Q&A: New Year’s Resolution Ideas

  • December 26, 2012 9:25 am

Question:

Alexandra,

New Year’s is here and I’m looking for simple ways to green my life. Do you have some ideas?

Thanks,

Ron

Answer:

Hi Ron,

Happy almost New Year! I’m glad to hear about the changes you want to make for 2013. Simple steps add up, especially if we all take them. One easy way to go green is via the food you buy, cook, and eat. In my book The Conscious Kitchen, I have ten food commandments I suggest. Perhaps you will find resolution ideas in them.

1. Eat less meat. When eating beef, seek out and choose grass-fed. Other meat and poultry should be carefully sourced.

2. Just say no to bottled water. Drink (filtered) tap instead. This will save money, too.

3. Buy local organic or sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget that coffee and tea come from plants, and wine is made from grapes; choose sustainable versions.

4. Eat only the least contaminated sustainably harvested wild or well-sourced farmed seafood.

5. Always consider packaging when shopping. Choose items packed in materials you can reuse or that can be recycled in your municipality. Buy bulk items instead of overpackaged goods. Always shop with reusable bags.

6. Cook at home. Often. And serve on reusable dishware, not disposable. Clean with eco-friendly products.

7. Avoid plastic as often as you can.

8. Try composting, even if you live in a city, or a house without a yard.

9. Whenever possible, reduce energy use in the kitchen by choosing efficient appliances, cooking methods, and dishwashing practices; don’t leave appliances plugged in when not in use; ask your electric company for alternative energy sources like wind power.

10. Spread the word. Educate everyone you know. Green your office kitchen, your kids’ school kitchen, your friends and relatives’ kitchens. Make noise; together we can make a huge difference.

Happy 2013!

Alexandra

Q&A: Are candles safe to burn?

  • December 5, 2012 9:50 am

Question:

Dear Alexandra,

In the winter I love to burn candles. I think it creates a warm atmosphere at home. But I have been reading about how maybe they’re not safe. I saw something about chemicals in their scents that aren’t good for you. Do you become exposed to these when you burn candles?

-Annette

Answer:

Hi Annette,

Thanks for your question. It’s a good one. You’re certainly not alone, especially around the holidays. You can absolutely inhale chemicals in fragrance, some of which have been linked to hormone disruption, when you burn scented candles, among other pollutants. Here is an excerpt on candles from Planet Home, which I co-authored. I think it will help answer your question.

“Conventional candles made from petroleum emit plumes of soot and phthalate-containing scents. Their wicks can contain metals like zinc, tin, and even lead. If you really like fragrance, non-petroleum-based candles, like unscented beeswax or essential-oil-scented non-GM soy wax versions with cloth wicks, are far preferable to their conventional counterparts.”

I personally have given up on candles, besides the infrequent unscented beeswax one. Beeswax has its own lovely scent–warm and honey-ish. I’d suggest giving it a try.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: GMO’s?

  • October 31, 2012 9:01 am

Question:

Hello Alexandra,

I’ve been reading a lot on genetically modified food lately, and I was wondering if you could break it down for me? Like what exactly it means, why it is bad for me, and what should I choose?

Thanks.

Heidi

Answer:

Hi Heidi,

Yes, GMO’s have been getting a lot of attention lately, which is a good thing, and especially in California (more on this in just a bit). In order to understand GMOs, it’s helpful to know what they are. Here is how I defined them in The Conscious Kitchen:

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Genetically Modified (GM) Food

These terms refer to plants and their resulting crops that contain artificially altered genes as well as conventional insecticides actually incorporated into the organisms.  These biotech modifications make the plants disease-, insect-, and/or virus-resistant in an effort to increase crop yield.  Though safety research has been conducted, there’s still significant concern about the health and environmental effects of GM food, which is not permitted under USDA organic standards.  These foods are also referred to as GE (genetically engineered).

The concern with GM foods is the unknown. No one truly knows what the long term chronic health affects are. And here’s the rub: I can’t tell you what to choose. Because we don’t currently know if and when we’re eating genetically modified food. GM foods aren’t required to be labeled in the United States. This is not true for all countries. In Europe, Japan, India, and  China, labeling is required. Stateside, the only way to know if you’re not eating GM food is if you choose organic. And even organic crops are now being cross-contaminated with GM seeds.

That said, if you’re eating anything containing corn or corn derivatives (corn syrup, corn oil) or soy or soy deriviatives or even beet sugar–which is about 100 percent of all processed or packaged foods–you are absolutely eating genetically modified food.

