Monday, December 28, 2009
I had the idea to make little baby blocks out of the cake. I baked two rectangular cakes, one yellow, one chocolate, let them cool, iced the top of one and stacked them. Trimming the edges for perfectly flat sides and cutting out cubes was easy enough. (There were a lot of cake scraps leftover, which Len would later use to make a modified version of his mom's trifle for an office party.)
But, I severely underestimated the amount of frosting I would need and had to settle for frosting only three sides of each block—the presentation sides, we'll call them. And, even though I did what pastry chefs would call the crumb coating (a preliminary thin layer of frosting to seal the crumbs to the cake), the chocolate layer of the cake was still so crumby that the white icing ended up looking like cookies 'n' creme icing. Not a huge deal, but not Martha Stewart perfect. (If you search for baby block cakes online, you'll find most use fondant for a perfectly smooth, flat look. I did not want to use fondant and used all soft, butter cream-like icing—way more difficult for handling the individual blocks, but much tastier.)
Before I reveal the finished product, let me just say: If I'd had more frosting and more patience, I would have used more than just three colors for trimming and decorating the blocks. And, if I'd considered beforehand how bad I am at drawing, I would have piped only letters on the blocks, instead of trying to draw things like a cat, a car, a leaf... I know you can't tell what they are. Oh, and the wooden skewers sticking out of the blocks? I made the cake a day in advance and used skewers to hold up the plastic wrap, so I could protect the cake from drying out without smearing the icing. A big enough Tupperware container, if I had the right size/shape, would have been better.
Anyway, here it is, not bad for my first baby shower cake, definitely homemade, and only room to improve:
Friday, December 11, 2009
November 30 was the Global Day of Action on Climate Crisis. Around the world, activists held peaceful demonstrations against cap and trade, carbon offsets and other solutions to climate change that some consider insufficient.
In Chicago, just a block away from my office building, one of the nine major demonstrations in the U.S. was happening—protesters lay in the middle of the street, arms linked by tubes bearing messages like, "You can't trade away our future," while others crowded around holding signs with similar messages and police on foot and horseback kept watch. In the end, about a dozen protesters were arrested, I assume for lying in the street for too long.
In case you're not clear on these climate change solutions the groups were protesting, here's a quick rundown:
Cap and trade, also known as emissions trading, is when a governing body sets a cap on companies' pollutant emissions. Companies that need to exceed the emissions cap can purchase carbon offsets ("carbon credits"), which represent a reduction in emissions. The company is not actually polluting any less, but it is giving money to companies that are polluting less or to green energy industries, in essence trading for the right to emit the amount of pollutants that these other organizations have ceased emitting.
The idea is that, while individual companies may pollute more or less than the "allowable" amount, overall emissions would average out below the cap. Whether such practices actually reduce the amount of pollutants being pumped into our air and water is yet to be determined. There aren't many statistics yet on the resulting effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and some people—November 30's protesters, for example—stand firm that emissions trading is not the answer to our climate crisis.
Monday, November 30, 2009
They're a neat idea for you paper-cup junkies, and they're easier to carry around than a whole thermos. And I got to thinking, you don't even have to buy one: You could just cut a cuff off of a ratty sweatshirt or sweater, and voila! Instant coffee sleeve, if you don't care much about the stylishness. Or maybe the tops of tube socks around coffee cups will be the next fashion trend...
Monday, November 16, 2009
Yes, I had the pumpkin latte from Starbucks. We didn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to eat a wonderful pumpkin pie because Len already baked one from scratch. He also made pumpkin bread. And, of course, we carved a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween and toasted its seeds. (And you know we saved some seeds for the garden, but that’s not relevant to food... Yet.) But our first more adventuresome pumpkin dish this fall was a pumpkin and Swiss chard lasagna recipe from delish.com. I was in love after the first bite. More recently, a friend passed a stuffed pumpkin recipe around the office. Len was skeptical when I first showed it to him, but after tasting it, he has added pumpkin to the grocery list so we can make it again.
