Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter squash and tofu curry

20140118182730The perfect dinner for a cool winter evening, I adapted this recipe from one I found in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Cooking Light.  It looks like a lot of ingredients, but the cooking is quick.  It’s tasty and simple – my husband put this dish together to give me the night off!

1 cup uncooked rice
14 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
5 tsp canola oil
2 tsp creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 tblsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
3 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp brown sugar
3 cups cubed squash (I used butternut)
1 cup red bell pepper
2 or 3 shallots, sliced
2 tblsp lime juice
1/1/2 tsp grated lime rind
1/2 cup basil leaves

  1. Cook rice.
  2. Place tofu on several layers of paper towels and cover with more paper towels.  Let the tofu drain for about 30 minutes.
  3. Heat pan with 1 tblsp oil.  Add tofu and saute until golden brown.  Remove tofu.
  4. Reheat pan and add 2 tblsp oil, peanut butter, curry paste, cumin, and coriander.  Cook for about 15 seconds.
  5. Add coconut milk, soy sauce, and sugar.
  6. Add squash, bell pepper, and shallots.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until squash is tender.
  7. Stir in tofu, lime rind, and juice.
  8. Serve over rice with basil leaves as a garnish.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

In Defense of Zoos–a repost

An article in the January 22 Issue of Conservation Magazine reported on research that suggests that, while zoos play an important role in conservation and species protection, they might want to try to better coordinate their efforts – more bang for the buck.  This report made me think about why it is I still love zoos.  Here’s an earlier post on the topic:

I’ve often heard people say, “I hate going to zoos.  It’s so cruel to keep the animals in cages.”  Recently, there have been news stories regarding the mistreatment of crocodiles by zoogoers in China.  Since I love going to the zoo, these statements and news storiesDSC_0144 trouble me, and I rethink whether zoos should exist in our modern world.  Truth be told, I’d prefer to see zoos that don’t concentrate heavily on the “charismatic megafauna” – lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  I’d rather see animals like invertebrates, Amazonian exhibits where we work to see the sloth in a tree, or birds flying freely in large enclosures.  But let’s be honest, most folks won’t visit the zoo unless they can see an elephant or a tiger or a panda.  Despite this difference of opinion on the ideal fauna for a zoo, I believe that, when the animals are treated in humane conditions, zoos do indeed have an important role to play in today’s society.  Here’s why:

  • I’ve never seen one of those!  Most of us will not be able to travel to the Galapagos or Kenya to encounter wildlife in its native habitat.  Zoos are often the only place where people can encounter and appreciate animals other than pets and farm animals.  Schools often do not allow animals in the building and field trips to observe local wildlife are pretty much non-existent.  As Richard Louv states in his book, Last Child in the Woods, “In the patent-or-perish environment of higher education, we see the death of natural history as the more hands-on disciplines, such as zoology, give way to more theoretical and remunerative microbiology and genetic engineering.”  The zoo is one of the last homes of environmental and zoological education.  At the zoo we can hear a lion’s roar, feel a sea urchin in the invertebrate house touch tank, smell the musky smell of the maned wolf during breeding season, and even be splashed as the seals and sea lions dive into cold water.
  • What?  I can help out?  Zoos are a great volunteer opportunity for people interested in learning more than can be taught in a short weekend visit.  I was a volunteer at the Smithsonian National Zoo for over 5 years, first atbeautiful swimmer the Invertebrate House and then at the Conservation Research Center in Front Royal.  What a great experience!  Under the guidance of expert zookeepers and curators, I learned about animals as varied as the octopus, the hissing cockroach, the Przewalski horse, and the leaf-cutter ant.  I helped feed many of the animals, cleaned their tanks and enclosures, taught zoo visitors about the animals, mourned the loss of old animal friends, and celebrated new births at the zoo.  For an aspiring Dr. Doolittle, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
  • The modern ark.  Zoos serve as a last preserve for animals that have either disappeared in the wild or are in danger of going extinct.  Zoos host breeding programs for many of the world’s most endangered species.  The Smithsonian National Zoo sponsors breeding programs for the Guam rail, scimitar-horned oryx, black-footed ferret, maned wolf, and the Panamanian golden frog, just to name a few.  Scientists and students from around the world come to study the latest captive breeding techniques, as well as field biology methods for surveying animals in the wild. 

Many, although not all, of today’s zoo animals were born and bred in captivity, or cannot be returned to the wild because of injury.  When a zoo is well-maintained (see accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and animals live in stimulating, enriching environments, I believe zoos have much to offer.  Why not visit and support your local zoo this weekend?


