Friday, July 25, 2008

Eating Local with Mighty Appetite

So, Mighty Appetite is a Washington Post food blog that I love to read -- and blog author Kim O'Donnell had a challenge this week to have her readers try to eat ten items produced within 100 miles. Since I love the whole concept but haven't nailed down the perfect execution of local eating yet, I thought I'd give it a whirl (before she up and moves to Seattle, sniff).

Here's what I ate in California (why yes, I am that kind of cheater):

Farmer's market local, organic strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, smothered in Straus Family Creamery whipped cream, and handfuls of plums from the yard - while in the South Bay. Hardship.

Homegrown-basil pesto on steamed zucchini, potato and egg salad (all organic and grown/collected/cooked on site at Preston Vineyards) - plus don't forget the Madam Preston I got to sip with lunch...sigh. Dedication to the cause.

When we got home from our trip, I was exhausted, so we made burgers from some Polyface ground beef I had in the freezer. And here's what we found in our CSA boxes last night: yellow plums and green beans (et 'em up for dinner) and beets (in the slow cooker right now). Peaches are ripening in a brown bag. Go, Zurschmeides! Hey, DC local eating holds its own!

Here's my overall dilemma tho: What do people do about things like crackers? I can make my own bread in my bread machine but what do you do about things like bagels or little whole wheat bunny crackers? That your kids love? I now try to do things like pop popcorn myself (in a brown bag in the microwave to avoid all the packaging). But there are some items we eat routinely that are neither local or sustainable, 'tho they may be organic and bought in bulk. Should we just be skipping that stuff altogether? It's all those whole grain carbs, for the most part.

Makes me muse about environmentalism in general. I tend to cut myself and others mucho slack because I think that even if I/we changed just 50% of our habits, that would be an amazing difference. I also think that I can only change so much at one time. That's what I love about reading other blogs and chatting up other people who are trying to simplify and clean their lives -- I end up making so many more and deeper changes than I would have on my own. Living vicariously through you all and getting wiser because of it.

So thanks, Kim at Mighty Appetite, for getting me to more closely look at my local consumption (because of your challenge, I thought much more about the sources of all my foods, not just the 10 I'd be tracking). I'd love to hear from others the areas in which you've easily found organic, local, less-processed foods. Just don't tell me to make my own crackers. I'm not quite there yet!

*Photo courtesy of sxc.
Read more!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Irked at Orkin: Keep Your Chemicals Off My Property

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. I'll update you on our trips to Preston's organic winery and BlogHer soon, I promise, but first I have to share with you what happened during the critical wake-your-child-up-at-5 am-West-Coast-time to get her to camp window. I was right about to get EGirl out the door, really, I was remotely close to getting her there on time, I swear, when I looked out my back door and saw...a rubber-gloved and Orkin-suited man in the process of spraying my mimosa tree! He'd clearly already sprayed my trumpet vine, as it was glistening and dripping in the morning sun. My daughter asked me later, "Mom? Mom? Why were you yelling at that man like he was our dog?" My husband confirmed later that he, too, thought that our dog had gotten into a filthy diaper or was about to vomit (standard morning fare in our house). Apparently, I used that exact tone of urgency as I shrieked, "What are you doing?! Stop!"

After I accosted the Orkin man, and flew out my back door, he confessed that he was fulfilling our next door neighbor's contract. I directed him to the shiny gold numbers on my back fence, next to the sliding gate he must have opened in order to make it up my back steps. "It's all safe, ma'am," he said, in an injured tone. "I don't agree with that," I said, "and furthermore, even if it's EPA-approved, I guarantee you that it's not EPA-approved for ingestion." He was two feet from my edible flowers, mint, and cherry tomatoes.

Let's just say that this was not the homecoming I had in mind. A friend of mine chuckled when she heard the story. "Wrong house," she chortled. "I mean, I would have been annoyed, but not apoplectic!"

Yup, that's me. Madder than a (poisoned) hornet.

