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Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan's Posts


Good housekeeping: Spring cleaning the DIY way

Natural born cleaners. (Photo by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan.)

Things I know, but wish I didn’t: Cake frosting is full of trans fat. Too many martinis can give you cancer [PDF]. Zillions of mites make their homes in our eyebrows. And, of particular concern during spring-cleaning season, common household cleaning products contain a host of nasty stuff.

What a buzzkill. Just as I can’t in good conscience eat spoonfuls of cake frosting straight from the jar, neither can I simply squirt easy-to-find, grime-zapping conventional cleaners all over the counters and be done with it. Up ‘til now, I’ve addressed this problem with nontoxic (if still store-bought) products from the likes of Seventh Generation and Method. But this year, I’ve decided to take the natural cleaning thing the next logical step, which explains why I spent the other night rubbing half a lemon into the shower tiles.

Read more: Green Living Tips


Hard to stomach: How a fresh clam feast got the best of me

Before the overdose: Ted can hardly wait to nosh a razor clam. (Photo by Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan.)

If you've never enjoyed a fresh bivalve harvest, here's a tip: 15 razor clams is a significant gustatory investment. Hey, I love clams. I love them swimming in chowder, peeking out of my linguine, breaded and fried. But trust me, after spending an hour knuckle-deep in clam innards, I know now that even the most ardent enthusiast would do well to pace herself.

Soon after a wildly successful first clam dig on Washington's Roosevelt Beach, I found myself back in my kitchen, staring into a bucketful of razor clams. Fifteen meaty clams needed killing, de-shelling, dressing, and cooking before we could enjoy the sautéed clam recipe we'd been talking about for the past 100 miles. It was already past 8 p.m.; perhaps we’d been a bit ambitious.

There was the matter of killing them, for one. None of the pieces of clam literature I’d studied mentioned exactly what you’re supposed to do between shoreline and skillet. On the advice of a veteran clammer, we’d kept our catch alive in seawater on the three-hour journey home for maximum freshness.

"Everything I’ve read just starts with 'Pour boiling water over them for a few seconds until the shell pops open,'" I told my boyfriend and co-chef, Ted. "Can that be right?" With the clams still squirming around in the bucket, I suddenly felt a little seasick.

Ted gave me a look. "You're going to make me do this, aren't you?"

Read more: Food, Locavore


Clammed up: Digging for local, sustainable protein on a muddy beach

The elusive Pacific razor clam, in all its glory. (Photo by Ted Alvarez.)

You know what would make supermarket food taste better? Making grocery shopping more like clam digging. Imagine having to paw through a bin of wet sand to find your onions, or thrash through icy waves for a chunk of Parmesan. Challenging, yes, but think of the feeling of accomplishment as you sit down to dinner.

I thought about this last Sunday as I stood knee-deep in the Pacific, wind-whipped and sandblasted. I’d come to Washington’s Roosevelt Beach on the second clam-harvest weekend of the year to up my foraging game: Having already tackled blackberries, mushrooms, and dumpster donuts, the coveted Pacific razor clam seemed the logical upgrade. The animal kingdom is a whole new ball game, even if the animal in question does look kind of like a stray pancreas.


Me against the world: The trouble with travel and the climate

My personal carbon offset plan has bogged down with a serious case of the Couldas.

For those of you just joining us, I’ve been on a personal quest to nullify the carbon dioxide emissions from a trip to Texas last October. All 1,858 pounds of it. Rather than buying a dubious carbon offset for the trip, I wanted to slice enough emissions from my own lifestyle to atone for my sins against the climate.

How’s that been working out, you ask? Coulda been better.

I could have cut back to once-weekly showers, saving gallon upon gallon of water. After all, it takes gobs of energy to gather, treat, and deliver fresh water on demand. I could have gone vegan, lifting resource-intensive and methane-spewing meat products from my conscience. I could have given up my apartment and my job in favor of a life spent illegally squatting in the woods and eating raccoon gristle. All that power I’ve been sucking to keep my food cold and my computer humming? Off my balance sheet.

