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Wordless Wednesday: Future Foods Farms

I had the opportunity to tour Future Foods Farms in Brea this week. I met Chef Adam and heard all about the sustainable aquaponic farming techniques he has pioneered. I could not be more impressed. This is truly the future of farming.

Lots of details coming in my March OC Metro article, but thought I’d share some of the pictures I took of their beautiful greens in the meantime.

Future Foods Farms

Cheers to healthy eating and the people who make it possible!

Wordless Wednesday: Rancho Las Lomas

There is a place near where I live called Rancho Las Lomas. Home to many exotic birds and animals, including a bengal tiger and two white tigers.

It’s a private residence, open for private functions only, and host to weddings almost weekly. Occasionally though, it’s open to the public, like this past Sunday when they hosted “Christmas in the Cages”.

My favorite part though is the scenery – trees, little buildings, fountains, creeks.

Rancho Las Lomas

My sister actually took these pictures on my iPhone. She made me enjoy the moment in spite of the drizzly weather. She’s bossy like that.

If you ever get a chance to check it out, go. A unique hidden gem in Orange County.

DIY Granite Cleaner

A good vinegar and water solution will clean just about anything, but there are some exceptions. Vinegar, along with any citrus-based cleaner, is not good for granite. It’s too acidic. Over time, it will dull and scratch your beautiful stone. (Also DO NOT use Windex on granite –  it strips the counter of it’s sealant).

Granite is a porous stone the requires a special type of cleaner. There are plenty of safe, natural granite cleaners available (Method and Howard’s Naturals are two I like), but I haven’t found a granite cleaner for under $8 anywhere.

I like to clean my granite counter tops A LOT, so I went looking for something homemade (read – safe and cheap).

I didn’t make up this recipe. I grabbed it from a site called Mama Cheaps. Here is that recipe along with my modifications:

1/4 cup rubbing alcohol or vodka
3 drops of dish detergent
1 cup water
A few drops of essential oil (to make it smell pretty)

I used vodka instead of rubbing alcohol . Vodka of the Gods to be exact, so fancy – or, Trader Joe’s cheapest brand.

I have a large spray bottle so I doubled the recipe. And because it’s the holidays, I used a few drops of peppermint oil. It smells like Christmas every time I clean the counters!

DIY Granite Cleaner

I don’t know precisely the cost of 1/4 cup of vodka, three drops of dish soap and a few drops of essential oil, but I can tell you one thing – it’s a fraction of the $8-$10 cost of over-the-counter granite cleaner.

This recipe, an empty spray bottle (you can even reuse your store-bought bottle) and a soft cloth is all you need to keep your granite sparkling clean – at a fraction of the cost!

The Problem with Your Kids Following You on Instagram

Our after-school conversation today:

My daughter: “Mom, did you know that you posted a picture of eggs on Instagram?”

Me: “Yes! It’s the new packaging of the organic Costco eggs! It’s recycled plastic now instead of styrofoam. Isn’t that cool? I’m so excited. I have written to Costco, and tweeted them, and I kept asking them to change it and the finally did!”

Radio silence and blank stares

My son: “But why did you have to take a picture of it?”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry, was that wrong? Okay, then tomorrow I’ll just post a bunch of selfies instead of posting about green things. How about that? Does that work for you?”

Cue synchronized eye roll.

Me: “Okay then, glad we had this conversation. Next time I need your advice on what to post on Instagram, I’ll ask.”

The controversial photo that caused childhood embarrassment –

IMG_2256

And that, among many, is my problem with my kids being on Instagram. I’ve previously been told that I post too many photos of food, my writing is too “formal”, and generally, I’m just kind of a dork.

It really is amazing that I have made it this far in life without them. I mean, how did I do it?

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: “Unsolicited advice….always welcome.”

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing & Evaluation

After determining that you want to go solar and deciding how you want to finance your project, you move on to making final decisions about your system and energy needs.

At this point, the solar company sends out an engineering team to verify that the initial architectural plan is doable and feasible. The team gets up on the roof, crawls through the attic, checks the current electrical system, and takes lots of lots of measurements and pictures.

