Monday, May 31, 2010

Eco-friendly mowers

I love the smell of fresh-cut grass but don’t care for all that goes along with it: the noise, the exhaust fumes, the smell of spilled gasoline.

Gas-powered mowers pollute way beyond their worth. An hour of mowing with a traditional gas-powered mower pollutes as much as driving 320 kilometers in a typical car. So throughout the mowing season obsessive mowers could be polluting the equivalent of a 4,000 km road trip while never leaving the yard. Environment Canada estimates emissions from off-road engines (lawn mowers included) make up about 9% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. On top of this, millions of gallons of gas are spilled each year by owners refilling their mowers.

I agree that mowing is a necessary evil but there are less evil ways to cut the grass. A goat would be my preferred but for all sorts of practical reasons that solution doesn’t suit our household (or neighbourhood).

For several years we used a reel mower – one of those old-fashioned-looking push mowers. The new versions are much lighter than the tank I recall in the corner of our basement when I was little. A reel mower is great for biceps, and offers a practical solution for nice flat lawns that aren’t too big. They’re quiet enough for early morning mowing and don’t pollute. Ours however became too much work for our large bumpy yard. Based on observation (I don’t mow, I garden) lawn mowing as an athletic workout for my husband lost its charm after five summers of pushing.

Figuring we needed a new, but still eco-friendly, way to mow he did a little research on rechargeable mowers and just this week came home with an Earthwise cordless electric mower. Electric mowers are great for many reasons. They’re quieter than gas-powered mowers, reduce pollution from mowing by about 90% and use only as much power as a toaster. Over the summer an electric mower will use roughly $5 worth of power.

I was inspired to give ours a try and was impressed. What I love about this new mower is that it’s easy to start; you just insert a key and pull a lever (no yanking on a cord). I found it heavy but not too heavy to push comfortably (ours has a 20” cutting path so is on the bigger side). It cut easily through thick grass and mulches the clippings so they’re left to nourish the lawn. Best of all I wasn’t walking through a path of smog that is typical for gas-powered mowers.

The battery lasts an hour, which is about enough mowing for me and recharges overnight. If you’re in the market for a mower there are several cordless options to choose from. We bought ours at Kent Building Supplies but Home Depot carries several brands too. If you’d prefer to try a reel mower they’re easy to find. I have even noticed a few promoted in hardware store flyers recently.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bringing Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" to your table

Fresh cut shoestring fries

The key to making these oven-baked fries crispy is to cut them as thinly as possible

One sweet potato
3 medium potatoes
2 T olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Peel potatoes or just give them a good scrub if they’re thin skinned. (Sweet potato will have to be peeled).

Slice them as thinly as possible and toss in a bowl with oil and salt and pepper.

Spread in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. (Oil the sheet lightly if you don’t have parchment paper).

Bake at 450 for about half an hour (or until they’re crisp to your liking), moving them around the baking sheet every 10 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and serve at once.

Great variation:
In addition to the salt and pepper toss with ¼ t Chili powder and ¼ t oregano.

Quinoa salad with peppers and peas
This grain cooks quickly, has a wonderful texture and is especially nutritious. This recipe works well with rice, barley and bulgar too.

1 ½ cups quinoa
3 cups water or broth
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas, boiled for one minute
2 T (or to taste) of whatever fresh herb you have on hand.


Juice & zest of one lemon
5 T olive oil
1 T honey or maple syrup
Sea salt & pepper

Put quinoa and water in a medium pot. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook until water is absorbed (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Scrape into a bowl.

Meanwhile, scrub the pepper well before dicing.
Add the pepper and peas to the quinoa and toss with dressing (you won’t need the whole batch).

Season with salt and pepper.

Shave red cabbage overtop before serving (very pretty).
Add finely diced mango instead of the peas and use lime juice in the dressing
Add chopped baby spinach or arugula

Speedy salmon burgers
My kids devour these like they're cookies.

1 lb raw salmon or trout
1 large potato, boiled and mashed
1 egg, beaten
½ cup panko or dry breadcrumbs
1 T plain yogurt
Salt & pepper
3 T fresh herbs (Chives, dill or tarragon) or 1 t dried
Good squeeze of lemon

Chop the fish and mix with remaining ingredients.
Form into 3” mini burgers and fry in oil until cooked, flipping halfway through.

Works with other fish too.
Try patting in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) before frying.

Greening-up your diet just got easier

If you’re on a mission to green-up your diet and are looking for some quick guidance you’re in luck, Michael Pollan has a new book that proves it really isn’t that complicated to adopt a diet that’s healthier for you and the planet. Titled Food Rules, it’s a 140-page paperback that can be read in an hour but you might want to read it more than once and may be leave it on the counter as a reminder.

Pollan has written a couple of great books on how to eat but in this new book he has distilled his key ideas into dozens of easy-to-understand (some highly amusing) statements about what and how to eat. If ever there was a Coles Notes for eating well (in the green sense of the word) this book is it.

As I have mentioned before, I often get asked for green eating guidance. I only wish I was as clever and concise with my advice as Pollan. He’s the guy who summed up his food philosophy in seven words: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” By this he means eat whole food that you have prepared yourself, rather than prepackaged, highly processed edibles. He recommends that everyone eat more vegetables and treat meat more like a condiment. And in the context of these first two principles he recommends that we spend more on quality ingredients and eat less overall.

If you’re wondering where to begin with greening your diet the format of Pollan’s book works really well. He offers 64 starting points (what he calls rules) that make perfect sense and are so memorable that they’ll be running through your head at the grocery store just like a catchy tune.

Here are a few of my favourites:

-Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
-It’s not food if it arrives through the window of your car.
-Avoid foods that you see advertised on television.
-Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
-Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
-Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.

Pollan is tough on highly processed foods, calling them “edible foodlike substances” and he backs up his criticism with a mix of facts and opinion that might have you feeling a little sheepish, depending on how you feel about your current diet. But he does end with the rule “Break the rules once in a while” because eating well most of the time is what we all need.

If you’re looking for more ways to green-up your diet I’ll be speaking about food at the Maritime Green Living Expo at the Trade & Convention Centre on Sunday, May 30.