Video: What To Do With A Hen Of The Woods Mushroom

  • April 30, 2011 8:17 am

One of our go to meals when we’re rushing to get something on the table for family meal is eggs. It can be really boring to eat eggs over and over again for dinner, especially as eggs feel more like breakfast than dinner. Adding hen of the woods mushrooms to our scramble gives eggs a real dinner flavor/feel.

My friends send me pictures of random vegetables all of the time asking me what to do with them and usually I can quickly answer them. (There is pretty much nothing you can’t chop then cook in olive oil and garlic.) These mushrooms are weird looking. They arrived in my farmers’ market about a year ago and stopped me in my tracks. I had never cooked one before. So I went straight to my friend Google to figure out what to do.

Turns out there is a lot you can do with them. Here’s a video of me ripping one apart with my fingers before frying it in oil and adding in a few eggs. It’s so easy. And flavorful. And a welcome quick dish on a night when we were too tired to make a big production, but still wanted to sit around the table, eat something yummy, and talk for a moment before dealing with the bedtime dash.

Q & A: Taming Toxic Furniture

  • April 28, 2011 8:17 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I have a question for you.  I am coming to you because I actually didn’t know who else to ask. I am about to have a baby and in March we got new furniture from Restoration Hardware.  It clearly has a toxic smell.  I try and avoid the room and keep the windows open but the smell has not gone away.  First I would like to know- what do you think the smell actually is?  Second, how dangerous is this to my bay in my belly?  Thirds, how would you get rid of it? (air purifier, etc.)  Obviously I will keep the baby (when born) out of the room, but I am freaking out that my new furniture is really hurting my baby.

Please Help!!

Thanks!

Carrie

THE ANSWER

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to send me your question. What kind of furniture are you referring to? I can’t tell you what the smell is without smelling it myself, unfortunately. And even then I might not know. That said, your nose knows. Truly. If it doesn’t smell good, it likely isn’t good. And you’re right not to want your growing baby around a seemingly questionable unknown. There are all kinds of things that can be lurking in furniture that would be best avoided, including formaldehyde–a known carcinogen–in the glues binding particleboard.

You can avoid this by carefully shopping for furniture. Once you already have a stinky table/cabinet/whatever in your house, there is one way to seal in offgassing chemical emissions from new furniture that has porous surfaces: in The Complete Organic Pregnancy and Planet Home I recommend AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer. Call the company directly to describe what you’re contending with and they can advise you. They also sell a variety of paints, stains, and more.

Ventilation (open your windows!) and air purifiers also help. So can taking the furniture outside if you can (make sure you have it under somewhere in case of rain). And the strongest offgassing will diminish as time goes by. If it continues to bother you, you might want to cut your losses and seek something else.

Good luck!

Thanks,

Alexandra

Here’s a passage from Planet Home where I discuss Safe Seal:

Much new furniture is made of composite woods like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, which are temptingly inexpensive but best not brought into the bedroom; these can off-gas formaldehyde.  Though the vapors from new furniture containing formaldehyde glue diminish over time, they remain in high concentrations in smaller and improperly ventilated rooms.  If you have reason to suspect the fumes in your home are too high, there are inexpensive kits available that have been used by the Sierra Club to test levels in FEMA trailers.  For less serious levels, there are also houseplants known to act as air filters.  If you have a piece of composite wood furniture you love and don’t want to part with, move it to a room in the house where you spend less time.  You can also seal in the emissions…[from] composite wood parts with a product proven to reduce formaldehyde emissions, such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

For more on which houseplants to use, check this out.

New Article In The New York Times

  • April 27, 2011 8:42 pm

I have a story in the Thursday Styles section of The New York Times this week: Allergies Can Be Natural, Too. It’s about the push pull that happens when green/eco families have to give up green/eco cosmetics for their food allergic kids. Let me know what you think?

What You Don’t Know: Methyl Iodide And Your Strawberries

  • April 26, 2011 8:25 am

I’ve decided to morph my Tuesday posts into a compendium of facts I find totally outrageous. These are things most of us know nothing about and yet they’re hiding in plain sight.

