• Natural Cleaning Methods

    The smell of a clean house is something that should be associated with good things like cleanliness, health, and productivity.  Since I have come to discover the myriad of harmful chemicals contained in most store-bought cleaning products though, I now associate these smells with toxicity, respiratory problems and waste.  There are some wonderful ways to clean your house using all-natural non-toxic products you may already have in your kitchen.  Not only does this charge the house with a good clean energy, but it also is quite economical and resourceful.  I also love the ability to incorporate aromatherapy in to the cleaning.  Here are some of my favorite homemade cleaning products:

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    Counter: Simply mix up a mixture of distilled water (or boiled and cooled) and essential oils with antibacterial properties in a spray bottle.  I am always saving old spray bottles for this purpose.  My favorite mixture for the kitchen is water with tea tree, lemon and grapefruit.  I also like the mixture of peppermint and vanilla or of lemongrass and coriander.  The bonus to this cleaner is you don’t have to worry when spraying near food or on a surface that you might later make a sandwich on.

    Foaming Hand Soap: Using an old foaming hand soap dispenser, add about two tablespoon of castile soap and a teaspoon of oil (almond, olive or jojoba all work well) to distilled water.  Be sure to add the soap and oil after the water so it doesn’t get all bubbly.  Drop in about 15 drops of essential oil of your choice.  I initially bought foaming hand soaps at Whole Foods and used the bottles to make a homemade mixture once these ran out but you could also buy empty foaming soap dispensers.

    Floors (wood or tile): In a bucket mix a couple gallons of hot water with a generous squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (or any castile) soap, along with essential oils (about 30 drops) of your choice.  I really like to use the peppermint castile soap and change the essential oils depending on the season/mood.  One of my favorite mixtures is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap with tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and cinnamon essentials oils added to the water.  If floors are greasy or you need to cut scum, ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar can be used instead of the castile soap but don’t do this too often or you may strip the wood floors of the wax or oils they are coated with.  And do not mix the castile soap with vinegar.  They will essentially cancel each other out.  You can read more about that here if you’re interested in the details.  A little bit of olive oil added to the floor washing will help seal and shine wood floors.  Sometimes I like to rotate cleaning with castile soap, then vinegar, then oil on different weeks.

    Disinfecting: Spray hydrogen peroxide (an effective bleach alternative) on surface .  It also whitens and helps remove stains, especially in grout.

    Mirrors/windows: Use a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water (approximately one quarter cup of vinegar to each gallon of water).  I keep one pre-mixed in a large household spray bottle.  Just spray and wipe.  I have found that using old newspaper or making use of the flyers that come in the mail in place of paper towels works really well for preventing streaks and reducing waste.

    Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming.  The baking soda can be left on the rugs overnight for extra freshening.  This could also be used on cloth furniture to combat odors.

    Bathtub/shower/sink: Squirt a generous dollop of Dr. Bronner’s soap across the surfaces, and then sprinkle with baking soda.  Scour away.  The baking soda has a mild abrasive action.  The thing I like about this mixture is that these two things are often ingredients I put in homemade baths so if any gets left behind, it’s no problem at all.  If you have areas of mold or mildew growth, spray undiluted white vinegar on the areas and wipe after fifteen minutes or so.  Baking soda will help if you need scrubbing action.

    Toilets: To wipe the rims, I just use a simple mixture of peppermint and a generous amount of tea tree oil with distilled water.  My homemade disposable baby wipes actually do this job really well too in between cleanings.  For the basin, scrub with Dr. Bronner’s soap mixed in a small squirt bottle with distilled water and lots of tea tree oil.  Again, the added benefit here is if the cat ends up drinking from it later, she is safe.  Or at least only threatened by Chief’s disgust, hee hee.  I also like to put a few drops of a favorite essential oil inside the toilet paper tube to freshen the bathroom without chemicals.  The toilet could be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide and then wiped for further disinfecting.

    Litter box: Remove the litter and spray with the same solution used for toilets above (a mixture of peppermint and tea tree oil with distilled water).

    That pretty much covers all the surfaces in your house!  To summarize, I have created a shopping list below:

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Castile soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Baking soda
    • Essential oils.  Refer to the aromatherapy post for a more detailed list but great, inexpensive ones to start with for cleaning are as follows: peppermint, tea tree, clove, lemon and eucalyptus
    • Household spray bottles
    • Oil (olive or almond)

     

     

  • Cloth Baby Wipes System

    I decided early in my pregnancy that I wanted to do cloth diapering.  Chief was very supportive of my plan, even though a few others looked at me like I was crazy.  That made me nervous, but after speaking to a few mommas that were cloth diapering and reading various blogs, the most common sentiment that I heard was that it was a lot easier than most people think.  Most moms who began cloth diapering after the first child or when their child was older only wish they would have started earlier.  I have been loving it thus far.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do cloth diapering and then have wipes that need disposing of though, so here I have a recipe for cloth wipes that can just be thrown in the wet bag and washed with the diapers.

