Archive for December, 2010

Believing that Christmas can be eco-friendly is a bit like believing in Santa Clause. But, I sort of believe in Santa Clause. I know. I know. I’m Jewish. But I’ve been living with Christmas-celebrators for a really long time. And the Christmas tree is a habit I’m not ready to kick.  I have half-Jewish kids as my excuse for why we have a tree. But the truth is this year, when it came time, the kids said, “Why don’t we get one of those little trees? The ones in pots. Then after we can plant it. Isn’t that more green.”

Where was I going to plant a tree? On the fire escape?

Ok. I know, I know. I’m Jewish, and technically should not be decking my halls with anything but a mezuzah. But when it comes to a Christmas trees, what I want is a big-ass Nutracker second act, Rockefeller Center Christmas sized tree. And despite my Jewish guilt, I usually get something that fills the corner of the living room in goyish splendor.

A few weekends ago, we went to my friend K’s house for a tree trimming party. She had a gorgeous Douglas fir that she’d gotten at Whole Foods. She said the tree was locally sourced — from  a tree farm NJ  — and that the signage promised that they planted two trees for every tree they cut. Which, as she pointed out, was not only green but good business.

Chanukah started on December 6. Z’s birthday was December 18. I’ve been in hyper festive drive for a really long time. I’m really tired. So last Friday, when John and I went to pick up the tree, we went to  Whole Foods. I was grateful to K that she given me sustainable cheat so I didn’t have to do the research.

We called Whole foods in Edgewater and asked if they had trees and if they were local. Yes they told us. Then, when our quest for fondant took us to AC Moore in Paramus, we ended up in the Whole Foods across Route 4. They had trees. They just were from North Carolina. That sounded very far away. I asked if the trees at Edgewater were from North Carolina and they said yes all the trees in that part of Jersey came from the same distribution center.


I guess I should explain, there is a Christmas tree stand across the street from my house. I didn’t want to go there because – 1) I thought Whole Foods had some more local version 2) they are super expensive.

One year we had gotten a tree from Metropolitan Plant Exchange. We called. They said, yes they had trees from a local nursery.  It was on the way home.  Did I mention I was tired. I heard the word local and knew the prices were reasonable. We picked up the tree from their selection in a sad, dark parking lot and hit the GW Bridge.

The next day, I wondered, how could a local Nursery grow christmas trees. So I called Metropolitan Plant Exchange back and they told me that the nursery was called Shemin Nursery. My Google search told me that they were a nursery  in Connecticut. Ok, CT is not so far away. CT has Christmas tree farms. But when I called the nice folks at Shemin up they said, they were not actually a nursery but a distributor. They didn’t know where particular my tree came from. They suggested I called their Mahwah NJ office. So I did.

Meanwhile I surfed around a found some other facts via EarthEasy:

  • Yes, they’re renewable. Christmas trees are a renewable resource. When they’re growing, they improve the air quality
  • Grind is good. Ninety percent of live trees are recycled into usable mulch.
  • Plastic trees last forever. Plastic trees are made of petroleum products (PVC), and use  plenty of resources when they’re made and when they’re shipped.  Although they’re made to last forever, research shows that they are tossed fairly when they start to look shabby — which normally only takes a few years. Once they hit the landfill they stick around for a really long while.
  • Pots  are green. The greenest way to have a Christmas Tree is to buy a small tree in a large pot that you can either re-use for a few seasons, or plant in your yard.
  • North Carolina is the tree state. Despite my vision that Vermont is the land of Christmas trees. most trees in the Northeast come from North Carolina. In fact, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, with they harvested the second most number of trees in 2001.  (Oregon was #1, New York was #7 and Vermont trailed at #12)

Unfortunately, I also learned why you should look for an organic Christmas tree — just a little too late. According to Balanced Living Magazine many  Christmas tree farms use pesticides to protect the trees from insects and disease.In addition to the regular contamination of  groundwater and harming of wildlife, some believe the residual pesticides on the tree pose a danger to your family. In particular this pesticide  chlorpyriforus, which according to a study by the Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina, is a suspected neurotoxin.  If you bring a tree that’s been sprayed with this pesticide, it could be adding a new level of toxicity to your home. Check out the links if you want more specifics. Since, I already had the tree in the living room, I didn’t want to dwell on it.

