Thursday, December 23, 2010

{Being Green} Reusable Mugs

TWENTY THREE BILLION cups is the estimated annual consumption of paper cups for the U.S. alone in 2010 [1]. In 2006, Starbucks reported using 2.3 Billion cups[2], 82% more than in 2000 [3]. Now don't you think that's a little excessive? Abolishing coffee is absolutely out of the question, the only thing to do is stop using paper cups.
Travel or reusable mugs instantly come to mind, however, making these cups create a bigger environmental impact than that of paper cups. Gee, yet another issue that hasn't a clear, easy, one step solution. Our efforts are not completely in vain, the key lies in the name, the REUSABLE mug. Sustainability Engineer Pablo Paster conducted a study which revealed that after 24 uses, a stainless steel mug becomes the better option. With an average of 3000 uses the initial investment, for both the environment and your wallet, pays for itself [4]. If you remember to bring your mug every time you heat to Starbucks, you could save up to $300. Much better than a slap on the belly with a wet Kipper. (Translation: Better than nothing.)  

The Concept:  Pledge to always bring a mug or go without (or sit and sip).
What you need: 1 Reusable Mug, a good memory and a will of steal.

How to: The hardest part of this scheme is to find the perfect mug to fit your needs. I've put together a summary of my experiences with paper cup alternatives for your enjoyment.

Option 1 - If you are mostly in your office and have only a few steps between the coffee machine and your desk, the simplest and cheapest option is to bring a mug from home.

Option 2 -  The Student option - I chose this option for sometime during college, it was convenient, multipurpose and fit in the side pocket of my backpack : the Mason Jar. Being in glass meant not only could I use it for coffee and tea but it could also substitute for a soup bowl, a water bottle, a snack holder, and much more. It was great! The leak proof screw on lid made it possible for me to throw it into my backpack and run without fear of covering my term papers or overpriced school books with coffee. The only problem is not being able to drink on the go. Do not attempt to drink in the bus, believe me, its more trouble and mess than it's worth.
Option 3 - I'm Not a Paper Mug - I must admit I am partial to the look of this option, not to mention being able to drink out of ceramic instead of plastic or stainless steel makes it very appealing. It comes in various colorus (depending on the company) and are under $20. However, these mugs equipped with a silicone top are a leak waiting to happen. It's best kept for someone who can wash and dry it before putting it back in a bag. Oh and not for butterfingers. 

Option 4 - Travel Mug - The most diverse option. They come in all shapes, sizes, colours and price range. The most important thing to consider is the lid; it will make the difference between spill and no spill. The lids in the following picture have a high risk of leaking if not in a perfectly upright position. They are also the most common lids and generally associated with the cheapest cups.

Here are, in order or price, the best spill-proof lids I have encountered.

The Rubber Stopper

The first kind regroups all mugs that have a plastic flap with a fitted rubber stopper. If you remember to close it you won't have any problems.

The Twist

The second kind, which I have only encountered at Starbucks have a twist top which opens in the middle. The concept is comparable to that of a thermos lid. It is harder to clean that the Rubber Stopper and can sometimes be hard to open. I used the Starbucks recycled tumbler for 3 years before it cracked and I had to purchase another.


The last option is a recent addition to my inventory - the Auto-seal mugs brought to you by Contigo (sold at select Starbucks and online). As opposed to the other mugs, you must press the button to drink; releasing causes the opening to automatically shut avoiding all possible spills.

I have presented you with various options solely based on size and lid style. I am still researching which material is the best. For now, choose a plastic that is BPA free, avoid heating up your coffee in your plastic mug and carefully prewash all reusable mugs. I strongly recommend drinking out of a stable material such as glass or pottery to avoid any possible transfers.

If you are interested in reading more discussions on the perfect mug, you may want to read the following:

Kitchen Scoop by Alicia Ross: She asks her readers to share their experiences and what their favorite mug is.

Jolly Mom who reviews the Contigo Auto-seal mugs.

Sustainability is Sexy gives you the facts about paper cups and mugs.

Ultimately the choice is up to you, hopefully it will help you find the ultimate reusable mug.

Take care!

[Edit: I am sorry for those that were expecting this post Monday and then Wednesday. I put the wrong year when I entered the date on the Scheduler. I'm already in 2011 baby! Sorry for keeping you waiting. - Emilie]
Picture credits - all pictures are linked to their original site.
[1] Tully’s Coffee.  Press Release. September 16th, 2007.
[2] Environmental Defense.  Starbucks Paper Project Goals and Results. July 20th, 2007.
[3] Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility Report.  Fiscal Year 2006.

[4] Sustainability is Sexy. August 2009. [Online] Visited on Dec. 20th, 2010.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Winter Solstice and the Total Eclipse of the Moon

Did you see it? This morning between 1:30 and 5:00am if you looked up at the moon from anywhere in North America, you could see the various phases of a Total Lunar Eclipse happening high up in the night/very early morning sky. It was magical although exhausting.

