Thursday, 12 February 2015 00:00

Here is a nice sheet to list your seeds that you want to start this year. Just click one of the following links and print. PDF  ,  JPG

Saturday, 22 April 2017 00:00

We've been house-sitting in Coos Bay, Oregon, since September. Our hosts kindly gave us free rein over their small vegetable patch while they were gone, and they planned to be gone for quite a while. I'd had a bit of experience growing in various climates over the last few years, and I knew gardening would be a challenge here on the southern Oregon coast, but I had no idea how much of a challenge it would be!

After enjoying the last of our hosts' tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers last fall, we cleared out their small plot and pots. Enthusiastically and optimistically, I bought Adaptive Seeds, winter lettuce, kale, spinach, and carrot seeds—all suggested for extreme cold and snow conditions. (Snow conditions on the coast—ha, ha, ha! Turned out that Mother Nature would have the last laugh there.)

I seeded the carrots in the raised bed, and started the rest of the veggies indoors in pots, then moved them to the lightweight plastic greenhouse our hosts had purchased as a test greenhouse.



Things were looking good. Finally, I moved them to the raised bed, and then actual winter hit. Honestly, I think we got a few leaves of lettuce, and we're just now enjoying the carrots, but otherwise, my efforts were a flop.

In January, I picked up various veggie seeds from our local seed community, and (finally) got them into the dirt in mid-February. The eight tomato starts were doing really well until I put them out on the porch on a warm day a few weeks ago, hoping for a dose of vitamin D, only to look out the window an hour later to see a windstorm in progress. Needless to say, the poor tomato plants keeled over. I've revived two (maybe), but the rest are compost. The difference between the start I purchased a few weeks ago from the local grange and the seeds I started almost ten weeks ago is almost comical!



One of the zucchini seeds from the seed community might survive, and there are a few bell pepper sprouts that might survive, and the parsley is growing like a weed. But otherwise... sigh. That greenhouse would've been great with all these plants right now, but it was demolished in a winter storm back in January.



Despite the challenges, there are a few bright spots to the garden this spring. The fava beans from the seed community are thriving! (At least I think they are... they are for this time of year, right?) Time to look up some recipes.



And the borage I seeded last fall is thriving. too. Tonight we enjoyed some in our salad.



Otherwise...

So, southern coastal gardeners, what tips do you have for me—other than to move inland?!

Monday, 20 February 2017 00:00

At Kailash Ecovillage we make tons of compost with our large-scale compost system, so why would we choose to purchase a truckload full? There are several reasons.

1. The batch that we have at the end of our compost bin that should be ready is not. We have been putting so much material into our courtyard that by the time we get around to the other side, we find that it is not ready yet. This may be partially because we didn't chop in enough green vegetation in proportion to wood to chip, so it didn't compost as quickly.

2. I think we have become compost snobs! As we have continued to experiment with composting, a growing number of our members would like to start a new system to create a more perfected compost. The new system will probably be managed alongside the old one until we have a system we like better. Our old system was designed to process a large amount of compost with very little effort, which kept a lot of waste out of our waste bins. We would like to gear the new system toward making ultimate compost for our garden and not for just composting everything.

Here are some photos of our new "black gold" compost and our "old stickie" compost.

 

Sunday, 30 April 2017 00:00

Here are some photo from our fruit tree training workshop at the ecovillage.

Tuesday, 08 November 2016 00:00

Putting watering bowls out for bees and other insects can be like creating artwork. All you need is a vessel to hold water and a way for the bees to crawl and drink without falling in. This is usually done by putting small pebbles or some other creatively found items in the dish. The pebbles are easier for bees to maneuver than the slippery slopes of a deep dish. Take a look at these beautiful offerings in the ecovillage.

Thursday, 05 November 2015 00:00

“I put seeds into the ground and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.”
—Amber Roskos

I wrote in a previous post that my family and I were planning to move. We needed to find just the right property and spot for our lifestyle before we placed our offer and made it happen. Fortunately, I was able to find a ranch-style home on a large flat lot that had an enormous heirloom garden growing. The previous owner had been growing it for four years, and it was well underway and growing gorgeous pesticide-free heirloom veggies! SOLD!

Now I have a thing…I need to learn about heirlooms, their seeds and growing them, because I’m sure they will be popping up all over the garden this spring, as there are already greens growing in all over the yard…beet greens, cabbage, and chard everywhere!!! This place is like a dream to me. I wanted to take the time to research the history of heirloom seeds because I find them fascinating and I want to really know my garden and what we are eating. This is what I came across about heirlooms that I think is important to know and worth mentioning:

Each heirloom variety of seed has a history, and many have a story all their own, some dating back hundreds of years to the early 1800s, when immigrants brought their own seed varieties with them to plant. These seeds were important to them. This was food. The seeds were like gold, and they were going to grow themselves good, natural vegetables and fruits to feed their families.

Now fast forward to our modern-day gardening boom. It’s important to mention that there are laws regarding heirloom seeds and what you can plant in your area. Due to the recent resurgent popularity of heirloom seeds and backyard gardens in America, we are starting to see a crackdown on some independent seed companies. There are laws that govern what they are approved to sell and what you, the home gardener, are actually technically allowed to plant. But for the most part, planting heirlooms from a reputable commercial seed company is really safe. Better yet, you can save your own seeds from your already-established plants/heirloom plants.

The seed company you purchase from should provide a history for each variety of heirloom seed they sell. Look on the seed packet! It usually has all of the information you’ll need. This gives the gardener a great history of the plant and adds some importance and real value to the seed by showing that it has been on a journey for years.

