Friday, October 31, 2014

Be a super hero–protect orangutans!

DSC_0237I know it’s meat-free Friday, but let’s be honest – we won’t be eating dinner tonight.  It’s all candy, all the time, tonight!  Did you know there’s a connection between orangutans and Halloween? It turns out that orangutans live in tropical rainforest that is threatened by the production of palm oil. This palm oil is used in many food products including, you guessed it – many Halloween candies. But there’s good news! A group of snack and candy producers has formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which pledges to only use palm oil farmed using sustainable methods. Here’s some candy that’s part of the RSPO pledge – all of the sweets and none of the guilt! For more info, see

Orangutan-friendly goodies:
3 Musketeers 
Honey Maid Grahams
Mothers Cookies
Almond Joy
Trident Gum
Nabisco Sun Chips
Sweet Tarts
Baby Ruth
Dove Chocolates
Jolly Ranchers
Nutter Butter Cookies
Keebler Cookies
Oreo Cookies
Fruit Roll-Ups
Power Bars
Wonka Candy
Reese's Candies
Grandma's Cookies
Lindor Truffles
Rold Gold Pretzels
Hershey's Milky Way

Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Spooky Spider Facts!

For our endangered species of the week, I’m rerunning an earlier post about a very “Halloweeny” species – the Kauai Cave wolf spider!  So read through and then learn 7 facts about spiders that you might not have known!

The Kauai Cave wolf spider (Adelocosa anops), also known as pe’e pe’e maka ‘ole in Hawaiian (from Earth’s Endangered Creatures) is found in only three caves on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.   Like other wolf spiders, the Kauai Cave wolf spider doesn’t build a web to capture prey; it relies on speed and chases down its prey.  Like all other spiders, it is venomous; it has three teeth for biting it’s prey.  What’s really amazing about this hunting style is the fact that these spiders don’t have eyes (from Arkive)!  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Action Plan, the main threats to the spider are alteration of the caves and surrounding vegetation, non-native predators, and pesticide run-off.

So really, who cares?  It’s just one little spider in a few caves in Hawaii.  The answer is:   when we protect these little spiders, we help ourselves.  If pesticides from agriculture are bringing these spiders near extinction, there’s a pretty good chance those pesticides in water run-off are also affecting human populations.  It’s in our best interest to clean up the water – the spiders win and humans win!

Seven Spooky Spider facts!

  1. North America is home to over 3,000 of the approximately 40,000 species of spider worldwide!
  2. The largest spider is the Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula, which can grow as large as a small dinner plate!  Check out this National Geographic video:
  3. Spiders are not insects – they’ve got 8 legs and 2 body parts (as opposed to insects with 6 legs and 3 body parts)
  4. Spiders don’t have internal skeletons – they’ve got exoskeletons made of chitin (the second most common carbohydrate on Earth!)
  5. Some spiders spin webs each day and eat them at the end of the day to recycle the protein in the strands!
  6. Pound for pound, spiders’ silk is one of the strongest fibers on Earth!
  7. Spiders have been sent into outerspace!  For more information on these “spidernauts”, see NASA’s website.  Check out Esmerelda as she dines at zero-gravity on the international space station!


Earth’s Endangered Creatures.  2006-2013.  Accessed 10/31/2012.

NASA.  2011.  International Space Station, Research Website.  Accessed 10/31/2012.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  2006.  Kauai Cave Wolf Spider (Adelocosa anops), 5-Year Review:  Summary and Evaluation.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mushroom and “bacon” casserole!

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IMG_20131031_182440_466Here’s a tasty recipe for cool fall nights – we’re planning to have it on Halloween night!  Not a quick recipe, but the end-result is filling and a crowd pleaser.  I adapted this recipe from one found in the November 2013 issue of Cooking Light.
4 cups veggie broth
2 cups water
12 slices Morningstar Farm veggie bacon strips, microwaved to crunchy
2 tblsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp thyme
3 tsp jar garlic
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
8 ounces sliced shitake mushrooms
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups uncooked barley
3 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup chopped, drained oil packed sundried tomatoes
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp pepper
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Combine water and veggie broth and warm in a large pot
  3. Heat olive oil.  Saute onion, thyme, and garlic until onion is soft.  Add mushrooms and salt and cook until the mushrooms are soft (about 10 minutes).
  4. Stir in barley and cook for about 1 minute.
  5. Add 2 cups broth and cook until almost absorbed.  Continue to add broth mixture, one cup at a time, until broth is absorbed and barley is soft.
  6. Stir in 1/2 Gruyere, tomatoes, soy sauce, pepper, spinach, and crumbled “bacon.”
  7. Place barley mixture into a greased glass baking pan.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
  8. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and cook for another 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

For National Reptile Awareness Day!