A Lunar Eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon. The moon, which normally reflects the light of the sun, enters and exits the Earth's shadow as it revolves around us in the night sky blocking solar radiation and appearing darker. Contrarily to the Solar Eclipse, there is no danger in looking directly at the astronomical phenomenon. With the bases being laid, lets move on the the story.

Some of my friends (Hey Ladies!) were down visiting from Montreal and had a hotel room near Madison Square Garden. We hung out in the room watching a healthy mix of MTV and Discovery Channel - witnessing Teen Pregnancy, the struggle of youth with albinism and learning about Cleo, the Everglade Crocodile. We took turns on Moon Watch, monitoring the progression of the Lunar Eclipse through the window while others dozed. When the eclipse had reached 3/4, we bundled up and made our way onto the roof for a better view. Camera and clothing wise, we were poorly equipped. I snapped a couple picture with my faithful Sony Cyber-shot. It was fantastic! The great view of both the city and the moon was worth the long hours.

A lunar eclipse may not be a particularly rare occurence, on average you can see two a year. However, this one was special. In addition to being a Total Lunar Eclipse, it also happened on the Winter Solstice - the longest night of the year. This hasn't happened in 372 years Jeremy Olshan quoted Nasa saying in his New York Post article "Dark Side of the Moon for Gotham". 

Olshan also informed us that the moon would be high in the sky [check] and would glow and eerie brownish red because of the tons of dust released into the atmosphere by the volcanic irruption in Iceland that happened earlier on this year [check]. However, he told us to look out our window around 1:15am, but unless you had a telescope, you saw little difference until 1:30am - at least we were ready.

What's nice about a lunar eclipse, is that it lasts for hours from beginning to end and the totality phase lasts an hour. Knowing this, hubby, bestman and I said farewell to our friends at 3:00 and headed to the subway to watch the rest from the comfort of our own roof top. Public transportation being what it is in the early hours, we arrived at 4:40 and there was only a sliver left. Disappointment. Regardless, I had a great photo op walking home of the moon nearing the end peaking out from behind the church, a beautiful sight that my camera failed to capture adequately but one that I will keep in mind forever. I need a new camera Santa.

Take Care!

P.S. If you were waiting in anticipation for the post about reusable mugs, it will be up tomorrow at 8:00am.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Greening the Advent Calendar

There is nothing like counting down the days to Christmas by opening little doors and eating treats. Yes, I am talking about the Advent Calendar. (Having chocolate first thing is the morning is a great way to start the day.)

I can't recall when my Mum first introduced me to the concept, but I have loved it ever since. Even now, when I live in New York with my husband, she sent me a wonderful Cadbury Chocolate Advent Calendar. What a treat!

But in the optic of reducing waste produced by the holidays, a reusable advent calendar would probably be a better choice for the future.

While walking around Target, I found these adorable wooden Advent Calendars. They cost just under $30 and will last you a life time. However, you need to buy little treats each year. Which means you get better quality treats and they don't all have to be food.

The main issue I have with them is that the numbers are in order, I enjoy the challenge of finding the little numbers.These are the only options out there. If you have a minute, or if you need a minute, Google "Advent Calendars", there are some wonderful things being made.

What's your advent calendar look like this year?

Take care!

Monday, December 13, 2010

{Being Green} Starbucks

A recent article published on Environmental Leader, Energy & Environmental News for Business  brought me great joy. Coffee drinkers everywhere, rejoice! Drinking coffee is on its way to becoming less damaging to the environment.

Starbucks is working on having 100 percent of its cups being reusable or recyclable and offer front-of-store recycling in all of its locations by 2015.

With two recycling pilot projects underway, Starbucks Coffee Company is well on their way to attaining their goal. Their first pilot test proved that their paper cups can be recycled into new cups. This project has stirred much excitement as the positive results could be used to change to future of the entire food industry as quoted from the vice president of International Paper Foodservice, Greg Wanta, since it increase recycling rates across the country.

Currently, Starbucks is testing its recycling program in 86 of its Manhattan stores and will be setting up a similar program in Chicago at the beginning of next year. Past successful projects include store-front recycling bins in Toronto and Seattle and composting in San Francisco. Statistics published in June 2010

Although shareholders voted down a motion to increase recycling at this year's annual meeting, 11% were in favor and we can only hope that more shall join in the movement to get this huge multinational onto the green bandwagon. For the time being, our best course of action is to encourage local stores to promote reusable mugs and green standards.

Remember to as for your $0.10 discount when you bring your own mug (in the U.S and Canada). I speak from experience, most cashiers seem not only to be completely unfamiliar to the concept of Bring-your-own-mug but also unaware of the discount, BUT it's there, online, sepia on grey - demand it.
Also, if you are are planning to sit and sip your coffee, ask for a ceramic mug. They don't have any, they should.

Interested to learn more, visit Starbucks online. They have informative videos and stats. Here's the link:
Recycling & Reducing Waste| Starbucks Coffee Company

Coming next week : How to choose the best reusable mug.

Take care!