You can save your heirloom seeds, just like any other seeds, and replant them in your garden for years. I have been noticing that heirloom seeds seem to grow super hearty plants. Heirloom seeds are pesticide-free, and most companies boast that they are also pest-resistant and do well in a variety of climates. They are usually non-GMO and organic, the whole lot of what you really want. Heirloom plants are original and unique, and make for a really great gardening experience. What do you have to add about heirloom varieties? Do you have experience with them or something to add? Comment here and let us know.

One last thing that I want to mention: I am no expert gardener. I do my own research and summarize what I’ve learned in my own words, in the hopes that it helps others grow their home gardens. I’m a very novice backyard gardener. I garden for the vegetables, the reward of fresh food for my family whose source I know, and my love of nature, the sun, and the dirt. I put seeds into the ground, and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.

Saturday, 29 April 2017 00:00

Gardening and its Life Lessons 
This is only our fourth garden since living in the Carolinas, and plenty of life lessons have been apparent as we've gone through this journey. Surprisingly, growing something as simple as watermelon and cucumbers has taught us a lot of valuable life lessons that help us manage our corporate positions that support our family.

Patience
Completing a project with a blank slate has started to become easier. When we start planning for the garden, we have such a blank slate to start with each year that we have to just go with it. Just going with the overall vision of being self-sustained by having a garden, and creating the project as we go, is so similar to projects proposed at work. I find myself having less anxiety when presented with projects at work because I’m used to the uncertainty in my garden. Like my garden, it will all organically work out in my favor.

Mistakes
We planted a whole batch of broccoli that never came to harvest. We couldn’t figure out what the mistake was; we followed the schedule, but the maturity date did not hold true. This often happens at work—promises made by managers and others in higher positions that never come to reality. Gardening has taught me that although the reward may not show when expected, it will show when ready. The broccoli was able to be harvested a few months after we forecasted, when it was ready. The same thing happens in life; everything is in due time.

Milestone Celebrations
Small victories never get missed in the garden because it takes so much work to get to that point. One cucumber is a major victory, and I’ve started to recognize that small accomplishments at work are worth the same amount of attention. Recognizing how much effort it takes to reach a certain point in a project helps with momentum by enhancing the sense of accomplishment and recognition in the team. This vibe helps me keep going with the garden, and also helps me continue with completing long projects at work.

Do you have moments of clarity in your garden? Have life lessons shown up for you to harvest?

     

Monday, 27 March 2017 00:00

I love giving tours of the ecovillage to students of environmental studies. This week, I gave a tour to Stephanie Mullen, who wanted to take photos for an assignment at Portland State University. I showed her many of our sustainable experiments, including the solar panels, rainwater catchment, recycling and composting.

At the end of the tour, she asked what we were doing to show our ideas to the greater community so that other apartment complexes and communities could replicate what we were doing. I had to admit that while we were busy doing our own experiments, so far we hadn't done much to facilitate events to share our knowledge. She gave me some ideas for partnering with other organizations that could help us produce an event.

This question got me thinking about my role in the ecovillage. I have always wanted to do more with community outreach; I create a lot of videos and photos to share on the web, but I would love to do more. I think the idea of partnering with another organization is a great one! I hope to create this event soon.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016 00:00

For those living in eastern North America, fall is the right time to look for Apios Americana, a wild vine popularly known as Hopniss, Dakota Peas, Groundnut or the American potato bean. This plant is known for its edible beans and tubers, and its distribution is throughout eastern North America with Colorado forming the western boundary. It prefers well-drained soils and can be sighted in riparian woods, wet meadows, banks of ponds and streams, ravines and the moist prairies.

Potato bean is a relic of the past. It fed the Native Americans and even the early European settlers. The New England colonists, facing a food shortage, were so enamored with potato beans that some towns even passed a law to prohibit natives from harvesting tubers from the English lands. Early efforts towards domestication were in vain, and the plant faded into obscurity. Today not many are aware of its edibility.

Though the entire plant is edible, it is the tubers that steal the show. They are produced on a rhizome at irregular intervals and are arranged like beads on a rosary. Like other tubers, they are predominantly starch, but their protein content is three times higher than potatoes. They are rich in calcium and iron and also contain isoflavone genistein which is an anti-carcinogenic substance. As far as the taste is concerned, the tubers are comparable to a roasted sweet potato. Some people find its taste closer to a nutty potato which explains why the plant is called potato bean.

The tubers can be harvested from plants that are more than a year old, but mature plants (ones with thicker vines, larger leaves, and more than five leaflets) produce bigger tubers and can sometimes provide yields as high as 2.3 kilos per plant. They can be gathered all year round, but it is easier to dig them in autumn and winter, especially when the frost has killed the succulent vine. The pea-like seeds are also edible and can be harvested during late summer or early fall.

Here is a word of caution for those interested in trying the tubers. First, do not eat them raw as they contain protease inhibitors, substances that interfere with protein metabolism. Also, be careful while consuming them for a second or third time as this is when most people fall sick. The plant is also an attractive ornamental owing to its brightly colored blooms and can be propagated via seeds and tubers. However, it gets expansive and dominates the surrounding flora.