The reason why you have been hearing so much about GMOs leading up to the election is that for the first time, the public is going to vote on labeling. On election day Californian voters will have a chance to say yes or no to Prop 37, which would require GMO labeling. This isn’t to say GM foods are safe or unsafe, this is just giving consumers the right to know if their food contains GM ingredients or has been genetically modified. Studies have shown that 90 percent of the public is in favor of GMO labeling. There has been ample money spent by huge businesses in an effort to defeat the labels, so we’ll see what happens on election day. What gets passed in California often spreads to the rest of the country.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: “Green” Kitchenware?

  • October 10, 2012 8:55 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

Looking to buy some new pans for my kitchen, and was wondering if you had any green recommendations for me?

Best,

Deb

Answer:

Hi Deb,

You’re not alone. This is a question I get often! Yes, there are ways to make sure that your new cookware is safe. As I explain in The Conscious Kitchen, you should opt for cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel-coated cast iron.

Cast Iron is great because it’s safe, cheap, endlessly durable, and retains heat very well. If you are looking to add more iron to your diet, you’re in luck; small amounts of the iron will leach out of the pan and into your food. Cast iron does require oil or butter so your food won’t stick to it, but it does become more non-stick over time, especially if you care for the pans well.

Enamel-coated cast iron is a bit pricier than the other two, but well worth the splurge. It’s cast iron with an enamel coating is composed of fine glass particles. Glass is nonreactive and very safe. It also retains the heat well and is extremely durable. I use my enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven so often it just lives on the top of my stove. There is no point in putting it away.

Stainless steel is another solid safe material for pots and pans. It’s lightweight and sturdy. Just don’t store acidic foods in it (tomato sauce, rhubarb) as this can start to break it down.

I prefer these three materials to any of the new “green” pans on the market. Many of these contain proprietary materials and “green” chemicals that make them similar to the non-stick pans I hope you’re replacing. I don’t want to cook in anything proprietary! And these just aren’t as durable as the tried and true materials mentioned above. I have heard from a lot of readers that they’ve bought various new “green” pans and they wound up falling apart quickly. Cast iron won’t fall apart!

Hope this helps you with your decision. If you’re looking for other kitchenware, check out The Conscious Kitchen for additional tips.

Best,

Alexandra

Eco-Friendly Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

  • September 10, 2012 8:41 am

School starts today at loooong last! I don’t even bother shopping for anything until at least a few weeks into school to see what we actually “need” (usually nothing). Well that’s not entirely true. My mom had a tradition of always helping us choose a back-to-school outfit a few weeks before school started so we could get excited and picture what we’d be wearing as we went about the first day. It wasn’t always a new dress. Quite often it was a hand-me-down. So my daughter does have a first grader new dress–thanks to her grandmother–that has been waiting to be worn for about two weeks. I have loving memories of my own first grader first day dress. It was a brown and white gingham number with a red apple on my chest. Ah, the 70s.

On the topic, here’s my most recent post for Elizabeth Street and it’s all about eco-friendly back-to-school shopping. Maybe I’ll take my own advice come October….

The Conscious Kitchen Now Available On Kindle!

  • September 5, 2012 12:29 pm

Good news!  The Conscious Kitchen is now available on your Kindle. Was excited to run across this today.

Q&A: BPA and Plastics

  • August 8, 2012 8:18 am

Question:

Alexandra,
A friend just sent me a video of you talking about safety concerns about plastics and children. My wife and I are brand new parents. Our twins were born 6 weeks ago. We are using the Dr. Browns BPA-free bottles. My concern is we’ve been washing them in the dishwasher. I’m wondering about the possibility of substances (other than BPA) in the plastic leaching into the milk due to the heat in the dishwasher. Do you have any info on this? Where do you find your information? We’ve been reading a lot but haven’t seen any studies on possible dangers of BPA free plastics that are exposed to high temperatures. Do you think I should switch to glass or just start hand washing the plastic bottles I’ve got. Thanks for your help.

Best,
David

Answer:

Hi David,

Congrats on your new additions.

Watching that video of me talking about plastic, it should come as no surprise that I’m deeply wary of plastic for both environmental and health reasons and therefore fond of both shatterproof glass and/or stainless steel–especially for the early years and developmental moments. All plastics degrade when exposed to high temperatures. While the safety research has mainly been on BPA (plastic #7) and PVC/Vinyl (plastic #3), there are studies that have been done on what comes out of even the plastics that are considered safe by the scientific community, especially #1. Since you’re contending with twins, you might not be aware that the FDA recently finally banned BPA from baby bottles, though not from any other infant products (which is frustrating). There is no word on what manufacturers are supposed to be replacing BPA with, and if these chemicals are any safer than their banned predecessors. More reasons to avoid plastic….

Though there are great resources (like The Environmental Working Group) to turn to for information on plastic, staying on top of  the latest plastic safety details can be a full time job. This is another reason I prefer glass and stainless steel. You don’t have to keep on top of their safety.

