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Archive for May, 2011

My memorial weekend plans are a little up in the air — I know we will be heading upstate at some point, but not sure when or where. I do know that we will be heading toward my  my fellow blogger and friend Cathy of What Cathy Eat place for a memorial day party. Can’t wait to enjoy some of Cathy’s delicious heart – healthy recipes – without having to do the cooking.

Somewhere in my rambling I was planning on stopping at Fleisher’s in Kingston – partly to pick up a few packs of their yummy hot dogs for the BBQ, but also just to pick up some meat for the freezer. We haven’t had bacon for a long while and I am still salivating over the roast I bought from them for New Years.

But starting in the fall, I will be able to go south for my pilgrimage to my favorite sustainable butcher.  Fleisher’s Meats just announced they will be opening a store on 5th Ave in Park Slope (right across from Bierkraft) next fall.  I wasn’t surprised, co-founder Josh Applestone’s grandfather was a Brooklyn boy — according to the site — the original Fleisher’s Meats founded by Wolf Fleisher was located in Kensington at what we believe was 4159 18th Ave.

Hey Josh and Jessica, haven’t you heard that Washington Heights is the Park Slope of Manhattan? If you’re looking to open another metro NYC location, can we be next?

For more info on Fleishers in Brooklyn check out this article  on Eater. com and this Village Voice blog ForkintheRoad.

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This Saturday, the day the world was supposed to end, was bright and lush and green. The sun was out and the city glowed, gilded like the crown on Jesus in a medieval text. We drove past happy tourists walking from the Cloisters as we made our way toward the green market in Inwood. It was 11:40 and I was barely paying attention to the gorgeous weather. I was so focused on getting there before the compost truck left. I’d missed the market last week, opting for a disappointing trip to Fairways instead.  Fairway’s has affordable grass-fed milk, bulk 7-grain cereal and roasted on the premises coffee and potato chips – a special treat for B’s 11th birthday sleepover.  The cart was packed by check out.  As I was scooping sunflower seeds from the bulk bin (which I didn’t need by the way) a woman sampling super expensive organic skin cream said, “You win for the healthiest cart of the day.”

“Really?”  I asked. “You can’t see the potato chips and pretzels under the mushrooms.”

“Even still, “ she said, “You win. It’s a little game I play to pass the time. I only tell the people who are in the winners circle,” she added with a little smile.

Fairway’s has what I need, more or less, but it’s such an unpleasant experience. Hellish, you might even say. It’s crowded and everyone always is in a bad mood. The people who work there (except the olive oil guy who is knowledgeable and very helpful) and the people shopping crammed together in the tight aisles. The butcher told me that no there were no Murray’s Chickens without Styrofoam. And he was clearly annoyed that I was bothering him. He didn’t have to say,  “You want it or not?” I could hear it in his tone. Thanks but no thanks.

The market Saturday morning, on the other hand felt like a paradise. After we dropped off the compost, I noticed one of the farmer’s from last summer was back. I was overwhelmed by the abundance of gorgeous spinach, mustard greens. parsnips and radishes. I was overwhelmed with the choice. I literally felt bowled over. We bought honey and buckwheat and leeks and tons of greens.  We bought buttermilk and yogurt from Hawthorne Valley Farms. B picked out 7 cups of lemon-flavored yogurt which on special cost $7.50. At Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farms costs about $1.25 cup. I said to the man, “I don’t want you to raise the price, but you might want to make a sign that point out your special makes you competitive with the grocery store.”

Z went off to play in the “woods.” It’s what they call the wooded hill next to the market. Normally, there are a handful of kids they know from the neighborhood or school zipping up and down the path and playing games with sticks.  B stayed with me to help me carry the groceries – a chore that was paid with a cider donut. B and I chuckled as we passed the grass-fed beef vendor at the top of the market, next to the organic bakers. At the bottom of his chalkboard he wrote: “Check out our end of the world specials!”

Since it was Saturday, May 20, everyone was talking about the Harold Ramping and his predictions of the rapture. The word was out and people were talking. It’s no wonder. According to Jack Kinsella on a website called Raptureready.com:

“Camping’s supporters have shelled out millions of dollars to advertise the Rapture, including financing some twenty-two HUNDRED billboards proclaiming the Rapture on May 21st.”

As we say in the business, good advertising works. Ridiculous? Well, we are still here, so yes.

