A Little Side Project: santa (cry) baby

As promised, I’ll be back shortly with some last minute, easy to find green gift ideas, but first, I just wanted to mention this little side blog I’ve just started. Inspired by a few truly hilarious pictures of my friend’s baby crying on Santa’s lap, I’ve launched santa (cry) baby.

I’d love it if you checked it out, or helped spread the word.

Happy Holidays!

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Pretty Green Last Minute Gift Guide: Soda Stream

Wait, Christmas is next week? Up until the big day, I’ll be highlighting great eco-friendly gifts that are easy to find in person (no waiting for online shipping).

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write this post. I’ve had a Soda Stream for over a year and I love it. LOVE it. I’m addicted to fizzy water, but always felt guilty about buying those green glass bottles, both for the packaging – even if it is glass – and because most of them are imported. For full disclosure (hi FTC! Merry Christmas!), Soda Stream sent me one of their soda makers to try out, but I truly love it, and would have bought one myself if they hadn’t.

So, for any sparkling water lovers in your life, here’s the perfect gift! It couldn’t be easier – attach the carbonator, fill the BPA-free bottle with water (I always keep an extra bottle cold in the fridge), screw it into the maker, press the button on the top a few times, wait for the somewhat loud (and, um, a little awkward) noise and voila! Bubbly water, deep from the crystal streams of your own tap. You can even mix the water with soda flavoring, though I must say I wasn’t a fan of the ingredient list on the flavorings that came with the Soda Stream (I gave them away on Craigslist), and would prefer to make my own soda syrup, though I nearly always drink the water plain or with a squeeze of citrus. Or, ok, occasionally in an egg cream. When your carbonator runs out, bring it into one of their authorized retailers to exchange for a new one at a discount, or arrange a pick-up and exchange online.

Available in a variety of colors and models, you should definitely be able to find something that works with anyone’s style. You can find the Soda Stream at Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond (bring your 20% off coupon!), Crate and Barrel, Sur La Table, Sears, Williams Sonoma and more. SF Locals: The always awesome Cole Hardware sells them as well. Note: There are a bunch of different varieties, so I’d suggest calling ahead to see what your local store has in stock.

Perfect paired with: Stainless steel straws

For more information on how the Soda Stream is green, click here.

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7 Simple Eco-Friendly Tips To Ease the Travel Guilt

Flying is one of the least eco-friendly things we can do, but who wants to live a life without travel? I certainly don’t. I think it’s so important to visit other places and cultures, see how other people live and try new things.

I just returned from a trip to London (again). I rented an apartment in Notting Hill, three blocks from that book shop in the movie. You know the one. Sadly, there were no Hugh sightings, but the neighborhood was charming and a lot of fun. I had a lovely trip, filled with cupcakes, friends and even a Thanksgiving abroad. But still, I can’t help but have a nagging feeling about how far I flew to get there. To help ease a bit of the guilt over all this traveling I’ve been doing, here’s how I keep my trips as eco-friendly as possible. No, it doesn’t make up for all that fossil fuel, but it’s a start.

7 Simple Eco-Friendly Tips To Ease the Travel Guilt

1. Bring a reusable water bottle
Sure, it can be a bit bulky, but I never leave home without my Sigg. I make sure to drink up what’s left in it before I go through airport security, then find a water fountain once I’m in the clear to have liquids on me again. This keeps me hydrated at the airport, on the flight and throughout my trip, no plastic water bottles or plastic cups required. Besides, have you heard what’s in the ice on airplanes? Ick.

2. Bring your own food
A good meal or snack is always on my Day Of packing list. It’s rare that airports have healthy and tasty food options, and it’s pretty much a guarantee that anything you pick up is going to come in wasteful packaging. Save the waste (and the calories) and bring your own. I like packing a good, well-balanced meal and a fun treat, like a healthy sandwich, a vegetable side dish and a baguette with a chunk of dark chocolate. I tote my food in my own Tupperware, which I can then reuse throughout my trip for leftovers or keeping my suitcase organized.

3. Visit a Farmers Market
One of the first things I like to do when I book a trip is figure out where the nearest Farmers Market is. On an earlier trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised to find a wonderful market a short walk from my friend’s house in Bermondsey. We stocked up on fabulous produce and meat, and ate for days. Sure, I love eating out on vacation – and you might not have a kitchen where you’re staying – but seeing what’s local and in season in a particular area, and at the very least picking up a few snacks, is a great eco-travel experience. For travels in the US, check out Local Harvest; everywhere else, turn to my good friend Google.

