What’s Holding Your Six-Pack Together?

Spurred on by pictures of marine animals tragically trapped in the holes of plastic six-pack rings, many of us have dutifully cut up these plastic rings around our soda and beer six-packs confident that no bird, fish, or sea turtle will ever get ensnared in our plastic. The problem, however, goes deeper.

Since 1994 the plastic rings have a photodegradable additive. But this only means that the ocean wave action and sunlight will break down the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces, and fish and filter feeders will then eat those pieces adding those chemicals to the food chain. To make matters worse, the tiny pieces also attract toxins.

Enter PakTech. PakTech has created new recyclable carriers that are made with 96% recycled plastic. Although the CanCarrier contains four times the amount of plastic than the usual kind, when it is shipped, the Can Carrier doesn’t require shrink-wrap or cartons to keep cans on a pallet and therefore both waste and shipping weight are reduced. Also, the production process uses 94 percent less water and releases 85 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the manufacture of cardboard six-pack holders, according to PakTech.

A microbrewery in Delray Beach, Florida took it one step further this past spring: edible six-pack rings made from by-products of the brewery process, wheat and barley. The rings are also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, breaking down soon after they hit the water. Some scientists, however, express concern that residue from the fermentation process which may contain high levels of phosphorus and silicon could also be found in these rings.

Fishbone Packaging has just started producing a cardboard design that uses less paper than traditional cartons and no plastic. Cardboard is easily recyclable and biodegradable, unlike some plastic.

So, the next time you pick up a six-pack, consider the packaging.

#WaterWednesday #Sustainable #cleanwater #cleantech #plasticfree

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No Butts on the Ground!


Approximately 15%-17% of the U.S. population smokes cigarettes, down from 21% in 2005 according to the Centercig-butts-big-pix for Disease Control and Prevention. While this is a good trend from a health perspective, the rise in “smoke free” establishments for our majority non-smoking population has had an unintended consequence: fewer accommodations for those who do smoke means that many cigarette butts end up as litter.

Ashtrays are no longer standard in most new cars, so the sides of our highways are littered with flicked cigarette butts. Many buildings that don’t allow smoking indoors do not provide ash cans for proper disposal of cigarettes outside. In the case of smoke-free open spaces such as beaches, parks, and campuses, there are often no ashcans nearby.

According to the CDC, cigarette butts are the most commonly thrown out waste worldwide. Approximately 1.69 BILLION pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash each year, creating a huge environmental, health, and economic problem.

Cigarette butts are NOT biodegradable! Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that can break into smaller pieces, but will never biodegrade or disappear.  Also, toxic substances are leached from the filter and tobacco remnants. This hazardous material not only persists in the environment for some time, but also is often ingested by wildlife and pets, not to mention small children, who suffer serious health problems as a result.

American for Non-Smokers Rights makes the following suggestions:

  • Educate community stakeholders about the impact of tobacco waste on the environment
  • Include pre and post butt clean ups as part of smoke-free beach, park, and campus policies, along with clear, positive signage about the pimg_0421olicy

Clean Fairfax continues to work on both these efforts.  We also encourage smokers to purchase car cup holder ashtrays and/or portable pocket size ashtrays. These are readily available online and are inexpensive.

If you are a smoker, think before you flick.



To tote or not to tote?

They’re green in principle, but not in the way people use them.  While many people have made the move to reusable bags, there is still some debate about whether these are, in fact, better than paper or plastic. Some studies suggest that it takes more energy to produce reusable bags, and that a large portion of those are just ending up in the landfill. Clean Fairfax suggests that reusable bags are still a much better choice if you make the decision to use and reuse them.

Read More:2016-09-20-11-42-16

Here is why the reusable tote movement still carries some weight (sorry—couldn’t resist):

  • The cotton bags cited in the article as requiring the most reuse to even out the production impact are the least common option used. It’s not hard to get to the 27 times of reuse identified in the article for other totes.
  • Most reusable totes can be filled much more than a plastic bag, so proportionately we use fewer.
  • Many plastic bags tear before they can be reused, and many people do not reuse the plastic bags.
  • Look around: How many times have you seen plastic bags along the side of the road, in the woods, or, once for me, forty feet under water while scuba diving? Reusable tote bags are much less likely to end up as litter despite the article’s claim that they are ending up in the dumpster.
  • Finally, it takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture the 102 billion plastic bags that Americans use annually, according to the United Nations.