Conde D.A., Colchero F., Gusset M., Pearce-Kelly P., Byers O., Flesness N., Browne R.K. & Jones O.R. 2013. Zoos through the Lens of the IUCN Red List: A Global Metapopulation Approach to Support Conservation Breeding Programs., PLoS ONE, PMID: 24348999

Goldman, J.G. 2014.  Is Conservation Work in Zoos too Random?  in Conservation Magazine 1/22/14.  Accessed 1/23/14 at

Louv, R.  2008. Last Child in the Woods.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.  ISBN-13: 9781565126053.  390 pp.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lentil Quinoa Bolognese Sauce

This week’s recipe comes from a recommendation by my friend Lisa Muras.  Lisa is a dietician and always on the lookout for tasty, healthy recipes.  She found this recipe in the Washington Post.  Lisa recommends serving the dish over pasta.  The only change she made was using a blender on the lowest setting, rather than a food processor.  Enjoy!

Lentil Quinoa Bolognese Sauce (credit to Washington Post, Food Section (photo credit:  Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post, tableware Crate and Barrel)

  • 1 cup dried lentils (preferably brown or green), rinsed
  • 3 medium carrots, well scrubbed then cut into large chunks
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored and seeded then chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 28 ounces no-salt-added crushed tomatoes or 3 cups homemade tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small bunch kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves torn into small pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine the lentils, carrots and water in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low; cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the oil into a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and stir to coat; cook until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper and garlic, stirring to coat; cook until tender, 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor.

Once the carrots and lentils are cooked, transfer the carrots from the pot to the food processor, along with the tomatoes or tomato puree, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper flakes and kale. Pulse until mostly smooth.

Add the quinoa and red wine to the pot of lentils, stirring to incorporate; cover and cook until the quinoa grains start to show their white tails, 6 or 7 minutes.

Stir the carrot-kale puree into the lentil-quinoa mixture; cook, covered, over low heat until the sauce melds and heats thoroughly, about 20 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper.

Serve hot, or cool completely before storing.


Adapted from "The Great Vegan Bean Book," by Kathy Hester (Fair Winds Press, 2013).

Tested by Nicole Schofer.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Good News for Grevy’s!

New Foal for Endangered ZebrasIn previous posts, greenmomster has written about the beautiful and endangered Grevy’s zebra.  Well, now there’s great news out of the San Diego Safari Park – a new foal was born on January 5 (photo credit:  Ken Bohn, Jan. 14, 2014 at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park), adding to the 140 Grevy’s zebras born in this very successful breeding program.  With only about 2,250 Grevy’s in the wild, every birth is good news.  Remember, you can help by adopting a Grevy’s zebra at the Cincinnati zoo or support the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, which works to employ members of the local community in zebra monitoring programs.

Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook for all the latest endangered species updates!

Source:  Stickney, R. 1/15/2014.  “New Foal for Endangered Zebras at San Diego Safari Park”  NBC Universal Media.  Accessed 1/16/2014 at

Sunday, January 19, 2014

So you slept through science class part 10–What’s an “invasive non-native”?

In previous posts we’ve talked about ecosystems and the role that each species plays in an ecosystem.  Over thousands of years, species in an ecosystem evolve together.   An example of this “co-evolution” would be insects that begin to come out of winter sleep at about the same time that flowers begin to bloom – this coordination ensures that the insects get nectar for food and that the plants get pollination.   When these native species evolve together, this type of coordination helps the ecosystem to remain healthy. 

Sometimes, new species that didn’t evolve in the ecosystem are introduced.  These species would be considered non-native.  Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, we often consider any species that was introduced after Europeans arrived in the area (let’s say the 1600s) to be a non-native.  Some non-natives stay where they’re planted and really don’t cause much trouble – plants such as roses, tomatoes, or tulips are non-natives.  Sure, non-native species may not be the greenest option, since they require more water or fertilizer than natives, but they aren’t quite the problem that their cousins the “non-native invasive” are.

Non-native invasive species are plants or animals that are introduced into an ecosystem and quickly begin to outcompete native species.  They may be a predator that eats everything in sight, such as the northern snakehead (photo credit Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries), or they could be a plant that outcompetes and kills other plants in the area (check your backyard for English ivy…).  Common non-native invasives include house sparrows and kudzu, but there are many, many more.  And these species aren’t just an ecological nuisance, they can have major economic impacts too.  Kudzu can costs homeowners substantial amounts once it gets into their landscaping (think herbicides).   Zebra mussels were first introduced in the Great Lakes region, but have spread throughout the U.S.  The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates that this small mollusk, responsible for clogging water intake pipes and power plant pipes, fouling boat hulls, and displacing native species, will cost the U.S. billions of dollars by the end of this decade.  Another species that has the potential to do serious economic damage is the emerald ash borer, which kills ash trees.  If you like baseball, you should be concerned, because wood baseball bats are made from ash.  Check out this video about the tiny invader:   Good news though,  birds may be helping with reducing this insect species.

So how can a greenmomster help?  There are two easy ways to be part of the solution.  Since one of the best ways to limit the negative effects of non-natives is to prevent their establishment in new ecosystems, greenmomsters can:

  1. Try to choose native plants for landscaping
  2. Never set an unwanted pet (such as a snake) loose into the environment.  Check with a local nature center for proper ways to find them new homes.



