Bug Off!!!

Personally, I try to steer clear of bugs and bug repellent to the best of my ability. My husband is not very fond of bugs either especially mosquitoes! I wish that I had a video to share of him running from a swarm of mosquitoes in Yosemite (on our Honeymoon) waving his arms, shaking his head, and generally looking like he was a mad hatter. Unfortunately mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance, they can also transmit disease. In much of the US there is concern that mosquitoes might transmit West Nile and ticks might transmit Lyme disease.

When it comes to ticks the most important thing to remember is to check yourself (and your kids) thoroughly (from head to toe) after an outdoor outing, especially in areas with brush or tall grasses. Ticks that have been properly removed within 24 to 72 hours of attaching are unlikely to transmit Lyme disease (so it is important to check early and often).

Mosquito bites are unfortunately unforgiving, and once bitten there is not much you can do! So the goal with mosquitoes is to keep them away!

Avoid the bugs: Get rid of the stink, whether it be salty sweat or sweet perfume, bugs like smells, so if you want to be bug free, keep it clean and clear. Mosquitoes are attracted to lactic acid and CO2, so dont run or breathe when you are outside. Just kidding. It might actually work better to get the bugs to avoid YOU. Several different companies are working on formulations that keep mosquitoes from populating grassy areas, basically natural insecticides using ingredients like soybean oil (suffocates the buggers) and garlic oil (keeps them away). One such product that appears to get good reviews is Mosquito Barrier. Ive not tried the stuff myself, but their site looks fairly convincing!

Stay inside at dawn & dusk: A good suggestion is to avoid being outside at dawn or dusk in mosquito infested areas as these are the littler buggers prime biting times. This is especially good advice for the very young and the elderly in areas with West Nile Virus.

Standing water eliminate it or Mix-it-Up: Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. If you have a pond, puddle, bird bath or other small (or large) body of standing water near your home mix-it-up on a daily basis (or at most every 2 days) or eliminate it completely. If you have a pond or pool look into other safe ways to eliminate mosquito larvae. I am also certain that Ive both heard and read about some sort of soy based product that can be put in ponds or standing water that interrupts the larvae development, but I could not find any good info online. If any readers are familiar with this, please send the information my way or comment below!

Use an insect repellent outdoors: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends an EPA-registered insect repellent such as those with DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Personally, I do my best to stay away from DEET although I have been known to use it in generous amounts while camping. Hopefully, in the future I will be able to steer clear of DEET. If you do choose to use a DEET based product, beware that DEET can cause toxicity if it is over applied, especially in kids under the age of 8!!! Whatever you do please do not apply any sort of insect repellent to children under 6 months!

Picaridin was developed by Bayer and it supposedly surpasses DEET in being non-irratating and odorless (I do not have personal experience with Picardin). In addition, unlike DEET, Picaridin does not dissolve plastic! Nonetheless, Picaridin is another artificially derived chemical that comes with a list of precautions, so I found it rather encouraging to read numerous reviews that indicate repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus are highly effective.

The following non-toxic bug sprays get good marks:

Repel – Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent gets good reviews in regards to keeping away the skeeters.
Herbal Insect Repellent by Burts Bees also seems to be effective against mosquitoes, but may attract some other bugs

Our family has actually used All Terrain insect repellant and found it to be somewhat effective. It wasnt perfect, but it was much better than no application at all! And, they even offer Kids Herbal Armor that is supposed to be effective for children ages 6 months to 6 years.

Permethrin treated clothing: I also read recently that Permethrin treated socks and shoes are very effective at preventing ticks from jumping on to kids (or adults) while frolicking in the outdoors. And Permethrin treated clothing is effective at eliminating mosquitoes; however, Permethrin must never be sprayed directly on the skin and clothing treated with the stuff should only be worn after it has completely dried! Personally, Id consider it wise to keep away from anything that cant be sprayed directly on the skin. Checking for ticks is not such a big deal (Ive had a tick bite and lived to tell). And, there are other ways to avoid mosquito bites (Ive had Malaria and lived to tell.)

Further Reading: There are a lot of sites and articles on bug control, but I found a few that Id recommend:

Natural Mosquito Relief

Insect Repellent and your Kids

Colorado State Extension on West Nile & Mosquitoes

My Asparagus Adventure

This morning I woke up to low clouds and high humidity. If I hadn’t known better I might have thought I was on the Oregon coast and not the Colorado plains. After a nice walk around the neighborhood I got in the car and headed east to pick asparagus at Monroe Farms our CSA. As I drove east the clouds began to lift and the wind picked up. By the time I reached Monroe (about 40 miles and 45 minutes away) it was partly cloudy with a gentle wind blowing. In about 45 minutes time I picked enough asparagus to complete a row and fill my yellow bucket to the brim. Indeed, I think I may have picked a peck of asparagus.

