31 July 2009

the digital diet: an experiment

When I go on vacation, I don't check emails, I don't go online, I barely even answer the phone. On these tech-free holidays I am able to focus, enjoy myself, relax. So I'm going to try a little experiment next week. From Monday to Friday I will not be posting anything. I will not check email. I will not go on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the computer and the internet and the way it connects people in new and interesting ways. But I want to see what it's like to go through my regular day at home, and while working, completely disconnected from the digital realm.

I will read more. Write by hand more. Interact with people more. Breathe more.

If I need information I will ask someone for it instead of Googling it (what a concept!).

What will my days look like? Stay tuned, for the week after next (week of the 10th) I will report back about the experience... or will I? :)

Love you all and see you on the 10th...

29 July 2009

oooh that smell!

[Image: Lexington, Mass. Town website]

Have you ever walked into an elevator, a subway car, or any other crowded confined space and been smacked in the face by a toxic cologne cloud?

There are times when this overpowering scent actually makes its way up into my nasal passages, down my throat, and onto my tongue. Excuse me, Stinky, I already had breakfast, I don't want to taste your perfume bath!

I lovingly call these offenders Personal Air Polluters (PAPs). To be fair, I'll assume they've dulled their precious olfactory senses so much that they've become "smell blind," and as such just keep adding more and more fragrance as a result of their nasal numbness. After all, our senses can become dulled when they're overexposed to stimuli.

So-called "good" scents like certain beauty products and cleaning solutions set off an alarm in my brain: Danger! Danger! Step away from that stink! And for good reason, these fragrances are actually bad for us.

Whether it's the noxious fumes of cologne or perfume, the petrochemical laundry detergent emanating from clothes, or the synthetic fragrance wafting from just-shampooed hair - the deluge of synthetic fragrances in this world culminates in a harmful chemical cocktail.

get the stink out: antidotes to air pollution
Once I eliminated the culprits in my own home, I became acutely aware of these terrible odors. Here are some simple switches to help reduce your exposure to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) causing the toxic stench.

beauty regimen

  • Read labels. Avoid products containing phthalates, benzyl acetate, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, or the catch-all term "fragrance" (also: parfum). These products have been associated with neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer
  • Look out for other ingredients that may induce similar health implications (eg, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and immunotoxicity) - read more
  • Some of my favorite brands:
    - Suki
    - Kiss My Face (Obsessively Organic line)
    - John Masters Organics
    - Dr. Bronner's
    - Simply Divine Botanicals
cleaning solutions
air fresheners
laundry & dry cleaning
  • For laundry: Switch to a less toxic alternative such as Ecos or Seventh Generation. Or try a laundry ball like this one from True Green (I tested it on my sweaty yoga towels - it really works!)
  • For softening: Skip the fabric softener and use 1/8 cup vinegar in the wash. The vinegar smell does not stick around, I swear
  • For scent: Add a few drops of essential oil to the wash. I use Tea Tree Oil or Eucalyptus - so fresh and so clean! (and also antibacterial)
  • For dry cleaning: Opt for handwash with a product like The Laundress or visit a dry cleaner using CO2 such as Green Apple Cleaners
paint & furnishings
  • No or low-VOC paints like Mythic offer high-quality coverage without the noxious fumes. Or try American Clay, a wall covering that adds beautiful texture while actually filtering the air
  • Check for formaldehyde and other off-gassing VOCs in furniture & carpeting. Stick with natural floor coverings made from wool or seagrass. Check the Sustainable Furnishings Council for brands that don't emit VOCs

Aah, now let's all take a breath of fresh air!

26 July 2009

pimp my dump

What happens when a landfill retires? Find out how the city turns buried trash into public treasure -- or a park that trumps Central Park in size -- in this video from Thirteen's series, The City Concealed.

The City Concealed: Freshkills Park Project from Thirteen.org on Vimeo.

24 July 2009

nyc has 48 hours worth of food

What would happen if we were cut off from the US food supply chain? A scary prospect, but NYC has become wholly dependent on outside resources for food. But there's a growing trend in this city - urban agriculture. Come support this movement toward food independence with an organization that's making it all happen: BK Farmyards.

BK Farmyards Fundraiser
Saturday, August 22
@ COMPOUND Brooklyn
Atlantic Avenue (btwn New York & Nostrand)

We are raising money for farming a couple sites next year, and we need your help!