Stuffed pumpkin is a centuries-old and easy comfort food. You can make the stuffing very simple with bread and butter, or you can jazz it up with garlic, onions, sausage or fruit. We went simple and got a delicious, soul-warming pumpkin dinner. It could also be a side dish, but it’s heavy, so I would suggest a very simple meat entree.
All you need:
- A pie pumpkin or any small orange pumpkin (ours was 4 lbs.)
- A flavorful melting cheese like Gruyere, grated or cut into small chunks (I used a mixture of goat cheese and asiago just because they are what I had in the fridge)
- Some stale bread, cubed (or some toasted cubes of fresh bread)
- Cream or evaporated milk (I used about 1 cup for our 4-lb. pumpkin)
- Seasoning: salt, black pepper, white pepper and nutmeg
Preheat your oven to 375. Cut a lid out of the top of your pumpkin and set it aside. Scrape out the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin. Lightly season the inside with salt and pepper. Then toss the bread cubes and cheese into the pumpkin in rough layers. Press the layers down a little to really stuff it! In a bowl, gently mix the cream with a little white pepper and nutmeg, then pour it over the bread inside the pumpkin. Set the pumpkin in an oven-safe dish, put its “cap” back on, and bake it for about an hour and a half. The pumpkin will become soft to the touch, and its skin will brown. Take its top off and bake it about 15-20 minutes more, so the cheese inside gets nice and bubbly.
After you remove the pumpkin from the oven, it will keep its heat for awhile, especially if you put its lid back on, so you can serve immediately or let it stand while you finish up any other dishes.
To serve, cut the pumpkin into wedges and serve each wedge scooped with some of the stuffing. The pumpkin’s skin will peel right off. Don’t forget you can eat the cooked flesh on the underside of the lid, too!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
UPDATE: We have now planted two and are still annually winterizing one of our apple saplings as of Winter 2012-2013! Click here to read a recap of our apple tree experience.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
All I had to do was open a can of crescent rolls, press the dough into the muffin tin and spoon the pre-made filling into the cups! Throw it in the preheated oven, and we have dinner in half an hour. I did stir the filling well first, in case any ingredients had separated. And, since my filling was still a little icy, I baked the tartlets longer than when preparing them fresh—20 minutes or so. I am pleased to report that they turned out just as good!
Making the filling and freezing it for later might be a great way to preserve your late-summer zucchinis, just when you're getting tired of eating them. Cold weather is on the way, and who knows when you'll have a hankering for that wonderful taste of summer?
Monday, September 28, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
- Enjoy what's left of the nice weather while picking the tapering supply of tomatoes and herbs.
- Stir the compost!
- Pull up my remaining shallots and plant the clusters of shallot "heads" for next year.
- Think about the plan for next year's edible garden.
- Possibly build a second compost bin (well, ask Len to build one for me) so we can alternate bins each season, maximizing output and minimizing stirring and sifting.
- Separate what "finished" compost I can and spread it on the permanent garden beds to help get the soil ready for next spring.
- When it starts getting colder for real but before it really frosts, trim back the raspberry bushes and grape vines. (Oh yeah, I got a few small bunches of small grapes, did I tell you that? They looked more like currants. I was pleased, this being their first full season.)
Friday, September 4, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Chef Rick Bayless, the owner of Frontera and its upscale neighbor Topolobampo, is a local-and-recently-national celebrity, and we've been fans of his TV show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time," and his cuisine for almost as long as we've been married. But there's more: He's also a big advocate for sustainability. Rick's website even says, "Here at Frontera, one of our goals is to live 'sustainability' everyday." In other words, the restaurant is green! Here are some examples of how:
- They use seasonal, locally grown produce, including that from their rooftop salsa garden and from Rick's own backyard.
- They buy responsibly raised meats—free-range chickens and ducks, certified organic lamb, and grass-fed beef—and sustainably harvested seafood.