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    Even if you don’t cloth diaper, these wipes could also be used to wipe up a child’s face or body.  And, let’s be honest…I admit that sometimes a quick scrub to myself with these in the morning is the closest I get to a shower before I head out of the house!  I also like using these wipes to get in to the little rolls of chub that milk likes to get stuck in.

    I watched a number of YouTube videos and read a number of blogs and then did some trial and error to come up with my favorite method and recipe for these wipes.  I made my own video here.  As with all these kitchen beautician recipes, don’t become hung up on acquiring exactly what is listed but just jump in and do a few tests with whatever you have on hand and I promise you it will quickly become second nature and you’ll find your own tweaks that you’re happy with.

    Cloth wipes

    First of all, you will need wipes.  I ended up buying some unbleached organic cotton ones from OsoCozy.  A number of other moms just used cut up old t-shirts or receiving blankets so you could do that if you want to save money or if you are handier with a sewing machine than I am.  I usually fill the wipes warmer with about 30 wipes but you could do less depending on how often you need them.

    Solution

    There are a lot of recipes out there but my favorite mixture is below:

    • Boiled then cooled water (or distilled water)
    • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
    • 1 Tbsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s unscented)
    • 1 Tbsp. witch hazel
    • 1 Tbsp. aloe vera gel
    • 10 drops essential oils.  My favorite is a mixture of tea tree, lavender, and vanilla essential oils.  Other good options are chamomile or tangerine.  You could also make a big batch of chamomile tea with the boiled water to incorporate it that way.

    I think the water and oil are the two most crucial ingredients because they are what really clean and soften the skin, respectively.  Coconut oil could always be substituted with almond oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, or whatever else you have on hand.  Go ahead and try a batch with just these two things if you need time to acquire the other items listed in the recipe.  The witch hazel adds astringent properties and the aloe vera gel soothes skin.  The essential oils provide a nice scent, allow for the incorporation of aromatherapy and many have antibacterial and antifungal properties.  Baby shampoo could be substituted for the castile soap.

    Method

    You could also use distilled water but I usually just boil a full teapot of water when making my tea or coffee in the morning and then set the unused water aside.  Boiling it will ensure you have killed any bacteria that could foster mold growth, etc.

    In a large bowl or casserole dish, I put in the oil, castile soap, witch hazel and aloe vera gel and then pour the warm water over it.  I then drop in the essential oils.

    On other blogs or videos I watched, moms rolled up their little cloth wipes.  Bless them but I really don’t have the time to spare.  I just fold mine in half and it takes about 1 extra minute for every load of laundry.

    I take the stacks of folded wipes and dip them in to the solution until they are saturated but then squeeze them out so they are wet but not dripping.  You generally don’t want them too wet or baby’s bottom will stay wet after wiping and could result in yeast, etc.

    I then place mine in a special wipes warmer made for cloth wipes and I really love it.  It is by Prince Lionheart*.  I know that wipes warmers aren’t really necessary but it’s kind of a nice treat and my little one loves having her diaper changed.  I like the way it opens up fully and the wipe doesn’t need to be pulled through an opening.  It’s very easy to do one handed.  I have heard of some other ones that work well for cloth wipes including the OXO brand, but haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to it.

    For travel, I place about 5 wipes in to a Buti-pod that I really like.  Again, as a mom it’s nice to have little emergency showers in your handbag!

    If there is any extra solution left in the dish you dunked the wipes in, you can set it aside and add it to the next bath.  Another option is to put it in to one of the perineal irrigation bottles you might have leftover from your delivery.  These things are the best for a number or purposes.  I sometimes use it to soak cotton balls that I use to clean in crevices or you can squirt the solution on to a dry cloth wipe and wipe baby up that way.

    That’s it!  It sounds like a lot but, as you can see from my video, each batch takes about three minutes to make once you get the hang of it.  It’s so nice not having to buy wipes and not even needing a rubbish bin in the nursery.

    * As far as cleaning your Prince Lionheart warmer, I wipe it out every time I change out the wipes.  I remove the Everfresh replacement pillow, rinse it and wring it out.  While it is removed, I spray the inside of the warmer with a vinegar and water solution and wipe it out.  The replacement pillow needs to be replaced once every three months.

  • Cherry and Almond Superfood Chocolate Smoothie

    This is one of my favorite smoothie recipes.  It’s a great smoothie to have during times when you are really working your body hard with training or muscle building because it has lots of protein and the cherries help to reduce inflammation.

    Approximate Recipe for 2 Servings:

    • ¾ cup pitted cherries.  I just use frozen organic ones, unless they happen to be in season
    • 2 tablespoons cocoa – I like mine extra chocolately, reduce if you don’t
    • 2 tablespoons almond butter
    • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
    • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • Generous dash of cinnamon
    • 1 ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk

    Cherries contain significant amounts of beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber and potassium.  They are also full of quercetin and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that can help  reduce inflammation from muscle strain or arthritis.  Some studies have shown the reduction to be similar to some well-known pain medications.  Cherries also contain a significant amount of melatonin, which can help regulate sleep and ease irritability.

