Monthly Archives: October 2011

Have your Halloween pumpkins and eat them, too

Few things say autumn and abundance more clearly than the sight of pumpkins piled high at our local farmers’ market or an old-fashioned hay ride with family and friends through an organic pumpkin patch.

This quintessential fall favorite lends itself to any number of entertaining uses, far beyond its jack-o-lantern heritage. Here are a couple of unexpected twists for an old-time favorite that takes one humble little pumpkin from harvest to table and on to its next life with a lot of style and little waste.

Many years ago, my mom went all out for Halloween and baked up a batch of “Pumpkin Stew” – a hearty and delicious Argentinian beef stew (sometimes called “Carbonada Criolla”) served in a 12-pound pumpkin.  Note that this recipe calls for a “sugar pumpkin” – Mom’s take on this was to brush the inside of the pumpkin shell with soft butter and coat it with sugar before baking to give the stew a sweeter taste.

The beauty of this tasty recipe is that you can get multiple uses out of one pumpkin – just remember as you’re preparing the pumpkin to save the seeds for another day’s activities.

Young kids love separating the seeds from the pumpkin flesh, so roasting pumpkin seeds makes for an easy, family-friendly activity before this festive (and nutrient rich) fruit makes its way to your compost bin. And speaking of nutrition, who knew the humble pumpkin seed is such a nutritional powerhouse rich in minerals, antioxidants and vitamins?

These days, time often runs short despite my best intentions and I must simply stop and enjoy the beauty of the autumn days around me – and marvel at the creativity of those who take a humble pumpkin and create a work of art or a family feast. Enjoy this beautiful season!

A Very Green Halloween

Your kids can rest assured: a sustainable Halloween doesn’t have to mean swapping candy for fruit or toothpaste (lame!). There are plenty of fun, easy, eco-friendly ways to get your family as green as a gourd this October 31st. So brush aside those mounds of candy wrappers and green Halloween!

Pairing a good spring-cleaning with autumn is the best way to rid yourself of unsustainable plastic costumes. Link your DIY mentality with the slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” by reimagining what every day objects can do. That old tablecloth could make a great cape, and are you really wearing that colorful poncho you bought several decades ago when you were backpacking through South America?

Consider reusing costumes from past years or hand me downs from other kids. Some cities even run costume swaps, and never forget the power of charity shops. Many costumes share the same base elements, so that ladybug can easily become a turtle with a simple dye job.

Speaking of which, when it comes to hair dye and makeup, try making your own organic vegetable dye and make sure to purchase only natural brands.

Now, what about the candy issue? Try filling your own candy bowl with organic and fair-trade candy or chocolate, and hand out less of it to reduce both tummy aches and the amount of wrappers on the sidewalk. Or you can try getting your neighborhood involved in a reverse trick or treat, where kids hand out cards with information on how to purchase free trade candy for next year.

And hey, if you’re really committed, you can set out recycled toilet paper for teenagers. If they’re going to TP your house, it might as well have a sustainable angle, right?

We wish you a very green Halloween!

Additional References

Aluminum Foil Can Do WHAT?

When you envision a dorm room, what do you see on the walls? Posters with witty sayings? How about aluminum foil?

Well, that’s just what I saw nearly eight years ago when I walked into a friend’s room. He called it the spaceship. It was weird, but also so wonderfully warm.

Thanks to a honeycomb structure, aluminum foil is sturdy, light, fire resistant, and highly moldable. That means it’s one of the most versatile materials around, with many surprising applications. And it’s both recyclable and made from recyclable materials, too!

Sure, you know foil is great for grilling veggies, but what about cooking salmon in the dishwasher? Yep, that’s right. Your dishwasher gets hot enough to poach a fish. Just make sure to wrap it several times and leave out the soap so your guests don’t remark, “What a nice detergenty taste.”

Crave a nice grilled cheese sandwich when you’re on the road? Just wrap two slices of bread and cheese in foil and give it a good iron somewhere between that dress and those pants – which, by the way, iron more effectively with a little foil as well. Steam silk or wool, too, by wrapping them in foil and choosing the steam option. Wrinkles, be gone!

Your furniture is a big fan of foil, too. Lay it beneath the legs of a heavy couch to slide it from one carpeted room to the next. Then rap the sides to prevent cats from scratching. Birds also find the reflection of light and crinkly sound utterly distasteful so dangle strips from fruit trees to prevent nibbling.

And the best thing of all about aluminum foil? The way British people pronounce it. Seriously, just give it a try. Al-oo-MIN-ee-yum foil. What will those crazy royals think of next!

So get cooking, ironing or wrapping. Aluminum foil is your surefire way to be sustainable while you do just about anything!

Additional references

Biomimicry is the Best Form of Flattery

Evolution has designed plants and animals to live within the constraints of their environments rather than to fight them as we often do.  As resources on our planet become increasingly scarce, scientists are turning back to nature for inspiration.

For instance, the designers of Zimbabwe’s Eastgate Centre turned to the nests of the Macrotermes michaelseni (termite) for inspiration.  These nests utilize complex ventilation systems and perfectly chosen building materials so that they can remain within one degree of 31 °C no matter how greatly the outside temperature varies.  Once constructed on this model, the Eastgate Centre became one of the world’s first buildings to self-regulate temperature without the help of air conditioning.

In this TED talk, architect Michael Pawlyn discusses not just what we can learn from individual creatures but also how we can model entire production systems after those of the natural world.  By producing our goods in closed loop models in which every material is reused so that it might even produce the initial product again, our production can be more like a real ecosystem.  One example is the “Cardboard to Caviar Project”, in which cardboard is gathered from local restaurants, broken down by worm collecting systems and fed to sturgeons, which produce caviar that is then sold back to restaurants. 

But how does this apply to you?  Try gathering a group of likeminded folks and challenging yourselves to develop more closed loop projects.  Even something as simple as composting can fit the bill.  Or, take a walk in the woods and open your eyes to what’s out there.  You might just solve an engineering problem you didn’t know you had!

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