Good Life

Food & Drink | Celebrate Earth Day with good, green treats

The following article was published in April 2008 after an Earth Day celebration. This year’s Earth Day is Wednesday, and the sentiment is still entirely viable today. Andy Lau’s suggestion to celebrate not Earth Day but Earth Year is still a good one!

Sunday’s rain may have dampened the local Earth Day celebrations, but Mother Earth was grateful. We need the moisture. Those who braved the showers for the EcoAction festivities on the HUB lawn were alternately entertained by local musicians and informed by speakers who spoke on a variety of topics that relate to responsibly caring for this fragile planet we call home.

Andy Lau, a Penn State faculty member in the School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs and adviser to Engineers for a Sustainable World, started his talk by declaring that we have moved beyond celebrating Earth Day. “Next week is Earth Week and someday I hope we have Earth Year.” He encouraged the crowd to “choose one thing in your life and reduce your use for one day and you could cut your weekly energy use by 20 percent.”

Some in the crowd volunteered to not shower for a day, others vowed to bike to work. Lau stated his preference, “I’m going to eat as little meat as possible next week. Though I’m not a vegetarian, I’ll eat lower on the food chain.” Lau empowered his listeners. Saving the earth is a huge task, insurmountable. Making an Earth Day-Week-Year observance accessible at an individual level increases the likelihood that real change will come about, gradually.

The kitchen is the most lived in room in the house and can most benefit from small changes that can lead to an earth friendly makeover. Eating lower on the food chain by having vegetarian meals once or twice a week can reduce your carbon footprint. If those fruits and vegetables are from local sources, it’s even better.

One of the displays at the EcoAction tent was a Wall of Food with posters and a timeline of significant food events. One placard was chilling, “Over 80 percent of mankind’s diet is provided by the seeds of less than a dozen plant species.” We need to revisit those species of plants that have gone by the wayside, in fact, that are on the wayside.

A friend stopped by yesterday with ramps, wild leeks, so strong that one nibble of the leaf was still tingling my taste buds an hour later. I won’t have to buy those $5 bags of onions in the grocery stores for a while.

The sun provides the energy the plants need to grow and then we eat the plants and we are nourished. It’s a fairly straightforward equation that has gotten convolute. It’s time to get back to basics.

Recycling and composting are de rigueur these days, even in the foods lab at Penn State. Our compost bucket is carried out every Thursday night by Kim Wong who won’t give up the task even when I suggest it might be someone else’s turn. “I feel good when I take out the compost,” said Wong, “like I’m doing something for the earth.”

That is Lau’s message. Each one of us, do just one little thing; and feel proud of it. Happy Earth Week!

In case you need some ideas, here are some suggestions to try for Earth Week:

• Recycle

• Compost

• Use canvas bags or reuse grocery bags

• Try to eat lower on the food chain

• Eat less commercially processed food

• Reduce electricity by turning off lights, computers and electronic devices not in use

• Change to energy-efficient light bulbs

• Shut off the water when brushing teeth

• Walk, ride a bike or take the bus instead of traveling by car

• Take faster showers or baths in just a small amount of water

• Hang clothes on the line instead of putting them in the dryer

• Choose products that are not over packaged

• Donate unwanted items instead of discarding them

• Earth-lings (a variation of “dumplings” but green for Earth Day):

Created to celebrate Earth Day, these light cheese dumplings are easy on the earth and the pocketbook. Made with homemade ricotta and wild dandelion, they bake in a bright green spinach sauce and are a nutritional powerhouse. Young dandelion greens are a spring tonic — a diuretic, a liver purifier and helpful in treating skin conditions. They also contain calcium, lots of fiber, iron and vitamin C as well as more vitamin A than an equal amount of kale or collard greens. A protein source, dandelion has many minerals including potassium, magnesium and phosphorous as well as vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, B-6 and folate.

Makes 24 eight-appetizer servings of three each or four dinner-sized servings of six each

Spinach Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup vegetable stock

3 ounces spinach, cooked in the microwave for 2 minutes

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Salt and white pepper to taste

“Earth” lings

1 1/2 cups ricotta, homemade or store bought

6 ounces (1 cup cooked) wild greens (dandelion, nettle or substitute fresh spinach)

well squeezed with the liquid reserved, and minced

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) cheddar cheese (Stone Meadow is a good one)

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) Swiss cheese (Baby Swiss at Meyer Dairy is good)

1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted (Gemelli’s breads make crumbs of distinction)

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 large eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt to taste

Violets and pansies, picked from a yard free of animals and herbicides

To do (way) ahead: make homemade ricotta cheese using local Italian chef and cookbook author Grace Pilato’s method of heating one gallon of whole milk with a quarter teaspoon of salt to 185 F and then adding one-third cup plus one teaspoon white vinegar. Stir for a minute, then allow to rest for a couple of hours. Drain through cheesecloth for another couple hours, gently squeezing out the excess liquid. One gallon of milk makes 3-4 cups of ricotta, enough for two batches of the Earth-lings.

Make the Spinach Sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, whisking until smooth over medium heat. Add the vegetable stock and cook over low heat until you make the ricotta mixture. Scoop out a half cup of the sauce and put it into a blender with the cooked spinach. Add any additional reserved green cooking liquid that you have. Puree and add to the rest of the sauce in the sauce pan. Season to taste.

Make the Earth-lings

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine all the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. The greens/spinach can be cooked in the microwave, without any additional water. Three ounce bowls full of greens took two minutes to cook. Squeeze out any liquid from the greens and add it to the spinach sauce.

Pour the Spinach Sauce into a shallow baking dish. Scoop out round balls of the mixture and top each with a little bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until firm. Garnish with violets and pansies, if desired.