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Gourmet Cutting Boards and Kitchenware

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Unique Gifts for the Kitchen

by Meghan

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What do you get the cook who has everything? Forget top-of-the-line dishware and appliances. For fun, unique and inexpensive gifts, there’s a whole slew of quirky yet classy kitchen gadgets out there—from hand-crafted serving platters to pig-shaped corkscrews—perfect for professionals and aspiring cooks alike. Here are some of our favorites.

BARTENDER SIX-BOTTLE WINE HOLDER
Hand-crafted by cutting, bending and welding recycled steel, this whimsical wine holder by Guenter Scholz adds a touch of playfulness to a sophisticated kitchen. The sculpture is shipped directly from the artist. www.detailsart.com

MUSICAL CAKE AND PIE SLICER

Have something to celebrate? With four seasonal tunes to choose from—Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday, The Wedding March and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow—these festive cake cutters are the life of the party. www.kitchenware.co.uk
CIRCLE BARBEQUE SKEWERS

Serving meat-and-vegetable skewers on straight, wooden sticks isn’t very exciting. Mix it up this summer with these non-stick metal, circular barbecue skewers. They’re an inexpensive yet elegant way to serve the same meats and veggies, plus they’re dishwasher safe and sized to fit most dinner plates.www.homewetbar.com

WINE-BOTTLE CHEESE BOARD

Get the wine-and-cheese lover in your life something truly meaningful and useful: a beautiful cheese board, handcrafted in Northern California from a recycled wine bottle. Each plate is made using an intense heat process to melt, flatten and gently cool the bottle. Personalize it with your choice of wine labels from an extensive collection. www.vineyard-designs.com

WIND-UP SALT AND PEPPER ROBOTS
Have some fun during dinner with these salt and pepper ‘bots. Wind them up, and they’re more than happy to pass themselves to someone else at the table. www.uncommongoods.com.
SILVER PIG CORKSCREW
Quirky yet practical, this pig-shaped corkscrew is a fun alternative to a standard wine opener. Its legs are sturdy and the corkscrew is durable, so it can stand nicely on display and remove corks with ease.  www.kitchenware.co.uk

DRIFTWOOD DELUX PICNIC BASKET
The Avalon Deluxe Driftwood Picnic Backpack features a removable waterproof liner and an exterior wine pouch, plus all the kitchenware two people need for a meal at the beach or the park—including a cutting board, corkscrew, cheese knife, and even a blanket. This gift is perfect for the adventurer who loves a good meal, whether it’s indoors or out. www.detailsart.com

7 ways to curb holiday waste

by Robin

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From too much food to a trash can full of wrapping paper, you can create a lot of waste during the holidays if you aren’t careful. With a little forethought, however, you can limit the amount of waste you create during this holiday season. Here are ten easy ways to do it.

1. Always carry reusable bags with you. You’ll probably do more shopping between now and the New Year than at any other time of the year. All those one-time use shopping bags add up to a lot of waste. Carry reusable bags with you like ChicoBags that are compact and go anywhere.

2. Save plastic food containers to send leftovers home with guests. Wash plastic food containers that would otherwise get thrown away and stash them away for when you want to send party leftovers home with friends and family. You’ll get a second use out of them and eliminate the need to buy zipper bags or plastic containers. Your guests won’t need to worry about returning the containers to you, either.

3. Look for gifts without a lot of useless packaging. If you’re stuck deciding between two equally appropriate gifts for someone on your holiday list, let the amount of packaging be the deciding factor. The gift with the least amount of packaging that needs to be thrown away wins.

4. Freecycle any reusable packing materials. If you do a lot of online shopping, you’ll end up with boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts and other materials that are perfectly reusable. If you aren’t going to reuse them yourself, don’t trash them. Freecycle them. Offer them up for free to someone in your area that will come by and pick them up. There are many people that sell on eBay that will be thrilled with your leftover packaging.

5. Save clothing boxes, gift bags, and other reusable items to use again next year. As soon as the gift opening frenzy is over, collect what is reusable. Break down clothing boxes and fold gift bags so they lie flat. Put them somewhere where they won’t get damaged until they can be used again.

6. Recycle gift wrap that can’t be used. Make sure that wrapping paper ends up in the recycle bin, not the trash can.

7. If it’s time for new holiday lights, buy LED lights. They’ll keep you from wasting more electricity than is necessary. LED lights can be 80 percent more efficient than transitional incandescent lights and last decades longer.

Image: Jimmie
 

5 tips for a sustainable Thanksgiving meal

by Robin

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Use what’s in season and local as much as possible. Roast a local pumpkin for the filling for your pumpkin pie. Buy sweet potatoes from the farmers market for your sweet potato casserole. Head to the farmers market and see what’s there before you make your trip to the grocery store for the bulk of what you need for your dinner.
Buy a better turkey. Those free turkeys that you can get from the grocery store may be a money saver, but chances are they came from factory-farmed birds. If you want a turkey that was raised more humanely and in a manner that is better for the earth, opt for a heritage, organic, or free-range turkey that comes from a local farmer or a source you trust. To find a seller of one of these better birds, check out Local Harvest’s turkey finder.

Serve local wine or beer. Most small, independent wineries and breweries will be happy to suggest which of their creations will go best with your holiday menu. If you’re not sure where wineries and breweries are located in your region, check out the websites for Winery Bound and Brewers Association to search by your zip code.

Use durable tableware. Get out the good dishes and your best stemware and use it. Chances are, your guests won’t mind helping you wash the dishes after dinner. Cloth table covers and napkins aren’t really much more work than disposable ones. At the end of the evening, just throw them in the washing machine. If you’re short on any of these items, head to the thrift store where chances are you’ll be able to find items to complete your table at bargain prices.

Make good use of your leftovers. Don’t let food go to waste. We waste about 30% of the food produced in this country, and you’ve got to imagine that a good portion of that waste is created during the holidays. Check out Food Network’s Top 10 Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes for some ideas if you need them.
 

A greener cup of coffee

by Robin

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As a whole, it’s estimated that Americans drink 300 to 350 million cups of coffee every day. When anything is consumed in that quantity, there’s an environmental impact. If you consume one or more of those millions of cups of coffee each day, what can you do to reduce the environmental impact of your coffee habit? Fortunately, small, easy steps are all it takes.
Coffee at Home

If you brew your own coffee at home, you’re already on the path to environmentally friendly coffee because you most likely use a coffee mug instead of disposable cups. You can get greener, though.

• Use a reusable coffee filter or non-bleached disposable filters. Reusable filters will keep 365 disposable filters out of your trash can each year. If you do go with disposable filters, use the brown unbleached ones. The bleaching process to make filters white is unnecessary and not environmentally friendly.

• Buy organic or Fair Trade coffee. Both organic practices and Fair Trade practices are friendlier on the earth. If you can find a coffee that is both organic and Fair Trade, you’ll be doing both the earth and the workers on the coffee plantations good.

Compost your coffee grounds – Coffee grounds help to make compost rich in nitrogen, and the moisture in the wet grounds helps move the compost along. You can also use coffee grounds as a direct fertilizer around plants that like acid.

Coffee to Go

When you’re on the go, there are several ways that you can be more environmentally friendly with the coffee you buy at the coffee shop.

• Invest in a good, spill proof reusable coffee mug. One of the largest environmental impacts of our coffee-on-the-go culture is the waste that the disposable coffee cups create. Starbucks offers a 10-cent discount to those that bring their own mug, and many other coffee chains and independent coffee houses do, too.

• Choose the organic or Fair Trade option at the coffee house. Many coffee houses offer at least one eco-friendlier option each day. If your favorite coffee house doesn’t, ask them to add one to their daily offerings.

• Share your stir stick. Unless you’ve stuck your stir stick in your mouth, it’s completely fine for the person next to you to use it, too. Offer it to the person next to you, even if you don’t know him. You may get a funny look, but chances are you’ll also get a “yes.” If everyone did this, the number of plastic stir sticks that end up in the trash could be cut in half.

None of these suggestions will impact the level of enjoyment you get from drinking coffee, but they can have a positive impact on the earth.

Image: Robert S. Donovan
 

5 eco-friendly things to do to before fall hits

by Robin

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Summer officially has just a few days left. Here are a few environmentally friendly things you can do to help you switch your focus from summer to fall.
• Cancel unwanted catalogs before they start arriving for the holidays. You may have already received a holiday catalog or two. Did you ever notice that after the first catalog arrives from a company in early fall, more catalogs arrive from the same company every two or three weeks until the New Year? The items in the catalogs are usually the same, but the cover gets changed so you think there’s something new in there. To stop all those unwanted catalogs from showing up in your mailbox, save a lot of paper from being wasted, and make your mailman extra happy during the upcoming season, head over to Catalog Choice, an online service where you can easily cancel unwanted catalogs and other junk mail.
• Use your green tomatoes. Don’t let the green tomatoes on your tomato plants go to waste once you know it’s too late in the season for them to turn red. Try your hand at making fried green tomatoes.
• Go apple picking. Pick a couple of quarts of apples from a local grower and make the world’s easiest applesauce right in your slow cooker. When you use sweet apples, there’s no need to add sugar or anything else.
• Plant a cover crop in your vegetable garden to keep the soil healthy over the winter. If your garden is done for the season, don’t leave it barren. Many cover crops can be tilled right into the garden in the spring, and they’ll add nutrients and organic matter to next year’s soil.
• Keep the heat off. If the chill has already started to kick in where you live, reach for a sweater or sweatshirt instead of the thermostat. It’s silly to turn the heat on in the summer, isn’t it? And once autumn hits, challenge yourself to keep the heater off as long as possible.

Image: SixTwo Point of View

 

10 tips to reduce food waste

by Robin

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According to the Wasted Food site, Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. The food waste comes in many forms. Unattractive vegetables get discarded at the farm because they don’t look as perfect as consumers demand. Tons of uneaten restaurant food gets trashed because portions are ridiculously large. Grocery stores throw good food in dumpsters. And, food from our own refrigerators gets thrown away because it goes bad before we can eat it.
It’s not just the food that gets wasted when these things happen. It’s also all of the resources it took to grow and produce the food and all of the fuel it took to ship the food from farm to processing plant to grocery store.

Here are ten tips that you can use to help reduce some of this waste.

1. At your grocery store, find out where they place the food that’s marked down because it needs to be sold quickly or it will get thrown away. Often the bakery department will have a bin with half price day old bread that would be great for making French toast or Panzanella. The meat department will deeply discount meat that has a quickly approaching expiration date. You can take this meat home to eat that day or put it in the freezer to use in a few weeks. Many produce departments also mark down bruised or very ripe products.

2. At the farmers market, check to see if any of the vendors have reduced price damaged produce. Tomatoes that are bruised or not pretty make just as good tomato sauce as perfect tomatoes. Bruised peaches deserve to be made into a beautiful peach pie.

3. Keep small amounts of leftover cooked vegetables from your dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. On Thursday nights, reheat the small amounts and let everyone chose which one they want for dinner.

4. When bananas go brown, throw them in the freezer. Find a good banana bread recipe and when you have enough for that recipe, thaw the bananas and make a yummy treat.

5. Don’t throw away the ends of bread. At the very least, feed them to the birds. Better yet, keep them in a bag in your freezer and pull them out to make fresh breadcrumbs for meatloaf, meatballs, or other dishes.

