Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Quinoa with Tomatoes and Peppers



Quinoa is packed with protein and iron and is low-fat. This is an easy way to prepare it for a weeknight meal.

Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red onion chopped
1 sweet red or yellow pepper chopped
1 chili pepper chopped
1 garlic clove minced
1-14.5 ounce diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper
shredded cheese and parsley for garnish

Rinse quinoa, add to broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until cooked, about 15  minutes. In skillet, heat oil and saute onion until soft. Add sweet pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add garlic and chili pepper and cook 1 minute. Add can of tomatoes and spices and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Stir in cooked quinoa, heat through and serve with garnish.    

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Is there such a thing as a free lunch?


Finance, Dollar, Currency, Tree, Apple
Money doesn't grow on trees.

If you receive a paycheck, chances are you have or will soon be seeing in increase in your take-home pay this month. For some it may be small and for others it will be significant. This additional money is a result of the changes to the tax code for 2018 and is primarily a due the lowering of the tax brackets. Some people will be elated; but, for me, I am just concerned. 

Whether you are a business, the government or an individual, you need money to function. Dollars are continually being passed from one entity to another. Individuals and businesses pass money to the government in the form of taxes in return for services. These services come in many forms such as well maintained roads, safe water to drink, grants and loans to attend college, clean air to breath, medical services in times of need, or a park where people can come to experience history or nature. If less money is being passed to the government, than fewer dollars are available to provide for these services. Over the past year after Washington proposed massive cuts to federal programs such as the State Department (33%),  Environmental Protection Agency (31%), Department of Agriculture (21%), Department of Labor (21%) and Department of Health and Human Services (18%) it became clear through public demonstrations and formal public comments that the vast majority of Americans value and depend upon the services provided by the government. This is also demonstrated by Congress who has not yet passed a 2018 budget, and by their on-going Continuing Resolutions continue to appropriate funding at 2017 levels.

In addition, tragedies such as drinking water contamination in Flint, Michigan; wildfire and mudslides in California, hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico make it abundantly clear that the federal government needs to be investing more money in public services, including long overdue upgrades to transportation and utility infrastructure. And, if the federal government is unable to pay for these services, than the expenses will be passed down to states and municipalities, resulting in no savings at all.

Finally, this article in Saturday's Washington Post The U.S. government is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, an 84 percent jump from last year shows that the national debt continues to be a huge problem that will only get worse as a result of the new tax reform law. There truly is no such thing as a "free lunch."
 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do you recycle plastic wrap?

Up until this week if I had heard the phrase "film recycling" I would have thought the term was referring the 35mm variety. I recently learned that the term refers to plastic wrap that is used to package so many products that we purchase such as toilet paper, produce, frozen foods, and unnecessarily, so many other food and household items. With few exceptions, (See my blog post from  earlier this month about a program being tested by the city of Boise which converts these lower grade plastics to fuel) most curbside pickup programs do not allow plastic wrap or film to be added to your mixed or plastics recycling bin.  I have since learned that plastic film is a valuable commodity which can be recycled into a variety of products - the most common being composite lumber. This video provides an informative overview of the types of plastics that are used in making composite wood materials.



You may have seen a box upon entering the grocery store for the collection of used shopping bags. I never gave these much thought partly because I try not to use plastic shopping bags, and for those I do receive, I usually re-purpose them at home. However, the secondary market for plastic wrap is growing and the American Chemical Council has embarked on a film recycling campaign called W.R.A.P. (Wrap Recycling Action Program.) Their goal is go increase the recycling rate of plastic film by businesses and individual consumers. If you go to plasticfilmrecycling.org and type in your zip code you will find a list of businesses in your area which collect these light weight plastics. I was surprised to see how many stores participate in my area - eight within a ten mile radius.

I decided to check out one of the grocery stores on the list, Shaw's, and found a large round cardboard at the entrance to the store labeled "Recycle Plastic Bags Here." I inquired with a store employee and found out that all types of plastic wraps can be put in the drum, not just bags, which was evident by the materials inside.