References :
"Starbucks Turns Used Cups into New Cups." Environmental Leader. 20 Nov. 2010. [On line] 12 Dec. 2010 .
"Starbucks Recycling Cups at Chicago, Seattle Stores." Environmental Leader. 29 June 2010. .[On line] 12 Dec. 2010 .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Curious Happenings in Central Park

One of my favorite things to do in New York, is walk around Central Park. I try to go there as often as possible to get out of the fast pace life in the city and see what masterpieces Nature has produced. Whenever I go and regardless of with whom I walk, I unfailingly end up at the Model Boat Pond.
 I don't mind, it's a great place to be. Birdwatchers know that it's the best place to do some serious Hawk watching as Pale Male, the resident Red-Tailed hawk, has built a nest on one of the 5th avenue buildings. Interested? You should read Red-Tails in Love by Mary Winn, a great book I wrote a short review about earlier. You can read about it by clicking here

It's also a great place to get some people watching in. There are people sailing model boats or driving speed boats, lovers holding hands, artists, readers, ducks paddling and kids all around.

My first visit taught me that you can earn a living dressing as a fairy and dancing for money - to everyone's delight. This particular fairy lives in my neighborhood, my friends and I just happened to take the same train as her one morning. It created quite a stir in our little group of fairy fans. We lost track of her on 81st street, near the Natural History Museum - our destination.  We hadn't managed to snap a picture but the Model Boat Pond provided both a great view of the fairy and Pale Male (the reason for our visit). 

But that's not all, besides, the boats, the ducks and the fairies the pond has something else to offer : FISH. 
I first noticed the presence of fish when my husband and I wanted to see how deep the pond was. To my delight,as I carefully leaned over to edge, I could see hundreds of little fish, mostly brown with some bright orange ones thrown into the mix. How wonderful! I shared my excitement with the nearest kids and together we watched the wee fish swim around just out of reach under the surface. Once I had used up my hubby's patience, we moved on only to witness this feeding frenzy happening on the other side of the pond - this was in the beginning of November.  Someone had thrown bread crusts into the pond, probably for the ducks. The ducks didn't stand a chance! These fish were hungry. Piranha fans eat your hearts out!

Have you seen something quite like this? If so where, when, with who and why?
Have you seen the Central Park fish? Do you know what kind they are?

Take care!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

{Pearls of Wisdom} Of Teeth Brushing and Water Wasting

 Turning off the water while you brush your teeth can save up to 5 gallons of water .

Take care!

Under the cap of Snapple Ice Tea

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

{Pearls of Wisdom} When Buying Orchids

This new series of posts will consist of bite-size pieces of knowledge I have gleamed throughout my life. When I was younger I use to carry around a large notebook that I had dubbed "The Big Red Book of Irrelevant Thingies". In which I would jot down interesting facts, random pieces of wisdom or common knowledge that I had not pick up on. I'm a bit older now but I still keep this book preciously in the book shelf and, well, ok, the notebook just doesn't fit into my handbag and I can't be carrying a backpack all the time, right? So I've opted for a smaller version which I carry around everywhere with me. You should see the random things that end up in there. Regardless, I will try to provide these tidbits with tangible references when it's possible.

When Buying Orchids

Orchids are fickle things. Increase your chances with this easy test : when selecting an orchid jiggle it in the pot (with moderation). The orchid should sit firmly in the pot. By jiggling the pot, you make sure the orchid is well anchored.

Take care!

ConsumerReports, Quick and Easy Shopping Guide, 2010.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Roasted Pear-Squash Soup with Crumbled Blue Cheese

or the successful Thanksgiving Soup

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a stress free Black Friday. For our part, we relaxed, watched the NYC Thanksgiving Parade (and official arrival of Santa Claus) from the safety of Grandma's house before heading out to the food coma inducing, turkey carving, sweet tooth paradise and  family gathering meal.
What made this year's different and slightly more stressful than the last few chaotic gatherings is Wolfman and I were expected to bring some kind of contribution to the meal. We, I thought long and hard about this and because of cooking skills are, well, average on my best day, I went with something I new: SQUASH SOUP.
I love squash soup, it's the best thing to eat at this time of year. However, my ever so kind husband pointed out that my soups, although always delicious and his absolute favorite thing, may be considered a bit bland by the rest of humanity. BLAND! How dare he. (Obviously he is right, I haven't the faintest idea of what to do with spices but I'll never admit, to him at least.) After getting over my husband's betrayal, I set out in search for a recipe.
Being the Last Minute Queen, I found the recipe in the free "Eat Healthy Your Way" magazine produced for the Commissary, the military grocery store. You can access lots of great recipe's online at I found it while flipping through it searching for addition discounts while waiting at the deli counter. Boy was I happy! Not only did it sound good, but I could pick up the ingredients as I went along.

