Clare and Don’s Beach Shack: Good Food, Gators and Going Green in Falls Church City

Recently, when I was feeling under the weather and craving some homestyle soup, I headed over Clare and Don’s Beach Shack in Falls Church City. I have ordered lunch there a few times, and their nice selection of from-scratch comfort food was perfect for my mood.

When I arrived, I found out that the soup of the day was a homemade chicken noodle, brimming with big chunks of fresh celery and carrot. Just what the doctor ordered!

The restaurant has a Florida beach shack theme, which is colorfully carried throughout the décor and menu selection, which even includes fried alligator tail (really!). In the summer, my family and I often head over there for an early dinner on the outdoor patio, where live music plays in a fun, lively environment that really makes you feel as if you are at the beach. And their location next to The State Theatre, makes them a great pre- or post-concert restaurant.

Besides being a great place for good food and entertainment, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is doing a lot to be a sustainable business. While I was waiting for my soup, I spoke to Dave Tax (who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Rebecca), about their green initiatives. He told me that they had installed solar panels on the roof of their restaurant to generate 15% of their power usage.

solar panels on the roof of Clare and Don's

Their used cooking oil is saved then collected by Free State Biofuels, who then turn it into biodiesel. And, according to their website, their recycling far out weighs their solid waste! This is extra impressive given that Falls Church City does not have a mandatory business recycling program, so Clare and Don’s has to pay to have their recycling collected.

mural inside Clare and Don's

They also have a nice-sized vegetarian menu, many items of which are vegan. Manager Susan Anderson told me, “People love our vegetarian selection. Even non-vegetarians like our buffalo tofu and other non-meat items.” Their offerings including Phish and Chips, Uncrabcakes and Tofu Sandwiches. My favorite vegetarian items are the Cluckless Tacos, and Tofu and Grits.

When I received my order, I was delighted to see that it was in a compostable container. Apparently all of their “To-Go” containers are made from recycled materials. Yay, no styrofoam!

Clare and Don’s was established in May 2005 in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington (the inspiration for the restaurant’s clever name!), then moved to Falls Church City in 2007.  I remember being thrilled to find that they offered whole belly clams, a rarity in the DC area, and a dish that has been part of my spring dining ritual for as long as I can remember. They are my go-to restaurant whenever I am in the mood for any kind of seafood.

Or, if you’re in the mood for homemade ice cream, or a New York style deli sandwich (with a Dr. Brown’s to wash it down and black and white cookie for dessert), check out Mike’s Deli/Lazy Sundae, their sister business.

As you can probably tell by now, I highly recommend Clare and Don’s for good seafood in a fun, casual setting. And, if you’re brave enough to try the fried ‘gator tail, let me know how it is!

Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is located at 130 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046

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Making Earth-Friendly Practices Second-Nature

Earth-friendly practices can become second-nature if you set up your home to make it easy. Over the past 40 years (since the inception of Earth Day), a whole plethora of products and services have appeared to help make it easier to live a greener lifestyle. Following are some solutions I use that I think look good and do good (for the earth and your family). As a result of these simple practices, my family produces very little actual garbage each week, and our water bill is very reasonable. Hopefully they will inspire you. And please share your ideas with me — I am always up for suggestions of new and better ways to green my home and business.

Compost A couple of years ago, our friends gave us this ceramic compost pail for Christmas. It was an awesome gift that gets continual use. I keep it on the kitchen counter, where it serves as an attractive and practical accessory. It has a charcoal filter in the lid so that smell is never an issue (I run the filter and the pail through the dishwasher after each use), and the handle makes it easy to carry out to the compost pile.

aesthetically pleasing kitchen compost container

Make your own cleaning products. You can insure the purity and safety of the ingredients in your household cleaning products if you make them yourself. Plus it’s a money-saver. Last month I posted an article on the safety of Borax, which contains a recipe for an all-purpose household cleaner. To make your own glass/window cleaner, simply mix 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1 1/2 cups of water. Spray onto windows and wipe immediately with a clean cloth. You just need to make an investment in a good spray bottle (I’ve found that some of the cheaper ones can break with a lot of use, so it’s good to pay a little extra for a sturdy one).

