Granny’s Gone Viral

  • May 13, 2011 8:18 pm

Well that was unexpected. My New York Times article on grandparent names climbed to #1 most emailed on the site for a good long while and it has been picked up all over the place, including on the Time’s own Motherload blog. Thanks for sharing Baltimore Sun, Babble, Jezebel, and others.

Q&A: Safe Cookware

  • May 12, 2011 10:08 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra–I absolutely love The Complete Organic Pregnancy! My hubby and I are actively trying to get pregnant, and I’m using your book as our bible to help get my body and our home baby-ready.

I have a quick question about cookware–I own a set of Farberware that has etched on the bottom “aluminum clad stainless steel.” Does this mean the stainless steel is layered within the aluminum? Or vice versa? If it’s the former, I’m thinking I should replace it with a cast iron or stainless steel set.
Many thanks in advance for your help!

Wishing you joy,
Marcela

THE ANSWER

Hi Marcela,

Actively trying to get pregnant can be a, um, fun time! Thinking about cookware? Less fun. So, thanks for the great question. Safe cookware is so incredibly important and can be so complicated. Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel is a tricky thing. Do a little research and different sources (including manufacturers) say different things. It seems like Aluminum Clad should mean a layer of stainless steel between two layers of aluminum; a metal clad with something means covered by it. However, some sites describe Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel as the exact opposite: a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel. Oof. I’m not hugely fond of aluminum as a cooking surface. And if it is coated with a nonstick layer, which happens not infrequently, I would toss it right in the trash. Like, pronto. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine surface for your food to come into contact with.

The best advice I can offer you is to do what I would do: read the product information very carefully and call your manufacturer (Faberware, in this case) with any questions about what the surface material is. If you have any lingering doubt after speaking with them, just go for the good stuff.  Lodge Cookware is an affordable, tried and true, and reliable option. I have a friend who “recycled” her old cookware and now uses her aluminum/nonstick pasta pot as a training potty for her son. True story.

Here is an excerpt from an recent post about safety and cookware that explains why we have to choose cooking surfaces so carefully when outfitting our kitchen:

As I discuss in The Conscious Kitchen, until recently most non-stick cookware was made with a chemical that has been linked to cancer, infertility, and complications during pregnancy. This chemical—perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA—is so persistent it has been found in low levels in the blood of 98 percent of the general U.S. population. In 2005, DuPont settled with the EPA for $16.5 million for allegedly withholding PFOA health risk information. The EPA called on them and six other chemical companies to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. In the kitchen, we’re exposed to it mainly through scratched pans, and these things scratch easily. They can also break down at high temperatures and the fumes can cause flu like symptoms in humans, and death in birds. Hello, canary in the coalmine.

There are new chemicals now being used to produce non-stick cookware as this phases out. The replacements are largely unknown, so their safety is also unknown. The safest thing to do is cook everything in tried and true durable materials: cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, and stainless steel.

What’s in your kitchen?

Getting Back To My Roots In The New York Times

  • May 11, 2011 9:43 pm

I enjoyed writing this article, Who Are You Calling Grandma? on grandparent names for The New York Times. Back before I became eco-obsessed, I was a style journalist. I covered trends, food, fashion, whathaveyou. Reporting this reminded me of the work I used to do. Fun! And no worries about toxic chemicals!

What You Don’t Know: Fish Is The Most Confusing Topic Ever

  • May 10, 2011 10:03 am

Recently there has been a lot of chatter in the news about the safety of our seafood.  Some of the growing concern is due to the nuclear disaster in Japan – how is radiation effecting what we’re eating?  As reported in The New York Times, the esteemed Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert has outfitted his kitchen with a radiation detector (!).  That said, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that spokespeople from the FDA say there is no realistic threat to Northern Pacific fish.

It’s hard to know what to do with such wildly disparate information, except not eat wild fish until we know more.

I realize this flies in the face of what I suggested in The Conscious Kitchen: that the best fish to eat is well-caught and wild, despite the fact that our waterways are the runoff for every single thing we have done wrong, environmentally speaking.

Unfortunately farmed isn’t a choice to turn to in tough times. The New York Times just reported on the factory farming of tilapia, nicknamed “aquatic chicken” because it “breeds easily and tastes bland.” Not very enticing. These fish are factory farmed–just like their feathered bretheren–and gain weight easily from their largely corn and soy based diets. That corn and soy is usually heavily sprayed and often genetically modified. If fish aren’t eating the aquatic plants they should, their nutritional value to us human predators diminishes rapidly.  “A portion of tilapia has 135 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, a portion of salmon has over 2,000 milligrams.”  Hmmm. What’s the point?