    As I discussed in another smoothie recipe (the banana chocolate smoothie) idea post, cocoa is full of flavonoids, which can help to prevent heart disease by decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation, balancing good and bad cholesterol and improving blood vessel health.  Cocoa and the cinnamon (which I put in most things that also have a sugar component like fruit or honey) help to decrease insulin resistance and help the body better deal with consuming natural sugars for prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.

    I always try to sneak coconut oil and flaxseed in to my smoothies.  The coconut oil has a special medium chain triglyceride in the form of lauric acid, which helps to increase the good HDL cholesterol in the blood.  Coconut oil helps to prevent fungal and bacterial infections in the body as well.  The flaxseed adds fiber as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Be sure to get it ground, as the body can’t absorb the nutrition from the whole seeds.

    I usually have almond milk on hand, but hemp milk works great too.  The hemp adds extra protein.  If you are purchasing the almond milk (as opposed to making it), be sure to buy the stuff that is unsweetened and then sweeten the smoothie to your liking with local honey to help deal with allergens and get a good dose of the antibacterial benefits of consuming honey.

    The almond butter adds a natural source of protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats.  The health benefits of almonds are well known and include the ability to help improve cholesterol ratios, control weight gain and prevent heart disease.  They are good sources of magnesium, manganese, riboflavin and vitamin E.  The magnesium helps to prevent muscles aches and pains.

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  • Chicken Stock (Broth) Recipe

    I consider stock made from animal bones to be a panacea of good health.  I hadn’t always recognized their value.  I was introduced to the culinary concept by Chief and then got really in to learning about the health benefits.  Stock is also known by the term broth. While the two are essentially one in the same, stock is generally used to refer to a liquid made from boiling down bone, while broth is made from boiling down bones that still have a significant amount of meat on them.  Also, stock is a term that is sometimes used more in restaurants with a prescribed recipe whereas broth might be more scraps from whatever is available at home and will be slightly different every time.

    Stocks are really simple to do but they are full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that many people are lacking in our modern diet.  In our throwaway, removed-from-the-process lifestyle, making stocks has kind of gone by the wayside.   Ancient  cultures, conversely, were very resourceful in using up every part of the animal, understanding that not only were bones not meant to be discarded, but that is where some of the most vital nutrients of the animal were contained including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, gelatin, glucosamine-chondroitin and electrolytes.  The gelatin is an additional source of protein to the diet and is thought to help keep bones healthy while the glucosamine – chondroitin helps keep joints healthy.  Joints can sometimes be troubled as a result of over-training or arthritis.

    Besides the resourcefulness and health benefits, there is also the excitement of contributing to your confidence and pride as a cook by preparing your own stocks.  There is an irreplaceable, rich depth to homemade stock and it imparts a delicious flavor to everything you cook that requires stock in the recipe.

    Cooking it also makes a house smell comforting, and I love making our kitchen a space of experimentation and tradition.

    Stocks are a really important component for keeping you and your family healthy.  Broths are very easily digested so work well for supplying nutrients in the system when the body doesn’t have much energy to supply to digestion, like during times of illnesses or for the elderly or with anyone having digestion problems.  The liquid and electrolytes are also really good during times of dehydration during recovery or during times of over-exertion.

    Because stock is generally made out of any leftovers it is very inexpensive.  You can buy the leftover parts from the butchering process at a low cost or you can simply use  the carcasses you’d normally discard, like the remains of a roast chicken.  Using up these bits means that is an extremely frugal way to cook. Often times we’ll ask for some chicken backs at the meat counter and he gladly gives them away to us for a very low price.

    I’m going to put the recipe for chicken stock here because I think that is the one that’s easiest to do as a beginner, but know that you can follow the same general outline for broths of beef, lamb, etc.  Some of the red meats require roasting (about 40 minutes at 350 degrees F) before they are transferred to the stockpot.

    Equipment
    A large stockpot
    A strainer
    A slotted spoon

    Ingredients

    • 1 whole free range chicken or 2-3 pounds of chicken parts (bones, backs, gizzards, etc.)
    • 2 Tbsps vinegar
    • 4 quarts (one gallon) of cold, filtered water
    • 1 large onion, quartered
    • 2-3 carrots (coarsely chopped)
    • 3 celery stalks (coarsely chopped)
    • 2 bay leaves
    • Other vegetable odds and ends you may have on hand

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    Basic Instructions

    Cut the chicken up in to several large pieces if using a whole chicken.  Put it in your stockpot with vinegar, onion, carrots and celery.  Let stand for about 30 minutes to an hour before turning on the burner and bringing to a boil.  Doing so helps to extract some of the vitamins and minerals with the vinegar.  Once it begins to boil, remove the scum that comes to the top.  It is important to do this step so that you can get rid of the stuff we don’t want and to help ensure clarity of the stock.  This is best done with a metal slotted spoon or a small mesh sieve.  Once all the scum has boiled off, reduce heat to a very low heat, cover and leave for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.  You want the water to be turning over to some extent but want to keep the heat as low as possible – not quite to a simmer.  You really won’t need to do much during this time so don’t be daunted by the long process.  It’s really nice to do when you’re around home on the weekends, etc. and makes the house smell lovely.

