Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Something that I saw on a blog recently that I thought was worth its weight in gold: produce bag scrubbers!

You know those nylon scrubber pads you can buy, they're relatively cheap sponge-type things.

Think about those produce bags that oranges, potatoes, onions, apples something come in. Wrap an old hair band or small rubber band around those to make your own. You're saving it from the trash and saving your wallet from something else to buy. Pics below:

Thanks to for the tip!

An orange and apple bag:

Popsicles come in them too!

Cut labels off and loop bag around your hand:

Wrap band around middle of bag loops:

Spread loops and voila! Scrubber pad!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Applesauce: Never buy it again.

When my husband's mother came to visit a few years ago and asked me if I'd ever made applesauce before I looked at her like she was crazy. Why would I "make" applesauce? It's cheap. There's no reason whatsoever to bother with it. Right?


After I started my youngest son on solids I started to pay more attention to ingredients labels and processed foods. It's amazing the laundry list of things we eat. Why would you eat something you can't pronounce that wasn't grown in the earth? Does it really make sense? No wonder we're sick, unhealthy, stressed, and overweight!

When I was shown how unbelievably easy applesauce is it became my doorway into making everything myself.

Okay, what should be in applesauce? Apples. Anything else? No. Nothing. There's no need. If you've ever made banana bread from too ripe bananas then the same would apply to apples you'd rather not eat raw. Use them to make applesauce then use the sauce as a side to pork, spread on toast, to substitute as fats in baked goods, mix it in yogurt, or just eat it plain. Don't throw out seemingly old apples ever again!

Here are some apples I had hanging around the fruit basket that we weren't going to eat:

Wash them, peel and core them and place them in a large pot:

Cover and cook over low heat for 1-2 hours or until they are soft, stirring occasionally. They will naturally break down into sauce as you stir:

Refrigerate up to 10 days.

Because you use over ripened apples your applesauce will be very sweet, naturally. Also, the sweetness will depend on the type of apple. Granny smith apples will yield a tarter sauce than Gala apples.

Again, if you're buying applesauce and the ingredients list says anything other than apples you're buying fillers, sweeteners, preservatives, and other junk that we just aren't meant to eat. It doesn't take much work to make your own and your family will appreciate the love you show them by taking the time do feed them as healthfully as possible.

I almost messed it all up!

I didn't heed my own warnings on watering. I didn't observe signs of over watering. My plants were turning yellow and the leaves were starting to curl.

As seen in the above tomato plant, the leaves had started to develop brown spots, yellow and curl. All signs of nutrient depletion of the soil due to over watering. ALL MY FAULT! :(

This picture is just how big a difference watering can make in a plant. If you can tell, the plant in the blue pot (middle) is almost twice the size as my plants in the garden. It's much deeper, richer green and healthier looking. All because of the amount of water it received. By the way, they are the exact same Roma tomato plants.

Over watering not only causes nutrients to be washed out of the soil, but also stunts growth, fruit production, and encourages disease.

To correct this I have stopped watering completely and check my soil daily. When the soil starts to get dry 3 inches deep I will resume watering.

So how often should you water?

"Water deep once a week!"

Friday, April 8, 2011

Simple Pleasures

In elementary school we sang a Shaker song called "Simple Gifts." You may be familiar with it:

"Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free
tis a gift to come down where one ought to be"

Can't we learn something from that? People are so caught up with the dramas of everyday life that they've forgotten what we are, I'm afraid.

Take our government for example. They're so focused on balancing our non-"budget" that they are seemingly blind to the consequences their inaction will have on the buckling economic situation our country is in. Rising gas prices, shrinking food stores, growing unemployment, drug wars on our border, the Japan natural disaster, Libya, Egypt...we've got a world of mess. Now's definitely not the time for political posturing. I agree we need a government, I just feel it should be substantially smaller than it is now. And shut down for around half the year.

