seem pricey, I can personally vouch that they last longer than several boxes of Glad bags. My daughter’s bag has been in pretty much constant use since she started pre-K (so over a year now), including lots of camp and picnic lunches this summer, and it still works and (almost) looks like new.

I love that it’s cute and completely devoid of princesses or unicorns.

  • Is it because you think your kid will accidentally throw it away or not bring it home? That is a reasonable concern, and it took some time for my son to get the concept when we first switched to reusable bags. I have to admit, we did have some shrinkage of our bag inventory, which totally defeats the purpose I know. At first, I tried some Fresh Pack bags, which work great but do look kinda like something a kid might throw away.

It's understandable how a first grader might accidentally toss this one, right? Okay, maybe it's just my kid...

So I switched and got him a snackTaxi bag. It’s blue and red with baseballs and footballs on it — pretty tough to miss. He’s been using the same bag for over a year now.

More options from snackTAXI.

  • Is it because you think they’ll get nasty and you’ll end up throwing them away anyway? Again, legitimate issue. But all of the bags I’ve seen are dishwasher safe, and the all-cloth ones can even be thrown in the laundry. Often, the bags just need a thorough rinsing after school; otherwise I wash them with a dish brush and soap and hang upside down (on the handle of a cutting board) to dry overnight. Clean and simple. Really.

Washable cotton bags from Graze Organic; gotta love the “surprise” bag.

  • Is it because you don’t know where to buy them? That’s easy. Check out one of my favorite websites, reuseit.com. Not only does it sell several different types of reusable sandwich and snack bags (all the ones I’ve mentioned here plus lots more), but you can find nifty reusable lunch sacks, Bento boxes, shopping bags, coffee filters, and water bottles there as well. I don’t necessarily want to recommend shopping for more stuff, but once that box of baggies is empty, please consider not buying any more.

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