Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Green & Manly Holiday Gift Guide

Chorizo, the Green Man was thinking.

He was in a hurry; there were so many things to do, so many reasons to fret, from wondering why every office deadline matched perfectly with a holiday party to pondering why every "To Do" list he'd made since November had nothing crossed off on it except the word, the one word: Chorizo.

But there was no time, to think or to do. He had only time to be. And being the Green Man is a job that peaks around the holidays: so many wreaths to haunt, so many balls of mistletoe to inhabit, and then there are those ivied walls and gargoyles to visit—leering out at young and old alike. Reminding them that it's never too late to "Think Green."

Yes, the Green Man certainly keeps busy this time of year, much too busy to go shopping, except maybe for chorizo. Unfortunately, that excuse was wearing thin in the gift-buying department, especially with all three of the major holidays in full swing. Then again, being the Green Man, he had easy access to the ultimate excuse: "It's such a materialistic, consumerist, excessive season," his inner Green Man was saying, in a voice dripping with elite progressive snobbery. "This year I will give the gift of giving nothing, and feel the wiser and wealthier for it."

Here, however, the antipodal inner Green Man sprang into action, like a deranged but effervescent sock puppet who'd drunk too much chlorophyll: "Yeah, right, give nothing—but you sure won't turn down that new iPhone if it shows up in your stocking or Hanukkah Sox, will you?"

"Harumph," said the Green Man. But it was a point well taken, although in fact an iPhone would be of little use, lacking a swappable battery; the Green Man really needs backup power handy in case a monster tsunami leaves him marooned atop Diamond Head with no power for his iPhone. What he also really needs is for his beloved Jets to lose the rest of their games; that way they can obtain good field position for the best offensive blindside tackle in the NFL draft. Losing as a way to keep the karma in balance is a sort of gift to the gods, right? Wait 'till next year.

More to the point, the Green Man wanted to give, especially this year. In the past year, a lot of green wishes had come to pass: the local supermarket had increased its organic produce selection, had added green cleaning products and, especially nice for the Green & Manly among us, started sourcing grass-fed organic beef and lamb. This year the Green Man had tasted his first steak in ages—which is not the same as a well-aged steak. (And with the Green Goddess' approval, he might add, which is not a small thing at all.)

And it wasn't just the local supermarket. Green was everywhere, the bandwagon was rolling merrily along, and it was kind of fun to watch the naysayers scrambling to hop aboard. Of course, like all of those American mood-swings, this one bore watching, there were always shady characters and those seeking to take advantage of consumer confusion over labeling practices. But that's why the Green Man reads (and yes, also to admire the illustration accompanying his own column).

Another reason to celebrate was on a most personal front. The Green Man had a dear family member fight her way through a desperate illness to health: reason enough to want to shower the 'hood with iPhones. (Which, by the way, are not green. The Green Man actually can't recommend them, having been part of the great dead battery rip-off that affected the first wave of iPods—a blot Steve Jobs and Apple haven't atoned for sufficiently, even with a class action settlement. Saith the Green Man to Steve Jobs: "Make me an iPhone/iPod that doesn't consume so many chemicals and lasts longer than its warranty and I'll stop haunting your backyard faun, even consider stopping the little trick I do when the ladies are watching.")

Finally, the Green Man had heard on the street that he would soon be receiving gifts of his own. Not to have given, if such rumors proved true, would of course just not do. Especially when one is blessed all year long with the company of a wife like the Green Goddess, a son like The Green Teen and a gang of pals like the Greenfellas, those witty and merry idlers, a little giving back is not amiss. So what is on the Green Man's last-minute list? First of all, buy local when you can. FedEx and other rush transport services consume an inordinate amount of fuel. Plus you're getting much-needed exercise if you walk and shop, and supporting your local economy by patronizing farmers, artisans, grocers and other retailers. To find a Farmer's Market near you, go to Local Harvest.

WHAT TO BUY THE GREEN TEENS. Teens are the toughest, but don't be daunted. For the Green Teen of the male persuasion, offer to cater a Rose Bowl Party with plenty of barbeque: hamburgers and steaks from grass-fed producers. To order the right stuff, download the Smart Shoppers' Meat Card. For those ski trips, bouldering jaunts and club-hopping jaunts, throw some Burt's Bees lip gloss in his stocking or in a PVC-free Timberland backpack made of 100% recycled polyester, or duffel by Mountain Hardware. If he's in college, promise to send him an Organic Gift Pack of assorted organic nuts and dried fruits, with some chocolate bars thrown in, from Diamond Organics. And, to keep him sweet, give him some of that Long Green to spend on what he pleases.