By now it was fairly windy and dusty, so I didn’t dawdle around visiting with the chickens or even a goat! Instead, I packed up my peck of asparagus and headed homeward. As I was driving west towards the mountains the sky began to darken and the wind continued to grow stronger, while dust from plowed fields filled the air. Soon the horizon took on a grayish green sort of look. To the southwest (the direction I was headed) there were some wispy clouds fingering towards the earth. Goodness I thought to myself It looks just like they say it does before a tornado and I blissfully drove on. Id checked the weather before I left and I was listening to the radio and there was no mention of bad weather in the air.

Not five minutes later I reached an intersection with a stop sign. The wind had really picked up and suddenly the dust was so thick I couldn’t see. At first I wasn’t worried, because I was already stopped. The wind then started to smack the car and I REALLY couldn’t see anything beyond my windshield the worst black out that I have ever experienced. A few huge rain drops fell and then all at once it was clear, the dust settling, blue sky and sunshine peeking out. As the blood pulsed through my veins, and my heart thumped, I made my left turn onto HWY 85 in Gilcrest and headed down the road. I then started to notice chunks of metal, road signs and various other detriment scattered in the roadway and neighboring fields. Traffic came to a stop and upon surveying the land to the left and the right of the car I identified large trees missing limbs, power poles without power lines, a barn missing a roof and a horse trotting down the road followed by a group of men.

I pulled off into a gas station (where there was no power) and asked the perhaps silly question was that a tornado? Indeed, it was. Holy cow. All I signed up for was some asparagus! Thank God I was okay and my son was home safe. My heart goes out to the truckers just up the road who’s semi’s were rolled, and the farmers and families who lost barns, parts of their homes, fences and who knows what else.

For more on the tornadoes that touched down in Gilcrest (my tornado), Miliken and Windsor, Colorado around noon today follow this link. (Update: video of the tornado.) I apologize that I don’t have more pictures to share, but alas I didn’t take my camera. And, even if I had, I am not a photo journalist.

My Asparagus adventure will continue over the next few days, as I follow up with canning, pickling, blanching and or freezing. But for right now, I think Ill make a cup of green tea and thank the stars that I made it home in one piece!

Update: The worst news from this Tornado episode is that it has supposedly devastated the Windsor Dairy, which I believe to be the dairy that provides milk to Organic Valley in our area!

Being green can mean dirty business

I challenge YOU to take a hit for the Earth and use recycled toilet paper (no not the kind someone else has already used). Everyday millions of Americans wipe their tushes with paper that has been bleached and quilted to a fluffy white perfection. The paper toilet industry has led a massive and misleading campaign over the decades to convince you, the hapless buyer, that you need to wipe your butt with something so soft you could use it for a pillow. Personally I don’t buy their advertising my butt does not need quadruple quilted TP and neither does yours. According to the National Resource Defense Council: If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees. According to Charmin customers, the average household uses a roll of TP every five days, so if every home home in the US switched to recycled TP for a single year that would save (365 divided by 5 times 423,900 trees) nearly 31 million trees!

I must confess that despite last weeks post on Green Envy, I am very smug about my toilet paper. I am so smug that I will recommend my favorite brand, in hopes that you will take the challenge and switch. Over the years I have tested several brands of recycled TP and I have come to prefer Earth First. I may not require quadruple quilting, but I do require paper that holds up under normal use and is decently soft. If I didnt care about those things, I might as well use a ball of wool or some old newsprint! There are brands of recycled TP that dont do the job and, there are brands that are softer or if you prefer, more quilted than others. Earth First falls into the category of softer and quilted, which is reason number one that I recommend their bath tissue.

Most importantly our family has found that Earth First Bath Tissue holds up on the job while boasting high post consumer recycled content. Earth First TP is made of 100 % Recycled Paper Content AND 80% Post Consumer Recycled Paper. Unlike some recycled paper TP the color is a bright white (versus gray) that has been obtained in an eco-friendly process rather than using chlorine bleach.

In our area Earth First Bath Tissue is sold through Costco at a very competitive price. Regular grocery stores, such as Kroger, often carry Seventh Generation, which is a good substitute, but tends to cost more. And, just in case you are wondering, I have not been paid, bribed or gifted into writing this review. My motivation simply stems from the fact that I see TP as one modern invention that I couldnt comfortably live without and I dont think that you should have to either. Fortunately post consumer content TP gives paper a second life and cuts down on the destruction of virgin forests. So, save a tree (or 31 million) and switch to recycled TP today!

