Thursday, November 6, 2008

Update: Safe Home Air Fresheners

I love it when people comment on my posts! It reminds me to provide updates for my ongoing experiments.

In my earlier post about making your own oil diffusers I suggested using...
"Porous wood to use for the reeds- bamboo, skewers, dowels, even interesting twigs or branches from your garden (I plan to try this later this year!)"
...but as I found out, (and a comment pointed out and reminded me) bamboo skewers don't work very well to draw up the oil.

The reeds that they sell in the stores do work really well, if you can find some on sale. However, I am always looking for the natural and cheap options, so I stuck with twigs from plants in my yard. They cost nothing and I like the natural look. I found that the best ones were from a Hydrangea, but you can use any light, porous wood.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fall Gleaning for Apples

A couple weeks ago, we spent a lovely fall afternoon picking apples, and came home with a big bushel full of the fresh crisp fruits for practically nothing.

It was the Annual Gleaning Day our local orchard. Every year, at the end of the season, they allow people to "glean" all the apples that are left on the tree. There were also pumpkins, squash and gourds, but we had our hands full with apples. All they ask is that you donate something to local food pantries (You are also limited to one bushel of apples and you have to purchase a basket for $3, but I can think of a million uses for a nice bushel basket!).

The apples that were left were not "perfect" like you see in the grocery store, there were some spots and knobs and misshapen fruit, but the taste is amazing. A cool crisp apple freshly picked from the tree is pure heaven. We have been eating them fresh for weeks, and I also made applesauce and canned some slices for pie.
I will be marking the calendar for next year's fall gleaning. It's a great way to get inexpensive healthy food, support your community, and it's a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors!

Where Have I Been?

I know, I haven't posted in a while, actually a really long while.

What have I been doing that could possibly be more important than this? Well, I'll spare everyone the personal, but I will tell you how I spent most my free time for the better part of two months.


When the the garden is at its peak, and fall is around the corner, putting up food is almost a full-time job! I spent my nights and weekends slicing, dicing, stewing, boiling, pickling, mashing, straining, and watching and waiting for the canners to finish processing. It's a lot of work, but I find it fun, and definitely rewarding to see the colorful jars fill the shelves in the basement.

I managed to put up about 100 jars, which will supplement our winter diet and cut down on the grocery bills, but it would not be enough to live on. I've heard of people canning several hundred jars of food, and I imagine that would surely be a full-time job!

Now it is November, and the urgency is gone. The garden is done, save for a few late fall crops of turnips, beets, and kale. There are a few boxes of green tomatoes and winter squash that could be processed, but they can sit a little longer while I spend some time writing posts again.

We plan to expand the garden for next year though... I'll need to find more jars, and maybe a team of helpers!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kale: My New Favorite Greens

I'm not sure why but I never thought I liked kale. This year I have an accidental bumper crop of it, thanks to a mesclun mix that I planted this spring that turned out to be mostly red kale and arugula.

In the spring, the tender small leaves made their way into salads, but as the season progressed and the plants grew bigger, I wondered what I would do with all those giant kale leaves.

At first I tried cooking with it, drying it, and freezing it. Later as the lettuce gave way to the heat of summer, I tried using the smaller leaves in place of lettuce.

Kale and Potatoes

This is a pretty simple (but delicious!) recipe, basically mashed potatoes with kale, meat, and onion.
  1. While the potatoes are cooking, fry up some bacon or sausage.
  2. When done, remove from the pan, take out some of the fat, then fry up some slices of onion.
  3. When the potatoes are done, drain the hot water over chopped kale. Let sit a few minutes until the kale is tender (while you mash the potatoes with butter and milk).
  4. Add kale, crumbled bacon or sausage and onions to mashed potatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic.

Kale Chips

I found a recipe online, and lots of people raved about how delicious they were, so I decided to try it. Of course now I can't find the recipe to link to, but it involved soaking in salted water, then draining and dehydrating. I put them in the dehydrator overnight and it stunk up the house something awful! I ended up moving it out to the porch to finish. My sister said she liked them, but I wasn't so sure about the taste.

Preserving Kale by Freezing

Freezing was pretty easy to do, and I found the kale held up better than spinach. You can find general instructions for leafy greens here.

By trial and error, I found the best method (that worked for me).
  1. remove mid vein from bigger leaves
  2. tear into large pieces (about the size of your palm)
  3. blanch and cool
  4. use a salad spinner to remove excess water
  5. lay out on wax paper on a cookie sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour
  6. pack in freezer bags, remove air and label
I will have to report back later in the year and see how the frozen kale works, and try out some recipes.

Kale as Lettuce

Once we tried small kale leaves in place of lettuce, we realized how versatile this vegetable really is. It adds a nice crunch and an interesting flavor, and I'm sure it has more good stuff in it. It also holds up longer in the fridge compared to leaf lettuce. Kale made its way onto turkey sandwiches, burgers, BLTs (I guess they would be BKTs) and chopped for tacos or burritos or whatever else called for something green.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Composting is Cool

My worm bin and my compost pile are working their magic and providing lots of good fertilizer for my plants. I keep meaning to write a post about my adventures in composting, but there's so much good info out there already:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Exfoliating Beads Bad

Yet another reason to make your own face scrub:

Plastic ain't fantastic, reason No. 4,972
"...tiny exfoliating beads in many facial scrubs are made of polyethylene, and once the beads get washed down the drain and make their way to the ocean, it's time for Nemo and friends to get ill. (Of course, polyethylene's also a suspected carcinogen, and as a plastic, its production is fossil fuel-intensive.)"

I find that the baking soda and oatmeal scrub does a fantastic job of cleaning and gentle exfoliation. I think the special exfoliating beads are just another marketing gimmick to get you to buy the latest and greatest. So, you scrub yourself silly, then you need to buy their special moisturizer, then you're oily so you need the special cleanser... and the cycle begins. Sometimes simple is better.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I Love my Garden!

I know I haven't written much lately, but my excuse is spending most of my free time canning and freezing (and eating!) the bounty of beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, and onions growing in my garden.

It's really turned out to be fun! I love just walking through the garden every day and watching things grow. Going produce shopping in the backyard is pretty amazing too!

I also love to see the variety of life when I walk through. By not using any chemicals and maintaining a healthy growing environment, all kinds of living things feel welcome. Yesterday I spotted this little green frog sitting on a pepper.

My garden is also host to...
  • big fat earthworms that aerate and fertilize the soil
  • frogs, toads and wasps that prey on bugs
  • wildflowers that attract bees and other pollinators
Sure, I occasionally have not so welcome guests stop by, like the hoard of Japanese Beetles that descended on the pole beans, or the bunny that (so far) only nibbles on a few low hanging beans. We are maintaining a balance with hand removal and deterrents like spraying with compost tea (or dog hair in the case of the bunny) and keeping the pesky critters under control.