This all leads to the final architectural plan. In our case, it did vary slightly from the original plan. The actual capacity of our roof to house the panels was a bit off, and our system is going to be just slightly less powerful than the original plan.

After the final solar architecture is done, the next step in Solar City’s process is to conduct a Home Energy Evaluation, a comprehensive audit of how your homes uses – and loses – energy.

During the evaluation, a team of people arrive your house, crawl through your attic, check your heating and air conditioning systems, and use crazy contraptions like these…

…to analyze the “leakage” of your heating and cooling systems.

They also check every appliance, every light bulb, and every window and crevice of your home.

They crunch all that information and provide you with a report card of the energy usage of your home.

The good news for us is that overall, our home is pretty efficient. It is well insulated, with little “leakage” of air from the outside in, and vice versa. Our dual-speed pool pump is a huge savings, as well as our LED and CFL light bulbs.

A few things they did recommend: eliminate one or more refrigerators (we have a kitchen fridge, garage fridge, wine refrigerator, and kegorator – yes, I know, it’s total over consumption – perhaps the next episode of ecofessions?); upgrade to more efficient air conditioning units; add an extra layer of insulation in the attic; and continue replacing any remaining incandescent lights with LED or CFL bulbs.

The good news is that although our system is slightly smaller than originally planned, by incorporating some of these energy-saving measures, we can keep our solar energy to on-the-grid energy ratio in tact from the original plan.

So now we are one step closer in the process. One step closer to our goal of living off-the-grid as much as possible. Getting closer…

Next up…part four, applying for government rebates and getting association approval (the most entertaining part so far, I promise).

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Wordless Wednesday: Perspective

On my drive to vote yesterday, I pulled over to snap this photo.

This drive (back in Trabuco Canyon) is simply stunning.

Pausing to enjoy it helped ease the stress and anxiety I was feeling.

It also reminded me that no matter who or what we vote for, we all have similar reasons to vote. We vote for freedom. We vote for democracy. We vote because we have hope (for a better future, a better planet, a better world for our children). Our definitions of what that world looks like may be different, but the feeling of hope is not.

You can choose to see the rays of sunshine finding their way through the trees, or you can choose to focus on the shadows.

Either way, both of them always have been, and always will be there.

I choose the light.

Ecofessions: Episode I – To Color or not to Color

I am starting a new feature on my blog that I’m calling ecofessions (a word, which I may have invented, or maybe I heard it somewhere else, anyway that’s not the point)…

Ecofessions is where I “fess up” to the things that I do that are not so green.

I just think sometimes, life is hard enough, that sweating over every little thing – is it good for me, is it going to cause cancer, is it bad for the environment – is all just too much sometimes. And then things happen like Hurricane Sandy, and you see that life is really about the big stuff, not all the little things we worry about most of the time.

Believe me, I’m the biggest offender. Shopping with me is no picnic (just ask my hubby). One trip through the store with me (is it organic? is that coffee fair trade? do those eggs say free range?) and he’s just about done. “I’m so glad you do this during the week when I’m at work.” I think was his most recent comment.

But, those are the pressures I put on myself. I’m not here to load guilt on to you. So, just thought I’d start sharing some of my sins to all things green and eco-friendly.

I’m still new to this whole vlogging thing, so excuse my imperfect editing. I’m working on it. 🙂

Here is Episode I of Ecofessions:

Happy Friday everyone. Go enjoy some Halloween candy and a great glass of wine. Life is short. Count your blessings and enjoy!

Allie’s List: Wahoo’s Fish Tacos

Those of you who know me probably know I’m a big Wahoo’s fan. I am there atleast once a week with the E-man (my son) when he has minimum day. It’s our “weekly date” now that he and his sister are going to different schools for the first time since Kindergarten.

The reasons to love Wahoo’s are many – quality, healthy food, fresh ingredients, fast service –  all at a reasonable price. We can feed our family of four for around $20.00! Or $25.00 if my husband and I splurge on a beer-of-the-month (just $1.95 each).

