Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas tree conundrum

Pretty pink treeAs many of you may know, a few years ago I chose plastic over paper (so to speak) when it came to our Christmas tree. It's a decision I wonder about every year, but the whole Christmas tree is a giant conundrum.

On one hand, the impact of growing Christmas trees isn't negligible. Unless you can find one grown organically (or sustainable) and shipped en masse close to you, there are a ton of petrochemicals involved. Fertilizers and pesticides are used for the tree during "production" and each individual driving out to the hinterlands to chop down and/or collect their own tree from the tree farm uses more gas. If they deliver near you, that certainly saves some on gas (depending on the efficiency of the trucks, of course).

On the other hand, you have the plastic, lead filled tree that was mostly likely made overseas under dubious conditions and shipped (generally by container, which is a little better) to the destination before being trucked out to your area. Needless to say the footprint of a plastic tree is no small potatoes.

We're hoping that our fake tree will last for many, many years to come. I have fond memories, too, of assembling the fake Christmas tree that I grew up with so perhaps my kids will have the same nostalgia. Although I definitely prefer the fresh-cut tree and had dreams of taking the kids out to a tree farm to U-cut a tree, it wasn't really realistic back when we bought the fake tree.

And, I must admit, this one is a snap to care for. More importantly, it already has LED lights embedded in it, so the electrical usage on it is low. Plus, since it breaks down into three pieces, I can manage it myself. Oh yeah, and really, my tree isn't flocked pink.

What kind of tree (if you celebrate with a tree, that is) will you have this year?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Skipping green gifts for the kids

I have to admit, I don't buy green gifts for my kids. It ends up being a complete waste of money since I have yet to find anything they like and they won't play with them, so it ends up a huge waste. I've learned to not push them or myself on gift giving holidays and just give in to what they actually want.

What do I do instead? Well, we limit the number of toys the kids get in return for getting what they want, craptastic, plastic, Hecho en China and all. Books are another story, I'm willing to spend more on whatever books they want, but we inevitably end up getting the vast majority of our books from the library anyway, so that's kind of a non-issue. So, it's a parade of Lego toys, Bakugan or whatever suits their current fancy.

I figure I make up for the consumption in other ways and don't sweat my decision. It's certainly not my preference, but after 7+ years of doing this, I know what works and what doesn't. Even when the kids were very young, they always preferred the bright shiny plastic toys over the carefully selected, non-toxic toys made of natural materials that I bought for them. I sure liked them, but since I was the only one playing with them, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to continue buying them.

It is a little easier when the kids are younger since you have a lot more control over what's available to them in their environment. But as they get older and exposed to other kids, media and advertising, they start exerting their own preferences and it can become a huge battle. One that I'm not willing to take on.

So, what do you do about holiday gift giving for kids? Do you stick to your guns and only give them environmentally friendly toys? Or do you give them what they want (regardless of its impact) and just limit what they get?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stay away from enhanced breasts

I actually have a breast enhancement post in the works but I thought, since many of us are sitting down to unnatural breasts this Thanksgiving, I'd write about it now. No, I'm not talking about Hollywood stars (unless movies and TV are on your t-day schedule), I'm talking about your turkey. The majority of us eating turkey are eating either a bird that has been bred for huge knockers or has been unnaturally inflated with plumpers to expand their breasts.

What's the problem with this? Well, for the injected plumpers, you aren't paying for and eating turkey, you are paying for whatever they are injecting, most likely a mixture of saline. Just like a boob job, but without the implants. If you like the taste of watered down meat, then it's no big issue I suppose. You could get the same effect by brining it yourself at a lesser cost.

Add on top of this these broad-breasted bird are bred for big boobies, which means that their anatomy isn't well suited for, well, moving around. They are more prone to tipping over and not getting back up. This is a huge problem if they have access to open water and fall in, because their giant racks prevent them from righting themselves and they drown.

I know that there is a myth that turkeys are stupid animals, but when you look back at native wild turkeys, they were pretty damn smart and nearly impossible to hunt. We've bred the life-force out of them over the years, built to our specifications for dining, altering their anatomy such that their quality of life just ain't what it used to be. So, today, we have a factory mill of dumbed down turkeys, who need artificial insemination to reproduce because they forgot how.