    The longer you simmer it, the more rich and flavorful the broth will be.  Note that the broth will not be salted until it is ready to be used so keep that in mind when testing the flavor as you go.  When you are finished, remove the bones or carcass with a slotted spoon.  After deliberating for the last year, we finally invested in a stock strainer and Chief is in such a state of joy over it now!  It really is quite handy.  If there is a fair bit of meat left on the bone, remove it to use for things like curry, chili, chicken salads, or enchiladas.  We recently used it as the meat for Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì), yum.  The skin or soft small bones can also be given to your dog or cat who will be very happy about the treat!  Larger bones can splinter so don’t feed those to animals.

    Strain the stock and put it in containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer.  We have made the mistake of putting it in glass containers that weren’t made for freezing and cracked them so be sure to get specially designed ones.  It also works well to just put them in Ziploc bags and freezing them that way.  Use larger gallon sizes if you are going to be making soups and smaller Ziploc bags for the times you just need a cup or so.

     

     

     

  • Oktoberfest Bangers & Mash Recipe

    So official Oktoberfest has passed but it’s still October so I’m posting up this Oktoberfest dinner idea.  It’s always a good standby during the chilly winter months that are nearly upon us in the Northern Hemisphere.

    One frustration I have with cookbooks is that they rarely give an idea for a meal.  Often they contain just a recipe for one part of a meal.  Then I have a hard time deciding what the sides should be.  Bangers and mash is a hearty, healthy, and simple classic dish and it’s one that is easy to please most people with (including kids).  There are different variations but I like to serve mine as sausage and mashed potatoes (the bangers and mash part) along with sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.  One way that I like to add nutrition is by substituting some of the potatoes with some combination of parsnip, turnip, and/or cauliflower.  I also like to add in caramelized onions with the potatoes.

    To make the “mash” boil up equal parts potatoes and vegetables (I love cauliflower).  For five servings, I will usually use 3 small peeled and sliced potatoes and an equivalent volume of peeled, coarsely chopped vegetables.  If you’re going to go through the trouble, it’s nice to make a big batch that can be frozen and re-used later.   Put the potatoes and vegetables in a pot with a teaspoon or so of salt, cover with water, bring to a boil and let cook 15-20 minutes or until fork-tender.   I usually err on the side of overboiling during this step so that I have an easier time mashing later. This meal can sometimes be monochrome, so one way to counter that is to use Peruvian purple potatoes or purple cauliflower.  Once the potatoes and vegetables are fork-tender, drain the mixture.  Using either an electric hand mixer or manual masher, mash the mixture with some butter (3 Tbsp) and some milk or cream (not quite ¼ cup).  If you want to keep it vegan, use olive oil (decrease amount) and oat milk.  Add a generous amount of salt and pepper.  I also love to fold in caramelized onions for extra flavor.

    While the mash is cooking, either grill or sauté the sausage.  If you are going to grill it, slice it after it has been prepared and if you are going to sauté it, cut it up before hand.  I like to cut the sausage at a 45° angle to the length to make each piece a little longer and improve the presentation.  Kielbasa works great for this.  Often times for my portion, I will use the Tofurkey kielbasa.  It’s not fooling anyone, but it’s something I can feel better about consuming.  Our friend brought us some kielbasa-style venison sausage from a hunt he went on, and that’s wonderful too.  Try and find sausages that have not been preserved with nitrates.  There is a wonderful store in Houston called Revival Market that raises sustainable, humanely raised pigs if you are local and are going to eat “real” sausage.  They also have great American mustard that works well with this meal.

    I have a recipe for sauerkraut in a previous post, but if you’re not in to playing around with that, just buy some good refrigerated sauerkraut.  If you prefer your sauerkraut warmed, warm it in a pan while the rest is cooking.  I like to top it with caraway seeds.  A lot of people turn their nose up at sauerkraut, but I encourage you to try it again.  It’s one of those things like pickles that you might eventually start craving.  The cabbage from which it’s made is so healthy.  Cabbage is part of a family of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok choy, etc.  It is chock-full of disease fighting phytochemicals, vitamins (including vitamin C), and fiber.  The slightly sulfurous smell all these vegetables have in common is because they contain sulforaphane.  Studies have suggested that this phytochemical can help reduce the risk of cancer.  It does so by stimulating enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they wreak havoc on cells.  I talk more about the benefits of fermented food in general in the post on sauerkraut.