6. Eat leftovers for breakfast. There is no law that says breakfast has to be cereal or eggs.

7. Don’t ditch the white rice that comes with your Chinese takeout. Here are Five Ideas for Using Up Leftover, Cooked White Rice.

8. Have leftover night. Don’t cook anything new. Create a buffet of foods from all of the containers of leftovers in your refrigerator and freezer.

9. Share. If you make a big pot of soup or chili or a huge lasagna, take a nice-sized portion to an older neighbor. They’ll appreciate it, and you won’t have that one serving of lasagna to throw out next time you clean out the fridge.

10. Compost. No matter how hard you try to not waste food, some will be leftover. There will always be carrot or potato peels or a mushy pepper that got lost at the bottom of the vegetable crisper. Start a compost pile and turn that wasted food into nutritious soil for your indoor and outdoor plants.

Image: jbloom
 

Cutting out the meat once a week

by Robin

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If you haven’t heard the term Meatless Monday by now, it’s time to introduce you to a movement that’s gaining momentum. Many meat eaters are cutting down on their meat consumption for environmental reasons, and have chosen a simple way to start. They’re going meatless once a week – often on Mondays.
According to the Meatless Monday website the “meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.” That’s more than the world’s transportation system creates. Additionally, it takes 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water just to create a single pound of beef. If everyone replaced just one beef dinner a week with one meatless dinner, a whole lot of water would be conserved.

The demand for meat worldwide continues to grow as the population increases and other countries in the world gain the same appetite for meat as the United States has. If we all went meatless just one day a week, it would help to curb the increased production, and the increased environmental impact, of meat.

So does this mean that on Mondays, you have to turn to tofu and wheat germ for your meals? Of course not. There are many filling, nutritious meals that you can create that don’t scream, “I’m meatless!” Here are a few ideas.

Vegetarian Chili – Lots of hearty beans take the place of meat in this chili recipe that people love.

Grilled Eggplant and Red Pepper Sandwich – Meaty eggplant replaces beef or chicken in this sandwich that has melted cheese and a pesto sauce on it. Delicious.

Linguine Frittata with Cheese – This could be breakfast, lunch or dinner, and it’s a perfect way to use up leftover pasta if you have some from the day before.

White Vegetarian Lasagna – You don’t need ground beef to make a delicious, hearty lasagna. Serve with a salad and crusty bread and no one will miss the meat at this meal.

These are just a few ideas, but the possibilities are endless. And, don’t feel like you have to make Monday your meatless day if that doesn’t work for you. You can make any day of the week meat-free. In fact, an easy day to make meatless is Friday. Simply order your Friday night pizza with vegetables on top instead of sausage or pepperoni, and stay away from meat during breakfast and lunch, and you’ve got a meatless day.
 

Send the kids back to school with a waste-free lunch

by Robin

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There has been a lot of emphasis on the quality of lunches provided by schools lately. School lunches tend to be nutritionless carb and sugar heavy without a lot of variety or fresh fruit and vegetable choices. Many parents prefer to pack a lunch for their children. Packing a lunch with healthy, fresh choices is a good thing to do, but packing a waste-free lunch makes it even better.
What’s a waste-free lunch? Also called a trashless lunch, it’s a lunch where all containers, utensils, and napkins are taken home to be washed and used again – not thrown in the trash after only one use. According to the Waste Free Lunches website, the average school-age child with a disposable lunch creates 67 pounds of waste a year. One average size elementary school can generate more than 18,000 pounds of trash a year.

How do you create a waste-free lunch? Here are some tips.

• Use a reusable lunchbox instead of disposable lunch bags. Laptop Lunches creates an entire waste-free lunch system that does not contain phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) or lead. Another good lunchbox is Planet Box which creates a lunchbox that’s made of stainless steel that has built-in compartments for different foods. Any lunchbox will work for a waste-free lunch, but finding one that is made from non-toxic materials like these two examples is a good idea.
• Carry beverages in reusable bottles instead of throwaway juice boxes or pouches. Stainless steel bottles like the Klean Kanteen or BPA-free plastic bottles like the Nalgene brand are good choices. If you do choose a plastic bottle, make sure it is BPA-free.
• Pack foods in reusable containers. Zipper style baggies are convenient, but there are reusable alternatives to those baggies for snacks and sandwiches. Snack Taxis or the Wrap-n-Mat can take the place of the baggies. Any reusable containers, including butter tubs or deli containers, can help create a waste-free lunch.
• Finish off the waste-free lunch with reusable knives, forks and spoons and a cloth napkin.

Not only will a waste-free lunch save trash heading to the landfill, it will save you money. Individually wrapped snacks, individual beverages, and the disposable baggies that food is sent in cost more money than buying food in larger quantities or reusing a deli container.

Image: Karen
 

With BBQ season in full swing, be responsible with your drinking

by Robin

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No, this isn’t a post about drinking and driving. You already know not to do that, right? There’s another way to be responsible with your beer, wine and spirits, and that is to find ways to lessen your impact on the environment while you’re enjoying them.
Here are some ideas to make your imbibing a little more eco-friendly. Pick one and do your part to drink more responsibly.

• If you’re hosting a large party, buy a keg of beer and drink out of beer glasses or mugs. There is very little waste created this way.
• If you’re using cans or bottles of beer, make sure they get recycled. Have clearly marked recycling bins where your friends can put their empties.
• Using plastic cups? Ask friends to write on their cups so they don’t misplace them and have to get a new one – wasting cups and probably beer. They don’t have to write their name. They can draw anything they want on the cup to identify it.
• Buy beer from a small, local brewery. You’ll lessen the miles you beer has had to travel to get to you. Often small breweries are conscious about sustainability, too.
• Offer some organic beers.
• For a casual party, consider wines in alternative packaging that uses less energy to make and ship than traditional glass. Red Truck makes fun mini-barrels of their BBQ friendly red wine that are so cute, no one will turn up their nose at them.
• Use wine glass charms so your friends can identify their glasses. You won’t end up with half-full glasses of wine all around the place because people forget which glass is their glass.
• Buy wine from a local winery. Part of wine’s carbon footprint comes from the shipping of heavy glass bottles from far distances. If you go to a local winery to get your wine, you’ll be supporting local agriculture and helping the environment a little.
• Try some organic wines. Get some ideas from Organic Wine Review. The site has hip, fun less than two-minute video reviews of various organic wines.
• When it comes to spirits, if you’ve got a local distiller in the area and you can buy directly from them that will save some fuel from being used. However, local distillers aren’t as prevalent as local breweries or wineries so trying your favorite spirit – vodka, tequila, rum, gin – in an organic version is a good way to get a little eco-friendlier with your mixed drinks.
• A great way to get enough durable glassware for your drinks if you’re choosing to ditch the plastic cups at your BBQ is to go a to a thrift store. You’ll be reusing perfectly good glassware, and it will save you a lot of money.

Image: rick/flickr
 

Don’t have a garden? You can still pick your own.

by Robin

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Gardening is back in style, but not everyone has the room or the time for a garden. If you don’t have a garden of your own, you can still pick fresh fruits and vegetables. More and more small farms, the types of farms that often practice sustainable farming techniques and limit the usage of chemical pesticides, are inviting customers to come to the farm and pick right from the fields.
You can get the freshest, local, seasonal produce when you pick your own. It’s a great activity to do with children because it helps them to get to understand that food doesn’t really come from the grocery store. There’s dirt and hard work involved in growing food. But, kids aren’t necessary. Sometimes its fun to go out and hand pick each and every apple, peach or strawberry that’s going to become one of the best tasting pies or some sweetest jam you’ve ever had.

To find a pick your own farm in your area, PickYourOwn.org makes it really easy. From their website you can search your state or your county for farms that allow you to come in and pick your own. You can even easily pick out organic farms because they are highlighted in green. You’ll also find information about what’s in season right now.

If you decide to give picking your own food straight from the farm a chance, here are some tips.

• Go early in the morning when the sun isn’t so high. Fields can get very hot during the day, and you’ll enjoy the experience more if your not hurrying through it to get out of the heat.
• Wear a hat with a brim if you’re concerned about too much sun on your face.
• Bring water in a reusable water bottle to drink while you’re in the fields.
• Take your own container. Most pick your own farms will weigh the container before you begin picking so that when they weigh your final tally, you won’t pay for the weight of your container. Most places will have containers for sale, but welcome your own containers, too. If your taking kids along, give them small beach buckets for their picking.
• Don’t treat the fields like a buffet. Many farms don’t mind if you eat a berry or two while your picking, but that should be the extent. Every piece of fruit or vegetable you eat comes at the farm's expense.
• Have some idea before you go for how you’ll use your bounty when you get it home. That way you’ll pick enough for all you want to make.

Image: Hakuroam
 

Earth friendlier kitchen tips

by Robin

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There are lots of little things we can do in the kitchen to make our cooking and cleaning up habits earth friendlier. It only takes a slight shift in attitude and a little time to make some of these actions a habit. Pick a few of these and change them today. Then come back and pick a few more in a week or so. You’ll save energy, resources, and even a few nutrients.
• If you can manage with less light in the kitchen, remove a light bulb or two from your overhead light fixture. You’ll use less electricity and go through fewer light bulbs.
• Cook double meals. If you’re making a lasagna, make two. Freeze the second one, and all you’ll need to do is defrost and reheat on another night. It doesn’t take any more energy to cook two lasagnas than it does to cook one lasagna, and it takes less energy to reheat it than it would to cook one from scratch.
• Be wise with your water. Save the water from cooking vegetables or pasta (but not meat) to water your indoor or outdoor plants. The nutrients that leached from the food into the water will be good for your plants. Make sure the water is cool first before you use it for the plants.
• Use rags instead of paper towels. They can be thrown in the wash with a load of bathroom towels when dirty so it doesn’t really take any extra energy to wash them.
• Eat leftovers so the energy used to produce the food and cook it doesn’t end up being wasted.
• If you can cook something in the toaster oven instead of the big oven, do it. The toaster oven uses a lot less energy, and it often cooks more quickly. Treehugger reports that toaster oven use about half the energy of a conventional oven.
• Compost your food scraps instead of sending them to the landfill where they’ll create methane gas or down the garbage disposal where you’ll use energy and water to dispose of them. When you compost food and use the compost in a garden, you return valuable nutrients to the ground.
• Don’t forget to unplug energy sucking appliances when they aren’t in use.

Image: dutchgrub

Getting the most bang for your organic buck

by Robin

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The recession has most of us tethered to a tight food budget. We’re eating out a lot less, and we’re more careful about what we spend at the grocery store. For those of us that want to eat organic food, but find that it’s too expensive for our shrinking grocery budget, do we have to give up organics completely?

Image: Bruce TutenNo. One of the top reasons that people choose organic food is to reduce their exposure to harmful chemical and pesticide residues that are part of many conventionally grown foods. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew which fruits and vegetables contained the most harmful residues? Then, you could chose to spend the extra money for them in their organic form and buy those fruits and vegetables with less harmful amounts of residues in their conventional form.

Fortunately, The Environmental Working Group has done the legwork on this one. They’ve created a list of common fruits and vegetables and listed them according to their residue load. The twelve foods with the most harmful residue have become known as “The Dirty Dozen.” The fifteen foods with the least have been dubbed “The Clean Fifteen.”