It’s about to be strawberry season so I’ll start my What You Don’t Know posts with methyl iodide, a soil fumigant pesticide used in the farming of these juicy red treats that just so happen to be my favorite fruit. This known carcinogen and neurotoxin, which causes late-term miscarriages (according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America), is approved for use in California, which is where most of the strawberries in the U.S. are grown. I’m no strawberry farmer, but I know this stuff is bad news for farmers, the groundwater, and eaters. So much so that I got several emails last week from environmental groups and other organizations (including FoodDemocracyNow.org, Center For Environmental Health, and Change.org) pushing to have it banned.

To put this all into perspective: last week Environmental Health Perspectives announced a study showing that children exposed to pesticides in the womb are more likely to have lower IQs.  From their press release: “…it makes sense that pregnant women should limit their pesticide exposure. They should use the smallest amount possible, have others place it, and just do what they can to minimize contact.” Uh huh. I prefer none.

Guess who doesn’t permit these sort of chemical pesticides on strawberries? USDA certified organic. And, to answer a question I get all of the time: No, washing and/or peeling conventionally grown fruit doesn’t get all of the pesticide residue off. Sorry; some of it is internal.

Fortunately methyl iodide isn’t what’s being used on my local strawberries (but that doesn’t mean I’m not signing petitions left and right and hoping you will, too). Unfortunately, I’m left trying to decide if I prefer local lightly sprayed to USDA organic but not-local-to-me strawberries, when all I want to be deciding is how many cartons to buy and how best to eat them–by the handful or in jams and pies.

In The Conscious Kitchen I discuss the difficulties of this local vs. organic push-pull, using strawberries as my  example. Here’s an excerpt:

Unless you’re 100 percent organic or 100 percent local (most interested eaters fall somewhere in between), it’s hard to figure out how, when, and why to choose local over organic, and vice versa.  Amy Topel, an educator and former food columnist for the now defunct Green Guide – the publication that existed before National Geographic bought the property – refers to this experience as “flummoxing.”  That’s about right.  “In Whole Foods they have local strawberries and organic ones,” Topel says.  The locals aren’t organic, and the organic ones are grown halfway across the country.  “I’m feeding my baby and I want him to eat organic; he should not be taking in those pesticides.  For ten minutes I walked back and forth – Do I care more about my baby?  Or everybody else?  I ended up deciding I didn’t want him to have the pesticides.”  This is just one instance of choosing organic over nonorganic local.  This mental tug-of-war is a familiar process for those of us trying to decide what the ratio of organic to local should be in our diets, especially where kids are concerned.  Pound for pound, developing little ones take in more of the harmful chemical spray residues than adults do, which is why organic is so crucial for them and for pregnant moms.

The trick to coming to peace with this local versus organic dance is to educate yourself on the concerns.  If health is your main concern, then you might decide that you always want to avoid ingesting sprays that have been linked to cancer, no matter how small the amount.  You’ll mainly choose organic.  If you decide local strawberries are the most delicious things on earth and you prefer to risk pesticide residue for a short season once a year and support small farms nearby, you’re going local, especially when you can locate low-sprayed local.  Soon you will arrive at your working ratio of organic to local.  One suggestion: If you’re feeding kids, choose organic over local but lightly sprayed when buying what the Environmental Working Group refers to as “The Dirty Dozen” – the twelve most contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables.

Buy these organic:

Peach, Apple, Bell Pepper, Celery, Nectarine, Strawberry, Cherry, Kale, Lettuce, Grapes, Carrot, Pear.”


Once you’ve decided about if you’re going local or organic (or both), indulge and enjoy. Ultimately the point of all of this fretting is flavor. And nothing tastes better than strawberries in season.

Now you know.

I Missed The First Of The Season Asparagus

  • April 23, 2011 9:12 am

I could kick myself, really. Or I guess I could try to get out of the house earlier, but knowing my family that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Apparently in two weeks there will be enough growing that there will be some remaining when I get to the market. [Note: My farmer saved me a bunch this week! They were fantastic! Lucky me. All the more reason to know your farmer.]

Here’s a video of what I bought instead–all very delicious, I can’t complain.

I Missed The First Of The Season Asparagus

What time do you tend to get to the farmers’ market when you go?

Q&A: Eco-Friendly Exterminators

  • April 21, 2011 9:59 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I follow your emails & blog and thought you might have some ideas about exterminators.
We seem to have a bad case of what we believe are carpet beetles and our building wants
to do an extermination similar to that which is done for bed bugs. Evidently it kills bugs
in all stages; eggs, larvae & insect. This totally freaks me out!  Do you know if so called
‘eco friendly’ products/companies are safe and if they work? I’m curious what you would do?