Without chemicals, and not too much labor, the small plot produces more delicious healthy food than we can eat, and I also get the pleasure of watching the wildlife that make my garden their home!

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Touch of the News

  • School fundraisers go green trading candy bars and magazines for greener things- "...fair-trade coffee, metal water bottles, hand-made soaps, and recycled-content wrapping paper"
  • Questions have been raised over the safety of sunscreen, especially those that contain oxybenzone. More research needs to be done to prove one way or the other if it is harmful, but for now, I'm sticking with my Badger Sunscreen
  • Natural insecticides containing pyrethrins (and the synthetic pyrethroids) were supposed to be safer according to the EPA, but are actually responsible for 1/4 of all pesticide related health problems.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Organic Gardening with Chemical Happy Neighbors

I am so proud of my organic garden this year. It is growing so well with compost and mulch to improve the soil and keep weeds down. My only fertilizer is worm compost tea. The plants were all growing happy and strong.

Then, my neighbor decided to Roundup the weeds and grass along our shared fence. Granted, it wasn't along the section where my garden is, but the drift from the herbicide killed two feet of grass on my side of the fence (where my dogs play) and drifted four feet into the garden. A tomato plant and a potato plant nearest the corner have been sick and wilted for weeks now, despite ample rain.

I did some research online and found recommendations to wait 8 weeks before eating crops that have possible herbicide drift. Eight weeks! Despite all my hard work to make an organic garden, I still have to worry about chemical residue in my food!

My problem is on a very small scale, and will not likely happen again (the culprit happens to be my uncle). I can do something about it. But, what if it were on a larger scale, and your neighbors were huge growers spraying chemicals on their fields by airplane? What if you couldn't go outside because the air was toxic with chemical drift?

Check out the story Pesticide Drift about people living in California's Central Valley, who have to live and work in chemical drift every day. They raise their families in a place where 30% of children have asthma. The people living in these areas are trying be heard. They are getting organized, and sampling the air with 'Drift Catchers' to prove their is a problem to government officials who downplay the drift as a matter of tolerance, and merely a bad smell.

Please think about that next time you buy a big bag of lettuce or slice open a juicy melon that was likely grown in California. Buy organic food, support sustainable growers, and grow your own food if you can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Homemade Natural Face Powder Recipe

I have been on a mission to reduce the beauty products I use and replace the 'necessities' with products that are

  • natural
  • inexpensive
  • easy to make, store, and use
  • not irritating to my sensitive skin
  • still going to make me look good
My first success was with a homemade oatmeal/baking soda cleanser (by the way organic oatmeal does make a difference). After that I moved on to a face powder. I had been using the standard Cover Girl pressed powder, but I didn't like what I saw on the list of ingredients.

I did a little research and came up with a few options homemade powder:

This kitchen staple is the magic ingredient. The first time I tried it I was hooked. It feels soft, lasts all day, and makes your face feels great when washed off. If used lightly you can dust on straight without looking like a ghost. More great uses for cornstarch

French Green Clay
Green Clay absorbs oils and toxins, and helps slough off impurities. It is often used in facial masks (mixed with water and aloe or oils) to tone the skin and tighten pores. As a powder, the green tone neutralizes redness in the skin. When I used this by itself, it felt nice but not quite as nice as cornstarch. I thought the green made my skin a little off color.

Cornstarch/Green Clay Mix
I found a real winner when I mixed the two ingredients. The cornstarch kept me shine-free all day, felt light and natural, and the clay powder added a silky texture and decreased redness. I found an old powder container to reuse and I had a nice soft brush to apply it. The best part is- the whole shebang cost me pennies!

Note: I have fairly pale skin, so this mixture works well for me, but for darker complexions, you could add Organic Cocoa Powder. Cocoa powder is an antioxidant and adds a little pigment (and delicious scent!). See how this chocolate lover incorporates it into her cosmetics.

Shopping List: (You can buy most of these items in bulk to save money, and you will be able to use at least the cornstarch and cocoa for other uses)
NEW! Try a sample before you buy in bulk at my etsy shop !

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Summer Foraging- Wild Fruits

    This year I've harvested and made jam and other delicious treats from juneberries, mulberries, and cherries. I have plans for crabapples, wild plum, elderberries, chokeberries, and all other berries and fruits I can find at work, at home, and in wild areas where I live.

    Go Wild!
    Foraging for wild fruit is a fun, inexpensive way to have fresh fruit. Most freeze well or make wonderful preserves for year round enjoyment of seasonal fruits.
    But Be Careful...
    Most people can identify a raspberry or blackberry, but many other fruits are a little more difficult, and may look similar to other plants with poisonous fruits. Before you go foraging, learn how to identify the plants (and similar looking dangerous plants) and refresh your memory each year. If you are just starting out, it's best to go with someone who can identify the plants. Be careful picking fruits near roadways. Pollutants like heavy metals, may be found in fruit growing along highways.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    The Art of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

    Warm gooey melt in your mouth Chocolate Chip Cookies...

    Maybe you have the perfect secret family recipe, but for some of us, the Chocolate Chip Cookie is an art that is perfected over time (with plenty of trial and error on the way).

    What I've learned? The more butter and sugar the better. Bake until the chocolate is gooey. Serve warm, with milk, and use good chocolate.

    Here's some tips from expert cookie makers:

    Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie -
    • " through the recipe first, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature, use the best-quality ingredients you can find, don’t overmix."
    • The Rule of Thirds- Let the dough rest up to 36 hours for more even cooking, better texture, and richer flavor. Bigger is better- cookies up to 6" can be a real treat and you will get 3 rings of textures.
    • You'd be surprised, but a little coarse salt on top can make it even more amazing.

    Also, check out this NPR Interview with Shirley Corriher- food scientist and author, about "how to build a better chocolate chip cookie".

    Books about Chocolate Chip Cookies (I had no idea there were so many!)

    Tuesday, July 8, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    • How do you know where your produce comes from? There is currently no labeling law, but this fall, a new federal law will require that fresh food is labeled by country of origin.
    • Scientists are working on the problem of mercury in CFLs (in case they are broken or don't get recycled). They have come up with ideas for cloth or plastic for packaging or clean up that would capture the mercury.
    • If you're trying to get drunk really fast, drink cocktails with diet soda. Alcohol gets to the bloodstream 15 minutes faster with artificially sweetened drinks!
    • Phyto-nutrient citrulline in watermelon (among other benefits) has Viagra-like effects on blood vessels. This nutrient is found in higher concentrations in the rind. Watermelon pickles anyone?