What's the solution? Choose heritage turkeys that aren't bred for big boobs. These animals are the closest thing we've got to preserving a domesticated turkey without all the anatomical weirdness. Sure, they are harder to find since there aren't as many people out there raising them and they are more expensive than even the organic, free-range or pastured broad-breasted birds. But, if we create more of a demand for heritage turkeys, the supply will increase.

You don't need a freezer full of free and/or cheap-ass turkeys given away during the holidays because the cost to produce them is negligible (and reflects on their care and feeding). You don't need a 20 pound turkey to feed 4 people. If cost is an issue, choose a smaller bird of higher quality for not only your sake, but the turkey's. And, when in doubt, forgo the turkey altogether and choose either vegetarian or an animal that has been given the dignity of a decent life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Walmart: The Jolly Green Giant?

Who knew that Walmart would actually have some positive influence on forcing companies to self-report and, inevitably, under such close scrutiny, become more green not only in their business practices, but in their consumer products as well.

You see, back in July, Walmart told the companies of the products they stock that they are launching an eco-labeling initiative. This green tag program will calculate the environmental cost of producing, packaging, and selling each of the items on their shelves, much like the program underway by a similar industry giant in the UK, Tesco.

These eco-scores will then be prominently displayed in a clear, easy-to-understand format for customers to reference when making buying decisions. Nothing like airing your dirty laundry for all to see to help shape customer decisions. In response to this, the massive SC Johnson company announced recently that it had launched a new site listing the ingredients of more than 200 of its products, such as Glade, Windex and the like.

The WhatsInsideSCJohnson website represents the most significant disclosure to date of the ingredients found in household cleaning products. And, while they certainly don't explain the issues with the ingredients, it's a start. At least now you know that those soy-based candles are really just paraffin wax with who knows how much soybean oil in them (plus a whole host of other chemicals).

Is Walmart's eco-labeling just a ploy to rehab their terrible image among critics, who focus on the mistreatment of their employees, their foreign-manufactured products and all-around crappy selection of merchandise? Whatever Walmart's intentions are, it certainly has gotten the attention of companies that sell their products in their stores.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find out what exactly is in the Nature's Source line of cleaning products. Methinks the scrubbing bubbles on the label hints at something way more caustic than they are letting on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The impact of holiday gift giving

I keep hearing ads to encourage people to go crazy shopping on the upcoming black Friday. As such, Friday is the annual "Buy Nothing Day", which is the alternative to spending all that's left in your wallet. It suggests that, instead of buying, you refrain from shopping. Some see this anti-consumerism as a threat to our American way of life, but let's stop for a moment and consider our holiday spending and its financial, emotional and environmental impacts.

It's really easy to get caught up in the shopping fever, especially when you perceive that you are getting a deal. But, are you really? Does buying something for others make you feel better about yourself? I know that I really enjoy giving gifts, but if you are buying gifts for people because you feel obligated to do so, or if you are buying gifts for people without knowing what they want, what does that really mean? At that point you are just checking things off of your Christmas stress list?

On one hand, feeling obligated to purchase products for somebody doesn't necessarily leave one feeling the holiday spirit. There are no warm fuzzies as a result. There is stress in worrying whether or not the recipient will like what you got for them, and there is concern whether or not the reciprocal gift will match in either quality or cost. I know I also get stressed when someone spends a lot on something for me that I really just don't like and won't use.

I think one of the main reasons people get so stressed about the holidays is because of the obligations of gift giving, particularly if you are already financially strained. The shame or disappointment that is associated with not being able to buy for loved ones what they really want to get them tends to make people overspend. No wonder people are depressed during the holidays.

So, what's a person to do? I know it goes against tradition for many, but what about talking with friends and loved ones about some alternatives? Finding out what they actually want is a good first step. Buying unwanted items equals buying unused products and the carbon footprint of all that excess that is going to waste is not negligible. Second, discuss other options for gift giving.

Buying experiences instead of stuff will not only result in a more memorable gift, but will also potentially have a much smaller environmental impact. Suggesting that time spent together is far more valuable than the latest gift and gizmo is another option. I know this isn't exactly realistic for some of you when familial obligations to spend time together aren't exactly pleasant, but I suspect the feeling is mutual on both sides and perhaps others don't exactly like the whole gift expectation thing either.

I also know that fighting against cultural norms isn't exactly pleasant and can be a nerve wracking experience, but once it's done, it doesn't need to be revisited every year. The end goal is to rethink how we spend (and what we spend on) the holidays, reduce the amount of stress involved and perhaps reduce our carbon footprint in the end by buying a lot less gifts.