How you can help us build more farms:
1. VOLUNTEER to help the day of the event.
2. DONATE FOR AUCTION. We are looking for local restaurants who want to donate a meal coupon to be auctioned off at the event. These restaurants will be featured in all promotional fliers. We are also looking for local artists who would want to donate work for a silent auction. Artists determine base price and what percentage they would like to donate to BK Farmyards.
3. PERFORM. Would your band like to play? Would you like to make balloon animals for the kids?
4. OTHER IDEAS? You tell me.

Please pass the word on: this will be an all-day party for all ages. We will auction off our produce with cooking demonstrations. There will be trampolines and food...great combination!

bk farmyards is a Brooklyn based decentralized farming network providing local food to reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels and offering local jobs to boost the economy. We are seeking partnerships with developers willing to temporarily transform their idle land to farmyard; homeowners who want to eat from their own yard; and city agencies holding under-utilized land. Our strategy is to stay nimble, growing food between the cracks of urban development. bk farmyards mission is to bring communities together around the dinner table: our organization’s educational agenda includes eating seasonally, how to grow food locally, how to store and prepare food, species biodiversity, and food democracy.

23 July 2009

simplify, simplify

My mantra for the year. I've been decluttering, refocusing, letting go of bad habits and saying hello to new (good) ones. Part of living in a sustainable way is making sure the ol' noggin' can sustain all that's thrown at it as well.

And who do I have to thank? Well, yours truly, of course. But I couldn't have done it without my loved ones, and a few dear strangers that I know mostly through books and blogs. Here's a list of those who get me through the day in one piece:

Thich Nhat Hanh

It doesn't matter which book you start with, all of this Vietnamese Buddhist monk's writings are simply stated and sure to calm the mind and spirit. Not one iota of religious dogma. I'm psyched to be hearing him speak at the Beacon Theatre this October.

Patanjali & Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - this is what yoga is all about. I read a sutra or two before I go to sleep at night.

Gail Blanke

I was skeptical of this one, especially since the title is telling me to 'throw out' things. I don't take kindly to that sort of message. But inside this little gem are some practical (and somewhat ecological) tips on letting go of the stuff that clutters your physical and mental space. Right on, Gail.

Elephant Journal

I can't quite remember how I stumbled upon the elephant, but I'm ever-so-glad I did. I caught them just as they were shutting down print ops to launch their all-online version. I knew as soon as I opened the first page and saw what kind of ads they were running (yoga, healthy food, eco stuff) it was my kind of magazine. Here's a little story: I was in a cafe in Sydney, Australia last year, reading one of the ol' paper & ink issues of the mag and a young lady (another American) sitting at the table next to me asked where I got it. I told her I subscribed. She told me she contributed, and was just so surprised to see someone in Oz reading the humble magazine from Boulder, Colorado. Small world.


I'm not really talking about the man, here, more about the method. Not sure how I feel about all of his principles (the proprietary ones), but this 90-minute, hot & sweaty, 26-posture "open-eyed moving meditation" has sure gotten me through some tough days. I'd say it's at least 95% mental, and it ain't so bad for the bod, either.

Think Simple Now

Through a sparse and thoughtfully written blog, Tina Su, et al, help others do just as the title suggests: Think Simple - Now. I used to be skeptical of self-help stuff like this, but some little voice started telling me that it can actually help to be open-minded and take a serving of helpful advice once in awhile. It's good to listen to those little voices sometimes.

Zen Habits

Nope, this isn't a blog about monk's robes. It's another well-thought-out and simply stated blog that reminds me to keep it simple, and do it with a smile.

Lots of Tweeters
Twitter can be a distraction, but it's also been an amazing resource for connecting with some new friends and like-minded individuals. Here are a few (off the top of my head) who remind me to simplify:

And here are a couple of tools that don't hurt:

My zafu & zabuton (meditation cushions)

Made in Vermont by Samadhi Cushions

Meditation candles

100% Beeswax & essential oils by Big Dipper Wax Works

Who keeps you sane?

grow your knowledge in an east village garden

Come learn about the latest in sustainable design in a quaint little garden in the East Village. Brought to you by the New York Restoration Project.

Series on Sustainable Design in East Village Garden!
Toyota Children’s Learning Garden
603 E 11th St between avenues B & C

Join us in the Toyota Children’s Learning Garden for a 4 part discussion series highlighting techniques to green our limited urban space. Whether you’re working in a garden, apartment, business, or home, come and learn from New York City’s leaders in sustainable design.