BTW in researching this article I came across some comments claiming that recycled TP is unnecessary, because so much TP is made from managed forests. Then Life Goggles published this story today indicating that in fact much of our paper products (Kleenex and TP alike) are in fact made from virgin forests. Follow the link above to Life Goggles and further your resolve to use recycled!

A great resource from the National Resource Defense Council with information on all sorts of recycled paper products.

Revolution Money Exchange

As you all know I am a big fan of buying new/used or artesian goods to lighten my foot print. In many cases we get our new/used goods from Craigslist, but there are also times that we have bought baby things and what not online. For example there is the great site Etsy where folks can sell goods they make themselves. And, there is diaperswappers, which is a cloth diapering Mecca of information with moms ( and sometimes dads) buying, selling, trading all sorts of cloth diapers and accessories. Lately, a lot of users at both Etsy and diaperswappers have been switching from PayPal (or using in addition to PayPal) Revolution Money Exchange (RME).

Through May 15, 2008 anyone who signs up with RME and gets a verified account will get $25 to spend. No kidding. I was a little skeptical at first, but after watching the mommas on diaperswappers successfully use the service, and receiving an invite from a friend, I signed up. So for so good.

Sign up today (for free) and be on your way to sending, receiving and withdrawing money for free. There is a fee to receive payment by check and other extra services, but that is pretty much the norm for any online money or banking service. Unlike PayPal, they do not allow credit card transactions. And, for those that are wondering, RME is a legitimate business, you can read all about it in this USA Today article. Then follow the link below to sign up and share in the Green!

Earth Day Pledge Re-cap

On Earth Day 2008 I challenged bloggers on Social Spark to blog about their personal Earth Day pledge. Below is a re-cap of the blog posts and links to each pledge that I received. Green love is in the air!

Daydreamz is motivated to eliminate her plastic bag stash, start using recyclable bags and start biking to work! Personally, except for rain and snow days, Ive always found biking to work to be invigorating. Please let us know how it goes!

A shutterbugs life is going to sign up for home recycling pick-up and is going to recycle a bunch of old computer equipment. Recycling old electronics is very important, because the almost always contain mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals! Staples is a great place to go for recycling computers and similar equipment.

NWI is going to cut down on his water usage. This is a big one and should be a goal we all strive to achieve!

Pams family is already doing a lot to live green, but they often run out of time to commit to recycling. This Earth Day Pam is committing to make the time to recycle – making every day an Earth Day! Maybe Pam will check in with us periodically and let us know how her recycling goes?

Select Visions is proof that public service commercials do pay off. She recently saw a commercial on phantom power, and is now committed to not letting anyone (or anything) steal (or waste) her electricity!

Sue of a Hand Me Down Life pledges to teach her children how to plant trees and to start composting food waste!

And, Time shadow wrider is working to grow more of her own food, canning and buying local!

Other links showing the diversity of life experiences when it comes to planet saving:

Happy Earth Day by Jayvee

We want a greener earth by Life Long Sharing

It is Earth Day Today by neelkanth

If you made a pledge to live greener this Earth Day and you would like to share, please let us know what you have pledged to do in the comments!

Don’t forget to come back Friday for the Carnival. Green Me will be taking the munchkiroo to visit his grandparents, but Iggi will still be around to post the carnival. Please note that we’ve received so many submissions, that all submissions received on April 22 or later will be published in the following carnival!

Earth Day Adventures

As we all know by now, today is Earth Day, and we had some errands to run. We are fortunate to live a hop and a skip from a variety of stores, including Target, King Soopers, Pet Smart and Borders Books to the East. And a few local shops such as Deja Brew (an organic fair trade coffee shop), a bike shop, ChiDog and Blissful Family (a Buddhist and natural toys shop) to the West. This morning I needed to pick up a prescription at Target and a few supplies for our pets at Pet Smart. And, since the weather is beautiful and it is Earth Day, I thought wed take the bike and trailer, but first I had to fix not one, but two flat tires.

Living local: what does it really mean?

Recently the NY Times and the Guardian (UK) have published articles purporting that locally grown foods are often worse, or at the least no better, for the environment than ones flown in from places like Kenya. Frankly, I don’t really think their argument holds water other than pointing out that nothing in life is black and white. Nonetheless, these naysayers have given me pause, pause to think about why my family has chosen to live the way we do and what it has done for us. When it comes down to it, the changes that we’ve made (or are working on) have served to connect us to our community and build relationships (including our marital one). We’ve become more mindful of what we spend our money on, what we bring home and what we put in our mouths. Perhaps we have failed to reduce our carbon imprint as much as wed like, but we have lived a richer and fuller life.