For that Green Girl Teen, find those hormone-disruptor-free soaps, cremes and beauty products by using GreenerPenny’s top green cosmetic list. Since in the Green Man's family the gals are more athletic than the boys, I'm gifting them with weatherproofing sunblocks for skin and lips and gift certificates for PVC-free sports shoes from Nike Considered. Support your local sheepherders, llama-packers and natural weavers by giving one of those floppy beanies the reggae toasters and Olson Twins like to sport. Try anything hemp from Rawganique. Just pin a little Long Green inside and you'll see smiles. Oh, yes, almost forgot: chorizo. Rumor has it this is the sausage of choice for both genders.

WHAT TO BUY THE GREEN GUY. Wives, the Green Man knows how hard you've tried to Green That Guy. Don't give up! Those previous attempts? Think of them as compost. Here is what to give that Green Man in your life (which is what I'm giving those Green & Manly Guys who've stuck by me no matter how the Jets are doing). Call it...well... The Green Man's Holiday Gift Pak:

1. A Six-Pack of Organic Beer—I'm partial to Wolaver's, but there's a lot out there now, including Pinkus' Hefe-Seizen, Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Organic Ale and Butte Creek Brewing's organic porter.

2. A cast-iron pan—Is iron organic? Sure. More importantly, its tool. Men like tools. And this tool is the gift that keeps on giving, because it gives the recipient the means and the desire for the job: which is any hardware or kitchen supply store, or get a Lodge chef skillet or a Le Creuset enamel-backed iron.

3. Food to cook—Don't make your man wait to use his new tool. Start him off with a slab of fresh line-caught fish from local fishermen, in my case, when I’m branching out in New York City, Greenmarket Phil Karlin at Union Square; line-caught tuna like Phil's is small, so lower in mercury. For other fish tips, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s regional wallet cards for what’s safest for you and the seas. Meat diehards will love a grass-fed or organic Porterhouse (no fear of mad cow even with the bone in) from your farmers' market, Niman Ranch, John Morrell, Applegate Farms or Organic Valley. Or there's always a beautiful shimmering gelatinous block of organic tofu from your local supermarket or shaped like a bird (with stuffing to match) from Turtle Island Foods just in case your giftee is one of those wild and crazy guys who's heard the news about soybeans and fertility.

4. Music to cook by—A CD of "Jumping at Shadows," the 1960s-archival blues and rock masterpieces from Peter Green (get it?) and the original core of Fleetwood Mac. These are the lost classics you've never heard, nearly 30 of them, good to grill or chill by. Unconditionally guaranteed by the Green Man, they will inspire you to make on your mantle for a Peter Green bobble-head doll next to those of Clapton, Page, Santana and Beck (Jeff, that is)...

5. Chorizo—This is the Clint Eastwood of sausage. In the hard sausage version, this is my secret ingredient for fish and chicken stews, used in small amounts for a real taste kick; or, lightly warmed, as a tapa con gusto. The soft Mexican-Californian version is another deal, the essence of huevos rancheros. With either one, you're in Treasure of the Sierra Madre territory. Ask at farmer's markets, supermarkets, European and Mexican food shops; for hormone- and antibiotic-free chorizo, try or 866-866-MEAT; in a pinch, make your own with recipes from

WHAT TO BUY THE GREEN GAL OR GODDESS. This is the real tough one, because let's face it, she probably thinks she is the expert. But that also means this is your chance for a real breakthrough in Green Gender relations.

1. Buy some affordable, recycled-wood bamboo bowls, plates and cutting boards from your local artisans, houseware stores, green supermarkets/lifestyle stores like ABC Home & Planet (goodwood, goodthread, organic bed), or Green Depot.

2. Get her a surfer girl organic cotton waffle hoody and all sorts of other eco-gear from Patagonia stores ( or a hemp or organic cotton bell-sleeved top or fleecy hoodie from Sweet Grass Fibers.

3. Use that new or old cast iron pan she bought you—cook up an organic storm on Monday night for the last football game of the year!