But aside from that, people are caught up in things that just aren't that important. I confess I do the same thing. I'm on Facebook way more than I should be. I play internet games and watch TV. We have to have some diversions as long as they're available. But people have literally forgotten how to stop and smell the roses. Pick an apple from a tree and taste it. I guarantee it'll taste different from a "fresh" one at a store.

No one appreciates where things come from any more. I was thinking about what I would do with the surplus of vegetables should I actually get to harvest the entire garden. I'd love to put up my own fresh ketchup, free of preservatives, corn syrup, high amounts of sodium. People wouldn't know what it was. We're so used to processed junk that we've forgotten what the food that comes from the earth is supposed to taste like.

I was looking into making my own vinegar. You know, vinegar only costs about 2.50 a gallon, about twice as much as 2 years ago. I thought, that'd be a nice cost savings to make my own and a little science experiment for the kids. Shouldn't be that hard. It takes 6-9 MONTHS!! And think how frivolously we use it and think nothing of it. What if you couldn't run to the store and just buy another bottle? Would you pour it and waste it as much knowing you couldn't replace it for nearly a year??

I'm not saying I don't want us to be civilized. I'm all for a civilized human race. But look where we've taken civility. Drugs, toxins, chemicals, pollution, genocide, politicians (yes I included them there lol).

But take a cheeseburger. McD's boasts billions served since it's founding. Think of all the cows that had to be raised, the wheat that had to be grown, bread dough kneaded and risen, onions grown (one onion takes 2-3 years from seed to 1 lb size!), tomatoes for ketchup, mustard seed for mustard, cucumbers for ketchup. One burger equals lots of jobs created but even more work taken for granted. What if you had to do all that work for your own burger? Would you eat it quite as fast? Think twice about gobbling down two? Maybe stop and think about it a little more?

I just wish people would appreciate the little things more. I remember working the fields during harvest time. After picking peas and beans all day there was nothing like reaching for a fresh cucumber from the vine. No matter how hot the weather that cucumber was always moist and refreshing inside. A good strong wind and a quick afternoon summer rain shower were always welcome after a hot morning. And I appreciated them. It was a simple gift. A simple pleasure.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A series on bread...

This is the first of my ethnic bread posts.

I enjoy cooking food from all ethnic groups. Food is one thing we all have in common. And it's amazing that despite the miles that separate us and how different we all look, we all use most of the same ingredients.

Almost every culture has a bread. In the South it's biscuits, up North it's yeast rolls, Southwest/Mexico is tortilla, Mid-East/Mediterranean has pita, India has naan, the French have a bloody ton including French and croissants. The list goes on.

The art of making bread alluded me for years. I've made tons of it I've had to throw away, too embarrassed to allow anyone to eat it.

Recently I made some wheat pita for a friend. I had made some black-eyed pea curry, toor dal (a vegan Indian lentil dish), and hummus. You can't possibly have all that without good pita! ;)

What follows is how I make pita. I used half wheat, half white flour and honey instead of sugar.

This was my first time using this recipe. It turned out very well and was MUCH easier than the other recipe I use.

Equipment you'll need:

A medium/large mixing bowl
1 cup measuring cup
Liquid measuring cup
stone baking surface


Plain flour (all purpose)
Wheat flour
Salt (I use Kosher)
Quick Rising yeast
Olive Oil

To start, preheat your oven to the lowest "warm" setting it has. Mine will only go down to 170 degrees F. This is to let your dough rise.

A note about the recipe I'm using: it calls only for white flour. When using wheat flour, it absorbs liquids differently than white. Always add less flour when substituting wheat flour in a recipe, then adjust flour/liquid based on what results you need. You'll see in the pics...

In your mixing bowl, combine 1 cup white flour, 1 3/4 cups wheat flour:

Use this kind of yeast:

Add the yeast to the flours, just sprinkle it on top.

The most important thing when making breads with yeast...THE TEMP OF YOUR WATER! About 120 for this type of yeast, 1 1/8 cups:

The yeast should start to foam. That's how you know it's "alive."