What you need: 2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2 lbs butternut or acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2" chuncks
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
4 cups of vegetable broth
2/3 cup crumbed blue cheese
1 tbsp sliced fresh chives
1 hand held blender
1 large rimmed baking sheet
1 large cooking pot
Chopping knives and preferred tools for stirring soup ( I like wooden spoons)

How to: The key to roasting your vegetables is to cut them into equal-sized pieces. This allows them to cook at the same rate so you don't end up with a mix of burnt and undercooked pieces. (You live and you learn, sigh.) I started by chopping up the squash, I used a butternut and an acorn squash because I had two small ones at home. Once that is done, preheat your oven to 400F. Why wait? Cutting squash is a long process and the oven doesn't take that long to heat. So, while the oven is heating, quickly cut up pears, tomatoes,  leek, garlic and combine them with the squash. Toss around in a large bowl with oil, 1/4tsp of salt and pepper. Spread your good looking mix onto a baking sheet and pop into the oven for about 45 minutes.

A word of advice: If you don't already own one, buy a cooking timer. I recently purchased one and it had significantly reduced the burnt supper syndrome that plagues our house.

Once the timer rings, let it cool while you prepare your vegetable broth. This process usually required you to boil water, add a broth cube and stir until it dissolves.  Combine half the vegetables with 2 cups of broth and blend. Add the rest of the veggies and another 2 cups of broth and blend. The recipe suggests using a blender but I don't have one. The hand held worked just fine. Add the remaining 1/4 tsp of salt (which I totally forgot and nobody seemed to notice) and cook for about 10 minutes. Divide into bowls and garnish with cheese and scallions.

VoilĂ ! An easy to prepare, great tasting Thanksgiving Soup.
It was a hit with the whole family. Let me know what you think and what personal spin you gave to the recipe.

To sum it up:
1- Peel, seed and cut squash into 2 inch chunks
2- Preheat oven to 400F
3- Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, 1/4tsp salt and pepper in a large bowl and toss to coat.
4- Spread on baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes.
5- Combine the roasted vegetables and broth in a large pot and blend.
6- Cook for 10 minutes.
7- Divide into bowls and garnish with cheese and scallions.

Before you go, how do you serve spaghetti squash? You've never tried? Tune in next week to find out!

Take care!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall by Peter Oelslager and Jillian Rubino

This wonderful homage to Fall in Virginia Beach comes to you courtesy of two great people: Peter Oelslager, someone I am happy to call my friend and not only because he let me post his great pictures and Jillian Rubino, Peter's girlfriend that I can't wait to meet.


 A soothing ramble through the peaceful woods
by Peter Oelslager

The Epic Battle: Summer vs Fall
by Jillian Rubino
Do you see the rabbit in the clouds?

Spanish Moss is the sun
by Peter Oelslager

The Realm of Swamp Thing
by Peter Oelslager

Go out and see what you can find around you.
Take care!

Picture Credits
Peter Oelslager
If you wish to contact Peter for prints, email me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leonid Meteor Shower

I just heard that this week is a great time for meteor watching. Apparently, the Leonid Meteor Shower will reach it's peak at dawn tomorrow. I am not an astronomer, far from it, but I do enjoy a good meteor shower; especially the wishing part. There is something magical about watching burning debris shooting stars fly across the night sky.  If you have the will power to pull yourself out of bed that early, God bless. I'm heading up to the roof top with a blanket, a cup of hot coco and my personal walking heating device (my husband). It's a bit cloudy tonight so I might not see anything but I'll try again tomorrow.

Let me know how many meteors you count. Scientist predict up to 20 per hour. What a show!

To learn more about this natural light show, read Lisa Grossman's article on Wired Science.

Take care!

References and Picture Credit
Grossman, Lisa. "Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Wednesday." Wired 16 Nov. 2010. 16 Nov. 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

One of a Kind Show and Sale - NYC

Dear precious readers,

My new and exciting job as an Assistant Designer for Twains Twines is taking up all of my time this week due to our presence at the One of a Kind Show and Sale in New York.

Since I'm an unorganized blogger, I have nothing prepared for this crazy week. I'll get back to you next week when I should have a little more breathing room.

In the mean time, you can check out my Fashion Blog: Love Garden Design where I have just posted pictures from first week of the show.

Take care!

Monday, November 8, 2010

{Book Review} Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn

Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park
By Marie Winn

Published in 1998 and written by a Science writer and published author, this account of 6 years birding in Central Park is a wonderful homage to the beauty and resilience of nature and a reminder of its presence even within a bustling metropolis like New York.

Filled with fascinating facts and lovingly described anecdotes, this book is a joy to read cover to cover. The writing is such that it can be enjoyed by both an experienced birder and a modest observer.
The endpapers map designed by Anne Malcolm are inviting and accurate. You can head to the boathouse, take out the book and follow the paths discovering parts of the park you would otherwise miss. You learn not only about the birds that inhabit or visit the 843 acres of green space that just happens to be smack bad in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world but also about the plants, insects, and other animals you might encounter. All 305 pages of this book hold an adventure you can recreate for yourself, all you have to do is take a walk in Central Park.

A must read for all New Yorkers and anyone planning to walk through Central Park.

Take care!

Get the book:

Friday, November 5, 2010

{NYC Encounter} The White-Footed Mouse

Look what I nearly stepped on while walking down 56th street and Columbus Ave.  