My students were asking a lot of questions this week about reptiles and their brain power, so I’m reposting this article about the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis).  Found in the wild on a few volcanic islands in Indonesia, this largest of all reptiles (with large individuals weighing over 150 lbs) will eat almost any type of meat.  It is endangeredDSC_0029  (population is estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 individuals) because of its limited range, lack of egg-laying females, human encroachment, and natural disasters.  Since it’s a top predator in its habitat, the Komodo dragon plays an important role in keeping the ecosystem in balance.

Here are 8 more really cool facts about Komodo dragons:

  1. Komodo dragons can see their prey at great distances – over the length of a football field!
  2. Komodo dragons only have light sensing cells called “cones” in their eyes – no “rods”.  “Cones” help animals see color and in bright light, while “rods” help animals see in dim light.   So if you’re going to avoid the gaze of a Komodo dragon, do so at dusk.
  3. Komodo dragons have a terrific and unique sense of smell, much like a snake’s.  Check out this description from the National Zoo (2013):   “It uses its long, yellow forked tongue to sample the air, after which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. The chemical analyzers "smell" a deer by recognizing airborne molecules. If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the deer is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (four km), when the wind is right.”  So maybe trying to avoid Komodos at dusk won’t work out so well……
  4. Komodo dragons have both venom AND over 50 strains of bacteria in their saliva – good for bringing down prey.
  5. Komodo dragon venom is not toxic to other Komodo dragons!
  6. Komodo dragons can eat up to 80% of their body weight in one feeding!
  7. Komodo dragons can run up to 13 mph!
  8. Komodo dragons can be playful and have different personalities!  Don’t believe it?  Check out this article in Zoogoer magazine.

But wait, there’s more!  If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating creatures, check out the National Zoo fact sheet


National Geographic.  2013.  “Komodo dragon (Varanus Komodoensis)”  Accessed online 1/22/2013.

National Zoo.  2013.  “Reptile and Amphibian Fact Sheets:  Komodo dragon”  Accessed online 1/22/2013.

McIntosh, P.  2012.  “Dragons at Play”  Smithsonian Zoogoer Magazine.  Sept/Oct. 2012.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some like it hot!

In my previous post about the state of birds in the world, the video interview mentioned that we’ve already lost 10 bird species in Hawaii to extinction – a sad report indeed.  So I figured I’d share with you a teeny, tiny, thin silver lining on climate change and species survival.  In September, the Washington Post reported on a study by researchers at Dartmouth College and UVA.  These researchers found that some species of lizard seem able to adapt and function at higher temperatures.  Previously, researchers didn’t think tiny lizards could adapt their behavior so quickly to changes in temperature, but they found evidence that little brown anolis in the Bahamas can adjust. 

Just figured you might need a little mid-week environmental silver lining! (photo: Christian Cox, Washington Post)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Low Methane Friday (aka meat-free Friday)!

Just eating a little less meat makes a big difference!  Here’s a reminder from “Don’t Just Sit There – Do Something!”

Do your part – cook something tasty!  And be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook!

Onion Quiche

I've adapted this recipe from Family Circle Magazine (photo from, and boy was it a hit at my house!

1 frozen pie crust
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups chopped onions
5 eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tblsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup shredded swiss cheese
1)  Heat oven to 375 degrees (but just for a couple of minutes!)
2)  Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add onions and cook until browned and soft (stir once in a while), about 30 minutes.
3)  In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, salt, and nutmeg.  Remove pie crust from freezer, and sprinkle cheese evenly on bottom of crust.  Spread onions on top of the cheese.  Pour egg mixture over cheese and onions.  Bake quiche for 45 minutes or until eggs are set.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TBT–Carrion. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Since this week’s earlier post was about birds, I figured I’d use this past post for TBT AND Halloween!  Enjoy!

Since September 1, 2012 (and Sept 6, 2014), was International Vulture Awareness Day, this week’s endangered species is a group of animals – the vulture!  While some species populations, like the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) pictured here, DSC_0006are doing well, other species populations, like the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and theAndean Condor (Vultur gryphus) are less secure.  These massive birds are nature’s waste management experts, cleaning areas of dead and rotting carcasses.  Their bodies are specially adapted for this task with their bare heads and strong beaks. 

