First the good news: Teflon, the most famous of the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) non-stick coatings, is now being manufactured without the notoriously persistent, suspected human carcinogen PFOA, as the result of U.S. government pressure. However, critics argue that replacement chems are under-researched. France-based T-Fal's website says it's still manufacturing with PFOA, though like all non-stick makers, it says the final pan surfaces are PFOA-free. Regardless, Health Canada says PTFE pans can give off poisonous fumes at very high temps. FYI, some titanium pans use ptfe non-stick coatings, so be sure to probe.
Aluminum's great at conducting heat (hence, all sorts of pans have aluminum cores), but plain aluminum skillets do quite a bit of leaching. Anodizing the metal in an acid bath with electric current hardens it, creating a non-stick surface that leaches a lot less aluminum. But it still seeps out over time if you're cooking high-acid foods like tomato sauces. Health Canada says levels are low enough that you shouldn't worry. But why invest in one of these when there are so many other options on the market?
Often branded as "eco" pans because their non-stick glazed ceramic surface doesn't use PTFEs or Teflon. I've tried a good half-dozen ceramic brands over the years. Some scratched within six months (like Eco-Chef, which came with a one year warranty) or just failed to deliver consistent non-stick performance (Orgreenic). Earthchef and Green Pan, both of which test for lead and cadmium in the glazes, were more durable, but I've found ceramic will lose its non-stick skills if you're searing or cooking at high heat often. Nice part is Earthchef comes with a five-year guarantee. My advice: reserve these for eggs, and cook with another pan the rest of the time.
Few pans are more durable and resilient than those made of stainless steel. They won't rust like cast iron or wear out like ceramic, aluminum or conventional non-stick pans. You can scrub them with steel wool if need be and on they live. They can leach a little nickel and chromium into your food, though "not enough to cause concern," according to Health Canada. Rundown aluminum and copper pans may leach to a more worrisome extent. A lot of pro chefs use carbon steel, which is mostly iron without the nickel or chromium in stainless steel. It's more like lightweight cast iron and still needs seasoning. (De Buyer B Element from France is carbon steel with a beeswax coating.)
I love old-fashioned cast iron pans. Okay, yes, they're a bit of a pain in the arse since they're heavy as hell and you have to wash and dry them with care. But if you buy good seasoned pans (Lodge crafts quality, American-made ones), these are wonderful chef-friendly surfaces. Plus, iron cookware can actually boost your daily iron intake by some 20 per cent - a bonus for vegetarians! Too heavy for you? Try carbon steel.
Green find of the week
PHILIPS SLIMSTYLE LED BULB
Looking for a conversation piece to get your friends oohing and aahing about the marvels of green technology? Pick up one of these odd LEDs with a new "someone stepped on your light bulb" look. Postmodernists might even like the bare bulb aesthetic with these babies. They're still not as cheap as old-school hyper-inefficient incandescents (now outlawed for the most part), but at $10 for 25,000 hours of highly efficient lighting, you'll be saving money on your hydro bill. They're fully dimmable, and, unlike compact fluorescents, there's no mercury in 'em. Plus, their plastic casing helps keep them from cracking if you've got slippery fingers.
Rain or shine: Committing 30 minutes to nature every day in May shakes off my flu-ridden winter cobwebs.
Soggy grey clouds are wringing themselves out on the streets of Toronto, and I'm at my computer ticking boxes asking how agitated or energized I've been feeling. "Have I felt so alive I just want to burst?" Hmm. Clearly this is a sign I need a kick in the ass. Thankfully, I'm signing up for one from David Suzuki himself.
Suzuki's not doing the actual kicking, but every May his foundation signs Canadians up to commit to 30 minutes in nature for 30 days as part of its 30 x 30 Challenge. The national well-being-boosting campaign asks participants to take an official psychological pre- and post-nature-injection survey. The whole thing kind of made me want to lie down on a shrink's couch at first.
I consider myself a pretty happy, upbeat person. But from the look of my survey answers, something was obviously off. I couldn't put my finger on it before, but the solution smacks me upside the head: I need to get outside.
Committing to 30 minutes in nature sounds like a breeze, I know - until you realize that May can be a pretty wet month. Grey skies are a little uninspiring, and on drizzly days I park the bike and opt for transit. (I'd never survive Vancouver.)
But now I'm committed to track down a park, a ravine - anything green really - and stroll tree-lined side streets no matter the forecast.
It takes a little internal goading at first, but making time for those 30 minutes, well, it's magic. I'd normally bypass the ravine near my house to speed-walk to the bus, but today the trickling brook, chirping birds and rustling leaves (mementos of fall) envelop me in nature's surround-sound amphitheatre. It doesn't matter if the sun hasn't been seen for days.
Between the budding treetops, flashes of neon-green moss and purple violets, it's as though nature is warming up its best singers and dancers for a wild cabaret to celebrate spring.
If you're far from decent hiking grounds, have your morning coffee outside, skip the gym and jog outdoors, suggest a walking meeting at work. Even a little parkette should have a tree under which you can read/sketch/write.
All I need is a single big ol' tree. There's something expansive, transformative that happens when you really stop to take in the vibes and wondrous skyward twisting limbs of those giant woody gods. It's like a mini-meditation without the ponytailed guru.
Take 30 minutes to escape the concrete jungle and the heady traffic jams of the information highway, and your day, no matter how it started, is enchantingly purified. Less than a week in, I feel relaxed and healthier. Have I felt so alive I just want to burst? Actually, check.