Using this list, which has recently been revised for 2010, shoppers can make more informed choices. They can chose to spend a little extra money for The Dirty Dozen in organic form. If there isn’t any extra money, they can forgo buying those twelve foods and eat the fifteen cleanest foods.

Here’s the new Dirty Dozen list for 2010.

1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries
6. Nectarines
7. Bell peppers
8. Spinach
9. Kale
10. Cherries
11. Potatoes
12. Grapes

And here’s the Clean Fifteen.

1. Onions
2. Avocado
3. Sweet Corn (frozen)
4. Pineapples
5. Mango
6. Sweet Peas (frozen)
7. Asparagus
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Cantaloupe (domestic)
12. Watermelon
13. Grapefruit
14. Sweet Potatoes
15. Honeydew

For the full list, visit Foodnews.org. Go forth and shop wisely.

iPhone apps that help you eat healthier and more responsibly

by Robin

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If you’re looking for on the spot information about a food you’re about to buy or eat, there are many iPhone apps that can help you. How about information about where to find the freshest, most local food? There’s an app to help you with that, too. Here’s a list of apps – some free, some for a small price – that can help you make healthier or more environmentally responsible choices with your food.
Seafood Watch – Knowing which seafood is sustainable and which is not when you’re staring at the seafood counter at the grocery store can be confusing. This app from Montery Bay Aquarium can help you make responsible choices. An easy system of rating seafood by Best Choice, Good Alternative or Avoid helps you make decisions on the spot. You’ll be able to instantly see, for example, that Atlantic Halibut should be avoided while Pacific Halibut is a Best Choice.

Don’t Eat That! – Ever wonder what all those long named ingredients are on the back of a box of crackers you’re about to buy? Now you can know, and know if they are ingredients you want in the food you eat. The Don’t Eat That! app is an alphabetical list of hundreds of ingredients with information about each one.

Locavore – Want to know what’s in season locally right now? How about where the nearest farmers market is when you’re on vacation? The Locavore app has that information and more.

Eat This, Not That – When you’re at a restaurant staring at the menu, it’s almost impossible to know what the healthiest choices are. The Eat This, Not That app lets you know that the Full Strawberry Poppyseed Salad is a great choice on the Panera Bread menu, but the Full Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad is something you might want to avoid.

Food News – The Environmental Working Group has rated fresh fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticides found in them. The worst 12 offenders have been dubbed “The Dirty Dozen,” and consumers are urged to always buy them in their organic form. This app simply lists all the fruits and vegetables that were rated in order, and is a quick handy guide at the produce stand or grocery store.

Related on Culmeta
5 Great Cooking Apps for your iPhone or Blackberry

40 ideas for Earth Day’s 40th anniversary

by Robin

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April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. You don’t need to make grand gestures to celebrate the day (but if you want to – that’s fine). You just need to be more mindful and do things a little bit differently to make a big difference. Here are 40 small things. If you do just a few of them consistently, you’ll make a difference.
In the Kitchen

1. Use rags instead of paper towels.
2. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
3. Don’t leave the water running constantly in the sink if you’re washing dishes by hand.
4. Collect water in a pitcher when running it to get it hot. Keep the pitcher in the refrigerator for cool drinking water.
5. Use the cooking water from vegetables, beans, or pasta (but never meat) to water indoor and outdoor plants. Make sure the water cools first.
6. Go meatless one day a week.
7. Compost your food scraps.
8. Cook small items in the toaster oven instead of the large oven.
9. Save your bread ends in a bag in the freezer, and make fresh or dry breadcrumbs when you’ve accumulated a bunch.
10. Eat leftovers for breakfast so they don’t go to waste. There’s no law that says breakfast has to be cereal or pancakes.

In the Garden

11. Grow a row for someone else. Donate your extra garden produce to a food shelter.
12. Start your seeds in containers you would otherwise throw away like yogurt cups or butter tubs.
13. Water early in the morning so the water doesn’t burn off quickly and get wasted.
14. Put up a fence to keep out the critters – don’t use harmful chemicals to keep the bunnies away from your parsley.
15. Save seeds from your best plants to use for next year.

In the Bathroom

16. Install a low flow shower head.
17. Fix leaky faucets.
18. Buy toilet paper made from 100% recycled material.
19. Turn the water off in the sink when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving.
20. Keep your showers down to five minutes.

In the Laundry Room

21. Use cold water only in the clothes washer.
22. Change the amount of water based on the size of each load.
23. Switch to an eco-friendlier laundry detergent.
24. Recycle your detergent containers.
25. Use a cup of hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach in the laundry to whiten and disenfect clothes.
26. Hang you laundry outside to dry.
27. Figure out exactly how long it takes you to dry certain loads in the dryer, then use only the needed amount of time.
28. Clean out the lint trap regularly and change the hose twice a year for better energy efficiency.
29. Ditch the dryer sheets.
30. Wear clothes until they are actually dirty before you launder them.

In the Home Office

31. Plug all electronics into a power strip and turn everything off when not in use.
32. Recycle paper after using both sides.
33. Change the lightbulbs in the office to CFL’s.
34. Reuse file folders, rubberbands, paper clips, and other office supplies.
35. Donate or sell working old electronic equipment so it doesn’t go unused and dispose of unusable electronics (e-waste) properly.

With Your Entertaining

36. Send out e-vites instead of paper invitations.
37. Serve beer from a keg instead of disposable cans or bottles.
38. Don’t throw plastic knives, forks and spoons away. Wash and reuse.
39. Serve some in-season, local foods and support your local farmer.
40. Make recycling easy for your guests with easily accessible, clearly marked receptacles.
 

Kitchen recycling: Go beyond glass and cans

by Robin

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Most curbside recycling programs take paper, glass and certain plastics – usually the ones with the #1 or #2 on the bottom. Through these programs, you’re able to recycle a good amount of waste that is generated in the kitchen, but not all of it. For some of those items that your recycling program doesn’t take, here are some ideas for reusing and recycling them.

#5 plastics such as yogurt containers or deli containers

• Use them as planters for seedlings. Drill drainage holes in the bottom, fill them with organic potting soil, and start vegetables, herbs and flowers for the spring.
• Use the deli containers with lids to store dry items that you buy in bulk like rice, dry beans, and whole grains. You can write the names of the items on the clear plastic containers, too, because sometimes they are difficult to tell apart.
• If you’d like to recycle #5 plastics, check out Earth911’s recycling search feature. Input “#5 plastics” and your zip code, and the site will lead you to the closest recycling center.

Cereal/cracker box liners

• Use them like wax paper. Cut them along the seams and place them between layers of cookies in a tin or between burger patties that are to be frozen. Save all of your waxy box liners and you’ll never have to buy wax paper again.
• Wrap unused portions of fresh bread in them, then place that in a saved sandwich bread or other plastic bag, close and put in the freezer. You won’t need to use a store bought zipper freezer bag.

Coffee grounds

• Add coffee grounds to compost. There are many benefits to adding your nitrogen rich grounds.
• Add them straight to the soil around plants that like acid. You’ll see a perk up to the plants in a day or two.
• Remove garlic or onion odor from you hands by rubbing wet coffee grinds on them.

Egg cartons

• Any kind of egg carton – Styrofoam, plastic or cardboard – can be used as packing material. They are lightweight and create protection for items being packed.
• Many of the plastic ones are #1 plastic and can go in curbside recycling bins.
• Cardboard egg cartons can be put in the compost.

Most items can at least get a second use before heading to the trashcan. It saves a new item from being used and helps to reduce the amount of waste you produce.
 

Image: Living in Monrovia
 

Vampires in your kitchen

by Robin

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Did you know your coffee maker may have a secret identity as a vampire? Not the blood sucking type of vampire -- the energy sucking type. A vampire load, also known as a phantom load, is energy that is being used by an electronic device electronics are in stand-by mode.

The United States government estimates that its citizens spend more money on their stereo equipment, which these days often includes a complicated set up of stereos, TV’s, DVD players, gaming systems and speakers, when they aren’t in use than when they are in use. Unless the system has been powered down completely when not in use, it’s still drawing energy.

It may seem like a small amount, but when you add that small amount up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and then add your vampire load to everyone else’s vampire load in the country, it’s an enormous amount of energy being wasted. Some estimate what the U.S. wastes in a year in vampire energy could power the country of Greece for an entire year.

It’s not just stereo equipment. Look all around your house -- including your kitchen. If your coffee maker has a digital clock on it, it’s drawing power 24 hours a day, not just when it’s making coffee. The same is true for your microwave, under the cabinet stereo/TV system, and even many newer models of toaster ovens.

If you have a charging station in your kitchen where your cell phones, PDA’s, mp3 players and other hand held electronic devices charge overnight, there’s another huge potential energy sucker if they are left plugged in when not in use. Each individual charger or charging station draws about 1 megawatt a day. It’s estimated that in the U.S., there are 190 million cell phones. That’s 190 million megawatts of wasted energy – enough to power 100,000 homes a day!

Getting rid of these energy sucking vampires doesn’t mean getting rid of the appliances themselves. It simply means unplugging them or plugging them into a power strip that gets turned off when the electronics aren’t in use.

Do you really need the clock on your coffee maker and the clock on your microwave when you probably have one on your stove or on the wall and one in the cell phone that’s in your pocket? No, you don’t.

Start in your kitchen where the task is small. Identify all the vampires and plan to turn them off when not in use. When you get used to it, head into the rest of your home to slay those vampires, too.

Image: matt via Picasa
 

Greening your outdoor dining

by Robin

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Now that the days are finally warmer and daylight savings time has given us an extra hour of light in the evenings, you’ll be noticing the smell of grilled food in the air when you step outside in the evenings. It’s very difficult not to get the urge to grill and eat outdoors when that happens.

Many people switch to paper plates and other disposable items when they eat outdoors, but all of those disposables take their toll on out environment. Did you know that it could take up to 250 years for a plastic cup to decompose?

It doesn’t take much to take your indoor table wear outdoors. Here are some suggestions.

• Use cloth tablecloths outside. Purchase inexpensive ones at yard sales or thrift stores if you don’t want to get BBQ sauce on your good tablecloths.
• Take your everyday dishes and everyday utensils outside. It’s easier to cut and eat a really good grilled steak off a real plate than it is a paper plate anyway, isn’t it?
• If you’re having a group of people over and you don’t have enough durable plates, you could spend a lot of money on “green” compostable, biodegradable plates, but it would be less expensive to go to the paper plate isle in your grocery store and buy the Classic White Chinet plates. They are made from recycled materials and biodegrade in the home composter.
• If you use plastic utensils and cups for a big group, there’s no need to throw them away. Place a bin in an easy to find place and let your guests know to put them in the bin when done. Throw everything in the dishwasher and reuse a second, third, who knows how many times.

Now, for what you’re going to put on that grill. Here’s a fabulous recipe from allrecipes.com that adapts throughout the spring and summer depending on what seasonal vegetables are available.

Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs

Ingredients
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1/3 cup honey
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1 inch cubes
• 2 cloves garlic
• various vegetables cut into 1-inch pieces
• skewers

Directions
1. Whisk together oil, honey, soy sauce and pepper in a large bowl. Reserve a small amount for when you’re grilling and then add chicken and vegetables to marinate for at least two hours.
2. Place chicken and vegetables on skewers.
3. Lightly oil grill and grill kabobs for 12 to 15 minutes, brushing with reserved sauce. They will be cooked when the chicken juices run clear.
Vegetables that can be used
• Onions
• Peppers
• Mushrooms
• Cherry or grape tomatoes
• Zucchini
• Yellow summer squash
• Anything you want
 

Planning your garden in reverse

by Robin

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Spring is just around the corner, and it’s time to start planning an edible, kitchen garden. If you don’t have a yard to garden in, it’s easy to grow plants in containers or window boxes. Often, gardeners plant vegetables and then decide what dishes to make with them.

What if you reversed that idea?

What if you decided what you wanted to make first, and then you planted a garden based around those dishes or how you wanted to use the vegetables? If you do it that way, you’ll be sure none of what you grow will go unused, unless you end up with a bumper crop, of course. If you do, there will always be someone willing to take fresh vegetables off your hands.

Pizza garden – Tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, basil, and oregano are in all of the best pizza sauces. They are also vegetables and herbs that grow in just about any region. Zucchini, red onion, eggplant, peppers and scallions make great pizza toppings. If you eat a lot of pizza, a pizza garden will help you improve the quality and nutrition of your pizzas. Check out this Roasted Tomato Pizza Sauce recipe that uses garden fresh vegetables.

Grilled vegetable garden – If you do a lot of grilling in the summer, you know that grills aren’t just for meats. Plan to put lots of vegetables that do well on the grill in your garden like big tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus or corn. You’ll never be at a loss for a side dish for dinner. You’ll be able to walk over to the garden, pick some fresh vegetables and grill them right up. If you’re unfamiliar with grilling vegetables, take a look at this Vegetable Grilling 101 page.

Fall decoration garden – When the end of September comes and you head to the farm stand or store to grab pumpkins, gourds, and corn stalks to decorate your home with, you can end up spending a small fortune. Consider planting a garden that grows lots of fresh vegetables to eat and a few vegetables to decorate with. You’ll have a garden that lasts well into fall. You’ll be able to make fresh pumpkin pie or butternut squash soup. You’ll also have free decorations for the outside of your home in the fall. Plant pumpkins, butternut squash, decorative cords, and corn in the spring and come fall, you’ll be very glad you did.

 

Photo image: Epioles

 

Healthy mini-goals

by Robin

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Have you heard about first lady Michelle Obama’s new campaign against childhood obesity? It’s called Let’s Move, and it aims to solve the problem of childhood obesity within one generation. That’s an ambitious goal, but the key to most successful ambitious goals is to keep plugging away, one small mini-goal at a time.

A big part of the Let’s Move campaign centers around food. Mrs. Obama wants to make healthy food affordable for all. Let’s face it though; even those of us who can afford healthy food don’t always reach for it. It may just take setting small mini-goals to start us on the road to healthier eating, whether we are feeding a family with children or just ourselves.

What type of mini-goals? Start with your lunch and try one of these.

Ditch the chips. You have a sandwich; you have a side of chips, right? Swap those chips out for something else just as crunchy – carrot strips, cut up apple wedges, or pepper strips. You will lower your intake of salt and fat while adding vitamins to your meal. At the end of the week, you may find that you want to continue with the healthy crunchy food.

Swap out your white bread for 100% whole wheat or white whole wheat bread. Whole wheat is better, but in the past couple of years white whole wheat breads have come on the market with more nutrition than the traditional white bread.

Take you milk down one notch. If you drink whole milk, try 2%. If you drink 2%, try 1%. And if you drink 1%, it’s time to give skim milk a shot. Many, but not all, brands of organic milk tend to be creamier than their non-organic counterparts. So if you’re going from regular 2% milk, try organic 1% milk. You may not notice a difference.

Put the dressing on the side. Here’s a trick those who attend weight loss classes get taught. When you’re eating a salad, keep the dressing on the side. Before each bite, dip your fork into the dressing to get a little on the fork. Then dig into the salad. When you eat, your tongue will get a little salad dressing in each bite, you’ll get the good taste, and you’ll use a lot less dressing – the most fattening part of most salads.

These are small changes and easily achievable mini-goals for one week. By the end of the week, you may realize that you don’t need to go back to the old habits, and you’ll be ready to take on your next mini-goal that will lead you on the path to healthier eating.

 

Photo Credit: Admiller
 

Natural care for wooden cutting boards

by Robin

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A good cutting board is an investment in your kitchen and in your cooking. It can last for years if you take good care of it. You don’t need expensive cleaning products to clean a traditional wood or bamboo cutting board. There are natural items that you can use to care for your cutting board.

Cleaning and disinfecting

Scraping the board clean may take all of the visible food off of it, but since wood is porous, small particles can get caught and breed bacteria. Vinegar is an excellent, all-natural product that can be used to clean and disinfect a cutting board.

After removing surface food, combine 1 part vinegar with 5 parts water. Pour it over the cutting board and allow to sit for ten minutes. Rinse with water then air dry. This isn’t the only thing that inexpensive vinegar is good for. Planet Green has 16 Green Uses for Vinegar around the House that are really useful.

Odor removal

Disinfecting with vinegar will take care of many odors because it will get rid of the bacteria that cause odors, but foods like onion and garlic may leave lingering odors. To remove lingering odors, make a thick paste of baking soda and water. Scrub the board with the paste and then allow to sit for ten to fifteen minutes. Then rinse with very hot water and allow to air dry.

Just like vinegar, inexpensive baking soda is very useful around the house for natural cleaning and odor removing. The Arm & Hammer website is full of ideas for using baking soda around the house.

Stain removal

Salt is a good stain remover for traditional wood or bamboo cutting boards. Wet the stained area and sprinkle with coarse salt like kosher or sea salt – don’t use regular table salt. Allow to sit for a day. Rinse.

Make a paste from more salt and cold water. With a toothbrush, scrub the paste into the stained area. Rinse. Repeat if necessary until stain is out. When you are done, wash with hot soapy water and allow to air dry.

Of course, salt has other uses around the house. Reader’s Digest has 65 Amazing Uses for Salt.

You probably have all of the items you need to care for your cutting board in your kitchen cabinets right now. How convenient is that?

 

Photo credit: Zenobia
 

Valentine’s romance in the kitchen

by Robin

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Let’s face it. Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day can sometimes ruin the romance of the day. Restaurants are packed, and overworked kitchen staff often turnout sub-par meals. The wait staff, many of whom would much rather be home with their special someone than waiting on you, want to turn tables quickly to make an extra tip or two. This doesn’t happen in all restaurants, but it happens in many of them.

Why not plan a casual, unrushed evening by staying in and cooking together? It’s the together part that makes the plan work so share the work in the kitchen. Here are some tips.

• Pick a recipe that you will both enjoy that involves a bit of preparation – chopping vegetables, making sauces – a recipe that will keep you in the kitchen for a while. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can do spaghetti with homemade meatballs and sauce. Of course, it can be fancy like a mouthwatering Beef Filet Diane.
• If you’re cooking the main dish together, buy prepared sides if you want. The goal of cooking together isn’t to prove you can time everything perfectly. It’s to enjoy each other’s company. If the main dish you’re making is involved, feel free to buy pre-made garlic mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, or whatever sides go with your meal.
• Open the wine while you are cooking. Ever hear the saying, “I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food?” Having a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, or a cocktail while you’re cooking is perfectly acceptable. Not sure which wine to pair with the dish you chose? Take a look at this basic food and wine pairing chart.
• Don’t forget to dessert. Small will be better after your big meal so gourmet chocolates from a local chocolatier or a small cake from the neighborhood bakery are great choices for your Valentine’s sweets.
• Set the mood. Bring out the China (or hit a local thrift store for two place settings if you don’t have china). Light candles. Use a tablecloth. Put on Frank Sinatra. You worked hard on your meal; you should eat it in style.

Remember, the point is to create something together. If your recipe doesn’t turn out perfectly, laugh and pour yourself another glass of wine. Enjoy the company of your sweetheart and have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Photo credit: Saxon

New Line of Environmentally Friendly Gourmet Cutting Boards Introduced by Culmeta

by Michael

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The eight sleek designs are made from rubberwood and bamboo, making them ideal for food and cooking enthusiasts who value modern, earth-conscious products in their homes.Atlanta, December 21, 2009 -- Culmeta, a leading provider of gourmet kitchenware and housewares, today launched a new line of feature-driven cutting boards made from environmentally friendly materials. Developed for Culmeta by talented industrial designer Mark Trebicki, the high-end line combines functionality with contemporary aesthetics.

Consisting of eight distinctive designs, the line boasts features such as food-grade rubber pads that grip counter surfaces, a powerful internal magnet to hold knives and other utensils, and hand-carved troughs for capturing juice and food particles. As opposed to similar plastic products, the Culmeta rubberwood and bamboo cutting boards also offer durability, strength and a natural resistance to bacteria and germs.

Each cutting board honors the style and character of places throughout the company’s home state of Georgia with product names including the Savannah, Palmetto, Santilla, Toccoa, Chattahoochee, Apalachee, Tallapoosa and Hiawasee.

“With the new line, we wanted to introduce new and innovative products to the market rather than just continue with the old standbys found in most retail stores,” explained Culmeta Business Manager Michael Fenton. “The line consists of unique, modern cutting boards that you will want to both use on a daily basis and show off to your house guests when entertaining.”

Culmeta initially introduced prototypes of the designs at the July 2009 Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market to much excitement from show attendees, and the company has thus established wholesale pricing for the new line to accommodate kitchenware and housewares retailers.

When selecting raw materials for the cutting boards, Culmeta actively researched and pursued components that would be the least harmful to the planet and customers. The research led Culmeta’s Operations Manager Benjamin Chiang to embark on a comprehensive tour across Southeast Asia to find a rubberwood and bamboo processing facility that fit with the company’s vision. After a rigorous selection process, Culmeta elected to partner with an established and respected housewares factory in Thailand. In order to further improve Culmeta’s earth-friendly business model, Fenton noted that the company also hopes to develop a carbon scorecard for its products to determine best practices in terms of ecological sustainability.
 

