Friday, September 27, 2013

Wild rice–cranberry soup

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Here’s a great recipe for cool Fall nights adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, by Paulette Mitchell.  If you don’t have a copy of this book, you should definitely add it to your library!

4 tblsp butter
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 chopped onion
3 tblsp all-purpose flour
3 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cup cooked wild rice
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I use Craisins)
1 cup milk or half-and-half

1)  Melt butter in a large pot.  Add carrots, celery, and onion, cooking until carrot is tender.
2)  Add flour and stir until smooth.  Gradually add the vegetable broth – stir constantly to avoid clumping.  Increase heat.  Stir until soup is thickened. 
3)  Stir in rice and cranberries, reduce heat and cook until rice is cooked and cranberries are plump.  Stir in milk or half-and-half.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I’m joining Cee Lo Green this Saturday!

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National Public Lands Day is this country’s biggest single-day public volunteer effort  for public lands.  It’s your chance to help out at national parks, state parks, or any other public land in your area.  Our public lands are often underfunded, so volunteers are very much appreciated – just ask anyone who works at a local park!   Just as we reported last year, my family and I will be volunteering at our favorite Virigina state park, Sky Meadows, gathering acorns to be used later in reforestation efforts throughout Virginia.  There are plenty of chances to help out near you, too – check out the National Public Lands website for an activity in your area!  And be sure to send us a message to tell us how you helped the public lands!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why Eat Low on the Food Chain? (a re-post)

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A great environmental goal is to “eat lower on the food chain.” What exactly does this mean? Well, let’s start at the beginning. When we talk about a food chain, we’re talking about a series of plants and animals that are related to one another through predation. Food chains always start with a plant (an autotroph, in ecological terms) which converts sunlight energy into energy that can be used by plants and animals. Plants are the source of energy and nutrients for all animals. As we move up the food chain, we’re looking at animals (heterotrophs) that eat certain plants. Moving further up the food chain, we’d see animals that eat the animals that ate the plants. A sample food chain would be:

Grass ---> grasshopper ---> bird ---> hawk 

So why do we want to “eat lower on the food chain”, that is, eat more plants and less meat? The way that our food is produced in our industrialized society, much energy goes into the production of food. The higher one eats on the food chain (meat, that is), the more energy that must go into producing that meat. So, if you eat a 2,000 calorie per day diet, a diet of vegetables will require much less energy input, than a 2,000 calorie diet that contains substantial amounts of meat. Another way of thinking about it -- for the same energy input, much more plant-based food can be produced. Eating lower on the food chain can also help to reduce greenhouse gases – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that meat production is responsible for 1/5 of global greenhouse gases! 

Unless you live in an area with a very short growing season, a plant-based diet is a realistic goal. But many folks say they can’t or don’t want to go totally vegetarian. How about 1 night per week? The Utah State University Cooperative Extension website states that if “1000 people replaced one meat meal per week with a vegetarian option, it would save 70,000 lbs of grain per year!” That amount of grain would really feed a lot of people, with much lower environmental impact. Our family eats meat-free in our home.  Outside of the house, the kids and my husband eat whatever they want. Why not give it a try? Once a week, I will post a recipe that has been a success at our house. I’ll also include meatless products that I like, because people often ask me which products I like best, but you can substitute any brand that you like. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy “Meat-free Friday!”

Monday, September 16, 2013

Learning from the neighbors

IMG_20130915_123500_951In Vienna VA yesterday, we had a great event called the Sustainability Home and Garden Tour – an opportunity for folks in town to tour neighbors’ homes and yards to learn about green improvements.  Local residents visited various homes in which the owners had added solar-powered attic fans, energy-efficient windows, upgraded insulation and other conservation improvements, geothermal heat, and solar panels.  Several neighbors (including our family) opened their yards and gardens to demonstrate native plantings, pollinator gardens, rainbarrels, walkways and garden houses made from recycled materials, composting, and organic vegetable gardens.  Our family tried to demonstrate that eco-friendly landscaping doesn’t require a lot of time and can be done by busy families (in fact, we were shuttling kids to soccer practice during the afternoon).  And it wasn’t just the visitors who learned new information – I got several helpful gardening tips from neighbors visiting our gardens!   Local businesses also demonstrated their “green cred” and some even gave out locally grown free samples! 