Identification Characteristics:
Habit: Perennial herb.
Roots: Moniliform (beaded roots) with pear shaped tubers (i.e. rhizomatous stems). Tubers are variable in size. Latex appears on the damaged parts.
Stems: a 1-3 mt long climbing vine, herbaceous, pubescent (hairy) or glabrous (smooth), turn brown and flattened in winter. Tendrils are absent. Twines counter clockwise.
Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound, with 3-9 leaflets. Each leaflet is 2-10 cm long, 1.8- 7 cm wide, egg-shaped, with smooth margins and sometimes hairy on the underside.
Flowers: Inflorescence is 5-15 cm long, dense conical raceme arising from leaf axils. Flowers present in dense clusters, hermaphrodite, pea-like (with short wings and incurved keel), mildly fragrant and pinkish maroon or brownish purple in color. Blooms are produced from July to September.
Fruit: 5-12 cm long and 4-7 mm broad legume (pod) containing 2 to several seeds. Appear in late summer.        

References:
http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=APAM
http://plants.usda.gov/java/charProfile?symbol=APAM
http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_apam.pdf
http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Apios+americana
https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Apios_americana.html
https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-436.html
http://www.maryrowlandson.com/groundnuthomepage.htmlhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apios_americana

Photo credits:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Apios_americana_tubers.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Apios_americana_WFNY-117.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Wp5035_apios_americana.jpg

 

 


                                         

Monday, 03 April 2017 00:00

I love it when the tulips come out to play. That is when I know it is truly spring!

 

Sunday, 05 March 2017 00:00

 

Monday, 17 April 2017 00:00

I hate wasting anything, and I love creative projects, but figuring out how to reuse something when I’m done using it is difficult. Recycling is at the bottom tier of the green mantra for a reason; it’s very energy-intensive. Glass, specifically, is something you can reuse and recycle over and over again. I’ve been agonizing over what to do with my empty glass bottles, and luckily the internet has provided some very innovative ideas. Here are a few fun ideas for what to do with the glass bottles sitting on your counter or inside your recycling bin.

Impress the Neighbors with a Wine Bottle Bird Feeder
This project requires some skill, but the result looks downright adorable! It's a cheap project by the looks of it; all you need are an empty wine bottle (cleaned out, of course), a hose clamp, wood glue, a table saw, a hammer, nails, some pine furring strips, a piece of plywood, and paint for the lovely finishing touches. This project will not only make your backyard visitors happy; it's also a great yard accessory and conversation piece for friends and family!

Out of Flower Pots? Why Not Make a Bottle Planter?
If you feel comfortable cutting a wine bottle in half, this project is for you. It's great for budding plants, and the only costs here are the soil and plant for the bottle planter. What’s really cool is the fact that you can watch your plant grow!

Want a Vase in a Tight Space? Why Not Try Making a Wall Vase?
When I saw this, I thought it looked really modern and cool. It’s also a great solution for someone like me, who lives in a small apartment with limited table space. This project also requires a trip to the hardware store, but it doesn’t look too intimidating. Drill some holes, screw in some screws, insert a bottle, and boom! Wall vase.

Light Up Your Living Room with a Wine Bottle Lamp
Depending on how handy you are, or the size of the bottle, for this project, you can either drill a hole at the bottom of the bottle for the LED lighting wire or simply insert some battery-operated LED lights inside the bottle. The final result is beautiful, so pick some of your favorite colored glass beads, and have fun!

This last link provides a couple of different tutorials on how to cut glass bottles as well as several different unique ideas on what to do with them. The ideas include everything from serving platters to wall mosaics and even chandeliers. I hope you all feel inspired to give one of these projects a try. I’m certainly eager to get started!

Thursday, 30 March 2017 00:00

I grew up in the '60s and '70s, when things were simpler, and we didn't have all the complications of high-tech devices. I enjoyed growing up in that era, as I found lots of things to keep me busy. I took music and horseback riding lessons, joined a girls club with lots of events, and was in a soccer league with my dad as the coach.

In my first year of college, the first computers were becoming popular. The Commodore 64 was one of the first home computers, and many people just used them for playing video games, but some of my friends were studying computer science. I have always been an early adopter of new technology. I was one of the first to get a home computer, and then a cordless phone, then a cell phone, and I bought the first iPhone. Technology was a big exciting thing in my generation; everything new and exciting came out when I was in my twenties.

Now, in my fifties, I find that technology has started to get in my way of experiencing some of the beauty of life. I am on technology overload, and have started considering going lower-tech.

Here are some lower-tech things I have added recently:

A lower-tech sewing machine.  I still use my new computerized machine, but for some projects, you just can't beat the old steel workhorses.

A notebook and a good pen.  For a long time, I wanted to type all my notes on my computer and mobile devices to save paper. Now that I have a junk pile of old devices, I am starting to think that paper is more sustainable and easier to recycle. I also buy pens that are meant to last seven years instead of taking the free ones you find at events. There is nothing like taking a pen to paper to get the real creative writing flowing.

An old slimline telephone.  I've added a house phone. I like the old-fashioned slimline phone, but I don't like the phone service that comes with my internet provider. When the internet goes out, I can't use Skype on my computer or my slimline phone. I wanted to hook up an old-fashioned phone line; there is a connection for it in my apartment, but finding out how to get the line activated was not as easy as it was in the old days. I also don't like the computerized robocalls that come these days. I think it was better when someone had to look up your phone number in a phone book and then hand-dial it. Now that phone numbers have been digitized, scammers are taking advantage of this by having their computers dial random numbers.

A lower-tech iPod.  My husband bought me an iPod Shuffle, which I am amazed will do almost what my iPod Touch will do as far as playing music. The 4th generation came out seven years ago, and they haven't updated it for seven years, so hopefully it will be longer-lasting. The iPod Touch comes out every other year, and is obsolete about four years after you buy it because of the software and apps that it runs.