Here's what BeyondPesticides has to say about the "safe" chemical Orkin sprayed all over my trees as a mosquito deterrent after they trespassed onto my property:

"Your exterminator’s choice, Talstar, contains the active ingredient bifenthrin, a synthetic pyrethroid. BeyondPesticides rates this chemical as toxic, as synthetic pyrethroids have irritant and sensitizing properties. They are also connected with neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption. Bifenthrin specifically is rated as a possible carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, there are environmental concerns with its use.... Bifenthrin is highly toxic to aquatic animals and bees, and is moderately toxic to birds. Scientists are particularly concerned about possible bioaccumulation in birds." (2004 newsletter)

Excellent! My father's a lifelong birdwatcher, and we've all been pretty concerned about the plight of honeybees this year in particular. And we just went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. So it will be a perfect teaching opportunity for my daughter. All the things you love right now? Playing with mimosa and trumpet vine flowers and seed pods, identifying birds and insects, examining marine life? Eating a variety of edible flowers? Picking mint? All threatened by that friendly neighborhood Orkin visit. (Sadly, my daughter's all too familiar with her playthings being taken away by chemicals, since she lives in the land of the yellow flags.)

I'd been wondering what Orkin used for mosquito control (on the list to research and blog!). Right before my trip to California, I went to happy hour with some fellow mamas, and one of them, J, was commenting on how widespread the practice of spraying for skeeters was in our neighborhood.

Nice. We live in row houses, so what our neighbors spray, we all absorb. I hate the bloodthirsty mosquitoes as much as the next guy. But didn't we all grow up reading Silent Spring? There's a reason frogs are mutating and fish have intersex organs. I'm guessing that spraying "highly toxic" chemicals on our trees might be a bad idea. But even if I didn't? I'd love to have confidence that Orkin doesn't routinely spray neighboring yards just to make their service look better, especially in an area where our patios are about 10 square feet, max. My call to customer service at our local office didn't reassure me that Orkin cares at all about my desire to remain chemical-free. All I got out of the rep was, "The chemicals are safe and EPA-approved. What do you want me to do?"

I was thinking Orkin might like to make a contribution on my behalf to BeyondPesticides, for starters. And then they can donate some non-toxic mosquito dunks to drop into our sewers. Just so they know I'm being reasonable with my demands? My green blogging friend SmartMama thinks they ought to come out and wash off every leaf on my trees!

Photo courtesy of sxc.
Read more!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dodge the Child Pickup Line: Save Gas, Time, Sanity

Those of you who have kids in private school have probably figured this out already, but the drop-off and pick-up protocol for kids at school (and, in our case, summer camp) are like Kafkaesque lines of parental torture. There are rules, lots of them (no arriving before a particular time, no getting out of the car, numbers prominently displayed in windshield), and little reward. So little reward. The average wait time in these lines appears to be approximately seventeen years. Considering that idling is such a waste of gas and produces the same emissions as actually getting someplace and that idling for more than 10 seconds wastes more gas than turning off your car and restarting it, it's a colossal drain of not only your brains, which will be pouring out all over the car, but of a nonrenewable resource. (great info on idling at OrganicPicks found via GreenBeanDreams)

So a tip for those of you headed to the next session of camp or to a school with a drop-off line in the fall? As usual, I was slow to realize the obvious, easy, and eco-friendly choice, so you probably already figured this out when you went to grade school yourself. If not? Here's what I decided to do (along with a couple dozen other parents who saw the folly of the long and winding road to the camper pickup door). Skip the line. Turn my car off. Walk my kid right up to the door. Park my car. Walk my ownself up the hill to get her. Heck, I realized I could be 20 minutes late to pick her up, and still I'd be the first to scoop her up to take her home! Walking up that one hill gave me bonus exercise, to boot.

I love it when the greener choice is also a sanity and timesaver. Hope you're having a great summer.

*Photo courtesy of sxc.
Read more!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Five Minutes for Going Green Debuts

Today marked the launch of Five Minutes for Going Green - a brand new sister site to Five Minutes for Mom. A whole host of green bloggers (including yours truly, who was honored to be included) were invited to become regular contributors (I'm in for once a month and my July post is up today).