    Serve the sausage and mashies on a plate, along with some sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.

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    This is a great fall meal, especially served with a nice pint of Oktoberfest beer.  Yum!

  • Fun with Fermentation – Sauerkraut Recipe

    We have so much fun with fermentation! Chief and I figure that instead of battling with bacteria, we’ll take a more pacifist approach.  We decided that if we can’t beat them, we’ll join them!  So we now live happily in harmony with the wonderful bacteria that inhabit our kitchen and our guts.  We’ll take any satisfaction we can from doing little experiments in our kitchen anyway!

    I have posted before about various types and states of fermentation in my posts on kombucha and vinegar and today I wanted to talk about fermentation of vegetables, cabbage specifically.  I have included an introduction to augment the sauerkraut recipe below since I have a passion for talking about the health benefits of fermentation.  I also wanted the sauerkraut how-to available ahead of an Oktoberfest meal idea I’ll post soon.

    Sauerkraut is an example of a fermented food that has defined and helped nurture a particular culture – German in this case.  Nearly all ancient cultures have some sort of fermented product they used to help preserve fresh food before the advent of pasteurization or refrigeration.  For example, Koreans have kimchi, French have cheese and wine, Japanese have miso and soy, Indians consume soured creams and milks in many of their dishes, and maybe your grandmother or mother made fruit preserves or relishes or pickled vegetables.

    In preserving foods using the natural process of fermentation, these cultures were able to not only maintain the incredible health benefits of the fresh products but also to amplify particular effects.  While modern day processes can denature food, the ancient methods can increase vitamin levels and make nutrients in the food more available.  This occurs in two ways.  One is that the constituents of the food are “pre-digested” by bacteria and thereby easier to absorb through the intestines.  The other way it does it is by allowing beneficial bacteria to be introduced in the intestinal tract, improving digestion efficacy where they help to break down food and improve overall nourishment and biodiversity.  I actually just read an interesting article on how taking the bacteria from the guts of thin mice and putting them in obese mice made the fat mice thinner.

    Fermentation works by bacteria breaking down sugar and starches in food and transforming them into beneficial acids such as lactic acid and acetic acid (and occasionally alcohol in certain stages of fermentation).  These acids are beneficial to our bodies and also prevent food from spoiling.  Unlike some modern day processes, which nuke good and bad bacteria alike and sometimes dull the original nutritional content, fermentation preserves the nutrients that were originally in the food and can actually increase vitamin levels (including vitamin B vitamins like folic acid, niacin, and biotin and vitamin C).  In fact, Captian Cook took advantage of sauerkraut’s ability to be preserved and brought in journeys over a year long.  Having it on board also helped prevent scurvy! (this tidbit I found in Nourishing Traditions, attributed to Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels).

    Our society is so scared of bacteria these days that we often end up killing or not consuming the bad along with the good.  Consuming food that contains microorganisms that have probiotic properties is a way to essentially increase the diversity of biota in our body.  This helps to boost our immune system and allows us to live connected with everything that is around us, instead of avoiding it and becoming hypersensitive to it.  And as Sandor Ellix Katz mentions in his book Wild on Fermentation, the microflora in fermented foods actually help teach our immune system how to function.

    I have seen lots of different methods for making sauerkraut, but I will include the simplest one here because I know it works and I like the lack of fuss associated with it.  I also appreciate that it is a small-batch recipe.  We once tried making a giant crock of sauerkraut (our first attempt) and besides the fact that we vastly over-salted it, it was just kind of intimidating.  This recipe below is the one I have taken from the Nourishing Traditions book that I talk about in this post.

    Ingredients

    • 1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
    • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
    • 1 tablespoon sea salt
    • 4 tablespoons whey (if not available, use an extra tablespoon salt)

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    Try to use an organic cabbage and be sure to use sea salt, as it has additional vitamins and minerals and has not been processed like table salt.  I love the addition of caraway seeds in this recipe.  I have always had a thing for them since I was a kid.

    In a bowl, mix the cabbage, caraway seeds, salt and whey.  We happened to have whey that we had frozen because it was leftover from a cheese-making adventure we tried (and succeeded at!) but you may not have any on hand, which is no problem.  In this large bowl, pound  ingredients with a meat hammer for about 10 minutes.  This is a great opportunity to get older kids with too much energy or an appetite for destruction to help with.  I think men really like this job in general, too!

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    After ten minutes, the juices will be released.  Place it in a quart-size mason jar and press down firmly so the juice comes up over the top of the cabbage.  There should be at least an inch below the top of the jar.  I have had good luck with finding mason jars in the US at Sur le Table.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about three days before transferring to “cold” storage.  A refrigerator will work but try and put it on the top shelf or wherever it’s warmest.  The best place for it would be somewhere that is similar to cellar or cave temperature (about 56 degrees F or 13 degrees C).  We usually cover ours with a clean swatch of organic fabric held in place with a rubberband to keep flies, etc. out while it’s on the counter and then cover it with a lid once it’s in the refrigerator.