5 Great Cooking Apps for Your iPhone and BlackBerry

by Meghan

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Are you sick and tired of lugging your laptop into the kitchen – and awkwardly balancing it on the counter while trying to decipher a recipe – every time you try to make a new dish? And what about those awful splatters that cover your monstrous, 500-page cookbooks? (You know, the ones that unquestionably appear each time you concoct a fresh soup or pasta sauce.) If you have an iPhone or BlackBerry, you can say goodbye to heavy cookbooks and kitchen-bound computers and hello to effortless shopping, food preparation, and recipe-sizing. Simply download one or more of the applications listed below, and enjoy! Patrik’s Easy Cooking for BlackBerry
Get 72 of Chef Patrik Jaros’ (and food photographer Gnter Beer’s) delicious recipes tailored to amateur cooks, plus tips on how to turn supermarket convenience foods into succulent delicacies with little effort. Each dish contains a maximum of 5 familiar ingredients in completely new contexts, urging cooks to experiment with Jaros’ unusual creations. Browse recipes by category or chapter, view step-by-step slideshows of food preparation, organize an illustrated shopping list, search recipes and ingredients by keyword, send recipes via email, and more.
http://pocketnow.com/software-1/recipes-in-your-hand-with-patriks-easy-cooking

TinyKitchen
TinyKitchen allows you to sync your favorite meals and recipes with Google Docs: “No more typing recipes into your phone. Now you can edit them with the Google Docs word processor, share them with your friends, or upload them from MS Word files.” With this iPhone application, search over 70,000 recipes on RecipeSource.com and download them right to your phone; turn recipes into shopping lists; scale them up or down depending on crowd size; and even post and upload your meals directly to Tumblr and Twitter to share your masterpieces with friends.
http://appadvice.com/app/292436929


Cooking Star
Looking to better your cooking skills, but not quite ready to step into a kitchen? The Cooking Star consists of eight mini-games and allows users to master each one to unlock real recipes and build their cookbooks. Tilt, touch, flick, and flip to cook up mouth-watering meals and become a star chef!
http://appshopper.com/games/cooking-star


Kitchen Calculator PRO
This app will help you convert and scale recipes using standard cooking fractions and convert ingredients from weight to volume.
http://www.kitchencalculator.net


iEats
“iEats is the new iPhone application available on iTunes. iEats: Appetizers is the first in the series. Easy to make innovative recipes, extraordinary plating techniques and tantalizing recipes by James Beard Foundation recognized Chef Marco Porceddu. iEats features beautiful pictures of each recipe, coupled with three perfect wine pairings. iEats will also calculate the amount of ingredients needed for the number of people you are serving. Select a recipe by preparation time, level of difficulty or “Feeling Lucky” Just shake the phone and get a random selection!”
http://www.ieats.tv/application.htm


For a complete list of Cooking apps for your iPhone, click here.
 

New Ideas for Your Brown-Bag Lunch

by Meghan

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Brown-bag lunches aren’t just for kids; they’re for anyone dedicated to healthy eating, environmental sustainability, and saving a few bucks on overpriced sandwiches. But how do those people decide what to pack in their paper bags each morning? My bag usually contains last night’s leftover lasagna or a Healthy Choice microwavable dinner, or sometimes just two pieces of nine-grain bread slapped together with a spoonful of store-bought jelly and extra crunchy peanut butter. But I’m ready to change.If you’re like me, prepared to dedicate yourself to eating healthy and saving a good chunk of cash each day, here are some quick and easy ideas for your brown-bag lunches.

- We all know tortillas are a healthy alternative to bread, so why not wrap the contents of your sandwich in one of these tasty rounds? Just add veggie slices, lean meats like turkey and chicken, and low- or non-fat cream cheese.

- Air-popped popcorn is a tasty snack (or dessert) and easy to take with you to work or school. Sprinkle it with a little Parmesan cheese, or, better yet, try my favorite: sweet-and-salty kettle corn. Mmm-Mmm.

- Getting bored of biting into carrot and celery sticks every afternoon? Next time you’re at Whole Foods or Safeway, pick up a pre-made vegetable sushi roll. Pack a couple of pieces with you each day as a complement to a sandwich or wrap. With sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, and celery enclosed in white rice and seaweed, you’ll get the same nutrients as you would from veggie sticks – but you’ll have twice the fun doing it.

- Buy a variety of pasta salads at your local deli to last you the week. Add cooked chicken, then split (or mix) the pastas to make a number of servings, and – viola! Zesty lunch à la mode.

- Cold strips of grilled, leftover chicken with light ranch or honey mustard dip can be a lip-smacking and filling
lunch – and a great way to de-clutter your fridge!

- Forget washing your sandwich down with soda or juice. Flavored water is not only more nourishing but also simple to make at home and painless to transport in a thermos. Just fill a pitcher of tap water with slices of lemon, lime, and orange and stick it in the fridge overnight. For other delicious flavor combos, use: raspberries and strawberries; cucumbers and limes; lemons and mint; strawberries, lemons and cucumbers; and strawberries, oranges and mint. Who knew H2O could be so delicious?


- Go the über-healthy route and stuff your egg, tuna or chicken salad into hollowed tomato halves instead of bread slices. This is a great way to add variety to an everyday sandwich. You could even try potato- or pasta-salad stuffed tomatoes.

- If your coworkers bring their lunches to work too, be bold and start a brown-bag lunch club. Make life easy, and have everyone take turns bringing lunch for the group.


http://www.webmd.com

http://www.fabulousfoods.com

 

Rubberwood. It’s not your average tree bark.

by Meghan

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Trees provide paper for our offices, wood for our homes, fruit for our lunches and dinners, jobs for our country’s loggers, jungle gyms for our children, and shade from the sun on a sweltering day. But to my recent astonishment, some trees supply more than just oxygen, paper, and shade — they produce rubber. These special organisms are called — you guessed it — rubber trees (otherwise known as Hevea brasiliensis, parawood, white teak, or Malaysian oak). Their trunks are made of rubberwood, which, contrary to my imagination, is not rubbery like the sole of a tennis shoe or bendy like my childhood Gumby toy. According to the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, rubberwood actually is quite stiff and hard; but it’s the milky, latex-y liquid inside the trunk that is used to create the natural rubber.

An agricultural byproduct, the wood is considered environmentally friendly because businesses use rubber trees that are 25 to 30 years old, at the end of their life cycles, as material for furniture, construction, and home products. But you won’t find rubber trees growing in your own backyard; although they are native to South America, they cover millions of acres in countries around the word. Rubber trees are most commonly found in Southeast Asia and are major exports for Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other countries.

Products made from rubberwood include home & office furniture, model airplanes, flooring, and woodcrafts. Some home-furnishing critics even say rubberwood is the best choice for bathroom walls, flooring, and fixtures not only because of the wood’s beauty but also because of its natural durability. Since a bathroom is a frequently used area that is subject to wear-and-tear, fungus, and mold due to water leaks and moisture, one critic argues:

“The tropical origin of rubber wood trees means that they are naturally less wearable under moist conditions. They have evolved in wet climates, and that means they are resistant to the ravages that excessive water can bring to other tree species and their wood products.”

In addition, GreenLivingTips.com says rubberwood is like Maple in that it is considered a hardwood and accepts wood stain comparable to Maple. It is a light, pale color and easy to stain if you prefer a deeper shade. So next time you’re looking to remodel an area in your house, remember this wood is not bendy like Gumby or squishy like the soles of your favorite sneaks — it’s durable, beautiful, and could be a great addition to any room in your home.



Sources

1. University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources:
http://web.utk.edu/~mtaylo29/pages/rubberwood.htm

2. http://rubberwoodproducts.com/

3. http://www.articlesbase.com/home-brewing-articles/malaysian-rubber-wood-and-why-is-it-a-good-choice-for-bathrooms-468705.html

4. http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/142/1/Sustainable-Rubberwood.html
 

Heal the World: Make it a Better Place

by Meghan

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Imagine driving to and from work everyday, not carpooling, and not feeling guilty about it. Now picture yourself driving half a mile to the market without being criticized for contributing to ozone depletion (“you should've walked!”) or for caring more about your car than the planet. If you love your ride – and loathe your bike and public transportation – this fantasy is about to come true. And electric cars are your ticket to paradise.Better Place, a Palo Alto startup founded in October 2007, plans to make these new-fangled electric vehicles easily accessible to everyone in the world by 2020. The innovative company envisions battery-powered, affordable, low-maintenance automobiles that will look and feel like the petroleum-powered brands we love now. Once drivers get hold of these babies, Better Place foresees battery charging stations in place of gas stations, battery switching spots alongside the roads, and automated software to tell you when it’s time to switch and charge. Pretty soon juicing up a zero-emission vehicle will be even simpler than spotting a low-fuel light in a gas guzzler.

But how will each family come up with the funds for an electric car, especially when the required batteries are exorbitantly priced? Better Place has an answer: Instead of paying in full for entities like batteries and cars, we'll simply subscribe to the company’s transportation services. A Better Place subscriber will get a car, a battery, and all the necessary services required for maintaining a zero-emission ride (such as battery charging and switching). The company compares its monthly transportation subscription to that of a cell phone provider's: "We pay mobile providers for minute-by-minute access to cell towers connected together in cellular networks. Truth is, we pay comparatively little - or next to nothing - for the phones themselves… Just replace the phone with an electric car, replace the cell towers with battery recharge stations, and replace the cellular networks with an electric recharge grid. Now you're buying miles, not minutes."

According to Better Place's business model, battery charging stations will be located in parking garages, retail spaces, street curbs, and even in drivers' homes. The chargers are weather-proof and generate the same amount of voltage as a standard electrical outlet in your home, so they're completely safe. Automated battery-exchange stations will also populate the roads and freeways, as a fully charged battery lasts for only 100 miles. But all you'll have to do is pull up, put your car in neutral, and let the station do the work – in less than three minutes.

Better Place claims it will not only alleviate our oil addiction, it will build a carbon-free economy that will create new jobs and a stronger interest in renewable energy: "As the electric car network grows, the market for green energy will grow with it, encouraging future investment in wind farms, solar power fields and geo-thermal plants."

The company has already recruited a good number of U.S. states (including California and Hawaii) and countries (such as Israel, Denmark, Australia, and Canada) to follow its business model. These markets have been entrusted to set up the world's first electric car networks, and many more countries are expected to be onboard within months. California is a particularly exciting market for this network; Better Place says it is the eighth largest economy in the world, and each household owns and average of 1.8 cars – one of the highest vehicle ownership rates on the planet. With its new infrastructure, California could create $2.5 billion in jobs, according to Better Place – a boom that could be advantageous for not only the Golden State but also the global economy.

To watch California’s press conference on the topic, click here . To learn more about Better Place, visit its website at www.betterplace.com .

 

New Inventions for the Eco-Minded

by Meghan

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This past year, we’ve suffered economic catastrophe, witnessed the birth of the iPhone, capitalized on phrases like global warming, mass extinction, and terrorism, cheered an American super-swimmer to eight gold medals in Beijing, and caught glimpses of vanishing oil and automobile industries. Hollywood lost actors Heath Ledger and Paul Newman, and the United States welcomed its first African-American president to the White House. We couldn’t have squeezed much more into 2008. But somehow we did. While Warren Buffet was busy bailing Goldman Sachs out of financial turmoil and Apple was crafting the hottest gizmos since color TV, a few ordinary environmentalists were doing some inventing of their own. Here’s a list of some of the most zany green gadgets from 2008.

WIND-UP CAMERA
Who needs batteries when you can twist your camera into action? The Twist Camera, created by Australian product-design student John Rothapfel, is powered like a wind-up doll; a couple turns is all you need to bring the powerless toy to life. Simply twist the end to snap multiple photos with 5 megapixel quality. The gadget also comes with a hidden USB plug, which makes photo transfers and uploads a piece of cake. I have a feeling that digital and chemical photography will be passé before we know it.

ALL-NATURAL JACUZZI
I’ve never been a fan of the “turn off the heat, put on a sweater” school of thought. I’ve always known there has to be a way to have good, green fun while keeping warm and saving energy at the same time. Today I learned about the Dutchtub, a lightweight wood-burning Jacuzzi that you can use in your backyard, your friend’s backyard, or on a family vacation --- no electricity required! A fire pit attaches to the tub, so burning wood can crank the water up to 100 degrees in a couple hours. Now you don’t have to squint through the sliding glass doors, into your living room, to see a romantic fire while relaxing in the tub. The fire --- and perhaps even the romance --- will come to you.