There is no denying that our initial motivation was to save the planet. However, planet saving is a non-scientific, non-measurable goal without any prizes for the diligent. And so, there must be some other reward to keep us (and others like us) on track. In fact, these little changes have resulted in an ever growing pile of locally grown organic carrots, while the imported stick market has crashed. Our family doesnt just buy local and or organic food or locally made goods because we want to save the planet, but because when we buy local we feel connected to our community. We feel part of a larger plan and we like it that way.

Local food: This category has probably been the most rewarding. My husband and I first signed up for a CSA when we lived in a Condo in the middle of a smallish city that was big enough to make us feel cut off from our food. Our weekly ventures to the farmers market to pick up our box of produce made us feel like we belonged to a community. We chit-chatted with the farmers, shared their recipes, and generally ate healthier than we would have otherwise. We also expanded our horizons, learning how to cook fennel and fava beans. Unfortunately, despite force feeding myself kale numerous times, I still think the stuff is wretched (although not as bad as cilantro) how do I wish that kale was not a CSA staple. My husband continues to enjoy the home-cooked meals that I prepare (and he has even ventured to cook a few of his own) and an unintended bonus, is that eating all that fresh produce, he has lost weight gained during his Lean Cuisine bachelorhood.

Two years ago we moved to a town of about 80,000 with a lingering connection to its agricultural roots. Our home is less than a mile from the Boulder County Fair Grounds and the Longmont Farmers Market. In nice weather we ride our bikes or walk, returning home loaded with fresh food and good spirits. My favorite farmer to buy from is an elderly man who runs a very small scale operation. While some tables are covered by tents and sell rows of food, this man has an umbrella and bar table with a few baskets of strawberries, tomatoes, bundles of lettuce and so on. He reuses containers and charges very fair prices. His success reminds me of my own efforts as a pre-teen selling bags of lettuce to the neighbors for a $1.

If youve been reading Green Me for long you already know that I think goats are fantastic. Thankfully, we live just a few miles from the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy. When I buy goat cheese, I buy Haystack, and I get a warm and fuzzy feeling because I can picture the baby goats romping. Plus, I know that this is a small local operation run by folks with big warm hearts. Ive also recently found a REALLY small scale goat dairy that sells milk which I will be buying for my son to drink as he nears the weaning age. He doesnt seem to have any problem with cow milk, but the two milks do have different nutritional profiles and since he wont be getting the benefit of his own mamas milk, I figure it is good to diversify. I might even try to make my own goat yogurt, sweetened with local honey. Yum!

One of the easiest foods to find locally is honey. Despite the national decline in the honey bee population our local bees and beekeepers appear to be prodigious. Weve got numerous apiaries in our neck of the woods, some of which border local organic farms and or open space land. Our favorite can only be found in the early fall and is made in south Longmont, not far from where we live. Ichiban honey is raw and so delightfully creamy that you might think there is butter mixed in, but it is simply pure honey. Nectar of the Gods may be a reference to mead, but I think that it should extend to honey. My husband would probably do anything for a slice of warm baked bread, slathered with butter and honey. Really, it is the simple pleasures in life that make it so sweet. And, for our family, those simple pleasures dont come in boxes imported from China or India or just about anywhere else. (Although after reading Three Cups of Tea, the next time I eat apricots, I will think fondly of the apricot farmers in the highlands of Pakistan.)

Artesian made goods: My husbands family lives in Michigan and we make an annual pilgrimage around the holidays to visit the Michigan folk. For the last few years weve been making and sending along Colorado gift baskets. This past Christmas we came across mini cheese trays. The trays were handmade locally from reclaimed hickory with beautiful variations in color and grain. So often in my life have I purchased presents, simply because I felt that it was the socially responsible thing to do, but the purchases never set right with my conscience. However, over the last few years I have found that buying local gives me the sense of supporting my neighbors. Sharing goods made in my hometown gives me the sense of sharing my life with friends and family. So, on our holiday trip to Michigan, we took along gifts of local goat cheese, handmade cheese trays and other locally made treats. I am not sure these gifts are better received than any other, but it certainly feels better to me to give items that I personally would use and cherish.

Normally, I wouldnt quantify myself as an artesian, but for our wedding in 2005, I made several hundred paper cranes to use as decorations and party favors. I wanted to do something beautiful and I wanted to create a keepsake, that wasnt sold for cheep and made in China. Ill admit to using real Japanese origami paper, but in such a situation, I believe that being authentic is just as important as being local. There are certain things in this world that are identified with particular cultures or regions of the world, and I think that the beauty of our modern world, is that we can all share in these experiences. I like to think of it as taking the local and sharing it on an international level. Origami paper falls into this category. Childrens books written in English, but printed in China do not. Back to the cranes, my original goal was to be genuine, cheap, and pretty, but in the end it turned into much more. Our upstairs neighbor had made Peace Cranes at the start of the Iraq war, and she gave us these to add to our mix. My hands started to give out and a dear friend came over and helped for a few hours even the cat got involved in the funbirds? Many of the cranes went home with guests, but we kept a collection that we now use as Christmas Tree ornaments. And, to this day I have fond memories of the experience.