But upon closer inspection, Wahoo’s does pretty well when measured against some green, eco-friendly criteria. I wouldn’t rate is at a ten, but it’s not an offender either.

The food is fresh, with healthy, quality ingredients. My favorite thing is the fresh salsa – a blend of fresh tomatoes, cilantro, onions and peppers. I always order extra, and they happily bring it to my table.

The fish they serve is mainly wahoo. A cousin of mackerel, wahoo is found in warm oceans around the world. In the Pacific, they’re harvested as non-target catch in troll and long-line fisheries – meaning they are caught as fisherman target tunas and other fish. Most of the wahoo in the U.S. market comes from Hawaii, where the fish is nicknamed “Ono,” the Hawaiian word for “delicious.”

No regulations currently apply to wahoo specifically and they are not found on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Guide. So we can only go with what we know – wahoo fish grow quickly and their biology makes them resilient to fishing pressure. Catch trends have so far indicated that this is true, and regulations are not yet necessary. However, because they are caught on longline, they are subject to several regulations put in place to reduce the impact of troll and longline fisheries in general, as to their impact on other species.

For these reasons – current lack of wahoo research and possible sea turtle bycatch (as a result of longline fishing) – The Monterey Bay  Aquarium Seafood Watch (the expert voice on this subject in my opinion) considers wahoo a “Good Alternative” rather than a “Best Choice.”

Okay, good but not best. I can live with that.

For non-meat eaters, or those (like me) reducing their meat consumption, Wahoo’s also has a number of vegetarian options of the menu. My favorite is the mini Wafu bowl, a mixture of sauteed polynesian tofu, mixed bonzai veggies and a choice of white or brown rice – I always go with brown. I throw my extra salsa on the top, and it’s a good, healthy meal for under $6.

I am also very pleased that all the serving pieces in their restaurants, from cups to plates to utensils are reusable – not something you generally find in a “fast-food” environment.

And they have great community promotions – like the one they are running right now. From November 1-4th, you can trade in your Halloween candy for a free kid’s meal. Just load a bag up with candy, bring it in along with a printed card for the promotion, and get a free kid’s meal. Don’t have a card? No problem, just go to this link on Wahoo’s blog, and print one out.

We went today. My son said goodbye to some of his candy – he wouldn’t part with all so I let him keep some of it – and hello to a free kid’s meal.

Candy is donated to a charitable organization. I inquired at my local Wahoo’s and they said it was a “children’s charity” but weren’t sure of the exact name. I have sent a tweet to Wahoo’s for clarification and will update this post when I hear back from them.

With all of that said about the good side of Wahoo’s, there are a few areas where Wahoo’s does not rate well on my green scale.

The first is on their to-go packaging. Most locations that I have visited still use styrofoam – boo! If you order in bulk, like for a party, it comes in aluminum trays, but individual to-go orders are in styrofoam containers.

Also, I would like to see Wahoo’s be a bit more transparent in their food sourcing – more like the Chipotle model.

Changing to a more sustainable packaging for to-go items and improving their transparency in ingredients would be two changes that would fit perfectly in with their surf, beach culture, and I think would seriously boost their customer trust and loyalty.

Considering everything, Wahoo’s still lands on the “good” side of Allie’s list. Not a ten, more like a seven or eight, but for a healthy, sit-down meal for a family of four, for just $20, how can you beat it?

And remember to always leave a tip for those nice servers who bring and clear all your food from your table. It makes them happy and you can count it as good karma. 🙂

Plastics by the Numbers

I get asked a lot about plastics. I think it’s because many people are confused about the different types of plastics, what is and is not recyclable, and what all those little numbers in triangles mean.

Plastics are a big problem. They are made from a non-renewable source (petroleum), can leach toxins into your food or drink, and some types are virtually unrecyclable.

In my ideal world, we wouldn’t use plastic at all. However, that’s pretty unrealistic so what’s the answer? I think it’s to use plastics more wisely and more sparingly. You can reduce your use of disposable plastic. You can also choose safer plastics, particularly for those items that are likely to come into contact with your mouth –  the most common way the chemicals in plastic enter our bodies.

