Carbon-busting Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

I decided the focus for my blog this week was going to be food, as these days in our household there is much talk about and action on getting our garden in, now that we are back from holidays. Mark is the gardener in our household, while I provide support services like bringing out glasses of ice tea and weeding sporadically. I do play a more active part in the harvesting, preparing, and eating department. However, since I’ve become more aware of the crucial role food plays in our unsustainable North American lifestyle, and particularly after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve promised Mark that I will change my non-gardening ways. He remains skeptical, but I’m optimistic. There’s so much room for improvement, how hard can it be?

Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring up here in the northern climes. It starts to peek up from the dirt while there’s still patches of snow lingering in our yard. Mark is a big rhubarb fan, and as a result we now have 5 large, healthy rhubarb plants around the yard.

The great thing about rhubarb, from a gardener’s point of view, is that it’s a perennial which needs a minimum of attention from one spring to the next. That’s the kind of plant I can appreciate.  And from an eater’s point of view, unless you are a rhubarb-hater (I know a few!) there’s little that compares to a fresh rhubarb crisp or a homemade rhubarb muffin. Nutritionally, rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. As a child growing up on a prairie farm, rhubarb was the first harvest from my dad’s garden and we kids would eat the stalks raw, dipped in sugar.

I’m busy with a work project that has a looming deadline, so I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening right now, as the project is consuming most of my waking hours. However, I did find time a few days ago to pick some rhubarb and make muffins, which in turn provided sustenance to Mark as he planted our home garden, so I’m kind of helping with gardening.  My daughters were lobbying for our usual rhubarb muffins, but I tried out a new recipe and after tasting the result they gave it their stamp of approval.  I found the recipe on smittenkitchen.com . I like the recommendation to mix a portion of the streusel crumbs into the batter, which I’d never done before. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, so here’s my version of Rhubarb Streusel Muffins:

  • Streusel Topping

1/4 cup (31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28 grams) spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt, use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted (I used light olive oil)

  • Muffin Batter

1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm ( I used light olive oil)
3/4 cup (177 ml) sour cream (I used yogurt)
1 cup (approx. 120 grams) spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 16 muffin cups.

Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.

Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.

Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.

 

More links:

Smittenkitchen.com: Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life

Why All The Fracking Fuss?

I’m just back from a three week vacation, which was a much-needed, refreshing break from my full-time contract work and my climate activism, as well as a chance to reconnect with my family. We had lots of fresh air and exercise during a week-long bike trip in the Loire Valley, and then spent time relaxing and eating great Italian food (we especially the enjoyed the gelati!) in Tuscany.

I also got a chance to do some reading while away, and got caught up on some movie-watching on the long (and yes, carbon-producing) airplane flights.  I will talk more about Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Sleeping Naked is Green on upcoming blogs.

But right now, let’s talk “fracking”. One of the inflight videos I watched was Gasland – and all I can say is yikes – it’s very alarming!!  I’m posting a video that explains what fracking for natural gas is, and why all of us should be very, very concerned about the huge push by the oil and gas industry to frame natural gas as a “green” energy source that is cheaper than wind and solar.  While there are studies that claim burning gas in power stations releases about half the carbon emissions of coal, a new study out of Cornell University found that generating electricity from shale gas – because of the difficulty in extracting it from rocks – produces at least as much carbon dioxide as coal-fired power, and perhaps more. As Jenny Banks from WWF-U.K. said recently,

“It would be ridiculous to encourage shale gas when in reality its greenhouse gas footprint could be as bad as or worse than coal. We need to reject this source of gas, and have a clear plan to move away from our dependency on fossil fuels and harness the full potential of renewable technologies.”

And besides the dubious green claims of the oil and gas industry (why is anybody listening to these amoral money-grubbers anymore?!?), there’s the “small” problem of the contamination of entire watersheds by the 500+ toxic, volatile chemicals used to access the natural gas locked in the shale.  There’s no going back once that happens, as the people who live close to fracking operations all over the U.S. have found out.  Right now, there is no fracking industry in Canada but Big Oil and Gas sure would like there to be, and are making plans to get started. Let’s join together to stop it while we have time. Not sure why it’s important?  Check out “My Water’s On Fire Tonight: The Fracking Song”:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=timfvNgr_Q4]

Take Action:

  • If you haven’t yet, watch Gasland. You can check out some excerpts, and an interview with film maker Josh Fox, here (thanks to Alan over at Climate Insight for the link).
  • Go to StopFrackingOntario.wordpress.com for information on campaigns to stop fracking across  Canada and other countries.
  • Spread the word in your circle of friends and family. You could even organize an evening event with them, watching “Gasland” and then writing letters to your elected officials (don’t forget to include some food and drink in your evening!)