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    The sauerkraut can be eaten right away but really improves with age.  In summary, the salt (and/or whey) helps to inhibit the putrefying bacteria in those first few days.  That is, the bacteria that is usually associated with spoilage.  After the product has had a few days to ferment, enough lactic acid producing bacteria is created (lactobacilli) to begin preserving the food with lactic acid.

    Green cabbage is the most common ingredient in sauerkraut, but you could also use red cabbage to create a pink color or shred in any other cruciferous vegetable like Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy or use grated carrots, etc. to make it a little more colorful.

    Happy fermenting.  Cheers to your health and happy taste buds!

  • My Evolving Thoughts on Food

    Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.  ~Hippocrates, ~400 BC

    Only eat things that nourish your body and make you feel wholesome – you are what you eat.  That is my latest and hopefully forever philosophy about food.  But it’s hard when there is so much confusion about what is actually good for my body.   Since I put a number of recipes on here and talk about food a lot, I wanted a post about how I feel about food to help frame where I’m coming from.  My thoughts on nutrition have always been evolving, as I document in this post.  I like to think I have landed at a place I will no longer waver since I am now using what I feel is common sense, but I’m not naïve enough to think I have figured it all out.

    My thoughts on food have pretty followed much the same path as American society over the last 30 years.  I’m lucky not to have any allergies or digestive problems.  I have never yo-yo dieted.  In fact, I find it pretty ridiculous to follow a “diet” with the objective to lose weight because what happens when you go off the diet?  Why not just commit to eating better food as a way of life?  I have tried things for the occasional month, just to gather empirical data.  I am a scientist by nature and profession so I’m often curious to see what happens to my body and psyche by adding or eliminating certain foods.  I remember my seventh grade science project involving cholesterol tracking of my best friend and I.  I read a lot of books on the science of nutrition, both the hyped stuff and the tried and true stuff.  The book that best matches my own thoughts is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, which I highly recommend.

    The origin of my food journey was Fargo, ND in the eighties.  It was a good place to ease in to the whole food thing.  My childhood was meat and potatoes-centric.  One of my absolute favorite meals was mashed potatoes and Jennie-O “turkeyloaf.”  To this day, I’m not really sure what turkeyloaf is and I think I am better off not knowing the details.  Generally, the questions to answer about dinner were 1) which meat, 2) which potato, 3) which type of bread, 4) what type of boiled vegetable and 5) which type of Jell-O or Jell-O pudding for dessert?  Some nights all these things were combined in to one in a “hotdish” or “casserole” (minus the Jell-O!).  Tater Tot Hotdish was one of the best!  On a lucky night, I might get my favorite – Orange Fluff.  If there was a salad, it was either Ranch or French dressing  from the bottle on iceberg lettuce.  It was a very typical Midwestern diet and my family was great about putting dinner on the table and catering to my favorites and trying to feed me a well-balanced diet.

    As I graduated high school and began college, I decided to do an experimental cleanse/fast.  It was the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet.  By the fourth day of it, I was sweating this interesting vegetable smell and felt like I was on a high.  This high was more than likely due to dizziness as a result of starvation, but I deduced that it was from the elimination of meat for four days so after the cleanse, I swore off meat.  That lasted for about four years and I have dabbled in different forms of vegetarianism since.

    Those four years occurred during the height of the low-fat phase. I shudder to think I ever thought there was some sort of scientific evidence to back this!  The idea was that eating fat of any kind made you fat.  I remember dutifully scanning the nutrition information on the back of packages and filling up my backpack with boxes of macaroni and cheese and non-fat sugary yogurt, and low-fat cheese with bread, bagels and fat-free cream cheese, and Popsicles.  I didn’t have a car so had to fit all my low-fat selections in to a backpack I could bike with.  This phase culminated with a bang.  Literally.  Explosive farts and anal leakage caused by Olestra in fat-free Dorito’s.  I began to re-think whether or not fat-free was good for one’s body.

    It was about this same time that I met my former husband who introduced me to a whole new world that a girl from Fargo had never experienced…Indian food, shellfish with shells on them, and sauces made with ingredients that didn’t come from a can.  We ate absolutely everything that tasted good to us and I slowly began to add meat back in to my diet.  Peppered with the occasional healthy meals were copious amounts of Ruby Red Squirt, Tostito’s nacho cheese sauce (which we thoughtfully added fresh jalapenos and tomatoes to), marinara with Italian sausage, jars of Alfredo sauce poured over noodles, and pizza (also with fresh jalapenos), biscuits and gravy.

    The chubbies happened slowly enough not to notice the transformation.   I was in grad school at the time and writing a thesis all night and showing up to crush rocks in a lab didn’t really require tailored clothes.  Upon moving to Houston, I realized we were looking a little pudgy.  The timing of this realization was coincident with the discovery of gourmet health food stores in the big city.  We slowly began transforming our eating style focusing on fairly lean meats and, following the carb phase that everyone was going through, began to limit our carbs and got back to a less puffy weight.