Although I now know that most plastic wraps can be recycled at this and similar drop-off locations, in order to increase consumer recycling better signage is in order. Also, at several of the other store locations nearby I couldn't even locate the recycling container. Recommendation number two is to have the drop off location clearly visible to the consumer. If it's at the loading dock it may be useful for the business, but not the general public.

Obviously the best option is to forgo plastic bags altogether and to purchase products with a limited amount of packaging, with a preference toward plastic-free. However I am glad to know that for

Suet cakes packaged in 100% recyclable material
item that do come wrapped in plastic the packaging does not have to end up in the trash or worse yet, in the ocean where it will continue to cause havoc for centuries to come. Read this story on more bad news world-wide as a result of plastic pollution in the oceans - Plastic Pollutions is Killing Coral Reefs

Thursday, January 18, 2018

White Bean and Sweet Potato Stew


Here is a light, yet filling winter vegetable stew.

Ingredients:
3 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion chopped
4 carrots diced
3 stalks celery chopped
1 large sweet potato peeled and diced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15.5 oz) can cannellini beans rinsed
1/3 cup kale leaves chopped or baby kale
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In soup pot or dutch oven heat olive oil and saute onion, carrots and celery until they begin to soften. Add salt, pepper, cumin and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Add stock, tomatoes and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add kale and cook until kale is tender, about 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from heat, remove thyme and add vinegar. Serve, sprinkled with fresh Parmesan.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Year's Resolution - Use Less Plastic

My resolution for 2018 is to use less plastic. According to the Plastic Ocean Foundation approximately 300 million tons of plastic are generated each year. In the last ten years alone companies have manufactured more plastic than in the previous century. And, according to Common Dreams, a non-profit independent news center, investments from the fossil fuels industry for plastics production are going to increase production by an additional 40 percent over the next decade. The major problem with plastic is that it takes hundreds of years to break down, and if it ends up in waterbodies, it may never decompose. Sadly it is estimated that 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans annually which causes tremendous harm to marine wildlife and ecosystems.  From plastic bags, to plastic take out containers, we have become a disposable plastics society. To personally address this problem, the following are specific actions that are part of my New Year's resolution.

1. Paper or reusable bags. I own multiple reusable grocery bags that are always in my car and accompany me to the grocery store. In the past, I occasionally accepted the store plastic bags so that I could reuse them at home as trash can liners. I am going to seek alternatives.

A simple Google search reveals that there are a few compostable, bag options. A little research also revealed that these may not be a better option unless you have a municipal facility that specifically accepts them.  I need to do some more research to determine what better options exist. If I'm disposing of my granddaughter's dirty diaper, I may stick with a plastic bag, but for other types of trash, a paper liner or leaving the indoor can unlined is probably the best option. 
Contract your municipality before purchasing compostable bags
I am hopeful that as more countries adopt bans on disposable plastic bags (e.g. Bangladash, Rwanda, China) manufacturers will produce more environmental friendly options. One company in India EnviGreen is already doing this as they advertise a one hundred percent plastics free bag.
 
2. At the coffee shop, bring my own mug. I used to think that hot "paper" cups from coffee shops were okay since I could just rinse them and add them to the paper bin to be recycled.

This may be a better option than Styrofoam, but it still cannot be recycled
However, I recently learned that to keep the cup from falling apart when hot, it is lined with a thin plastic coating. This means that the cup cannot be recyled, but must be put in the trash. I am going to make sure that I always have a thermos style mug in my car for those stops at the coffee shop. And an added bonus is that some stores, such as Starbucks, give you a small discount for providing your own mug.

3. Avoid single use containers when possible. I love having a yogurt every day and single use containers are convenient. I have previously featured Yoplait's Oui yogurt because it is made in a glass container. This is a great option to avoid plastic, although at over double the price of most single use containers, it is a costly option. 


Another choice which does not eliminate plastic, but reduces it, is to purchase the 32 oz. size containers and then pack individual servings in reusable glass containers at home.