The discussions and workshops will take place every other Thursday, July 30th-September 24th, in the garden from 7:00-8:00pm. We will also highlight the area's environmentally conscious restaurants and businesses at the presentations. Following the discussions we invite everyone to join us for hors d'oeuvre and giveaways in the garden generously donated by Sustainable NYC, Angelica’s Kitchen, Quintessence, Hummus Place, Spino, and more.

July 30, 2009: Sarah Siegel, of Michael Van Valkenburg Associates: designer of the Toyota Children’s Learning Garden. She will give a short garden tour and speak about urban garden design, specifically the shad tolerant planting palette and sustainable technologies in this garden.

August 13, 2009: Chris Collins, Executive Director Solar1, will discuss benefits of renewable energy, the work of Solar1, and how to feasibly incorporate such technologies in your everyday life.

August 27, 2009: GreenItYourself Green Roof Workshop: Lori Gibbs and Atom Cianfarani, believe that living a healthy and environmentally responsible lifestyle should be accessible to everyone! They will teach about green roofing and prove tips and techniques for gardening in small spaces.

September 10, 2009: Marni Horowitz, CEO and founder Alive Structures, will speak about green wall installation and other techniques to make sue of our abundantly available vertical space. She will also discuss ecological gardening practices which mimic natural ecosystems that increase abundance, beauty, and biodiversity.

Space is limited, to RSVP and for more information about New York Restoration Project please contact Rachael Brody, 212-333-2552 or rbrody@nyrp.org

22 July 2009

is the gowanus canal really sponge worthy?

The Gowanus Canal Issues, dlandstudio

Most New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, know the beloved Gowanus Canal is teeming with nasty things: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), petroleum, raw sewage, and even gonorrhea. Since the late 1800s, the canal has been an unregulated dumping grounds for industry along its banks.

The canal is finally getting the attention it needs. Whether it ends up being an EPA Superfund site, or - if Bloomie get's his way - the city cleans it up without the Feds, there is one organization ensuring the clean up and beautification happens - The Gowanus Canal Conservancy.

The Conservancy is working on, among other things, a Sponge Park that will make the Gowanus an inviting place for a leisurely stroll or sit, instead of the putrid, toxified wasteland it currently is. The "sponge" in this case are plants that filter out the nasties (sewage, heavy metals, petrol) that seep into the canal - water which eventually flushes out into the East River and the Atlantic beyond. A tall order indeed, but I'm optimistic that it'll happen. All government agencies are on board and $300,000 was recently earmarked to help fund the park.

You can help out by donating or by volunteering for on one of their Clean & Green days. There's one this Saturday, July 25. Sign up via email:
(include your name, phone number and dates you’d like to participate).

21 July 2009

farm to table guest post

On Sunday, I visited Rooftop Farms, an amazing (as the name suggests) rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Read all about it in this guest post I did on Farm to Table, sustainable food blog and reality show.

brooklyn food coalition general meeting

Do you like food? Do you like food that's healthful and sustainably produced? Want to get involved in shaping the way food is produced and distributed locally?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, come to the first
Brooklyn Food Coalition General Meeting!

What: Brooklyn Food Coalition General Meeting
Why: To approve the mission and structure of the Coalition and the convening of neighborhood groups
When: WEDNESDAY, JULY 22nd from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Brooklyn Ethical Culture Society
53 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Get the full details here.

20 July 2009

why i'm a treehugger

Loving a giant cedar, Glacier National Park

Trees are ridiculously important to the continuation of the human species.

This is what trees do for us:
  • Provide us with oxygen to breathe
  • Filter pollutants from the air
  • Filter pollutants from water
  • Create much-needed shade
  • Cool the planet
  • Provide habitat for birds, bugs, squirrels, monkeys, and many other creatures
  • Create nutrients needed for mushrooms to grow (yum!)
  • Improve our mood
  • Increase property value
  • Some even provide food (fruit and nuts)
Yet, what do we do in return?
  • Chop 'em down.
In the short history of the US, we've destroyed over 95% of old growth forest. Much of this is to create paper. Paper to write on, to wipe our noses with, to wipe our derrieres with. In this clip, David de Rothschild explores this phenomenon:

So what can you do about it?
  • Reduce your paper use. Tips on how here and here
  • If you do buy paper products, be sure they have high post-consumer recycled content and that they are not chlorine bleached
  • Hug a tree once in a while, it really does feel good!