- The vast wine list includes some biodynamic (a method of organic, holistic farming) and other organic wines.
- They recycle!
- They compost!
- They even give their spent vegetable oil to a farm that uses it for a bio-diesel delivery van.
I'll just conclude by saying that dinner was indeed sumptuous. One pleasant discovery was the Café de Olla, a sweet and fruity spiced dessert coffee that we've since been trying to duplicate at home. And, we did not bring the leftovers home in Styrofoam clamshells, oh no. The restaurant has biodegradable cardboard containers for guests like us, whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs.
Actually, just one more thing: You can read more about Rick Bayless' newest efforts as a sustainability-driven restaurateur in this article from the March/April issue of Natural Home magazine.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Shared at Eat Make Grow
Saturday, August 15, 2009
There are still some crab apple trees not quite ready to be picked—you can tell by the lack of fruit on the ground below them. The trees we visited today were at the perfect stage. They had dropped many crab apples on the ground (but not so many that you have to walk through a bee-infested sludge of rotting fruit)—which means the apples are ripe—while plenty of apples remained in the tree—which means they're not overripe yet.
Len got on the stepladder and picked from the tree, and I mostly inspected the apples on the ground, bagging the ones that were not smashed, bruised or bug-bitten. Of course, we ate one while we were out—have to taste the product at every stage! These larger crab apples are tart but not bitter, like a Granny Smith but redder, if red can be a flavor.
And now, it's jam time! Expect a post about the crab apple jam soon.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
We've really gotta break in this soil or switch to raised beds for all summer vegetables. It's August, for crying out loud, and we have harvested a handful of baby tomatoes, one miniature bell pepper and that's it! Maybe I'll pull up the shallots and see if they're big enough.
I have, however, been enjoying the bounty of other people's gardens. My mother-in-law gave us a giant zucchini, half of which I used for fried zucchini strips and the other half to make sumptuous zucchini pie.
This is my mom's recipe for Zucchini Pie:
4 cups thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup sliced onion
1/4 c. butter
2 tablespoons parsley flakes (or 6 tablespoons fresh)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1-2 garlic cloves, minced)
1/4 teaspoon basil (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1/4 teaspoon oregano (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
refrigerated crescent roll dough or a pie crust
Preheat oven to 375. In a pan, melt butter and cook zucchini and onion (and garlic if you're using fresh) until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil and oregano.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the shredded cheese. Stir in the zucchini and onion.
Press the crescent roll dough or pie crust into a pie pan or square baking pan. Spread the Dijon mustard all over the crust. Dump in the zucchini mixture.
Bake 18-20 minutes. Let cool a little before cutting and serving.
It makes a great side dish or entree.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
A simple online search for recycled or repurposed leather will lead you to a multitude of fashion and shopping websites, where you can buy purses, wallets, shoes, jewelry—pretty much anything leather—made from old leather jackets and such. And, since I have personally seen, touched, and smelled one of these earth- and fashion-friendly bags, I can promise all you leather lovers that the bag looks good and smells good—just like brand new leather. It does not look like a patchwork quilt, OK?
Now, I do very little fashion shopping myself, so I don't know for sure, but after browsing a little online, I think can safely say most of the items are priced just like new leather, too. But I'm sure the frequent shoppers out there, like my friend, know where to find the good deals.
Some of these handbag designers use leather remnants, like the ones leftover from a purse factory (or whatever they're called), so it's not so much recycling as it is preventing waste—still a great thing. And others are actually out there scouring thrift stores for battered leather goods that they will recycle into other stylish items.
So, I'll end with a reminder that you should always donate to Goodwill (or Salvation Army, etc.) your unwanted clothes and fashion accessories, even if they have holes or other imperfections. A purse designer is out there, searching for those items, eager to cut them to pieces and make something new.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Gleaning was originally a rural gig; people gathered stray crops left behind after a farmer harvested his fields. I'm not sure if that counts as stealing or not, but I suppose if the farmer isn't going to use the leftovers... Anyway, gleaning has moved into the cities, and in our case, the suburbs. People are picking fruit from seemingly ignored trees in residential areas. I'm not talking about going into people's yards (but if your neighbor has a fruit tree that is just dropping its bounty to rot on the ground, ask him if you can bring over your ladder and have at it—I bet he'll let you). These are fruit trees that don't belong to anybody and are not being picked clean by squirrels, like the trees surrounding an apartment complex.