When you have a moment, check out the other 5MFGG writers - some of them are daily reads for me, and some are pleasant new surprises. All of them are green moms working to care for their families and the earth while spinning a story or two. Many thanks to Arianne at To Think Is To Create, our new Managing Editor, for getting this off the ground. Check it out, folks, to see a daily stream of five-minute tips for greening your life, and check out the Green Team's personal sites below:

Coming Up for Air

Crunchy Domestic Goddess

Crunchy Chicken

Green and Clean Mom

Green Mamma

Healthy Green Moms

Little Green Secrets


Nature Moms

Surely You Nest

The EcoChic Organizer

The Green Parent

The Smart Mama

To Think Is To Create

Thanks for reading, and as always, send any burning researchy-questions my way.

Read more!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sticker In My Craw: DC Metro Moms Post Up

I've been ranting again over at DC Metro Moms, this time about marketing to our captive children via those ubiquitous doctor's office stickers.

Hope you're having a healthy summer!

Read more!

Healthy Summer Treat: Frozen Banana Milk

So, this really should be an organic, local, sustainable treat like this strawberry milk I made the second I heard about it (milk + strawberries+ice). But EGirl decided it was inedible (ok, I confess, I substituted ice for the sugar). So, instead of sustainably harvested berry milk, we went for frozen banana milk. Good way to keep from chucking out food you buy, though!

When your bananas are a little too soft and brown to eat (in my case, my organic bananas, even if they're not on the top 10 list of most-pesticide-ridden fruits, since it's my only saving grace -- we all know I don't have a banana tree down in my community garden plot), peel 'em and chuck 'em in the freezer.

Now? When your kid is hot and bothered? Grab a couple bananas from the freezer, 8 oz of milk (whole, organic, local, grassfed, the whole 9 yards) and sock it through your blender. Mmmmmmmm. And if you can convince your kid to use local fruits, I'll toast to you! If they're fresh you can just add ice to make your slushy. No sugar needed, but cinnamon and vanilla are nice in the banana milk.

*Image courtesy of sxc.
Read more!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Going Green Yahoogroup - Join It!

I'm not sure if I've ever posted about Burbanmom - but I can tell you that I read her blog avidly. She lives not far from me (ok, a little further south), in a -- you guessed it -- suburban community. Don't let that lull you into a false sense of security, though, she's an excellent taskmaster and has no shame when it comes to greening her own life or, via her new group, yours. That's why I want to so wholeheartedly recommend that you join her in Going Green with Burbanmom.

For those of you who belong to the old-school DC Urban Moms list, or local neighborhood listservs, this group is just like 'em. Except that it's peopled by folks who joke about composting landlords who won't allow green gardening efforts to get off the ground. No, seriously, it's a group of fellow trying-to-be-green folks (all of them in various stages of conservation but most of them, as far as I can tell, most definitely darker green than me! Which is all good, right, more for me to learn!).

It's not too late to join in -- Burbanmom's first two challenges were to green your energy choices (more on that soon, I promise) and to start line drying. I b'lieve she even said the words, "Stop whining about bird poop." SIGH. I just today bought a fold-away rack that I can install above our bathtub (every little bit counts, eh?) and I am going to look into a retractible multi-line drying system for our sun porch.

So anyhoo (heh heh), if you want to join an active group of folks who will email you advice on all your green questions (like my recent query about what to use to fill up some stuffed animals I've been making without resorting to polyfill, plaintive request for suggestions of specific projects to green an elementary school, and musing about whether rain barrels will attract mosquitoes -- all questions for which I am still actively soliciting answers), send an email to (no need to have any message) or check it out here!

Thanks so much to 'Burbs for setting up such a useful resource. Let's all take advantage of it -- and each other -- to muddle our way through to greener lives.