The first step to choosing safer plastics is to understand what the numbers represent. So turn your plastic container over, check out the number inside the triangle, and read on to see what those numbers mean.

Safer plastics include:

  • #1 PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate)  – this plastic is used for most clear beverage bottles, such as water bottles, and two-liter soda bottles. It is one of the most commonly recycled plastics on the planet. The key here is to think about the No. 1 meaning “one-time use”. So don’t reuse single-use plastics. They can break down and release chemicals into your food or beverage when used repeatedly.
  • #2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – used to make most milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and laundry detergent bottles. Because No. 2 plastic has been found not to leach, many reusable water bottles are now made from this plastic rather than No. 7 as they were previously.
  • #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) – used in most plastic shopping bags, food storage bags, some cling wraps and some squeeze bottles.
  • #5 PP (polypropylene) – used in opaque, hard containers, including some baby bottles, cups and bowls, and reusable storage container (i.e. Tupperware). Drinking straws, yogurt containers, and cottage cheese containers are sometimes made with this. This plastic has a higher temperature limit than the others, so it is sometimes referred to as “food-grade plastic”.

Avoid These Plastics:

  • #3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – commonly called “vinyl” is used in commercial plastic wraps and salad dressing bottles, shower curtains, and believe it or not, kids toys, backpacks, lunch bags, and binders. PVC contains phthalate (softeners need to make the plastic bend) and they have been found to interfere with hormonal development. The production of and burning of PVC plastic releases dioxin, a known carcinogen, into the atmosphere. It’s bad for our health and bad for the environment.
  • #6 PS (polystyrene)  – used in Styrofoam cups, meat trays and “clam-shell”-type containers. No. 6 plastics can release potentially toxic materials (including styrene), especially when heated. Yep, that’s right, when heated. So that insulated Styrofoam coffee cup and the “to go” container that you put hot food in, well those don’t seem like such a good idea do they? Also, styrofoam is the largest contributor to ocean plastic pollution and is virtually unrecyclable.
  • #7 Other  – A wide-range of plastic containers are lumped into this category – basically any plastic not rated 1-6. The plastic to be concerned about in this category are the hard polycarbonate plastic bottles which contain bisphenol-A (BPA). No. 7 plastic is used in some reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and some metal can linings. Soft or cloudy colored plastic is not polycarbonate. Avoid polycarbonate, especially for children’s food and drinks. Trace amounts of BPA can migrate from these containers, particularly if used for hot food or liquids.

In addition to understanding the numbers, you can also use plastics more safely by following these tips:

  • Don’t microwave in plastic containers. Heat can break down plastics and release chemical additives into your food and drink. Use ceramic or glass instead. Cover food in the microwave with a paper towel instead of plastic wrap.
  • Use plastic containers for cool liquids only, not hot.
  • Don’t reuse single-use plastics (the number one – PET plastics). They can break down and release plastics chemicals when used repeatedly.
  • Do not use old, scratched plastic containers. Exposures to plastics chemicals may be greater when the surface is worn down.
  • Wash plastics on the top rack of the dishwasher, farther from the heating element, or by hand.
  • When using an electric mixer, use a glass or metal bowl instead of plastic to avoid chipping bits of plastic into your food.
  • Use wooden cutting boards instead of plastic ones.
  • Pick a cotton shower curtain instead of vinyl.
  • Choose glass or BPA-free baby bottles with a clear silicone nipple.
  • Avoid plastic to mouth contact, especially for babies and kids. Give your baby natural teethers like frozen washcloths.
  • Look for toys made of natural materials, like wool, cotton, and uncoated wood.
  • To avoid PVC in school supplies, check out the Center for Health Environment and Justice’s (CHEJBack-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, which lists the most common back-to-school supplies made out of toxic PVC and suggests safer PVC-free products in over 20 product categories.

Finally, when rethinking and reducing your plastic, remember to recycle any that you don’t need or don’t feel safe using any more. Keep in mind that No. 1 and No. 2 are almost universally recyclable. Other numbers depend upon your trash service provider.