4. Pack your own silverware
Did you know those forks and spoons made of corn and potato starch aren’t actually compostable if you don’t, you know, compost them? However, one thing they definitely are: totally reusable. If you have to grab one, and it doesn’t melt in your soup, save it! I also like to wrap up a fork, knife and spoon in a dish towel, secure it with a rubber band (maybe even one of those fat purple ones that came wrapped around your broccoli stems), and toss it in my purse. Instant lunch set!


Thankful I had this fork in my purse for a delicious but sticky Almond Orange Cake with Chocolate Fondant at Ottolenghi

5. Unplug everything before you leave
This is a good thing to do anyway (my Dad says he always knows when I’ve been to his house, because he finds his toaster unplugged), but it’s especially important to remember to unplug appliances before you go out of town. When you’re leaving on a trip, it’s time to pull the plug and flip the switch. Your TV, alarm clock, microwave and floor lamps don’t need any power while you’re out of the house. The environment (and your electricity bill) will thank you.

6. Exercise outside
Speaking of unplugging, travel is the perfect excuse to get away from the treadmill or elliptical hamster wheel. There’s no better way to explore a city than by foot. A run through town is a great way to see a different side to your travel destination. And remember to pack comfortable shoes for all that walking you’re sure to be doing!

7. Buy locally made
Since you’ve already flown the miles, why not do a little importing yourself? Keep an eye out for fabulous, locally made products. Be sure to look for things actually made in the country or area you’re in, and not tourist items made in China! Besides, it’s a lot of fun when someone asks where you got a certain something, and you can oh-so-casually respond, “Oh, in London (or Spain or Hawaii or Kansas).”

What do you do to make your travels as eco-friendly as possible?”

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Fall Fiesta: Butternut Squash Gnocchi

It took me a long time to come around to winter squash this year. I just wasn’t ready. A combination of eating too much squash last year, and not being ready to accept the change in seasons, I suppose. How can it be October already, really?

But the tide has finally turned. A few weeks ago, the butternut squash gnocchi my friends and I made last year came up in conversation, and I was sold. I even suggested making a pumpkin bread with fresh whipped cream on the side for dessert. Double squash. Fall Fiesta was born.

Last week, we showed up early at my friend Sophie’s house. My friend Jen had roasted a b’nut squash from her aptly-titled CSA, Eating with the Seasons, the one I used to belong to and sometimes wish I still did. I mashed the squash with my hands and a fork, while Jen prepared the pumpkin batter. Sophie ran down to the store to get bread, which we ate with some of our favorite cheeses as an appetizer. We rounded things out with a bottle of Viognier from my wine club, and some kale chips. I can’t have a plate without greens! It was fantastic. Winter squash, I’m sorry I doubted you. Eating with the seasons never tasted so good.


Not biscotti! The gnocchi dough, before rolling into ropes

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter, adapted from Sunset

Gnocchi:
1  butternut squash
About 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4  teaspoon  ground pepper
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground nutmeg
3  to 3 1/2 cups flour, plus more for shaping (likely much less than this, but have this on hand)

Toppings:
3 tablespoons butter (or more!)
Freshly grated Parmesan

Roast butternut squash (can be done a day in advance). Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half, and place halves flesh-side up on a baking sheet. Remove seeds and pulp. Make sure you have a good knife, and be careful! Roast for 25-30 minutes or until soft. You can also roast the squash whole if you prefer not to cut it in half first – it will just take longer, up to an hour.

Note: the original recipe calls for microwaving the squash. I prefer the roasted flavor, but if you are pressed for time, you can stab the squash with a fork or knife, as you would a baking potato, and microwave for 10 minutes or until tender. Let cool, then cut in half.

Once cooled, scoop out 2 cups of the cooked squash into a bowl. Save the rest for later, or make a double batch if you’ve got lots of squash. We had a medium-sized b’nut, and easily got 4 cups out of it. Mash it with a combination of a fork and your hands (it’s fun!). Once the squash is completely mashed, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in flour until a dough forms. Note: we used quite a bit less flour than the recipe called for. We simply added until the texture seemed right to roll out – not too sticky, not too dry. You’ll know it when you’re there.

Knead the dough about 10 times on a floured surface. On the same floured surface, divide the dough into pieces and roll into thick ropes, about 3/4 an inch or so. Cut ropes into 1/2 inch long pieces. Place pieces on a floured baking sheet.

Boil a big pot of salted water. Add gnocchi in batches, until they float to the surface, about 4 minutes. Lift out of water with a slotted spoon and drain.