4. Limit use of small plastic sandwich bags. When I am not reheating leftovers for lunch, I am packing bread and typically use fold over plastic bags. I recently purchased some reusable sandwich bags and will be trying these out instead.

These bags can be rinsed or placed in the dishwasher to clean
A small company called Bee's Wrap out of Vermont, makes food wraps out of organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. These are truly an environmentally safe alternative and is local to boot!



In today's world it is impossible to eliminate plastic entirely from our lives, but with these few steps   I will not only feel better about myself, but I will have contributed, albeit in a small way, to the reduction of this pervasive pollutant.  If you are interested in joining an  international movement to combat plastic pollution sign up at https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/.

January 15, 2018 Update: Over the past week I kept track of plastic use I eliminated just by making a little extra effort - such as remembering to bring my thermos mug into the coffee shop, to use the reusable sandwich wraps, and to not accept a plastic bag at any store, not just the grocery store. It totaled 3 styrofoam or plastic cups; 4 sandwich bags and 6 store bags. It may not seem like much, but over the course of a year, it all adds up.

Also, in the news this month was a story on an innovative plastics recovery program in Boise, Idaho which will convert lower grade plastics to diesel fuel. The city is embarking on this effort utilizing a grant from Dow Chemical Co. and administered by Keep America Beautiful. It is going to allow residents to set aside for pick-up lighter weight plastics, such as foam cartons, plastic bags and candy wrappers, which are not allowed under their current mixed-waste recycling program. These materials will be bagged separately, then delivered to a plant in Salt Lake City where they will be converted to fuel. If the program is successful, it is hoped that other cities will jump on board. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Animals of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

We are in the midst of a deep freeze here in New Hampshire, with temperatures well below zero at night. Since very few animals will be leaving their winter shelter to brave the cold, I thought that now would be a good time to look back to this past Spring and all the animals we saw when visiting Wyoming and Idaho.

Grizzly bears, elk and wolves were the three species I was hoping to see when we visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and we were fortunate to see two out of three along with many other mammals.

First, small mammals can be just as interesting as large, especially when they are different species than we have back home. To arrive at Grand Teton National Park from our lodging in Alta, Wyoming we had to travel through Victor, Idaho and then over the Teton Pass. Once back on the Wyoming side of the mountains we saw a Short-tailed weasel after stopping at a parking area to admire the view.  


Short-tailed weasel
One evening in Grand Teton National Park we went on a horse-drawn wagon ride and had a barbecue picnic for dinner. Surrounding the picnic tables were small mammals that looked like prairie dogs, but were actually Uinta ground squirrels. They were very amusing to watch as they playfully chased each other.

Uinta Ground Squirrel

The first time I saw a Marmot was last year in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This year we saw them in Yellowstone National Park at Sheepeater Cliff which is known for its Marmot population. This one was resting while we ate our lunch at the base of the basalt columns.

Yellow-bellied Marmot
I was hoping to see elk last year in Custer State Park, but we did not since it was only mid-May when most of the cows were preparing to give birth to their young and are less likely to be seen in open fields. This trip they were abundant and it was very exciting to see the first one shortly after we entered Yellowstone park.

Our first Elk Sighting - next to Yellowstone Lake.
We saw many elk in their natural surroundings - in fields and by streams and lakes - so it was a little odd to see them lying down on the grass in the center of Mammoth Springs, but apparently this is quite common. There was a ranger standing nearby to make sure that tourists kept their distance.

Two elk resting on a lawn in Mammoth Springs

If there are a lot of cars stopped along the side of the road you know that some type of wildlife is nearby. If there are so many cars and people that you can't pass then chances are good that a bear has been sighted. Toward the end of our first day in Yellowstone, we were on our way to see Old Faithful and came across a "bear jam." We couldn't believe our luck. No binoculars were needed as a grizzly bear and two cubs were hanging out just a short distance from the road. We couldn't have asked for a better bear sighting.