Consider machine washable bags that can be rolled up and easily transported, like our fabulous CLEAN FAIRFAX bags.

Check out NationSwell for more facts about our plastic usage and great ideas on how to make some personal changes:   http://nationswell.com/37-ways-reduce-plastic-usage/#ixzz4K9gdFL1C

Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?

blog-2-plastic-bagsIf your honest answer is “yes,” consider attending the following:

Sierra Club—Great Falls, Northern VA Chapter invites you to see BAG IT, an award-winning documentary about the effects of plastics on our personal health & the environment. It is the story of a man who makes a pledge to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store and how it changes his life. What starts out as a simple pledge leads to a full expose of how plastics are affecting our lives.

The film will be shown at 7 PM on September 22 at Patrick Henry Library, 101 Maple Avenue East, Vienna, VA. RSVP, if possible, to s.weltz@yahoo.com.

Free refreshments. And, the Virginia Green Baggers will be giving away free reusable cloth bags.

According to Eco Watch, over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

  • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.blog-2-pix
  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to
  • We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.
  • The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.

Just about every environmental group has a list of suggestions for reducing plastic use. Rather than approach these lists with despair at all you are not doing, congratulate yourself on those steps you have already taken. More importantly, consider choosing at least one more way you can help reduce your own “plastic footprint” each time you see a new list of suggestions.

Try it here with Green Education Foundation’s list of ways to cut down on our everyday use of plastics:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
  2. Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often! (More on this next week!)
  3. Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  4. Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic.
  5. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
  6. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
  7. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop
  8. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
  9. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
  10. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
  11. Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
  12. Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
  13. The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
  14. Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
  15. Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
  16. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single serving cups.
  17. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor

New Member of the Clean Fairfax “Team:” Wendy Cohen

blog-pixI am excited to have joined Jen Cole at Clean Fairfax part-time as a program manager with a focus on our Clean Streams Initiative. It’s great to be working again with an environmental non-profit (see bio on Clean Fairfax website). I feel I can extend my own zeal for environmental stewardship and urban sustainability to others through Clean Fairfax’s programs.

I have been very impressed with the scope of Clean Fairfax’s influence: providing supplies to groups doing area cleanups, funding environmental projects in schools, giving hands-on environmental non-profit experience to college interns and work-study students, raising public awareness of environmental issues through social media, and, of course, celebrating our environment with the Northern Virginia community at the annual SpringFest.

The Clean Streams Initiative is a new program for Clean Fairfax. As the year progresses, the plan for this project is to have Clean Fairfax work with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) Stormwater group, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and others to locate five streams in Fairfax County for the Clean Streams Initiative. Criteria include “trashiness,” ease of access, proximity to potential volunteer cleanup crews, and equity in spreading locations among supervisory districts. We are currently working out the details to monitor these streams four times a year and clean them up twice annually. We will also be developing educational outreach plans specific to each site to work on pollution prevention.  This will be of assistance to the County in fulfillment of the requirements of their MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit. It will be interesting to see what we find floating in our streams and washed up on the banks!

It’s an important time to be working on environmental issues in Fairfax County as the county continues to grow rapidly. While environmental problems I worked on thirty years ago may not have been solved, it is groups like Clean Fairfax that keep these problems in check and ensure a healthier environmental future.

A Lot on My Plate – You Are My Sunchoke

Sunchoke and Spinach Soup

  • 3 ½ cups scrubbed and peeled sunchokes, cut into 1-inch pieces [Tuscarora Mountain Farm, Spring Run, PA]
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces [Porter Farm, Elba, NY]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh thyme for garnish

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. While it’s heating up, clean and cut your sunchokes and onion. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sunchokes, onion, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of oil and a couple pinches of salt. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sunchokes are fork-tender.

