How to Make Minted Pea Soup

This is my favorite time of year at the Farmers Market – both English peas and strawberries are in season, both of which make excellent cold soups. Last year, I posted a recipe for my cold strawberry soup, and this year I thought I would share my minted pea soup recipe.

So, on Saturday, we headed to our local Farmers Market. Despite a very late start (we arrived there about 15 minutes before it closed!), I managed to snag the last three quarts of English peas. There were actually four quarts left, but a woman with a baby in a stroller arrived just after me and asked if she could have the fourth one. I didn’t have the heart to say no!


Once home, I shelled the peas, which yielded almost exactly 2 cups.

I sautéed the peas with ½ cup of diced white onions and 2 tablespoons of fresh mint from my garden. It took about 15 minutes for them to look tender.

I then added 3 cups of vegetable broth (my favorite is organic “unchicken” which has a nice full flavor, but you can use any vegetable broth, chicken broth or water) and let it simmer for another 15 minutes.

After letting the soup cool in the refrigerator for about an hour, I blended it until smooth. I served it with a dollop of whole milk yogurt, garnished with a few leaves of fresh mint. Mmmmmm. Tastes like Spring!

Running on algae: an Energy Conversation

image copyright NASA

Every time I see an image of oil gushing out into the Atlantic Ocean, or hear a conversation about our need to find alternative fuel sources, I think of the promise of biofuels. Like any other technology, there are pluses and minuses, but when I hear someone dismissing biofuels as requiring more energy to create than they produce, I have a ready response.

Last November, I attended a seminar entitled “Can Algae Replace Petroleum as a Clean, Low Carbon, Homegrown Fuel for our Military and More?” And my takeaway from this highly informative seminar was that it is not only possible to produce biofuels in an energy-efficient manner, but it can also be done in a way that alleviates another huge problem — water pollution due to waste-water runoff.

The seminar speakers included Jonathan Trent, Ph.D. of NASA, Chris Tindal of the Navy, William Harrison of the Air Force, and Roy Minson of SAIC (a government contractor). All of these experts agreed that the US’s continuing dependence on the quickly dwindling supply of foreign oil is an issue of national security. In addition, petroleum is an extremely expensive and inefficient way to power the vehicles necessary for the military. In addition, the military leaders said that they find it very disturbing that they send men to battle to obtain oil, which has to be shipped (using oil) to the US to be refined (which uses oil), then shipped back to the Middle East to fuel the military vehicles.

In the seminar, there were discussions of the pros and cons of various biofuels, including soybeans, sunflowers, canola, jatropha, palm and microalgae. Most of these crops produce relatively small yields compared to the amount of water and electricity needed to produce them. The exception is microalgae, which requires much less water and power, and produces a much higher yield of usable fuel (per acre/per year, soy beans produce about 50 gallons of oil, canola produces about 160 gallons, palm produces about 600 gallons, and algae can produce at least 2,000 gallons). However, cultivating microalgae on land has several challenges. For example, they take up a lot of space, require large amounts of fresh water (for the open-air type) and can be expensive to build and maintain (closed type).

But Jonathan Trent and others have been working on method that overcomes all of these issues, plus has some added environmental benefits. The program, the Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae (OMEGA), entails growing biofuel in plastic bags (membranes) of sewage floating in the sea. These particular bags are based on technology used to recycle astronauts’ wastewater. They allow fresh water and oxygen to exit while keeping saltwater out, and the algae and sewage in.

Here’s how it works. The OMEGA bags are filled with sewage and algae (the sewage can be found in abundance where it is currently being dumped into the ocean off the shores of all our coastline cities), and are floated on the surface of the ocean (so no need to pump in water). The bags collect solar energy (thus, no need for electricity), which causes the algae to produce oxygen through photosynthesis. The algae feed off of the sewage, and in the process they produce oil.

NASA estimates that, using the OMEGA method, 10 acres of ocean could produce 21 billion gallons of biofuel each year!

If you are interested in learning more about OMEGA and other biofuel technology, you can access the transcript and PowerPoint slides from this conversation, which are available in the Energy Conversations archives along with all the other conversations from the past four years.