California condors are one of the best known survival stories in conservation biology.  These spectacular birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet, can soar as high as 15,000 feet!  In the 1970s, the population dwindled to only 2 or 3 dozen birds, and then dropped to only 10 birds in 1987.  Since the birds don’t reach sexual maturity until 6 to 8 years of age, and then they breed slowly, recovery of the species was difficult at best.  Through the persistent work of endangered species biologists, reintroduction of the birds began in 1992 and now 127 individuals live in the wild.  The Andean condor population is doing better than its California cousin, with a few thousand individuals found in the wild.  Like the California condor, it’s a slow breeder and a vital link in the food chain (info from National Geographic).  It’s probably the vulture with which you’re most familiar, because it’s the one that looks like it has a white, fur collar around its neck.

So get out there and celebrate Vulture Awareness Day – without scavengers our world would be A LOT messier!

This image shows a Parsi Tower of Silence, circa 1955, near Mumbai, India. The bodies of the dead are left here to be disposed of by vultures.Want to learn more about the role of vultures in humans’ lives?  Check out this fascinatingNPR story about India’s vanishing vultures and India’s Parsis.  (photo from, showing a Parsi Tower of Silence, circa 1955, near Mumbai, India)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Let’s talk birds….

With the recent releases of the 2014 State of the Birds Report, birds have been in the news.  There’s good news and there’s bad news:

One of the species of concern is the cerulean warbler, which is a small migrant that lives and breeds in Eastern forests and then heads to the tropics for the winter.  I’ve been reading an interesting book about theseCerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird little birds, Cerulean Blues, by Katie Fallon.  Part bird history, part memoir, the book is an interesting story of one woman’s adventure searching for these elusive little birds.  It turns out that the energy we use (coal) actually has an impact on the survival of this species.

In addition to the State of the Birds Report, the Audubon Society recently issued its Birds and Climate Change Report, 314 Species on the Brink.  The accompanying website allows you to see how the specific species in your area are affected by climate change – this is really a cool tool for educating yourself about your local area!

We know that the biggest conservation successes will come from preserving large areas and making some big changes in how we get our energy, but how can one person help?  Adrian Higgins, in his Washington Post column, had a few great ideas:

  1. Keep your cat indoors.  Cats kill as many as 2.4 billion birds per year in the U.S.  Additionally, the presence of a cat can affect breeding success for birds.
  2. Plant native plants.  They encourage growth of insect populations and provide fruit for bird species.
  3. Limit, or better yet eliminate, pesticides in your yard
  4. Provide freshwater through bird baths, ponds, and fountains.

After you’ve created your bird-friendly habitat, get yourself a pair of binoculars and a bird ID book and enjoy your feathered visitors!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cauliflower soup!

OK, here’s a really simple way to make a tasty soup.  You’re going to have to play fast and loose with the ingredients – I’ll tell you what I use and you season to taste.  Have fun! (photo:


  • 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 2 cartons of vegetable broth
  • parmesan cheese
  • basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together the olive oil and spices.  Pour over the cauliflower and mix well.
  3. Roast the seasoned cauliflower for about 45 minutes.
  4. Boil the cauliflower in the vegetable broth until the cauliflower is soft.  Place 1/2 of the cauliflower mixture in a blender and puree.  Mix the soup back together and blend the remaining 1/2. 
  5. Serve topped with parmesan cheese and tasty bread!

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Monarch Migration Time!

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It’s time for the monarch butterfly migration toward Mexico!  In past posts, I’ve written about the monarchs, planting a butterfly garden, and even butterfly book reviews.  This time, I thought I’d show you how easy it is to tag monarchs, using tags from Monarch Watch. I spent a recent fall afternoon helping tag monarch butterflies at Sky Meadows State Park in VA.  monarchrelease2It’s easy!  You simply catch the butterfly, attach a tag to the wing area that looks like a tiny mitten (the program provides diagrams), and then release the butterfly!  monarchrelease4This strong little insect will then attempt to fly all the way to Mexico, and you’ve just provided a valuable tool to scientists who are trying to learn about migration patterns and population size.Four Wings and a Prayer: Monarch Butterflies and the Magic of Everyday Life

Want to learn more about the monarchs and their migration?  Be sure to check out Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Madras Pie

October 1 was World Vegetarian Day, so let’s celebrate with something a little international – Madras Pie!  I adapted this recipe from one I found in the October 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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  • 2 1/2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 packages Quorn chicken pieces (vegetarian) – you can use any chicken or turkey substitute you like
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
  • 3 large parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cups frozen peas (no need to thaw)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • pinch (or more) red pepper flakes
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Boil potatoes until they’re soft enough to cut with a fork.
  3. Heat oil in a large pot.  Fry Quorn in oil until light brown.  Add in carrots, parsnips, ginger, salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, 1/2 cup water, and frozen peas.  Cover and cook until veggies are softened.
  4. Mash the potatoes with milk (you might need a little more to make them smooth) and butter.
  5. Place veggie mixture in a baking pan and top with potatoes.  Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.