A Lovely Tea, A Useful Gadget

On a gray day like today, there is nothing so cozy and comforting as a cup of hot tea.

Some teas are off-limits during pregnancy, but one that generally gets the green light is decaffeinated black tea.

For awhile, I’ve been searching for a decaffeinated black tea that (1) features organically-grown tea leaves, (2) is decaffeinated with water or carbon dioxide instead of ethyl acetate, (3) comes in paper bags closed by string instead of glue or heat-sealed polyfilaments, and (4) actually tastes good!

Choice Organic Decaffeinated Earl Grey Tea fits the bill!  A generic name, but a lovely tea.  I am glad to have found it.

I am also glad that long ago my mother gave me the tea-bag-squeezer you see above.  It was one of those maternal gifts to which the child’s response is, “I will never need that.  Mom is so wrong!”  And then, later on, the child realizes, “This is so helpful!  Mom was right!”

I am generally not one for gadgets.  But this one is a winner if you are a frequent tea drinker!   The spoons in our house have deep bowls, and wrapping a tea bag string around the spoon to compress the bag hardly ekes out a drop.  Not so with the squeezer!  My autumns and winters spent with my teacup as my constant companion are made easy with this handy kitchen tool.

If you’d like to try one for yourself, one option is here.  How the one-sided cutout compares to the two-sided cutout, I am not sure.  My suspicion is that both models perform their jobs admirably!

Many happy cups to you!


The Joy of (Purple) Green Monsters

Green Monsters — fruit smoothies made green by the addition of spinach or kale — have been enjoying a surge of popularity recently, and for good reason.  They are easy, tasty, fill your tummy with nutritious things, and give a great energy boost.  In the hot summertime, we’ve been eating these cool treats for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Folks of all ages who are skeptical of greens find themselves loving Green Monsters!

We make ours with spinach, flax, plain yogurt (or plain kefir, or a mix of plain yogurt and milk), a very ripe banana (the riper the banana, the better the Green Monster), and either blueberries or Trader Joe’s Very Cherry Blend Frozen Berries.  Delish!  (Spinach and many berries are on the list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that are good to buy organic, so consider organic versions of those ingredients if it fits your budget.)

Since we add berries, our smoothies turn out to be Purple Monsters — no green in sight.  For folks with kids or spouses who won’t touch green, this camouflage can be a boon!

A basic, proven Purple Monster recipe is below.  It is flexible and adaptable!  Many variations on the basic Green Monster recipe can be found at The Green Monster Movement.  In the fall, when berries are no longer in season, I’ll surely be trying out the pumpkin-based Green Monster recipe there — with a little added cinnamon and nutmeg.

Try one!  Try one!  A sibling of mine — who is in no way a big fan of greens in their native state — tried a Purple Monster before we did and liked it so much that Matt and I were convinced to give the recipe a go.  We really do love them, and we hope you do, too!

Basic, No-Fail Purple Monster Recipe
Serves 2 (of course, halve the recipe for a single serving) Read the rest of this entry »


Of Fruit and Soup

Two food thoughts for this Friday afternoon:

1.  Finally, the time has arrived for organic peaches, nectarines, and cherries to abound at our favorite grocery store.  We are in a blissful state.

2.  I do believe that grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of the great food/flavor pairings in the known universe.  When we make canned tomato soup, we like to mix this one (which is widely available, organic, and light in sodium. Though the can lining does contain BPA — all but Eden Organic‘s cans do — I say: pick your battles.  Canned soup once a week is not a health crime!) with a can of milk for added creaminess.  Mmmmmmm…..

Wishing you a weekend filled with happiness and good things to eat!


Caprese Salad Snack

There is no simpler (and perhaps no more delicious) summer salad than Caprese salad: tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil, with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil if you’d like.  Yesterday, we discovered that one of the best CSAs in our area — Heidi’s Homegrown and Organics — had opened a new retail location close to the College of William and Mary.  We were delighted, because their old location was quite a drive from our house.  We happily loaded up on homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn.  (My pregnancy tomato aversion is finally gone, and just in time for prime tomato season!  Hooray!)

When we got home, we were hungry and overjoyed to find that we had the fixin’s for Caprese salad.  So juicy, so tasty, so perfect for a summer afternoon!


A Great (Decaf) Coffee

Folks abstain from caffeine for all sorts of reasons:  to reduce anxiety, to sleep better.  And for pregnancy, of course!  (The current recommendation is that pregnant women, particularly those in their first trimesters, consume not more than 200 mg caffeine per day — about the amount in a 12 oz. cup of coffee.  Or in about 9.5 oz. of dark chocolate!)

A whole world of delicious, naturally caffeine-free beverages exists, and I am a very big fan.  But some days, even we abstainers crave a hot coffee or — on a sweltering summer afternoon — a tall iced latte.  The answer to our longings: decaf!

I will admit, decaf done badly can be horrible.  But if done well, it can be wonderful.  If you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, you can enjoy this, my current favorite: Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic French Roast Decaf.  It’s all the good things its name indicates.  Plus, it’s reasonably priced and is decaffeinated via a cold water process (like this) rather than with chemical solvents like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate (the chemicals used to remove the caffeine from a majority of other decaf coffees and black teas).

It is good stuff!  And at 2-6 mg caffeine per cup, it can be enjoyed with sighs of contentment and without guilt or worry (or sleepless nights)!


