Green Reading

Earth Day Reading
by The Green Guide Staff

Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time by David R. Johnston and Kim Master, LEED AP (New Society Publishers, 2004, $29.95). To purchase this book, visit our online book store.

 

I’ve been dreaming of living in a green home—sleeping on an organic mattress and watching the electric meter run backwards from solar gain—since my days of renting. When I recently became a homeowner, all I wanted to do was infuse my new nest with every eco product I could think of. I became giddy at the thought of VOC-free paints and renewable-material flooring. The good news? Companies are churning out environmentally-friendly products like hotcakes. The bad? Where on earth was I to begin?

David Johnston and Kim Master’s book Green Remodeling was just the right place. Johnston combines his own expertise, stemming from over 30 years in green construction, with Master’s ten-plus years as an environmental and health specialist.

Johnston begins by outlining his personal home renovation in a daily diary of ups, downs and completed success, before providing a room-by-room examination. The book’s final section is jam-packed with valuable information ranging from construction health risks to plumbing and roofing.

Though it’s not a how-to manual, Green Remodeling is an in-depth guide on building construction, exposing energy suckers like antiquated refrigerators and products like vinyl siding whose manufacturing releases dioxins, then divulging a host of healthy alternatives. Want to give your house a face-lift room-by-room? Consult Chapter 6, which breaks down remodeling efforts from the bedroom to the kitchen, including checklists for every nook and cranny. If you’re more interested in exploring topics such as green energy, insulation or plumbing, skip ahead to individual chapters delving into the nuts and bolts of construction.

Whereas some home reno books tend to read like operator’s manuals, Johnston and Master bring a breezy style to the pages, making it not only entertainingly informative, but qualifying it for the bedside table. They take into account the numerous facets in construction, from the emotional wear and tear on homeowners, and the fiscal drain to the enormous resources consumed and refuse created. Not to worry about the last item—85 to 90 percent of construction waste is recyclable, and you’ll find tips on how to dispose.

What tends to be an overwhelmingly chaotic process, making your living environment healthy and green, Johnston and Master simplify through an easy-to-navigate manual, organizing and subdividing topics into concise sections. They devote 20 pages to indoor air quality, covering issues from carbon monoxide to mold and advising how to minimize or eliminate risk. Each page is chockablock with information outlining problems with current building design and how to change for the better.

Some readers may be annoyed that Johnston and Masters leave out products, stores and manufacturer details, but they do include a handy website resource section listing various organizations from non-profits to government agencies, which can steer you in the right direction (The Green Guide included). For the armchair reader, they devote a chapter to finding eco-friendly architects and remodeling contractors to do the dirty work.

If you’ve ever wanted to transform your home into a green getaway, this book will become your best friend. If you think your house could be more sustainable, but not sure how, this book will tell you. Whether you’re a first-time homeowner or the neighborhood handyman, you’ll find in it a trove of valuable tips and practical know-how.

—Kate Harris

How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, $27). To purchase this book, visit our online book store.

 

When he wrote that April is the cruelest month, I can’t help but wonder if T.S. Eliot was into cooking. It’s about this time of year that, despite my inclination for eating seasonally and locally, my favorite farmer’s market begins to bore me. After months of eating potatoes and parsnips, carrots and apples, my enthusiasm for cooking ebbs like a low tide, and I abandon it in silent protest over the lack of color and variety in my produce bin. Most nights in April, I find myself in line at the Chinese take-out down the street, carrying out sacks of artery-clogging sweet-and-sour chicken or over-sauced noodles and berating myself for indirectly funneling profits into the Styrofoam-container industry.

For that very reason, I was happily plucked from the Chinese take-out line and plopped back into my kitchen after reading How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons. Full of creative recipes from a laundry list of notable chefs (Parsons himself is an career food writer and a columnist at the Los Angeles Times), the book had me back in the markets—in April!—seeking out those same crops that had me so bored and whipping up new dishes like roasted beet and orange salad with goat cheese and walnuts and turnip and potato gratin.

Surging interest in locally grown foods has led to a coinciding surge in literature on farm-fresh produce, so a book like Parsons could easily get lost in the shuffle. But How to Pick a Peach is thoughtfully organized and carefully researched, with each chapter focusing on an individual crop or group of crops and detailing its (or their) social and historical background. Particularly helpful for the amateur and professional alike are the chapter conclusions that explain how to choose, store and prepare produce and offer “One Simple Dish” that impatient, bored cooks like myself can tackle with ease. Chapters also contain a subsection on where the featured crop is grown, which segues nicely into regional recipes from across the country, perhaps the book’s most appealing feature. With all the focus on local foods, it’s easy to forget that they aren’t restricted to local recipes. Parson’s recipe for Southern Comfort Soup, one of my favorites, tasted just as good with collard greens hailing from upstate New York as it would have with greens from Georgia, where, he informs us, most collards in American grocery stores are grown.

We don’t all have to buy into Eliot’s lament. Take a page from Parson’s book and inject a little creativity into the cruelest culinary month of your locale. You might just find a way to re-use all those take-out bags.

-Emily Main

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