Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Five Beverages Guaranteed to Make Your Holiday Spirits Bright

According to Slashfood.com, creamy cocktails are some of the unhealthiest choices, simply because of the sugar and calorie intake. For example, the White Russian is 865calories, while the Mudslide has 851 calories. Each year Paul and I look forward to Cate Wilson's homemade eggnog. Sinfully creamy, eggnog without alcohol has 257 calories and 14 grams of fat, more than a Snickers bar but less than the White Russian or a Mudslide, the trick is to pace yourself. If you're going to be enjoying eggnog regularly throughout the holiday season, those calories can stay with you a long time.

There is a way, however, to enjoy holiday cocktails without worrying about putting on extra pounds, go classic. I have chosen to share five cocktails which are classic to me. They will make your nose glow and your friends say 'ho, ho, ho". These cocktail recipes were chosen based on the premise that everyone has a few basic ingredients in their pantries and liquor cabinets, so whether you are hosting an office party or an intimate gathering at home you hopefully won't have to make a special shopping trip for extraordinary ingredients.

Let's start with the Bees Knees. Bees Knees is a very simple gin-based recipe popular around the time of prohibition. Simply gather together a good bottle of gin, Hendricks is great, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and honey. For every six tablespoons of Gin, add one tablespoon each of Lemon juice and Honey. Shake well with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Now there's a drink that will keep you warm, and soothe your throat, on a cold winter's night. If you want something equally nice, make a dry martini with the Hendricks and garnish with cucumber. Superb.

Next is the Cosmopolitan Cocktail. My sister Meg and I perfected this cocktail over several "girl's night out" years ago. I add the splash of seltzer and dried cranberry garnish over Christmas for that special holiday feeling. I guarantee you the majority of party goers will love this cocktail. For every three parts Vodka (I prefer Grey Goose), add ½ part Cointreau or Grapefruit Juice (optional), and ½ part Cranberry Juice. Shake well with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Top with a splash of seltzer, garnish with a slice of Lime and drop in a few dried cranberries if you'd like. Voila! It's Party Time.

What party is complete without a Bloody Mary? This drink has been around forever for a good reason, it's delicious, tomato juice is good for you and Bloody Marys allow you to drink without guilt on a Sunday morning; what could be better than that?

I like my Bloody’s spicy. The great thing about a Bloody Mary is that you can play a little with the garnishes (celery sticks, olives and a lemon wedge, maybe a dill pickle, or a shrimp) and make them cool or spicy; they are so easy to individualize. Here's how I do it. Combine 2 parts Vodka with 4 parts Tomato Juice, (or Spicy Hot V-8), add a squeeze of Lemon Juice, 2 dashes each Worcestershire and Tabasco, drop in at least 2 tablespoons of Horseradish along with Salt, White and Black Pepper to taste. Stir the mixture well. Pour into a tall glass filled with ice cubes and garnish.

I have to tell you I love variations of the Bloody and one of my favorites is the Shrimpy Mary served at Jumpin’ Jays Fish CafĂ© in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They also have a great raw bar there. If you are ever in the area I would highly recommend a visit. Next Please!

How about Whiskey Sours? My Grandmother loved them. She used some kind of pre-packaged mixture that was too sugary for me. Here's what I do instead: For every shot of Whiskey, add ½ shot of Lemon Juice, if you need a touch of sweet add a dash of Honey (or Maraschino Cherry Juice to taste). Shake well and pour over a short class of ice and garnish with a cherry. Sit back and enjoy.

You simply must finish off the festivities with a nice Irish coffee. So warming on a cold evening, you simply need a good pot of strong Coffee and a fine bottle of Irish Whiskey. Simply pour the coffee into a mug, add a shot of whiskey, sugar to taste (optional), and if you decide to indulge a big a dollop of whipped cream on the top is more than acceptable.

So there you have it, five of my favorite cocktails. Hopefully you’ll find one or two of the recipes to your liking. Here is to a happy, healthy holiday and a roaring good New Year. Ciao!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wood Smoke Rising

The high cost of oil and gas fuels a boom in wood stoves, but is burning wood greener than burning gas?