In a medium pot, combine the roasted vegetables, spinach, milk, broth, and a couple more pinches of salt. Bring to a low boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the sunchokes are easily squashed with a fork. Transfer to a food processor and blend until creamy, adding salt to taste. Top your bowl with the fresh thyme, parmesan cheese, maybe some caramelized onions, and/or your favorite bready croutons.


(Now that my camera itself has improved, I clearly have some work to do in the composition department…)

So despite a number of unexpected developments and adventures with this recipe, it somehow still tasted sweet, nutty, and delicious. The original recipe didn’t use spinach, but I had some hanging around and figured a little greens never hurt anyone. I neglected to change the amount of liquids I added, so I ended up with more like a hot veggie smoothie than a creamy soup. I’d also never actually used my food processor before, so I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that. BUT somehow it still all worked out and was pretty tasty!

I’d also never even seen, let alone cooked or eaten, a sunchoke before. But I can tell you for sure I will be again! Not only are they actually really amazing for you, but they’re much sweeter and tastier than I was expecting. When I got them in my bag I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them, but that was part of my plan when I signed up with 4P Foods, I wanted to break out of my cooking comfort zone a little and check out some new vegetables. And this was my chance! Most of the recipes I initially found for sunchokes (or Jerusalem Artichokes) were just plain roasted, but I always find those recipes a little boring and better for side dishes. But since I’m a vegetarian (and a working adult) I don’t always have time or means to make a full side-dish + main-dish setup. So I looked around and found this interesting recipe for soup. I’d just gotten my new food processor, so it all seemed ready to work out! And boy, did it. I’m definitely a sunchoke convert now! Some fun nutritional facts about these funny-looking tubers is that they’re a great source of dietary fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and minerals like potassium.

A Lot on My Plate – Build Me Up Butternut

[Sorry about the hiatus, friends! Here’s something to warm you up after the snow!]

Butternut Squash, Purple Carrot & Broccoli Bowl with Chipotle Almond Sauce

For the Bowl:

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste (I substituted 1 tablespoon combined of tomato paste and soy sauce, because miso paste is hard to find)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons water


Start by peeling and dicing your squash. I didn’t peel my carrot because it was just so beautiful, but be sure you give it a good wash. I chopped mine pretty roughly into ½ inch cubes, but I left some of them a range of sizes so that I’d get different textures in my final bowl. Also because I’m not very good at dicing things. You could say it got a little bit dicey… Anyway, toss the squash and carrots with the oil, salt, and herbs. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes, until the medium-sized pieces are tender (the larger pieces will be a little less tender, but the smaller pieces a little more so, so try to find the middle ground).

Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and steam over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender.

To make the sauce, whisk everything together until smooth, adding as much or as little water as you like (I put mine in the microwave for a few seconds first, to make it easier to blend by hand).

Once the squash and carrots are done baking, the broccoli is steamed, and the sauce is blended, toss everything into a bowl with your quinoa or rice (I was in a rice mood), sprinkle with sesame seeds, and enjoy!


To be honest, most of what inspired me to make this recipe from This Rawsome Vegan Life was its vibrant colors (also why I added the purple carrot). It turned out to be so much more than just a pretty face! The veggies were delicious and the sauce really set them off. It was also so much easier than I expected. The hardest part, really, was peeling the squash and adding the carrot a minute late because I forgot about it at first. You need to set aside a little extra time because it does take a while for squash to bake, but without the carrots you could cut small cubes and cook them for a shorter time. The sauce is well worth the 60 seconds or so it takes to mix. I also got a chance to enjoy one of my value-added winter items from 4P Foods, an awesome glass of iced tea from Runningbyrd Tea Company. On the label is this adorable story about the owners’ childhoods in Georgia, where they’d sip tea on front porches and climb trees and generally enjoy a perfect southern summer. Granted, I was almost as far from that story as you could possibly be, but it made for a nice thought while I enjoyed my cold-weather treat.