KINETIC ENERGY-POWERED PHONE CHARGER
There’s no doubt iPods, iPhones, and iMacs are cool. But let’s face it, recharging them (and forgetting to unplug them after they’re juiced) isn’t. Lucky for earth-loving techies, there’s a new way to fuel your gadgets without burdening the environment. A product called Kinetic Energy fuels cell phones and iPods using --- you guessed it --- your own kinetic energy. Just strap the fashionable band around your arm or ankle, and when your cell phone dies while you’re exercising, dancing, or walking to work, simply plug your phone into the band’s connector. Australian designer Wilma van Boxtel received a “notable entry” award for her ingenious invention at the 2008 Greener Gadgets Conference in New York City.

PLASTIC-BAG BOOTS
Chilean industrial design student Camila Labra has made, I believe, the most chic boots you can buy --- from plastic bags. The flexible, light, non-toxic footwear is fashioned by fusing many layers of recycled plastic, and then quilting the inside with a cotton fabric for comfort. Even more genius: the line is named after Bangladesh’s capital, Dacca, which was notorious for its extreme use of plastic bags before 2002 (they’ve since been outlawed). For just 45 dollars a pair, you can be stylish without feeling guilty about harming animals, plants, and everything else that sacrifices its life for high fashion. http://botasdacca.blogspot.com

DIY SODA
Are you addicted to Diet Pepsi? Or bottled water shipped from Fiji? What about seltzer? And how guilty do you feel when the empty containers pile up in your pantry, until there are so many plastic bottles you’re too embarrassed to dump a bag-full at the local recycling center? If the answer is extremely guilty, have no fear. The Israeli company Sodastream makes home carbonation systems, each with 25 different soda flavors, carbonating bottles, and CO2 gas.

FLOWER POWER
Do you know how much energy your home uses throughout the day? If you don’t necessarily care to know the numbers but would like to understand whether you’re on the higher end of the energy-consumption scale, the FlowerPod is for you. It’s a digital flower, which is in full blossom if you’re energy use is moderate and wilted if you’re consuming more energy than necessary. Designed by Designnord of Denmark, the healthy looking blossom is a way to reward your family for using reasonable amounts of energy. After all, who wants to look at a shriveled flower?

image
Photo credit: PC World.


According to the BBC, most people are confused by green product claims and want to know why companies mark their products as environmentally friendly. If you’re in this category of people, or if you’re simple not convinced you should buy green products, read this Greenpeace article about why greener gadgets matter. Also check out the latest Greener Products Survey results, released Jan. 8, 2009.
 

Photo credit: Ecoble.com.

Show me the Green - San Francisco’s new environmental building codes = boost for U.S. economy ?

by Meghan

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San Francisco is the second greenest city in the nation, after its neighborly competitor Portland, Oregon, according to a February 2008 study. I say, great job, San Francisco! But second place just isn't good enough for our strong-willed Foggy City. In August, it may have tightened the gap between number one and number two when Mayor Gavin Newsom signed a code requiring renovated and newly constructed commercial and residential buildings to follow strict green-building certifications.

"Let's end the stale promises, emphasize conservation, and tackle climate change on all fronts," said Mayor Newsom when he signed the mandate on Aug. 8. Lucky for developers, they have until 2012 to comply with the rigorous building standards, which are based on the GreenPoints rating system for low-rise homes and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for commercial and high-rise residential structures. Now, San Francisco's green-building efforts are the most advanced in the country. Take that, Portland.

By 2012, officials say the building codes will reduce:
- CO2 emissions by 60,000 tons
- Waste and storm water by 90 million gallons of water
- Construction and demolition waste by 700 million pounds
- Automobile trips by 540,000

They will increase:
- Green power generation by 37,000 megawatt hours
- The valuations of recycled materials by $200 million

And they will save:
- 220,000 megawatt hours of power
- 100 million gallons of drinking water

Obviously we won't see big changes today, tomorrow, or even next year. The ordinance is gradual, which some members of the San Francisco Building Owners and Managers Association say will help the City meet its goal. And it's a very important goal, as half of San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy used in buildings, according to the City's Climate Action Plan.

Just imagine what the new codes will do for the Bay Area — and the entire country, for that matter. Not only will they reduce, increase and save the resources on the above-mentioned list, but also they will create thousands of jobs during a time of sky-high unemployment.

Obama has been advocating for these kinds of green jobs since day one of his campaign. Although green-collar jobs are just blue-collar ones that help the environment, I agree with the politicians and journalists: Eco-friendly occupations seem like a darn-smart way to get the nation back on its financial (and environmental) track, or at least somewhere close to it. In October, Obama said if we build a new energy economy and increase federal spending on wind, solar, and biofuels, we'll create five million new jobs in the U.S. — five million! It's so simple: The more we green our country, the more jobs we create. Economy crisis solved!

But cynics think green jobs won't have the staying power to reverse our slumped market. William Yeatman, an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, says green jobs won't work, for one, because taxpayer money for green-job training will come out of the market economy and take away from producing goods that consumers want. Additionally, Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, opposes Obama's green-job plan because he says it will kill many other jobs. The president-elect will have to slash hundreds of thousands of positions in the coal, oil, gas, nuclear, and automobile industries before placing people in green trades, which he thinks is foolish.

Despite the skepticism, environmental jobs are popping up across the map. San Francisco's not the only innovate place in the nation, after all. Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and South Dakota adopted green building codes this year, too. And more cities and counties have jumped on the band wagon, including those in Arizona, Texas, Virginia, and Mississippi.

Even Internet companies are getting their piece of this eco-building pie. Not only are labor-intensive jobs opening thanks to new green codes, but also websites are launching to help those laborers get work. EcoEmploy.com lists hundreds of environmental companies and job openings in each state, while the Environmental Defense Fund profiles 200 green jobs in California, lists 45 job types for high school graduates (that pay at least $25 per hour — sign me up!), and provides information on job training and apprentice programs. After surfing these sites, if I didn't know any better, I'd think our economy was in great shape. If you’re looking for work and are willing to get your hands dirty, these websites make green jobs seem like a great option. Yahoo even calls them “recession proof.”
 

Global Greening and Greenwashing: What some U.S. companies are doing to protect the planet

by Meghan

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The U.S. Department of Energy reports 16 million tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere every 24 hours. Not surprisingly, the world’s CO2 reductions are about 25 percent behind 2012 targets, according to leading environmental news site Mongabay.com. Even less surprisingly, the Kyoto Protocol — a worldwide environmental treaty established in 1992 — called for a 5.2 percent decrease from 1990 emission levels by 2012; instead the levels rose 19 percent by 2007.

Americans are largely at fault. Alone we consume 26 percent of the world’s energy, although we make up just 5 percent of the population. Of course, this is because we are the largest economy in the world and provide about a quarter of the world’s GDP; but many U.S. companies still want to reduce our carbon footprint. They’re selling fuel-efficient cars, recyclable computers, and energy-conserving refrigerators and washing machines, as well as using solar energy and electric rather than fossil-fuel-powered equipment.

CNBC’s top ten list of Major Companies that take Going Green Seriously comprises reputable conglomerates that are eco-friendly in many ways. Below are some of the list’s most notable.

Continental Airlines
Over the past 10 years, Continental has spent $16 billion on fuel-efficient airplanes. According to CNBC, it even made its Houston location “75 percent more earth-friendly.” One of the city’s websites, visithoustontexas.com, says Continental uses electric rather than fossil-fuel-powered equipment. The company is also committed to following the building standards outlined by the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It has even converted more than 1,000 agents from the office to home to reduce driving to and from work.


Whole Foods
Berkeley’s location was the first major grocery store to use solar energy for all of its lighting. Many Whole Foods buildings have installed solar cells to augment power, and the company has bought renewable energy credits to offset 100 percent of its energy use. (Its natural and organic groceries are sustainable, too!)


Frito Lay (It’s not on CNBC’s list, but it should be.)
At the super-storehouse’s largest U.S. distribution center in Tucson, Ariz., plans to cook 100-percent sustainable potato chips are underway. In a few years, underneath the factory roof — of which a solar electric power system is already installed — the machines used to wash, slice, and cook the chips will be powered by renewable fuels, and the water will be recycled. With 37 Frito Lay plants in the U.S., the process is predicted to catch on — quickly.


General Electric
When GE’s bad rap of the 1960s and 1970s finally blew over (it legally dumped over a million pounds of hazardous chemicals into New York’s Hudson River), its CEO began urging for water filters, nuclear power, windmills, cleaner turbines and jet engines for its manufacturing plants and products. Many of GE’s appliances are now stamped with a government-backed Energy Star rating, and its Ecomagination campaign promotes environmental performance advantages in its products.


Hewlett Packard
The world-famous computer company promises to slash energy consumption by 20 percent before 2010. But for now, CNBC says HP audits suppliers to make sure they’re environmentally sound. The best and most solid promise: all HP computers are 100 percent recyclable.

Additionally, Dell is one of the companies following the example set by its competitor, Hewlett Packard. Dell’s "Plant a tree for me" plan allows people who buy new computers to purchase carbon offsetting: one-third of a tree is planted per machine for three years. Or customers can pay $99 to offset an average person’s carbon footprint for one year. The only problem? Dell buys its offsets from a little-known nonprofit — one that a 2008 New York Times article says might not be credible.

But many companies could be bluffing, and many claims could be false. Although a multitude of businesses work to offset their environmental affects, some simply capitalize on the trend and try to fool you into thinking they care about the planet. They develop major campaigns that could have you thinking, Wow, our earth is in good hands.

But going green takes more than a brilliant ad strategy. As smart consumers, we should be aware of greenwashing, the act of misleading individuals about the environmental benefits of a company or its products. For example, some business vow to buy carbon offsets to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions. But the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) says there are organizations that don’t uphold their marketing claims or instead turn to little-known non-profits to buy energy credits. A 2008 New York Times article says even the groups that manage the carbon offsets have doubts about whether companies uphold their promises.

Another example of greenwashing lies within the airline industry. While Continental lets you track your itinerary’s environmental impact and has researched numerous green alternatives for its aircrafts, a 2008 CNN article says most airlines (excluding Continental and a few others) offer empty promises. One of the biggest signs of greenwashing is vague claims, so look for specific plans (such as Frito Lay’s and Continental’s) and government-backed seals and approvals to be sure a company or product is environmentally safe.
 

Six Steps to Hosting a Sustainable Dinner Party

by Meghan

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You already use green cooking products — you have special electric cooktops, cork cutting boards, and even a bamboo silverware holder — so why not go all out and prepare a completely sustainable dinner for your friends and family? After all, going green is more than about using non-wood products and Energy Star appliances. Have you thought about whether or not your food is local? Or whether your protein sources use high amounts of energy? What about your mood lighting? Is your tableware contributing to America’s extreme amounts of annual waste? Even the post-dinner games you play can have an environmental impact.

If none of these questions has ever crossed your mind, don’t sweat. Just follow this simple guide and impress your friends and family with your dinnertime eco-suaveness (while helping our planet at the same time).
(1) FOOD

It’s hard to resist the craving for a juicy, restaurant-style steak, oozing deliciously at the light-pink center. But when you get the urge for beef, remind yourself that it takes 16 pounds of feed and an average household’s one-month supply of water to produce a one-pound steak, according to eartheasy.com. On top of that, Methane produced from livestock upkeep is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas. So when you’re cooking for a large group, serve seafood instead. Fish releases less carbon emissions than land-based animals, and it’s better for you, too.

