August 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Almost 70% of imported and 10% of California-produced extra-virgin olive oils sold at the state’s supermarkets and big-box retailers were mislabeled and may have confused consumers, according to a report from the Olive Oil Chemistry Laboratory at the University of California, Davis.
These findings prompted the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revise oils’ grade standards.
The USDA has granted the petition and is in the process of altering the standards so they’ll conform to those commonly accepted by the U.S. and international olive oil industry. Definitions for the various grades—including extra-virgin, virgin, refined and olive pomace oil—will be amended. The USDA expects these revisions to affect olive oil importers, as well as 500+ domestic producers and growers.
“The COOC was founded to promote quality extra-virgin olive oil grown in California, and we welcome the opportunity to help fund and support any research that exposes defective or adulterated oils wherever they exist—even in our own backyard,” says Albert Katz, cofounder of Katz and Company, a Napa Valley-based producer of organic oils.
Tips from Linda Sikorski, head buyer for Market Hall Foods in Oakland
- Check the label. Does it say “extra-virgin” olive oil? Is there a harvest or milling date, in addition to the best-use date? Is the harvest date within 12 months? Extra-virgin oil is “best used” within 18 months. Make sure the oil is purchased well in advance of the best-used date.
- What about the bottle? Is the bottle’s color dark, which reduces light exposure? Is it on the top shelf, exposed to direct light? Light dramatically shortens shelf life, so look for signs that indicate the bottle has been on the shelf too long (for example, dust).
- Look for the COOC seal, which assures the olive oil is extra-virgin, grown in California and from the most recent harvest.
- Know your retailer. Buy from retailers who know their producers, growers and importers. Ask for a taste. Many specialty retailers are generous with sampling, as they want you to know what you’re buying.
- Verify when buying online. Check for the harvest date, and always buy from the most recent harvest. Ask before you complete your purchase.
Photo: The World Through Athene’s Eyes
Read More:Is Your Olive Oil Fake?
August 6th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Crosshatched grill marks give food that professional-chef look.
So, how can you grill summer’s organic vegetables to perfection?
- Make sure your grill grate is clean. Pretreat it with a nonstick cooking spray. (Don’t spray a hot grill.)
- Purchase the right tools, including long-handled tongs and a grilling spatula. Tools should also be pretreated with nonstick cooking spray.
- While large chunks of bell pepper and sweet potato can be placed directly on the grill, smaller veggie cuts may require a grill basket so they don’t fall through the grate.
Tune in next week for a new grilled-veggie recipe: Warm Tomato and Cucumber Salad.
Read More:3 Tips for Perfectly Grilled Organic Veggies
July 24th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Fruit-flavored waters are a refreshing change of pace, especially during the hot summer months.
But there are several disadvantages to buying premade brands:
- Beverages may not be organic.
- Products are sold in glass jars or plastic bottles, which need to be recycled.
- Drinks may contain a fruit essence, but no real fruit. Some will contain sweeteners, which lead to consumption of empty calories.
- Ounce per ounce, they’re usually overpriced.
You can overcome these problems by creating your own fruit-infused water, and the Takeya Fruit Infusion Jug makes the job a snap. It’s glam enough for formal entertaining, yet practical enough for everyday use.
The 66-oz. airtight pitcher is made with Takeya’s proprietary AcraGlass, an FDA-approved, nontoxic, BPA-free acrylic that’s lightweight, stain- and odor-resistant, and dishwasher-safe.
Simply add your favorite water and organic fruit, whose flavors will meld naturally. When you’re ready to pour beverages, a built-in screen prevents pieces of fruit from dropping into glasses or mugs.
When you’ve finished serving and want to store leftovers, pop the pitcher in the refrigerator door or lay it on its side on a fridge shelf.
Need a birthday or bridal gift? The aesthetically pleasing pitcher’s retail price is $27.50, and you may qualify for free shipping on Amazon.com.
Read More:Infuse Your Drinking Water with Organic Fruit
July 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Swordfish has been on the eco-worst list of seafood choices for as long as I can remember. Between high mercury levels and ocean-savaging fishing practices, this protein has been banned from my shopping list for 20 years.
In January 2007, I bashed swordfish in Making Safe Fish Choices and substituted Pacific halibut in a featured recipe for Kabobs with California Dried Plums and Bay Leaves.
But the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program now rates Hawaiian, Canadian and some U.S. swordfish as “best choices,” while discouraging the purchase of imported and certain U.S. swordfish. (Click here for the fishy details.)
And just this month, Whole Foods Market introduced sustainable swordfish that has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). If you’re interested, shop quickly: The fish will be available only through August and while supplies last.