How do you feel about gift giving during the holidays? Do you feel obligated to get and/or match other's gifts? Or, do you enjoy buying gifts for people?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Local Thanksgiving Menu

I met with my brother today, Mr. Chef Extraordinaire and writer of the blog, Seattle Foodies, to go over the menu for Thanksgiving. As usual, we'll be having something spectacular this year, with a focus on local ingredients. In other words, if it can be found locally, it will be consumed.

Here's what's on the menu:
  • Turkey leg confit in duck fat*
  • Roasted turkey breast with gravy*
  • Peas and pearl onions
  • French mashed Yukon gold potatoes**
  • Root vegetables (local) with sage from the garden
  • Cranberry, blood orange and thyme relish***
  • Porcini Mushroom Stuffing
  • Assorted Dinner Rolls (from the Dahlia Lounge Bakery)
  • Pumpkin pie****
  • Pecan pie

*Our turkey, once again, this year is a pasture-raised heritage turkey from Thundering Hooves
**I wish the potatoes were from my yard, but I didn't have much potato success this year due to my own negligence. But, the potatoes are, at least, local
***The cranberries are grown locally in our area and the thyme is from the garden
****The pumpkin pie is made from locally sourced leaf lard in the crust with local butter, and local pumpkin puree that I made earlier in the season

Not to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to list some of the reasons why eating local is important. Not only does it help support local farmers and the economy, it also will help reduce your carbon footprint given the fact that most of your food has travelled, on average, 1500 miles to reach your plate. Or, as they say, from farm to fork.

Eliminating those food miles by buying locally grown foods will not only reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere during transportation, but it will ensure that your food is fresher and, more importantly, tastier. You see, if your food doesn't need to travel thousands of miles and spend time in storage, it can be picked closer to its peak of ripeness. And, therefore, peak of tastiness.

How's your Eat Local for Thanksgiving planning coming along?

By the way, congrats to the 5 winners of the locally sourced heritage turkeys!

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to ripen green tomatoes

Every year, I have the same dilemma. Since we generally don't have very hot summers around here, inevitably at the end of the summer growing season I still have a bunch of tomatoes left on the vine, but they are all green with no signs of ripening in their near future.

A few weeks ago, I went outside and clipped the 10 or so tomatoes that I had left and brought them inside. After doing a bit o' research I decided how I was going to not only store them, but also coax them into ripening. Since we don't have any newspaper on hand (since we cancelled the NY Times a while ago), I couldn't individually wrap them and store them in a box, like some people suggested.

One method that looked intriguing to me was to place the tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple and store them that way. Why the apple you ask? Well, the apple puts off ethylene gas, which helps the tomatoes to ripen. Since I had all the appropriate items for that storage and ripening method, I gave it a whirl (this is a little more difficult way to store them if you have a ton of them).

I placed the tomatoes in the bag with an apple for ripening, folded over the top and secured the whole deal with a binder clip. A week or so ago, I went to check the tomatoes and found that two or three of them had molded up - probably because they had some small bruise on them that I didn't notice. The rest were still green. Not green, turning red, but green-white. There was no hope in sight, but I dutifully folded the bag back up after composting the moldy ones and promptly went back to ignoring the whole lot.

Last weekend I decided to take a peek and make sure no other tomatoes were going moldy, and lo and behold! But, what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a big ole juicy, red tomato staring back at me! And, another one with a little red blush working through the skin. I peeked again last night and they are all almost ripe. So, here's to ripe, homegrown tomatoes in mid-November!

What's your favorite method of ripening green tomatoes off the vine?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's avocado time!

My brother, who lives in San Diego, recently sent us pictures of his backyard avocado tree I think, mostly, to taunt us. You see, he doesn't like avocados in any shape or form, but my husband, myself and my other brother, Darryl (who also lives in Seattle), love them.

And the ones he grows are a thousand times better than the ones you get from the store. Better than the ones we could get even when we lived in California. Which should surprise no one. Backyard avocados are like homegrown tomatoes, there's just no comparison to store-bought ones.

So, while the avocados are in no way local to us, he sometimes ships up a box of them and I have a hard time bringing myself to discourage him of this practice, particularly since they go out to three families.