A mother grizzly bear with her two cubs in Yellowstone National Park
After seeing the famous geyser erupt we had dinner at the Old Faithful Inn.
Upon exiting the inn, there was a large buffalo (American bison) that had decided to plop down in the middle on the circular driveway. It was impossible to keep the recommended 100 yard distance, but everyone seemed to be respecting its privacy and it seemed totally oblivious to its surroundings. Yellowstone is unique in that it is the only place in the United States where bison have existed since pre-historic times. It is hard to believe that in the mid-nineteenth century approximately 60 million bison once roamed the Great Plains. In the late 1800's the U.S. Army had a campaign to eliminate bison, which they almost did. By 1902 only two dozen bison existed in Yellowstone. Protection efforts were finally initiated at the beginning of the 20th century and now the Yellowstone bison population ranges from 2,300 - 5,500 (nps.gov).

During our second day in Yellowstone, we went on a short hike on the Lost Lake Trail. It was a beautiful area, but a little unnerving to see bison hanging out right next to the trail. They didn't seem to mind us being there, but it still made me nervous knowing that if they wanted they could seriously hurt us.

A handsome bison at rest along the Lost Lake Trail in Yellowstone National Park (above) and several bison at rest (below)




At one of our stops we saw some cool Bighorn sheep with their young. It was amazing to watch them traverse a very steep slope.The babies kept taking off to explore on their own, but would eventually run to catch up with their mothers.

Two female Bighorn sheep with their young
A distant view of the cliff (below) they were descending puts the amazing agility of these creatures in perspective.


We did not see any wolves, but we did come across several coyotes. One time, two were stalking a Sandhill Crane. We watched until the coyotes eventually gave up their quest.

Coyote - Yellowstone National Park
We also saw a handful of deer and plenty of Pronghorn. The Pronghorn were difficult to capture on camera as they never remained still for very long. When running Pronghorn can reach speeds of over fifty miles an hour.
Pronghorn in field off Hwy ID-21 on approach to Stanley
I'll end this blog with a photo of a handsome bull moose. It's always exciting to see these huge creatures back home and spotting three on our trip was totally unexpected. We saw a mother and a very young calf along the banks of the Snake River while on a rafting trip in Grand Teton National Park and this guy in Yellowstone near the Petrified Tree trail.

I am looking forward to our vacation next summer to Glacier National Park and the wildlife that we will see there.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Warm Nut Loaf

Sunrise in December
Although not yet official on the calendar, winter weather has arrived. We received our first significant snowfall this week and temperatures are expected to drop into the single digits tonight. This is a great recipe that is very satisfying and will provide you with extra fuel for winter activities like shoveling  the walkway and driveway.

Ingredients:
1 medium onion chopped
oil for sauteing
2 cups chopped mushrooms of your choice
2 cloves garlic minced 
1/4 cup sherry or broth
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups walnuts chopped fine
1 cup almonds chopped fine
5 eggs beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
8 ounces grated gruyere cheese
4 ounces fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon 
1 teaspoon dried sage

4 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or 1 teaspoon dried
salt and pepper

Saute onion in oil about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Add garlic, thyme, tarragon and sage. When mushrooms and onion begin to dry add sherry or broth and cook over low heat about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

In a large bowl, mix rice and nuts together. In a small bowl combine eggs and cottage cheese. Add to nuts and rice then stir in mushroom mixture. Add cheeses and parsley and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Grease a loaf pan and line with parchment paper, overlapping sides. Pat loaf mixture firmly into pan. Place on baking tray and bake at 350 degrees for an hour or longer until set. Cool on rack for ten minutes, then lift out of pan with parchment paper. Serve warm with mushroom gravy.


Mushroom Gravy:
1 cup mushrooms sliced
3 Tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup broth 
1/2 cup cream
 
Saute mushrooms and garlic in 2 Tablespoons butter until soft. Remove pan from heat and set aside. Melt 1 Tablespoon butter over low heat then stir in 1 Tablespoon flour. Cook roux until it begins to thicken, then gradual add liquid ingredients, continuing to stir until heated through and thickened.  Serve immediately over nut loaf.