    I don’t still follow a “low carb” diet but am very conscious of the proportion of carbs I eat relative to the rest of my diet and am quite choosy about which ones I eat.  I resisted the movement that began to happen which starred gluten as the devil as well as the paleo-type diet.  I felt that perhaps our bodies should have learned to evolve with the crops we had learned to grow.  It seemed counter-intuitive to me that our smart species was destined to remain listless wanderers, killing mammoths and plucking fruit and seeds off trees forever.

    I have reconsidered my thoughts on gluten and eating more of a paleo type diet as of late and think it’s a great philosophy though it’s hard for me to adhere to it at all times.  Really, I think any type of special way of eating is hard because it often makes social gatherings where food is consumed feel odd.  You don’t want to feel high maintenance or left out.

    I started to reconsider based on a book I read recently called Wheat Belly, which had quite an impact on me.  The idea is that wheat has been completely bastardized since the original crop.  Back in the 1960’s a new variety of wheat was invented to help combat the problem of world hunger.  This wheat was basically a Frankenstein wheat that was more of a dwarf plant bred to increase yield.  Because of its heartiness for harvesting, nearly all our planet’s wheat that is being grown has been transformed to this type.  Its effects on humans were never tested though.  It has lately been accused of producing very detrimental effects due to inflammation and interactions it has on brain chemistry and is being blamed for everything from heart disease to arthritis to high cholesterol to diabetes.  And then, of course, the ADA’s recommendation to all people with these conditions is to eat more “healthy whole grains” which most of the population consumes in the form of wheat, so this further exacerbates the problem.

    I hate to be a conspiracy theorist worried about what the government is allowing in regards to the food we eat.  But there is a lot of information available regarding how many of these people are in bed with the large pharmaceutical companies and government nutrition agencies.  It’s hard to trust that there is no self-serving relationships among all these organizations and companies.

    Along these same lines we now have GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, etc. (non-organic food) to deal with.  This is such a huge problem in our society and I can’t even begin to express how worried it makes me here.  I find it very scary though that we really have no control over this food, that it is not regulated and that we all may be consuming it inadvertently.  I feel it has the potential to have a seriously bad impact on the health of our people and our planet and the biodiversity it supports.  It bothers me that so much of our population is either unaware of these issues or can’t afford to eat organic food.  It just doesn’t seem right this food is not regulated or not available to everyone.

    I have also had major struggles with how I feel about the consumption of animal products.  I consider myself an animal lover but have tried vegan and I feel like I am doing something negative to my body.  I don’t feel or look healthy and I don’t feel balanced.  It’s also difficult socially.  So I try to be very choosy about which animal products I eat.  It’s important to me that I know where it came from and I try to really limit my meat consumption.  I don’t eat factory-farmed meat and I am trying to be very careful about the type of dairy I consume as well.  I’ll put in some posts later about local family farms I visit to find meat and animal products.  In a perfect world, I’d raise all my own animals or a friend would hunt meat for me.

    I also think westerners are just deluded about how much meat we need.  I think a little bit of meat once or twice a week is quite sufficient and a great way to reduce our impact on the globe and to allow for better animal welfare.  I don’t think we need to be killing 10 billion animals per year to feed our population of 300 million.  When each of us feels it’s necessary to consume up to a pound of meat every single day, there is no chance for reforming the welfare of these exploited beasts because of the sheer number that must be slaughtered to support this unhealthy habit.  I actually shed tears at times thinking about these animals.

    So in all this wandering, this subscribing to new philosophies and discarding others, I feel like many of us are back where we started, as we are in so many things in life.  I’m going back to the way of my great-grandparents.   I try to eat a well-balanced diet with no refining, processing, extra sugar, or artificial additives.  I try not to eat too much of any one food group (except vegetables).  I eat limited amounts meat from ethical and sustainable sources and try to use all the parts in stocks, etc. I try not to eat anything that has been altered or produced in a factory from ingredients that aren’t food.  I consume mostly organic and local, when possible (I know I’m spoiled for living in a place where fresh food is grown all year round).  If I’m going to indulge in something like milk, cheese, etc. I go for the full fat satisfying stuff instead of the stuff that has been altered and processed.

    So, that’s where I’m at.  I know this is a long post but I wanted my philosophies somewhere on this blog.  Chief feels the same way I do, though he is much more of a meat eater but I think my habits rub off on him a little.  As his do on mine – he is even better about avoiding anything “convenience” or packaged.  We want our family growing up appreciating the culinary tradition, understanding where food comes from and how to cook it.  We recognize humans preparing and sharing food together is one of the greatest and most ancient pleasures and where a sense of community evolves.  Feeding a family healthfully is a way of showing love.  So I hope all our recipes and experiments in here continue to adhere to these philosophies.