One last note on tree appreciation. William McDonough said in his TED talk,
Imagine this design assignment - design something that...
Sequesters carbon,
Fixes nitrogen,
Distills water,
Accrues solar energy as fuel,
Makes complex sugars and food,
Creates microclimates,
Changes colors with the seasons,
and Self-replicates.

Why don't we knock that down and write on it.
If we all stopped to think of trees this way, perhaps there would be more of them around to help us enjoy life as we know it on this planet.

Check out William McDonough's full TED talk, with lots of other important ideas:

16 July 2009

upcoming events - food, water, walking, and more

Friday, July 17

The Transition Movement Talk
7pm to 8:30pm
(RSVP for location)

The Transition Movement is a method of community organizing and education that builds broad, grassroots support for sustainability while increasing resilience to the climate change, energy and economic crises. The future will be increasingly low carbon and local. Engaging people now in a planned transition will ensure ways of life that are more abundant, fulfilling, equitable, sustainable, and socially connected. Since emerging in Ireland in 2005, the Transition movement has spread virally across the UK and beyond, with hundreds of Transition initiatives now underway. Learn about this rapidly growing global movement. Tina Clarke of the Sustainability Institute has served as director of Greenpeace USA’s citizen action network and as campaign director for Clean Water Action. The Training will show you how to set up a successful Transition Initiative, or to enhance current sustainability projects. Receive imaginative and inspiring tools for community outreach and engagement.

The talk is free, but the subsequent workshop, held over Saturday and Sunday is $250.

More info here

Saturday, July 18

City of Water Day
@ Governor's Island
10am to 4pm

A FREE day of entertainment, education & adventure for the whole family celebrating the potential of our waterfront!

On July 18th thousands from the Tri-State region will float, ferry, paddle, row, splash, canoe, and kayak their way to beautiful Governors Island for the 2nd Annual City of Water Day Festival.

From the upper Hudson to Raritan Bay, we are a City of Water—yet too many of us are cut off from this tremendous resource. Help us revitalize the waterfront with a festival for the entire family.

More info here and here

Sunday, July 19

Rooftop Farms
Farm Market and more!
9am to 4pm

Rooftop Farms, a 6,000 square foot organic vegetable farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

  • 10am-4pm Farm Market! We’re selling straight from the farm. Help keep us packaging-free by bringing your own favorite bag or basket
  • 9am-4pm Volunteers welcome. Email rooftopfarmer@gmail.com for details
  • 2pm Free workshop on urban gardening and farming. Troubleshoot, ask, grow!
More info here

[Tip-off thanks to Judy Harper @ GreenEdgeNYC]

GreenEdge NYC & Green Boroughs Walking Tour
12:45pm to 3pm

The tour on July 19 (register now!) begins in the West Village and ends in Soho. It features a wonderful green bakery, two beautiful community gardens, and a couple of charming green boutiques. The last stop will be the new Green Depot store in Soho. The tour on Sunday, October 25 (register now!) is in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It features a couple of charming green boutiques, 3R Living, a wonderful Revolutionary War museum, and a community garden. All tours have plenty of opportunities to stop and rest, buy a beverage, or use bathroom facilities.

Tickets: Special recession pricing $15! (was $25)

More info here

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Farm Stand
@ The James Beard House
167 West 12 Street
6:30 to 8:30pm

The Food Bank For New York City Young Professionals and James Beard Foundation Greens present The Farm Stand. Proceeds from this event will benefit the Food Bank and the James Beard Foundation. Proceeds will go towards purchasing farm shares at Roxbury Farm to help fill the Food Bank's Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem with seasonal fruit and vegetables for hungry New Yorkers.

Participating Chefs:
  • Daniel Eardley of Chestnut, Brooklyn
  • Shanna Pacifico of Back Forty, Manhattan
  • Matt Weingarten of Inside Park, Manhattan
Tickets are $85; or $75 for James Beard Foundation Members
For reservations, call 212.627.2308 or 1.800.36.BEARD

More info here

[via Manhattan User's Guide]

And in the near future...