A musical instrument.  Instead of always playing music on my computer or other devices, I decided to buy a ukulele and learn to play it again. I find this more entertaining, as it is more of an activity than a passive listening event.

I plan to reassess more of my technology and consider going lower-tech with other items in the future to bring back more of the charm of my youth.

Saturday, 04 March 2017 00:00

The underarm has a direct route to an essential part of our immune system called the lymphatic system. Our skin may absorb whatever we put onto it—so let’s take a closer look at what we’re putting on the skin under our arms. Deodorants and antiperspirants are used by most Americans on a daily basis. There are many ingredients in these products known to be potentially dangerous to our bodies. Here is a list of five of these ingredients and a brief description of why they should be avoided. 

1. Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl) are a kind of preservative used in deodorants and antiperspirants to prevent bacterial growth. Parabens have also been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells. By doing this, they disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. When checking a label for parabens, look for “methylparaben,” “propylparaben,” “butylparaben,” “benzyl paraben,” and “isobutyl paraben.” These are found in 75–90% of deodorant products. Deodorant chemicals like parabens can accumulate in human tissues, and unfortunately, parabens have been linked to the development of breast cancer. In a study done in the UK, researchers collected 160 samples of breast tissue from women who’d had mastectomies, and tested them for the presence of the five parabens I just listed. At least one form of paraben was present in 99% of the tissue samples, and all five were present in 60% of the samples. Because parabens are estrogenic, they can also build up in breast milk.

2. Aluminum compounds (Aluminum chloralhydrate, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly) are the active ingredient in deodorants and antiperspirants. They act as a plug within the sweat ducts to block the body from sweating. Research shows that these compounds are easily absorbed through the skin and can cause changes in estrogen receptors (potentially promoting the growth of breast cancer cells). 

3. Triclosan is a common deodorant ingredient that can irritate your skin and cause contact dermatitis. Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, capable of killing the bad bacteria in your body, but also the good bacteria. The FDA has listed triclosan as a pesticide. This ingredient is lipophilic, meaning it can accumulate in your body tissues. Triclosan is detectable in human breast milk, blood, and urine samples. 4. Propylene Glycol (may be listed as PEG or PG)Propylene glycol is used as a moisture sealer and a penetration enhancer. Like aluminum, it is easily absorbed through the skin and is sometimes contaminated with lead, nickel, or arsenic. Propylene glycol is a known neurotoxin and is known to cause contact dermatitis and liver and kidney damage. When I first read the label on my Secret brand deodorant I saw a warning telling me to consult a doctor before using if I had any kidney problems. That was my first clue that deodorant was not just something that stayed on the surface of my skin. 

4. Propylene Glycol (may be listed as PEG or PG) is used as a moisture sealer and a penetration enhancer. Like aluminum, it is easily absorbed through the skin and is sometimes contaminated with lead, nickel, or arsenic. Propylene glycol is a known neurotoxin, and is known to cause contact dermatitis and liver and kidney damage. When I first read the label on my Secret brand deodorant, I saw a warning telling me to consult a doctor before using if I had any kidney problems. That was my first clue that deodorant was not just something that stayed on the surface of my skin.

5. Fragrance (phthalates). Obviously, we want our deodorant to smell good, so we can smell good when we use it. But fragrances (listed as DHP, DBP5, DEHP, and dibutyl phthalate) are considered probable carcinogens by the EPA. Phthalates can increase the absorption of parabens (linked to breast cancer). Phthalates are known development toxicants, meaning they can interfere with the development of a fetus or a child. They are also endocrine disruptors that may interfere, mimic, or block hormones, and they can harm the reproductive system.

So, what’s the alternative? There are a number of excellent natural deodorants out there. Do your research, and try one (read the label carefully first). My first suggestion, though, would be to make your own! There is something empowering about taking charge of what you are putting on your skin. To know for sure what ingredients are in your deodorant, mix them together yourself. A main factor in choosing deodorant is the effectiveness of the product. The first time I made my own, I thought the process was fun, but I was doubtful of how well the product would work. However, I was pleased to find that my homemade deodorant smelled as good and lasted as long as my favorite store brand, and even felt better (the peppermint oil gave my skin a nice cool feeling).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015 00:00

You may have already taken steps towards healthier eating, but did you know that the types of pots and pans you’re cooking with can also affect your health?

Teflon pots and pans have been regarded as a miraculous solution to kitchen cleanup since they were first sold commercially in 1946. However, like many seemingly miraculous fixes, the possibility of adverse health affects from using Teflon has come into question over the last 15 years.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a chemical used in the making of nonstick pans, and has been detected in the blood of most Americans, adults and children alike. Various animal studies have shown a correlation between PFOA and cancer and liver disease. However, there is no irrefutable proof that nonstick pans can cause cancer in humans.

What we do know comes from the Environmental Working Group’s 2003 study concluding that “a nonstick pan left to preheat on high reached a temperature of more than 700 degrees within five minutes, at which point it released several toxic gases, including TFE, DFA, and PFOA (all animal carcinogens), and alarmingly, MFA, a chemical that can be lethal to humans at low doses.”

What now?

To help you out with deciding what kind of nontoxic cookware to use, here is a quick list of options. If you desire specific brands and designs, Mother Nature Network provides a list here.

Stainless steel

This option is a mix of different metals, including nickel, chromium and molybdenum, but unless your cookware is worn or damaged, the amount of metals likely to get into your food is minor. Stainless steel is also very easy to clean; scrubbing pans down with steel wool will keep layers of oil from accumulating on the surface.