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    How to Avoid Being a Walking Mosquito Bite

    I think mosquitoes must really like how I taste, but apparently they don't really have preferences. The little devils bite the people who are easiest to find.

    Mosquitoes find us by our warmth, carbon dioxide (breathing) and certain skin chemicals (like lactic acid). Exercise Invites Mosquito Bites because you are warmer, breathe more, and lactic acid is produced.

    Drinking alcohol is also said to make you mosquito bait.

    So, pretty much doing anything fun outside in the summer makes you a target.

    Best ways to keep from being eaten alive:
    • Wear light colored, loose clothing
    • Eat garlic or take vitamin B tablets (not proven to work but some swear by it)
    • DEET repellents work
    • There are plant-based repellents- Eucalyptus, soybean oil or citronella work but don't last as long
    • Some people swear by Listerine, but it is said to be a myth
    • Repellents made from Lemon Eucalyptus (an ingredient in Listerine) are natural and safe for clothes and skin
    Repel HG-406T Lemon Eucalyptus 4 Ounce Insect Repellent Pump SprayMore on mosquitoes

    Green Bookworms Come Together

    The Blogging Bookworm is a group of people interested in 'green' books. There are lists of good books, reviews, discussion, and even some book giveaways.

    Check it out and add some environmental books to your reading list.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    It's Mulberry Time!

    I just picked my first bowl of mulberries from the tree in my backyard. I have ambitions to make jam with them, but I can't pick enough before the bloodthirsty mosquitoes drive me out. I may have to resort to the old 'shaking' method.

    Back in the day, when it was mulberry time my siblings and I would take an old bed sheet and some ice cream buckets, and walk down the fence line in the fields near our house. There were several big mulberry trees that were covered in the juicy black fruits. My brother would climb the tree and shake the branches, and the tree would rain berries onto the sheet that my sister and I held below. We would fill buckets and eat handfuls on the way home. While we scrubbed our purple hands, mom would make jam and syrup from the mulberries. Our favorite treat was fresh mulberries on vanilla ice cream. We still enjoy mulberry time in summer, but now my brother has a special pole and tarp to collect enough mulberries to make wine.

    When I bought my house, there were several mulberry trees growing in the yard. They are considered a weed tree around here, and most were removed along with the buckthorn and other weeds. Somehow, one tiny tree in the back corner escaped the chainsaw. It is now almost ten feet tall and covered in berries. The birds and I share the fruit. Nostalgia has kept it alive this far, but it will have to convince the less nostalgic of my household by producing some delicious berry treats. I guess I better put on some more bug spray, find a tarp, and go shake the tree...

    How to use mulberries: This sweet fruit can be used in any berry recipe, and they also mix well with other fruit.

    New Milk Jugs: Coming to a Store Near You?

    As shipping prices increase and environmental awareness grows, many products will be redesigned with efficiency in mind.

    This New York Times article, Solution, or Mess? A Milk Jug for a Green Earth highlights a redesign of the gallon milk jug.

    Old milk jugs could not be stacked, and required crates to deliver. Crates had to be returned and washed to reuse. The shipping methods are labor-intensive and not very efficient.

    New square shaped jug
    • can be stacked and shipped on pallets
    • cuts labor in half
    • cuts water use by 60 - 70%
    • fewer deliveries (more fit on a truck)
    • keeps milk fresher
    • costs less (10 - 20 cents a gallon)
    The one complaint? It's hard to pour. People spill it when they first use it.

    I say get used to it, we will be seeing more products changing their packaging for more efficiency.

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    • New kitchen appliance allows you to scan empty containers and create a grocery list, and items are delivered to your door. It also reminds you which containers can be recycled. Sounds interesting, I wouldn't mind less trips to the grocery store, but I think delivery in my area is a way off.
    • The debate over raw milk goes on. Supporters list the benefits and try to legalize selling it in all states, and the FDA lists the risks.
    • Greenpeace rated 18 major electronics companies in its Guide to Greener Electronics. Ratings are based on practices including using toxic materials, recycling programs, and political lobbying to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Quick Breads for Quick Breakfasts

    Avoid the temptations of fat laden fast food for breakfast (McBreakfast, donuts, monster muffins...) by keeping some quick breads around. They are easy to make, store well (even freezing), are portable, are not greasy, and are cheaper than buying breakfast. The best ones hold together nice for one handed eating with limited crumb spillage.
    “Quick breads are the friend of the busy breakfast lover. ... Even if you can't help eating on the run, at least you can add some whole grains and nutrients to your homemade goodies instead of buying food that is just dessert masquerading as breakfast.” Julie O'Hara (courtesy of an NPR interview)
    Quick breads can have many different ingredients and flavors and come in the form of scones, muffins, biscuits, loaves or cornbread. For recipes see...

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Not Just a Garnish: More Uses for Radish

    My garden is now in summer mode, and the radish season is about over. We planted 'Easter Egg', a mix of white, red, and purple radishes, and enjoyed a good crop of crisp, tangy globes.

    I love fresh sliced radishes on salads (with radish greens too, I've learned the tops are edible too!) but towards the end of the crop I was looking for more creative uses for these seasonal vegetables.

    In this country we usually think of radishes as garnish, but there are many cultures (and recipes) out there that use radishes in different ways.

    Refrigerator Pickled Radishes

    (Adapted from IL- Extension)

    1/2 pound radish- sliced or shredded
    1 carrot shredded or diced
    1 tablespoon canning salt
    1 cup water
    1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

    1. Wash and slice or shred radishes and carrots. Put in a bowl with water, sprinkle salt and mix well.

    2. Let set, and after 30 min, drain and squeeze dry

    3. Combine vinegar, sugar and red pepper and combine with vegetables in a jar.

    4. Refrigerate overnight. Will keep in the fridge about a month.

    These pickled radishes are a treat! Crisp, sweet, tangy- they can be served as a snack or on sandwiches or salads.

    A slightly different and quicker version of this would be Radish Salad.

    Other Delicious Radish Ideas

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Please Don't Take My Bananas!

    I eat a banana every morning first thing. If I'm in a hurry but starving I grab a banana for the road. I snack on trail mix with banana chips. Bananas are cheap, filling, easy to eat, extremely portable, and good for you. They don't have a very long shelf life, but there's always banana bread.

    I have been ignoring the little green voice in my head that says bananas are not so good for the environment. After reading the article Yes, We Will Have No Bananas, I can ignore it no longer. I may have to start looking for a banana alternative, or save them for a special treat (Although, even at $1/lb they are still cheaper than most fruits, unless they are on sale. It's difficult to find a balance between convenience, price, and environmental benefits).
    "ONCE you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century — enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite — will begin to unravel.