I’ve got a few posts backed up to share with everyone, so stay tuned for more delicious wintry adventures. (As an added note, I got a new camera (read: phone), so once I get caught up I’ll have slightly more impressive pictures for you!)

A Lot on My Plate – Paint Me a Rosemary Picture

Creamy Mushroom, White Bean & Rosemary Soup with Rosemary & Sea Salt Flatbread


  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2-2 ¼ cups flour
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped [Shenandoah Herbs, Harrisonburg, VA]
  • Coarse sea salt, for topping (I used regular kosher salt, since I don’t mind if it isn’t that pretty)


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped [Van Dessel Farms, Accomack, VA]
  • 3-4 cups white mushrooms, sliced [Country Fresh Co-Op, Toughkenamon, PA]
  • ½ teaspoon sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 30 ounces (two 15-ounce cans) white beans
  • 5-5 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary [Shenandoah Herbs, Harrisonburg, VA]
  • Dash of allspice
  • ½ cup half and half

This one is going to be a little more complicated/energy-intensive than some of the other recipes. Get ready!

First, prepare your flatbread dough. The original recipe used pre-packaged pizza dough, but I like to be hardcore and whipped up a batch of pizza dough myself. To do that, add water, yeast, and sugar to a medium-sized bowl. Stir and then let proof for about 5 minutes. Then, add salt, honey, and about 1 ¼ cup of flour. Start mixing, and add the remaining flour ¼ cup at a time, until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands and the flour is well-incorporated into the dough (make sure you don’t have any especially wet or especially floury parts). Form into a ball and knead several times. Place the kneaded ball into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise (probably for 30 minutes or so).

While your dough is rising, start preparing your soup. In a large pot, add a few tablespoons of oil and start cooking the onions. I prefer mine a little bit caramelized, so I cooked them on a higher heat for a little longer, but feel free to adjust to however you like your onions prepared. Then, add carrots, celery, and mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, and sage. I also added about a teaspoon of Vegetable Spice (thanks Von Brake Spices/Dad!). Add a little more oil and let cook until the celery has softened (about 5 or 10 minutes). Once the veggies are cooked to your preference, add the garlic and flour. Stir to coat everything in the flour and let it cook for a few minutes.* Add the broth, beans, and rosemary (I would suggest putting the rosemary in some kind of satchet when you add it to the soup, since I ended up with lots of little rosemary needles floating around that weren’t super appetizing, but quite flavorful). Turn the heat to high, and let the soup come to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add a dash or two of allspice, reduce the heat to medium-low (for a low boil) and let cook for about 10 minutes.** Once the soup has thickened, slowly stir in half and half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* Since I didn’t prep my veggies ahead of time, I completed this step while my dough was proofing. It took about 20 or 30 minutes (though I could have let it go a touch longer). Then, while everything was cooking, I started rolling out my pizza dough. This part is reasonably subjective, but I’d say I rolled mine out to ¼-inch thick (closer to ½-inch in some places, since I’m not excellent with the rolling pin). Cut into roughly equal pieces.

** Once I had everything cut, it was time to add the broth and such to the soup, so I let everything sit for a few minutes while I did that and brought the soup to a boil before going back to the flatbread. When you’re ready, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a fairly deep saucepan or skillet over high heat. Once the oil is easy to swirl all the way around the pan, add 3-4 pieces of dough to the hot oil. Cook until the bottom is golden-brown (about a minute per side). Use a spatula to flip, and press down on the dough with the spatula to evenly brown and prevent the dough bubbling. Remove the bread immediately after each side is cooked, and sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt. (I like to pat mine lightly with a paper towel to remove any excess oil.) Serve warm alongside your soup!