Glass

Glass is an eco-friendly, nontoxic and durable option. However, you can’t use glass for everything, and certain items (like baking tins) are hard to find in glass. Glass pans generally work best for savory dishes like potpies, baked pasta, and quick breads.

Ceramic

Ancient cultures used ceramic for baking, and it’s still a great choice today. Ceramic pots have a non-scratch cooking surface (which makes them easy to clean with steel wool without scraping the surface), heat evenly, and hold in flavor. They don’t leach anything into foods, but can be easy to break.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is known for its durability and even heat distribution. Unglazed cast iron can transfer iron into food, but iron is considered a healthy food additive. Cast iron is nonstick after seasoning, which means to treat the cast iron with oil and bake it to fill in the porous surface.

Safety First

Most Americans have at least one piece of chemical nonstick cookware. If that’s you, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Never leave nonstick pans unattended on an open flame or other heat source, and keep cooking temperatures below 450 degrees.
  • Don’t use metal utensils on nonstick cookware.
  • Wash the pans by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges, not steel wool.
  • Watch for wear and tear or flaking of any nonstick surface, and replace when necessary.
Friday, 30 December 2016 00:00

Some of the holidays may have already passed, but that doesn't mean there aren't several occasions throughout the year to give a gift. If you're like me, the stress of finding the perfect gift can be overwhelming. Ideally, I want to give gifts that people will use versus collecting dust in a closet or attic. There's plenty of waste in the world, so today I have some tips that ought to make your next gift green and spectacular.

Get them something perishable.
Whether it's food or a fragrance, or really just anything with an expiration date, this means your friend can't just set this gift aside for later. Food is something everyone needs, and, in my humble opinion, an understated gift. It's not just the thought that counts, but the time, creativity, love, and all the cooking and cleaning done for you!

Try making something.
If you're short on cash, but you want to give something special, why not look around your own home? Chances are you'll find a few things that could turn into a thoughtful, creative gift. Have some paint and extra glasses hanging around? Why not make them some decorative glasses? Found a few nice jars or boxes? Tidy those up, and give them something nice to store their knickknacks in.

Have a few photos of them? Frame a nice collage!
Personally, I think this one is a win-win. You give them something nice while you get to declutter your own home. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse! I love going to Goodwill or really any resale store—it's amazing what you can find. There's something even more amazing about giving a gently used item another chance versus buying something brand new that won't ever be used. Try browsing through a Goodwill, and be amazed at how many great gifts you can find–anything from clothes to furniture to kitchenware.

Give them something that can't fit into a bag or box.
Whenever my birthday or a holiday comes up, I find myself looking forward more to the time spent with friends and family than to the gifts I may receive. Spending some valuable time with someone is a gift everyone enjoys. Good times with good friends are something that can't be wasted, only cherished. I hope these tips may help, and just remember to take a deep breath. Everyone appreciates receiving a gift.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 00:00

Artificial light has changed the way we humans interact with the world, for better or for worse. Once we were dependent on the sun’s cycle for lighting our daily activities, but the invention of the incandescent lightbulb in 1879 allowed us to work, study, and entertain ourselves at any hour of the day. During its 137-year history, the lightbulb has made several evolutions, most recently the switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. This transformation made our lighting more efficient, and following that, the invention of light-emitting diodes, LEDs, improved efficiency even more. Currently, LEDs are becoming more affordable to the general public; prices in stores are rivaling those of traditional incandescent and CFL bulbs, and considering that LEDs last far longer than other bulbs, the cost savings are even greater. Many people may be buying their first LEDs and wondering, what makes LEDs better?

1. Energy efficiency

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the organization that awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014 to the three Japanese inventors of the LED, about one-fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting, which means a potentially huge reduction in the planet’s energy use if all incandescent bulbs were switched to LEDs. One thing that makes LEDs so much more efficient is that they emit almost no heat. According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs emit almost 90% of their energy as heat, and CFL bulbs emit 80% of their energy as heat. The Department of Energy also goes on to say that “Widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States.”

2. Resource use

Besides being more efficient, LEDs last far longer than traditional bulbs. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences again tells us that “materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.” While LEDs ultimately still end up in the landfill, it takes much more time for them to get there. According to my quick calculation, a 100,000-hour lifespan means one could leave an LED on for eight hours a day, every day, and it would last approximately 34 years. LED technology makes purchasing new lightbulbs a very special, twice-in-a-lifetime experience!

3. Efficiency in use

LEDs emit light in a specific direction, whereas the light emitted from traditional lightbulbs may not even leave the immediate area. Additionally, LEDs turn on and off more quickly, making them more efficient for things such as traffic lights.

4. Can be used anywhere

LEDs are incredibly durable! LEDs can operate in extremely hot and cold temperatures. In addition, since they emit so little heat, they can be used around plants or animals that may be sensitive to heat. LEDs also emit far fewer UV and infrared rays.

5. Cost savings

As mentioned above, LED prices are beginning to rival those of traditional incandescents, but they need to be purchased far less frequently. This means an incredible cost saving for consumers, both in the purchase of bulbs and the subsequently reduced electricity bills!

You now know why LEDs are better than traditional lightbulbs. The next time you need to replace a lightbulb, or if you want a special, twice-in-a-lifetime experience, shop for and buy an LED light!

 

Thursday, 23 February 2017 00:00

It is a most curious and awesome feeling when you wake up in the morning, open the door to your room, and find three people in synchronized yoga poses in your shared living room space, one person cooking a large breakfast in the kitchen, and the other reading a book on the loveseat by the window.

