Friday, February 19, 2010

Making the most of your CFL's

We all know that swapping out old incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is one painless way to reduce your annual power bill. (Lights account for about 5% of overall household power use). CFLs use 75 percent less energy than their incandescent counterparts and last up to 10 times longer. When you do the light bulb math each CFL bulb can prevent more than 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. And depending on electrical rates you could save about $80 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

If you’re going to make this worthwhile investment (and it is an investment, considering the cost) you’ll want to ensure each bulb lasts a good long time.

A friend was complaining recently that CFL bulbs in his home weren’t lasting nearly as long as they were supposed to. We were noticing the same thing so I did some research and discovered a few tips to help extend the life of your pricey bulbs:

- In fixtures on a dimmer switch use dimmable CFLs (should be stated on the packaging). Dimmers shorten the life of regular CFLs.

- CFLs are best in areas where they’re likely to be on for 15 minutes at a time or longer. Using them in places where they’ll be turned on and off frequently (like closets and bathrooms) will shorten their life.

- For totally enclosed fixtures buy bulbs that state clearly on that packaging that they’re designed for this use.

- If the bulb has been used according to the manufacturer’s instructions and still burns out early you may be eligible for a refund or a replacement. Energy Star certified bulbs carry at least a two-year warranty (covering manufacturer defects). The catch is that you need to save your receipts and contact the manufacturer directly.

Something else you need to know about CFL bulbs is that they all contain mercury. As a result they’re considered household hazardous waste and cannot go in the regular trash. Spent bulbs can be taken to the Crane Mountain Household Hazardous Waste Facility (Saturday mornings) or to convenient drop-off boxes at Home Depot. The mercury is recycled into new bulbs.

Because of the mercury you should be careful where you use the bulbs. Basically anywhere with a higher risk of breakage is not a good spot for a CFL (ex. lamps in children’s rooms or table lamps in high traffic areas).

If you break a bulb you should open a window, leave the room and close the door, turn off the air exchange system and go looking for a glass screw top jar and a roll of duct tape. After 15 minutes you can go back in (wearing gloves), put the glass fragments in the jar and use the tape to pick up the tiny bits. Put the tape in the jar too and use a damp cloth to wipe the area. Put the cloth in the jar, screw on the lid and take it to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility.

This is the ultra-conservative clean up method suggested by Energy Star. Apparently the overall the health risk is minimal (each bulb contains just a fraction of the mercury contained in a silver filling).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Soup can be a satisfying and speedy supper

Lentil soup

This recipe came from a dear friend who used to make it with green lentils but grabbed faster-cooking red lentils once. The result is a thick and satisfying soup that’s ready to eat in under an hour. You’ll see that grating the carrots and dicing the potatoes into tiny cubes also help it cook up quickly. Adding the red pepper at the end gives the soup a lovely red-orange hue.

More time savers: I buy organic carrots and organic, thin skinned potatoes so don’t bother to peel them. I simply give them a quick scrub before grating or chopping.

2 T oil
2 onions, finely diced
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or put through a press
3-5 medium carrots, grated
2-3 medium potatoes, chopped into little cubes
2 cups crushed tomatoes or chunky tomato sauce
About 7 cups of water or broth or a combination of both
2 cups of red lentils
1 bay leaf
1 red pepper, whirred in a food processor
Sea salt & pepper to taste
Good squeeze of lemon

In a large soup pot over medium heat saute the onions in the oil until soft then add the garlic. Stir a bit then add the potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes then add the carrots, tomatoes, water or broth, and bay leaf. Give it all a good stir, cover and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, stir again, and cover. Let it simmer away, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the whirred red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in your favourite herbs (fresh or dried) and serve with a good squeeze of lemon and feta crumbled over or grated parmesan.

My current favourite herb with this soup is fresh cilantro. But if I don't have any on hand I switch to dried thyme or oregano.

Add chopped cauliflower to the vegetable mixture
Toss in 1-2 cups of cooked chickpeas near the end
Add 1-2 cups of chopped spinach or swiss chard just before serving

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to eat organic and stretch your food dollar

When it comes to buying produce I often get asked what my preference is – local or organic. Buying local is definitely my preference but it doesn’t mean I always choose local over organic. Throughout the growing season it is easy enough to find local growers supplying organic produce so I get the best of both worlds. But when I don’t have local options that are also organic I’m choosey. Likewise, there are lots of items that I don’t bother to buy organic, even if I have a choice.

I know this sounds confusing so I’ll explain.

In conventional farming today there are a lot of chemicals in play. There are petroleum-based fertilizers that contain heavy metals and there is a crazy array of pesticides that are used in various combinations to kill insects, plants and fungi, in order to grow “perfect” produce. All of these chemicals make their way to our tables in various amounts when we eat non-organic produce. Eating organic is a way to avoid them.

The selective shopping that I explained above is my way to limit the amount of chemicals that my family ingests. Here’s how I manage it without tying myself in knots at the grocery store.

I have a handy guide that helps me decide what to buy organic and what non-organic fruits and vegetables are okay to eat. It’s all based on the amount of pesticide residue commonly found on the produce (after it has been prepared the usual way). My guide lists the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue and the 12 with the highest.

The lists are published by Environmental Working Group (EWG) an environmental research organization based in the U.S. I last wrote about their findings in 2008 but they have since updated their lists based on a recent analysis of data (gathered by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food & Drug Administration.)

“Clean 15”
To help your food dollars go further you can feel comfortable consuming non-organic versions of these fruits and vegetables:
Sweet corn (frozen)
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet potato

“Dirty Dozen”
These are the foods with the highest pesticide residue so you’ll want to buy organic. Or consider limiting your consumption of non-organic versions of these foods.

Bell pepper
Imported grapes (outside of Canada & US)

The lists are a great tool to help you make good use of your food dollars and still eat well. Plus they provide some helpful guidance on when to buy local. To print out a tidy wallet guide visit On that site you’ll also find a complete list of 47 fruits and vegetables tested and more info in the study methodology.