To Rash Guard Or To Sunscreen–Cute Options In The New York Times

  • June 7, 2013 8:14 pm

I’ve been looking into rash guards in an effort to wear less sunscreen. Not only is good mineral block (I wouldn’t use chemical block, but if you’re reading my blog you probably knew that already!) expensive, but also I have yet to find one that doesn’t make my face break out. And it’s time consuming to apply sunscreen. But I am pale with light eyes and many moles and have skin cancer in my family, so I need to be careful. The hats and ugly shirts made of so-called SPF fabric I have been wearing for years have been a clunky compromise. I kept waiting for someone in the fashion industry to notice that people–and kids–wanted cute rash guards. Surely there is money to be made here. Well this year the cute rash guards finally arrived. So I wrote about them for The New York Times. Know of other cute versions? Please post in comments. I’m also hoping someone will make one in the USA from recycled materials with “good” dyes and manufactured following Fair Trade practices. Maybe that’s next summer’s article.

Labor Day Sauce Fest

  • September 4, 2011 9:20 pm

I’ve been trying to post recipes most weekends, but have been derailed lately. The weekend before hurricane Irene I was down on the Jersey shore with extended family. We had a blast smoking whole fish–even using pine branches from the yard–and I was eager to write up the recipe. Instead I evacuated the barrier island we were on, leaving the smoker behind.

This week’s recipe was almost derailed by Irene, too. My mother’s birthday falls every year on/around Labor Day weekend and we tend to spend it happily laboring over sauces that will sustain us through the winter–batches of pesto and jars of several types of tomato sauce. It’s a good (tipsy) time in her kitchen. The process helps ease the pain of summer ending, and I think of the silliness all fall/winter/spring long when we defrost the glass jars of sauce for meals.

But this year it was really hard to find a box of plum tomatoes; curiously the farm stands we normally rely on didn’t have any. The day before we wanted to make sauce I started to hear stories–mainly from my CSA farmer–that the FDA was saying no produce that had been under floodwaters was allowed to be sold. Irene hit the farmland in and around the Hudson Valley–where my mom has a house–hard. My CSA farmer had planned to harvest what she still could once the waters receded. But now that was no longer possible.

Knowing that Irene had ended the season for my CSA farmer of 11 years, I headed to the Saturday farmers’ market anxious–who would I see? Who would I not see? Would people be in similarly dire straights or did some survive intact? I was greeted with a better than anticipated market full of produce and farmers. I heard many stories, some of them devastating. And I loaded up on gorgeous produce, including a box of tomatoes.

Before lunch today we did the pesto process. Before dinner we did the two tomato sauces (one was carrot/onion/lovage, the other was basil/garlic). As I type, the freezer is full as can be. And so am I. It was a bittersweet moment in the kitchen–slightly less joyous than it normally is considering. But we were all glad to have it.

MY MOM’S PERFECT* PESTO (*UNBIASED! THIS IS A FACT!)

2 stuffed cups of washed basil leaves (preferably organic/local, don’t bother drying them)

3 heaping tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (depending on how salty you like it)

1 small garlic clove (go big if you like garlic)

1/3 cup olive oil (preferably organic/local though there is no local Hudson Valley olive oil)

Blend all of the above in a food processor. If not using right away, freeze as is. Defrost when ready to use.

Serve with 1 pound of pasta and tons of parmesan cheese. Tip: reserve some pasta cooking water to use as needed when mixing the pesto with the pasta.

Blurry Cellphone Shot Of Sorting Pine Nuts

Pesto Filled Freezer

Recipe: Blueberry Ice Cream!

  • August 20, 2011 10:42 am

Glenny here!  Alexandra has been on vacation all week (I’m VERY jealous), so this week’s Saturday post is directly from me.  I decided to post a recipe, so got to thinking about do-it-yourself projects.  And about the shorter days and how the cicadas’ chirping announces autumn.  Although summer is waning, we can’t fret yet: the temperatures still merit an icy treat for dessert.  I ADORE ice cream and frankly, I believe that it can be enjoyed all year long.  There are so many variations that you simply can never be bored.  I was delighted with my birthday present from my father last year (a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker), and have furiously been making concoctions ever since.  No more of that store-bought stuff for me, no siree.

Summer IS coming to an end, but its fruit is still going strong.  Here is a very easy and wonderful recipe for blueberry ice cream to celebrate the season.  (Many thanks to the NYTimes article last summer about egg-free ice creams.  It got me hooked on the lighter, more fruit-forward and refreshing version of a household favorite!).

Blueberries and Cream Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups blueberries

1/2 lemon

2 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons, as needed

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons vodka

1. Mash the blueberries with a fork or a potato masher until slightly chunky.  Try not to leave too many berries whole, when frozen they can be a little difficult to eat.  Drizzle with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and mix thoroughly.  Set aside.

2. Bring cream and sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Taste berries and if too tart, add 2 extra tablespoons sugar to the cream.  Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved.  Transfer to a bowl and add salt and vodka.  Place in the refrigerator or an ice bath to chill.