 White-footed Mouse - Peromyscus leucopus

Incredible, right? I can hear many of you asking yourself what is so incredible about seeing a mouse in New York City. Apart from the fact that for once I managed to take a picture of a Nature Sighting without it being dead or sessile by design. You see, this mouse is special, this isn't your standard city mouse, this, I dare say, is a country mouse. 
"White-footed mice live in wooded, brushy areas or open areas next to woods, such as marshes. They are active year-round, but mostly come out at night.White-footed Mice are good swimmers and excellent climbers. They often climb shrubs and trees looking for food. Their tails give them good balance. Mice build nests in burrows, stumps, brush piles, buildings, hollow trees, old birds' nests, old squirrels' nests and under logs. Nests are made with grasses, leaves, hair, feathers, milkweed silk, shredded bark, moss, and cloth. " via

The habitat description does not fit the location I saw this mouse. So how do I know that I saw a White-footed Mouse instead of a House Mouse (Mus musculus)? What struck me first was it's long tail, long white hind feet, and white belly. Not your average House Mouse. Why would I even consider this a possibility? I just read a book call Red-Tails in Love by Marie Winn. In this book, which I will review by next week, Mrs Winn finds an owl pellet in central park and brings it to the Natural History Museum to have the bones identified. (An owl pellet is what an owl regurgitates after it has swallowed its meal whole and digested the good stuff. You can find bones, hairs, exoskeletons, feathers and/or beaks depending on what it has eaten.) This particular pellet contained the skeleton of a White-footed Mouse. So they are here, you just have to look carefully. Just as you can see many different sparrows amongst the hoards of House Sparrows, rats and mice also hold their fair share of wonder.

Take care!

1. Winn, Marie. Red-tails in Love: a Wildlife Drama in Central Park. New York: Random House, 1998 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat, Give me Something Good to Eat

Great Horned Owl
Ecomuseum, Mtl, Qc, CA

Just a quick note to let you know that the next post will be on Thursday, November 4th. I'm taking a couple days off to play tourist in NYC with my friend. 

Don't eat too much candy!

Take care!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Down in the Meadow

Wolfman and I watched this fabulous Western Marilyn Monroe Movie called The River of No Return (1954).  In it, Marilyn is a saloon singer that gets swept up in a crazy prospecting adventure. During her adventure, she meets a young boy to whom she sings this wonderful song, Down in the Meadow- a song all about the seasons. I fell in love.  If you can play the guitar, you can find the cords at In the meantime, I've posted the lyrics and a video clip from the movie. Enjoy!

When Mr South Wind sighs in the pines,
old Mr Winter whimpers and whines.
Down in the meadow, under the snow,
April is teaching green things to grow.

When Mr West Wind howls in a glade,
old Mr Summer nods in the shade.
Down in the meadow, deep in the brook,
catfish are waiting for the hook.

Old Lady Blackbird flirts with the scarecrow,
scarecrow is waving at the moon.
Old Mr Moon makes hearts everywhere go bump, bump,
with the magic of June.

When Mr East Wind shouts over head,
then all the leaves turn yellow and red.
Down in the meadow corn stocks are high
pumpkins are ripe and ready for pie.

When Mr North Wind rolls on the breeze,
old father Christmas trims over trees.
Down in the meadow snow shoftly gleams
earth goes to sleep and smiles in her dreams.

Take care!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Book of Saturnus

Saturnus vulgaris, The European Starling.

Originally from Europe, this species was introduced to North America in a very special way. Their introduction can be pinpointed not only to a year but also to a person, Eugene Schieffelin. Mr. Schieffelin, a 5th Ave Resident in the late 19th century, reportedly thought "it would be nice to have all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare available for viewing in the park outside his window". So between 1890 and 1891, he had a total of 100 starlings shipped over from Europe. This small population exploded and within half a century, it went from 100 to to than 200 million in the United States. From New York, they have spread all across North-America. Thank you Mr. Schieffelin, now everyone can see the Shakespearean pests from their window whether they like it or not.

Starlings are an aggressive invasive species. They are cavity nesters and will bully their way in. Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails in Love and other great books and articles, tells of one such bullying episodes. The Northern Flicker, a large brownish woodpecker, painstakingly excavates its nest in tree trunks. Mrs. Winn and her fellow Central Park birdwatchers have observed this behavior and also the stalking Starlings, that sit and wait for the nest to be large enough before charging the flickers and laying their eggs in the freshly excavated nesting cavity, leaving the flickers to start again. It's not only the Flickers that suffer from the starlings self entitlement. All native cavity nesting birds must compete with the brutish starlings.

Enough with the accusing, let's get to know them a little better.

Member of the Order of Passeriformes, the European Starling is the type species of its genus Sturnus (meaning its the representative, the species you compare all Sturnus to). During breeding season (spring), its plumage is iridescent black with hints of green and plum, its bill is yellow. In the fall, feathers are tipped with white giving a speckled appearance and the bill is now darker, brownish. The juvenile birds are grey-brown, with a brown bill.

They are ground feeders with a particular technique called open-bill probing in which they prying into the ground by inserting and opening their bill to search for hidden food.

Outside nesting season, they can be seen in large flocks, to say the least. Watch this video (beware of motion sickness).