Add the 1 1/2 tsp. honey:

Add 1 Tbsp olive oil:

Add 1 tsp salt:

Mix with a spoon until everything is incorporated. Dip your fingers into the dough. If it looks like this it's too sticky and needs more flour:

Add flour, 1 tbsp at a time and continue mixing until your dough comes together like this:

Then cover with a damp cloth and place in your over for at least 30 minutes, longer if you have time:

When you take it out it should have doubled to look like this:

Go ahead and preheat your oven to bake your pitas. Set it for 500 degrees F. You'll need to place your stone in the oven to preheat as well.

Now, turn your dough out of the bowl, onto a floured surface. I use my counter. Clean of course! ;)

To knead, with floured hands pick the dough up at a corner:

Fold the corner down:

Push away:

Turn the dough and repeat. Do this for about 5 minutes. It's good exercise. :)

Now, roll the dough into a log:

Cut the log in half:

Cut each half in halves, etc., until you have 8 equal pieces (sorry it's blurry):

Now, with a rolling pin or with floured fingers, roll your dough out into circles as best you can, about 6 or 7 inches:

Carefully flip, with your hands, the pitas onto your stone. Let them cook for 3-4 minutes. They should puff:

Now you should have nice pitas! If they all puffed, you can stuff them. If they didn't, you can still use them for spreads like hummus or to make pizzas.

Other uses: These make excellent pizzas! Also, you can cut them into wedges, toss with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, bake at 350 for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and you have homemade pita chips!

Since they're made with wheat flour, it's a good idea to keep them in the fridge so they don't mold.

Make two batches at once. It doesn't take any more time than making 1 batch and you can freeze a batch for later. Then when you want one, just pull it out, pop in the microwave and you have a fresh baked pita!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The potatoes are in!

I've not had much luck at the local gardening centers with finding potatoes for planting. Luckily the potatoes I had in my pantry had started growing eyes on them.

For years we just cut the eyes off and ate them anyway. I never gave much thought about that being the potato's way of coming back to life. Apparently I missed that science project in school...

So, I did a quick googling of how exactly to go about growing the potato from a sprouting potato.

The first thing you should do (but not necessary) is to cut your potatoes into sections with one eye or sprout per section:

Then, I got my bag of garden soil:

You can choose to mix in some fertilizer if you like. This particular soil had some plant food mixed in already so I didn't bother. I'll just add some fertilizer if it's needed later.

I decided for stability to turn the bag sideways.

I opened the bag along its seam.

I decided to experiment with planting a few further down. My theory is the potatoes will find the sun. If I give them an opening their leaves will sprout from there. If not, oh well! ;)

So I cut a hole big enough to get the potato section into:

Put the potato in and covered lightly with soil:

Then cut a slit above and perpendicular to the first to allow the leaves to come through:

I planted 2 more this way, even with the first. The rest I planted along the top:

Then I sat my potato bag with my tomato "bag" planters:

This is a GREAT and frugal way to have a container garden when you don't have the room or the budget. Let me know if you decide to try it!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

For the Chic Hippie in your life! :)

If you're like most people who eat, you have lots of plastic grocery bags laying around the house. You may think the environmentally-friendly thing to do is to drop them off at your grocer's plastic bag recycle bin.

What I recently found out is that this bin contributes to the construction of more plastic bags. Is this really all that "green?" Why not find a better purpose for those bags?

I was shocked to find out that you can use plastic bags to make plarn, plastic bag "yarn."

This stuff is crazy easy to crochet with!!! While there aren't that many colors to choose from they're all free--who's gonna complain about that?

This one took about 70 grocery bags.

Since they're plastic they make great beach or pool bags. They're SUPER sturdy and look remarkably similar to straw.

I plan on making a circle shaped and square shaped one. Also making one with a draw-string and probably lining them with fabric from old linens or shirts. Talk about REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

I didn't follow a pattern, just made my basic shape then followed a spiral around. As I make more I will post directions and tips with more pictures.