An inordinate number of articles on-line from publications across the United States are reporting on the burgeoning interest in wood stove purchases and use. Despite our falling economy the rising price of non-renewable fossil fuels has provided an incentive to return to traditional wood burning for supplemental, or sometimes total, heating for the home.

Both traditional, pellet-burning, and even corn burning wood stoves are in high demand as cold weather returns to the northern United States and Canada. Sales of stoves are up 55 percent so far this year over last according to industry figures; sales of wood pellet stoves are even hotter: up 135 percent over the same period last year.

Coal, oil and natural gas are the three kinds of fossil fuels that we have mostly depended on for our energy needs, from home heating and electricity to fuel for our automobiles and mass transportation. Fossil fuels formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago and became buried way underneath the Earth's surface where they transformed into the materials we depend on for fuel today. They are limited in supply and will one day be depleted. There is no escaping this fact. Therein lays the root of all our energy problems: fossil fuels are non-renewable.

The concept of renewable energy, or alternative energies, is growing at a steady rate. Renewable energy simply means energy that is produced from sources other than our primary energy supply: fossil fuels. Wood if properly maintained, harvested and burned, is an important source of renewable energy for those in colder climates.

Since 1988, all indoor wood stoves and fireplace inserts sold in the United States have been subject to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards. EPA-certified units feature baffles or dampers, secondary combustion chambers, and/or secondary air supplies to improve combustion efficiency and reduce emissions. They use less wood to produce the same amount of heat, saving you money while reducing air pollution.

If you own a pre-1988 indoor wood stove, fireplace insert, or other wood-burning appliance, you can significantly reduce its emissions by adding a catalytic combustor or converter. Similar to the unit found in your vehicle's emissions control system, it will help burn gases, fine particles and soot before they are vented outside, for a cleaner, more efficient wood fire. Catalytic units should be inspected at least twice per year, both before and during peak home heating season.

Advanced combustion stoves and fireplaces use about 1/3 less wood and produce 90% less smoke to produce the same heat as earlier models. They actually re-burn the smoke, which produces more heat and eliminates the build-up of creosote. Consequently, advanced combustion burners require less maintenance than conventional stoves and fireplaces.

Ecologists generally agree that wood is carbon neutral. Burning wood releases a significant amount of the green house gas, carbon dioxide, which is also released by fossil fuels. The gas is reabsorbed by growing trees and turned into carbon, accounting for half the weight of wood. Whether a tree burns in your fireplace or decomposes in the forest, it will release the same amount of carbon into the environment in the form of CO2, methane, and other gases.

This cycle only closes, however, when the wood has been grown and harvested using sustainable forestry practices. Proper forestry practices preserve bio-diversity, which in turn enables the CO2 to be reabsorbed, as well as giving one a place to get more firewood. Theoretically, this practice can be repeated indefinitely. Fossil fuel can make no such claim.

By burning clean, dry, well-seasoned hardwoods such as oak or maple, your wood stove will produce less smoke, i.e. less pollution. An added advantage is that hardwoods provide more heat energy than softer woods because hardwoods are denser and burn more slowly and evenly. Poplar and birch are also good firewood. Seasoned wood is usually purchased by the cord (4 ft. x 8 ft. x 4 ft. ft of tightly stacked wood).

A fire made from wood that has been properly seasoned, is not wet or punky, and that is burning properly produces little or no smoke from the chimney. If you see a lot of smoke coming from a chimney, that's air pollution. Wood smoke results from incomplete burning. When released outdoors, or accidently indoors, it becomes air pollution. A properly installed, correctly used EPA certified wood stove releases significantly less pollution into the environment. EPA certified wood stoves burn wood more completely; therefore, they emit 60% to 80% less pollution. In some parts of the United States during a typical wood heating season, wood smoke can account for about 80% of the air pollution in a residential area.

So the answer is yes. If approached properly and treated as a renewable energy source sustained by practical forestry management, wood burning is definitely greener than burning fossil fuels.

Quick Tips on How to Burn Wood More Cleanly

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has these following recommendations for people who burn wood:

• Use a properly installed and vented EPA-certified wood stove.

• Season wood outdoors through the summer and for at least six months.
Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds
hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.

• Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.