Whole Foods has been working with an “incredibly special fishery” in Nova Scotia, says Dan Rand, one of the natural/organic food chain’s port buyers. He and his colleagues hand-select and grade swordfish as it arrives on dock, and they choose fish that meets specific criteria: white meat, firm texture and bright blood lines. These requirements help ensure that the cooked fish has a mildly sweet flavor, optimum moistness and a meaty texture.
“To get this many fishermen on board 100% with the MSC fishery sustainability program is no easy task, and it is a testament to their commitment to the future of the fishery and the fish,” Rand says.
Caught one at a time by harpoon, a swordfish is targeted only when it’s mature. Whole Foods is working with the Canadian government to avoid overfishing, which means swordfish are caught over three 5-day intervals.
“As [Whole Foods] customers better understand the importance of certified sustainable seafood products and the rigor of the MSC’s independent, internationally recognized standard, the more consumers can play a role by their choices in realizing the vision of oceans teeming with life for this and future generations,” says Kerry Coughlin, MSC’s Americas Region director.
Read More:Sustainable Swordfish Available at Whole Foods Market
July 11th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Most cats have a visceral reaction to catnip (Nepeta cataria), whose aromatic oils entice them to eat it, rub up against it, roll around on the floor and/or drool. (This is your cat on drugs…)
Growing your own organic catnip is a breeze. Tolerant of virtually any type of soil, the perennial thrives outdoors and in windowsill gardens. You can buy a packet of 450 certified organic catnip seeds for as little as $1.89.
Organic Cat Toys
As for organic cat toys, Duckyworld Products sells a variety of stuffed playthings, including 100% organic catnip pillow toys ($7.69) and the adorable Stinky Sardine ($8.75). The company’s toys are filled solely with 100% organic catnip—no cotton fillers, plastic pieces or other cheap mainstream stuffings.
DIY crafters should check out Holly Tse’s Make Your Own Cat Toys: Saving the Planet One Cat Toy at a Time ($11.95), which features more than 50 projects and lots of eco-friendly cat care tips.
Brew a Cup of Organic Catnip Tea
Humans are not immune to catnip’s botanical powers. Steep dried plant leaves in hot water, and you’ll enjoy a lemony mint tea.
Celebration Herbals sells a box of 24 ready-to-use organic catnip teabags for $4.89. The bags are chlorine-free and can be composted after use, and the box is made from recycled paper.
DIY Beauty Products
Organic catnip essential oil is a natural mosquito repellant, and you can use it to scent handmade bath and body products (soaps, lotions, bath salts). It can, however, be expensive: about $23 per fluid ounce. That said, a little goes a long way, so consider it an investment.
Read More:Frisky Felines—and Their Owners—Enjoy Organic Catnip
June 17th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Children love summer vacation, but parents often find it difficult to keep them engaged in productive activities.
Most kids experience a learning slump during their time away from school. At best, they show little or no academic growth over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. At worst, they lose 1 to 3 months of learning.
It is, however, possible to keep your children engaged and stimulated over the summer months. Books like I’m a Scientist: Backyard—part of a new series for younger readers (5+ years)—introduce kids to the world of science with interesting outdoor experiments. Clear, step-by-step instructions allow children to absorb science easily.
You can also use summer vacation to instill a love of nature, the outdoors and organic gardening. I’m a Scientist: Backyard teaches preschoolers and early elementary students to:
- Take a garden safari
- Make a bug house out of a soil sample to observe the creepy-crawlies that live within
- Perform plant-based experiments that foster an interest in botany
- Experience wind power by making their own pinwheels
- Discover a tree’s age and measure its height using just a stick and a piece of string
- Make a sundial to tell time using only the sun’s position
- Learn about centrifugal force with a simple bucket of water
The book retails for $12.99 and will be released July 19. You may preorder it on Amazon and save 20% ($10.39).
Photo courtesy of DK Publishing
Read More:Teach Your Child to Be a Backyard Scientist
June 8th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Truffles, often referred to as the “ultimate mushroom,” are known for their earthy flavor and wallet-denting price (up to $4,000 per pound).
Organic truffle oil is a less expensive option, with different varieties available online and at well-stocked natural and organic food stores.
But read labels carefully. As Chef Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi Restaurant reports in the New York Times, some truffle oils lack even a hint of real truffle.
“Most commercial truffle oils are concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane (the most prominent of the hundreds of aromatic molecules that make the flavor of white truffles so exciting) that have been created in a laboratory,” he writes.