But I kept thinking Saturday, as we made jokes about how the end of the world hadn’t happened, that I am actually the same as these doomsayers. Except what I am worried about has nothing to do with God’s words. It has to do with pollution and global warming and destruction of our natural resources like water.  And sometimes if feels a lot like faith, my believe that my religious trips to the farmers market, my composting, riding my bike instead of driving and my being obsessed with not making garbage will save us.

It’s ironic that so many were willing to believe the world will end based on the word of a radio preacher, when so many in the Christian right actually believe that global warming is a hoax.

If the Christian right wants an apocalypse, unfortunately unless we start to make some tough choices and change how we behave, we’ve got one coming.

Want a quick overview of whose doing a really good job at spinning the global warming is a hoax fairytale, check out this Rolling Stone Article — 12 Executives and Politicians Blocking Progress on Global Warming.

Here’s the list:

1. Robert Murdoch,  CEO News Organization
2. Charles and David Koch,  CEO and Executive VP, Koch Industries
3. Sarah Palin
4. Gregory Boyce, CEO Peabody Energy
5. Tom Donahue, President US Chamber of Commerce
6. Rex Tillerson, CEO ExxonMobil
7. Tim Philipps, President, Americans for Prosperity
8. Ken Guccinelli,  Attorney General,
Virginia
9. Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat, West Virginia
10. Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican California
11. Bjorn Lomborg, Author “Cool It”
12. Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan

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The weather hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been good enough. The weather is no real excuse. The truth is,  I’ve been procrastinating getting back into riding my bike to work habit. But luckily, lots of other people are better at sustaining this great habit. This month is National Bike to Work Month. This week is National Bike To Work Week. And tomorrow, May 20, is National Bike to Work Day!

I’m working from home, but I pledge to get my tires filled and set to make the trek from the heights to midtown next week!

According to National bike commuter data, provided by the American Community Survey, lots more Americans are biking to work – a whopping 44 percent increase over the past 10 years. According to 2009 American Community Survey — Bike Commuter Data, New York is not doing bad as a city of bikers. In 2009, an estimated 22,619 bikers made up of 0.6% of commuters. 75% of these free-wheelers were men and  25% were woman. I’m sure the number has gone up in the last two years.

The number of bikers is about to go up in our household, too. I scored 3 new old bikes from my father’s shed over the last two weeks.

The red bike in the front is a vintage Schwinn racer. So rusty. So cool. It was my brothers when he was in high school. (If you’re reading this David, you can’t have it back!) The two ten speeds belonged to me and my dad. The gold one was the bike I took to Nova Scotia on an American Youth Hostel Bike Trip when I was 16. It’s inconceivable to me now that my mother sent me off to another country at 16. Remember kiddies, we didn’t have cell phones back then. Early on in the trip, the bike leader got hit by a car. We were somewhere outside of Portland Maine. That left eight 16-year-old’s on our own in a campground in Acadia. We were ridiculously boring while we waited unsupervised for our new group leader.

The white bike was my fathers. It’s the bike he was riding the day he stopped to help some lady find her husbands finger. The guy had accidentally cut it off mowing the lawn. My father helped locate it and put it on ice. Then his wife rushed it to the hospital. (Yes, we made jokes about the guy my father gave the finger to.)

Sure, now these dusty, rusty relics are crowding up B’s room. But soon we will all be able to hit the bike path along the river and in Central Park. Maybe National Bike Month will morph into Family Bike Summer. Sounds pretty good to me.

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The first foreign word I ever really learned was poubelle. I was 22 on a bus from Paris to Athens. It was the year after I had graduated from college and my college roommate and I met in France two days before Christmas. She was studying in Poitiers. I was about to start 6 months of backpacking across Europe.  It was before there were cell phones, and since we weren’t sure exactly when my plane would get in, we had a plan to meet in front of the Eiffel tower, every hour on the hour until we met up. Miraculously we found each other. We didn’t have a plan, just a map and desire to go somewhere sunny. We opened the map and found the most southern place a bus could take us. That’s how we ended up on a 2 day bus trip to Athens.

By the time I rode that bus, I had already taken years of high school Spanish. I had even had a few semesters of college French. So poubelle wasn’t the first bit of foreign language that had been put in my head. It was the first word I discovered on my own.

