The Family Dinner by Laurie David

This is a guest post by my wife Sarah: My husband knows me well. After receiving a copy of Laurie David’s new hot-off-the-press book, The Family Dinner: Great ways to connect with your kids, one meal at a time, he immediately handed it over to me as he knew I’d enjoy anything about food and kids. Upon first glance, I thought it was a ‘green’ cookbook with some information about how to connect with your family, but as I started turning the pages, I realized it was quite the opposite. I became engrossed immediately and ended up reading the entire book cover to cover, which I definitely was NOT planning on originally doing!

Perhaps the best way I can describe this book is to call it the must-have manual or bible for anyone who wants to raise well-adjusted children and foster a loving and connected family atmosphere (and who doesn’t?). Definitely not your average cookbook. Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth, author of Stop Global Warming and former wife of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David, is a passionate parent who strongly believes that simply by consistently having one meal a day together, today’s overwhelmed, busy, technology-addicted families can learn how to engage and converse with one another, feel more connected as a family unit, and eat healthier and help the planet to boot.

David shares that research consistently proves that everything we worry about as parents – from drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, to obesity, academic achievement and just good old nutrition – can all be improved by the simple act of eating and talking together around the table. The book is divided into themed chapters to cover everything well-meaning (but busy) parents need to know, including easy steps and rules to having a successful dinner, setting the scene, involving everyone in the cooking and preparing, ways to express gratitude, conversation starters and inspirational ideas from the news, books, and poetry.

There are over 75 fantastic recipes submitted by the family’s Danish friend and personal chef, Kirstin Uhrenholdt, including tips on getting kids involved. There’s also a great section about how to keep the family dinner ritual intact in the months and years following a divorce or family change.

The book also focuses on how family dinners offer an opportunity to help sustain our planet in addition to our family connectedness. There are plenty of green tips, including composting, growing your own vegetables and herbs, eating less meat (there’s a whole chapter on “Meatless Mondays” including plenty of veggie recipes) and using organic and local produce in your everyday cooking.

As if that weren’t enough, Laurie has incorporated personal stories, words of wisdom, tips and advice from a wide range of well-known chefs, restaurateurs, celebrities, authors, poets, academics, doctors, food activists, and family and parenting experts, which add credibility, interest and inspiration to this gem of a book. These contributions are scattered throughout the book amongst the recipes, text, and beautiful photos, making the whole thing very visually appealing and easy to read.

Perhaps the only criticism I have of The Family Dinner is how the recipes are organized. They are included within certain chapters by theme; for example, vegetarian recipes can be found in the Meatless Mondays chapter, easy and fast recipes are to be found in the Fast Recipes section, recipes that the kids will have fun helping out with are in the Cook Together chapter, etc. It makes sense as you read the book straight through but when it comes down to finding a recipe to cook for tonight’s dinner, you’ll have to do a bit of searching and flipping pages to find the one you want.

Aside from that, I found this book to be incredibly powerful. I am pregnant with our first child and already have visions of our happy little family sitting around the dinner table, playing games, talking and laughing, eating healthy and nutritious food, and simply being together. Thanks to this book, it’s not simply a pie in the sky notion now, it is an easily obtainable dream.

The Family Dinner will be making itself a permanent home on our kitchen shelf and every time I find myself needing pointers on how to engage everyone in a productive conversation (I’m sure we’ll reach those teenage years before we know it!), fun word games, thought-provoking readings, ideas for saying grace, how to get kids involved in the process of preparing and enjoying food, or just simple inspiration on how to stay connected in today’s harried world, there is no doubt I will be reaching for this book again and again.

Available now from Amazon.

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Bison Organic India Pale Ale Eco Product Review

Trying organic ales from around the world brings some exciting flavours to the tastebuds. I often approach them with excitement but also trepidation – will this Bison Organic India Pale Ale from California delight or disappoint?

Bison IPA

Bison Brewing is not a brewery I’d heard of before, but I was intrigued after reading the bottle. Certified organic, this IPA is part of its Single Hop Series, which means each time they brew it they try it with different hops, seeing which one they like the most and drinkers favour.