Anyway, this year he has over 100 avocados on his tree. Which is why he titled his email "Avocado Pr0n". And, indeed, it is.

What's your guilty out-of-region fruit or vegetable pleasure?

Going to Copenhagen

The Huffington Post Green is running a contest to pick a citizen "Hopenhagen Ambassador" from their readers to go to Copenhagen in mid-December on behalf of their organization to do some reporting 'n shit. Or something like that.

If you are interested in applying, you can read more about it here (you have until December 3rd to enter). The opportunity sounds extremely cool.

For those of you who don't know anything about the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference, it is a meeting in Denmark where the world's leaders will decide whether there will be a framework on limiting carbon emissions before the Kyoto protocol expires and the before the amount of carbon in the atmosphere climbs to irreversible levels.

From HuffPost Green:
Hopenhagen.org is working to connect every person, city and nation with what is happening at the conference in Copenhagen, believing that citizens can help push the fate of the planet down a positive path by showing political leaders that the citizens of the world passionately want them to reach an agreement that would limit how much carbon emissions each country would produce.

Leaders are shying away from making these commitments, and Hopenhagen.org wants to show there is a strong political will to set emissions targets -- which would mean more green jobs, and a more sustainable future for people everywhere.

So, what I want to know is, if you went to Copenhagen as a citizen ambassador and had access as official press, what would you hope to achieve, what kind of message about global climate change would you try to get across not only to the world's leaders, but also to the citizens of the world?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pledge to Eat Local for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and do you know where the food for your family feast is coming from? Hopefully, you have access to local foods and will be choosing meats and produce grown local to you.

Why is it important to eat locally? Well, I'll let the info from the Eat Local for Thanksgiving site explain a few things:

By making a choice to include more local foods into your diet you are taking an important step in support of a local food system that can feed your community while protecting the environment and building a vibrant local economy.

Research indicates that locally directed spending contributes as much as 2 - 3 times more to community income than spending at non-local businesses. At farmers markets, for example, for every dollar spent, 62 cents is re-spent locally. For every dollar spent at an average grocery store, 25 cents is re-spent locally compared with 52 cents at a locally-based grocery store.

The increase is even greater for locally-based restaurants. For every dollar spent at an average restaurant, 31 cents is re-spent locally compared with 79 cents for locally-based restaurants.

It's also been said that one of the best ways to keep farmland from being developed for commercial use is to expand demand for local-grown produce, creating a higher value for those lands as active farmland.


What more can you do about it? Well, you can join thousands of others who are willing to take the pledge to eat locally this Thanksgiving, even if it's only one item on your table that you choose to replace.

Taking the pledge is a good first step in helping to build a more vibrant and sustainable local food system for your region. There are many important issues that affect the availability of and access to local food. If you would like to get involved further here are a few things you can do to help the cause:

  • Ask friends, family and other groups you are associated with to take the pledge. Direct them to the Eat Local Thanksgiving website to learn more.

  • Talk to the manager at your local grocery store and ask them to carry more local produce, meats, dairy products, or other locally produced goods.

  • Write a letter to your city council, county council or state legislators to let them know that you support policies such as Farm to Institution (i.e. getting local food into school and hospital cafeterias).

    Also, don't forget that getting everyone together is a great time to explain to friends and family why you choose local foods. If you need some tips on what to discuss, check out these great discussion questions from the Eat Local for Thanksgiving site.

    If you made it this far, what are you waiting for? Go take the pledge already!

    [Please note: out of area pledges are not eligible for prizes upon entering. If you do not live in WA state, just enter your city, state in the city field.]
  • Sunday, November 1, 2009

    PW Cooks winner

    Now, before I tell you who the winner is of the, apparently highly coveted book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, I wanted to tell you that if you didn't win this time around, you'll have another chance soon. You see, Ree emailed me after I announced this giveaway and has offered an additional three! books for another giveaway.

    So, if you didn't win this time, don't go away crying. I'll be doing a second giveaway in mid-November for the three cookbooks, so you'll have another opportunity to get a crack at this very awesome book.

    Okay, now the moment y'all have been waiting for....

    The winner is #4: Kelsie

    Go figure, out of about 445 entries, the chosen one is #4. Oh, the fates. Anyway, Kelsie, send your contact info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com. Congratulations!

    As for the rest of you, keeps your eyes peeled for the next giveaway :)

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