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

Q&A: Eco-Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?

  • September 26, 2012 9:20 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I just had a question regarding meat. Everyone always stresses how sustainable becoming a vegetarian is. I obviously understand the animal rights aspect to becoming a vegetarian, I was just wondering if you could explain more of the environmental benefits of not eating meat to me? Thanks.

-Terry

Answer:

Terry,

Thanks for your question. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to giving up or at least limiting meat consumption. It decreases water use, methane production, the impact of growing animal feed, and much more. It’s not an easy thing to answer quickly, but I’ll try to outline the basics below. I urge you to do some reading on your own, too. The production of animals into meat is an amazing system to learn about, with many shocking twists, turns, and revelations.

If you’re into stats and numbers, this site compares water usage for various items. It says that it takes approximately 15415 litre/kg of water to produce beef and only 257 litre/kg of water for potatoes. I don’t know anyone who only eats potatoes, but there is also quite a difference between chicken and beef.

Then there’s methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Cattle emit 80 million tons of methane annually, according to the EPA. And I haven’t even gotten to feed. Most animals are fed a grim mix of genetically modified soy and corn (neither are great for the environment as they require tremendous amounts of chemical sprays to grow), antibiotics (which create drug-resistant superbugs), and hormones.

All of this said, I am not personally a vegetarian for many, many reasons. Though I eat very little meat compared to most meat eaters I know. I have devoted a tremendous amount of research and thought to this decision and I only ever eat local, pastured, well-raised meat. I go into great detail on how and why to source this kind of meat in two of my books. I wrote  The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat with my butcher. I had interviewed him and his wife previously for  The Conscious Kitchen, which has a chapter concisely detailing meat labels, how shop, and other educational resources.

Keep in mind that becoming a vegetarian doesn’t immediately mean your environmental impact is nil. Many vegetarians continue to eat conventionally raised dairy and eggs–the eco-impact of these is far greater than their local, pastured counterparts. And if all of the soy you switch to eating is conventionally raised and coming from, say, China, that has its own not insignificant footprint. There have also been interesting studies done on the safety of soy-based diets. So all of this is worth considering as you weigh the pros and cons of giving up or eating less meat.

Hope this helps.

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

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Times Three

  • October 16, 2011 9:59 am

Hi there!  Glenny here with another post from my kitchen.

As I mentioned before, I plan on visiting Fleisher’s new shop in Park Slope as often as possible.  I certainly do not eat too much meat, but am very happy to indulge in the very good, well-raised stuff when I can.  This past week I stopped by for a whole chicken.  Roasting a chicken is extremely easy, and a great way to make a few meals in one evening.  You’re saving energy by only using your oven once, and you’re exercising some creativity in the kitchen – what to do with the leftovers?  Here is what I did, complete with a basic recipe for your autumnal roast chicken:

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

3-4 lb whole chicken

4 apples, quartered and deseeded (I used Golden Delicious, but almost all will do)

1 apple, chopped into 1 inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped sage

2 tablespoons thyme

1 cup white wine (I used a full bodied chardonnay, but a pick your favorite – you’ll be drinking the rest!)

salt and pepper

Prep your chicken.  Season with salt and pepper and put in a roasting pan.  Spread quartered apples around the outside and sprinkle them with half of your herbs.  Mix the chopped apples with a little butter, salt and pepper and stuff in the cavity of the chicken.  Mix the remaining herbs and butter together and spread it both under and on top of the chicken skin.  Pour the wine around the bird, over your apples.

In a 425F oven, cook for 30 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 375F.  Continue cooking for about 40 minutes more or until a thermometer reads 160F and the juices run clear (opposed to red).  Let it sit for about 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the roasted apples and their juices.

Delicious!  After enjoying this one evening, I still had a lot of chicken left and wasn’t too interested in having the same meal two nights in a row.  So, for lunch the next day it was roasted chicken sandwiches with feta, olives, and market tomatoes.  Followed by a wonderful soup for dinner.  I simply sauteed garlic, onions, carrots and butternut squash in a deep sauce pan.  Added chicken stock, tomatoes, kale, a few cups of farro and the leftover chicken.  Drizzled with homemade pesto, it celebrates lots of flavors; perfect for an October evening.  And the best news?  I’ll be eating that soup for days – this chicken has provided for many many meals.  Easy.