But back to Metropolitan Plant Exchange. I called the Mahwah office and explained my situation. They told me that trees were being shipped from, where else — North Carolina. So I checked out where in North Carolina Christmas Trees herald. I figured that my Christmas tree must have travelled between 500 to 750 miles to get from its farm to my NYC apartment.

The journey of my Christmas tree.

The stand across the street from my house, although it wouldn’t have been organic,  would not have been much better. Those trees are shlepped down from Quebec — also about 500 miles away.

Next year,  I’m going to use Local Harvest to find an organic, local tree farm. And I’m going to stat planning it before the holidays hit and I am too exhausted to think straight.   Unless, of course, the neurotoxins on my current tree fry my brains before the New Year . . .

Christmas Tree Mulch Fest 2011

Here’s one thing that’s easy. The NYC Parks Department will be chipping and mulching Xmas trees on January 8-11.  Inwood Hill Park  and J Hood Wright Park will both be taking trees. To find a location near you visit this site.

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We got a box of oranges for Chanukah. Oranges and tangerines to be exact. I felt like one of those kids in a Victorian novel who discovers an orange in her Christmas stocking. Oranges have been a staple in my fridge since I was a kid — but this year, getting a gift box  genuinely felt like a treat.

At the beginning of the week, on the news, they reported that citrus growers were using helicopters to keep the fruit from freezing.  Sure the report made me think about the environmental impact of growing oranges —  you don’t have to be have a PhD in environmental science to know that flying big petroleum-based machines over acres and acres of orange groves is going to boast the carbon footprint of  your average, delicious, navel off the charts. (For  good description of why eating oranges and drinking OJ out of their natural habitat is so not green, check out this Slate Green Lantern Column). But still, the oranges might freeze news didn’t exactly send me right to my “environmentally outraged” soap box. Oranges are amazing. I love them. They are a luxury and a treat. But I’m happy to have them. The fact that the orange growers were having a tough night, made me feel for farmers, in general, who have to work so hard to produce food for the rest of us. Every season farmers have to ask themselves, “Will the crops I planted survive?”

As consumers, we’re sheltered from this concern lulled into a false sense of security by our facade of supermarket abundance. But, as my own little foray into windowsill farming, has shown me sometimes you don’t reap what you’ve sown.  Then today as I was looking over my CSA winter share contract this part jumped out: “By signing this form you are also indicating that you are aware of the risk inherent in farming, particularly during the winter, and that you are willing to share the risk.”

In supermarkets, sharing the risk is sharing the cost. It’s not uncommon for the price of a type of food to go up due to an agricultural problem. But sharing the cost sometimes leave me feeling resentful.  I have no control over what price they charge me. And the supermarket game it to get things cheap — use coupons, get sales — get more for less. When I have my supermarket head on, quality is an issue. Environmental impact — not so much. But sharing the risk is something different. It’s acknowledging up front that this joint endeavor is risky.  And it makes it really clear to me as the consumer that we, the consumer and the farmer, are  in this thing together.

I’m probably thinking about the impact of reducing consumption since it’s one of the key tenets of Mark Bitman’s philosophy of eating. I’m reading Food Matters right now. It’s not new and he’s not the only one who’se said it. But so far it’s an interesting articulation of the argument. Not quite as inspiring or enjoyable as Michael Pollan’s writing – but still a good read. It’s all comes down to saving the planet one bite at a time.

According to EckoGeek , The world’s first hybrid street sweeper has begun cleaning the our streets. Right here in NYC. The Allianz 4000 is a diesel hybrid that reduces diesel fuel use by 40 – 45 percent compared to traditional street sweepers. Read  more>

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I just finished doing this quick search. “Can you recycle wrapping paper? ”

I was relieved to find out yes. According to NYC.gov, wrapping paper can be recycled here in New York.

However, I’m a bit suspicious.  According to Earth 911, wrapping paper is often difficult to recycle because it’s often dy ed and laminated, plus it frequently contains non-paper additives, such as gold and silver coloring — like the adorable silver foil paper with penguins on it that we wrapped Z’s birthday presents in.