*Image courtesy of
Read more!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Water Filters: Hard Water Woes

Laura at CenterDownHome asked if I'd ever looked into water filters, which, given my level of obsession with the water I drink, is a fair question. I have been carrying a Brita pitcher since I was fifteen. Early neurotic adopter, much? I'll have to confess that I have thought long and hard about the quality of our wawa. Filters included. This post? Will focus on filters that might help Laura.

Like the folks here in the nation's capitol, Laura's got hard water. Hard water can be hard, my friend. I so feel your pain. Hard water can make all of your eco-friendly dishwasher and laundry soap efforts seem like trading in your Lexus for a donkey. Spots on your glasses, dingy whites. It's all worth it, obviously, but it can be kind of annoying. Like belonging to the one lawn in your proximity-to-a-golfcourse-astroturf-levels-of-green neighborhood riddled with giant patches of crabgrass and a methodical man wielding a shooter of nontoxic weedkiller and a trowel? That kind of worth it (and exactly that kind of skull-splittingly wrong yet so right).

Hard water can make your soap work against you. Although there are no health risks associated with having high levels of calcium and magnesium in your water (also known as having "hard water") it can make daily chores even less rewarding. In a nutshell, hard water can cause scale (spotting) and soap scum. It can make it harder to wash your dishes and clothes, and make everything dingy. An additional bonus is that removing the soap scum can be hard on your clothes. Yes, your hard-earned dollars will fly out of your hands faster! There are a couple of solutions out there but nothing's perfect (which is why we don't bother to deal with it here at Casa Bird -- aside from our being horribly lazy, that is -- we just use detergents instead of soap when we can, and use vinegar to deal with soap scum in the bathrooms).

Here are some great links (dontcha love the way blogging is like a virtual file cabinet?!):

The Green Guide's categorical explanations of various types of water filters.

NRDC's guide to water filters (their tap water report is worth checking out to see how your water ranks in the first place).

Here's an explanation of how a water softener works.

Here's Virginia Tech's guide to household water treatment.

Here's a site put together by a guy who was frustrated about the lack of info about hard water online.

In searching for info on hard water, I came across a bunch of commercial sites that seem to have solid (heh heh) information about hard water. I can't vouch for them 'cause, well, they are trying to sell filters and softeners, and I'm usually mistrustful of those with a dog in the fight. But there's some good info on a few of the sites so here goes:

LennTech's info about calcium and water and water softener FAQS.

FilterWaterDirect's info about calcium in water.

Laura also wanted to know if I'd heard of these ceramic water filters. I hadn't. But the Green Guide notes that they are usually used with another filtration method. Not sure why?

Ceramic: Ceramic filters, often combined with carbon filters, will remove bacteria, parasites, asbestos and sediments. As water passes through the pores of the ceramic, particles as small as .2 microns are trapped. When the water flow is reduced, the filter requires a light scrub under running water. Ceramic filters are available in both counter-top and under the counter models, and are often combined with another filtration method.

In addition, the Green Guide cautions those with well water (which Laura's got) to do the following:
If your water source is a private well, check with your local health department to find out which contaminants are common where you live. The EPA recommends that you have it tested annually by a state-certified lab for nitrate and coliform bacteria, total dissolved solids and pH levels. Also, test for radon if that's a problem in your area (call 800-SOS-RADON to see if it's an issue) and for pesticides, if you live near a farm where crops are sprayed frequently. National Testing Labs can test for 95 contaminants, including 20 pesticides, by mail (, 800-458-3330). For more information, call the Water Systems Council hotline (, 888-395-1033).

Finally, my personal take on the matter: distillation and reverse osmosis will remove the calcium/soften your water, but reverse osmosis in particular is costly to do whole-house, slow, and creates colossal amounts of waste water. It's energy intensive and basically an eco-nightmare. So, what should Laura do? Perhaps get a water softener and a carbon aka Brita-type filter. If they start accepting their filters for recycling.