Perhaps it won’t shock you to learn I didn’t do any of those things. That’s why, to date, I’ve managed to offset just 789.5 pounds of that mighty 1,858-pound total. Well, that’s the official tally. I’m hoping you’ll give me some credit for a side project I’ve undertaken. More on that in a minute.


Spoil sport: How I learned to stop worrying and love the dumpster

A good night's haul: baked goods saved from Seattle dumpsters

It was 8:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday when it clicked. I was standing on a dark sidewalk outside of a donut shop -- the donut part is key -- getting ready to venture into my third dumpster of the evening, when I at last saw diving for the brilliant enterprise it is. And I owe it all to an unassuming black trash bag.

As you well know if you read my last column, I didn’t quite get the hang of the whole diving thing at first. I was actually kinda repulsed by the idea of picking through sodden food refuse in back alleys, even if it meant rescuing perfectly good eats going to waste in commercial trash bins for superficial reasons. But I appealed to you, dear readers, for help, and then I picked myself up for another go.

I’ve come up successful on four dumpster dives now. I’ll get back to that donut shop in a minute, but first, the tales of other dumpsters I’ve known, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

Read more: Food, Green Living Tips


Adventures of a first-time dumpster diver

Perhaps I should have seen this coming. The very name "dumpster diving" makes the nature of the activity pretty clear. It doesn't hide behind a sanitized euphemism, like, say, "gently used snack gathering." It's right there in the title. Dumpsters -- you dive in them. But as I stood behind a neighborhood bakery, peering into a slimy abyss of trash, there was only one thought in my mind: Somehow I thought it'd be less putrid. I admit, I was reluctant when Grist first suggested that I investigate the dumpster-diving phenomenon firsthand. But now that good old-fashioned garbage-picking has gone all …

Read more: Food, Living


Dispatches from a no-wrap Christmas

Photo: plastic_batFor my mother, sweet vindication came as an early Christmas gift this year on page 59 of a lifestyle magazine. This particular magazine, which specializes in snappy home décor, delicious cookery, and other ways to make your life more fabulous than your neighbors', ran a spread on stylish new ways to wrap presents. There, nestled between the hand-stamped parcel paper and the wrapping designed by local artisans, this anonymous magazine (okay, it was Sunset) featured a present swathed in newspaper. Regular old newspaper, left over from last Sunday's pile. Sure, they tucked a sprig of redwood greenery into the …

Read more: Living


Team Tupperware: Doing away with disposables for good — and loving it

Pig out: This week, the Greenie Pig opts out of disposable junk.Somewhere on the California coast, between redwood territory and the Bay Area, lies the world's most self-righteous coffee shop. My boyfriend, Ted, and I stopped there two summers ago for some much-needed caffeine. But as we queued up to order, handwritten signs confronted us from all angles. "We don't use disposable cups, utensils, or flatware," they sneered. "BYO or get out, you earth-hating douchebags!" OK, that's not exactly what the signs said. But that was the spirit of the message, and the coffee shop did, indeed, decline to serve …

Read more: Food, Living


The Greenie Pig is on a (carbon) diet

I've become quite the calorie-counter lately. With the holiday season upon us, I'm really tightening my belt, carefully calculating the number of calories I'd consume from all kinds of daily choices and sniffing out ways to trim the buggers from my diet. Like many a calorie-counter before me can attest, it's frustrating work. Of course, by "calorie," I mean "pounds of greenhouse gas" and by "consume," I mean "emit into the atmosphere." Forgive me for the diet-speak, but perhaps you'd understand if you were hauling around a load of excess carbon like I am. After traveling from Seattle to far …

Read more: Living


Greenie Pig on ‘shrooms: A trip into wild-food foraging

Photo: Elisabeth Kwak-HefferanFarm to table? Please, so 2009. Forest to table is where it's at right now. And while foraging one's own nettles, berries, or chestnuts (or paying top dollar for them at hip restaurants) has both foodies and greenies all in a tizzy these days, no other gathering activity has quite the cachet of mushroom hunting. Hey, what's not to admire when your commodity of choice is delicious, valuable, tough to find, and, in the hands of amateurs, may cause profuse vomiting? Mushroom foraging, like all foraging, is by no means new. An elite and secretive society has existed …

Read more: Food, Living, Locavore