  • Coddled Eggs

    I am one of those people that needs breakfast.  My day starts early and I need something to get me through until lunch.  I always try to have my fruit smoothie when I first wake up and then an hour or so later I have something with a lot of protein in it.

    There are always studies out there talking about how having a healthy breakfast can help you lose weight or hold your weight steady.  I don’t know what the latest research speculates is the actual mechanism.  I have heard that the satiation and mindset of having eaten breakfast prevents overeating later in the day and also that it gets the metabolism stoked up for the day.  I just know my whole day and life is better if I have a good stable breakfast.  I love the old saying that says to breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper.

    Sometimes I will do my breakfast sandwich or a taco and some days I do coddled eggs.  Chief isn’t much of a breakfast eater but I like to make him breakfast every morning to keep him healthy. Sometimes I almost feel badly forcing him to chew down a whole breakfast sammie, so the coddled eggs might be better for a light morning eater.

    Coddled eggs is one of my favorite ways for preparing a simple and portable egg breakfast using ceramic egg coddlers.  I had never heard of them until recently, but they are these beautiful little blue ceramic containers.  One of the things I like about this breakfast is that I can continue to get ready in the morning while I’m cooking and then can grab it when it’s done and take them to work to eat after my commute.  To make it, you do the following:

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    • Bring a pot of water to a boil.  It should be big enough to fit in as many coddled egg containers as you are cooking.
    • Put a generous dollop of clarified butter in the ceramic container.  I like to wait for the butter to melt by holding it in the hot water and then kind of swirl it around the inside of the coddler.
    • Crack two sustainable, pasture-raised organic eggs in to each coddler and screw on the lid.
    • Turn the burner down to a high-medium heat. You want the water just below the base of the lid so it’s best not to have the burner on really high heat.P1050409
    • Let the eggs cook at a soft rolling boil for about 14 minutes.  You may want to play with the cook time to get the eggs prepared how you like.  Chief likes more of a runny poach-style egg whereas I prefer mine slightly more like hard-boiled eggs, so sometimes I take his out a couple minutes early.

    Then you have a portable, satisfying breakfast in a pretty little container.  Just salt and pepper and eat the eggs out of the coddler with a spoon. The picture below also has a few chives I added from our garden. P1050413You could also always scoop the eggs out and serve on a plate with toast, avocados, etc.

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  • Cold Sesame Noodles Recipe

    This is one of my favorite things to eat when Chief is out of town because it is a super simple meal that requires little effort and little messing of the kitchen.  It’s no fun to make a big mess when cooking for yourself!  This entire meal can be ready in about 15 minutes and tends to be a lot of ingredients I always have stocked.  This is also a really great meal for taking on the go.  It can be prepared ahead of time and packaged up for lunches, picnics, etc.  The approximate amounts of the ingredients are as follows (adjust to your own taste):

    • 1 lb whole wheat linguine.  I love to use Eden brand brown rice udon.  If you are gluten-free, just substitute wheat-free noodles.
    • ¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)
    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
    • 1 piece ginger (about 1”), peeled and finely chopped
    • Sesame seed (for garnish)
    • 1 large pickling cucumber, peeled and julienned
    • 2 green onions, finely chopped

    While the noodles are boiling, whisk together the tahini, soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, sesame oil, and ginger in a large boil.  After the noodles have finished cooking, rinse them thoroughly with cold water, drain, and toss with the tahini mixture.  If you don’t have tahini on hand, peanut butter could work too, especially if you tend to like your dishes sweeter.  After the noodles have been tossed with the mixture, scoop in to a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds, cucumber and green onions.  I say to use a pickling cucumber just because I tend to be able to finish the small one more successfully, especially if it’s a solo week.  Obviously, any of the garnishes could be omitted if you don’t have them on hand.

    One really cool thing that I learned about recently was a way to ensure you have indefinitely growing green onions in your kitchen.  Next time you buy a bunch, reserve some the bulbs (approximately the bottom two inches) after lopping off the green portions.  Put them in a glass of water with their roots covered and the stalks out, and then place in a sunny window. Cut off what you need to use in your cooking and the onions just keep growing!  Change the water every three days or so to ensure freshness.  We had a really good batch going but I don’t have a picture because Chief used them up in a late night cassoulet-making episode.  I guess they served their intended purpose!

     

     

  • Stovetop Popcorn Recipe

    This is another ridiculously easy recipe, but I had to ask Chief how to do it awhile back when the craving struck.  Ever since I had a chance to try it, I am absolutely addicted to popcorn popped on the stovetop.

    For two people, a 3 to 4 quart pot for the stovetop works pretty well.  I guess that is assuming your serving is as large as mine, which is approximately one adult female homosapien’s head’s worth.  I really have a problem with popcorn.  When I eat it, I can’t help but think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Raoul Duke is like, “If I were you, I’d leave the Doctor alone until after he’s eaten his breakfast because he’s a very crude man.”  It’s not pretty when I eat it.  I’m okay with that.

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