A few years ago, Len and I noticed a huge crab apple tree in our neighborhood, on what appeared to be common ground, and under it, a massive mush of rotting crab apples, the edible kind just a little bigger than cherries (as opposed to the smaller, purely ornamental variety). We watched the fruit ripen, fall, and rot for two years in a row and were certain that it belonged to no one and was being used by no one. Last summer, we took advantage of this otherwise wasted harvest and picked a Croozer-full of crab apples, which we turned into sweet, tart, beautiful deep-magenta preserves.
We also found a few apple trees that we think exist by happy accident. They are typically near other crab apple trees, so we think they were meant to be ornamental crab apples, but in fact turned out to be full-fledged apples (perhaps due to the grafting of one type of tree onto another type of mature root stock). However they got there, it's free organic fruit! We're pretty sure there are no pesticides being sprayed on these trees, based on the fruit's rustic look. Of course, we nibbled on an apple, to be sure it wasn't some nasty inedible hybrid, and were delighted to find a couple of different and tasty varieties. We have no idea what kind of apples they are; one's Granny Smith-ish, the other is sweeter and more yellow/pink.
This past weekend, we took a bike ride (on our way to the grocery store—gotta combine those errands when you can!) to check on the varying stages of ripeness of "our" trees, and to look for other apple and crab apple trees. We started collecting for preserves and apple butter toward the end of the trees' peaks last year; we wanted to catch them earlier this time around. I'm happy to report we found lots of crab apple trees (more than we can use), some of which are just about ripe now, and even a few new apple trees.
But the best discovery of all (and one we're marking our calendars for next summer) was the apricot tree. Who knew? We can't believe we'd never noticed it before, all the times we've biked past it. But there it was, a litter of small orange fruits all over the ground and plenty more still in the tree. We stopped right there, hoisted ourselves into the tree (it was a big one, old, with thick branches) and picked to our hearts' content. We made apricot jam that very night, and I had apricots in my oatmeal for breakfast the next morning. Delicious. Delightful.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
“Normally I don’t eat steak, a burger AND a brat…but it is the 4th of July. I’m going to need the energy if I’m going to start blowing crap up. It’s what the founding fathers would want.”
-Jim Gaffigan, Beyond the Pale
-Jim Gaffigan, Beyond the Pale
People love watching fireworks displays, myself included. Must be something about the low whoosh as they’re launched, followed by that brief moment of anticipation before a cannon-like boom sets off half a dozen lame-sounding car alarms, and a shower of sparks fills the night sky with splendor—and sulfurous clouds of who knows what. God bless the U.S.A., right?
At the risk of, well, having my patriotism questioned, I’d like to suggest that we could do some good by downsizing fireworks displays in the years to come. I admit, making that recommendation on July 3rd seems a little late, but sometimes, you don’t think about these things until they’re right in front of you. Nonetheless, trimming the Independence Day pyrotechnics stands to set a far more patriotic example by minimizing land, air and water pollution, while also saving local, city and state government some green, too.
First, the bad news: fireworks imports have been on the rise recently, more than doubling between 1999 (65,000 tons) and 2006 (123,000 tons). This has lead to an increase in atmospheric emissions of heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and some low concentration toxic chemicals like barium, antimony sulfide and perchlorate (the latter is found in rocket fuel). So, while the displays may be breathtaking, that's the one thing you wouldn't want to do in the middle of a smoke cloud. The chemicals released often find their way into lakes, affecting fish and other wildlife. In one study, perchlorate levels rose more than 1,000 times above normal and stayed there for 14 hours; levels didn't return to normal for another 20-80 days. The effects of human exposure over long periods are currently unknown. Suddenly, the fields of non-biodegradable fireworks debris, while a concern, don't seem nearly as scary.