The Food Network’s Pick
The Food Network purchases USDA Certified organic truffle oil from da Rosario, a New York City-based company that sells organic truffle products to the U.S. market.
Owned by Rosario Safina, author of Truffles: Ultimate Luxury, Everyday Pleasures, da Rosario sources truffles from a small plot on an organic farm in Italy’s Umbrian Valley. Products include USDA Certified 100% organic:
- Truffle-flavored olive oils (white and black truffle)
- Savory truffle seasonings (white and black truffle)
- Acacia honey with white truffles
- Truffle butters (white and black truffle)
“If the label says USDA 100% Certified Organic, you can bet there are real, organic truffle pieces inside,” Safina recently explained in The Daily Beast.
Celebrity chefs regularly use real truffle butter and/or oil in their favorite recipes. Check out:
- Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten’s Roast Turkey with Truffle Butter
- Iron Chef Bobby Flay’s Parmesan-Crusted Portobello Mushrooms with White Truffle Oil
- Prolific restaurateur Emeril Lagasse’s rich Root Vegetable Soup with Truffle Oil
- Asian culinary superstar Ming Tsai’s Wild Mushroom and Pumpkin Risotto
Here in Los Angeles, hip restaurant La Cachette Bistro serves a Belgian Endives Salad with Organic California Walnuts, California Blue Cheese and Truffle Oil Dressing. Trendy Ketchup—known for its French fries tossed with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil—has introduced a Summer Truffle Sausage Risotto.
For additional recipes, look no further than OrganicAuthority Publisher Laura Klein’s favorite truffle oil dishes.
Read More:Organic Truffle Oil: A Savory Splurge
June 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Julie Pickens and Mindee Doney have impressive executive resumes.
Pickens, 43, was a sales manager for Gallo Winery and Miller Brewing, and she operated six Coldstone Creamery and Wetzel’s Pretzels franchises. Doney, 34, managed West Coast marketing for Procter & Gamble.
Each woman also had three children who suffered from the usual pediatric colds and allergies. As noses ran and became chapped, dry tissues abraded tender skin.
Pickens and Doney had an entrepreneurial epiphany: Why not invent moisturizing, saline-infused nasal wipes that dissolve mucus naturally and soothe kids’ red and crusty noses?
Boogie Wipes launched in 1997. The extra-soft wipes are hypoallergenic and contain no alcohol, phthalates or parabens—chemicals organic consumers definitely want to avoid. Added chamomile, vitamin E and aloe soothe sore noses.
Boogie Wipes are available in four scents: Fresh, Unscented, Grape and Magic Menthol. Suggested retail price for a 30-wipe package is $3.99.
You can find the Boogie Wipes at Target, Rite Aid, Walgreen’s, Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us, as well as online.
For addition information, follow Pickens and Doney on Facebook.
Read More:A Natural Solution for Runny Noses
May 12th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
What do multiplatinum-selling musician Moby and Global Animal Partnership Executive Director Miyun Park have in common?
They’re coeditors of the new book Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety, an info-packed guide to the consequences of factory farming.
Gristle covers “the rarely publicized ramifications of industrialized farmed animal production and meat, egg and milk consumption on the environment, human health, communities, workers, taxpayers, zoonotic diseases, global warming, global hunger and, of course, the animals themselves,” Moby writes. “There are huge and egregiously well-financed interests who want to keep the truth of animal production hidden.”
The book’s contributors include:
At 144 pages, Gristle is a fast and enlightening read. Order through Amazon, and you’ll save 25%. (Pay $10.49 instead of $13.95.)
Read More:Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety
May 3rd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
If your mom loves to garden—or if you’d like to help her get started—pick up a container or two of Ecosource’s Organic Grow Your Own Seedling Starter Kits for Mother’s Day.
Nine USDA-certified organic varieties are available for last-minute shoppers (ground, 2-day or overnight shipping):
- Bell Pepper
- Heirloom Tomato
A Strawberry Kit is also available, but the seedlings are not organic.
Each kit ($15.99) contains instructions, an eco-friendly tray, high-quality soil, a reusable “greenhouse bag” and biodegradable seedling starter shells, all housed in a decorative container.
Users can start up to 10 seedlings and then transplant them into their gardens.
Ecosource founders Chad Callihan and Chuck Rose quit the corporate world and started the Decatur, GA-based company in 2006 to develop stylish, affordable and eco-friendly products.
“We’re not trying to be perfect, but we’re learning every day about how to make better choices for ourselves and the future of our children’s planet,” they state. “We hope that by sharing our experience, you’ll want to do the same.”
Read More:Mother’s Day Gift Idea: Start an Organic Garden