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Greening Your Home With The EPA

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Green Among Gray has always tried to help average homeowners shrink their footprint and save money right where they spend it the most: at home.

In the past, I’ve offered tips on measuring your home’s energy use, how to get tax credits for energy improvements, and utilizing energy-efficient mortgages.

And now, the EPA has collected information on all this, plus a lot more, in one handy spot: EPA.gov/GreenHomes. Here, the EPA makes it easy “to find clear, consolidated, readily accessible, and credible information” on going green in and around your home.

Every room of the house is covered, from learning the best ways to conserve water in the bathroom, to cutting energy use of your kitchen appliances, eliminating Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from your bedroom furniture and carpets, and using environmentally friendly cleaners in your living room.

EPA’s GreenHomes site also has info for renters, such as the best ways to find green units for rent, and a boatload of other info, including a glossary of green terms and how to keep your yard a low-footprint area.

Check it out, maybe as you’re digesting your Thanksgiving feast. Then when you host next year, maybe you’ll do it in much greener surroundings.

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Sustainable Restaurants – Santa Monica’s Wilshire Restaurant

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

Green Among Gray’s overview of sustainable restaurants in various Captivate cities continues today with Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif.

Though Wilshire is going on 5 years old, its current iteration really didn’t begin until February of last year, when Andrew Kirschner stepped in as executive chef. I haven’t had the pleasure of dining there, but I trust the Los Angeles Times review, which calls Wilshire’s food “completely successful as contemporary California cooking” and “a breath of fresh air,” while lauding its patio as “a magical outdoor space.”

Wilshire says its menu is “developed around local, organic, and seasonal ingredients, taking advantage of our uniquely rich and diverse farmers markets. Dishes originate from a fusion of American and International influences, presented in a simple and accessible style. We call this ‘New Urban Cuisine,’ reflecting the modern sensibilities of supporting sustainable farming.”

The restaurant is now offering three-course prix fixe dinners for just $39 per person. And it’s not one of those limited deals either, where you only get to choose from one or two entrees; the entire dinner menu (except steaks) is available. You can create your own tasting menu!

I asked Executive Chef Andrew Kirschner a couple questions via e-mail. (Mr. Kirschner won a live cooking competition in April centered on the importance of choosing environmentally responsible foods. Check out the details on how his cooking impressed celebrity judges such as Julianne Moore.)

What drives your passion for organic ingredients?
Our culinary team creates seasonal menus based on the enormous availability of organic produce and sustainable products that are part of California's agricultural heritage.

Do you find patrons dining at your restaurant as a result of actively seeking out organic options, or are they more often simply looking for good food and the organic aspect is just an afterthought for them?
More and more, guests feel secure when knowing that what their eating comes from reliable sources. California is a leader in green industries and a philosophy for our future. As a restaurant, we want to set the bar and illustrate that the best food comes from choosing the best ingredients.

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Sustainable Restaurants – The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards outside San Francisco

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 by Kyle Scribner

One particularly burgeoning sector of the green movement is the organic restaurant. They’ve sprouted all around the country, offering fresh, local food to legions of diners who care about how their eating habits impact the environment (or maybe they only care about eating yummy, nutritious stuff; either way, organic restaurants fit the bill).

Green Among Gray is focusing on a few of these restaurants in various Captivate cities. Today we focus on The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, in Livermore Valley, Calif., about an hour east of San Francisco.

I’ve not had the pleasure of dining at any of these restaurants, but the accolades each has received speak for themselves. If you’ve eaten at Wente Vineyards, or any of the restaurants in this series, please let us know your impressions either in the comments below or via kscribner@captivate.com.

The recently remodeled Restaurant at Wente has been serving fine food for more than 25 years (a mere child compared to the vineyard’s 125-year history), relying heavily on their extensive organic vegetable and herb gardens, so they certainly can’t be accused of bandwagon-hopping. The kitchen pledges to use the best sustainable, local ingredients in their daily changing menus focused around the season’s freshest produce. The staff utilizes a composting system, water is conserved in energy-efficient dishwashers, the dining room’s floors are made from sustainably harvested timber, and the Restaurant is outfitted with hand-crafted furniture made from recycled materials. They also convert kitchen waste to biodiesel fuel by recycling oils.

Wente’s organic sensibility may best be seen in its “Farming for the Future” program. Created in the early 1990s, its system “enhances the vitality of the soils, creates a balanced, sustainable ecology, minimizes water use and reduces non-organic wastes.”

For example, Wente’s use of drip irrigation and data from its on-site weather stations allows it to deliver the optimal amount of water to its vines at the most advantageous time.

Also, Wente naturally controls pests through the growth of native grasses and beneficial broadleaf species to maintain an ecological balance, and in 2000 was awarded the Integrated Pest Management Innovators Award by the California EPA.

Wente is also a drop-off spot for ReCORK America, which recycles used and
surplus corks from wineries.

I asked Christine Wente, senior vice president of hospitality and fourth generation winegrower, for more about the Restaurant’s organic sensibility:

What drives your passion for organic ingredients?
Our belief in sourcing the freshest local, organic ingredients stems from our belief that the most delicious meals are ingredient-driven. At The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, we put our own innovative twist on familiar dishes with our inspiration from French and Italian provincial dishes. Our organic kitchen gardens supply The Restaurant with the freshest flavors of the season.

Do you find patrons dining at your restaurant as a result of actively seeking out organic options, or are they more often simply looking for good food and the organic aspect is just an afterthought for them?
Organic ingredients do matter to many of our guests. And even those who don't eat organically at home appreciate the quality ingredients that come from our organic gardens and local purveyors. Our patrons like dining in a vineyard setting and pairing their meals with wines grown a few hundred yards away.

Through Nov. 9, the Restaurant is offering a prix-fixe $29 “Celebration Week” dinner that includes two courses and a glass of wine.

The Wente complex also offers a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course, a concert venue, and wedding and special event hosting.

And of course, don’t forget to check out the vineyard itself, which draws from 3,000 acres of sustainably farmed estates, and, in an interesting bit of trivia, is the source clone for the majority of Chardonnay grapes grown in the US.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.