3. When cold, pour into your ice cream machine.  Add your mashed blueberries and churn for about 15 minutes, or until starting to thicken.  Make sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for your specific machine. Transfer to a container and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.   Let your ice cream sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving.

This is the most simple form of this recipe, but try adding your own spin.  Perhaps a dash of cinnamon or a few sprigs of mint?  The more the you play, the happier you’ll be!


Q&A: Air Conditioners And Relationships

  • July 14, 2011 12:41 pm

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

It’s so hot in New York right now, and I know its not going to get cooler anytime soon.  I hate air conditioning – I know it’s bad for the environment, wastes energy, and costs me a fortune.  Sadly, my apartment is on the fourth floor and is sweltering without it.  My boyfriend has threatened to never sleep at my place unless we keep it at a reasonable temperature (colder than I’d like).  Can you advise on how to best reach a compromise for this situation?  Obviously I can’t survive the summer without it, and don’t want to survive without him, so what is the best way to meet in the middle and be the most environmentally sound?

Thanks,

Beth

THE ANSWER:

Hi Beth!  Thanks for the question.  You’re so not alone. I cannot tell you how many couples have this same dispute every summer (cough cough).  Obviously you’re not going to give up your boyfriend, but it can be hard to agree on when to use the A/C and how much.  If he can survive some days that are below a certain temperature with natural coolers like fans, window shades, and lots of iced tea (or cold beer?), always go that route first.  Some days, even I’ll admit, are absolutely unbearable in the city, so the air conditioning is necessary. Talk about it and strike a compromise that works for both of you. Agree on what temperature you will set the A/C at, too. 75 is the current number in my apartment, and it goes on usually only after it’s around 88ish outside. If it’s humid, sometimes it goes on when the mercury is lower than that. Um, don’t tell anyone, but if it is on, I frequently sneak it up higher than 75 and–sssshhh!–even turn it off. I suspect the other people I live with are equally sneaky. Once you decide on your limits, both of you should really stick to it. Don’t act like my family.

If you’re in the market for a new machine (or don’t have one), I’d suggest upgrading your air conditioner to a high efficiency Energy Star rated unit, which will both lower energy bills and impact the environment somewhat less. Win win(ish). Air conditioning efficiency is rated using a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Any system sold in the U.S. after July 2006 must have a rating of 13. To be Energy Star rated, it must have a SEER rating of 14.5 or higher.

Window units are rated differently, through an EER rating. Energy Star units have an EER rating of at least 9.4, although the American Council on Energy Efficiency recommends a 11.6 or higher. All of this detail might make you want to fall asleep, but is worth paying attention to.

Basically, if your system was installed before 2006, you definitely have room to improve in the energy efficiency department–and have plenty of options to choose from. I’ll spare you the heat pump and geothermal information here. I’m not thinking either are in your future on the fourth floor. If so, an experienced contractor can come to your home and give you a tailored analysis of your options. You can also check out the American Council on Energy Efficiency’s site (http://www.aceee.org/consumer/cooling) for more information.

Stay cool! With any luck, the weather will cooperate with you and you’ll have many nights of just fans and the boy. Happy summer.

Alexandra

Q&A: Sunscreen (And DIY Skin Products)

  • July 7, 2011 8:22 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Its that time of year again!  Lots of sunshine and playing outside.  My kids and I are all very sensitive to lotions and sunblocks, so we’re always trying out new products.  What sunscreens do you suggest for us?  Thanks so much!

Best,

Carolyn

THE ANSWER:

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your question.  Sunscreen has  been on everyone’s mind now that summer is officially upon us. Hats, shade, and staying out of the sun during its strongest hours are the best ways to avoid the bad rays (and maybe even catch a little vitamin D). But most of us duck out of the shade from time to time–sometimes for hours at a time–and so we need added protection. As far as sunscreen goes, choosing a mineral cream with an SPF above 15 and below 30 that does not contain nanoparticles is your best bet.  Oxybenzone is the main chemical used in sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group calls it a toxic chemical and says it has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.  To find out more about safer sunscreens, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. (I’ve been wearing Soleo and Badger this summer.)

The other thing to consider when taking care of your skin this summer are the cleansers and scrubs you’re using.  Reading the backs of labels can be confusing and frustrating, so why not make your own?  Its inexpensive, easy, fun (if you like this sort of thing), and, best of all, cheap.  Follow these simple recipes from Planet Home:

Dry Skin Face Mask:

Mix 1/2 cup cooked plain oatmeal with 2 teaspoons honey.  Apply to face, let sit for ten minutes, and rub off.  This mask is both moisturizing and cleansing.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 1:

Combine 4 teaspoons powdered brewer’s yeast, 2 teaspoons plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons almond meal, and 1 teaspoon organic honey and mix well.  Rub gently over face, then rinse with warm water.  Use immediately, do not store in the refrigerator.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 2:

Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, a dab of mild, plant-based liquid soap, and a few drops of water.  Rub evenly over face and rinse with warm water.

Happy summer!