• Use clean newspaper and dry kindling to start fires.

• Have the wood stove cleaned and inspected annually.

• Don’t burn household trash or cardboard. Plastics and colored inks on
magazines, boxes, and wrappers give off toxic chemicals when burned.

• Never burn coated, painted, or pressure-treated wood, as it also releases
toxic chemicals.

• Never burn ocean driftwood, plywood, particle board, or any wood with glue
on or in it. They all release harmful chemicals when burned.

• Never burn wet, rotted, diseased, or moldy wood.

• Only bring into your home the amount of wood needed for a day to reduce the
chance of allergy-causing mold spores circulating indoors.

• Breathing smoke is not healthy. Wood smoke contains a mixture of gases and
fine particles that can cause burning eyes, runny nose, and bronchitis. Fine
particles can aggravate heart or respiratory problems, such as asthma, in
people of all ages.

Resources: woodheat.org, The National Geographic’s http://www.thegreenguide.com, Environmental Protection Agency, ecology.com, terraapass.com

Monday, December 8, 2008

Roll On Recycling...

There is an article published in December 7th’s New York Times, Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up, written by Matt Richtel and Kate Galbraith who proclaim that “Trash has crashed”.

One reason the prices for recyclable materials has dropped is that demand from China, the biggest export market for recyclables from the United States, has slipped away as the global economy shall we say, slumped. According to the reporters, “China’s influence is so great that in recent years recyclables have been worth much less in areas of the United States that lack easy access to ports that can ship there.”

I come from a generation of environmentally conscious consumers who were raised to feel good about sorting their garbage and taking it to the roadside for recycling, and I’ve raised my son, Hunter, to do the same. But guess what; most recycling programs are driven as much by the almighty dollar as by activism. So while the market drops the piles of waste grows, leaving recycling companies with a major dilemma, do we store this waste and hope the market rebounds or do we send stuff to the landfills?

The impact on individual recycling efforts from town to town and state to state varies. Most communities are keeping their recycling programs, sometimes because they are required by law, sometimes because the economics, while they have drastically downturned, still favor recycling over landfills.

We cannot let the recycling effort deteriorate because of the economy, and the best place for most of us to start is home of course. We must resolve to change our personal strategies and produce as little waste as possible recycling everything we can, to not support products that cannot be recycled and, very importantly, to purchase recycled items whenever possible.

Here’s my plan. Right now I’m going to ignore bigger issues like scrap metal, and concentrate on what I can do around my own home. I know most people out there recycle somewhat; hell, this country has been trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle since the last Great Depression. We’d best harken back to our grandparents or great grandparents now, because soon we are going to have first hand experiences of what they had to live through.

Living in the country makes recycling kitchen scraps easy for me; they go to the pigs or to the compost pile (which usually means dinner for all our wild critters). Anything that doesn't go into compost that is leftover gets stored to use in a different meal. Tupperware is not for me. As often as possible I try to reuse plastic containers from products like cottage cheese, sour cream, take-out foods, for my leftover food storage. When they have fulfilled that purpose they go into the recycle bin.

Paper products are next. The amount of paper junk mail alone sent each year in the United States is astounding, according to a number of websites over 4 million tons, and most of that is never opened. Even if you recycle there are still enormous environmental costs in terms of ink, energy to produce deliver and recycle the paper, recycling inefficiencies and loss of productive forest to create the high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses. The industry tries to "greenwash" their images but you’re probably not fooled. Badly targeted junk mail helps no one, including the industries themselves, but still they keep pumping it out.

There is a lot you can do to reduce the cost to the environment, so many options in fact that I don’t have room to list them all here. If you click on this link it will take you to a website that has phone numbers, addresses and direct links that will allow you to cut back your junk mail significantly. Please take a few moments to view this site and follow some of their very easy steps.

If you really don’t have the time at least try this: Start by sending a postcard or letter to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643. Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from.

I’m getting a worm farm. The unsightly worm has been quietly aerating, tilling, and fertilizing the soil for centuries, and utilizing their expertise will make it easier for me to get good soil for my plants since, as I mentioned before, most of my outdoor composting efforts are usually eaten up by "critters".