Farro soup, day two.

What You Don’t Know: Saving Energy In The Kitchen

  • October 4, 2011 9:57 am

How often do you use your oven?  Probably a lot more now that the temperatures are dropping and a little warmth in your home is welcome.  (As I type there’s a celeriac roasting in mine.) And how often do you think about minimizing the energy output of your kitchen?  Hopefully more once you read this easy how-to list from The Conscious Kitchen, excerpted below.  Every little bit helps!

MINIMIZING STOVE AND OVEN ENERGY OUTPUT

Whatever kind of cooker you have – new or old – here are ways to minimize its impact:

-Make sure all elements are in good working order.

-Match your pot size to the burner size or you will waste heat/energy.

-Pots and pans come with lids for a reason.  Use them.

-If you use drip pans under your burners, keep them clean.  And don’t use aluminum foil liners for this purpose.  Good-quality reflector pans save energy and are made to last.

-Gas stove burner holes can get clogged.  If the flame is uneven or yellow, turn it off and carefully unclog it with a pin or an unfurled paper clip.

-Calibrate your oven (see below).

-Don’t preheat, even when baking.  And don’t repeatedly open the oven door to check cooking items.  Both waste heat.  If you have an oven with a glass door, peek through there.

-Like your refrigerator, the oven door has a seal.  Make sure it’s tight and not sagging, and that the door hinges are in good working order.

-Don’t overuse the self-cleaning feature (don’t use it more than once a month), or you’ll waste the energy you were hoping to save by having it.  Place a sheet pan in the oven to catch drips and grease so you won’t even need to clean.

-If you turn on the oven, fill it up.  Use that heat to bake/roast/broil more than one thing at a time.

-For more information, check out the following websites: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy: ACEEE.org; ConsumerEnergyCenter.org; HomeEnergy.org; EnergyStar.gov.

Calibrating an Oven

Ovens often run too hot or too cold.  To fix this, you can adjust your own cooking to match however your oven seems to go, you can get a thermometer, or you can “calibrate” it (fancy for fixing it).  This is easiest to do with a digital stove – follow the instructions in the manual.  For nondigital ovens and/or if you don’t have the manual, Google the instructions for your make and model.  The process can be overwhelming for the un-handy, so call in a repair person or a handy friend if needed.

Q&A: Coffee

  • September 29, 2011 9:57 am

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

I have a quick, but perhaps complicated question about coffee for you.  Every morning I have at least a cup.  It hadn’t really occurred to me until recently that my coffee habit could have environmental repercussions.  So, what coffee should I be drinking?

Thanks,

Cynthia

THE ANSWER:

What a great question and oh so appropriate considering September 29th (today!) is National Coffee Day (as if every day isn’t national coffee day in my apartment). The answer is a little complicated and a bit controversial.  Chances are you live in the United States, very very far away from any coffee plantations. This presents a problem for the most hardcore locavores (cough) whose diet consists of only local foods.  For the rest of us who are reluctant to give up our morning mug, there are options, which I explain in The Conscious Kitchen.

I’d like to state for the record that while I am a hardcore locavore, I literally do not put a toe on the floor in the morning without my coffee. I know this sounds bad. If you’re tempted to judge me, I suggest you try writing three books in as many years with no nanny and a small person in the house! I did give coffee up for years–when I was pregnant and breastfeeding–so I know I can do it. I just prefer not to.

But enough about me! The excerpts:

“The key thing with coffee is to source it carefully, especially since by some estimates it is the second most widely traded global commodity after oil.  Think of the eco-repercussions of drinking the worst-farmed beans, 365 days a year.  When it comes to coffee, the best brew goes beyond just choosing organic or sustainable beans for personal and environmental health.”