More links:

Buried Secrets: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas Pollutes Water Wells

NYU’s Studio 20 Releases “The Fracking Song”

Fossil Fuel Firms Use “Biased” Study In Massive Gas Lobbying Push

Methane Gas and The Greenhouse-Gas Footprint Of Natural Gas From Shale Formations

Gasland: The Movie

*thanks to both Kathy and Kathryn for the recent fracking links*


Bottlemania: Consider The Carbon Footprint of Bottled Water

World Water Day was yesterday, but water is too important to be recognized on only one day of the year. Here is film maker and environmental activist Annie Leonard’s Story of Bottled Water, which was released last year on World Water Day:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se12y9hSOM0]

Lori from the great blog Adventures in Climate Change recently sat down to talk to science and environmental writer Elizabeth Royte, author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It and Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail of Trash. To hear what Royte has to say about how industry has sold us on the unsustainable and unnecessary habit of consuming bottled water, click here.

More links:

Adventures in Climate Change

Notes on Waste, Water, Whatever: Elizabeth Royte’s blog

Story of Bottled Water.org

It’s Time For Some Action and Inspiration

350.org, founded in 2007 by author and environmental activist Bill McKibbon and a team of university friends, was the catalyst for my involvement in the climate action movement.350.org spells out clearly what is known about the warming of earth’s atmosphere: 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what experts say is the safe limit for humanity. That is what is required to sustain life and civilization as we know it. And we are now above that. 350.org inspired me to move from being a climate change avoider to actively working to ensure my daughters have a chance to live in a world that’s not irreparably damaged by human activity.

As 350.org says of 2010:

It’s been a tough year: in North America, oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico; in Asia some of the highest temperatures ever recorded; in the Arctic, the fastest melting of sea ice ever seen; in Latin America, record rainfalls washing away whole mountainsides.

So we’re having a party.

Circle 10/10/10 on your calendar. That’s the date. The place is wherever you live. And the point is to do something that will help deal with global warming in your city or community. We’re calling it a Global Work Party.

In case you need more inspiration, here’s a video compilation of the amazing momentum that the climate movement gained in 2009.

2009 was an important year for the global climate change movement. From India to USA, from Ethiopia to China, people all over the globe took action, demanding fair and bold action to stop dangerous climate change. As world leaders met in Copenhagen for the UN climate talks in December, millions marched in the streets around the world.

In 2010, the movement is growing EVEN BIGGER. Visit http://350.org to get inspired and take action.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOf6EN45aRc]

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint And Support Your Local Economy At the Same Time

We all have to eat, but the choices we make on how to do that have a huge impact on the environment. The average piece of food in the US travels over 1000 miles (1600 kilometres) from farm to plate; I’m sure here in Canada it’s about the same. Ways to change this are to grow your own, to go to farmer’s markets, or to buy local as much as you can. There’s a cumulatively huge reduction in pollution and energy as more and more people make these choices. So, join the movement!

Today is Meatless Monday, and for supper my family and I are going to enjoy a salad made from lettuce from our garden and tomatoes from the farmer’s market, as well as corn on the cob and homemade bread. Yum – the taste of summer!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyvYNuOaIPU]

Operation Rock the Boat, and Other Climate Change News

What is going on in the climate change world these days?  I did some surfing and found some of the most interesting postings – hope you enjoy!

Although April Fool’s Day was last week, this April 1st posting from Real Climate is worth reading.  It discusses the “consensus view” of climate scientists that the Northern Hemisphere will be warming as spring approaches, as well as the response – including “scientific diagrams” –  of skeptic and author “Micheal Crikey”.  And don’t miss the comments section!

A “consensus view” amongst climate scientists holds that the Northern Hemisphere will be warming this month, as spring is coming. This is thought to be due to the Earth’s orbit around the sun and the inclination of the Earth’s axis, tilting the Northern Hemisphere progressively towards the sun throughout March and April and increasing the amount of solar radiation received at northern latitudes.

In a new novel, State of Euphoria, bestselling author Michael Crikey uncovers major flaws in this theory and warns against false hopes for the arrival of spring.

This is not merely fiction: Crikey underpins his thesis with numerous scientific diagrams. He presents measurements from over a dozen weather stations in the Northern Hemisphere where temperatures show a cooling trend in March. He further cites scientific results which show that in some places, snow and ice have increased in the past weeks, counter to climatologists’ claims that they should be melting away in the spring sun. He further argues that even the average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere has not increased steadily; during one week of March, it showed a slight cooling despite the increase in solar radiation.

“This casts a grave shadow of doubt on the theory of the seasons”, says Crikey…Click here to read the full article at Real Climate.

From Climate Progress: An Insider’s View of Climate Science, Politics, and Solutions, Joe Romm’s posting on The War Against Carbon Starts Now is the first in a new series Romm is launching about the kind of serious action on decreasing global warming emissions that people can push for at a local and state/provincial level — and even at a national and global level — without waiting for politicians. Part 1 discusses how the Carbon War Room (CWR) is starting to focus on lowering the carbon footprint of the worldwide shipping industry. The Carbon War Room is an exciting nonprofit initiative founded by Sir Richard Branson and several other world-class business leaders to harness “the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change”. The CWR’s operational approach, Romm writes, is to:

“bring together successful entrepreneurs in collaboration with the most respected institutions, scientists, national security experts, and business leaders to implement the change required to avoid catastrophic climate change.”