Thanks,
Laura (New York City)

THE ANSWER

As spring bursts and blooms with life all around, you’re not the only one asking me about natural ways to control pests! This is ant season, after all. I’m not actually familiar with carpet beetles (I guess I should count my blessings). Here’s what I would do: I’d ask your building to hire someone who practices integrated pest management (IPM). You might not want to rely on your building’s management to do this research for you. People tend to take suggestions better when you’ve already done the research and found a practitioner.

IPM is a system similar to what your local orchards might have in place. The first thing to do is to prevent pests and bug infestations before they happen. You never know when they might pay a visit.  And you’re more likely to have to use a pesticide once they arrive.  Prevention is crucial.

Here’s something I wrote about IPM in The Conscious Kitchen that would apply to your beetle situation, or any infestation, especially the second paragraph addressing how to go about finding a trustworthy person who does IPM. Always ask what *any* exterminator is planning on using to battle your pest, and look the treatment or chemical up on the websites below. So much of this is common sense. Trust your judgement, get our of your apartment for a few days while the treatment is going on if you can, and good luck!

Start by making sure there is no way for creatures to enter your kitchen by sealing up holes in your walls with no-VOC caulk (you can buy it at GreenDepot.com) and/or steel wool.  Next, keep your kitchen clean.  Don’t invite unwanted guests in with crumbs and other treats.  Finally, if and when there is an infestation, treat it as nontoxically as possible.  Maybe the spring ants that come every year don’t bother you much and can be dissuaded from taking over with a little borax-sugar-water solution.  (Similar treatments for other critters can be found on the very helpful Least Toxic Control of Pests in the Home and Garden list at BeyondPesticides.org; click on alternatives fact sheets.)  These alternatives are much better for you and the earth than bombing your home with caustic fumes.  Roaches may require something stronger, but call in a green pesticide expert only when needed.  If you live in a building where the management decides who exterminates in your apartment, you can refuse to let them enter your home and pay for your own exterminator of choice if you need one.  Or ask the management to switch over to a company that uses less harsh chemicals.  If they’re reluctant, hand them a copy of the EPA study American Healthy Home Survey: A National Study of Residential Pesticides Measured From Floor Wipes, which demonstrates that pesticides can linger in kitchens years after they’re applied, including ones that have been banned in this country for decades.  Whatever you use now will be better for the future inhabitants of your space, too.

To find eco-friendly pest busters, and those practicing IPM near you, check out GreenShieldCertified.org.  Operated by the IPM Institute of North America, recognized by the EPA, and advised by many experts, including one from the NRDC, Green Shield is a meaningful, independent certification.  One caveat: keep some of that no-VOC caulk on hand; its the rare IPM practitioner that considers what’s in the caulk they’re filling your wall holes with.

Here’s a video of me talking about natural pest control on Good Day New York.

Tips For A Fussy Baby

  • April 19, 2011 10:11 am

A close friend just had a baby (her third). She’s over the moon. I hadn’t heard from her for a few days, sent a prodding text, and heard back that he had morphed very quickly since I saw them last into a fussy baby.

When I was pregnant and writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy, we collected the following organic tips for inducing sleep from friends and families who swore by them for getting seemingly inconsolable babies to sleep. Little did I know I was soon to rely heavily on them, and other odd things, for shushing/rocking/bouncing my own fusser to sleep. (I think I ate too much spinach and grew a mini Popeye.) Here’s hoping any of these bring her–or you–some relief.

And remember: this too shall pass.

White Noise: Make your own white noise with fans, vacuum cleaners, portable vacuums, electric toothbrushes, bathroom fans, electric razors, or, to save electricity, recordings of them. Fish tanks that bubble, loud clocks, and metronomes have also worked. Tape-record the sound of a shower or water running from a faucet. The repetitive monotony of these noises mimics the sounds of the womb and can soothe a baby for whole a silent room might feel unnaturally quiet.

Music: If you don’t have the energy to sing your baby to sleep, tape yourself singing and press play instead. If you can’t stand singing, test-run some other music and discover what your baby finds relaxing.