I learned poubelle from a little girl. She was maybe two and she was sitting in the front of the bus with her mother. I think we were somewhere in Italy when I remember hearing her chirp the word, which despite it’s meaning, was melodious and lovely. She repeated the word over and over in her tiny baby voice, which only made it more charming waving the wrapper from a piece of gum in the air. Finally, her mother brought the trash can over and she deposited it with delight. That’s when it clicked in my head. Poubelle means garbage. And making that connection – learning that word – changed how I understood and come to use language in a fundamental way. It was, as they say in the dusty halls of academia, a seminal moment.

Twenty years later, its slightly ironic that garbage has become a pivotal point in my day-to-day life. I think about the world in terms of the garbage I am making. Garbage no longer has a fixed meaning. And some things that used to be garbage are now something else. (I’ll go into details in the next few posts)

When I first started to think about eating sustainably, I watched the documentary No Impact Man and I kept every bit of garbage I couldn’t recycle or compost. Even though I was being so mindful about what I consumed, the amount of refuse I created was overwhelming.  That image of the pile of plastic and Styrofoam, I couldn’t recycle has stuck with me. So for me, limiting the amount of garbage I create ( and goes into the landfill) seems a very tangible and visible way to reduce my impact on the world.

Now, although I do throw some things out, I am very careful. And in my household I have some guidelines I’ve developed to help minimize the amount of trash that gets put in the landfill. Over the next few days (or weeks) I’m going to outline what I do. But here’s my quick top five list.

  1. Think about whether it will make garbage before you buy it.
  2. Don’t assume it should go in the garbage.(This means batteries and electronics but also the amazing things I have come to reuse)
  3. Don’t buy stuff that comes packages.(I’m not always good at this, but I do.)
  4. Compost food scraps
  5. Don’t take the plastic bags. (That means in the grocery store, at lunch, for the bag of apples –wherever they try to pawn those suckers off on you!)

Note: This is part of the That’s How We Do It: 2011 series of blogs which give a top line overview of the “sustainable basics” or measures I am taking to live sustainably in NYC.

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Come hear how these Washington Heights and Inwood writers define locavore and all things local and edible at this week’s Above the Bridge Reading series.

Above the Bridgee is a “playground for writers.” Each month, writers read on a different theme. This month the theme is local growth and the event is being  co-sponsored by the Washington Heights CSA.  Writers will include moi of course.  So come enjoy  a drink after your meatless monday night dinner. It should be a for a delicious evening featuring local writing about local growth.

The Details:

8 pm @ The Red Room Lounge,
1 Bennett Ave @ 181st Street

$5 cover (cash only)

RSVP to abovethebridge@gmail.com

With writings and readings by:

Joey Brenneman    Lisa Burdige       Kate Hogan     

Christa O’Brien (of  TableofPromise.com)     Danielle Oteri        Peg Rapp    

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We don’t buy bread. We make it. Well, mostly we do. On occasion, as a special treat I buy either whatever is on sale at Whole Foods or a local organic bakery and very, very occasionally I will buy bread from the Bodega — they sell Arthur Avenue Italian Bread. It may be industrial, but it’s local and has local flavor.

Bread is just about as basic a food as you can get. In fact, it can literally mean food or money – whatever it is that personally gives you substance. I grew up on neatly sliced white bread – the neat slices turned brown some time in the 70s when my mother learned that Wonder bread was less than wonderfully nutritious.

Bread was one of the first foods I decided to stop buying and explore making. It was partly because I thought buying bread made garbage. Making bread at home increases the nutrition of the product (at least allows me to really control it) and decreases the garbage output. I”m probalby not taking a lot out of the landfill but home-made bread is not packed or shipped to a store. Sometimes, when I am very flush, I even buy the flour from the farmer’s marke — that makes it super healthy and super sustainable and costs less than a loaf of the organic bread I used to buy.

But I also wanted to make bread  because there’s something about the idea of bread that has always fascinated.  Like cheese and wine, bread is a science experiment that someone had to develop. It fascinates me that yeast, this hidden magic bug. Yeast is like a real  version of the Star Wars  magical Midi-chlorians, the intelligent microscopic life forms that lived symbiotically inside the cells of all living things that give humans the power to become Jedi. Yeast, like the Midi-Chlorians, are the keepers of the force.

