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?