Taped crying: A recording of your baby’s own crying, or a recording of another baby crying, can be disconcerting enough to interrupt an upset baby long enough for her to fall asleep.

The birth ball: Recycle your old birthing ball and use it the way you would a glider. Your baby will love the bouncing, the same way she seems to love anything that forces you to get off the couch and work for her.

Drive: When worse comes to worst, a trip around the block in the car is often just what a baby needs to fall asleep.

Movement: As long as the baby is safely buckled in, swings and vibrating bouncy seats can be a great way to doze off. Similarly, a sling Bjorn, or stroller can do the trick.

For more tips, check out The Complete Organic Pregnancy. What worked/works for you and your baby? What did not?

What To Expect…When Reading This Blog

  • April 18, 2011 8:36 am

Last night I drew a diagram of all of the things that I do. It was a dot I called “me” in the middle, and then circles all around me of what I’m working on, involved with, or otherwise doing. The verdict? I’m busy! (And, um, overextended.)

In an effort to make sure blogging doesn’t keep getting back-burnered, I’ve come up with the following schedule. This way you’ll know what I’m posting and when, and can come back to read accordingly.

I’m launching the new schedule this Tuesday, in honor of Earth Week, and will be raffling off several free copies of The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home to new readers who follow me on Twitter and/or fan me on Facebook mentioning the new, more frequent blog via post or tweet and suggesting one thing I should cover on it.

  • TUESDAYS: Look for relevant information and excerpts from all of my books, linked to whatever is happening in the news
  • THURSDAYS: Q&A days! You send in your questions, I answer them.
  • SATURDAYS: Mish-mosh day, mainly food-related. I’ll be posting farmers’ market videos, ingredient thoughts, recipes, and more.

I promise to stick to the schedule, but of course reserve the right to do slightly less or maybe even more, especially when The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat comes out on June 7th.

If you like what you read, please let your friends know about it, and make some noise in comments. If you’re interested in hearing even more from me, sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, or “like” me on Facebook. I’m on there daily posting links to what I’m reading and thinking about throughout my days.

How To Make Your Own Cleaning Products (My Visit To Stone Barns)

  • April 15, 2011 6:11 pm

A few weeks ago I taught a DIY cleaning product class at the gorgeous Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in   Pocantico Hills, NY. Before I got around to demonstrating how to make the cleaners, I chatted about what ingredients and materials to use, and, of course, about the reason(s) why everyone should want to minimize the use of harsh chemicals in their homes.

Did you know that in cities like L.A. home products (cleaning products, paints, stains, etc.) are the biggest pollutant after cars?  Or that more than 300 man-made chemicals can be found in our bodies that weren’t there just three generations ago?  We don’t know what effect these toxins are having on our health as they mingle around inside of us. Cleaning product formulas are currently government protected as trade secrets so you either have to buy from a natural product company going above and beyond and disclosing their ingredients on a label, or you can make your own. This way, you’ll always know exactly what’s in your “product.” There’s nothing you can’t make with vinegar, water, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and castile soap. Lovely extras include lemons, olive oil, and maybe an essential oil or two.

Here are some of the DIY cleaner “recipes” I shared from Planet Home:

  • Tub Scrub: Baking soda + natural dish soap + a few drops of water = tub scrub. For a very soap scummy tub, use extra baking soda. Basically a 1 to 1 soap to baking soda ratio. (I tend to mix this in the palm of my hand with no measuring. I also, um, use it to exfoliate my face.)
  • Glass Cleaner: Make a 50/50 solution of white distilled vinegar and water. Just like your grandmother used to. Use newspapers instead of paper towels to wipe windows and mirrors.
  • Furniture Polish: Mix 1/4 cup lemon juice with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil in a glass jar. Dab solution onto a soft rag for use. Make only as much as needed; it doesn’t keep.

For anyone who hasn’t visited Stone Barns, go!  Here are some pictures of the farm from after the class and book signing. Yes, that is me trying to kiss a chicken. I wanted to give the photo as a present to my butcher. Thankfully the bird was smarter than me and wouldn’t come closer.



Jeffrey Hollender and Planet Home in The Washington Post

  • April 11, 2011 5:16 pm

Loving this  interview with Jeffrey Hollender in The Washington Post.  He talks about Planet Home and how we can all make little steps to leading a more sustainable life.  First and easiest step: buy less stuff!

Check out the article here.