Now, the good news: fireworks are still regulated/restricted in many states by the Clean Air Act (whether that's enforced effectively is another story). Pyrotechnicians have also developed biodegradable fireworks shells and a mixture of clean-burning compounds that use nitrogen instead of potassium perchlorate (the only downside is, many large outdoor displays haven't made use of them because—guess what—they're more expensive, and until there's more of an incentive to purchase them, there probably won't be many buyers). And Disney recently pioneered the use of a compressed air launch pad, saving a bit on gunpowder emissions.
Interested in making the case to green up Independence Day? Unfortunately, I don't have many resources to point you to at the moment, but I'll be sure to follow-up with some information. Until then, I suggest starting at the local level and working your way up. You might find that, with a petition and a handful of signatures, your cash-strapped city government might be open to trimming the budget for the 4th. And, while many might groan at the thought, it never hurts to write your congressmen to let them know how you feel. Or hey, you could even start a blog and gripe about whatever you like. :)
If you’re like me and have a love-hate relationship with fireworks, you might like this article.
Until next time, happy 4th of July!
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
Today, I planted some more fun stuff in our yard: jalapeño seeds we cut out of a store-bought pepper, the butternut squash and cucumber seedlings I had started in small containers, and, just to see what happens, an avocado pit and some key lime seeds. We have previously made an avocado pit sprout roots and a scrawny stem in a glass of water, but it died before it really turned into anything. This time I just stuck it in the dirt. As for the key lime seeds, I have no illusions that we can sustain a citrus tree outdoors in this climate. They're just an experiment. If little lime trees happen to spring from the earth, I'll dig them up and pot them and then figure out what to do.
A garden really is just an outdoor laboratory, isn't it? I made an interesting discovery in mine a few weeks ago. This plant, and now, another baby one just like it, sprouted on its own in our little garden bed.
As it grows, it looks—and smells—a lot like a tomato plant. Last fall, I spread some almost fully decomposed compost onto my garden areas. Could it be that seeds from tomato scraps survived the winter and germinated "wild" on their own? We'll find out. I'm letting these two plants grow undisturbed until I discover they're actually a cleverly disguised weed.
Another experiment I began today is growing my cucumbers in a window-box-type container hanging on our fence, right under some latticework for easy climbing. But, can cucumbers thrive in shallow soil? There isn't much room for their roots to stretch. We'll see. Just in case, I planted two more seedlings in the ground at the base of the fence. They'll just have to reach a little higher before they can attach themselves to the lattice.
Meanwhile, my snow peas aren't doing so great in the hanging baskets. They look pretty, but don't get enough sun under the porch roof and therefore haven't produced a single pea yet.
The sweet pepper and tomato plants (the purposely planted ones) are still short but are slowly reaching for the sky. A pepper about half the size of my thumb is already growing, so that's something.
The strawberries are still producing like crazy. And we still have our own little salad bar out there with the remaining heads of romaine and buttercrunch lettuce.
The grapevine is stretching and has tiny clusters of tiny green balls. I wonder if these become the grapes, or if they become flowers that become the grapes? I've never seen the life cycle of a grape, so I don't know. Again, I say, we'll find out.
And, take a look at my bushy raspberry bushes (tied back to grow up against the side of our garage instead of out into the yard), fronted by massive shallots. Those onion shoots are almost waist-high. Their tips have burst into clusters of mini onions, shallot "heads" meant to be planted back in the ground, meaning the onions beneath the dirt are almost ready to be pulled. Could I have ten times as many next spring? Or even as soon as this fall?