    The immediate reasons for the price increase are the rising cost of oil and reduced supply caused by floods in Ecuador, the world’s biggest banana exporter. But something larger is going on that will affect prices for years to come.

    That bananas have long been the cheapest fruit at the grocery store is astonishing. They’re grown thousands of miles away, they must be transported in cooled containers and even then they survive no more than two weeks after they’re cut off the tree. Apples, in contrast, are typically grown within a few hundred miles of the store and keep for months in a basket out in the garage. Yet apples traditionally have cost at least twice as much per pound as bananas..." More Interesting Banana Info

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    The Fisher- Wildlife Encounters in the North Woods

    It was a hot muggy day in June when I braved mosquitoes, ticks, deep woods and swamp to see a fisher den.

    It was the weekend of our annual 'Sibling Retreat' at our family cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin. On a hike with his dog the day before, my brother spotted the den and the mother fisher with three babies. When he told the tail, the rest of us were intrigued. It's not often you see a this extremely shy and solitary animal, let alone four of them and a den. We followed him through the deep woods equipped with camera and bug spray to catch a glimpse of these interesting creatures.

    The first time I saw a fisher I didn't even know what I was looking at. We were driving down the road (in that same area) when we saw a big brown animal in the road. It was too big to be a cat, too small to be a dog or bear, and shaped like a weasel. It ran into the woods as we got closer, but when we stopped to look closer it charged out at us and tried to attack the tires! We thought it could be a marten, but the locals said it was most likely a fisher, a very aggressive predator, similar in appearance but larger (4-15 lbs and 29-47 inches in length) than the marten.

    The den was a hole in the top of a tall hollow tree deep in a quiet part of the forest. The mother fisher was not around but we could see three pairs of eyes looking down at us. The babies look like a combination of bear cub and kitten. Cute, I thought, until I spied the leg of a fawn hanging from the tree and the rest of the unfortunate prey strewn about the swampy ground. A creepy sight, but somewhat rare, fisher usually prey on small mammals and some ground birds. We didn't stay long, the mosquitoes swarm if you stop moving, but I did get a couple shots of the young ones. The fisher's dark brown pelt is prized for fur, and the species has ridden a population roller coaster in this country, as trapping regulations have changed. It is proving to be an adaptable species, and they are now finding a way to survive in suburban areas as the preferred habitat (deep old woods with high canopy cover) is lost to logging and development. There have been reports of fisher in surburban backyards and attacks on stray cats and dogs and some domestic pets.
    More info...

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Tips on Eating Less Meat

    In my earlier post, The Protein Plan, I wrote about eating less meat and more of other protein sources. So far the plan is going very well. I have found my favorite cookbook very helpful in coming up with creative non-meat meals and meals with just a little meat. The author recently wrote an article in the NYTimes that seemed to speak right to me. His tips are summarized below.

    The Minimalist -Putting Meat in Its Place -

    1. Forget the protein thing- You can get quite a bit of protein from vegetables (they have more protein per calorie than meat). Average meat consumption of typical Americans is twice as high as recommended by the USDA, which is on the high side to begin with.

    2. Buy less meat- Learn to accept smaller serving sizes. Use meat more as added flavor to a dish instead of serving a big hunk of meat.

    3. Get it out of the center of the plate- Make the side dishes the center of the meal (vegetables, grains, beans, salads and fruit).

    4. Buy more vegetables, and learn new ways to cook them- Stock the fridge and freezer and pantry with veggies, pasta, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, fish, bacon, and a little meat. Make dishes with what you have, get creative.

    5. Make non-meat items as convenient as meat- Precook things for easy meals, cook a big batch of beans or grains and store in the fridge or freezer. Keep greens in a salad spinner, store blanched veggies to throw in stir fries or other dishes. (I started using a salad spinner and my salad consumption is through the roof!)

    6. Make some rules- No meat for ___ . I have meatless breakfast and lunch during the week, only 3 dinners with meat per week. Weekends are anything goes.

    7. Look at restaurant menus differently- Eat at restaurants that serve good non-meat dishes, or use going out to eat as a reward and eat a big steak if it makes you happy. Sharing meals also helps, and you can order extra sides if you need to.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Good Reads: Notes From Little Lakes

    This past winter was long, stretching it's cold fingers into spring. This wonderful book, Notes From Little Lakes, by Mel Ellis, helped me through the long cold season.

    The author's descriptions of his homestead in Wisconsin (not that far from me!) brings alive a world of color and beauty. The book it set up like a journal, and takes you through the seasons of the land, animals, and his family. It inspired me to write more about my own little homestead and natural beauty of Wisconsin.

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    Fast Food Industry Hurts Southern Forests

    Southern forests of North America, the most threatened forests in the US, supply 60% of US paper (15% of global). Over 30% of native Southeastern plant communities have become endangered.

    Fast food restaurants are leaders in consumption of paper products and contribute to waste in landfills and litter on roadsides.

    The Dogwood Alliance
    , formed to increase awareness of the problems that Southern forests face. Their new campaign No Free Refills targets food packaging in the fast food industry.

    To reduce their impact on the environment, the Dogwood Alliance suggests Fast Food Retailers
    • reducing packaging
    • use 100% post-consumer recycled boxboard
    • not use paper from endangered forests or industrial pine plantations
    • recycle waste
    Examples of Progress:
    Americans use 15 billion disposable hot beverage cups every year.
    Starbucks now uses 10 percent recycled post-consumer cup (instead of non-recycled paper). This will save 11,000 tons of wood and 47 million gallons of water.

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Electronic Junk in My Trunk

    I have a broken printer in my trunk. I've been driving around with it in there for a few months now. I refuse to throw in in the trash, and I'm trying to recycle it. Really, I'm trying!
    • I tried to give it away for parts to family members and freecycle.
    • Goodwill only takes working items.
    • There are a few local stores (and online) that take them but charge $10 or more (I know, I'm cheap).
    • There was a free electronic recycling day announced in my town, but they forgot to mention where (and I forgot to follow up).
    Lesson #1- Don't buy cheap printers anymore. They don't last very long, use too much ink, and you can't get rid of them.

    Lesson #2- Why don't we have better electronic recycling programs? It it was easier to do, more people would recycle instead of throwing it out or stockpiling in the basement (or car trunk).

    Fortunately there is hope on the horizon! Best Buy has announced a trial electronic waste recycling program in some stores. Maybe if I keep the printer in my trunk long enough, I will drive past one of those stores!