These issues are deeply confusing, even upsetting. As environmental issues–and oil gushing into places like the Gulf–come up, as species are overfished, then (somewhat) replenished, as changes happen, my approach changes. I start by eating what I said I eat in The Conscious Kitchen: well caught wild that I’ve double checked with a group that tracks contaminants in seafood is still my first choice if and when I want to eat fish (which, admittedly, isn’t often). I always stay informed and talk to my fishmonger, and suggest you do, too.

A few thoughts on purchasing fish from The Conscious Kitchen:

WILD

The main environmental issues for wild seafood, ocean or fresh-water, are sustainability and harvesting methods (how the fish was caught).  A number of species are currently drastically overfished – cod has long been the poster child of a depleted fish, so much so that there have been cod fishing bans from the Northwest Atlantic to the Baltic Sea.  Sharks, bluefin tuna, and many kinds of West Coast rockfish also are overfished, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  What’s been depleted can sometimes be renewed, so check online for the latest information.  With regard to how fish are being caught, some methods are environmentally friendlier than others.  To learn more about these, go to FishOnline.org/information/methods.

FARMED

The main environmental issues for farmed fish and seafood – pollution and sustainability – are tightly linked to personal health concerns.  Many fish farms, domestic and abroad, use feed that’s similar to the gunk that factory-farmed animals are fed, including antibiotics and hormones, plus dyes (this is what makes farmed salmon as pink as its wild counterpart), and other undesirable additives.  In 2009, a neurologist from the University of Louisville issued a warning in a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease saying that farmed fish that were fed cow by-products could even be at risk for mad cow disease.

Some farmed seafood is actually fed wild, sometimes overfished fish.  Ironic.  This further depletes the waterways and makes the finished product high in environmental toxins like PCBs.  There are even well-meaning farmers attempting to raise so called “organic” shrimp who also raise purer farmed fish to feed their purer farmed shrimp.  That sounds like an unanswerable riddle for the carbon footprint crunchers!

Another Tip:

When you’re in front of a fish counter or looking at a restaurant menu, if you don’t have a safe seafood card in your wallet, whip out your phone!  Text the Blue Ocean Institute‘s handy Fish-Phone – 30644 – with the word “fish” and the species you’re looking to get information on, and they text you right back with environmental and health information, giving your choices a Red, Yellow, or Green light.

Savoy Is Closing!? We’ll Always Have Okra Pickles.

  • May 7, 2011 10:06 am

Peter Hoffman recently announced that his wonderful restaurant, Savoy, will be closing as of June 18th.  As one of the foremost farm-to-table restaurants, New Yorkers will certainly miss this landmark, but Hoffman’s promise of reopening in the fall with a new name and a more informal vibe sounds promising. And he still has Back Forty. (I’m there often).

When writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy I reached out to him for a pregnancy-themed recipe. He sent me a fantastic pickled okra recipe. Five and a half years later, I’m still not sure which is better–the pickles or the fun anecdote that goes along with them. Here are both.

Peter Hoffman’s Pickled Okra

“Caribbean folklore is that okra helps the baby come on and starts labor.  My wife decided that she had enough of being pregnant the second time around, so she ate a big jar of pickled okra (she also took some castor oil, which certainly didn’t hurt), and she started her labor fast and furious,” recalls Hoffman.  “One hour, to be exact.  And I delivered the baby on the front steps of our apartment.

1 pound small okra pods (cut off any darkened stems but leave whole)

3 cloves garlic, halved

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup rice wine vinegar

1 cup water

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 teaspoon dill seeds

Pack three 1-pint canning jars with the okra vertical and alternating stems and tips.  Put a halved garlic clove in each jar as well.  In a nonreactive metal pot, bring the liquids to a boil.  Add the salt and spices.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes.  Fill the jars with the liquid to within 1 inch of the rims.  Wipe the rims and put on the lids.  Put the glass jars on a rack in a deep kettle and cover with hot water by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, cover, and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the bath and leave to cool.  Let the pickles mellow for 2 weeks minimum before tasting.  Best at 1 month.


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.

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.

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.

Vote For Me As One Of Circle Of Moms Top 25 Eco-Friendly Moms

  • April 5, 2011 6:19 pm


Just got a lovely email from the people over at Circle Of Moms letting me know I’ve been nominated to the Top 25 Eco-Friendly Moms list they have up for Earth Month. Wanna vote for me? You can vote daily through April 17th. Thanks.