Let Us Eat Local
Gala & Award Ceremony
brought to you by Just Food

Wednesday, September 16
6pm to 10pm
Tickets available now at the New York Charities website. Early Bird ticket prices available for a limited time only. Click here to buy your tickets now. General Admission: $150 - early bird $125 VIP: $235 - early bird $215 This year, we will offer tastings from more than 30 of NYC's best restaurants and food producers, including: Angelica Kitchen - Aureole - Blue Hill - Candle 79 - Cookshop / Hundred Acres / Five Points - Da Silvano - Dirt Candy - Gramercy Tavern - Great Performances - The Green Table - Jean Georges - Jimmy's No. 43 - Marlow & Sons - Mas - Pure Food and Wine - Rose Water - Rouge Tomate - Saul - Telepan - The Tipsy Parson - Join us as we celebrate Just Food's delicious mission -- to connect New York City residents with sensational, seasonal, locally grown food.

15 July 2009

growing food in unlikely places

Sales of organic seeds jumped about 50% this year from the last. Books and films about sustainable food are oozing into the mass market. Whether people are starting to care more about where their food comes from or are just looking to save a few bucks, homegrown food is sprouting up everywhere. Even in some unusual places...

A shelf in our office

The flatbed of a pickup truck in Red Hook, Brooklyn

A 6,000 sq ft rooftop in Greenpoint [Rooftop Farms]

A barge (and another barge) in NYC [Waterpod and Science Barge]

[image: NY Times]

Governor's Island [Added Value]

[image: Treehugger]

Where does your garden grow?

14 July 2009

latest brooklyn food conference post

Hey trusty readers, check out my latest post for the Brooklyn Food Conference/Coalition! (click the pic below)

13 July 2009

design for a living world

When I look at the tag inside a t-shirt to find out its origin, that "Made in Bangladesh" label is only telling a tiny part of the story. Sure, the shirt may have been sewn together in Bangladesh, but where was the cotton grown? Where was it spun, woven, and dyed? How many hands touched that one t-shirt in order to be sold in a retail shop in the US?

Design for a Living World, a fairly new exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum developed by The Nature Conservancy, removes the mystery of origin, at least in part, of some of the items we might encounter day to day. It shows us that natural is beautiful and knowing the source and inspiration of design is powerful.

Take, for example, the organic sheep's wool rug designed and knit by Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma. We see the sheep of Lava Lake Ranch in Hailey, Idaho, grazing on pasture. We see the raw materials, the just shorn wool, all balled-up and dirty with brush. And then each subsequent stage of preparation, from the cleaned wool, to the spun yarn, to the giant knitting needles, to the finished product. Many sheep, some farmers, and one woman. There's no questioning the source, the process, the final product.

Several other materials and products are displayed, showing the region of origin, a peek at the people who are stewards of that land, who harvest the materials, and a profile of the designer. Alaskan salmon skin clothing from Isaac Mizrahi, FSC-certified red maple furniture from Maya Lin, and, my favorite, vegetable ivory jewelry of the Pohnpei ivory nut palm tree from Ted Muehling (manta ray earrings below).

Surrounded by these beautifully executed designs, all as sustainably created as possible, I still left wanting more information. How do these products compare to their conventional counterparts? Considering how (relatively) few steps are required, how few hands touched these products, does that make them more or less accessible to the general public? Of course, the designs on display are not meant to be sold in stores, but how could they serve as models for those that are?

I hope that I'm underestimating the impact this exhibit might have on a young designer, or a seasoned designer looking to turn over a new leaf. And I hope that designers like Isaac Mizrahi, who has churned out (not-so-sustainable) designs for Target, and now Liz Claiborne, will not just see this project as a one-off but as a guide for the goods they design in the years to come.

Design for a Living World
Now through January 4, 2010
Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
2 East 91st Street New York, NY 10128 | 212.849.8400

no hunger

As someone who eats on a very regular basis, never in want of food, I cannot fathom what it is like to wonder where my next meal is coming from. When I am hungry, I go to the cupboard or refrigerator, where there is always food stocked from the farmers market or grocery store. I am fortunate to be able to rely on produce that comes from local farms, and have the luxury to buy fresh food that comes from other places in this country, like California.

I recently read a post on elephant journal of a woman who, after returning to the US from a long sojourn in India, visited a supermarket. She literally wept at the bounty around her. We should all be so fortunate to realize the abundance we have.