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    • As of Feb. 17, 2009 my television will not work when the US switches to digital. Darn. Millions of people will have to buy new television sets or adapters to replace older sets, or (gasp!) not be able to watch tv in every room of their house!
    • Scientists are working on more effective and longer lasting alternatives to DEET, now that they have figured out how the chemical works to repel insects.
    • A promising biofuel made with algae and saltwater could power existing cars in the next five years.

    Friday, May 23, 2008

    The Scent of Spring: Lily-of-the-Valley

    A previous owner of my house planted Lily-of-the-Valley around the house, and now is the time of year when this small plant gets noticed. With the windows open, the sharp sweet scent wafts in. Working outside I suddenly stop when I walk through the area.

    Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)
    A small spreading plant that was introduced from Europe, with nodding bell-shaped white flowers with scalloped edges. Flowers are waxy tepals (fused petals and sepals).

    I am always curious to know how flowers are pollinated and why they look (and smell) the way they do. The sweet scent of the Lily of the Valley attracts bees and flies, which find a reward of nectar up inside the tiny white bells. Bees also collect the pollen. Every now and then I see little red fruits, but it was interesting to find out they are usually sterile. Since it spreads by rhizomes, the plants are all clones.

    I also found out that all parts of the plant are toxic (as I'm rubbing a flower I picked all over my face)
    . Lily of the Valley is used by the perfume and pharmaceutical industries.

    Convallaria comes from the Latin convallis meaning "a valley", and majalis means 'in May' referring to the flowers.

    Other common names include Our Lady's tears (tears Mary shed at the cross turned to Lilies of the Valley), May Lily, May Bells, Lily Constancy, and Ladder-to-Heaven.

    Eat Your Veggies- One Way or Another

    We all know (or should by now) that vegetables are good for you. There are lots of studies out there linking eating lots of veggies with lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems. What we aren't so clear on, is the way to prepare them for the maximum good stuff (nutritional value also depends on growing, processing, and storage).

    Water-soluble nutrients - often lost in processing
    • vitamins C and B and polyphenolics
    • anthocyanins- red and blue pigments
    Fat-soluble compounds - less lost in processing
    • vitamins A, D, E and K
    • carotenoids (including lycopene -found in tomatoes and other red vegetables)
    Processing also breaks down tough cell walls of plants, making nutrients inside more accessible.

    • Cooked spinach- 64 % less vitamin C than when fresh
    • Canned peas and carrots- 85 - 95 % less vitamin C than when fresh
    • Boiled Carrots, zucchini and broccoli- more carotenoids than steaming, frying or raw (but less polyphenols than raw)
    • Vegetables served with fat-rich foods or dressing- absorb much more lycopene, lutein, and beta carotene than when eaten plain (or with low-fat dressing)
    Instead of agonizing over how to eat your veggies, a better approach would be to eat lots of them in different ways. If you like carrots raw but not cooked, eat a different vegetable cooked. Try new ones of all different colors and textures, and try many different ways. If you like to dip veggies in dressing, go right ahead.

    Just eat your veggies.

    (Info courtesy of Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables - New York Times)

    A Touch of the News

    • Palm oil: Good for us but bad for environment? Production leads to deforestation in Southeast Asia, which increases greenhouse gases and threatens orangutan habitat.
    • Due to 'budget cuts', the USDA is eliminating the program to collect and share data on pesticide use and risk. The program was already scaled back in 2007 to only track pesticide on cotton, apples and organic apples. Many environmental groups and industry groups are speaking out against the move. Except for Monsanto. Curious...
    • What's in your microbiome? Scientists are learning more about the colonies of good bacteria that live in and on our bodies. Did you know that your bacterial cells outnumber your human cells by 10 to 1?

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    My Backyard Birds: Northern Flicker

    For reasons unknown, this year I am really noticing birds. I don’t know why I didn’t see them before, but now I see them everywhere. I am making an effort to get to know them, starting with the ones that visit my yard. I would like to know their names, where they came from, what they eat, and the things they do for us that we probably don’t realize.

    A Feeding Flicker
    This spring I was throwing some sticks on the brush pile in the back yard when I noticed the most striking bird feeding on the ground. She paused to look at me and then continued jabbing at the ground. I ran to grab my camera and capture this unusual sight. It was a female Northern Flicker, and she was feeding on ants in my lawn.

    Ant-Eating Woodpeckers
    Flickers are a type of woodpecker, different in that they spend some time feeding on the ground. Like woodpeckers, they can be heard rapping on dead trees. They have a long tongue that curls inside its skull until needed to shoot out and catch ants (three inches past their beak!). They eat more ants than other birds, and a single Flicker was found with 5,000 ants in its stomach. Flickers also eat other insects, fruits, and acorns, as well as suet, raisins and apples at feeders in cold months.

    Flicker Markings
    The Flicker was a larger bird (about 12” long) of light brown color with a red crescent on the back of her neck, and a black ‘bib’ on her chest with black spots underneath. Males (and young) have a noticeable black ‘mustache’. In flight, the Flicker has a white rump, until it lands and virtually vanishes against the bark of a tree.

    Welcoming Flickers
    Flickers used to be more common in backyards, but declined after people began killing their prey with lawn pesticides. As more and more people practice natural gardening and lawn care, Flickers are finding our yards a more welcoming habitat.

    I like to think the female Flicker would enjoy nesting in my yard (I even left some dead parts of trees for her!), but I haven’t seen her around in a while. Hopefully she wasn’t too put off by my staring at her with my big zoom lens. It was amazing to witness her feeding in my lawn, and I’m glad for the opportunity to watch such a beautiful bird in action.

    Female Flicker © 2008 Rachel Logterman

    My Banana Bread Recipe: For the No-Waste Kitchen

    This recipe came about because I love banana bread, and love to make my own bread recipes. It is also a classic way to recycle leftover food instead of throwing it away (or composting it).
    Did You Know: Americans waste about a pound of edible food per person each day (thrown away at grocery stores, restaurants, and home kitchens). Food wasted is about 12% of our waste, and 98% of that ends up rotting in landfills (giving off methane). See the photo and more information at One Country’s Table Scraps, Another Country’s Meal.

    The last bananas get so soft and brown that most people will not eat them, but these forgotten fruit are perfect for banana bread. With food prices so high, why waste food? Why not get creative!

    My No-Waste Banana Bread: I already have some pretty good Banana Bread recipes, but I love to experiment, and I wondered what else I could add that would otherwise be wasted. After a few modifications, I came up with a really good moist bread, that is eaten as quick as I can make it (no-waste!).

