Thursday, December 27, 2007

Free Rice!

My newest obsession: Free Rice. They give you a word, and if you can correctly guess the definition, they will donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations to help end world hunger. I haven't been able to get my score above 45, which is making me feeling slightly stupid (that and the "Word Play" episode of Independent Lens that was on the other day -- there are people out there who can finish the New York Times crossword puzzle in two minutes??? Yikes.) But it's stupidity for a good cause! I have so far donated 8620 grains of rice, which would come out to over half a pound. (I weighed some grains of rice today: 150 grains of long grain brown rice is about .01 pound.) Not bad for sitting on your butt clicking a mouse, plus you get to expand your vocabulary. Minify! Hostler! Cerise! Tellurian! Cacography! Hirsine!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

United States to Outlaw Incandescent Light Bulbs

I've always kind of scoffed at the whole light bulb thing as being a feel-good measure for people who don't want to make a real effort. But if the whole country is more or less forced to switch to fluorescents or LEDs, that will add up to a pretty big difference in energy usage. This is exciting news!

Read more: No Joke, Bulb Change Is Challenge for U.S.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tomato Lentil Soup

This is a very filling, satisfying soup and is excellent for cold winter nights, and the best part is that it can be made from stuff you probably already have in your pantry. I actually prefer canned tomatoes over fresh for this soup, and the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes give it a nice, smoky undertone. I don't usually add cheese to the soup, although I might top it with some of whatever I've got in the fridge; this soup is tolerant of many cheeses -- cheddar, mozzarella, parmesaen, jack, etc. I happened to have a fair sized chunk of gruyere, left over some some pumpkin gruyere soup (which was not nearly as exciting as it sounds) so I threw some into the tomato lentil soup and it was super, super yummy. But I've regularly made this soup without any cheese at all, and the vegan version is still quite awesome, and a little bit of nutritional yeast thrown in at the end, or as a garnish for each bowl, will give it a little extra oomph. You can use any kind of lentils, but the red are the prettiest.


olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-6 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried basil (or about a handful fresh)
28 ounce can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded gruyere, plus some for garnish (optional)
1+ tablespoons nutritional yeast powder, plus some for garnish (optional)

1.) Heat oil in a large soup pot and saute onion until translucent. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, basil, tomatoes, and lentils and stir well. Add broth and allow to simmer over low-medium heat until lentils are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

2.) Allow to cool slightly, then transfer 2/3 of the soup to a blend and process until smooth. (You can certainly blend all of it if you want a smooth soup, but I like my soups chunky.)

3.) Return soup to pot. Add gruyere or nutritional yeast and heat through until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm, topping each bowl with shredded gruyere or a sprinkling of yeast powder.

Serves 4.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Bird Count

Today is the Christmas Bird Count for Duluth. My girlfriend is half-sick with the flu, so she's not covering her usual territory this year and is instead doing a feeder count. Before I left for work today she had already gotten, among other things, some white-throated sparrows, juncos, and a cardinal, all of which are somewhat unusual/exciting to see this far north at this time of year. I'm pretty sure she already topped my species for last year's feeder count. Last year's feeder count was sad.

There are a lot of obvious ways to Save The Earth, like recycling, taking public transit, or putting solar panels on your house. Citizen science projects like the CBC tend to not get a lot of press, but they're super important, too. Christmas Bird Counts have been held in North and South America for 108 years now, and this year there are over 50,000 volunteers going out and tromping around or watching feeders and making a census of every single bird they see. It may sound like a little thing, but this provides invaluable information on bird behavior and population trends, which is useful for all sorts of conservation efforts.

I'm not sure if I would have wanted to go out on a hardcore outside count today, since I am working on getting over the flu myself and it is butt-cold (9 above when I left the house). Although it sure was pretty out this morning, too -- steam billowing off the lake, and hoarfrost sparkling on all the trees. But despite the lack of exciting birds during my feeder watch last year, it was still kind of fun (so was going to the compilation afterwards, even if it was all awkward and social, because then I got to hear what everyone else saw, too) and I like the feeling of contributing to capital-S Science. I'm really hoping that I can participate again next year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dr. Organics

I got an e-mail the other day that felt slightly spammy, even though it was addressed to me personally and individually, and was sent to me via a website where I have published some health/nutrition articles. The writer wanted to know what I thought of this product, and this was my response:

If you want my honest opinion, I'm a little wary of most supplements to begin with, and am especially wary of "mega-supplements" like this. First off, when experts say to eat X servings of fruits and vegetables a day, I think that they mean eating the actual fruits and vegetables, with all the natural fiber, sugar, etc. in them, not just the vitamin or antioxidant equivalent of X servings of fruits and vegetables. Secondly, I think supplements like these actually encourage bad eating habits -- especially when the products are being marketed as something to use on a daily basis -- because they lead people to think that taking this product relieves them of eating actual vegetables. Just a few weeks ago at work I had someone ask me how many servings of green vegetables a tablespoon of spirulina was "equivalent" to. I find it incredibly hard to believe that any powder or pill can replace or replicate all the nutritional benefits of actual fruits and vegetables. Thirdly, I think there is also a psychic benefit to eating actual, whole foods -- which would you rather have, a ripe, juicy orange, or some powder mixed in water?