Does your community have a similar event?  Please share!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Meatless Mushroom Stroganoff

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When you’re wanting something savory for dinner, there’s nothing like stroganoff.  Today’s recipe is adapted from Cooking Light, and you could make it with or without the “meat”balls.  Enjoy!IMG_20130905_181107_321

1 bag egg noodles
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup white wine
2 tblsp all-purpose flour
2 cups veggie broth
2/3 cups sour cream
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 package Quorn meatballs, defrosted and heated in microwave

  1. Cook noodles.  Drain and keep warm
  2. Heat olive oil in skillet.  Saute mushrooms until almost clear.  Add mushrooms, garlic, and paprika; saute until mushrooms are soft – 5 to 10 minutes. 
  3. Add wine to mushroom mixture and cook until wine is almost totally evaporated.
  4. Sprinkle flour over the mushroom mixture and cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Add veggie broth.  Boil and then reduce heat and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
  6. Remove skillet from heat.  Add salt, pepper, sour cream, and mustard. 
  7. Add meatballs to mushroom mixture.
  8. Spoon mushrooms and meatballs over the noodles.
(Nope, Quorn didn't pay me for the endorsement -- I just like the product!)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Red Knot Update

Red knot in breeding plumageI’ve written before about the little red knot (What’s not to like about the Red Knot?) – those incredible birds that migrate from pole to pole each year and are currently in danger of extinction within the next 10 years.  Elly Pepper, of the NRDC, had the chance this summer to work on a red knot conservation project, so I thought I’d provide you with her latest update.  Want to learn more about the red knot?  Be sure to check out the PBS video, Crash: A Tale of Two Species.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Putting the “B” back into “BLT”

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So you’ve gone meat-free on Fridays (or more), but you’re longing for the savory, crunchy joy that is a BLT.  Not to worry greenmomsters!  You can have a guilt-free BLT!  At our house, we make BLTs the usual way using lettuce, tomato, and mayo on toasted bread, but we make a simple substitution for theIMG_20130902_194912_265 bacon.  Try microwaving Morning Star Farms veggie bacon strips until crispy (at our house, that would be 10 strips for 5 minutes on 1/2 high power, flip, and 3 minutes on high), and add them to your BLT instead of regular bacon.  I’ve tried many different kinds of veggie bacon strips, and have found that this brand works best on a BLT.   Now you can smile and so does the pig AND the environment!

Nope, they didn’t pay me a dime for this endorsement!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Turtles Rock!

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As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the high points of my summer each year is visiting the beaches of South Carolina and watching the baby loggerhead turtles head for life in the ocean.  This year was no different!  It’s been a great year for loggerheads in SC; both Bull Island and the Edisto Beach State Park reported their second highest number of nests (last year was number 1).  One of the naturalists speculated that since the turtle protection project is in its 30th year, and it takes roughly 30 years for loggerhead turtles to reach sexual maturity, the program is just now beginning to show the product of all the hard work.  Turtle project managers hope that this is just the beginning of many more successful nesting years for these endangered turtles.

Loggerhead turtles are truly impressive creatures.  They start off small, but grow to a whopping 200-300 lbs!  IMG_20130815_190125_501  Following a harrowing run to the ocean, avoiding hungry seagulls, the baby turtles hitch a ride on an ocean current and make their way to the Sargasso Sea.  There they float in the sargassum until they grow large enough to continue their 30 year journey north through the Atlantic Ocean and then down to the Caribbean.  Only about 1 in 1000 eggs laid reaches sexual maturity!

Here’s a myth-buster!  Have you heard that sea turtles always return to the same beach to nest?  Well, recent DNA research is showing that this isn’t always the case.  One female turtle this year laid eggs in three states!

So what is this turtle protection program I keep mentioning?  Many naturalists, turtle researchers, and volunteers deserve credit for this successful program.  Tiny turtles hatch from the soft eggs IMG_20130815_184203_296, which the females lay in deep holes above the high tide line in the middle of the night.  Early each morning, researchers and volunteers head to the beach to mark the location of new nests and protect the nests with flags and fencing.  If staff believe that the nests are below the high tide line, they may decide to move the nest further toward the dunes to avoid flooding of the nest.  After the expected date of nest hatching, staff again spring into action.   This volunteer is digging up a nest which has already hatched, to see if there are any hatchlings alive but trapped in the nest (they didn’t make it out with the rest of the baby turtles).   IMG_20130815_184059_922  After digging up the hatched nests, volunteers and program staff log the number of eggs hatched and the number of unhatched eggs:  IMG_20130815_184641_381.  The nest in the previous picture had many unhatched eggs; staff hypothesized that the nest was laid below the high tide line.  After the volunteers find any turtles still trapped in the nest, they set the tiny creatures free to begin their ocean adventure.  turtle hatchling at sunset
Sea turtles have been on Earth for millions of years and are currently threatened by human activities including entrapment in fishing gear, boat strikes, and pollution which turtles can mistake for food.  You can help these incredible creatures and the programs designed to protect them:
  • Never litter on the beach.  Pick up any litter you see (cups, plastic bags, bottles) to protect turtles from accidental ingestion
  • Only buy shrimp from fleets that use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their fishing gear (it’s a law for U.S. fleets)
  • You can adopt a turtle or adopt a nest – what a great way to help protect these magnificent creatures!