“To ensure that the workers growing your coffee are being treated right, look for fair-trade certification (TransFairUSA.org) on your bag of beans.  This, they say, takes into account fair prices, labor conditions, direct trade, democratic and transparent organizations, community development, as well as environmental sustainability – the last of which is especially crucial for the rainforests, where a great deal of coffee is grown.  Fair Trade Certified products tend to come from small producers on small farms that belong to larger cooperatives.”

“Coffee traditionally grows in shade, under a natural canopy that’s home to many birds.  According to Sierra magazine, low-quality coffee can be grown more easily and cheaply in full sun, ‘but only with extensive use of pesticides.’  The Rainforest Alliance certification label covers both worker treatment and birds (Rainforest-Alliance.org).”

“Coffee and fair-trade fanatics can compare and contrast these certifications at length, but keep in mind that choosing either over conventional coffee is key.”

Most importantly, if you buy consciously, you’ll have a better tasting brew.  Canned conventional coffee is probably a nasty mix of downed twigs, dust, and floor sweepings according to Treehugger.com.

And remember to always bring your own mug, use reusable or unbleached filters, compost your grounds, and doctor it with organic/local milk and fair trade sugar.

Happy National Coffee Day everyone!  I think I’ll have two cups to celebrate. Cheers!


What You Don’t Know: Ground Meat

  • September 27, 2011 10:00 am

Another day, another ground meat recall. Ever wonder what the ^%$ is going on? What is it about ground meat that leads to the worst case scenarios?

I got an answer–and an education–when reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat.

Here are two excerpts from the book to help educate anyone else who might be interested in this monumental waste of flesh.

“Don’t be fooled by meat labeled ‘freshly ground’ at the supermarket. Usually that’s a giant 20-pound chub (or tube) of coarse pre-ground beef they then regrind. That stuff is a gamble. There’s no telling what’s in it–bone chips and shit , at least. And it could also be made from a thousand different animals from ten different countries. Try tracing that.”

“…It doesn’t matter that there are USDA inspectors in every slaughterhouse. They’re not catching the outbreaks and it’s only getting worse. Contamination can come from anything–from feces on a hide to dirty hands to stomach bile that wasn’t properly washed off a carcass.  It takes time to slaughter and clean right. The giant operations rush to slaughter up to twenty-five thousand steers a day. When you see enormous numbers like 143 million pounds of beef recalled, it’s because that’s the “stop number”: that’s how much they grind before they clean or that’s how many pounds ago they tested for pathogens.”

All the more reason to know and trust your butcher or to grind your own meat.

Q&A: Sealing Particleboard Furniture (Including Cribs)

  • September 22, 2011 8:07 am

THE QUESTION:

My superintendent is coming by today to set up the crib for baby #2. Last time around, I recall that you warned me not to put the kid in a (standard commercial) crib without applying some kind of sealant to keep it from . . . off-gassing, was it?

If so could I trouble you to remind me what that product was?…Thanks so much….
AK

THE ANSWER:

Thanks for the great question; lots of expecting parents have had similar inquiries. I answer this in The Complete Organic Pregnancy–and again in Planet Home!–and have excerpted a few paragraphs from the former below. Congrats on #2 and good luck!

When setting up a nursery, keep in mind that items you might want from small organic stores will take longer than you think to be shipped.  Allow plenty of time, or you’ll be running through Buy Buy Baby in labor with a plastic changing table in your shopping cart.  All the furniture in your nursery, and ideally the entire house, should be made of solid hardwood with a nontoxic finish.  Avoid particleboard and plywood, which are held together with toxic formaldehyde-based glues, as well as plastic.  We realize that plywood is ubiquitous.  If you have something that’s made of plywood, you can seal it with Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer for highly porous surfaces.  Or speak to a Safecoat salesman about the best product for wood you want to seal.

Our basic advice is that you really won’t need half the stuff everyone insists you and your new pumpkin-sized roommate will need.  We prefer to spend more money on fewer items.  If you’re having trouble finding certified or recycled wood furniture for your baby, try to buy secondhand, or inherit hand-me-downs.  Americans use about 27 percent of the wood commercially harvested worldwide.  Much of it is harvested in an unsustainable (not naturally regenerating) manner, making the burden on forest ecosystems that much greater.