An even greater feeling of joy comes when you walk outside of this space to people rolling into the parking lot from the market on their bikes, fresh vegetables in their backpacks, about to cook up their part of the next potluck dinner for all members of the cooperative community to share. A lovely couple lounges on the hammock in the common area. A friend from the apartment next to yours sits in a chair facing the sun, sipping a cup of tea, gives you a smile, and says, “Hey! How are you today? Coming to the co-op meeting? There will be vegan soup and fresh-harvested lavender honeysuckle sorbet!” (Of course you are—wouldn’t miss it for anything.)

You walk out to the garden that you helped build a few months prior with a few members of the co-op’s garden committee in front of your apartment building, and harvest some peas, greens, and whatever else you can manage out of the space. A plan to cook your part of the potluck dinner tonight is in the works. 

This was my world while living in a cooperative community in the always sunny, always beautiful North Carolina.

Throughout my life, up until my move from Maryland to NC, I had lived in pretty conventional housing spaces—living with parents or with roommates who more or less did their own thing, saying hello in passing when one of us miraculously had time in between working part-time, going to school full-time with internships. These environments, although wonderful and loving spaces, were a little more solitary, making it easier to create and accomplish goals on an individual level, but perhaps a little less conducive to group collaboration or team-oriented goals and focusing on the idea of embracing community.

Everything changed for me when I got a call from a good friend who had recently moved to North Carolina, telling me about how wonderful this community he was living in was. He told me he knew that I’d fall in love with the place and the area, insisting that I visit, because his apartment had an open bedroom. My friends and I arranged a visit within the next two weeks, packed backpacks for the weekend, and drove six hours south to stay with our buddy in North Carolina at the co-op. I knew the moment I stepped out of the car and into that warm, spicy cedar aroma in the air, and found myself enjoying a cup of local coffee at a hip café in town, that this place felt right already. We made our way to the co-op, and were greeted by friendly hellos, though we were not even members of the community yet! I ventured back to Maryland after this trip, feeling different. I had never known community quite like that. My friend called me and offered to move me into the room in his place within the next few days. After having finished up with my bachelor’s degree, serving tables at a restaurant for years, and not feeling completely satisfied with my major’s career opportunities after school, I figured, why not? It took me only about two or three weeks to get my Maryland world settled and to make my way down south to North Carolina. I was incredibly excited—ready to be a part of something bigger than myself and my small town. 

This opportunity was more than I could have hoped for. The cooperative community consisted of three apartment buildings, each with three apartments. Each apartment had two to four people living inside. These spaces were considered “low-income” housing, for people who made less than $28,000 a year—an amazing incentive to create an environment where people felt comfortable with their living situation, able to make ends meet, feed themselves, and have time to be a part of the community’s ongoing projects, group-related upkeep, and grounds maintenance. Basically, this allowed members of the co-op to live happy, healthy lives, working jobs they enjoyed, spending free time doing fun things they loved that made a difference, pushing toward future progress and positive change, and spending this time with people they loved. Yes, this was my kind of home.

I got to be a part of what felt like a large group of family members, working toward common goals of being good to each other, the planet, and the people around us. We worked hard to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all members of the co-op, as well as all guests, visitors, and members of the local community. We offered a hand when others were in need, took care of pets when each other went away, and tended to the outdoor spaces.

We also all enjoyed many days and nights together spent around a bonfire in the community outdoor space, hiking and running around on local trails, cooking and enjoying delicious farm-fresh food, going out and exploring the town, having good conversations over coffee, and listening to live music. It was an experience I had not previously had the pleasure of being a part of, and after being exposed to such collaboration—such genuine love and teamwork—I didn’t want to not have this in my life. After these experiences, I learned a lot about myself and about others.

Living with a community of people taught me how to keep open lines of communication, work collaboratively to create goals and projects, and understand that although people may not work the same way as I do, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing! Diversity is what makes this life so interesting and beautiful. It taught me how to open up and let go of any ego, walls, or defense systems that I may have had from previous toxic living situations. Dropping passive aggression and negativity opened up so many doors to collaboration and love.

With this community, I was introduced to the very wild and wonderful idea of “being completely myself.” Crazy idea, huh? Through this community, I thrived. The support I received from my co-op family on a daily basis was beyond measure To have a home away from home, a family away from family—now that is something special.

I believe that this is true of any community space or gathering. When people come together with the love of humanity in their hearts, so much can be accomplished. I carry these stories with me every day, and they have led me to a happier, more open and understanding lifestyle. We can meet our goals! It’s always easier together.

Thursday, 20 April 2017 00:00

For decades, scientists and environmentalists have warned us about the dangers of the increase of plastic packages on Earth’s soil and water. Skipping Rocks Lab, a scientific organization that promotes innovation, has made an amazing and interesting invention. The Ooho! is an absolutely biodegradable package that can be eaten without consequences for humans or the environment.

This sphere is made from algae, and inside, it can store an amount of water, makeup, or any other liquid. Thus, this sphere could replace all plastic bottles, glasses, cups, etc.

The scientists of Skipping Rocks Lab experimented with many materials until they got the right mixture and proportions. The final recipe is made with alginate sodium and chloride calcium. The process of creating gelatin leads to the final outcome. The material of this edible sphere is like gel.

This great idea reaches many sponsors who want to be a member of this next-day step. Apart from the eco-friendly material of this sphere, it keeps the content fresher, and it is cheaper. The carbon dioxide from the production of the plastic decreases. It also saves the world a lot of extra energy. Ideas like this help people to decrease their trash and think more about the environment. Tons of plastic bottles and other packages will be eliminated when this invention becomes more popular.