Although it seems like this recipe has a whole lot of ingredients and steps, it’s still pretty simple to make. (And completely worth it!) Rosemary has to be one of my favorite flavors, so I was really excited to see some fresh rosemary in my final produce bag of 2015. Usually I try to use herbs I grow myself (stay tuned for some pesto in the future, since my basil is getting out of control and I now have three separate pots of oregano!), but my rosemary is still too young to be used for a big recipe. But thanks to the 4P Foods newsletter and Pinterest Board, I found a few awesome recipes to use my fully-grown sprigs from Shenandoah Herbs. I also used the official last of my Van Dessel carrots! (Fortunately I’m expecting some purple carrots from Second Spring Farm in Wheatland, VA, this week, so I won’t have to go too long without any carrots in my fridge.) I was also really interested in the white mushrooms from Country Fresh Co-Op. I’m a sucker for mushrooms of all kinds, and the fresher the better! I ended up using every last one in my soup, despite the original recipe calling for only 8 ounces. But it was fully a good choice, and they made for a hearty and comforting winter soup!

The soup recipe was lightly adapted from this recipe from Amanda K. by the Bay. The flatbread was a bit of a portmanteau of this pizza dough recipe and this recipe using packaged pizza dough. I had actually used the same dough recipe the previous night for an awesome BBQ Chickpea Pizza from Yup, It’s Vegan, and decided to practice my pizza dough-ing skills with a slightly different style. The dough ended up puffing up a lot in the pan (partly because I don’t think I had proofed it enough and partly because I wasn’t paying enough attention) but made for fluffy and delicious bread. Don’t let the “made from scratch” idea fool you – making the dough was incredibly easy, cheap, and delicious! All of these recipes make much more than necessary for one person in one night, but I’ve been enjoying soup and flatbread for lunch and as a side to my subsequent dinner(s), and they both reheat very well. If you find yourself overwhelmed, you can always freeze the dough and/or soup to have later!

I can’t imagine doing that, though, because I’ll probably just make another version as soon as this one is gone. I defy you to think of something more comforting in the cold than soup and warm bread!

A Lot on My Plate – It’d Be Sweet If You Collard Me Back, Potato

OK, so I’m stretching it a little bit with the puns today. Whatever.

BBQ Pulled Sweet Potato Sandwiches With Collard Green Coleslaw

Coleslaw (Make this first)

BBQ Pulled Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 medium sweet potato (enough to make about 2-2 ½ cups shredded) [The Farm at Sunnyside, Washington, VA]
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle BBQ sauce, but I hope eventually to make my own)
  • Toasted hamburger buns or other bread (or even try quinoa for a smoky BBQ quinoa bowl!)

The most work you’re going to have to do for this recipe is the prep time. Start by shredding your collard greens (just cutting them into thin coleslaw-length strips). Once shredded, place the greens in a large bowl and add your salt. Using your hands, “massage” the greens for a minute or two. This helps to soften them and help them taste sweeter, while the salt draws out some of the moisture. If there’s a lot of liquid in the bottom of the bowl you should drain it, but I only had a bit so I left it for the slaw. Once your greens are relaxed from that massage, shred your carrot and apple. For this I just used a regular grater, since it was reasonably quick and would also get some of the juices flowing. I put the shredded apple and carrot in a separate bowl with the ginger and lemon juice. Add the vinegar and mayonnaise to the greens, mix well, and then add the apple and carrot. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Break that grater back out, because you’re going to need it for the potato. If you end up with a little more or less than 2 or 2 ½ cups, just adjust the BBQ sauce a little (feel free also to adjust it if you like extra BBQ flavor or more prominent sweet potato flavor). Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the sweet potato. Stir to distribute the oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sweet potato has started to brown, add the BBQ sauce and stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I cook mine to the 10 minutes or less end of that, since I like my potatoes a little al dente and I get too excited to wait anymore.)

While the potatoes are cooking, toast your buns. Serve with coleslaw and enjoy!

NOTE: I find that, while delicious, this dish isn’t particularly filling. So my suggestion is to load up your sandwich with lots of potatoes, or plan on eating two. I actually experimented a little this time and made one (small) sandwich and one (smaller) quinoa bowl, which filled me up nicely (and left ¾ of a portion for lunch). If you’re making this for more than two people, I would suggest using lots more potatoes.

