Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Moving into Spring

The weekend before last, I finally left the apartment where I lived in bed bug fear and moved into my boyfriend's apartment. We both love cooking, so now that we're cohabitating, we are enabling each other to cook a lot (perhaps too much?). In the past week alone, we made quite a few excellent meals sourced mostly from the greenmarkets - because early spring vegetables are here!

Lamb burgers with the whites of ramps diced and mixed into the patties and the greens of ramps sauteed on top with melted cheddar cheese. Fiddleheads were blanched and then sauteed to ensure they were thoroughly cooked (they are poisonous raw). This was my first time trying fiddleheads, which like ramps, are foraged this time of year. I wished we had cooked them long enough to brown and crisp to add more flavor, because I found the fiddleheads too earthy and bland. There were also roasted potatoes.

Friends came over for dinner on Cinco de Mayo, so we made pulled pork tacos. The pork shoulder (from Flying Pigs Farm) was rubbed in garlic, cumin, paprika, onion powder, salt and crushed red pepper. We put it in the slow cooker fat side up with a bottle of black Irish lager and the juice of half a lime and let it sit on high for 3 hours and then low for 4 hours until it was tender enough to pull apart with a fork. For toppings, I prepared a slaw of thinly sliced cabbage and scallions; chopped cilantro; shredded cheddar cheese; pickled radishes and wedges of lime. In the past I've always made pulled pork with barbecue sauce, so this was a refreshing change of pace. Perhaps letting the rub sit overnight would have imbued it with more flavor.

Salad of smoked trout from Max Creek Hatchery, pickled radishes, arugula, lightly oiled and toasted homemade croutons with a dressing of apple cider vinegar and olive oil.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Blue Dream

For my trip to Costa Rica, we stayed at a hotel that has worked with the Rainforest Alliance to put good environmental and social practices in place. Hotel Sueno Azul felt like an oasis within the rainforest in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, about two hours across the continental divide from San Jose. To reach its remote location, our tour bus lumbered down a dusty road through farms and dropped us at a footbridge to cross onto the hotel property. However, the hotel was not as rustic as I expected - we enjoyed a full-service open air restaurant and bar looking out onto a pool and lagoon, and each room had air conditioning and private bathrooms, demonstrating that ecotourism doesn't always mean roughing it as much as my past experience.

The air conditioning had my skeptical about the hotel's level of sustainability, until the owner started explaining all of their efforts. For example, they employ mostly workers from the local town and contribute to the local elementary school. They started a women's association that tends a botanical garden and creates natural soaps and products used in the hotel spa as well as jewelry sold in the hotel store, offering these women an independent source of income and improving their self-confidence. A solar dryer for laundry, which looks like a greenhouse from the outside, cuts down on energy usage. They've also begun monitoring their electricity usage so they can improve upon it.

Most importantly, the hotel property includes more than 700 acres of protected forestland. Together with several sustainable lodges in the area, they are conserving important forests to create a buffer zone adjacent to the Braulio Corillo National Park and extending biological corridors where wildlife can roam. As an added plus of the local biodiversity - a healthy bat population mostly kept the mosquitos at bay.

While tourism may not jump to mind as a path to environmental conservation, in fact, these small actions add up. Tourism operations offer a great way to provide jobs and income in small communities without having to clear forestland. Something to think about on your next trip... If you're planning to travel to Latin America, a good starting place for eco-friendly options is here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why I didn't strike for May Day

Today was May Day, the day that the Occupy Wall Street movement called for a General Strike - no work, no school, no banking, no shopping. However, I didn't strike because I work for an environmental nonprofit, where I'm proud to work every day to achieve goals that the Occupy movement has set forth as below. The Rainforest Alliance not only promotes environmental conservation - we also seek economic and social sustainability, to ensure that people around the planet can earn a decent living and have access to dignified housing, education and healthcare while stewarding our planet for future generations. We envision a new economy, where large companies value rather than exploit our natural resources, where it's easy for consumers to make ethical choices in the marketplace, and where producing communities enjoy a good quality of life. As a member of the fundraising department, I'm helping the 1% give back to the 99%.

(from the Occupy May Day facebook event)

Protests are useful for drawing attention to issues, but where do we go from there? The Occupy movement has generated a lot of talk and continual rallies (several more days of action are planned for mid May in New York), but I do wish there were more specific actions coming out of it. There are lots of existing nonprofits and initiatives, both large and community-based, that are working to change our society for the better, where people could get involved. A couple examples of organizations that are encouraging us to move beyond the current big bank economy are Center for the New American Dream and the New Economics Institute and Move Your Money. Find a nonprofit you believe is making a difference and volunteer or make a donation you can afford. Or take small personal, local and community actions. Shop according to your values and buy locally or sustainably produced goods (like products with the Rainforest Alliance certification seal). Join a a food cooperative or a CSA or a community garden. Put your money in a credit union or try investing some of your money in socially responsible funds. Organize a skillshare or a community resource pool with your friends. What other ideas do you have for fixing our broken economy?

That said, I did slip out of work right at 6pm today to catch up with the main protest as it marched down Broadway so I could lend my presence to the more than 10,000 people calling for a change. Unfortunately I threw out my poster during my move last weekend, but it said "Wake up to the corporate lies that are all around us." Don't accept the life that advertisers have convinced you that you need, because we can't afford it -- our consumption culture is perpetuating low paying jobs, making us go into debt, and constantly exposing us to toxins, while depleting the natural resources on which we all depend. We can change this, but we have to do more than protest, don't you think?

(the views presented here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Rainforest Alliance)