    Recycled Ingredients:
    • Over-ripe Bananas- Freeze them in the skin or in freezer bags until you have enough for the recipe. Thaw out and they are super easy to mash.
    • Coffee- There is always a cup or two of coffee left over in the pot (My sister has also used dark beer with great results).
    • Bread Crumbs- I make homemade bread, and there is always a little bit that is uneaten or gets a little stale. I chop or grind the extra bread and freeze it for recipes that call for bread crumbs.
    • Yogurt- I also make my own homemade yogurt, and there's always a little left over at the end of the week.

    Recipe: No-Waste Banana Bread
    Makes 1 big loaf or 4 mini loaves

    3-4 ripe bananas (about 2 cups)
    1 cup coffee
    1/2 cup butter, melted
    1/4 cup yogurt (I use plain but I have used flavored for a little different taste)
    2 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla

    1 cup bread crumbs
    1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda

    1 cup raisins or walnuts (optional)

    Mash bananas and soak in coffee for at least 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, butter, yogurt, and eggs.
    In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
    Combine wet and dry ingredients, mixing until just combined (don't beat it too much, you can combine easily with a spoon or spatula).
    Stir in raisins and/or walnuts if desired.
    Bake in greased pans at 350˚F for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
    Cool a bit and spread with butter, it will melt in your mouth! Remember, Banana Bread freezes well, so make a big batch and save some for later!

    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    • The Green Paint debate- air quality and health vs. attractive durable surfaces.

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Eating Weeds? A Garlic Mustard Recipe

    It's about that time when the weeds start growing faster than the garden plants. Weeding is a necessary chore in the garden, but why throw all your hard work away? Many people don't realize that some weeds are actually edible.

    Garlic Mustard
    This highly invasive weed was brought here from Europe as a culinary herb. The leaves have spicy somewhat bitter flavor with a hint of garlic. Not many animals eat it, and with it's numerous seeds, it spreads like mad. Garlic Mustard is a big problem for our woodlands; it shades out native wildflowers and quickly destroys the native habitat.

    Now is a great time to remove these weeds before seeds form. As long as you're pulling them out, why not put the weed to use? Garlic Mustard leaves can be used as you would greens, or it can be used in pesto. I found this recipe and decided to try it. It turned out really good, and fresh!

    Pasta with Garlic Mustard Pesto (modified from this Grist post)

    1 clove garlic
    2 cups (washed) garlic mustard leaves
    1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
    1 Tbsp pine nuts (optional)
    3 T of grated Parmesan Cheese (not the powdered stuff in the can)
    1/2 cup of olive oil
    Use a food processor (or mortar and pestle) and grind the garlic, garlic mustard leaves, salt, cheese, and pine nuts until smooth. Add olive oil until you get the right texture.

    Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the cooking water in the pan to thin the pesto. Toss pasta and pesto. Sprinkle some more Parmesan on top for garnish.

    I added cooked garbanzo beans for some protein, but you could add chicken or shrimp, or eat as it is.

    Other Weeds for the Dinner Table:
    • Purslane: I have tried this Vitamin C rich weed, and will have to share my Purslane Potato Salad later this year (it's at it's peak in July around here).
    • Dandelion: I keep meaning to pick some young leaves to throw in a salad, and I have yet to try the unopened flower buds and the tender spring roots as vegetables, but I hear they are pretty tasty. Maybe some good recipes will get me motivated?
    Caution: Always be careful when eating wild foods, be sure you know what you are eating, and try only a little at first to make sure you are not allergic. Be sure you know they were not sprayed with any herbicides.

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Old Appliances Giving You Green Guilt?

    I know my old appliances are not the most efficient, but I don't think I could give them up completely. Some, like the dishwasher and washing machine, are actually more energy and water efficient than washing by hand.

    More efficient appliances are the answer, and there are all kinds of new models on the market. I don't know about you, but I can't really afford to replace all of my perfectly functional appliances with shiny new ones. So, I have to learn how to make the most of what I have.

    A cleverly titled article in the NY Times, caught my eye, and helped ease my green guilt a little.
    If Your Appliances Are Avocado, They Probably Aren’t Green - New York Times:
    "Besides the money, is this really a good idea environmentally, to get rid of an appliance that is operating just fine to buy another one, even if it does have better energy standards?"
    Appliance Info in the article from the Energy Star program:
    • When to Replace: Appliances over 15 years old should be replaced
      • Around 80% of the appliance is recyclable- check to see if your appliance stores and local government have recycling programs
      • Most appliance part are recycled even if brought to the landfill
      • Scrap prices are up right now- you probably won't have trouble finding someone to take the old one off your hands.
    • Refrigerators: Do not put your old fridge in the garage to keep your 12 canned beverages cold, it's very inefficient. If you need it occasionally or a party or holiday, only turn it on when you really need the space.
    • Washing Machines: Front load models are more efficient. They use less water and spin more out to reduce drying time.
    • Dishwashers: Hand-washing uses more water than a full dishwasher. Avoid rinsing before you load, let the machine do its job! The rinse and hold feature uses less than a gallon of water (how much water goes down the drain when you leave the water running and to rinse everything?).
    • Dryers: Unfortunately not much can be done to make these appliances use less energy. The only alternative is to hang your clothes out to dry, which is becoming more popular.
    One more surprising tidbit from this article:
    “You can save $50 to $100 a year just by turning off the screen saver,” and letting the computer go to sleep.

    Saturday, May 10, 2008

    Happy International Migratory Bird Day!

    The second Saturday each May, International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated to bring awareness to migratory birds and their habitats.

    From WI DNR:“International Migratory Bird Day is a time to reflect on the beauty and joy neotropical migrant birds bring us,” said Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “These long-distance migrants, especially the warblers and other colorful songbirds, are the crown jewels of the bird world.”

    He noted the arrival of these birds from places as far away as Central and South America reminds us that not only do they have to contend with the rigors of flying long distances but with hazards such as the proliferation of tall structures such as cell towers, wind turbines and TV towers, and with dwindling or fragmented stop-over habitats along the way to their breeding grounds.

    (Yellow Rumped Warbler © 2008 Rachel Logterman)

    Friday, May 9, 2008

    You Mean I Can Eat Microwave Popcorn Again?

    I love popcorn, but I have been avoiding it because of the issues I have with microwave popcorn (cost, packaging, chemicals), so I was thrilled to see this post from Bitten about making popcorn in paper bags.

    Apparently there is no secret formula in the stuff they sell in bags in the store. Yet again, product marketing and convenience has caused us to forget that some old fashioned ways aren't really that much harder.

    I can't wait to try this out, I just added popping corn to my grocery list.
    1. Take 1/4 cup or so of popcorn
    2. Put it in a brown paper bag
    3. Fold the top a few times
    4. Microwave until the kernels stop popping (usually a couple minutes)
    5. Enjoy warm, healthy popcorn with your own preferred toppings (mmm, melted butter...)