Craigslist: Our household is addicted to Craigslist, so much so that our friends and relatives probably dread the stories. I think my favorite all-time Craigslist purchase is my food processor, which was 8 years old, but came packaged in a never opened box. More recently Ive been selling off baby items, such as a Svan Bouncer, that Id picked up used on eBay. Just yesterday I purchased two soccer balls for $5 (I joined a womens soccer league and severely need to practice). When I buy off of Craigslist, I get the same rush as I would bargaining in a foreign bazaar. Plus, I get to buy things from real people, some of whom seem a lot like me and others who are quite different. Either way, a Craigslist purchase is ultimately way more satisfying than a trip to a big box or the mall.

Natural Toys: When it comes to plastic, I was among the first in my social circles to push the panic button when it comes to toxins in kids toys. I am genuinely concerned about PVC leaching dioxins, BPA and phthalates, but I must also admit that I also fall into the snooty camp that thinks plastic toys are simply ugly junk. And, although I love my son, I also love to keep ugly junk out of my house (that exersaucer you see, is not really there). So far, my son seems to enjoy his hand made rattles from Vermont, his wooden blocks, and other not-plastic toys. On the other hand, yesterday we went on a play date to a friends house that has a 2 year old little girl. Their play area is filled with plastic toys that have flashing lights and make noise. And, although it was my sons grumpy time of day, he was in heaven. You dont believe me? When was the last time you saw a 9 month old with separation anxiety crawl around for over an hour with ZERO adult interaction exploring plastic toys, pushing buttons, chewing on plastic apples and banging plastic toys? Maybe it was because these were different toys than the ones he has at home, but maybe it is because they are made out of brightly colored plastic that DOES stuff. I mean if kids didnt like the stuff, people wouldnt buy it, would they?

So, although non-plastic toys make me FEEL good, I am not sure that they really make me a better parent or improve our quality of life, other than keeping our aesthetics in place. However, I will say that petroleum based goods, imported from overseas, should cost more. As the Story of Stuff relates, the actual cost to the planet and society, is not reflected in the price paid to bring these cheep and non-durable goods home.

Composting: Like you, I was raised to abhor waste. And so, I always feel guilty, when I waste produce. To make things worse, I am a bit of a health nut, so I am always trying new things or buying produce (like kale) for its nutritional virtues, even though I know its likely to never make it in my pot. In the past, Id let unwanted produce sit in the produce drawer until it was slimy and most definitely not edible. There is no way to rescue produce that has hit the slime stage, but yet I always felt guilty on the trip to the garbage pail. With a compost bin, I realized that I have the freedom to send unloved produce back to its maker, before it gets to the slimy stage and be guilt free. Sure Ive wasted another kind of green, but that grows on trees, ne? I may not live on a farm, but the compost bin (our house came with two) makes me feel like I am part of the system. Another bonus to composting? Supposedly a huge percentage of the landfill is filled with food scraps, but ours is not. At this point, we often dont fill a medium sized kitchen bag in a week, but every other day (or more often) I empty a full compost pail outside. Chock another one up for improved quality of life.

Walking to the store: Big deal you say? Well, clearly YOU do not live in a state that is about the size of Great Britain, in which sprawl is the answer to everything and cities actually have rules about how tall you can build. Where we live, the few people who walk or bike to the store only do so because their car has broken down or they are unfortunate enough to not to own a car. So, when we show up at our local Super Box (a mere 4 blocks from our home) and push our mega jog stroller through the aisles we get looks. In reality, it is smaller than those shopping carts with the plastic car on front for kids to drive. However, in our car dominated world, we feel twice as good when we walk to the store. We feel even better when we hit three stores (Big Box, Grocery, and the corner Liquor Store) and we load up with much more than the clerk thought we could fit inside. When we walk to the store, we also have time to talk, breathe some fresh air, and get a little exercise. All around, a better experience than driving, and a definite quality of life improvement. My only regret is that we dont live walking (or even biking) distance to my husbands office, my school or the library. Someday.