According to a report today in the Daily Green, .”Between Thanksgiving and New Year we americans increase our garbage generation 25%. That means 5 million extra tons of garbage. And, I’ve seen this quote a few times now, from Carnegie Mellon Green Practices initiative — “If every American family wrapped just three presence in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.”

Ugg. Over the last 4 months I’ve done a lot of wacky things in order to avoid making garbage. I’ve walked out of restaurants that served water in styrofoam cups, brought my own kit to motel breakfast buffet, made a name for myself at Pret (I’m the lady with the to-go cup), — I even chopped up my old couch so I could recycle the leather. But as the holiday season kicked in, I didn’t say no to the gifts you buy your kids. Like my trip to Disney World, I haven’t been able to let go of this piece of  American culture.  The kids did get bought presents for Chanukah, but I tried not to be excessive.  And I wrapped  most of the gifts we gave  in plain brown craft paper that was made from 100% recycled materials.  John drew menorah’s and dreidels  on the paper using metallic sharpies .It looked pretty great. But I also rounded things out with some traditional wrapping paper that I had in the house — I thought I was being green because I hadn’t bought it.

I’ve always been pretty good at reusing old paper. But now that I know it’s going right to the landfill, I changed my filter of what to save and what to toss. I’m happy to say that 1/2 of the garbage bag can be recycled — tissue paper, craft paper, and those thin sheets of paper they use to wrap pottery. 1/4 I’ve salvaged to re-use next year. But the last 1/4 I’ll put in the recycling — but I am a bit worried that it will actually get recycled.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to  more conscience about how I wrap those presents.

Fun and greenest ways to wrap gifts:

  • Personalize recycled craft paper.
  • Use old maps, drafts of documents or other technically inspired paper. Look how cute these packages look wrapped in architectural plans
  • Use old newspapers and magazines and comics.
  • Use old pieces of fabric  — old bits of plaid would be pretty fun for Xmas.

See more ideas from Earth 911

Resources for recycled wrapping paper

Greenfield paper

Nice contemporary designs. Made in San Francisco, so not local. Not too expensive ( About 8 bucks a roll), but certainly not the 99 cent store. Still that’s about how much I paid for my metallic penguins.

Lucky Crow
Adorable fabric bags for gifts. Not cheap. But certainly reusable. A little retro. And unique.

Fish lips

A bit more traditional, but still very nice. A little cheaper per roll. A little more local — it comes from Jacksonville, Florida.

My search tonight, didn’t find anything in NYC. I can’t believe that’s true. Anyone know where to get recycled wrapping paper here.

(P.S- My craft paper was 99 cents a roll!)

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After much anticipation, I harvested my two windowsill radishes on Sunday.  They were terrible.

Maybe I waited too long. Maybe I should have popped them up when I first noticed them pushing their pink and white heads out of the soil. But I was waiting for a special time, when I could really enjoy them.  As I gnawed on the spongy tasteless bitter rood, I thought,  if I had to grow all my own food,  I would be really hungry.

Fear of starvation. It is clearly one of my themes.

But truthfully, despite my worry, buying and eating local food is not as much of a hardship as I had expected. True, I have learned that if I want to be a true locavore I need to plan better in the summer. So as I continue to research where to find local, organic canned tomatoes, I’m keeping track of how many cans of tomatoes I would actually need to get me through a winter.  So far, I have bought 4 cans. I am also investigating local hydroponic tomatoes.

I’m starting to look at some of my core winter recipes and experimenting with ways to create tomato-less versions. For example, sweet and sour cabbage soup is an Eastern European winter delicacy — it involves raisins, tomatoes and brown sugar. Last winter, I figured out how to make it meatless — it was a hit. This winter, I am experimenting with other types of cabbage soups that evoke that homey feeling but cater to a green market shopping list.

This Red Cabbage and Barley soup is my first attempt. It is inspired by two of my grandmother’s classic soups:  chicken soup with  barley and beans (“Grandma soup” as we called it) and the sweet and sour cabbage soup that my mother made with a big chunk of beef. For me, barley says warmth and comfort. It’s also supposedly healthy. It’s also helps fight Type 2 Diabetes for starters — a bit of a concern for both John and I since we each have diabetes in our immediate families.  I have been looking for ways to build it into our diet more.