Check it out for yourselves with the Skipping Rocks Lab's demonstration.

Thursday, 06 April 2017 00:00

My last post was a list of potentially harmful ingredients found in most store-bought deodorants. This week I am going to share with you a recipe for natural, homemade deodorant I have found works well for me. 

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup arrow root powder
  • 7 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons shredded beeswax
  • 1 cap tea tree oil
  • 25 drops lavender or peppermint oil (or both!)

To make:

  1. Combine baking soda and arrow root powder.
  2. Melt coconut oil and bees wax.
  3. Mix together, and add tea tree and lavender oils. 

You will need a small container, like Tupperware, to keep the deodorant in. If you have an empty deodorant container, you can add your homemade deodorant to that. Keep in mind that because this deodorant is made with coconut oil, the texture varies with the temperature of the air. If you live somewhere warm where coconut oil is always liquid, your deodorant will be very soft, and probably won’t work in a normal deodorant dispenser. If you live in a cooler climate, the deodorant will be more solid.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Friday, 14 April 2017 00:00

Here are some photos showing the progress of our structure that will hold the rain chains at the ecovillage.

See my previous post on the rain sculpture.

Wednesday, 02 November 2016 00:00

Ask any American who’s traveled internationally for an extended period of time what they missed while they were away, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get the same answer: “Good Mexican food!” This was certainly our answer when we got back to the United States after our travels.

We’re making up for three-plus years of cuisine withdrawal with recipes like this easy “Mexican” lasagna. Although it’s not authentic Mexican food, it is inexpensive, tasty, pretty healthy, and very forgiving.


Ingredients

12 small corn tortillas
2 cups brown rice (cooked)
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup onion, diced
½ bell pepper (any color), diced or sliced thin
2 carrots, diced or sliced thin
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tofu, pressed and diced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup frozen corn
1 small zucchini, sliced thin
Mix-and-match spices: cilantro, parsley, oregano, chili, red pepper, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese of your choice (cheddar or Pepper Jack are nice, but Monterey Jack or queso fresco would work too)
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, combine brown rice and black beans. Set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, pepper, and carrots, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tofu, and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the diced tomatoes and corn, and then add various spices until your taste buds are happy. There is no science here!

4. Spoon the brown rice/black bean mixture into a large baking dish, and spread evenly. Top with six tortillas (I put three down the center, and cut three in half to place along the outer edges, cut side facing the edge). Add a few handfuls of cheese.

5. Spoon the spiced tofu/veggie mixture in next, and lay the thin slices of zucchini on top. Reserve a little cheese, and distribute the rest evenly over this layer. Again, top with six tortillas and finish with the reserved cheese.

6. Cover with foil, and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the tortillas are light brown. Top with a little chopped parsley and sour cream, and enjoy!

(One thing I always forget is to reserve some of the diced tomato and juice to spread on the top layer of tortillas before adding the last of the cheese. It doesn’t affect the taste or cooking time, but it keeps the tortillas from curling when the lasagna is cut, so it looks nicer on the plate.)

This is a great dish for anyone on a budget—one pan got us through dinner and several lunches of leftovers. The flavors get better the next day, too. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, 16 April 2017 00:00


Ingredients
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons milk or water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8th teaspoon baking powder
Chocolate chips as required
1/8th teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
Vanilla/chocolate ice cream (optional)
Chocolate sauce (optional)

Directions
Take a bowl or mug and mix all the dry ingredients listed above with a spoon. Add all the wet ingredients,  and mix well until it is smooth, with no lumps. The mixture should be liquid. Place the bowl/mug in the microwave for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl/mug from the microwave after letting it rest for around 20 seconds, and serve warm. If desired, you can also add a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce over the cake, and serve.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 00:00

Party potatoes are a tradition at all of our family functions. With a little prep work, they are easy to make and quick to serve. The recipe can be modified to suit many taste preferences—try adding peppers or different veggies for a new twist.

Ingredients
1 package frozen, cubed hash browns (2 lbs.)
1/2 cup melted margarine or butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions
1. Thaw the hash browns.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl, and place in a baking pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour. Serves approximately 10–12. Enjoy!
 

 

Saturday, 04 February 2017 00:00

This is such a delicious and hearty salad.  If you want to impress your guests, this salad is it!  It does take time to cook the sweet potatoes and wild rice, so keep that in mind.

Serves: 4–6
 
INGREDIENTS

2 cups cooked wild rice (about ½ cup raw)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3–4 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups arugula
½ cup cashew pieces

For the dressing
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons , or more to taste)
Zest of the lemons
⅓ cup good quality olive oil
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1.    Cook the wild rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, make the dressing by puréeing all the dressing ingredients in a food processor. When the rice is done, toss it with a little bit of the dressing, and refrigerate. Let it rest for a little while so it takes on the flavors of the dressing (I let it chill completely, but you don't have to do that).

2.    Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the sweet potato pieces directly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, and sprinkle with the chili powder, salt, and pepper. Stir directly on the pan to get everything mixed. Roast for 20–25 minutes, stirring every so often to keep from burning. When the sweet potatoes are golden brown on the outside, remove from the oven, and set aside.

3.    Toss the arugula, wild rice, sweet potatoes, cashews, and the remaining dressing together. Serve warm or cold. YUM!

Source: pinchofyum.com

Friday, 14 October 2016 00:00

This version of grilled cheese has a creative spin to it and is perfect for a chilly day!