For millions of children around the world, there is no bounty. There is no corner store, no fruit stand, no supermarket. There is only hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that there are now over 1 billion people worldwide going hungry. Acute malnutrition affects 55 million children globally, resulting in 5 million childhood deaths every year (one child every six seconds). This is a predictable and preventable condition.

No Hunger is an international initiative, started by Action Against Hunger, asking Al Gore to make his next film about global hunger. The website AskAlGore.org features a trailer for No Hunger, and a petition addressed to the former Vice President that will be presented to him this December at the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The hope is that, as An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change, No Hunger will help shift public perceptions of hunger, and attract the support needed to reach every acutely malnourished child.

The treatment for severe acute malnutrition is not expensive—it costs about $50 per child and doesn’t require prescription drugs. Instead, it relies on nutrient dense, ready-to-use food products. These products can take a child from the brink of death and restore him to health in as little as six weeks.

In response to a desperate situation, ready-to-use plumpy'nut provides emergency nutrition to starving children.

09 July 2009

100 coal plants defeated

It's quite a battle -- fighting to end the use of coal as our main source of energy in this country. But Sierra Club just marked the milestone of 100 coal plants defeated or abandoned. Congrats to Sierra Club and the USA for reaching this goal. Of course, there's still more work to be done.

Want to help shift the country from coal? Switch to renewable energy!

In New York
Elsewhere in the States

08 July 2009

celebrate the sun with solar one

This weekend, Friday 7/10 through Sunday 7/12, Solar One Presents City Sol -- Independent Music, Art & Sustainability Festival.

Daily events:
Friday -- 6:00PM - Dance Party
Saturday -- 12:00PM - Live Music Day
Sunday -- 11:00AM - Workshops and the Wide Open Eco-Pet Fashion Show!

Full details:
Since 2004, Solar One has held an annual festival celebrating sustainability and encouraging NYers to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle through fun and informative performances and exhibitions.

The schedule so far for Citysol 2009:

Friday July 10 at 6pm DANCE PARTY
"Mr. Lower East Side" Moonshine Shorey, Poet Extraordinaire
The Alien Comic- Legendary downtown performance artist confronts climate change
Party for a Solar-Powered NY- Join the I Heart PV campaign to increase solar energy generation in NYC! Find out what you can do: talk to a solar installer, write a letter to your legislators in exchange for a free drink, design a solar racecar and enter it in our competition and dance till you drop!
Solar-powered DJs from HomeBase Collective

Saturday July 11 at 12pm LIVE MUSIC DAY
Love Like Deloreans
Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers
The So So Glos
Hi Red Center
DJ Green Lantern
Dead Prez

Sunday July 12 at 11am
The Rachel Show
BioBus Mobile Laboratory
Make Your Own Generator with the Magdagascar Institute
PLUS Workshops, panels and exhibits from a variety of local sustainability organizations- check www.citysol.org for details, coming soon!

AND... Beer!
Bring your own cup, Get a discount on beer! Reuse the cup you get, Get a discount on beer! Write a letter for The I HEART PV CAMPAIGN, Get a beer on the house!

Event sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery

Here's how you get there:

06 July 2009

kripalu center for yoga & health

The beautiful grounds of Kripalu

Want to improve your health, get centered, cultivate peace in your life, and enjoy the company of the friendliest strangers you'll ever meet? Sounds like a tall order, but that's exactly what's offered at Kripalu center for yoga and health in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

I got back from there last Wednesday and I'm still totally blissed out.

Before I planned my trip, I perused the catalog for all of their program offerings. I think I circled a workshop on every page, from meditation intensives to yoga for my aching wrists and shoulders. So many programs appealed to me. In the end, I chose to do a simple Retreat and Renewal (R&R) package, a go-at-your-own-pace set up.

My friend Jane and I drove up on Sunday and jumped right in with a massage (not included in the R&R package). After that, we had a delicious dinner - all the food at Kripalu is organic and local whenever possible. The rest of the time was filled with yoga classes, hikes, leisurely walks on the grounds, and more amazing meals - all part of R&R (as were the accommodations).

Monk's pond, a popular stop on morning hikes

It's a trip I won't soon forget. Mindful meditation and slow-paced days will do that to you.