What’s harder is trying to feed the kids from the winter garden. They are not big on root vegetables or squash. It’s a challenge and I am not as concerned with being as strict about limiting their produce to local. So far, I have bought cucumbers grown in California and a bag of frozen peas (Whole Foods organic).  In terms of fruit, I still buy banana and I have bought  a pineapple and a case of mandarin oranges from Spain.  But mostly, for fruit we have been focusing on apples and pears which are still available in abundance in the green market. And, starting next Saturday, I get my first winter share of the CSA. I’m hoping their greenhouse will produce a prolific assortment of greens!

All and all I am very mindful of where produce is grown and how it gets to my table. So are the kids. Basically, we are getting into a different routine. I am not sure if we have maximized our sustainability but we have definitely raised our consciousness.


Red Cabbage and Barley Soup

1/2 red cabbage cored and cut into slices

1 -2 big carrot cut into chunks

1 parsnips cut into chunks

1/2 a celery root cut into chunks

a bay leaf

2 quarts of vegetable stock (or chicken stock if you are not a vegetarian)

3/4 cup of pearl barley

Sour cream (for garnish)

Saute the root vegetables in two to three table spoons of  olive oil for about 5 -10 minutes. Add in the cabbage. Saute again to coat the cabbage. After another 5 minutes add the vegetable stock, the salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Rinse the pearl barley. Add it into the gently boiling soup. Cook for 1-2 hours, or until the root vegetables are soft.  Puree the soup with a hand blender of regular blender. Leave some chunks of vegetables. Cook for another 10 minutes to let the soup thicken. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.


KID NOTE: Z would not go near this soup. B said he would try it, but in the end didn’t. He tasted it, and said he didn’t hate it.  I think if I keep offering, eventually, his palate will expand. B was completely grossed out when I butchered a chicken to make chicken soup. “When I grow up,” he told me, “and stop liking kid food, I’m totally going to be a vegetarian.”







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Last monday night I bought a can of tomatoes from my bodega. I was tired. The plan for dinner was chicken. (I had also forgot about Meatless Monday.) But when at 4 ish, the chicken was still frozen solid, I realized I needed to switch gears. I needed to come up with something that I could whip up. quickly. It was a cold almost winter day.  So I decided to make vegetarian chili.

In the old days, vegetarian chili was one of my quick meals. But since my stock of frozen tomatoes is gone, making chili was a bit of a problem. Still my vision of a warm and nourishing meal that everyone at the table would eat won out over my conviction to exclusively eat local produce. So I went to the store and I bought a can of Muir Glen organic tomatoes. It was so easy.

I don’t want to beat myself up about buying canned tomatoes. But in the end, the kids wouldn’t eat the chili. And I could have made some other bean dish for just John and I. So why did I cave in? Habit? Maybe. Too tired to really think it through? Absolutely. But it was the vision that really did me.

Cooking is a creative art. You come up with an idea. You think about your audience. And you decide what ingredients you need to tempt and delight their taste buds. Meals are expressions of comfort. I want my kids to think back and say “My mom made the best blah blah blah.” Or. “Remember mom’s blah blah blah.”

I have a lexicon of food that was given to me by my own parents.  I am trying to keep the tradition going by recreating some of those Eastern European dishes of my childhood, sometimes even making them meatless – sweet and sour cabbage soup and stuffed cabbage for example. Not that the kids will eat anything like it.

But sweet and sour cabbage soup requires tomatoes. So does Chanukah’s traditional pot roast, which I made on Wed for the first night of Chanukah. (Since I still haven’t really figured out the pros and cons of  sustainability of local  vs health benefits of organic, I bought one can of each. ) I do wonder where did my great grandparents got tomatoes in the middle of the winter in Russia and Austria? Where did they get raisins.

It’s unlikely I will make it through the winter without buying a few more cans of tomatoes. But, on the other hand, it is likely I will try to curb my consumption of those cans to special occasions. So in an attempt to figure out which was the greenest and healthiest of my canned choices, I started this chart to help me start to figure it all out.