Another bonus: If you are too tired to wash everything by hand, glass and stainless are your friends; both are fine in dishwasher. Keep in mind that any/all plastic you use should only ever go on the top rack of the dishwasher if you can’t hand wash.

Bottle issue solved, now get some sleep!

Best,

Alexandra

A Case of Wine from Glenny

  • October 23, 2011 9:51 am

Last week Alexandra asked me to put together a case of some of my favorite wines for her to enjoy throughout the fall.  (I work at a little wine shop called Smith & Vine in Brooklyn).  I happily agreed – what fun!  She also suggested that I write a little bit about what I chose and why, hoping to encourage all of you to check out some of these delicious (and affordable!) wines.

The case was mixed: six red, five white and one rose.  All organic.  I’m going to pick just a few of my top choices to tell you about:

-Finca Luzon  Jumilla Verde 2010: Made from the grape Monastrell (also called Mourvedre in France), this Spanish wine is dark and earthy with lots of plumminess and spice.  My favorite thing to eat with it?  A falafel sandwich.

-Reunion 2009: An Argentinian gem made with the grape Malbec, this red wine is full-bodied and full-flavored – exactly what you want from a new world Malbec.  It tastes of blackberries and cherries, dark chocolate and a hint of spicy pepper.  Handcrafted by the winemaker and his family, it is made with sustainable farming practices and organic grapes.  Easy going and approachable, this wine is perfect with anything from big barbecue flavors to more subtle and rich autumn fare.

-Domaine de la Fruitiere Jardin de la Fruitiere 2009: From the Loire Valley in Western France, this lovely white wine is a blend of Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay.  Melon de Bourgogne is also known as Muscadet, and is a grape that has flavors of clean minerality and limestone.  Paired with the fruitier Chardonnay, the result is a delightfully dry and crisp wine.  It tastes like green apples!

-Shinn Estates Coalescence 2010: We love the Shinns!  And you should too.  Their gorgeous organic vineyard on Long Island is well worth the day trip – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all of the tasty pours this husband and wife team have to offer.  One of my favorites is their zippy little white wine made from a field blend of grapes from their vineyards.  Talk about not wasting anything!  The Coalescence is young and bright with lots of citrus.  Pair it with anything from the sea and you’ll be very very pleased.

Enjoy the recommendations!  If you can’t find any of these wines in shops near you, check out www.winesearcher.com and plug in your zip code.  It is a great tool for finding specific bottles that you’re dying to taste.

Cin cin!

-Glenny

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat In Whole Living Magazine

  • October 17, 2011 9:27 am

Thanks Whole Living for including some easy advice from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on how to buy the best meat for the environment and your health in their November issue!

Q&A: Watery Egg Whites

  • August 18, 2011 9:52 am

THE QUESTION:

(This question came to me over Twitter, hence its brevity.)

What’s up with watery egg whites? I read real fresh eggs or old hen I only get eggs at the farm mrkt – think it’s the farm?

THE ANSWER

There is a lot of conflicting ideas out there about why some eggs have a watery or runny consistency.  Is it from a lack of protein in the hen’s feed?  Or maybe these eggs aren’t fresh?  After wading through a lot of online forums, which were not providing straight answers, I found BackyardChickens.com to be particularly informative. Keep in mind that I’m no chicken farmer!

I didn’t find a definitive answer for watery whites, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the freshness of the eggs or how the chicken was raised.  Here are six conclusions from BackyardChickens.com:

1. Occasional eggs with spreading (runny) whites are observed originating from apparently normal flocks.
2. The runny eggs tend to be laid by the same hens.
3. The existence of runny eggs has nothing to do with freshness; it can be observed in newly laid eggs.
4. The albumen height and Haugh unit rating is not different between runny and normal eggs.
5. There are differences in biochemical composition between normal and runny eggs.
6. There appears to be a genetic effect on the incidence of runny eggs, suggesting that selection might
reduce the incidence.

Now all of that makes me kind of dizzy, truth be told (Haugh unit??). I kind of understand what it all means, but not really. If I had an egg with watery whites or yolks or anything that gave me pause, I’d just ask my farmer. It’s really the best option, and one I take advantage of as much as possible. It can only be done when you know the person who grew your veggies, raised your chickens, and harvested your eggs. My farmers offer explanations and advice as only they’re equipped to do. And I find them all very reassuring. If these eggs came from a farmers’ market, march right on over to the farmer and ask him or her what’s up. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did. If they didn’t come from a market, you might prefer buying eggs from someone you can talk to and query when you want to.

Any egg-o-philes out there have a different take on this question? Speak up!