Oh, and that scary-looking Chinese cabbage was definitely not cabbage. It sprouted lanky stalks of tiny yellow flowers. My mom suggested it was a type of wild mustard. She found the same thing growing in her garden 300 miles away. It had to have come from that Chinese cabbage seed packet we shared! Strangely, though, she did get some cabbage in her garden. Whatever it was, I yanked it out last week. Maybe I'll sow my leftover seeds later for a fall harvest and keep my fingers crossed.
What's new in your garden, readers?
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Central heating is great for keeping you cozy and warm, but your house is losing heat; you'll be wasting energy. The Thermal Leak Detector from Black & Decker is essentially a remote thermometer gadget that helps you find cold patches in a room. The detector shines a beam of light onto the part of the wall you're checking. The color of the light changes from red to blue when a cold spot is detected. The temperature of the cold spot is also shown on the LCD display on the detector. By finding the cold spots, you can then patch them up and save more energy.
For the kitchen, you can make your morning breakfast more eco-friendly with a Morphy Richards Ecolectric Toaster. The toaster saves up to 35% of the energy compared to a conventional toaster. The Ecolectric Toaster uses a special cover that closes when you start to cook your toast, resulting in less energy needed to cook the toast. The toaster also uses a motorized carriage to ensure your toast is evenly cooked. It's a bit more costly than a standard toaster, but it will save you money if your family eats loads of toast.
Do you love your cups of tea or coffee? Well the eco kettle is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to only boil the water you need. Using a special chamber of water, you release the water you need into the main kettle compartment to boil it. On average, people boil twice as much water compared to what they actually need, so this simple kettle should save energy pretty quickly!
Perhaps something for the bathroom? Namely the EcoDrain. The EcoDrain is a clever heat exchanging device that uses the excess heat from waste shower water and uses it to preheat the cold water inlet to the shower. This means the shower's heater uses 25–40% less energy compared to using just cold water from the mains. The EcoDrain has no moving parts, but it does have a non-stick coating on its waste pipe to ensure it doesn't get clogged by dirt and debris. What makes the EcoDrain practical is that it needs very little plumbing work to fit it into your existing shower system!
I hope you enjoyed reading about these interesting energy saving gadgets. This article was written by Dan Harrison who writes about eco gadgets for EnviroGadget.com. EnviroGadget features all kinds of gadgets and technology that save water, save energy or just do something to help save the planet!
Friday, June 12, 2009
Here's my take: these so-called "rogue haulers" are doing the city and its neighborhoods a valuable service, so there's no need to regulate them. Rather than leave that refrigerator rusting in the alley (where it can pose a danger to kids and shelter rodents and other pests) in the hopes that a city employee will eventually get around to picking it up, why not notify AMVETS (800-732-1708 for pick-ups in IL) or just pick a scrapper out of the phone book, give them a call and let them pick it up for free? I'm all for supporting city government, but I think there are probably better ways to fill the budget gaps.
Granted, there may be a few bad apples in the bunch—haulers that steal unattended items and/or rifle through recycling bins for scrap metal—but there has to be a way to isolate them without taking a bite out of business for those haulers willing to play by the rules. I wonder if Evanston's beef has more to do with demographics, as many of the haulers come from downtown and drive trucks that don't exactly add to the pleasant suburban aesthetic.
I admit, I may be speaking too soon; the news indicates only that officials are looking into "regulating" the haulers, so there's still a chance Evanston will find a fair compromise...at the same time, it's clearly about money, and that's usually when the fights start to get nasty. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.
In the meantime, our own little scavenging operation is humming along. I just picked up a large, two-drawer coffee table from our alley for my sister-in-law. Even after a slight rain, it was easy to spruce up with some furniture oil and a little lubrication of the wood sliders. (I'll post a pic next week. I wish I had the foresight to take a snap before I put my refurbishing skills to use on it so you could see the "before and after" effect).