Meanwhile, make your brown butter. Heat a skillet on medium, and add your butter. Stir as it melts. It will become foamy, and then the foam will subside. Heat until it becomes light brown and smells nutty. Be careful to catch it before burning.

Toss your gnocchi with the brown butter, and top with lots of grated Parmesan. Enjoy!

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A Stainless Steal

I love drinking out of straws. There’s just something to be said about a cold glass of bubbly water or a fun mixed drink sipped through that cute little tube. However, we all know something I really don’t like: plastic.

Enter stainless steel straws. I love these guys! Not only are they reusable, they’re also totally fun and keep your drink cold, too. I like bringing my own to parties and bars – people kind of laugh at (with?) me, and I’m cool with that. Whatever gets people to remember them – and hopefully buy ’em, too!

Tina over at Carrots ‘n’ Cake is a big fan of these straws, too, and she’s now selling them through her OpenSky store. For only $15, you get 4 large straws, 4 small straws and 1 straw cleaning brush. They’re dishwasher safe, but if you’re like me and don’t have one of those newfangled dish-cleaning machines, that brush should come in handy!

Cheers!

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Rags to Riches

What to do with those old, worn-out gym clothes? You don’t want to toss them, but they’ve reached the point where they definitely aren’t cute enough to wear to your favorite kickboxing or AntiGravity Yoga (yes, that’s a real class offered at my gym!) class? And you certainly can’t donate them to Goodwill – let’s be honest, no one wants your pit-stained tees.

I recently found myself with a stack of politically incorrect tank tops that had seen way, way better days. Instead of tossing them in the garbage where they’d be sure to make their way to Landfill Access Road*, I decided to throw them under the sink and use ’em to clean my always slightly dingy kitchen floor. Seriously, who puts white tile in a kitchen? This might not be breaking news to those of you whose moms did the same with their dad’s old t-shirts, but I was pretty excited when this repurposing idea crossed my mind. Just wash your clothes-turned-rags first (obviously!), add a little soapy water, put on your cleanin’ clothes and your favorite Pandora station, and start scrubbin’ away. Sometimes I even go barefoot, throw a shirt under each foot and slip-slide my way to clean. I’m loving this method – my floor ends up way cleaner than when I use a mop. Besides, is it just me, or are mops totally bs? I feel like I’m just pushing wet dirty puddles around. I think I might be missing the cleaning gene.

*My sister and I, who drive by this freeway exit often, have a long-standing joke that this would be the worst street address ever.

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Breaking the Fast: Apple Coffee Cake

I am, admittedly, not the most serious Jew you’ll ever meet. I love celebrating the holidays, the culture and the food, but I am certainly not deeply religious. Every year on Yom Kippur, I fast, but not necessarily to atone for my sins. To be honest, I do it more to see if I can go a whole day without eating. Have you ever gone a day without eating, on purpose? It’s funny how your mind starts to play tricks on you, and you notice how food is everywhere! You kind of get past being hungry, but if you’re like me and love food, you start counting down to the bagels and lox pretty early in the day.

It’s almost 3 pm now and it’s going ok. However, I’ve got an apple coffee cake just coming out of the oven that’s about to start testing my willpower, hardcore.

My aunt asked me to bring something baked to break the fast (breakfast – break the fast, get it?), and I happily agreed. Since we’re getting into the heart of apple season, I decided an apple coffee cake would be the perfect way to welcome a sweet new year. A few years ago, I made one that was a big hit, so I pulled the recipe back up. Now, I’m not a big fan of Emeril, but I am a big fan of brown sugar and crumbly topping and apples so I decided to go with the tried and true. I skipped the brown sugar glaze he calls for, since the cake is plenty sweet on it’s own and I remember it getting lost last time. The recipe is incredibly easy – perfect for when you’re fasting and don’t have the energy for a complicated recipe, or want to throw together a quick but impressive brunch treat.

I, of course, used mostly organic and local ingredients. I love apple season! I got a variety – Gravensteins, and a few nameless ones with a surprising, gorgeous pink flesh (sorry, that’s a disgusting word. I certainly won’t talk about how moist this cake is. Oh, wait).


Apple Coffee Cake, from this recipe

Cake:
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish with butter (this is a great time to use those leftover butter wrappers!)

Cream together your stick of butter and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating them in. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to the butter-brown sugar mixture, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla. Fold in the apples. Pour into the buttered dish, spreading the batter to reach the edges of the dish.

Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Make your crumble topping by pulsing your brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and butter in a food processor until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the cake and bake until the cake is set and the topping is golden brown, around 40 minutes. Remove from oven, cool and break the fast!

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