Found at the Market: Long Beans

  • September 17, 2011 9:37 am

Alexandra is out of town this weekend, so she requested that I post something food related for the weekend.  I happily obliged, excited to share a new discovery from last weekend’s farmers market.  Long beans!  They look bizarrely like some kind of aquatic tentacle, only barely resembling their well-known cousin, the string bean.  Intrigued by their funny shape and deep color, I had to buy some.

And am very glad I did – high in all sorts of vitamins and nutrients, these beans can be prepared just like green beans.  Used mainly in Asian dishes, they have a subtle beany flavor and a satisfying crunch.  Wanting to cling to summer a little longer, I used them in a colorful salad, spiked with a lemon and dill vinaigrette.  When served with grilled chicken and roasted tomatoes, it made for a lovely late summer meal.

-Glenny

SO LONG SUMMER SALAD

long beans, corn, olives, lemon, dill

Vinaigrette
3 lemons, juice and zest
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp chopped red onion
1 heaping tbsp mustard
lots and lots of dill
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together.  I used my immersion blender for faster emulsification, but a whisk will do just fine.

Salad
long beans
green beans
corn
kalamata olives
cheese*

After blanching the beans and chopping them into bite-size pieces, combine with cooked corn, chopped olives and cheese.  *I wanted to use feta, but didn’t have any at home, so instead went for the nutty, butterscotchy Roomano, a super aged gouda.  It worked very nicely with the salty olives and the citrusy dressing.  Pour vinaigrette over and mix thoroughly.  Garnish with more dill.

Q&A: Juice Bars And Pregnancy

  • September 16, 2011 12:30 pm
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Just recently finished [The Complete Organic Pregnancy]. My husband and I have been recently trying for a baby and prior to that I probably devoured a dozen books on pre-pregnancy and I have to say your book is the most substantial and downright fantastic out of all of them! What I appreciated most from your book was how easily your research and tips could translate into everyday life and also how to truly make both your body and the environment both inside and outside the most optimal possible.

In saying that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Juices: I now know to avoid them, but what about smoothies, ingredients consist of whole fresh organic fruits, organic milk and ice??

That’s it, thank you so very much! Your book is the best gift I could have asked for and consult it regularly!!

With gratitude,

Meika

THE ANSWER:
Meika actually sent a few questions, so I’m answering them in separate posts.

You’re so welcome! Thanks for writing in.

The juices you’re referring to are the ones found at juice bars and smoothie shops.  Often these juices are from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and the juicing machines are breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria like E. coli. You cannot guarantee that the juicers have been cleaned regularly (or with what–i.e. chlorine bleach or other chemicals that leave residues that get into your drinks).  Because juice bar juices are unpasteurized, they’re a major concern if you’re pregnant.  Even organic juice products are suspect. Odwalla faced a total recall of their products in the 1990s due to E. coli.  It’s just not worth the risk when you’re expecting. Far better to get your fruit and veggie fix from the actual thing. Or, as I mention in The Conscious Kitchen (excerpted below), you can make your own at home. That way you know what the ingredients are, where they came from, and that your juicer is clean.
Fresh squeezed, 100 percent juice is fabulous in moderation.  Thankfully, it’s so expensive at my local organic organic juice bar that moderation isn’t a problem.  If you’re someone who really likes juice, look into buying an energy-efficient juicer.  Having your own means  you can control what kind of fruit is used (local or organic or sustainable), how much and what kind of sugar is added, and how the machine is cleaned.

Alternatives to fresh squeezed are a mixed bag.  Most store-bought juice actually contains very little juice, so it’s up to an adept label reader to find the real deal.  Otherwise, you may suck down a lot of unnecessary and expensive sugar water (along with other unexpected additives, like synthetic fragrance).  Organic jarred or cartoned juices are sometimes guilty of containing as much sugar or sweeteners as their conventional counterparts, but at least it’s not derived from genetically modified corn.  When it comes to artificial sweeteners, all bets are off.  I don’t put those things in my body, and suggest you don’t either.  Real sugar is vastly preferable, unless, of course, you have a medical condition that means you can’t tolerate it.

Hope that helps!
Best,
Alexandra