For more on the issue of Evanston's trash, here's an editorial that falls on my side of the issue. Feel free to get in on the discussion here if you have a viewpoint you'd like to express.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Shared at: Thursday's Treasures, Full Plate Thursday, Whip it Up Wednesday, Friday Favorites
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
That got me to thinking about the Cell's recycling services and, after some investigation, I discovered we really didn't need to carry these items home; turns out there's plenty of green things going on at New Comiskey besides the forest-colored seats and groundskeeper Roger Bossert's well-manicured bluegrass. In fact, the park leads the way with:
Recycling: In addition to bins placed throughout the park, trash gathered by the clean-up crew is sorted for paper and plastic. According to White Sox management, the Cell has recycled over 570 tons of material since 1992.
Conservation: Computers regulate lighting inside the park, conserving energy.
Transportation: The CTA Red Line stop (located just across the expressway) houses a few dozen secure, weather-protected parking spaces for bikes; should those spaces fill up, several more on-street racks are located on the north side of 35th St. What's more, Sox staff maintain their own fleet of bicycles to travel in and around the stadium quickly.
Parking: One of the most innovative green technologies is right under your feet! Just last year, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (which owns Cellular Field) installed what's believed to be the largest "permeable paving" parking lot in the U.S. Spanning 265,000 square feet—the equivalent of more than four football fields—in Lot L, the durable concrete paver stones allow surface water to filter back into the earth, reducing runoff. The system meets LEED guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council and is recognized as a Best Management Practice by the EPA. According to my sources, the Cell is the first park in the Major Leagues to incorporate the technology.
How's that for an environmental home run? Granted, there will always be some CO2-burn going on at every game, but for a team that attracts millions of visitors each season, they're still doing their part, and doing it well, all things considered. Go Sox!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go perform a rain dance in the backyard.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Growing along with my lettuce is some scary-looking Chinese cabbage... or something. It looks more like a weed, with fuzzy, spiky leaves. When I look up Chinese cabbage, the pictures look like cabbage and not like the weird stuff growing in my little garden box. Maybe it is just a weed, but it's growing right where I planted those cabbage seeds. Maybe I got some bum seeds. I haven't picked or tasted any of it yet because I don't know what to do with it! It certainly doesn't look like it would be a pleasant texture. I'm sort of waiting to see how it grows out.
My other leafies, the romaine and buttercrunch lettuces, are growing great and taste great. I have been using some of the baby leaves in salads, making room for others to grow into full heads of lettuce. My spinach was good, but not all of the seeds sprouted, so we already ate it all and have to plant more. I think I can get another harvest before it gets too hot.
In the meantime, I'm just waiting for everything else to produce. Oh! Besides lettuce, we also have strawberries ripening now. About four at a time are ready every day or so, and I often just eat them as I pick them instead of saving them up for use as an actual ingredient in something, like strawberry shortcake. Now there's an idea...
So, what's growing in your garden, on your patio or balcony, or in your window sill? Check off your edibles in our poll over there on the right. If you're growing something that isn't listed, just click the "Comments" link at the top of this post and tell us about it!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
I'm happy to report that, although there's no runaway winner, "recycling" is leading the way with 73% of the vote. 53% of voters are tweaking the thermostat and/or walking and biking. 46% of you are switching to CFLs. Some are even bringing their own mug to Starbucks!
Though our poll ends today, it's never to late to consider how you can be more conscientious and try something—anything—to green things up a bit. See you in June!
Saturday, May 30, 2009
But there is one thing that I do enjoy about laundry, and that is when I have a free Saturday, skies are clear, the breeze is moderate, and I can hang the laundry out to dry. It's the age-old green thing to do, don't you know.
Today was the first time this year we were able to do it, and now I have fresh-smelling clothes and the sun-pinkened nose to show for it. Since permanent clotheslines are not allowed in our subdivision (unfortunately true in many suburban neighborhoods these days), and there isn't much room for one in our yard anyway, we use a handy, waist-high, foldable drying rack from Ikea (pictured left and below).
Len also set up discreet, semi-permanent bases behind my raspberry bushes for inserting taller, removable poles; whenever we need to, we bring out the poles and string some extra line between them and our fence. I had two loads of laundry out there today. Now that's a crowded yard!