Reusable Bags: Ive used reusable bags on and off for years. As a college student and in my early twenties, I was a bike commuter, so I crammed what I could in a backpack or messenger bag. When I lived in Boston, I shopped at Trader Joes and used two of their canvass bags (that was all I could carry on the T). Somewhere along the line I also picked up a Whole Foods mega canvass bag an invincible bag that could hold at least 3 paper bags worth of groceries, and had an extra long reinforced strap. The negative aspect of this bag was its ability to be filled so full (and heavy) that it became a hazard to my health. I remember slinging it across my shoulders and trying to bike homethe thing nearly got me killed! Eventually, my canvass bag collection became smaller (read shrunk, because I washed them) and funky with strange colors and stains. Then came the Chico bag. At the time we were still shopping at the Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers in Boulder. They are staffed by a healthy percentage of earth lovers, so when I offered up my canvass bags for free, I was mobbed with takers. Free from the canvass, I was able to buy a few Chico bags guilt free, and I am never going back. They are actually fun to use (seriously!) and I can fit 3 or 4 in my little purse, in addition to my wallet, shades, and phone. And, that is exactly what I need to do our weekly food shop. Over time we have picked up a few more, so we can do multiple errands in a row and never need a plastic or paper bag. This year we gave them as Christmas gifts and we had a great response. For me using reusable bags starts out as a challenge, but eventually it has become an obsession. I might forget to wear mascara 3 days out of 5, but I dont forget my Chico bag. And, I am proud of it!

Ultimately, all the green things we do on a regular basis are easy to do, because they improve our quality of life. If you are like me, you are willing to pay a little more in some instances, because you’d rather have a quality experience than a cheap experience. And, other times you’d rather save a few pennies or maybe a wad of cash to buy something used, when you really don’t need it to be shiny and new. So, I ask you, would you rather shop at your local big box retailer or your local farmers market? Would you rather shop at the same big box or your local artsy thrift shop? Would you rather your trash can be half empty or overflowing? In life, it is the small things that count and the experiences that add up to a lifetime. We only live once, so make the best of your time here on Earth and leave it a better place than you found it.

Perfectly Natural: Green Lawn Care

Spring is here and now is the time to start thinking about how to green your lawn care. The best way to keep your yard green does not involve adding synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, nor does it include a gas mower. In fact, perfectly natural lawn care can and will result in a perfectly green lawn. We’ve done this successfully for two years and in the front of our house, we sport one of the greener lawns in the neighborhood. Now there is no arguing that the most environmentally friendly lawn, is not a lawn at all (see our backyard to the left), but for various reasons (HOA rules, personal taste, etc.) many homeowners have grass lawns. So, if you have a lawn, but want to green it up this is the article for you!

Ecological Cooking

Ecological Cooking, by Jo Stepaniak & Kathy Hecker is a mini-encyclopedia of Vegan cooking. The book may not sport glossy pictures, but it is filled to the brim with instructions, ideas, tips and recipes that should help even a kitchen novice to start cooking vegan. In fact, the book is a veritable Joy of Cooking for the vegetarian chef. Technically, the recipes provided in the book are purely vegan, meaning that zero ingredients that contain animal products or foods that are made using animal products can be found in the book. Nevertheless, Ecological Cooking is a useful resource and guide whether you are simply looking to cook a few vegetarian meals or become a full blown vegan.

The first section of the book is filled with useful tips for an earth friendly kitchen. To start the authors provide a list of recommended kitchen gadgets and basic ingredients to have on hand in the vegan kitchen. Many of the suggested ingredients are standard pantry items, such as beans, flour and baking powder; however, other ingredients such as tahini, barley and miso may be less common. Next in line is a thorough glossary of special ingredients, such as agar gar, nutritional yeast, Seitan, Tempeh and TVP.

Suggested ingredients and the glossary of vegan foods are followed up with an inclusive list of Natural Foods Substitutions. As an experienced cook who is nevertheless terrible at stocking my pantry, I am always thrilled to find substitutions, as they often mean I can make a dish without an extra trip to the grocery store. This list is especially good for vegans (and some vegetarians) who avoid a variety of plant based foods that are made through the use animal byproducts. For example, bone char is used in the whitening process of commercially available white sugar, and according the list of substitutions, a vegetarian chef might substitute ½ cup maple syrup or 1 cup apple butter in a recipe that calls for ¾ cup processed white cane sugar.

Once you have read through the first section and stocked your pantry the aspiring vegan chef should be ready to cook. The recipe section of Ecological Cooking is chocked full of delicious recipes that range from variations on standard American fair to traditional ethnic recipes and everything in between, including a few recipes that must have been invented on accident. One recipe that is surprisingly good, but definitely not traditional, is the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole on page 163. I must confess that I only made this recipe, because I could not believe that it would taste good – but it did. Somehow, the combination of tomato sauce, tamari and cooked pecans makes a filling dish with a meaty texture. I am not sure exactly what this dish reminds me of, but perhaps you could think of it as similar to a spaghetti pie.