This one was made with Willamette hops, which is “a mid alpha hop bred decades ago from Fuggles”. It has “woody or grassy tones and a smooth bitterness”.

And it certainly is smooth. There’s not real sharp flavour or bitternesss to it which makes it very drinkable and a nice beer if you’re just starting with bitter or IPA. It has a nice head once poured and remains cloudy even when settled.

I liked the smoothness and subtle flavours, but at 6% alc/vol the only concern is drinking too much of it!

Bison Organic India Pale Ale is available from BevMo! costing around $3.99 for a 650ml (one pint, six fl. oz.) bottle.

Oil By Tom Bower Book Review

There’s no getting away from oil and with the spill in the Gulf of Mexico still fresh in our minds, we received a book all about the black gold.

Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century by Tom Bower was written before the latest disaster but nonetheless aims to tell the story of oil over the last 20 years. Oil follows the stories of BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, the traders, Russian oligarchs and environmentalists.

When I picked up the book I was a little apprehensive, thinking it would be a serious tome, but Bower is an old hand and has written it in an easy-going style that makes it a compelling read.

Oil by Tom Bower

Saying that, it’s a hugely complex issue with many different players across businesses and countries, so it takes a certain concentration to read. Again, Bower has helped by giving these people personalities from his extensive interviews (more than 250 people) and research. You start to think you know the head of BP or Shell as you go through your book.

It’s a fascinating read, and the amounts of money involved, shady deals and disasters all make an intriguing book. I found myself compelled to read more and learn about the world of oil and while Bower tends to shy away from making judgments, he does offer facts that lead you to certain conclusions. Especially on the environment issue, calling BP’s rebranding greenwash and showing how reality and perception aren’t the same thing.

Oil: Money, Politics, and Power in the 21st Century by Tom Bower is available from bookshops and online at the Hachette Book Group priced $26.99.

Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager Eco Product Review

Samuel Smith’s range of drinks are brewed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire since 1758, and there are Sam Smith’s pubs across England offering beer, ale, lager, cider and spirits all under its own brand.

Sam Smith's Organic Lager

And it has also branched out to selling its wares in selected shops. I’ve reviewed its organic cider before but this is actually the first time I’ve ever had the brewery’s larger – if I’m not going for the cider I’m having a Sovereign Best Bitter.

Brewed using lightly-kilned lager malt from UK barley and organic hops, it has a slightly ‘hoppier’ taste that a lot of lagers and gives a nice head when poured. It’s still quite crisp despited being full bodied and very refreshing.

After drinking cheap and popular lager when the need arises (if I’m particularly thirsty or the bitter selection is poor), this reminds me that there are good lagers out there that are worth drinking. I don’t think anyone drinking this could be disappointed, I certainly wasn’t.

Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager is available from good alcoholic retailers like BevMo! in the US (costing around $3.50) and supermarkets and even department stores such as House of Fraser in the UK (around £3). Or head to the pub, you can find a list of Sam Smith’s pubs here.

GreenSmart Laptop Sleeve Eco Product Review

While actual computers have a long way to come in terms of being green, what we put them in is already there. GreenSmart has just released a range of environmentally friendly laptop sleeves and has sent us one to review.

The 15.4″ Akepa laptop sleeve – named after an endangered small yellow bird found in Hawaii – is made with what the company calls Neogreene.

A nice play on words. It’s a completely water-based material with none of the toxins or chemicals found in neoprene. And it’s soft to the touch inner lining is actually made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The bottles are ground up, washed and made into fiber, spun into yarn and woven into fabric. The overall process actually uses less energy than making polyester out of refined petroleum.

Akepa laptop sleeve

The company has a good policy too, not only does it try to manufacture and ship its products as greenly as possible, it donates 10% of its profit to the World Wildlife Fund.

The actual sleeve itself is well constructed. It’s strong with a double zip and has an elasticated hook on the inside for er hanging it up maybe? There is also a ventilated gusset meaning you can put your laptop in it while it’s still warm and it’ll be able to cool down okay. It comes in a range of colours – blue ice, grape, melon, azalea and the black version we received. Currently the design is inspired by the Bird’s Nest Stadium.