Of course, we make green laundry choices even when we can't dry things outside. We have a front-loading washer, which, as you know, uses less water and less detergent than the top-loading kind. It's also supposed to be gentler on your clothes. (Maybe, but the downside is that it twists all my pants legs together into a heavy pants chain that makes it tricky to extract one pair at a time without pulling out the whole ball of wet clothes.) And, of course, we use the high-efficiency ("he") detergent meant for front-loaders, choosing a dye- and perfume-free variety.
Also, we always wash everything in cold water, unless it is absolutely necessary to bleach the whites, which we very seldom do. Some of you hot-water junkies wouldn't dare wash your bed sheets in cold because you need hot water to kill the dust mites, right? I used to do that too, but no more! I'm no expert, but I've heard two different stories about that: a) the heat from your dryer will kill the mites just as effectively as the washer, or b) the hot setting on your washing machine isn't nearly hot enough to kill dust mites anyway. Whichever is true, I figure there's no reason not to keep the washer set on cold.
If you live somewhere that forbids the use of supposedly ugly permanent clothes lines (I don't think clotheslines are eyesores, but it's the only reason I can imagine they'd be banned by home owners' associations), be bold and get a portable clothes line or set of drying racks for your backyard (or your balcony!), even if you do it for just one load every once in a while. No, it's not as convenient as tossing it all in the dryer, but it's good for your clothes (just turn things inside out if you're worried about fading) and good for the earth. Clothes dryers themselves are not enormous energy hogs, but every little bit counts, and you will notice a decrease in your energy bills—always a plus.
Now for my least favorite part, taking all the clothes down and folding them. At least I get to enjoy the fantastic weather while I work.
Friday, May 29, 2009
The point is, these inventions were practically obsolete from the get-go because there was a common-sense alternative already available. That's a good way to explain how I feel about the Hummer, which has been an environmental nuisance ever since AM General rolled them off the line in 1992 (GM would buy Hummer in '98. And you’ve probably heard the latest: they’re trying to unload the brand to regain some of their financial footing).
That's why I was so interested to hear about Raser Technologies' efforts to re-design the Hummer H3 as an electric plug-in hybrid capable of squeezing 100 miles out of every gallon of unleaded. Welcome news when you consider it'd cost you about $82 to fill the H2's 32-gallon tank (at the current, local average price of $2.59/gal). Could it be these vehicular behemoths were finally going green?
Not really, if you ask me. Granted, my B.S. detector is especially sensitive when it comes to fuel-efficient vehicles, especially those that make claims without government data backing them up. But this still feels like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound; an inadequate last-ditch effort to resuscitate a dying brand. And it's hardly a coincidence that this announcement comes at the same time President Obama is tightening the nation's fuel efficiency standards. What better way to nab some easy, pro-Hummer P.R.?
As the article points out, this 100mpg rating is a bit convoluted, relying on some sketchy math to get there (and probably also some hypermiling, but minimizing braking and rapid acceleration are driving habits most buyers will likely ignore). And, while the proposed figure of 33mpg is definitely an improvement on the accepted average of 14-17mpg for the H2 (actual figures aren’t published by the EPA), who in their right mind would fork over $55,000 (20%-30% more than the all-gas H3) when there are alternatives that do the job far better for less? That’s crazy straws!
What's more, you can load a 600-lb. lithium-ion battery into the chassis of any vehicle and improve its gas mileage, but you should at the same time consider the energy it takes to charge such a battery. Unless you’re hooking it up to a wind turbine, that voltage is likely supplied by a coal-fired power plant. That’s like trying to minimize your carbon footprint by walking around on your tip-toes; same shoes, same weight, different distribution. And, at an average curb weight of 5,000-6,000 lbs., Hummers make some deep footprints. Who said bigger was better?
I know it’s easy to attack Hummers as a symbol of irresponsibility, but it also gives me a chance to present The Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band and their tune, “Hummer.” Good question—what would Jesus drive?