Collard Me Back

These sweet potatoes, from Yup, It’s Vegan are probably one of my favorite things to make. In fact, as soon as I saw that I was getting sweet potatoes in my bag, I started planning to make it. These certified organic potatoes from [the Farm at Sunnyside] perfectly satisfied my craving. They were probably some of the best-looking potatoes I’ve seen (I only used half of a large potato for this recipe, since I’m saving the other potato-and-a-half for something special) and they made an excellent sandwich.

I also got an awesome chance to use a ton of 4P ingredients for the coleslaw! I’ve been working on my traditional coleslaw recipe for a while, but this collard green version proves that traditional coleslaw is overrated. Not only was this combination remarkably attractive, it worked well as a whole. Never having tried collard greens before, I was a little nervous, but I can say with confidence that they work really well! Juicier than a similar dark green like kale would be, but more flavorful (and better for you) than just cabbage. I added the fresh ginger on a little bit of a whim, since it’s hard for me to think of something that wouldn’t go very well with ginger. It worked well, and was just the right amount. It came through in the slaw without making the whole thing taste overwhelmingly of ginger. Part of that strength of flavor could be a result of the quality and freshness, since even just after grating it my whole kitchen smelled like fresh ginger.

Not only is this healthy and delicious recipe vegetarian (one easily made totally vegan), if you switch out the bread for quinoa it’s also gluten-free! This has quickly become one of my favorite quick dinners and hopefully it’ll become the same for you!

A Lot on My Plate – I’m Nacho Friend (Can’t We Just Taco ‘Bout It?)

Sweet Potato and Acorn Squash “Nachos”

  • 1 Covington sweet potato [Scott Farms, Lucama, MD]
  • ½ acorn squash [Leone Farm, Vineland, NJ]
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-1 ½ teaspoon Southwest Seasoning [Von Brake Spices, Deep River, CT]
  • ¾ cup refried beans
  • ½ cup black beans
  • 2-3 tablespoons salsa (I used black bean and corn salsa, because that’s what was in the fridge)
  • ½-1 cup shredded cheese (I like to use the ready-made Mexican blends, but not a Taco blend, because that usually already has spices in it and I’m not crazy about that)
  • Some lime juice
  • (I could have diced up a hothouse tomato from Hummingbird Farm in Ridgley, MD, but I don’t like tomatoes and probably should have opted out of that one this week…)

Preheat the oven to 350°. While the oven is preheating, slice up your sweet potatoes and squash into wedge shapes. You should almost definitely peel your acorn squash (you can also take the skin off once it’s cooked, but I didn’t want to deal with the hot vegetable/potential burn situation). I did not peel my sweet potato, because I read on the internet that it’s healthier, and it’s hard enough to peel squash without adding extra work. To peel the squash, I sliced it into wedges first (conveniently outlined by the ridged shape of an acorn squash), then peeled the wedges. This may not have been the best way to do it, but I don’t feel quite confident enough in my peeling ability to do it any other way.

Once your squash and sweet potato are sliced, toss them with some olive oil and seasoning. Lay them out on a baking sheet (covered in parchment or one of those nonstick mats) and set the timer for 30-40 minutes (the exact time can vary depending on how thinly you sliced them).

Watch a 20-minute TV show or catch up on the day’s news. (Actually, don’t catch up on the news. It’s grim and often frustrating. So if you’re at a loss for a 20-minute show to watch then read a short story or start knitting a hat or meditate or call your mother, really anything but catch up on the news.) Halfway through roasting, flip your wedges. Once the wedges are flipped, get your topping ready. Pour the refried beans, black beans, and salsa into a saucepan and heat. This step isn’t integral to the character of the nachos, but I like sneaking bites of bean dip and making sure all of these ingredients are well-mixed and thoroughly warm once they’re atop the wedges.

With about 5-7 minutes left on the timer, pull out the baking sheet and push the wedges together into a rough pile. Try to keep them from overlapping too much, but ideally there won’t be too much space between wedges for bean topping to slip through and get lonely at the bottom. Pour the bean topping over the wedges and top with a generous portion of cheese. Let the “nachos” bake for those last 5 minutes while the cheese melts.

Take it all out of the oven and top with some lime juice, tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, really whatever you like on your actual nachos.