In 2006, the Department of Defense started sponsoring this monthly evening seminar series called: “Energy: A Conversation About Our National Addiction.” The first Conversation featured former Director of the C.I.A., Jim Woolsey. And the DoD continues to support this effort: “The Energy Conversation is more than information sharing among peers and energy industry leaders; it is a playing field in the energy-climate world struggle, ” says Brian J. Lally, P.E., Facility Energy Director, The Pentagon.

The Energy Conversation includes representatives from: Dept of State • Dept of Treasury • Dept of Defense • Dept of the Interior • Dept of Agriculture • Dept of Commerce • Dept of Health and Human Services • Dept of Transportation • Dept of Energy • Dept of Education • Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) • Dept of Homeland Security • U.S. House of Representatives • U.S. Senate • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) • Office of Science and Technology Policy • Council on Environmental Quality • Office of the Secretary of Defense • Army • Navy • Marine Corps • Air Force • Coast Guard • Director of National Intelligence • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) • General Services Administration • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) • National Science Foundation (NSF) • National Academy of Sciences • Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) • Energy Star • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

How to Make Cold Strawberry Rose Soup

In previous posts, I have shared my cold strawberry soup and my rose petal jelly recipes. Today, after a fruitful trip to the farmers market, and noticing the abundant blooms on my rosebush, I was inspired to create a new recipe that combines the best of both of these springtime delicacies. The result was amazing. It is lighter and brighter tasting. Plus the roses add a certain je ne sais quoi.

If this sounds appealing to you, here is how you can make your own cold strawberry rose soup.  You will need the following:

  • 2 quarts of fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup of rose petals
  • 1 teaspoon of rosewater
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup

Rinse the rose petals, then place them in a blender. Only use roses that you are absolutely sure have never been treated with pesticides. It’s best to use ones that you have picked from your own garden (or that of your trusted friends and family).

Wash, hull and halve the strawberries (you will probably use closer to 1 1/2 quarts, but it’s nice to have extras for garnish and for eating while you prepare the soup), then place as many as you can in the blender with the rose petals.

Add 1 teaspoon each of rose water and vanilla extract (I made my own by soaking 2 vanilla beans in a small bottle of brandy for 6 weeks) to the strawberries and roses. Puree until smooth.

Add the yogurt and maple syrup, and blend until well-mixed. (I’ve been using yogurt from Blue Ridge Dairy. All of their products are amazing, their cows are very happy, and their representative at my farmers market looks like Francis from Malcolm in the Middle :-).

You can add more strawberries at this point since you will have more room in the blender.

Chill, then serve garnished with a dollop of yogurt. Enjoy!

More toxic, less effective!

image copyright Art by Pir8t

The curious case of BP’s choice of dispersants

I usually write about happy, herbal and crafty news. But I am also a researcher and consultant who focuses on wellness and cancer prevention, so I feel compelled to write about what I find to be a disturbing discovery that affects the wellbeing of our water, the marine life in it, and quite possibly myriad numbers of humans at some point.

I have been greatly disturbed by the images of gushing oil and dead sea life throughout the Gulf of Mexico. And, earlier this week, when an EPA employee told me that the dispersants being used on the spill are highly questionable (very toxic and containing many unknown “proprietary” ingredients), I became even more upset. According to the EPA, as of May 18, 2010, “approximately 600,000 gallons of dispersant has been used on the surface and approximately 55,000 gallons of dispersant has been used subsurface, at the source of the spill.” So this was a lot of poison with unknown consequences being dumped into (and underneath) the already hurting waters.

image copyright NASA

So I was very happy to hear on May 20, 2010, that the EPA had issued an order to BP to stop the use of the very toxic dispersant, Corexit, and replace it with a less toxic, more effective dispersant. Except I couldn’t help wondering why they had allowed the use of this more toxic, less effective chemical to begin with, and for as long as they had. Then I heard something that provided a possible clue.