If you are serviced by Waste Management in Orange County, you can go to this page of their website, select your service area, and bring up a list of the types of plastics they accept for recycling in your curbside bin. In my service area (County of Orange Unincorporated), Waste Management accepts plastics numbered 1-7 for recycling.

To simplify plastics recycling, here is the basic rule of thumb – if the plastic bottle has a neck that’s smaller than the body and has “alor2” symbol on the bottom, nearly every recycling program will accept it.

And due to recent changes in the recycling process, you can now leave your caps on the bottles when you recycle them. Yay, no more removing and trashing the caps prior to recycling!

Allie’s List: The Bagel Shack

This is the first installment of something I am calling “Allie’s List”, where I review local restaurants and businesses in terms of their “greeness”. I will look at things like food sourcing, packaging, waste, etc. I’m not saying it’s totally scientific – just one green girl’s opinion.

For my first post, I want to talk about a place called The Bagel Shack, which has three locations in Orange County – San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and El Toro.

I stopped by the El Toro location a couple of weeks ago. After dropping my daughter off at practice early Saturday morning, I headed over to Home Depot to pick up some supplies for our weekend projects.

I was STARVING, and craving and egg and cheese bagel, when I looked across the parking lot and saw The Bagel Shack. Woo-hoo, I was so excited.

I was less excited when I walked up and saw a line out the door. But then I figured, hey, the place must be good if this many people are in line.

While I was waiting, I saw someone walk by me with a styrofoam cup. “Well, I’m not getting a drink (I already had my coffee in my reusable mug), so it’s okay.” I said to myself.

Then, another person walked by me with a styrofoam box with a bagel inside. “Well, I’m not getting it to-go so it’s okay.” I justified.

But then, one person after another after another walked by with a box of styrofoam with a bagel inside. Now I realized, THEY PUT EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL BAGEL IN A STYROFOAM BOX – even for those customers who were eating in the restaurant.

By the way, styrofoam (the technical term is Polystyrene) is pretty much the worst packaging on the planet. I could go on and on about how awful it is. Here are just a few of the problems:

  • Once in the marine environment polystyrene kills marine wildlife because it mimics food but causes starvation or choking if ingested.  Polystyrene food packaging contributes disproportionally to oceanic plastic pollution.  Over 80% of this plastic pollution comes from urban litter.*
  • No polystyrene food packaging is recycled anywhere in California, although the plastic industry has attempted to recycle polystyrene transport packaging (at a cost of thousands of dollars per ton).  Most curbside recycling programs in California do not accept any polystyrene plastic resin because it contaminates recycling and is too easily accidentally littered in transportation. *
  • Polystyrene food packaging is extremely costly to local governments, some of whom are required by law to achieve “zero” trash litter in impaired waterways.  Litter clean-up costs billions, and yet is still ineffective. Polystyrene litter must be stopped at its source.*

For me, my complete ban of styrofoam started after my kids and I participated in a beach cleanup where we literally cleaned up tiny pieces of styrofoam from our local beaches for almost an entire day. And we just scratched the surface. The tiny pieces of styrofoam went on and on and on.

Right then and there, we pledged to never, ever, ever…use styrofoam again.

So there I was in line at The Bagel Shack and I was shocked – I could not believe it. I mean, how easy is it to just wrap a bagel up in some paper and send the person on their way? Really, a styrofoam box for EVERY SINGLE BAGEL? Why on earth is that necessary?

So, I did the only thing I could, I turned around and left – hungry and depressed.

And then, I found them on Twitter and sent them a quick tweet to let them know how I felt.

And now, two weeks later, they still have not answered me.

So that friends, is why The Bagel Shack – no matter how good their bagels may taste – is on the “bad” side of Allie’s List.

I wish that they weren’t because the bagels look quite tasty. But to me, nothing served in a styrofoam box, no matter how mouth-watering, is worth eating.

So Bagel Shack, please clean up your act. Start wrapping your bagels in paper (non-toxic, biodegradable, safe for food contact) and get back to me. Because those bagels really did smell so good…

* Information taken from website of Californian’s Against Waste.