12375033_476465882533336_7958690839305136777_o[I was too hungry and excited to take a picture of the actual nachos, so here’s a picture of my produce bag, thanks to 4P Foods. This week I got:

  • Acorn Squash – Leone Farm, Vineland, NJ
  • Bibb Lettuce – Fresh2o, Stevensburg, VA
  • Bunched Spinach – Ploch Farms, Vineland, NJ
  • Covington Sweet Potatoes – Scott Farms, Lucama, MD
  • Hot House Tomatoes – Hummingbird Farm, Ridgley, MD
  • Kimchi – No. 1 Sons, Arlington, VA
  • Satsumas (Bonnie’s favorite) – Uncle Matt’s Organics, Clermont, FL
  • Winesap & Fuji Apples – Crown Orchards, Albermarle, VA
  • Yellow Ginger – Indian Valley Farms, Floyd, VA

So look forward to seeing some of these things in future posts!]

I’d like to preface the narrative portion of this post by describing the existential situation these “nachos” brought to my dinner table. The question comes down to what, exactly, is the distinguishing feature of a nacho? Is it the preparation (a base, perhaps a starchy base, layered with a topping, baked and perhaps eaten with the hands)? Or is it the ingredients, namely, the chip? Clearly, I am a subscriber to the former – I believe a nacho is a nacho because of how it is made, rather than from what it is made. A number of people would argue the contrary – that a nacho’s essential nacho-ness is based on the tortilla chip, and that even a single chip paired with a hot and cheesy dip would qualify as a nacho (while this dish would not). As much as it pains me to admit, the history of the nacho has perhaps proven me wrong. I maintain a philosophical sense of correctness, that the identity of a nacho should be left open for evolution and development as it proceeds from exclusively pub fare into the wider world. That being said, the original nacho was essentially a Mexican chef struggling to get rid of a few hungry gringos who wandered in at closing time, offering them the only things he had on hand: tortillas and cheese. “This is great!” The gringos told him, “What’s it called?” The flustered chef replied, “Uhh… Nachos Especiales!” And so he created a dish that, 60 years later, would cause some other gringo (gringa? Am I a gringa? Is that a thing?) to have a philosophical debate over the Platonic nature of a nacho-qua-nacho. And yes, you’re welcome for bringing that conundrum to your day. And that’s why I’ve scare-quoted every instance of “nachos” in reference to my spicy, bean-topped squash and potato wedges, even though a pretty important part of my profession is to know how to use quotation marks properly.

So while my local veggies made some beautiful “nachos,” their farms of origin seem to be off the grid, so I have to enjoy their quality without investing myself in the biographies of their associated humans. (I swear, the Fresh2o lettuce really tastes better when I can think about the Fresh2o people!) My produce, however, was not the only “locally” sourced ingredient in this meal. I say scare-quote-local because Connecticut is not really local to DelMarVa, but is quite local to my heart. In fact, the Southwest Grilling spice I used for these spicy wedges was made by my very own Dad! Southwest is one of my favorite of his VonBrake blends, but you should check them all out for yourself (and my aunt Jen (but a different Jen than the Clean Fairfax Director…) has made up a pretty beautiful website to feature them). All of these blends are low- or no-salt, all-natural, and hand-blended (in my parents’ kitchen). Although I obviously need to submit a conflict of interest here, all the blends are amazing and make my nacho (and anything) spicing so much easier.

So regardless of their nacho-ness, these spicy, bean-topped wedges were hearty and delicious. To give credit where credit is due, I combined this recipe for acorn squash “fries” with this recipe for black bean and potato “nachos,” but it wouldn’t be my dinner if I hadn’t mostly made it up as I went along. In future iterations, it certainly wouldn’t be hurt by adding some guac, sour cream, or I mean actual chips wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

And don’t worry, I have big plans for the second half of the squash and the rest of those sweet potatoes. We’ll see what I can do with the tomatoes. (As a sidenote, I did finally make Morning Glory Muffins. But I tried throwing in some whole wheat flour for my health and chocolate chips for my taste buds, and ended up throwing off the muffins in some weird direction…)