That said, I don't think products like this are really bad for you in any way, and I've even been known to mix some spirulina/greens or protein powder in a smoothie now and then, but I think these products should be used only for an occasional boost, and not as an an everyday supplement. Good health comes from eating whole, unprocessed foods, drinking lots of water, exercising, and avoiding stress, not from taking pills or powders.

EDIT, 102908: I'm getting lots and lots of traffic on this one old entry. If you googled "Dr. Organics" and wound up here, you might be interested in another, more detailed entry I made on the subject: Dr. Organic redux.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Co-op Customer Service Pet Peeve

customer: Do you have dried apricots?
me: We sure do! They're right here.
customer: Oh. Don't you have the regular kind?
me: [blank stare]
customer: You know, normal ones. Like they sell in the grocery store.
me: [trying not to scowl] This is all we have.
customer: [dejected sigh]

Because the co-op is not a grocery store! We are a bizzarro-land of make-believe fantasy food!

I realized too late that what this particular customer meant by "normal" was actually "sulfited all to heck so that they are a freakishly bright orange color." No, we don't have those.

But I get questions like this all the time, and it bugs me. I understand that if you have been shopping at conventional grocery stores your whole life, then natural/minimally-processed/etc. foods might be a little different than what you are used to, but please find some better way to describe what you are looking for. Because the food we sell is, in fact, normal and regular. And we really are an honest-to-goodness grocery store.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Power of Honey

I've been sick for a while,but now I am back on the road to health, thanks to the power of honey! Okay, also thanks to calling in sick to work yesterday and spending most of the day knitting and drinking tea on the couch, but honey's power cannot be discounted.

More than just a sweetener, honey's powerful healing properties have been used for over 5000 years. It soothes sore throats and its high potassium levels provide antibacterial/antibiotic action. You can dillute it in water or tea if you have a virus or infection, and you can even use it as a dressing for wounds. Seriously, next time you have a cut or scrape dab a little honey on it and bandage it up, and see if it doesn't heal more quickly than with Neosporin. And eating local honey specifically is good for alleving allergy symptoms (it needs to be local enough that the bees are collecting pollen from the same kinds of plants that are making you sneezy and eye-watery and miserable, it's a sort of homeopathic effect). Honey also has trace vitamins and minerals, and the sugar-energy in it is better for your body than that in cane sugar.

I've flirted with veganism now and then over the years, but I could never be hardcore about it because I like honey too much. Cheese I would miss, but I could learn to live without it, and I could get by with soy yogurt and ice cream, and I could bake with egg replacer, butit would just be too depressing to have to start using cane sugar in my tea. If I ever have the land for it, I'd really like to get a apiary.

My treatment de jour for head cold/sinus issues: Traditional Medicinals Gyspy Cold Care tea, with lots of local wildflower honey and a dash of lemon juice, alternated with Trad. Med. Throat Coat (also with lemon and honey) as needed. I don't get really sick too often, but this pulls me through every time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Valley Cove Oranges

or, In Praise of Non-local Produce.

I try to eat local whenever I can (though I'm not nearly as obnoxious about it as Stuart is) but it would be miserable to impossible to eat local year round here in the frozen north.

Enter, Valley Cove Oranges. While they are not certified organic, they are "ecologically nurtured" and are grown without any chemicals, and I would be willing to bet that their lack of certification is largely a result of not wanting to fuss with the paperwork. The co-op here has been carrying them every winter for years, and I trust the produce buyer's judgment to only buy good, sustainably grown stuff.

And besides that, they are amazing. Juicy and sweet and just a tiny touch of tart. Good for eating (I like the little ones better, and eat two at a time) or juicing, or you can make this stir-fry, adapted from a recipe in a book called 1000 Vegetarian Recipes From Around the World. (When I made this last night I made up for the non-localness of the oranges by using local carrots and onions.)


oil (canola or walnut or peanut)
2 1/2 cups carrots cut into matchsticks
1 fist-sized red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup peanuts
4-5 oranges, peeled and segmented (do not cut)

1.) Heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan. Saute the carrot and onion until vegetables have softened.

2.) While that is cooking, whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, tamari, and ginger in a small bowl. Add to pan and stir to coat thoroughly, allowing the sugar to caramelize just a weensy tiny bit.

3.) Add the orange segments (stir gently so as to not break them up) and peanuts and warm through. Really, don't leave it on the heat for more than twenty seconds or the oranges can start to get bitter. I don't know the biology behind this, but I've had it happen and it's really sad.

4.) Serve over rice and go, "Oh geez this is good."