Although I love yeast breads, and will make them if I have the time, my daily staples are quick breads. I usually either make Irish Soda bread, which I load up with lots of oatmeal (can you say protein) and just a little sugar or a quick bread using a recipe I learned from Mark Bittman. Both use the combination of buttermilk and baking soda to create the amazing force of rising. And both are very versatile.  We make bread about twice a week. I used to do more Irish Soda bread, but it is heavy and harder to make toast or sandwiches with. The Bittman bread, on the other hand, slices well, and makes delicious sandwiches. It it most definitely one of my sustainable staples.

Note: This is part of the That’s How We Do It: 2011 series of blogs which give a top line overview of the “sustainable basics” or measures I am taking to live sustainably in NYC.

Irish Soda Bread

I first blogged about Irish Soda Bread last year, I realize now I never gave my recipe. Here it is:

(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes)

Ingredients

3  cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups oatmeal flour

2 TBSP sugar

1 TSP salt

1 TSP baking soda

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Make the oatmeal by grinding regular oatmeal into flour. You can use a coffee mill or actual flour grinder. I use the blender. If you grind extra by mistake, you can store it in the cabinet in a closed jar.

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Mix two types of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. I like to use my hands.

3. Make a well in the middle of the flour. Add the egg and buttermilk and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust your hands with a little flour, and  gently knead dough in the bowl. Form the dough into a ball. I like to split the dough into two balls at this time.

4. Sprinkle a little corn meal on a baking sheet. Place the two loaves on the sheet, giving each enough room to breath. Cut an x in the top of each loaf (if you’re baking with children, tell them it’s to keep the fairies out!)

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until  bread is brown. The best way to test if it’s done is to pull it out of the oven with a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the bread sounds hollow it’s done.

I’ve made this recipe in a baguette pan. The slightly sweet bread looks impressive and it’s a more sustainable alternative to store-bought crackers.

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It’s ironic that the day I blogged about coming how sad it was that the two side of the world can’t find a common point, a way to make amends with the other side. It’s funny that, Monday, the day I blogged about looking for more creative solutions to compromise, my au pair quit.

An au pair, is just a babysitter who lives in your house. It sounds very fancy. But it’s not. When it works, it’s great. It’s like having a family member taking care of your kids when you can’t. When it doesn’t work out, it’s like having an awkward stranger living in your house.

You can probably surmise which of my current situation describes my present situation.

My au pair quit because, in her words, “She didn’t feel comfortable living in this house.” I can’t say I was surprised. I probably did not do the best job at making her feel a part of the family.  We got off on the wrong foot (at the very beginning), she pulled away from me. Her distance made me pull back. She didn’t always understand what I was saying (English is not her native tongue) and the difference in languages made things complicated. We spiraled into two sides. When she told me she wanted to quit, I was surprised, and I tried to offer her the peace pipe. But it was too late. I could tell when the au pair agency counselor sat at the table with us to do the final papers (or possibly try to mediate a solution), that she was dug deep in her convictions. She said things like “Maybe American People are like that.” She said, “You are who are you, you can’t change who you are.” “I am the way I am.”  We had already became an “us” and “them.”

Here in my own little microcosm, I saw how difficult it is to bridge that divide. It’s hard to communicate with people. It’s hard not to take things personally when something is said wrong. Its hard not to believe that being right is more important than connecting. In the case of my au pair, she will leave, and move on in her life. It’s inconvenient for me. But in the big picture, it’s not the biggest deal.  Nobody died.

But when I told my friends about what happened they said, “No wonder she wants to leave, with your pet worms and your home-made everything.”

My au pair is not leaving because my status quo is a bit wacky.  But because I’m redefining a lot of how we live, I think the rules of the status quo may feel a bit like lines drawn in the sand on a windy beach. To someone on the outside, it probably feels like it’s hard to know when some hard and fast rule will disappear.

I’ve been blogging for about a year and some change about living sustainably – or trying to – and I’ve raised issues and changed how I do things. But I haven’t summed up what I’ve learned or what I actually do. So, over the next two weeks, I am going to take a look at where I stand and try to sum up my status quo. This is partly so that I can make sure I communicate as clearly as possible what our life is like as I search for a new au pair. And, on the other hand, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at the little picture of my home life and ask myself (and anyone else out there who wants to comment), am I really living and eating more sustainably in a way that will make a difference to the planet?  First installment, coming Monday.

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