Worm farming is a simple way of turning vegetable and fruit scraps into a great potting soil for your garden or house plants. It can be done year round by apartment dwellers as well as home owners. Worm farming is particularly useful for people who would like to compost their food scraps but do not have space for a backyard compost bin. From all my research it seems that you should use red worms. They are also called red wrigglers or manure worms. Do not use earthworms or night crawlers. They just are not made to do this job.

All you need is a container of wood or plastic, bedding, and food. Worms function best at room temperature so keep your worm farm in a room where the temperature is between 40 degrees F and 85 degrees F., and they prefer it to be dark and without a lot of vibrations. Follow the directions for periodically cleaning out the castings, and never feed your worms meat, poultry, dairy products, or salty foods, like potato chips, and you won’t have an odor issue; minimal work for maximum output, sounds like a winning proposition to me.

Some things are easy to do: DO NOT use plastic bags to carry your groceries home. If you really feel the need to use a plastic bag for your meats or cold products or for purchases at big box stores, reuse them as garbage bags in the bathrooms, bedrooms, or home office, or use them to store and protect quilts, clothing, and appliances, whatever. Use paper bags to carry products home, they at least break down in a landfill, or use a cloth bag that will last for years and years. DO NOT use plastic bags for your recyclables. Please, please click the plastic bag links, it will become immediately apparent as to why plastic bags are disastrous.

Here is an idea, if you live in a state that has deposits on beverage bottles but you don’t like to take the time to return them at the stores, how about donating them to your local soup kitchen, or Boy Scout or Girl Scout Club, or at the very least sending them out to the curbside with your other recyclables. Reuse plastic or metal coffee cans in the garage, basement, or kid’s room for organization or storage purposes.

Finally, I live in Dutchess County, New York, so this is to help my fellow residents. If you live in other states or countries that have not begun any measures against these plastic bags please contact your local officials and voice your concerns. I personally think the plastic bag should be outlawed, but until that happens this is a step in the right direction.

During the 2008 Session, the New York State Legislature passed legislation requiring the reduction, reuse, and recycling of flimsy check out plastic bags.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney and Senator Carl Marcellino, the respective Chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees in the State Assembly and Senate, the bill requires stores over 10,000 square feet and some stores over 5,000 square feet to offer in-store recycling of plastic bags for customers.

Additionally, the bill enacts public education policies to encourage reusable bags and recycling plastic bags. Currently the bill is awaiting Governor Paterson’s signature. Once law, this important policy will help make New York retailer and consumer behavior more sustainable while conserving finite resources and protecting wildlife. Read the full bill text here.

Please call Governor Paterson and tell him you support reducing plastic bag consumption. Please share your desire to shift from a wasteful nation to a sustainable society. When you phone tell the Governor
• Your name and address
• You support New York requiring in-store recycling of plastic bags statewide
• You want him to sign A. 11725/Sweeney and S. 8643-A/Marcellino
• You support shifting away from a disposable society

New York State Governor David Paterson can be reached by dialing:

So that’s it, some of my ideas of what to do to keep recycling rolling in the right direction. If you have any ideas or comments to share please feel free to post them.

Just remember to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beth's Spicy Hotdog Relish

Everybody's thinking about turkey leftovers. Me, I'm into hotdogs - all beef, natural casing dogs, no turkey dogs for me thank you.

Paul and I have a few favorite places like Blackie's in Cheshire, CT, Hotdog Heaven in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Dalla Riva's Hotdog Cart seasonly in Kent, CT, and the Frisbee Market in Kittery, Maine where we make sure to stop when we're in those respective areas.

Some places just offer standard sides - mustard, ketchup, chopped onions, sauerkraut; others have signature relishes or spices. We like things spicy and the relish below was modified from a recipe I found on-line. I've tried it on my friends and most people like it. If you want to add a whole new new dimension to your plain ol' dog— a little spicy with a bit of a crunch give this recipe a try.

Just mix in a bowl and chill; can be stored for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.


¼ cup chopped red onion

¼ cup chopped red bell pepper

¼ cup chopped dill pickle

¼ cup chopped sweet pickles

¼ cup small capers

¼ cup Gulden's mustard

¼ cup prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup ketchup (optional)