aluminum spray bottle for storing your homemade household cleaners

Use cloth napkins and towels instead of paper I keep a supply of these in my kitchen drawer. I love fabrics in different colors and textures, and not being very handy with a sewing machine, this is a practical and green way to enjoy them. The napkins in the photo were purchased from two of my favorite individually-owned stores – The Muse, an artisan shop in Frederick, MD and Olive Market, a gourmet artisan restaurant and gift shop in Georgetown, CT.

an assortment of cloth napkins and towels

Recycle paper products Although I reuse most of the packaging I receive, I still end up with unwanted paper products each month. So, I keep a wicker basket near the front door where we can easily toss any paper that we have designated for recycling. We are very fortunate that our municipality takes all types of junk mail, chip board, cardboard, magazines, and more.

strategically-placed paper recycling bin

Recycle glass and plastic I have a very small kitchen, so there is no room to keep a recycling bin for bottles cans and plastic. So, we installed a pull-out drawer that contains a built-in trash can with two bins. I use one for garbage (I use biodegradable trash bags) and one for recycling.

Even though my municipality takes number 5 plastic, I feel more confident that it is truly going to be recycled if I take it to the Preserve collection bin at my local Whole Foods. I’ve been a fan of their toothbrushes for several years now.

built-in trash/recycling center

Re-use paper If I make a mistake when printing something out, rather than just throwing the paper into the recycling bin right away, I put it in a stack of paper that I keep next to my printer for use in test prints and drafts. My husband also brings home paper from work. It saves us a lot of paper.

stack of used copy paper ready to be re-used

Use 100% recycled paper When I do need to print on a clean sheet of paper, I only use 100% post-consumer waste paper. Staples offers their own store brand 100% pcw paper that is processed without chlorine. Even though they don’t tout it, Staples does the most of any national office supply chain in terms of green practices.

Staples brand 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper

Replace your incandescent light bulbs Compact florescent bulbs are good investments and they also save you from the hassle of changing bulbs all the time. I have a couple of bulbs that I bought from Real Goods that have lasted me for over 15 years! Make sure that you purchase quality flourescents, which will last a long time. One drawback is that you have to be careful about the disposal of  your used flourescents (they contain mercury), so check your local Home Depot or municipal waste collection website for information.

compact florescent inside a regular lamp

Install a programmable thermostat Programmable thermostats are easy to install and can save a lot of energy over the course of a year. By setting your heating and cooling systems to turn on and off/up and down by themselves, you avoid wasting energy during times when you are out of the house or sleeping. For more information, including an energy savings calculator, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s programmable thermostats page.

programmable thermostat

Install a rain barrel About 40% of total household water use during the summer goes to watering lawns and gardens. By installing a rain barrel, you can assure your own free supply of water for your gardens, flower pots and other outdoor uses.

According to the EPA, using water collected in your rain barrel can save you approximately 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months!

55-gallon rain barrel

I ordered the rain barrel for my house in Connecticut through Real Goods, back when they were hard to find. Real Goods still offers some great rain barrels, but now they are also available from many online stores, as well as Home Depot and Whole Foods.

And that’s something that has changed in many areas over the past 20 years. Being green has become easier as products and resources have become more readily available. There is always more than each of us can do to help insure the health of our planet and its inhabitants, but it’s never too late to start with some easy steps, like these.

Happy Earth Day!

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How to Green Your Packing and Shipping

As an online retailer, shipping is an integral part of my business. And as a sustainable company, I am acutely aware of the impact that shipping (and the accompanying packaging) can have on the environment. I have struggled with this issue from the beginning, trying to find the best way to keep my impact to a minimum. So, in order to make my shipping as green as possible, I have implemented a few different tactics.

Packing
First, I reuse packing materials whenever I can (the exception is those horrible Styrofoam packing peanuts, which I pass along to a neighbor who uses them for shipping his products), as it is always best to reuse existing materials whenever possible. However, during busy times, such as the holiday shopping season, I find that I run out of materials and need to purchase them.

I have always made it a priority to purchase recyclable and recycled packing materials for my business. Plastic bubble wrap, non-post-consumer boxes, and any kind of plastic materials were out. Staples has a decent selection of recycled shipping products, and I had been using their recycled mailers, boxes and shredded paper fill.