Take care!


1. Winn, Marie. Red-tails in Love: a Wildlife Drama in Central Park. New York: Random House, 1998
2. European Starling. Field Guide to the Birds of North America -4th Edition. Washington : National Geographic, 2002
3.  European Starling. Wikipedia. Oct.23rd 2010. [Accessed online] Oct.25th 2010.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

1 Year Anniversary

Purple Carrots and Fairy Smoke is now  
one year old!!

To celebrate, I picked up two delicious cupcakes from Crumbs bakery (Grasshopper and Raspberry Swirl) on my way home from yoga.
Wolfman and I eat these cupcakes in honor of this little blog and to thank all the readers out there that follow, comment or just pass by from time-to-time. I appreciate your readership and look forward to the years to come.

(I was planning a majestic post to commemorate this event and thinking up something new to celebrate but I got sick, horrible, I'll spare you the details.)

With a less Pump and Circumstance than planned, I would like to introduce you to the newest member of the NYC Wolf family and the figure head of my new project: I dub thee
Mr. Oregano Taterpot.

This adorable creature is in fact a brilliant creation from Japan - an easy-to-grow oregano starter kit with a potato-shaped pot with a face and legs! What's not to love?

You can find the entire collection here. I didn't buy it online though so I can't vouch for their service. I randomly came across it in a Upper West Side spoiled children toy store; you know the kind that offer toys for kids that already have everything. I digress.

Lately, I have been bombarded with information about Optimum Nutrition and began reading up (and watching multiple documentaries) about the importance of nutrition for your health. Even Hippocrates said: " Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine your food.". For that reason, but not that reason alone, I have decided to start growing some fresh greens at home, to have them readily available in depth of winter. Mr. Taterpot is an adorable gimmick but a gimmick non the less. I will also be planting regular pots with other herbs and vegetables. In a month from now, I will post a compilation video of the whole adventure and give you feedback on my experience of urban farming.

Until then, expect the regular, irregular, posts about being green, cooking, and the natural world.

Thank you and

Take care!

Monday, October 18, 2010

{Being Green} Reusing Plastic Bottles

Good Morning and welcome to Monday,

Let's start this week off right with a new Green Scheme. This week's concept comes to you courtesy of my Inbox and my Mother who lovingly sent me this viral email.

Although I don't often have plastic bottles available (I try not to buy them), I liked the idea and thought I should share it through another medium.  It could come in handy for my peas and beans I buy per pound from the Health Food Store and who knows what creative ways a fresh Monday Morning Brain can come up with. Right? Okay.

The Concept: Use the top of a bottle to seal the common plastic bag.

What you need: A plastic bottle, scissors, a plastic bag (sandwich bag or bulk produce bag)

How to: 1. Empty and clean the plastic bottle.  With the scissors, carefully cut off the top of the bottle leaving about an inch of the neck bellow the cap.

2. Remove the cap. Insert the bag through the top of the bottle (from the bottom) and screw the top back into place. You now have a bag that is air-tight and easier to pour once you master the technique of holding the bottle.

If you decide to take this idea for a whorl, let me know how well it worked and what you used it for. I'm curious.

Take care!

Thanks Mum!
[Picture credits] : Source Unknown, (they came with the email)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

{Fun Facts} Anthocyanin

Courtesy, yet again, from my favorite magazine, here is a great Fun Fact for Fall.

There is a 70% probability that Eastern North-American tree leaves contain ANTHOCYANIN, the pigment responsible for the red or brown autumn colouration. The combination of cool weather and reduced day light allows the warm pigment to emerge.

Head to  and search "Fall foliage" to discover the peak leaf-viewing days in your area. (or click here).

The New York City and Long Island area is Near its Peak (50-75% change) depending on your area, but you don't need a website to tell you that. Go enjoy the scenery for yourself.

To read more about Fall and how great it is, read my Fall Colours post from last year.

Take care!

1. Tanenbaum, Sharon. "The Simple List." Real Simple Oct. 2010: 14. 
2. Palm, Carl E. . "Why leaves Change Colour." Fall Foliage. . SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 14 Oct. 2010 .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I Like About our Harlem Flat

A couple months ago, Wolfman and I, moved into our small flat in Harlem.
At first I wasn't too thrilled by it, mostly because I felt we were rushed into the decision. As time goes by, I feel it progressively growing on me.

Sure there is only one closet, there's no laundry room in the building and the closest one is, well, scary looking but our south facing windows let the sun shine in from morning until dusk.

The five flights of narrow winding stairs we must climb always smell something but they also bring us that much closer to the roof access which is positively magical at all times of day. Mornings are great for yoga and when the sun goes down, we have a beautiful view of the city lights all the way to the Empire State Building.

For all its flaws, it's by the foot of the basement staircase that we found our little Charlie, the Harlem Rabbit. She (although we frequently refer to her using masculine terms; old habits die hard) is such a joy to have. We have concluded that she thinks of herself as a dog and as she lounges around the house much like one. We're still working on "coming when called" and "playing fetch", but we'll get there.