    Changing How We Eat: The Protein Plan

    Eating locally grown food is important for health and the environment. My household is working on finding local farmers to buy our meat and dairy products from, and plan to grow and store much of our own produce. However, after using environmental footprint calculators, and reading things like this...
    NPR: Is It Better to Eat Locally or Eat Differently?: Talk of the Nation, May 9, 2008 · When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, what you eat may be more important than where that food comes from. A new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology indicates that replacing the calories from red meat and dairy products with calories from chicken, fish or vegetables could have the same impact on greenhouse gas emissions as shifting to an entirely locally-grown diet.
    ...I am becoming aware that we need to also cut back on our meat and dairy consumption. Fortunately, my boyfriend (meat and potatoes kind of guy) is very supportive of the Sustainable Living Challenge, and we are working to change our diets.

    The Protein Plan:
    • Lunches- Instead of meat and cheese we now have sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly, hummus, or egg salad (all homemade but the peanut butter).
    • Dinners- 3 nights of week we have meat and 4 nights a week we have a bean dish (Sometimes leftovers incorporate both).
    • Meat- Beef will be locally raised and at least somewhat grass-fed, and we will also try to eat more poultry and fish.
    I have found that the new Protein Plan saves time and money. Meat takes longer to thaw out and cook and the storage time is less than meals made with the other protein sources. Per ounce of protein, eggs and beans are less expensive than meat. Peanut butter can be a little expensive for the natural stuff, but I love it. I hope to eventually be able to harvest wild growing nuts in my area, which will cut down on the cost.

    I have come up with lots of great bean recipes, which are fun to make, delicious, and very good for you. I will be posting some soon. If you know of any good egg or bean recipes, please add a comment.

    Cutting down on dairy may be a little harder though- we are Wisconsinites. I am making my own yogurt, and will soon be trying this method of homemade butter, but we are really big fans of milk and cheese. Think the neighbors would notice a cow in the back yard?

    A Touch of the News

    • From the Gristmill: Depending on your car, slowing down (from 70 down to 65 mph) can reduce fuel consumption by 8.2%. Speeding doesn't really get you there all that much faster anyway. Jackrabbit starts are also a culprit of fuel consumption.
    • Grist reviews less-toxic nail polishes. Conventional nail polishes contained toluene (linked to birth defects), formaldehyde (carcinogen and air pollutant), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP- linked to reproductive problems). (Note: Nail polish in general does not work in my world. Want the least toxic option? Go natural- file every now and then, eat good, and moisturize.)

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Photo Tour of Devil's Lake in Spring

    Click here to view this photo book.

    (After clicking above, click Full Screen on the top right to make bigger)

    If you would like to purchase prints, email me and I will add to my Outdoor Adventures Gallery.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Happy Compost Awareness Week!

    International Compost Awareness Week is the second week in May, the 4th - 10th this year.

    According to an article in Mother Earth News:
    • Active composters compost 70 percent of their food waste and all of their yard waste.
    • 9 out of 10 people who start composting don't stop
    Try making your own compost, but if you have to buy it, try to support local compost producers.

    Compost: How to make better dirt than you can buy

    Adding organic matter to the soil is an important way to ensure long-term health for your trees and shrubs. You can buy compost each year, but it is easier than you think to make your own compost. You will save money, have a supply of slow release nutrients for your plants, and it will also cut down on the amount of trash you send to the landfill. Compost also helps retain moisture and keeps weeds down, which means less watering and weeding!

    Living things, like fungi and bacteria, are present in compost and are good for plants. These organisms form beneficial partnerships with plant roots, and aid in absorbing water and nutrients. The good stuff in the compost also gives plants increased pest and disease resistance and general increased health.

    Composting basically takes a natural process and speeds it up. Organic matter will naturally decompose over time. By mixing, aerating, and maintaining moisture, we hasten the natural process. The end result is organic slow release nutrition for your trees and shrubs with some added bonuses.

    More on How to Make Your Own Compost: Including Picking a Location, Collecting the Ingredients, Piling, Checking Progress, and Troubleshooting

    Don't forget Vermicomposting! I have a plastic bin of red worms at work and at home that turn paper and food scraps into the best fertilizer I have ever found!

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008

    Sustainable Living Challenge

    This blog is a record of my journey to add a little bit of 'the way it used to be' to my modern life. I want to get back to when we, didn't spend so much money we don't have on things we don't need. Back when we went outside, knew our neighbors and saw more wildlife. Back to shopping on main street, and eating real nutritious food.

    Sustainable Living Challenge
    This year, my sister Sarah and I have been working on (and just now getting organized) our personal plans to become more sustainable. We will be reporting our progress in our newsletter Handcrafts & All Things Green. Sign up for updates there by entering your email in the top left corner (be sure to watch for an email confirmation in your inbox!).

    Basic Goals of the Sustainable Living Challenge:
    1. Be Healthy
    2. Maintain an Efficient and Sustainable Home
    3. Benefit the Environment
    4. Save Money
    5. Support Community
    6. Live a Simple & Enjoyable Life
    7. Encourage and Inspire others
    We made goals based on our different situations, but we challenge you to come up with your own Sustainable Living Challenge. Feel free to add comments or email us anytime.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Does Your Hair Care? Part 3

    In Part 1 of Does Your Hair Care?, I explored what possibly harmful ingredients are in my current shampoo, and other brands.

    In Part 2 of Does Your Hair Care? I started looking into homemade options, including different 'real' soaps, and Baking soda wash/vinegar rinse.

    Part 3: The baking soda experiment results
    I only shampoo every other day for various reasons, so I was already on the way to weaning myself off of shampoo.

    Week 1
    • Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Liquid soap: Very hard to use (especially diluted) and my hair felt greasier after I used it. (There are still many uses for the Dr. Bronner's though!)
    • Baking Soda: I mixed about 1/4 cup of baking soda in 1 cup of water in a (reused) plastic bottle with a little lavender oil. Squirting in on my scalp and working it in is definitely something to get used to after using lathering shampoos. It felt good though, and smelled nice.
    • Vinegar Rinse: After the baking soda scrub, I sprayed a mixture of diluted vinegar and chamomile tea on my hair and rinsed. This part felt really good, my hair felt softer and silkier.
    • Back to shampoo: Towards the end of the week I was getting a little too greasy, so I broke out the shampoo. It's a process...
    Week 2
    • Same as Week 1- Dr. Bronner's too greasy, Baking soda/vinegar rinse nice, still had to shampoo one time a week to be able to go out in public.
    Week 3
    • Weaning off of shampoo! I can go more days without washing after the shampoo, with just warm water rinse and massaging my scalp in between.
    • Baking soda wash: Tends to leave my hair a bit dry and I have to use conditioner. Vinegar rinse still works great! (I also use it as part of my facial cleansing routine!)
    Week 4
    • Giving up the baking soda: It's a nice idea, and I will still use it periodically for a good scrubbing (and it would be good to bring camping). There are plenty of people out there that swear by it, but everyone is different.
    • Hemp Soap: I bought a bar of hemp soap with patchouli (not too strong) from my little local soap shop for $3.50. The soap lady said it was good for the scalp and would last a long time. I really like how it works- my hair is not too dry and not too oily, and has a nice fresh smell.
    • Emergency Shampoo: I still keep a little bit of shampoo around, for those extra greasy days, but I'm almost free from it!
    So, Does Your Hair Care?
    Mine does, and it prefers homemade hemp soap. I'm happy because it's pretty inexpensive, cleans well, and my hair and scalp looks and feels great.