At almost $40 it’s not the cheapest on the market but certainly not the most expensive, and for something as well made and eco-friendly as it is I would suggest it’s a bargain.

The 15.4″ Akepa laptop sleeve is available from GreenSmart priced $39.95.

Duchy Organic Old Ruby Ale Eco Product Review

Green blogging offers so rare pleasures and review organic beer is one of them. Although I did have to buy this one myself!

I’ve reviewed Duchy Organic Ale a couple of times before (here and here) and enjoyed it. Duchy Originals is a brand of a range of food, drink and much more launched by Prince Charles, HRH the Prince of Wales,

Duchy Originals has teamed up with UK supermarket Waitrose to launch a new range and this Old Ruby Ale is one of them.

Duchy Organic Ruby Ale

Using an English barley first used in 1905 called Plumage Archer and grown at selected organic farms including Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove.

And like the other Duchy ales, it’s got a nice, strong flavour. As mentioned before I like my ale cold but with this I needed to wait a little for it to warm up until the flavours really came out. I’m no expert in describing the flavours but it has quite a rich and sharp taste at first that mellows into what I like to call a comfortable drinking ale.

As the name suggests it has quite a deep red colour too which stands it out from other beers I’ve tried recently.

Whil I commend it’s Soil Association Organic certification, drinking bottled beer always gives me a little guilt about the glass bottle. I will of course recycle it, but it would be good if it came in a recycled bottle to begin with.

This 5% alcohol by volume Duchy Organic Old Ruby Ale is Available from Waitrose and costs around £2 depending on what promotions are on. At the time of writing it was on special with 25% off.

Solar Powered Watches Eco Product Review

The idea of a solar-powered watch may make you think of oversized sundials which will weigh your wrist down, but thankfully products have come on a long way since the invention of the first (far from stylish) solar powered timekeepers. Nowadays, as people become more eco-aware and realize the benefits of saving energy by using solar power to charge their key gadgets, designers are also catching on to the trend and producing some truly fantastic items for the fashion-conscious eco warriors among us.

Solar Watch

Watches are as much of a style statement as a great outfit or hair cut. We use watches to signify our preferences for sport, glamour or utility, and our choice of watch can say as much about us as the vehicle that we drive. Because of this, solar-powered timepieces have not been as popular as they could have been, because even the greenest of green consumers have been put off by the rather clumsy appearance of most products on the market.

All that, however, is just about to change. This week, we discovered the Waveceptor WVM120J-1. This little beauty is a water resistant watch with a range of uses and functions. It also happens to look fantastic. Powered by solar, the internal battery is charged by the sun, and runs by itself when charged through the darker hours.

Casio’s Waveceptor WVM120J-1 has a rugged water resistant digital screen that is attached to a resin band. The buckle fastening gives a nod to traditional styling, making it much more appealing than some of the Velcro fastening solar-powered watches on the market. With a black surround and silver casing, the watch looks compact enough to be a discrete accessory, but packs a punch when it comes to functionality.

The Solar Atomic watch features Multi-Band 5 functionality, giving it the power to receive signals from five worldwide towers. Casio have moved away from thinking of the solar watch as being the exclusive domain of sportsmen and people who enjoy the great outdoors, as the Waveceptor has a host of functions which mark it out as an ideal gadget for business people as well as divers! World time capability, five alarms and a silent mode mean that the watch can be worn from office to the beach with no problem. As it’s also water resistant to one hundred meters, there’s no issue with taking a swim after a long day at work.

In addition to the basics, the watch features four daily alarms and a snooze button, a stopwatch and lap time, split time and first/second placing time for runners and sportspeople. It also has a calendar and light which allows for timekeeping in the dark. If you are worried about losing power, don’t be. The Waveceptor features a display which lets you know how much charge you have left, and warns you when it needs to be popped in front of the sun to refuel. One full charge will keep the watch going for around eight months, meaning that you can use your annual vacation time to pretty much power it all year around!

The Waveceptor WVM120J-1 is manufactured by Casio, and available for around $79.