In front of the flat, where we often find a parking space, grows a Sycamore; a species that range does not naturally extend to Montreal but I tree I love none the less. The smooth camouflage patterned bark, palmately lobed leaves, and round prickly fruit fill are wonderful enough on their own, but what really makes me smile are the leaf impressions scattered about the sidewalk; permanent proof of the Sycamore's presence. This tells me they most probably out down the cement in autumn. I wonder how many of my neighbors have noticed.

Those sun facing windows I mention, also look out at what Wolfman described as a NYC tree line; the rooftop of an abandoned building now colonised by Cottonwood and various hardy weeds. It's lots of fun to watch because it gets many visitors: European Starlings, Little Brown Jobs (unidentified birds) and most recently Blue Jays. As time passes this little green haven will develop as the species present are ecosystem engineers and soon I'll be spotting many more species from the comfort of my couch.

In the defense of my flat, against myself, I must also argue that when looking for a home, the most important consideration is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Our flat is near the A-B-C-D-2 and 3 trains, we have a great Keyfood store, Chinese food restaurant, great Delis, a New York Public Library, a park, Wolfman's school AND a hospital all in under 15min walking distance. Oh yeah, and it's very affordable.

Yeah, I know, what's not to love about this place? Nothing. it's terrific.

This is a public apology to my Wolfman, for giving him such a hard time about the size of the place. Sometimes you just need to look at something from another perspective to see the beauty in the rough.

What do you like best about your place?

What kind of wildlife do you get to see?

I'd love to know.

Take Care!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baby Boo Self-Contained Pumpkin Pies

When the cold finally sets in and the leaves change colour and float to the ground, it's pumpkin time. They start appearing in the grocery stores in all shapes and sizes, just begging to be bought. There's the pale yellow or stripped spaghetti squash, the beige gourd shaped butternut squash, the green and orange spattered acorn squash, and the good old big orange carving pumpkin just to name a few.

Pumpkins, squashes, zucchinis, gourds, cucumbers, and melons are in the Cucurbitaceae family and the first three share the same genus: Cucurbita. The genus is then divided into a couple of species (pepo, maxima, moschata and mixta) each holding hundreds of varieties of varying shapes, sizes and colours. C. pepo and C. maxima are the species that hold the most varieties that North American consumers know and enjoy. C. pepo can generally be identified by the strong 5 prong star shaped peduncle and vertical grooves; think traditional large orange carving pumpkins. C. maxima are most squashes; they have a more cork like roundish peduncle. Have you ever seen pumpkins weighing over 1000lbs? Well they are varieties of C. maxima; a squash just like the butternut and acorn squash we enjoy in soups and muffins.

Why eat pumpkins? They are stocked full of vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants. All though this isn't much of a concern in this day and age but whole pumpkins can be kept for up to 6 months on the kitchen table (if they aren't damaged). Back in the days when getting vegetables in the dead of winter was tough, that meant a lot. Nowadays, you can walk to the store and pick up an orange in the middle of the coldest and shortest days of winter (if you are willing to poke your nose outside). They are good for you, they are grown
locally in North America and world wide, and they are available all winter long. Pumpkin pie isn't the only way to eat them. For the next couple of weeks I'll be posting different pumpkin recipes every Tuesday (earlier next time). Feel free to send me your suggestions and favorite recipes.

The pumpkin variety I want to showcase today is Baby Boo; a small white pumpkin frequently used for decoration. What you might not know, is that it can easily be transformed into a delicious self-contained pumpkin pie.

Baked Miniature Pumpkin pies

What you need: 1 Baby Boo
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2 Tbsp Butter
1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
Ice Cream (optional and quantity to taste)

The ingredients are measured for 1 pumpkin. Buy and prepare 1 pumpkin per person and mix the appropriate amount of stuffing.

How to: Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix the Brown sugar and melted butter in a small mixing bowl. Wash the pumpkin and cut off the top.

A word of advice: Cut the opening it big enough so a spoon can fit into the opening, the opening in the picture turned out to be too small which made eating it a messy challenge. I also strongly suggest you work on one pumpkin at the time to facilitate the lid to pumpkin association (seriously, it's not an easy puzzle).

Scrape out all the seeds. Once the pumpkin is gutted, pour in the brown sugar and butter into the pumpkin and sprinkle with cinnamon. Put the lid back on and place the pumpkin in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 30 min or un
til tender.

When ready take the Baby Boo pies out of the oven. Be careful with the pan; it holds scolding hot water. Serve the pies with a scoop of ice cream or on its own.

VoilĂ ! A festive and easy upgrade from your traditional pumpkin pie.

To sum it up:
1- Preheat oven to 350F
2- Wash pumpkins and cut out lids (1 pumpkin per person)
3- Gut the pumpkin - remove seeds and strings
4- Place a Tbsp of Sugar and Butter mix in each pumpkin and sprinkle with cinnamon
5- Place pumpkin in a deep baking pan with a 1/2 inch of water.
7- Cook for 30min or until tender
8- Serve with a spoon and a helping of ice cream
9- Enjoy!