Last night on Anderson Cooper’s 360, journalist Ed Lavendera reported that 100,000 galls of Sea Brat-4, a less toxic, more effective chemical is sitting unused. Here is an excerpt from the CNN transcript:

LAVANDERA: Hundreds of containers are just sitting here in the Houston sun. To some it’s another example of the mismanagement of the oil spill. The containers are full of a dispersant called Sea Brat-4. Why is it sitting here and not in the ocean instead. No one really knows, especially says BP is on record saying it would use the stuff.

DOUG SUTTLES, COO, BP: We also have a second product called Sea Brat-4 which we’ll introduce into the process as well.

LAVANDERA: That’s what BP said almost a week ago, but we found the Sea Brat-4 sitting here. You’re looking at it, almost 100,000 gallons of the less toxic dispersant. Guess who ordered it? BP did on May 4th, almost three weeks ago.

John Sheffield is president of the company that makes it.

JOHN SHEFFIELD, PRESIDENT, ALABASTER CORPORATION: It’s ridiculous. I think something is intentionally stopping us from getting our product to the water.

LAVANDERA: EPA and coast guard officials say there’s nothing stopping them from using Sea Brat 4. Sheffield says he could be making 50,000 to 100,000 gallons a day. But a BP spokesman will only say the company had to use what was readily available and stockpiled and it has been asked to find add alternatives to Corexit. And getting a direct answer is hard for Congress to get as they grilled BP executive Lamar McKay this week about the issue.

This made me wonder if there was some connection between BP and the company producing Corexit, so I did some research. This is what I found:

  • On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP sent oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • On April 30, 2010, BP released news that it had tested dispersants (tradename: Corexit) manufactured by Nalco Holding Co.
  • On May 1, 2010, Goldman Sachs recommended buying BP shares (source: MarketWatch)
  • Also on May 1, 2010, BP announced that it would use the Nalco dispersant on the oil spill.
  • Goldman Sachs Capital Partners, along with two other companies, owns Nalco (source: Nalco website).

So, piecing all this together, BP chose a less effective, more toxic dispersant, made by a company owned by Goldman Sachs. On the same day that BP announced they would be using this dispersant, Goldman Sachs recommended the purchase of BP stock. In other words, you wash my oily back, I’ll wash yours.

For updates on the EPA response to oil spill , you can visit their BP Spill website.

USDA’s People’s Garden and Healthy Garden Series

photo copyright USDA

When were on the Mall last month for the Climate Rally, my husband and I passed a vegetable/herb garden on the grounds of the US Department of Agriculture. It looked like a large, very well-kept version of a garden you would find in someone’s yard. It was the first time I had noticed it.

Then, a couple of days ago, I was talking to a friend who works for the USDA who told me that the gardens are part of their People’s Garden Initiative. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, established the garden on February 12, 2009 in commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday. Vilsack challenged all USDA employees to create similar gardens at USDA facilities worldwide, or to help their communities create gardens in vacant lots, schools, or churches.

photo copyright USDA

In addition to the sustainably managed gardens that I happened across, the USDA headquarters is also offering programming from May to August, including workshops and youth programs, all of which are free and open to the public. The workshops will cover topics such as composting, beekeeping, green roofs and natural pest control.

The USDA also has a farmers market, which is held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, every Friday from June 4 through October 29. It is located in USDA’s parking lot, corner of 12th Street and Independence Avenue, SW.

For those of you who are not located conveniently to Washington, DC, the People’s Garden Initiative website is a great resource where you will find links to gardening tips, recipes, healthy eating tips, and more.

You can download a PDF version of the People’s Garden Program Guide, which lists all the upcoming festivals, gardening workshops and youth programs being held from May through August. To register for one of the Healthy Garden Workshops call (202) 690-3898. And to schedule a guided tour of the People’s Garden or Program for Youth call (202) 708-0082.

Fab Faux Ticket Giveaway: May 22nd DC Concert

[Note: It is 12:00am on May 21st, and I have closed out the giveaway contest. A winner was chosen using the random number generator at random.org. Congratulations, Amanda Kozlowski!]