A perfect accompaniment to the Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole is the Daily Bread, found on page 84. Most bread is vegetarian; however, as mentioned above, processed white sugar is generally made using bone char. And, although many bread recipes are vegetarian, they are generally not vegan. The Daily Bread recipe is indeed vegan, using Sucanat instead of sugar and a mix of whole wheat and white flour. The recipe made nice heavy bread that was both filling and chewy. As I only have one loaf pan, I only made 1/3 the recipe, but this should not have affected the quality of the bread.

Ecological Cooking provides a variety of other bread recipes in addition to the Daily Bread. The recipes include: Chapatis, Anadama Bread, pita bread, sweet breads, pancakes, muffins and more. For anyone who wishes to eat more healthfully, while avoiding unnecessary processed foods and nasty ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, I highly recommend learning how to bake bread. Bread making (muffins and sweet breads included) is really quite simple, and once you have it down, takes very little time.

My favorite recipe from Ecological Cooking is the Alu Mattar on page 138. To make a complete protein out of this meal, I would recommend serving it with Chapatis. I am a succor for Indian food, but I am also lactose intolerant, and many Indian restaurants use cream or milk in their sauces. Consequently, I was thrilled to find this dairy free version of one of my favorite Indian dishes. I followed the recipe to a T except for the suggestion to garnish the dish with Cilantro, as both my husband and I abhor Cilantro. I enjoyed our Alu Mattar dinner so much that I found myself craving the stuff the next morning. We had leftovers, so I ate some with brown rice for breakfast. Tasty and much healthier than a slice of cold pizza!

Okay, so I have shared with you the gist of the book and a few of its best recipes, but you might still be wondering why vegan? If so, this excerpt from the back cover of the book should answer your question:

A meat-based diet affects:

The quantity and quality of our water supply

The worlds forests

The amount of fossil fuels consumed

Human hunger and health

The cruel part of this review is that the book is out of print and I plan to keep my copy, which Ive used and loved for nearly 10 years. You might be able to pick up your own Ecological Cooking second hand at Amazon or your local used book store; however, dont despair as the author does have a variety of other excellent vegan cookbooks. Vegan Vittles: Second Helpings is the best substitute of Ecological Cooking. Please visit Jo Stepaniaks website for books and lots of excellent vegetarian tidbits.

The recipes below have been reprinted with permission from the author.

Tomato, Mushroom and Pecan Casserole
Serves 8

1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
2 C chopped pecans
1 C cooked potatoes, diced small
1 C chopped celery
½ C sliced mushrooms
1 (4 oz) can tomato puree
1 C fresh bread crumbs
2 T tamari

Sauté onion in 1 tsp. olive oil until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Combine with remaining ingredients. Place in a lightly oiled casserole (I used a pie dish) and bake, covered for 30 minutes at 350 F. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.

Daily Bread
3 large loaves

4 C warm water
3 T (3 pkgs.) active dry yeast
½ C Sucanat
2 tsp. salt (optional*)
1/3 C safflower oil

Dissolve yeast in water. Add Sucanat, salt and oil. Stir well. Add flour, alternating whole wheat then white until you reach desired consistency [until dough pulls away from your hands without sticking]. Use as little flour as possible, since a soft dough will yield a moister bread. Knead 10-15 minutes on a floured surface. Form into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Turn dough to oil top and cover bowl with a damp cloth. Set in warm place for about 1 ½ hours, or until dough is doubled. Divide into 3 equal pieces. Form into loaves and place in greased pans. Let bread rest ½ hours, covered with a damp cloth. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

* The recipe says that the salt is optional, and as one who has recently baked bread without salt (as infants are not supposed to eat added salt), I do not recommend salt free bread, as it is rather blah.

Alu Mattar
Serves 6

3 T vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 T grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. tumeric
1 T Curry Powder (page 209) – I used premade Indian curry powder
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
½ C water
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chunked
4 C cooked, peeled, diced potatoes
1 ½ C frozen peas, thawed under hot tap water and drained
3 T fresh cilantro, or 1 ½ T dried cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onions for about 10 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add spices and stir fry for about a minute more. Remove from heat and place in a blender along with ½ cup water. Process until smooth. Poor back into skillet add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and peas. Cook for 10 minutes more, until hot. Garnish with cilantro before serving. Is delicious rolled up in Chapatis.

Green Me Tea: an eco-friendly teapot?

Green Me Tea is not the kind with antioxidants, but the kind that lessens its impact on our little blue green planet. Greening your tea is one small step that you can take to save both electricity and water. Read on to learn about the most energy efficient way to make tea, the best models of electric and stove-top kettles to buy, and how to maintain or clean-up an old or burnt tea kettle. Even if you are not in the market for a kettle, you just might learn a smidgen of history and a few cool facts about Green Me Tea.