    It's also perfect for traveling; you can cut off a chunk and use it for whole body soap (my face still prefers the oatmeal/baking soda scrub though)

    What does your hair prefer? Any natural hair care tips?
    Add a note, by clicking on "comments" at the bottom of the post (or reply if in email format)

    Saturday, May 3, 2008

    Super Suet Recipe for Backyard Birds

    My boyfriend's coworker gave us a sample of this suet with the recipe. She gives them as Christmas gifts. I have it in the freezer right now until winter, but I can't wait to try it out! My birds are going to love it!

    Super Suet
    Created by Judy Benner
    Made by Kathy Feucht

    1 cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
    1 cup Lard (No Substitutes!)
    2 cup Quick Oats
    1 cup flour
    2 cup cornmeal
    1/3 cup sugar

    Melt peanut butter and lard in the microwave or double boiler on low. Stir in remaining ingredients and put into square freezer containers. Keep in the fridge or freezer until needed.
    Makes 6-8 suet cakes, fits most suet holders (or you can make your own with recycled onion bags)

    Suet cakes are a high-energy food and will attract many different types of birds.

    Northern Flicker
    © 2008 Rachel Logterman

    Friday, May 2, 2008

    A Touch of the News

    Fertilizer shortages and high demand contribute to rising food prices. Some farmers resorting to old-fashioned methods like spreading manure. The UN recommends better nutrient management practices.

    Tyson Foods is ordered to suspend ads for "Antibiotic-Free Chicken". Tyson claims that "raised without antibiotics" is fine to say because the eggs are injected with antibiotics before they hatch (a common industry practice).

    Personal Products
    Dr. Bronner's accuses competitors of false advertising of 'organic' products. Personal-care products do not have any federal guidelines for use of the word "organic".

    Grist interviews Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics about her book, and what can be done about the toxic chemicals in our everyday products.

    Children in New York who live on tree-lined streets have lower rates of asthma even after taking other factors into account. Trees help by cleaning the air and encouraging kids to play outside more.

    Nalgene Stop Using Plastic made from polycarbonate. They say its because of 'demand', and not because of health concerns.

    Thursday, May 1, 2008

    Cheap Calories- Expensive Nutrition

    With all the talk of rising food costs, I was interested to see this post Our Cheap, Cheap Food (Courtesy of Bitten - a New York Times Blog) about a report released by The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.

    We spend a lower percent of our income on food than other countries. We spend less and eat more than we did 3o years ago. These trends are because of efficiencies in industrial food production by growing monocultures, using fertilizers, and big factory farming. It is also because of our unchecked use of natural resources.

    Our food has become cheaper, but we pay for it in ways we don't always consider including:
    • taxes that go to subsidies
    • health care costs
    • environmental costs
    Now, the efficiencies are going away, and we start to feel the pinch of higher food prices. We would not notice the increasing so much if we weren't spending all of our income in other areas (cable, giant tvs, the latest electronics and fashions).

    What can we do? Eat less and maybe lose a little weight? Bite the bullet and pay the bill for years of artificially low food prices?

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    New Word of the Day: Biobigotry

    I learned a new word today- biobigotry:
    "the persistent and often irrational desire to be surrounded only by those species of which one approves, and to exclude any animals, plants and other life forms that one finds offensive."
    According to the article Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans from the New York Times, biobigotry is
    "...the dislike we direct toward creatures that live outdoors and generally mind their own business, but that behave in ways we find rude, irritating, selfish or contemptible."
    Squirrels, starlings, sparrows, weeds...
    We spend so much time cursing the 'evil' plants and animals, when forgetting that we were the ones that created the environment that they find so attractive. We degrade the habitats for the plants and animals we do like.

    Rabbits and deer are problems because we yank and spray every offensive weed that they would actually prefer to eat over our ornamental plants. The species that are pests are either exotic with no natural enemy, or have adapted to human altered habitats.

    More to Come...
    I will be exploring this subject in depth after I read the newest book in my collection- “Bringing Nature Home-How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware.

    Tallamy was interviewed in this New York Times article 'To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs' on what he and his wife are doing for wild things on their own 10 acres.

    Curious Cardinal © 2008 Rachel Logterman

    Brand of Paper Towels is Not the Issue

    I saw a product review of recycled paper towels on Grist today.

    After reading this...
    Conventional paper processing is intensive -- not only does the quest for virgin fiber lead to massive deforestation, but the manufacturing process typically involves chlorine, a toxic chemical that releases carcinogenic dioxins and furans. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the paper industry is the third-largest industrial contributor to global warming.
    ...I wondered why they were focusing on the brand of paper product. They did say in parenthesis that "a dishcloth or cellulose sponge may be the greenest choice of all", but I think they should have made more of that and compared the paper towels to reusable towels, which would have passed every test they tried.

    Why spend a premium for recycled paper towels that get thrown away after barely being used? Cloth Towels are stronger, longer lasting, reusable, easy to use, inexpensive, and very multipurpose.

    Eco-friendly tips from my kitchen:
    • Paper towels are handy for some situations- If you have to use them, buy recycled, use as little as possible (get the ones with smaller sheets), and compost them when you're done.
    • Get out of the habit of reaching for the paper- It's just as easy to grab a clean cloth towel than a paper towel if you keep a fresh supply handy where you use it. I have a drawer by the sink, and bags of the older rags by the cleaning supplies (I keep separate ones for cleaning the bathroom).
    • Worried about germs? Just grab a clean one- Especially after cleaning areas used to prepare raw meat. Dishrags are small, I doubt you will notice the difference in amount of laundry.
    • You don't need to spend a lot- Cut up rags, towels, or sheets, or sew some from cotton fabric.
    • No stinky dishrags! I like to use a fresh cloth everyday so I rinse and hang them up and keep a little laundry basket or bucket to throw in when they are dry.