Below are some of the lowest and highest environmental-impact seafoods, according to Earth Easy’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. Each is ranked based on the status of its wild population, its fishing methods, the impact on its natural habitats, management initiatives, and bycatch (other species that are caught and wasted while attempting to catch the target fish).

Lowest Impact (Best to Eat)
Pacific Halibut
Pacific Albacore Tuna
Blue, Dungeness or King Crab

Moderate Environmental Risk
Atlantic Lobster
Sea Scallops
Rainbow Trout

Highest Impact (Best to Avoid)
Alaska King Crab
Tiger Prawns
Shark


For your side dish, prepare an organic salad. Earth Easy claims that organic produce soon will not only be easy on the Earth, but also easy on your wallet. It may become less expensive than traditional produce due to the rise in oil prices, which raises costs for chemical fertilizers. The company says the price for these fertilizers rose 200 percent in 2007 alone.

(2) DRINKS

You can’t have a seafood dinner without good brew. And you can’t enjoy good brew without knowing it’s sustainable. Below are Eat. Drink. Better.’s top five picks for green beer, concocted in different regions throughout the world.

New Belgium Beer
It was the first wind-powered brewery in 1999, and today, on top of its completely sustainable practices, the Colorado-based brewer donates one percent of proceeds to environmental causes.

Steamwhistle
You can get it only in Canada, where the brewery uses recycled grains and deep lake water cooling to make its beer and relinquish air conditioning during the chilling phase.

Long Trail Brewing Company
Prepared in Vermont, the company sends its leftover mash to farmers to use as cow feed. It even uses grease from its kitchen to fuel on-site vehicles.

Sierra Navada Brewing Company
This creative brewery diverted 97 percent of its total waste from landfills in 2007 and has been honored with the California State Waste Reduction Award.

Brooklyn Brewery
In 2003, it became the first New York brewery to use 100-percent wind-powered energy.

(3) TABLEWARE

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology says average Americans use 650 pounds of paper per year; on top of that, they each produce a whopping 1,600 pounds of annual garbage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In this case, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, so stay away from paper napkins, plates, and placemats. Not only do they seriously contribute to our landfill surplus, but also they’re a bit tacky for a dinner party.

(4) LIGHTING

Light pollution is irritating and uneconomical, and according to Sustainable Table it can even change plant and animal behavior. If you want to be completely sustainable, impress your dinner guests with one of these cutting-edge lighting options.

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs
While they cost more upfront, experts say you can save more than $36 when buying a CFL instead of a conventional light bulb. They’re guaranteed for 8,000 hours, as opposed to the mere 500 to 2,000 hours you get from incandescent bulbs.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs
These come in all shapes and sizes, and with the holidays just around the corner, they could help you save a bundle on your electricity bill. While traditional holiday light bulbs use 6 watts of energy, LEDs use only .08 watts.

Natural Light
We can’t forget about the best light source of all: the sun. The Efficient Windows Collaborative suggests using a low-emittance (low-E) coating on your windows, which helps keep heat outside in the winter and inside in the summer. It even protects furniture from fading, so you can keep the shades open all year round. 

(5) ENTERTAINMENT

Nowadays, something as simple as buying a board game could be detrimental to our forests. If you really want to leave your guests ooh-ing and ahh-ing (and you have some free time before they arrive), try crafting a couple game boards from old wood or corkboards. Or, for an even easier solution, Planet Green suggests cutting faces from magazines and gluing them to index cards to make your own Guess Who? people. Even simpler: Play charades. No game board necessary.

How to make an eco-friendly game table.

(6) DESSERT

A sustainable dinner party wouldn’t be complete without an organic dessert. Try Bon Appétit’s fancy-schmancy Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch.    

imagephoto credit: Bon Appétit April 2008.


Ingredients:
4 cups 1/2-inch pieces trimmed rhubarb (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2/3 cup plus 5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur) or Chambord
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup 1/4-inch-thick strips unsweetened flaked organic coconut
2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
Wildflower honey (for drizzling)

Preparation:
Bring rhubarb, 2/3 cup sugar, and crème de cassis to boil in heavy medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator to cool slightly. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm, if desired.

Place walnuts and remaining 5 tablespoons sugar in medium nonstick skillet. Stir constantly over high heat until sugar melts and turns deep amber color, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add coconut and stir until well combined, about 30 seconds. Press onto bottom of pan. Cool in pan. Break into shards. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Divide rhubarb compote among 4 large wineglasses. Spoon dollop of yogurt atop compote, drizzle with honey, and top with walnut-coconut crunch.

If you don’t feel like baking, order a fresh dessert from Diamond Organics online bakery, delivering fresh goods from California’s central coast.

I hear oohs and ahhs already.
 

Eco-Friendly Product Certification:  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it

by Meghan

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I’m one of those people who desperately wanders up and down the supermarket in search of products marked with green certification stickers. You know, the ones that ensure you're not contributing to the ozone’s depletion while cleaning your windows or deodorizing your carpets. These stickers originate from the many non-profit organizations that promote environmentally friendly products and services and, in turn, help eco-minded shoppers like myself buy merchandise that reflect their ideals.


Green Seal is one of these non-profits. Its founder, Denis Hayes, has strived to preserve Mother Nature for most of his life. He coordinated the first Earth Day in 1970 when he was just 25 years old, and he worked as the director of the Solar Energy Research Institute from 1979 to 1981. Now he collaborates with Green Seal to reward products that minimize pollution, waste, and ozone depletion by stamping them with the Green Seal of Approval, a little blue circle with a green check mark through it. From coated printing paper to re-refined engine oil, the seal is linked to various goods, cleaning services, and even lodging properties in numerous states throughout the U.S.

But it’s not easy for a product to obtain the precious sticker. It’s awarded upon passing a three-month inspection, beginning when Green Seal receives a company’s application for endorsement. Since Hayes founded Green Seal in 1989, its team has developed standards for more than forty product categories, including windows and doors, food-service packaging, and hand cleaners, among many others.

After the application process is complete, Green Seal compares the submitted products against the standards in their categories. Paper used for printing and writing, for example, is scored based on: whether it’s composed of a high percentage of post-consumer material and tree-free content; whether it is Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF); and whether the weight of toxins in its packaging exceeds 100 parts per million. (This is just the tip of the iceberg, minus the technicalities. Download the complete list of guidelines for printing and writing paper here.

If Green Seal receives an application for a product or category it has never reviewed, it creates a fresh list of standards and sends it to manufacturers, environmental groups, universities, and other stakeholders in the general public for consideration. If anyone has a problem, the standards are open to formal appeal. After three months, if the product is certified, it is awarded the Green Seal of Approval and the company must agree to annual reviews to ensure continued compliance with Green Seal’s standards.

Kudos to Office Depot and Miller Paint Co., whose paper and acrylic paint uphold the environmental guidelines in their categories; for paint, these include abrasion resistance, opacity, stain removal, and chemical component limitations, among others.

But while Green Seal has proven these individual products are safe for our planet to digest, what’s to say about the companies in general? In some cases, not much. For example, Office Depot operates in 43 countries worldwide and has 1,200 superstores scattered throughout North America, covering thousands of acres of land where trees would normally live. And because of its constant advertisements and promotions, people commute by car to its branches when they might otherwise walk down the street to local suppliers. So does its eco-friendly paper offset its footprint? If buying a certified product means driving an extra half hour to the store, is it worth the toll? What about supporting a different megastore with high-energy emissions, just to take home a couple rolls of seventh-generation toilet paper? Mull over that while laying awake tonight.

Green Seal and other non-profits such as Greenguard Environmental Institute, along with government-backed agencies such as Energy Star, will keep working to salvage our fragile planet (or at least slow its complete deterioration) by certifying green products, whether or not they belong to superstores or local Mom-and-Pop’s’. They’re doing the hard part. Now consumers must decide how they want to help. There’s a lot to consider.
 

The North Pacific Garbage Patch—What Can You Do About It?

by Joey

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The North Pacific Garbage Patch is a flotilla of trash that may be twice the size of Texas. The culprit? Plastic. Why bamboo and other environmentally sound materials can help turn things around.

Depending on the report you happen to stumble across, the man-made environmental disaster known as the North Pacific Garbage Patch may be almost twice the size of the state of Texas, in terms of square miles. You may be asking yourself right now, what is the North Pacific Garbage Patch (NPGP, for the purposes of this post) and how did it get so big?

To start, let's give a brief explanation of ocean currents in the northern Pacific. In essence, four distinct Pacific oceanic currents north of the equator intersect in a region estimated at more than 10 million square miles. These currents, the California Current from the east, the North Equatorial Current from the south, the Kuroshio Current from the west and the North Pacific Current from the north work together to create a subtle whirlpool, or gyre. Perish the thought from your mind of a fairy tale-style tempestuous maelstrom--the whirlpool is slow and steady and far too large to actually see with the naked eye. But the net result of this confluence of wind and water movements is that a large region of sea is more or less flowing in a continuous clockwise circle. So, anything caught within these current patterns is destined to float in a large circle for the foreseeable future, or perhaps the next few thousand years.

You've probably guessed where we're going with this. Due to years of industrial manufacturing, shipping, waste disposal, weather patterns and other artificial and natural factors, an enormous, basically immeasurable amount of floating garbage, most of it plastic, has begun to collect in the NPGP. Actually, it began a long time ago, but it's only recently become a noticeable problem. And, according to some reports, the problem may be bigger than just a monumental mass of dirty water. Because the vast majority of this floating detritus is composed of plastic, primarily small pieces of plastic that will not decompose, this development reflects a gradual non-ceasing accumulation that, at its worst, could begin to coat every surface on the face of the earth--whether land, sea or air.

The truly scary part, as reported in this story from CDNN (http://www.cdnn.info/news/article/a071104.html), is the supposition that many of the chemical additives in this plastic are highly toxic not only to the marine life in the Pacific, but to every living creature on Earth. Put simply, some of these petroleum-based polymers cause liver and reproductive failures and play havoc with our digestive tracts, among other things. And unfortunately for us, these harmful agents have already made their way directly into our bloodstreams. Take a sample of your blood to be analyzed, and you might be surprised to find that there are hundreds of synthetically manufactured chemical compounds--the kinds found often in plastic materials--flowing through your arteries. Some have stipulated that the exponential buildup in the world's plastic waste, most clearly evidenced by the NPGP, may be indirectly responsible for scores of global health concerns, not the least of which is obesity and diabetes in the Western world.

So, doom and gloom aside, what can we do? Well, we probably won't be endeavoring any time soon to spend the billions of dollars it will cost to clean up this mess. But we can hopefully stop it from growing so rapidly. You can start at home right now by purchasing and using household products that do not contribute to this modern catastrophe. Avoid plastics and buy wood and bamboo products, of course. But also read up on companies with responsible manufacturing and distribution practices. Educate yourself today, and buy some time for tomorrow.

Green-Collar Jobs: The Future of Economic Growth?

by Joey

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The Green Jobs Act of 2007 aligns economic growth with environmental sustainability. With popularity and resources growing, green businesses, workers and the end consumer may have cause to jump on the "green-collar" bandwagon.