Making tea is not high on most people’s list of wasteful, polluting deeds, but then most people have probably never seen this report. The sad fact is that most people boil more water than they need and they let their kettles run past the first boil. For example, according to the aforementioned report, if Brits were mindful of their tea practices, and boiled the right amount of water for the right amount of time, they would save enough electricity to power 75% of the street lights in the UK. Now just imagine those power savings spread across the globe…

The Energy Efficient Electric Kettle

But seriously, the most efficient tea kettle is surprisingly the one with a plug. Electric kettles save energy, especially if you only boil the amount of water that you need and you take advantage of the auto-shut-off feature offered on many contemporary models. Modern kettles offer other neat features, such as cordless pots, timers, and gold surfaced coils to reduce scaling. In addition, electric kettles are very efficient boiling water in a matter of minute(s). The average electric kettle sold today runs about 1000 watts to 1500 watts, with the higher powered kettles boiling water faster. Either way, an electric kettle uses less energy to boil water than a microwave or stove-top (electric or gas). You could say that the energy savings from using an electric kettle over boiling water on a stove-top is similar to the energy saved when switching from incandescent to CFL light bulbs. (For a quick tutorial on watts see this page.) And, if you think that you need to boil your tea water on a stove-top, then you obviously arent British.

Not surprisingly the first electric kettle was designed in the 1950s by the British duo William Russell and Peter Hobbs. If you are in the UK, you can supposedly find an electric kettle made by Russell Hobbs; however, in the US, Russell Hobbs has been replaced with Chefs Choice, which is made in China. According to reviews, Chef’s Choice Electric Kettles are just not the same as classic Russell Hobbs. If you live in the UK and can find a Russell Hobbs electric kettle, you might wish to go with a different brand anyway, as Salton their parent company moved all production to China in 2002(Wikipedia).

I could not in good conscience profile a kettle made in China. Nor could I find any electric kettles made in the USA, which leaves us with the German company Braun (a Proctor & Gamble affiliate). According to their own website, Braun products are made in 5 countries (Germany, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, and China), so I called their US based customer service line and spoke to a representative who verified that Braun Electric Kettles are manufactured in Germany. Ive never had a problem with a German made household good (and Ive never owned a VW), so this assurance is good enough for me!

The Braun AquaExpress Electric Tea Kettle gets rave reviews on various sites, including Amazon. This kettle appears to have all the bells and whistles without breaking the bank (update: August 2008 they are on sale!). This kettle offers auto shutoff, which is not only a necessary safety feature, but also an energy saver. All Braun kettles are also cordless, meaning that the kettle can be removed from the base to facilitate both filling and pouring. If you’d like more options than this efficient little Braun kettle, here is a comprehensive review of electric kettles only.

Stove Top Kettle (not made in China)

My attempt to track down a stove top kettle made in the USA was less than fruitful. The closest I came is the Chantal tea kettle, which is assembled in the US (Texas) of parts made in Japan & Germany. Tea kettles by Chantal have earned decent reviews and they are found on Amazon. The classic looking Windsor Kettles continue to made in England. And, they have a moderately priced version offered on Amazon and a spendy version at Williams-Sonoma. If you are looking for the perfect old fashioned way to boil your tea (in blatant disregard of energy usage) don’t just take my word, but peruse the fine review of tea kettles over at Apartment Therapy NY. I myself have been happy with my Chinese made Oxo Kettle, which was a gift, despite this little incident last month.

Kettle Maintenance – cleaning up a burnt kettle or getting rid of scaling

If you have recently experienced a tea kettle calamity don’t immediately assume all is lost. A burnt kettle can generally be remediated with a little Bar Keepers Friend unless it has melted or broken parts. And, an old kettle that is filled with mineral deposits can be cleaned up with a good vinegar soak. If however, you have a flat mate who has lost a few (or perhaps all) her marbles, and she has decided to use your tea kettle as a stepping stool, you may have no choice but to recycle it as scrap metal.

As mentioned above, vinegar is excellent for removing scaling or mineral deposits from the interior of both electric and stove top kettles. If you have mineral deposits in your electric kettle, you will want to remove them, as they reduce the efficiency of the heating coils. To clean your kettle, fill it with equal parts water and vinegar. Then boil the kettle and leave to sit over night (it will be smelly). Rinse the kettle in the morning with fresh water and give it a light scrub. If all goes well, your kettle should be scale free. The Braun kettles have gold coils, which purportedly prevents scaling, and I have not found any evidence to believe otherwise.

So, to Green Me your tea, the best option is to use an electric kettle, and only as much water as is needed to make your current cup of tea. Don’t leave your kettle on all day, better yet, get one with an auto shutoff function! And, just in case you don’t trust the auto-shut off on your kettle, here is a neat little gadget, the smoke detecting power strip, which I came across, while researching this article!