4. Tell her you love tofu and want some at every meal—Kidding? Not quite. I didn't say you have to eat it, after all.

5. Depending on where you live, it might be hard to get organic fresh flowers from the local markets. But if necessity dictates, for the Green Goddesses (wife, mother, mother-in-law), you can make an exception and do an online splurge. Order organic blooms grown in California, presented in a recycled-glass vase with a side of Costa Rican organic chocolates, from Organic Bouquet ( Or torch ginger, bird of paradise and ti leaves grown organically in Maui from Diamond Organics (

6. Chorizo—For some reason, I have a surplus of good Spanish chorizo lying about the larder this season. Boys, time to get grillin! (In fact, we really are living in the Golden Age of Chorizo, but that is the subject of another column.)

For more shopping tips and the latest and most authoritative green consumer information, go to and admire my picture, of course.

And watch for Do One Green Thing in March, 2010 - your one-stop super-sourced guide to all things green, without the lectures, from my very own Green Goddess, Mindy Pennybacker.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Did My Shampoo Just Change My Sex?

One of the advantages of being married to a Green Czar is, of course, being spared every kind of disaster by exposure to weird, body-and-soul-destroying chemicals. The best part is I don't have to raise a finger--most of the time. The Green Goddess just makes the bad stuff go away.

But then she started messing with my SHAMPOO.

Now, the male gene for emotional and domestic stability often finds first expression by attachment to our earliest cosmetic products. It's like a baby duck bonding with the first living creature it sees. Only with us Greenfellas, hanging out in the locker room at 13, parting our hair with a little dab o' do-ya, it tends to be Old Spice, Bryllcreem, Mitchum Anti-Perspirant. Despite the mixed messages the advertising sometimes delivered ("All my men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all") we still are fiercely loyal to the old brands.With shampoo, that tended to be a brand that preyed on the fear of white specks showing up on our black tuxedos (a slight disconnect at age 13 fashion-wise), and, after we got to college and realized chicks were hep to the whole white specks anxiety, to that old standby with pictures of flowers on it. Who could be against, like, herbs? (Heh-heh.)

Of course it actually had been years since I bought any of those old standbys, but then the other day I got fed up with washing my hair with plain soap because the Green Witch hadn't been to the drugstore. So on my way home from work I broke the rules. And got the scariest lecture about a kind of F-word you'll never hear on television:Phthalates.

Yeah, that kind of Phth-word. SCARY.

Holding her trusty yew switch as a pointer, the Green Queen rapped my nethers and said: "Exposure to phthalates--chemicals widely used as synthetic fragrancing agents, as well as in plastics--correlates to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in U.S. adult males, according to a March, 2007 study in Environmental Health Perspectives online. The CDC says that all Americans have phthalates in our bodies, and previous studies have linked the chemicals to subtle genital and reproductive hormone changes in male infants."

Naturally, I immediately checked myself out. And my pals, that gang of reluctant but trying Green Men called the Greenfellas. At the top of this entry is what we looked like--nothing subtle, right? [Editor's note: the photo was removed by divine intervention, but take our word for it... In fact, take several words: hideous, blubbery, gastropod-like.]

Scared yet? I was. And out to recycling went those nasty phth-phth-phth-alates.

[If you like horror movies about giant tadpoles mutating and eating small cities you'll love reading about Phthalates on]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hawaiian Hat Tree

Who needs to visit the milliner? In tropical Oahu, the environment supplies all our needs, including the craving for Carmen Miranda-influenced headgear such as this one, spotted on a proud local tree during its morning promenade.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thanksgiving Nightmare

The Big Bird is on the runway... the passengers, who strangely resemble cubed carrots and celery sticks, grumble as a fat ol' giblet waddles down the aisle and attempts to wedge an oversized crouton into the overhead rib rack... "travel on this day is such a hassle," they think, just before the attendant shuts the door and the temperature rises sharply, uncomfortably...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Other People's Gardens

One of the greatest gifts is permission to gather from another person's garden. It's something that has happened to me, one way or another, all my life. In college way long ago, I joined my rock n roll band in a ramshackle Victorian in Santa Cruz one dreary winter. Come spring: voila, vegetables and flowers sprang up out of gray withered sedge, including apples, blackberries and a persimmon tree, plus a pomegratate bush that must have been planted 50 years before. This year, on an island in France, a tough-hewn guy swung out of his truck cab as he drove out of our village and dropped a sack of vegetables on our stoop. "Use the garden!" he shouted (in French). I wandered around later that day and ducked under a stunted apple tree to find 40 square feet of intensive local agriculture. Gathered up the day's meal (see photo) and for two weeks after, too. So here's to gardeners, and to gardens that keep on giving. Bon Appetit!