Conservation Commission of Missouri.  2014.  “Zebra Mussel Control” Missouri Department of Conservation website.  Accessed 1/19/2014 at

Friday, January 17, 2014

Magical mushrooms!

20140111174508Be sure to "Like" greenmomster on Facebook for all the greenest updates!

It’s portobello mushrooms this week!  This recipe is adapted from Michael Symon’s 5 in 5 cookbook (I highly recommend treating yourself to a copy of this cookbook!).   The main change I made was cooking the mushrooms and onions in a frying pan, instead of grilling – for this method, you can use a little less liquid than the grilling option, but it works well just the same.  I made some of the sandwiches with blue cheese and some without for my non-cheese loving family members – still a hit either way!

Michael Symon's 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners

5 portobello mushrooms, stems removed and gills scraped out with a spoon
1 medium red onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
blue cheese slices
5 burger buns
2 cups arugula or arugula blend

  1. Preheat grill or pan
  2. Whisk oil and vinegar together and drizzle over mushroom and onion (if you’re using the frying pan, drizzle while the mushrooms and onions are in the pan so that you can cook using the liquid).  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and cook mushroom and onions for about 3 minutes.  Flip and cook another minute or so (until mushrooms are soft).
  4. If you’re using the frying pan, remove mushrooms with a slotted spatula.  Place mushroom on roll and top with cheese and arugula.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

She sells seashells by the seashore, but should she?

DSC_0055OK, I absolutely hate reporting on this study, because I love collecting shells at my favorite beaches – Edisto Island SC and Bull Island SC.  Every year I make a frame decorated with some shells and put my kids’ vacation picture in it.  I still think it’s a great alternative green souvenir (as opposed to many other items I don’t need that have been shipped long distances and end up in a closet).  But alas, a new study reports that there might be a negative environmental impact to tourists collecting shells.  The study, in PLOS One and reported on in Conservation Magazine, included surveys of a beach in Spain.  Researchers found a significant change in the number of shells after the only factor that had changed was tourism (urban development, fishing, weather, wave action didn’t change significantly).  Shells provide shelter for many sea creatures and birds often use them to build nests.  So I guess we should keep our eyes on this research and maybe agree to take home fewer shells next year.

Source:  Kowalewski, M., R. Domenech, and J. Martinell. 2014. Vanishing clams on an Iberian beach: Local consequences and global implications of accelerating loss of shells to tourism. PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083615

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder

three toed sloth panama

In endangered species conservation, as in many aspects of life, the good looking individuals have a leg up on the competition.  We often choose to protect the attractive species, while ignoring the species that aren’t as eye-catching.  As Dante Alighieri once said, “Beauty awakens the soul to act”.  But in conservation, we need to look for beauty in non-traditional packages. 

A recent article in the Huffington Post, “11 Animals We May Allow To Go Extinct Because They’re Not Cute and Fuzzy” shines light on a serious issue – the public’s focus on only those species that we find physically beautiful. We know, from our previous science class posts, that each species has an important role to play in the ecosystem – the species fills a “niche”.  Many species needing conservation aren’t exactly the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models of nature.  Species such as the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, the Golden Poison Dart Frog, the short-tailed albatross, and the pygmy three-toed sloth all play important roles in their ecosystems and require species conservation efforts.  Niches should be our basis for preservation (and volunteering and donating), rather than the animals’ cuteness – be sure to check out the article to learn more about the species. 

But that pygmy three-toed sloth is pretty cute (photo credit:  Huffington Post)….

Friday, January 10, 2014

Breakfast for dinner–second edition!

Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook for all your meat-free Friday recipes!

Time again for breakfast for dinner!  This delicious dish was adapted from a recipe by Gale Belser in ‘Pon Top Edisto, a cookbook from the Trinity Episcopal Church in my favorite vacation spot – Edisto Island SC!  The recipe is easy AND it’s a crowd-pleaser – what could be better than that?

Cheese, egg, and spinach casserole

1/4 cup butter
1 16 oz. carton cottage cheese
6 eggs, beaten
6 tblsp four
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and with water squeezed out

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Melt butter in a small baking dish (9x9)
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, except spinach, in a separate bowl
  4. Pour half egg mixture into baking dish.  Spread spinach in a layer on top.  Pour second half of egg mixture on top of the spinach.
  5. Bake for 1 hour or until lightly browned.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Greenmomsters, we need your vote!

As you know from reading this blog, our family spends a good bit of time each year volunteering at Sky Meadows State Park, our favorite Virginia state park.  The Virginia State Parks system is hosting a “First Day” photo contest and we need your help to win!  We’ve submitted our photo, taken at Sky Meadows on January 1.  Now all we need is for all of you greenmomsters to vote for our photo at this link one time per day until January 10.  We really appreciate your support!