Honeybee Deaths, Pesticides, and Why Choosing Organic is Important

Honeybees are essential to modern agriculture.  Pollination by honeybees is a required step in the production of one of every three bites of food we take!  When honeybees began dying in droves several winters ago (a phenomenon termed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD), a flurry of research into the reasons for their decline began.  The fruits of those research efforts are now beginning to appear.  And folks, the news ain’t good.

A number of factors behind CCD have been identified, including infection of honeybees by viruses and pathogens, as well as immune-system stress and malnutrition due to modern migratory beekeeping practices.

One additional standout factor, pesticide exposure, was also widely suspected, and a recent study by university and government researchers provides new support for that hypothesis.

In their paper, the researchers present the results of a broad survey of agricultural chemical levels (miticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) from all parts of bee hives (honey, pollen, honeycomb, foundation wax, and the bees themselves) in both healthy and CCD-affected bee colonies across 23 states and one Canadian provence.

The researchers found unprecedented levels (and diverse combinations) of these chemicals, particularly in pollen (the food of both baby and adult bees) and beeswax (the bees’ housing material).  The researchers conclude:

The widespread occurrence of multiple residues, some at toxic levels [for bees] for single compounds, and the lack of any scientific literature on the biological consequences of combinations of pesticides, argues strongly for urgent changes in regulatory policies regarding pesticide registration and monitoring procedures as they relate to pollinator safety.  This further calls for emergency funding to address the myriad holes in our scientific understanding of pesticide consequences for pollinators.  The relegation of bee toxicity for registered compounds to impact only label warnings, and the underestimation of systemic pesticide hazards to bees in the registration process may well have contributed to widespread pesticide contamination of pollen, the primary food source of our major pollinator.  Is risking the $14 billion contribution of pollinators to our food system really worth lack of action?

In short: our current agricultural practices are likely poisoning our bees, and if we don’t change our approach, we will lose both bees (honeybees AND wild bees) and their pollination services.  Already, each winter since 2006, we have lost 1/3 of our country’s standing population of honeybees, with no end in sight without widespread changes to our chemical use.

Overhauling our country’s agricultural practices to be bee-friendly is an enormous task.  But supporting our nation’s bees by buying organically-grown produce is a simple, immediate, and effective action that we as individuals can take!  Research shows that bees — both honeybees and wild bees — who pollinate at organic farms thrive!

Buying organic can be expensive, it is true.  Maybe you can’t afford to buy all organic all the time.  That’s okay — remember, some organic is better than no organic!

I am still searching for a list of the most chemical-intensive bee-pollinated crops (if you know of such a list, please let me know!), but in the meantime, I’m prioritizing my organic shopping using this handy pocket guide to The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen — the fruits and vegetables that possess the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues, respectively.  These lists will help you identify which foods are best to buy organic (The Dirty Dozen) and which can be bought conventional if needed (The Clean Fifteen).

We keep a copy in the notebook in which we make our weekly grocery lists.  It is surely a help!  Here’s the rundown of The Dirty Dozen, some of which are bee-pollinated, and some of which are not:

1.  Peaches
2.  Apples
3.  Bell Peppers
4.  Celery
5.  Nectarines
6.  Strawberries
7.  Cherries
8.  Kale
9.  Lettuce
10.  Grapes (imported)
11.  Carrots
12.  Pears

Put organic versions of these fruits and veggies into your shopping cart whenever you can, and know that you are being good to yourself, to the environment, and to bees!

Additionally, if you farm on any scale and are interested in adopting bee-friendly practices, check out these general agricultural guidelines and these organic farm guidelines from The Xerces Society, a truly wonderful nonprofit invertebrate conservation organization.


Lunchskins Eco-Baggies

I wish these baggies were named “Lunchkins” instead of “Lunchskins” because I just don’t feel that “lunch” and “skin” are words that belong together.  “Lunchkins” is cute and sweet; “lunchskins” rings a little too loudly of Silence of the Lambs for my taste…  (What a difference one little “s” makes, eh!?)

But I forgive the originator of the name, because the product is fantastic.  These reusable, dishwasher-safe, velcro-close baggies come in several sizes (snack, sandwich, and sub) and are made of thick cotton coated with a grease-proof, moisture-proof, food-safe polyurethane lining that is certified as lead-free, Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free, and phthalate-free.

And the fabric passes a favorite litmus test of over-educated, environmentally-conscious folks like me: it’s manufactured in Europe!  And as a bonus, the manufacturer is a family-run business!  (I’m thinking maybe these baggies belong somewhere on the list of Stuff White People Like.)

Lunchskins come in many lovely colors and patterns.  They are not particularly cheap, but so far we think they’re worth the price.

In our house, we’ve decided to eschew their true name and call them Lunchkins henceforth.

And we have high hopes that by using them, we will finally eliminate from our kitchen that pile of Ziploc bags that we mean to wash and reuse, but somehow just… don’t, because it’s so much easier just to grab new, clean ones!

I’ll report back!

[Update: Many folks debate the relative safety of polyurethane and nylon linings, particularly if hot foods are involved.  The jury is out.  If you want to go totally green, check out Plum Creek Mercantile, which offers 100% organic cotton natural-color snack bags -- they have no waterproof linings, but claim to contain even gooey PB&J just fine.  If the idea of nylon lining appeals to you more than that of polyurethane lining, check out WasteNot Saks on Etsy.  (Thanks, Suzanne, for the tip!)  A nice little summary of different eco-baggies and their specs can be found here.]


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