But one of the most memorable happenings had more to do with the local fauna than the local positive vibrations. After dinner one night, Jane and I wandered the grounds and settled on some old steps on a hill, remnants of the old estate which used to preside there. Out of the corner of my eye, a big fuzzy black thing ambled down the hill less than 50 feet away. I grabbed Jane's arm. She took one look at the shock on my face and turned to face the animal. We both sat stiller than trees on a windless day. The black bear stopped, feeling our fear. She sniffed at the air in our direction. No muscle twitched, no eyelash batted. She turned to face the wooded area at the base of the hill. We waited a couple of beats before rising to go while "Mama Bear" crunched and crackled the branches in the woods.

Everyone in our path on the return to the building was subjected to our story. The security guard on duty told us he's seen Mama Bear a bunch of times (he's the one who calls her that), noting that she was a pretty big lady. We heartily agreed.

Jane re-enacting the bear's path

Aside from the excitement provided by the bear, I enjoyed the beauty of smaller fauna (birds, bees, dragonflies, butterflies) and flora (sweet-smeling wildflowers, the fresh aroma of pine) on nature hikes or while doing walking meditation in the labyrinth.

I definitely see a return trip in my future.

blueberries are in!

I don't usually think of summer as a time to bake. In fact, if you can't take the heat of the oven and end up offsetting it with air conditioning, summer baking can be a pretty wasteful endeavor. But blueberries are in season and I had the craving for a good, healthful blueberry muffin. It doesn't hurt our energy bill that we don't have an air conditioner in this part of the apartment -- and I don't mind sweating a bit.

I like to experiment in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking. I'm often not satisfied with a recipe as is, and like to doctor it up or combine two or three recipes. When I was a bit younger, I was apprehensive about messing with a baking recipe. I was always told it was like chemistry, one misstep and it blows up in your face -- or at the very least it won't taste like it should. Somewhere along the way I dropped this notion and decided to take a risk. I've found that, for the most part, a little adaptation isn't a bad thing, and it often turns out in your favor.

Case in point: the spelt almond blueberry/cranberry muffins I made this afternoon. Here's my recipe, adapted from Healthy Green Lifestyle and Bob's Red Mill:

Dry stuff:
2 1/4 cups organic spelt flour
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups almond pulp (leftover from making almond milk - sans sweeteners or vanilla)

Wet stuff:
3 organic, free-range eggs
1/4 cup local buckwheat honey
1 1/4 cup almond milk (see above)
2 teaspoons organic vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) local pastured butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 3/4 cups local blueberries
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. [NB - I usually do this about 3/4 of the way into prepping the ingredients so as not to waste too much gas (or electricity, depending on your oven)].

Combine dry ingredients, stirring in almond pulp last.

In a separate mixing bowl, whip eggs. Whip in honey, almond milk, and vanilla. Then add the slightly cooled melted butter, being careful not to cook the eggs.

Gently mix dry and wet ingredients. Do not over stir. The mix should be lumpy.

Fold in blueberries and cranberries. Blueberries and cranberries can be dusted with flour prior to folding into the mix.

Spoon mix into a greased or lined 12-cup muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Cool and enjoy!

A couple of notes:

  • If you like a sweeter muffin, use 1 1/4 cups sugar plus honey, or substitute with 3/4 organic brown sugar
  • This recipe can also be made with 1 tablespoon oil instead of butter

follow this man: will allen

If you didn't catch this weekend's New York Times Magazine, you missed out on an article about one of the best role models for young Americans, and heck, old ones too. Will Allen -- urban farmer, master composter, down-to-earth guy -- is creating a community of people who care more about the food they put in their bodies, especially city dwellers who don't have access to healthful food.

An excerpt:

Like others in the so-called good-food movement, Allen, who is 60, asserts that our industrial food system is depleting soil, poisoning water, gobbling fossil fuels and stuffing us with bad calories. Like others, he advocates eating locally grown food. But to Allen, local doesn’t mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project.

And this is why Allen is so fond of his worms. When you’re producing a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of food in such a small space, soil fertility is everything. Without microbe- and nutrient-rich worm castings (poop, that is), Allen’s Growing Power farm couldn’t provide healthful food to 10,000 urbanites — through his on-farm retail store, in schools and restaurants, at farmers’ markets and in low-cost market baskets delivered to neighborhood pickup points. He couldn’t employ scores of people, some from the nearby housing project; continually train farmers in intensive polyculture; or convert millions of pounds of food waste into a version of black gold.

Read the rest