Let me know what you think.

Take care!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

{Being Green} Don't be a water waster

Water is now thought to be the most probable cause of another world war because of the exponential growth of the human population, the already small proportion of available drinking water and the increasing contamination of these sources.

Environmental campaigns always target our water consumption, National Geographic even produced a dramatic special issue called: Water, Our thirsty World. I wrote about it in a past post (click here). We all know about turning the water off when we brush our teeth, using low flow shower heads, toilets and what not. We are told but sometimes its hard to apply.

When it came down to showers, kicking the habit of long hot showers was much harder. I just love getting lost in a daze as the hot water gently washes over my body. But a 30min shower definitely puts me in the water waster category. I needed a method that would allow me to time my shower without the depressing thought of setting an alarm.

This is what I came up with:

The Concept: Use your favorite songs to time your shower.
On average, commercial songs generally run for about 4min. Showering along to two of your favorite songs will not only improve your mood but also keep your shower to under 10min; significantly reducing your water consumption.

What you need: Some music playing device that won't electrocute you in the process.

How to: Step 1. Install some kind of musical device in or near your bathroom. There are shower radios available out there but I use this old boom box that I've strategically placed on my window sill to avoid contact with water (yes, I know, the rain but that is an entirely different issue).

Step 2. Get ready for your shower. Start the musical count down as soon as you start the shower running. Sing along and lather up. My objective is to be out the shower and drying off by the time the second song comes to an end. Voila! You are now taking less than 10min to shower and you have some great soundtrack for your day or night - depending on your showering preference.

Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Do you have any other water reducing habits?

Take care!

[Picture credit]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Book of Impatiens

From the Balsaminaceae or Touch-me-not Family comes this wonderfully exciting plant: Impatiens capensis. It is also known under the names of Orange spotted Jewel-weed and Orange spotted Touch-me-not.

At this time of year, it is a delight to encounter this plant because it's capsules are ready and they hold quite a surprise for the curious observer. But let's keep the best for last.

I. capensis is a widespread plant; I have encountered it in moist woods, brooksides and wet roadside ditches in Montreal, New York, and Virginia beach.

Gleason and Cronquist (1991) describe the range as such: Newfoundland and Quebec to Saskatchewan to South Carolina, Alabama, and Oklahoma – East Coast to about the middle of North America.

Impatiens flowers are easy to identify due to their shape. The spurred sac-shaped flowers droop upside down from slender pedicels. The opening if formed by three petals, one larger than the others making up the top lip (or bottom considering it's upside down). Many flowers have a radial symmetry (actinomorphic) meaning they can be divided in more than 2 equal parts. Jewel-weed flowers have bilateral symmetry (zygomorphic); you can split it into two equal parts much like the human body. If you want to read more about floral symmetry, click here.

Even without it's distinctive orange speckled flowers, Jewel-weed is easy enough to identify; alternate, softly toothed and delicately veined leaves upon a ghostly translucent stem with darkened nodes. I have seen it with a stem as thick as my finger and so thin it's a miracle it can stand at all. All you need is to see it once and from then on, they jump out at you.

I. capensis is the Aloe Vera of native North America. I rub the juice on insect bites to stop the itch. You can mix it with Vaseline (or fat) to make an antiseptic and hydrating cream
. My recent forest walks have led me to observe a funny tendency: when I come across a patch of Poison Ivy there is a patch of Jewel-weed not far from there. I haven't tried walking through Poison Ivy and rubbing Jewel-weed on it but maybe that's what nature is trying to tell me. That, or they tend to grow in similar conditions which not as romantic.

The main reason I love to meet this plant is due to its seed dispersal method. Impatiens produces elongated oval-shaped capsules which dangle so alluringly amongst the leaves and flowers. When you reach out to touch these little green pods they explode, shooting their seeds aloft. Believe you me, hours upon hours of fun. This particularly exciting dispersal method explains why they belong to the Touch-me-not family. The capsule twirls up into 4-5 curls, which once surrounded four seeds. Depending on when the capsule bursts, they can be green or a dark striated brown. When looking for capsules, pick the biggest and plumpest ones. You don't need to squeeze forcefully, a gently touch suffices to set off the mechanism. Try and catch the seeds if you can. The seeds will land a couple meters away from the parent plant and lay dormant until the following spring.

They are not the only ones that propel their seeds. Dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium)
, a parasitic plant, gathers up hydrostatic pressure in the fruit and shoots out the sticky seeds at 100 Kilometers per hour (65 miles an hour). Where dispersal agents are concerned, plant scientists have divided them in three large categories: wind, water, and animals. Propelled seeds are considered a form of wind dispersal along side dust-like orchid seeds, winged schizocarps of maples and the plumelike pappus or parachutes of the dandelions.

Keep your eyes peeled and fingers ready!
Take care!


Gleason, H.A & Cronquist, A.. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada - 2nd Ed.. Bronx, NY: The New York Botanical Garden Press, 1991.

Raven, P.H., Everet, R.F. & Eichhorn, S.E.. Biology of Plants - 7th Ed.. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company Publishers, 2005.

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