The Carbon War Room has “identified 25 battles across 7 theaters that are material to winning the war against climate change. Each battle accounts for over 1 billion tons (or more than 2%) of global anthropogenic CO2e emissions annually.”   The figure above represents CWR’s “Theaters and Battles,” with filled in green circles representing an “Op in Progress” and the dotted circles a developing Op.  For instance, one area CWR has already start on is shipping, a too-neglected sector that has huge emissions and but only medium-sized market barriers, which they are addressing with Operation Rock The Boat“… Click here to read the full story at Climate Progress.org.

From Colin  Beavan, AKA “No Impact Man”, some thoughts on environmentalism 2.0:

1. Happier planet = happier people.

2. You make a difference.

3. Our culture is broken.

4. The personal is political.

5. Economic growth ≠ Life satisfaction growth.

6. Jobs are paramount but we should work to make our planetary home better not worse.

7. The concept of zero sum game is for people with zero sum brains.

8. There is a better, happier system out there.

9. If thine eyes (or thine economic system) offends thee, pluck them (or it) out.

10. It’s not about having less. It’s about having more. The question is: more of what?

Go to NoImpactMan.typepad.com to read the complete list.

And for a visual, here’s “60 Seconds of Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Actual Volume of Gas in Real Time”. For more images of our global warming emissions, check out “Carbon Quilt: Making Sense of the World’s Carbon Footprint” (thanks to Laurie for the link!).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1vbtnExw_g&feature=player_embedded]

One Step to Changing the World – Eat Locally

Today is “Meatless Monday“, a campaign that encourages us all to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health by eating less meat.  Today’s posting is a discussion about the “Eating Local” movement by my good friend, Vi Stoesz.  She and her husband Barry participated in a “100 Mile Diet for 100 days” experiment several years ago, and Vi was recently invited to share their experience with an interested group of women in Altona, Manitoba.  Vi was gracious enough to agree to my request to share her talk on this blog:

Thanks for inviting me to talk about my experience with the 100 Mile Diet.

In the spring of 2007, we had heard about the 100 Mile Diet and were inspired by the Vancouver couple who went on a local diet for one year, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. A couple from our church, Jennifer deGroot and Will Braun, had also been gardening in the city and been very committed to putting food up for the winter. Jennifer shared extensively about eating local with members of our church, Hope Mennonite.  She and Will also worked on a farm as part of their journey towards eating locally.

Via the grapevine, we heard of the 100 Mile Diet challenge for interested people in Winnipeg. The challenge was to eat food grown in a 100 mile radius for 100 days and they were hoping that 100 people would sign up to participate.  A website was formed, where people could register to be official participants.  The challenge lasted from September 1 –December 9, 2007.  The group that created the idea wanted the experience to be somewhat of a challenge so they started it in September rather than over the summer.  This gave us time to prepare, learn to put food up if we needed to, research local sources of food, and network with others.

In the early spring of 2007, I really thought about it and wondered if we could do it.  I love contests that have a competitive edge – especially if they include my husband.  My children were 18, 22, and 24 at the time so I didn’t really have anything more to say to them in terms of advice – they knew all the answers! However, I still wanted to be an inspiration to them just as my parents have been to me in terms of service and life challenges.   I also came to believe this experiment would be a direct act of faith, in keeping with God’s call to care for the environment.  By eating locally, our food travels less which reduces green house gas emissions, it tastes better, and – most of the time -there is less packaging. The foods eaten are whole foods, with less processing. I would have to do the processing.  My connection with the land that grows my food would be strengthened.  I liked that.   My demand for cheap exotic fruits like oranges, pineapple and bananas is also directly linked with the oppression of poor farmers who have to use their land to grow food for me instead of their families.  Were my choices in food affecting someone else’s livelihood and contributing to their poverty?  I needed to think about those connections, and  I wanted to connect my actions with my beliefs.  This would be a good opportunity to directly live out my faith and learn lots in the process.

I ran the idea past my husband Barry and he agreed to join me if he could still drink coffee and eat chocolate.  We had been drinking fair trade coffee for about a year – would we have to give that up too?  Would we really try to give up chocolate?  We talked to others who were joining about their thoughts on coffee, chocolate and salt. Where would we get salt?  It turns out the only source of salt we could find that was somewhat close was in Saskatchewan. Was this too far? It wasn’t 100 miles.  If we couldn’t get it locally, what will our food taste like without salt? What about spices?  Isn’t this something that the First Nations traded for furs?  We were getting scared and very hesitant about this whole thing.  We thought it was a bit crazy.  Why put ourselves through this?  Weren’t we already eating local chicken and going to farmer’s markets? We were concerned and spoke with others.  They reassured us that if we joined, there would not be daily visits from “100 Mile” police to check up on us, or dire consequences for diving into a chocolate bar in the middle of the night.  If some people wanted to join with a few exceptions, that would be acceptable, and they could still sign up.  The point of the experiment was to be as open and transparent as possible.  We were still scared but excited at the same time when we took the plunge and signed up.

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