When I was a kid, I had a music teacher who was a hardcore Beatles fan. He taught us everything he new about the music and history of Beatles. Learning about the evolution of their work and their world views, and listening to their timeless music made me wish I had been born at a time when I could have witnessed Beatlemania firsthand. So I was thrilled when a family friend (another huge Beatles fan) offered to take me and a friend to see Beatlemania on Broadway. It allowed me to pretend that I was back in the 1960s witnessing an intimate concert by the Fab Four.

And when I was asked if I would be willing to spread the word about a DC appearance by The Fab Faux this weekend, I was eager to learn more about them. I found out that the group is comprised of seasoned musicians who are dedicated to “faithfully recreating some of the most extraordinary music ever written.” As they explained in an interview for NPR, they are a “’Beatles records’ tribute band” in that they don’t try to look or act like the originals, but rather work on accurately recreating the Beatles’ later studio pieces.

The members of Fab Faux are: Will Lee of Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Vivino, formerly of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, Rich Pagano, who has performed with Rosanne Cash and Ray Davies, Jack Petruzzelli, who has toured and recorded with Joan Osborne, Patti Smith and Rufus Wainwright, and Frank Agnello, who has worked with Phoebe Snow and Marshall Crenshaw.

Over the past decade of performing together, the group has amassed an impressive resume: they celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a sold-out concert at Radio City Music Hall; and in 2007, they commemorated the 43rd Anniversary of The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show with an appearance on Late Show with David Letterman (which films in the Ed Sullivan Theatre).

For the fourth year in a row, The Fab Faux will appear in Washington, D.C. at The George Washington University Lisner Auditorium. They will be joined by Crème Tangerine Strings and Hogshead Horns. The concert will be held at on Saturday, May 22, 8:00pm.

A marketing firm for the Fab Faux has offered a free pair tickets to the show for my readers. To enter, just leave one comment on this post with your name and an email address where I can easily contact you (I suggest that you use [at] instead @ to protect your mailbox from spammers). The deadline to enter is 11:59pm EST on Thursday, May 20th. A winner will be chosen by random number generator, and will be announced on Friday, May 21st. The winner can claim his/her tickets at will call.

For more information on the concert, please visit the Lisner Auditorium website. Tickets can be purchased at Tickemaster or by calling 202-397 SEAT. And to learn more about the Fab Faux, I suggest you check out their very groovy website.

Hello Spaghetti Scrub!

The innovative Spaghetti Scrub

The following is a totally unsolicited review

One of my favorite DC stores is Greater Goods on U Street (one of my favorite streets in DC). They have a great selection of environmentally-friendly household supplies like biodegradable garbage bags, composting bins, shower filters, reusable produce bags, and much much more. I can always count on them to have some fun eco-friendly product that is new to the market. On my last visit to Greater Goods, I discovered the coolest dish scrubber I’ve ever seen – the Spaghetti Scrub.

The Spaghetti Scrub is part of a new line of environmentally friendly scrubs made with natural materials such as recycled corn cobs, peach pits and walnut shells (unlike conventional scrubbers and sponges, which are made from petrochemicals). The scrubs are distributed through an American company, Goodbye Detergent!, but the products are the genius creations of industrial designer Hiroki Hayashi and are made in Japan. These innovatively-designed products have apparently won international design awards.

image copyright Goodbye Detergent!

Not only does the Spaghetti Scrub look cute, it works really really well. And, unlike course scrubbing sponges or steel wool, it feels very soft and comfortable in your hand. Plus, I found that, just as promised, soap wasn’t necessary when dealing with even heavily baked-on messes, and the Spaghetti Scrub seemed to require less effort than any other scrub I’ve used. At first I thought this was simply due to the fact that I was having so much fun with it, but I’ve been using it for over a month now, and I’m still enamored with it!

I know this sounds like a commercial, but I am really happy with my new discovery and can’t say enough good things about it. Now if I could just find out more about this Hayashi guy. A Google search turned up several people with the same name, and I couldn’t tell if any of them were the genius Spaghetti Scrub guy. If you can point me to his other work, I would be truly grateful!