When the U.S. Congress passed the Green Jobs Act of 2007, it represented a landmark moment for the role of sustainable development in American economic growth. With the bulk of environmental jobs previously confined to niche businesses catering mostly to the country's elite classes, the act took a first step toward making green industry accessible to the common man. The Green Jobs Act committed $125 million in federal money to train new workers in the fields of clean energy, construction and manufacturing.

One of the corollaries of this legislation has been to drive economic growth in low-income communities. Or, in the language of the bill, to create "green pathways out of poverty." The thinking goes something like this: allocate monies to companies and organizations needing fresh sources of labor--such as those specializing in solar power and home design and construction--and begin to give workers skills in these areas, thus offering them a competitive advantage in the job market. Jobs are created and, as a bonus, the interests of environmental sustainability are served.

The Green Jobs Act reflects the growing popularity of a larger trend, tagged the "green-collar" movement. Now espoused by presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, green-collar is today's buzz word for making environmentalism a priority to the middle and working classes. In a case such as this where economic interests and earth-friendly considerations are aligned, popularity should only increase. And the more attention the green-collar movement attracts, the more money and resources will be directed its way.

This growing popularity presents a unique opportunity for small businesses offering sustainable product options to team with pro-environment organizations and contractors that provide green-collar jobs. Together, groups with shared green interests can create more jobs and get the word out about cleaner, alternative ways of doing business. In the end, the consumer stands to benefit, too, as sustainable products like bamboo and coconut palm wood--once reserved as status symbols for the wealthy--may become commonplace in the American household.

Survey Says: Renewable Kitchen Materials in High Demand

by Joey

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A new survey from the American Institute of Architects reveals an increase in popularity among eco-friendly products and renewable materials for the modern home kitchen.

According to the latest Home Design Trends Survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), sustainable and environmentally friendly materials have risen and continue to rise in popularity among American homeowners. The survey focused primarily on kitchen and bathroom features and specifically made reference to a growing demand for bamboo products.

“Kitchens continue to be the dominant design area within the home,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “There is also a growing interest in eco-friendly features for kitchens such as bamboo and cork flooring, and concrete and bamboo countertops.”

Survey respondents were asked to rate the likelihood that they would purchase kitchen products and features. Renewable flooring materials and countertops were among the items showing an increase in popularity in 2007 over 2006.

Adding emphasis to the trend, a separate AIA poll showed that 90% of respondents would be willing to pay $5,000 more for a house that would use less energy and protect the Earth.

The AIA also reported that growing consternation over a weakened economy has led to a lower interest in big ticket furnishings, further indicating a desire for alternative home décor options.

The AIA Home Design Trend Survey is conducted quarterly with a panel of 500 architecture firms that concentrate their practice in the residential sector. Residential architects are design leaders in shaping how homes function, look, and integrate into communities and the survey helps to identify emerging trends in the housing marketplace.

You can access the full survey at www.aia.org
 

Some Bamboo Cutting Board Tips from the Pros

by Joey

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A quick little maintenance tutorial video from Elton Brown of the Food Network...Check out this video courtesy of the Food Network:

Palmwood: The Next Sustainable Lumber?

by Joey

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The harvesting of palmwood, or cocowood, offers an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional lumber and a welcome respite from deforestation. But its all-around utility might be its highest virtue.Everyone recognizes the familiar iconic form of the Palm Tree. Synonymous with beaches, sunshine and ocean breezes, palm trees have become a peaceful, aesthetically pleasing symbol of vacation and easy living. But how many of us also realize that the palm tree has immense spiritual significance in many parts of the tropics and is often described as one of the world's most important crops?

To start, the wood of coconut and date palms is an outstanding source of food. These unique trees are known to produce highly nourishing fruits for 70 to 80 years. In many regions of the Pacific, the palm tree is also a welcome source of shelter from the sun and an ample provider of fuel and raw materials. Its leaves and fruits have a range of practical applications, and the oil of palm is a kitchen staple. But the brightest future of the palm tree may very well focus on the stem, or the wood.

With world population and economic development booming, construction materials have become high demand products. Coupled with this tremendous growth is a commensurate worry that the earth's more finite resources are becoming strained. As a byproduct of the heavy dependence on traditional wood sources, the search for sustainable lumber--i.e. quickly renewable trees--continues to accelerate. Not least of all, cost has played a role, as time-tested logging sources are tagged with a staggering price.

Enter the palm tree.

Planted in large groves and plantations in the 20th century, palm trees have long seen their trunks discarded after the reaping of their valuable fruits and leaves. But the trunks display a range of amazing properties that are perfect for construction, home design and interior furnishings. The wood of the coconut palm is waterproof and highly elastic. Its lack of growth rings, unlike its evergreen and deciduous relatives, makes it smoother and devoid of surface imperfections. Both the coconut and date palms are strong, sturdy and resistant to mold, termites and other pests. They also offer a range of colors and surface variations, bringing special attraction to the designer's eye.

Best of all, the palm tree already exists in abundance all over the tropical regions of Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Thailand and throughout the South Pacific. Many of the enormous plantations in these regions are rife with aging or senile trees, requiring an imminent felling and replanting over the coming years. Furthermore, tropical storms and urbanization annually lead to scores of available palmwood stock. The most effective way to deal with this surplus of felled wood? Converting them to marketable products.

A range of companies are now offering palmwood and cocowood products that include flooring, wall panels, interior appliances and homewares. These products make use of trees that are nearing the point where they can no longer bear fruit, and thus must be taken down and replanted. Estimates of the number of currently senile trees (that must be felled) vary greatly. But most studies agree that the palmwood available at this moment is capable of providing the primary materials for the construction of millions of homes.

The future is very sunny indeed for the palm tree.

A thorough cutting board cleansing

by Joey

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There are many different types of cutting boards, but this cleaning method will ensure sanitation and a longer shelf life for any material.A cutting board demands a thorough cleaning to prevent germs and other grime that can taint food and create foul odors. There are many different ways to clean a cutting board, but using the right cleaning materials and following these basic steps will help you practice good sanitation and extend the life of your cutting board. You’ll need an antibacterial dish-washing soap, a nylon sponge, vinegar, a lemon, salt and hydrogen peroxide.

First, take the dirty cutting board and throw a few dashes of salt on the surface. Squeeze the lemon all over the board and use the lemon wedge to scrub the board. The salt acts to break down food particles and the acid from the lemon juice will kill any lingering odors.

Next, run the cutting board under warm water and make sure to get rid of any remaining food chunks. Soak the sponge in the dish detergent and then scrub the board thoroughly until you cannot see any visible traces of food or residual food colors. Rinse the cutting board and let it dry for about 15 minutes.

Next, disinfect the cutting board by treating it with a mixture of vinegar and water (use a little more water than vinegar). Ideally, use a large pan to soak the board in the solution for about 10 minutes, or just long enough to let it settle into the top of the cutting board.

Finally, soak a clean towel in hydrogen peroxide and then wipe the surface of the cutting board. Let it stand for at least a few minutes to give the peroxide time to eat away bacteria. Rinse well with hot water and a little more dish soap. Run the board under the water until there are no traces of any cleaning agents on it, and then set in a tray or dish bin to dry.

The more things change…

by Joey

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Is the role of bamboo as a leading edge natural resource a development of modern times?A couple Google searches with the word “bamboo” will tell any casual observer that a popular movement of sorts is upon us. Often, it seems, the virtues of this utilitarian commodity lie at the intersection of so many important modern issues that one can hardly be blamed for feeling like the “bamboo revolution” is something new, something cutting edge.

In fact, bamboo has been utilized for thousands of years in regions ranging from the New World to Asia. In addition to its more obvious uses--building materials and tools--bamboo has also provided medicine, fuel and food to incalculable numbers throughout the ages. The earliest uses date back at least 5,000 years to China. No surprise there. But interestingly enough, bamboo probably played a large role in the origin of written language in the Far East. As the most important product in book and paper making in those days, modern language owes a debt of gratitude to bamboo, as its durability allowed for a wider spread of information and ideas. To the ancient Chinese, one could argue that bamboo represented the equivalent of what the world wide web is today, albeit in a smaller world.

With its role in the “olden days” as a resource of extensive versatility, one can only imagine the coveted treatment this plant received from the average man, woman and child. It seems fitting, then, that now, in the 21st Century, we find bamboo products measuring so well against such a vast array of contemporary concerns. Sustainability, the environment, globalization, aesthetic beauty, style, cost, logistics, custom capability, and the list goes on. After thousands of years of use, we’ve come full circle. Perhaps, what was good for us then is not so different from what’s good for us now.
 

Bamboo not just a Chinese icon

by Joey

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An annual bamboo festival is made a local holiday in Kerala, India.
India’s Kerala Bureau of Industrial Promotion has officially created an annual Kerala Bamboo Fest, to celebrate the integral role played by bamboo in the economy and lifestyle of this large state in the southwestern part of the country.

According to interior ministry officials, nearly 10,000 workers are employed in bamboo-related industries in Kerala alone. The government has announced plans to expand the industry.

Products made of bamboo in Kerala include building materials, construction equipment, industrial products, handicrafts, books and house wares. Workers from 12 other Indian states will take part in the festival, exhibiting new products and promoting advances in bamboo production, re-growth and innovation.
 

Going green for the holidays

by Joey

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Gift-giving has a tendency to stagnate into socks and gift certificates. Try something new this year.With global warming, pollution and energy conservation on the top of everyone’s minds, an opportunity exists for the every man to think globally, act locally, and best of all, buy a sweet gift for friends and loved ones this holiday season.

E-The Environmental Magazine (http://www.emagazine.com/) has published a list of environmentally friendly holiday gifts. Here’s an excerpt:

“Putting more green into your holidays means more than leaving less impact on the planet. It’s about choosing gifts that are made with durable, quality, non-toxic materials. Luckily, this often leads to quirky, one-of-a-kind items that say as much about your creative leanings as your Earth-friendliness. Giving green can mean everything from reusing gift wrap and gift bags (or do-it-yourself stenciled paper bags or comics pages), to putting all-natural lotions and beeswax candles in stockings and solar-powered electronics and vintage jewelry under the tree. Of course, if you choose to actually give green — as in plants! — that’s OK, too.”

And of course, what green gift list would be complete without the inclusion of bamboo items? Another snippet: “contemporary kitchenware from renewable bamboo, including serving trays, cutting boards and gracefully curved natural utensils. Bamboo is one of the world’s fastest-growing plants, requires no fertilizers or pesticides and releases 35% more oxygen than its timber equivalent.”

Still not sold? Check the price tag.

Quick facts and figures about bamboo

by Joey

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Some staggering numbers that shape the world of bamboo.-More than 1 billion people live in bamboo homes
-Bamboo is not wood, it’s a member of the grass family (and one of earth’s fastest growing plants)
-China is the world leader in bamboo, with more than 400 indigenous species
-The oldest archaeological findings of bamboo tools date back 7,000 years
-Some species of bamboo can grow up to 60 feet in eighteen months
-The plant reproduces through rhizomes, which are horizontal shoots that germinate underground
-Bamboo's tensile strength is 28,000 psi versus 23,000 psi for steel
-Bamboo’s flexibility makes it the world’s best earthquake-proof building material
-Most species generate about 35% more oxygen than a tree grove taking up the same space
-As a food, bamboo shoots contain concentrated amounts of sugar, fat, protein and essential vitamins
-Derivatives of bamboo are widely used as a medical treatment for asthma, respiratory diseases and to induce lactation

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