Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eco-friendly picnics and backyard barbeques

Outdoor entertaining, everyday family dinners al fresco and picnics at the beach are some of the great pleasures of summer. There’s something about being outside, among nature, that makes a meal taste better, a gathering more enjoyable, an outing especially memorable.

So why then does all of the outdoor enjoyment often lead to a lot of unnecessary trash and generally eco-unfriendly behaviour?

Companies in the business of making disposable items seem to target summer with gusto. If you so choose, you could buy a whole party worth of items that are completely disposable and at the end of the evening roll up everything but the guests and dump it in the trash, all in the name if simple summer entertaining.

But simple entertaining and outdoor enjoyment in general don’t need to be of the single use variety. You can soak up summer and be green. Here’s how.

To begin, follow this general rule: choose reusable before compostable and compostable before recyclable and avoid anything that is single use.

Use everyday plates, cups and cutlery instead of disposable. Plastic cutlery isn’t recyclable so has to go in the trash. Instead, invest in an inexpensive set of reusable cutlery for picnics and back yard entertaining. Biodegradable cutlery is available but can’t be composted so has to go in the trash and compostable cutlery is usually single use and expensive so the better option is still reusable.

If you’re not comfortable using your regular dishes outside consider investing in few outdoor dishes that can fall off the deck without a worry. Enameled camping-style dishes are indestructible and available at hardware stores. Sturdy plastic plates are a second option. Watch the plastic content though (choose food-grade plastic numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5) and avoid plastic that isn’t graded or is stamped with the numbers four or seven.

If you go with disposable plates choose paper instead of Styrofoam or plastic since they can go in the compost. Also, choose a brand with recycled content (post-consumer recycled is best). Another reason to avoid Styrofoam and plastic: putting hot food straight from the barbeque onto plastic or Styrofoam could leach chemicals into your food.

For cups choose enameled cups, sturdy plastic reusable cups, or compostable cups. The Bio-Life brand at Shoppers Drug Mart is made of vegetable compounds and is compostable.

I concede that paper napkins are a reasonable option for outdoor entertaining but again look for brands that contain recycled content and make sure they go in the compost not the trash.

You can make your food more eco-friendly too. Instead of packaged, processed meat consider buying locally-produced meat (visit and search farmers or visit Kuinshoeve Meat in Rothesay for naturally raised local meat) and load up on locally grown fruits and vegetables as they come into season.

Since no outdoor meal is complete without a bevy of salads, make your dressing from scratch. Click here for some recipes for my favourite homemade dressings along with a few summer salad recipes like roasted vegetable pasta salad and roasted sweet potato salad with orange vinaigrette.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

EWG's annual sunscreen review

Given the spring weather we have endured I doubt sunscreen shopping has been top of mind for many, but assuming sunny weather is on the way Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its annual sunscreen review, featuring a new slate of recommended products to search out and great guidance on what products you should avoid.

EWG rates sunscreens on a one-to-seven scale, one being “green” or your best choice for safety and effectiveness and seven (“red”), for those with the most dangerous chemical load and questionable effectiveness.

The highest rated sunscreens are those that protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, but also contain the least amount of harmful chemicals that when absorbed by the body can contribute to health issues.

All of EWG’s top sunscreens are mineral-based (eg. contain zinc or titanium) and are rated one or two. These tend to be more expensive but are also more effective and safer so offer value for dollar. Mineral-based sunscreens are not absorbed by the body (a good thing) so often leave your skin looking white-washed but more and more are non-whitening and easier to apply.

The “best” of the non-mineral based rate a respectable three, offering a reasonably safe and effective alternative to the mineral-based products. In this year’s review a few Coppertone products rate well: Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50, Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, Faces, SPF 50, and Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50.

A great product that isn’t in the EWG database is the new Green Beaver sunscreen. It’s mineral-based but non-whitening, fragrance-free, waterproof and made in Canada. It’s SPF 30 and there is a kids version too.

There are a few more things to consider when you’re choosing sunscreen. Higher SPF products (anything above SPF 50) can be deceptive since there is no guarantee that they are any more effective than lower SPF products. They are often loaded with more chemicals and those who use them tend to stay in the sun much longer than those who choose a lower SPF product. Instead, choose a product that’s SPF 50 or lower and apply it properly. Sprays and powders rate poorly because users (and anyone nearby) inhale the chemicals. Also rated poorly are products containing vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate) because of concerns based on U.S. government data that they contribute to the development of some skin cancers.

Sunscreen is only one part of sun safety. Seek out shade during the hottest part of the day (between 11-4), wear sunglasses (with UVA & UVB protection), a broad-rim hat, and cover up with light-coloured clothing for the best protection from the sun that we have all been craving. Visit for the full report.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

EWG's guide to safer cell phone use

With the World Health Organization announcing this week that there is a  possible link between cell phone use and cancer you might want to check out Environmental Working Group's guide to safer cell phone use. EWG also lists the best and worst cell phones and has a database that lets you check you own phone to see how it rates.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Another bread recipe for busy people

This is a great bread recipe for busy people because you can let the dough sit in the fridge for a few days, punching it down every 12 hours or so. Try mixing it up at bedtime and baking it the next evening. Also, you can fiddle with the types of flour...try half whole white and half whole grain (or whole wheat)

Everyday bread:

1 t yeast

1 t sugar

1 1/3 c warm water

2 t oil

1 t salt

3 3/4 c flour (divided)

In a large bowl combine the sugar and water, stir, then sprinkle over the yeast (let bubble away for about 10 min). In a separate bowl combine the salt and 3 cups of the flour. When the yeast is ready add the flour to the yeast mixture along with the oil and mix.

Add more of the flour until you can't mix anymore and then turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a plate or in a grocery bag and put it in the fridge until you have time to deal with it (8-12 hours).

When you’re ready to bake:

Remove dough fridge, punch it down and shape into a loaf (think Italian loaf shape). Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let rise for about 1-1 ½ hours. Bake at 500 for 9 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350 for another 25-30 minutes.