In general, if you have hard water and you're not going to get a water softener, vinegar's your antidote. It's great for removing soap scum, and some claim that throwing 3/4 cup into the dishwasher before running it helps with the cleaning action. Either way, don't worry about the health hazards of calcium and magnesium. It's the pharma and the hormones in our water that our legislators need to deal with, since current water treatment regulations don't address their removal.

*Photo by vicbuster at sxc.
Read more!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Mmmmm, carbs and fat! OK, I threw some veggies in but I had to lure you down the path. I've been trying hard lately not to throw away perfectly edible food since I am probably personally responsible for about 95 billion pounds of foodwaste each year. Sure, I have a composter but it's full right now. Boo! And I am trying to consume (heh heh) more carefully. So are you, I bet! Here's a recipe that helped me out of a glut of food about to peak: twice-baked potatoes.

Let's just say you had a dozen baking potatoes in your cupboard that are, er, not in a root cellar. Eyes are sprouting (cut 'em off, kids, they're dangerous!). And your dear aunt went on vacation so you have her cauliflower and broccoli and spinach (thanks, L!)? And kind of wilty dill that was only half-eaten by your dill-nibbling child? What to do? Why, fill up the freezer with easy-to-nuke meals, of course.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

a dozen baking potatoes
lots of spinach (2 lbs-ish)
2 heads broccoli
1 head cauliflower
bunch dill
small handful chives (ours was from our herb planter out back)
splooshes of milk
goat cheese
shredded mild cheddar cheese

Bake the potatoes. 350F oven (I threw them all in next to my Nourishing Traditions Roasted Chicken) for about an hour or until fork tender. And actually that's not the exact recipe, although it's close. You have to take a couple cloves of garlic, chop off the tops and flip em over into your roasting pan to end up with oozing delight. Also? You have to quadruple the amount of onions 'cause nothing's better than caramelized, crispy baked onions. But I digress. To bake a potato, by the way, you need to poke some holes in it so the steam can escape and your potato doesn't explode. Just jab it with a fork. Also, it's nicer if it's got some fat on the outside to keep the skin supple -- I used olive oil mixed with a bit of melted butter I had left over from my bird.

(In our case, I had other stuff to do so I threw all the potatoes in the fridge overnight but I'd say optimal potato treatment would be to immediately go to the mashing step. Well, after about 10 minutes so the potatoes aren't complete molten lava.)

Prepare your veggies. Spinach: saute in olive oil and garlic (I used about 6 cloves and maybe 1/2 cup of olive oil but I am not a big measurer). Broccoli and cauliflower: steam for about 15 min. Chop your dill and garlic.

Make your delicious tater guts. Scoop out all but about 1/4" of the potato into a bowl. Mash with a potato ricer (flat round circle with holes? or an electric mixer but I like hand mashed taters much better). Don't go too crazy or your potatoes will get all gluey. Add sour cream or splooshes of milk, butter, and sea salt to taste. If serving adults, ground pepper would be nice. Stir in your finely chopped cauliflower.

Divide your remaining ingredients into smaller bowls -- ie chives plus spinach and goat cheese, broccoli plus dill and cheddar. Then throw in a proportional amount of potato-cauliflower mash. Note also that I made this up. Any veggie + cheese combo would probably work, and I was daydreaming as I made them about vegan options since I used to avoid dairy. I bet that tofutti-type cream cheese and rice milk would give you a nice consistency. Also, not like I need to tell you this, but potatoes, spinach, and broccoli should all be organic. I actually went organic on all the produce and dairy except the goat cheese. Nothing was from my CSA or particularly local except the chives and some leftover broccoli I threw into the mix.

Personally, I stuck all of my potatoes in the freezer 'cause I am just that lazy (dinners I can nuke in a minute? sign me UP!). We ate the extra filling as a side with our bird tonight.

Food leftovers are the single largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States. Americans throw away more than 25 percent of the food we prepare. We throw away 96 billion pounds of food a year. (No Impact Man in July of 2007).
Phew! Outta the bin, into our bellies.

*Photo courtesy of sxc - my camera is a goner....

Read more!