I suspect, this is going to be a longish research project. But here’s what I’ve come up with so far. If anyone has  a lead on local organic canned tomatoes, please share the info! And if anyone has a chili recipe that doesn’t require tomatoes, I’d love to hear about that as well!

The Caliban’s Kitchen Canned Tomato Tool
(Part 1)

BRAND NAME: Scalafani
Owned by a mega corp?

BPA? Their lids do contain BPA
LOCAL? Yes! Grown and packed right in NJ.

OWNED BY A MEGA CORP? Yup. General Mills.
BPA? According to an article from April 2010 “Starting with the next tomato harvest, all Muir Glen tomato products will come in cans with BPA-free liners.”
LOCAL? No. Muir Glen comes from CA

Eden Organics
OWNED BY A MEGA CORP? I don’t think so.
BPA? Currently their lids contain BPA in trace amounts. They are moving to glass for some of their products
Not exactly. They are located in Southern Ontario, packed in Southern Ontario and distributed from a warehouse about 20 miles from Ann Arbor.
OWNED BY A MEGA CORP? Not exactly. They are owned by Boschi Food
BPA? Boxes are BPA free! 
No. They’re imported from Italy. But I’ve heard that its greener to ship from Europe than  truck produce across the country.



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This Thanksgiving, we had 5 types of cranberry sauce on the table. Of course, there was the classic raw cranberry and orange relish I remember my mother making in a meat grinder. But then there were a bunch of new recipes. It seemed everyone had been seduced by that tart crimson berry — myself included. On turkey day, everyone loves cranberries. But, for most of us, by Cyber Monday, our infatuation with that jewel of a fruit is over.

It seems a shame. Like blueberries, cranberries are high in antioxidants and flavanoids. They also have a fair amount of  vitamin Cdietary fiber and  a lot of other essential micronutrients.  As most women know, they help fight UI infections but apparently they also help fight against cancer — they can even help prevent gingivitis. According to Wikipedia, fresh cranberries can be frozen at home, and will keep up to nine months. Apparently they can be used directly in recipes without thawing. I have to do that.

Cranberries are one of those foods the Native Americans gave to the pilgrims. Next to turkey, they just  say Thanksgiving. Although dried cranberries have found their way into the occasional salad or trail mix, in general cranberries are not an everyday food.  As I use (and enjoy) the leftover cranberry sauces, I wonder why.  So as part of my effort to rethink what  I eat in favor of  what’s local, what’s sustainable and what’s healthy, I’ve come to realize it might be a good idea to give cranberries a more permanent place in my winter menu. I started with this list of ways to use leftover cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce surprises:

  1. Mix it with yogurt or cottage cheese for breakfast.
  2. Eat it on french toast, waffles, or pancakes, like these Multi-grain Buttermilk Pancakes I whipped up Sunday Morning.
  3. Warm it up and serve it with vanilla ice cream
  4. Put it on a peanut butter sandwich
  5. Use it to make Ruggelah for Chanukah (I’ll let you know how that works out.)
  6. Plop it on a salad. I tossed it with some arrugala and a little balsamic vinegar.
  7. Put it on a turkey sandwich. (Of course)
  8. Serve it with brie and crackers as a party appetizer.
  9. Mix it into your oatmeal.
  10. Add it to a smoothie.

I’m sure there must be more. I’d love to hear other ways folks enjoy their leftover sauce.

Multi-grain Buttermilk Pancakes

3/4 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup cornmeal

3/4 oatmeal flour

1 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup regular)

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbs oil

2 tbs sugar

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the egg separately. Add in the liquid ingredients with the buttermilk last. Mix together until well blended. Don’t over mix.

Pour onto hot griddle. Flip when the pancakes start to bubble.

Enjoy with leftover cranberry sauce.

Disclaimer: I loved these pancakes. They were fluffy and delicious. B liked them, but didn’t love them. Z, the pickiest eater in the universe, said they smelled like feet. It is true that the buttermilk I used was a bit pungent.  The half and half version might be better for kids with such super powers of extra-sensitive smell and total food resistance.

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