However, I was thrilled to discover Salazar Packaging, which offers a huge range of very green packing supplies through their company Globe Guard Products. I am a huge fan of their corrugated boxes. Most corrugated boxes contain 25% to 35% recycled material, but Salazar offers boxes all made with 100% post consumer waste, and they have just about any size you need. Their boxes are very well made, and feel sturdier to me than any other boxes I’ve used. And more recently, I have become devoted to Salazar’s new bubble wrap. It is recyclable as a #4 PE (polyethylene) material and it is oxo biodegradable as well. It has the advantaged of being lighter than paper wrap, so has cut down on my shipping weights, and consequently, my carbon footprint. For the full story on Global Guard’s biodegradable bubble wrap, see their blog post on it.

Globe Guard biodegradable bubble wrap - photo copyright Salazar Packaging

Dennis Salazar, owner of Salazar Packaging and Globe Guard Products, is committed to sustainability and is an active member of the Green America community. And they are members of 1% For the Planet.

In a recent conversation, Salazar offered his thoughts on the state of green packaging. “The world of packaging materials is evolving very rapidly and fortunately changing for the better, in terms of their short term and long term environmental impact,” he said.

However, he pointed out the current reality that “Almost any shipping container, regardless of style and construction is very likely to exist only for a few months before it is used and, in most cases, discarded. That container is very likely to last for years or decades if it happens to wind up in a landfill.”

Companies have started to recognize the impact of this reality, and “that is why today in 2010 we see plastic- and paper-based products that are 100% recycled content, which also happen to be much lighter in weight compared to comparable 2004 products. There is also a whole new field of bio-plastics that are designed to breakdown in a matter of a few months, even in landfill conditions.”

Unfortunately, as Salazar points out, the use of such materials is not necessarily the norm yet. “The majority of people, even those with the best intentions, are not using the best or most economical product for what they do. They buy what they use out of habit or convenience, based on price rather than cost, and rarely consider the long term impact of their choices.”

However, once you have made the concerted decision to go with the most environmentally sound and economical packing options, the choices still aren’t always so straightforward. Salazar says that “the ‘best’ product for any specific application or customer will vary, based on what you ship, how many you ship, where you ship it and even how you ship it.”

Since there is no one right answer to all shipping situations, Salazar recommends the following simple steps companies can take to minimize their environmental impact:

• Use as little packaging as possible by weight and volume
• Assume most of what you use (60% or more) will unfortunately wind up in a land fill
• In most cases, paper is still better than plastic (but not all)
• Use recycled content products because they encourage recycling by creating a market for the waste
• Reuse everything you possibly can

Shipping
As far as shipping services go, I exclusively use the U. S. Postal Service (USPS). For one, it’s very convenient since I can use Click-n-Ship and ask for pick-up, or easily drop off my packages at my local station.

In addition, they are the greenest option I know of for shipping. USPS is the only mailing or shipping company in the nation to achieve “Cradle to Cradle” Certification at the Silver level from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) for human and environmental health. They achieved this certification in 2007, but I feel they haven’t done a lot to tout it.

Anyway, in order to achieve certification, all 200 suppliers contributing to the manufacture of Postal Service envelopes and packages completed a demanding series assessments of materials for human and environmental health. All materials were examined using 39 criteria for human and environmental health, including toxicity, renewable energy, water stewardship, recyclability and other manufacturing attributes. You can read the original press release to learn more about what their certification entailed.

Besides it being green I find USPS to be an economical and convenient way to ship my customers’ orders, both within the US and overseas. If you sign up for their Click-n-Ship service, you not only have the convenience of printing postage and shipping labels from your computer and printer (which also looks professional), but you also receive a discount of up to 14% by creating your postage online.

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Cleaning, With a Green Twist

twistRecently, I stopped by Greater Goods, a store on U Street that specializes in earth-friendly household goods. There were all sorts of cool products including degradable trash bags, composting bins, rain barrels, solar powered outdoor lights, and all sorts of household cleaning supplies. And I discovered a new product I’d never seen before — household sponges and reusable sponge clothes made from totally biodegradable materials. I knew that most household sponges are made from foam polyurethane, and I liked having the option of using sponges that will break down naturally without harming the environment.

The cute packaging really caught my eye, and the sponges themselves are attractive, too, and look great out on the counter. Plus, there is a fun bonus feature for those with crafty tendencies. Printed on the back of the cardboard labels are projects you can make. The large cloth package has a little bird feeder, and the smaller sponge package has a bird mobile. Fun and functional! (You can see some examples of customers’ creations here).

You can learn more about the Twist line of products, including where to buy them, by visiting their website.