Ingredients

• 4 slices of sourdough bread

• 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced

• 4 thinly sliced eggplant slices

• 1/4 cup of sliced mushrooms

• Half of onion, thinly sliced

• 2 cups of sautéed spinach

• 4 slices of tomato (don't cut too thin, to avoid being mushy)

• 4 tbsp of Trader Joe's Smooth and Creamy Classic Hummus

• 1/2 tbsp of Trader Joe's harissa spread

• ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• Olive oil spray

Set the oven to 350 °F. Cut up zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, onion, and tomato. Spray some olive oil, salt, and pepper onto the vegetables. Set the vegetables onto a baking sheet and roast them for 25 minutes. Flip the vegetables halfway through. Remove from the oven when done.  On a heated skillet, spray olive oil, and sauté spinach. Remove the spinach, and heat two slices of the sourdough bread. Once it's slightly toasted, put some hummus and harissa spread on it. Spread your vegetables, spinach, and cheese on one slice of the toast. Place the other slice of the bread on top, press down with a kitchen turner/spatula onto the sandwich, and if possible, flip until the other side is toasted. Remove from heat. Cut in half, and enjoy! 

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 00:00

Before I try a new recipe, I always "comparison shop" online. Most of the time this is because I can't eat potatoes, so I end up subbing cauliflower or squash, or otherwise amending the recipe. It's also because my partner appreciates spicier food, and recipes online tend to be milder in flavor. And sometimes, I just don't have the ingredients, and I'm too lazy to make a trip to the grocery store.

Usually, the recipe I end up making is a mashup of all the ones I read on the web, and they always turn out pretty good. This one is no different, but it's also probably the easiest recipe I've ever mashed up.

Ingredients
1 small butternut squash
1 medium onion
2–3 carrots
1 apple
3–4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mild curry powder (or to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
3 cups vegetable broth (less if you like thicker soup)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Method
1. Dice the squash, onion, apple, and carrots into equally-sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with curry powder and ginger, and roast at 425 °F for about 30 minutes (or until the squash is tender when poked with a fork).

2. Let the roasted fruit and veggies cool a bit. Peel the garlic, and put everything into a food processor along with a little of the vegetable broth.

3. Add the puréed vegetables to the remaining vegetable broth, and simmer for 10–15 minutes. While it warms, add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Top with roasted pumpkin seeds, and enjoy!

Note: You could also add a little cream or plain yogurt to the bowls when serving. A little paprika would be nice, too.

Winter's here, and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon! What's your favorite easy soup recipe? 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016 00:00

This recipe is from Jill Nussinow's cookbook Vegan Under Pressure. This cookbook consists of all vegan recipes to be made with an Instant Pot. If you don’t know what an Instant Pot is, check it out here. It’s an amazing tool for your kitchen—a must-have!

Oh, and I guess you are also asking, what the heck is freekeh? It’s another ancient grain that is pretty delish, with a nice texture. You can read more about freekeh here.

 
Freekeh with Eggplant and Tomato
Serves 4 to 6

 
Ingredients

1 cup diced red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup diced eggplant
1 ¾ cups vegetable stock
½ cup diced fresh or canned tomatoes
Salt and black pepper (to taste)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

 
Directions

1. Heat the Instant Pot to sauté. Add the onion, and dry sauté for two minutes. Add the garlic and bell pepper, and cook one minute longer. Add the freekeh, eggplant, and stock.

2. Lock the lid on the Instant Pot. Bring to high pressure; cook for seven minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.

3. Stir the tomatoes into the freekeh. Lock the lid back on, and let sit for two minutes.

4. Remove the lid, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. Transfer to a platter, and serve.

 
This is a dish that can be served all year round. Serve it warm in the colder months and cold in the warmer months.

Check out Jill’s website, The Veggie Queen, for more information and loads of recipes. You can buy the cookbook Vegan Under Pressure here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017 00:00

This recipe is perfect to serve at a party or as a snack at home.

Prep time: 15 mins.

Ingredients

• 2 lbs of cashews
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil melted (or oil of choice)
• 5 dashes of hot sauce
• 3 teaspoons chili powder
• 2 teaspoons of cumin
• 4 tablespoons of rosemary
• 2 tablespoons of salt
• 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350°.

2.  Coat cashews with melted oil of choice.

3.  Spread cashews in large baking dish.

4.  Mix allspice and rosemary together, and spread evenly over cashews. Apply the desired amount of hot sauce. Mix together with spoon to make sure seasonings are evenly spread.

5.  Place in oven for roughly 20 minutes. You will have to stir every so often to make sure the nuts toast evenly.

Remove, and allow to cool for half an hour or so before serving.

Enjoy!

Use this recipe as a guide, and adjust measurements and ingredients as necessary.

Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00

These 100% whole wheat pancakes are so delicious, you won't believe it's whole wheat! Not only are they healthy and yummy; they are also easy to put together.

Ingredients:
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 eggs
• 3 tablespoons coconut oil/vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:
1.  Mix together the dry ingredients in a big bowl.
2.  Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, honey and oil in another bowl.
3.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.
4.  Whisk till combined but still lumpy.
5.  Heat a griddle.
6.  Take a quarter cup of batter and pour onto the griddle.
7.  When bubbles form on top of the batter, flip it over. Cook for a few seconds.
8.  Serve warm with pure maple syrup!

Friday, 04 November 2016 00:00

Let's get one thing straight: I love spice. I especially love the heat, the taste, and the fruity aroma of hot peppers. My favorite one is the humble jalapeño. It goes with almost anything, or you can even eat them straight out of the jar! This version is probably a little more expensive than the store-bought ones. With this method, however, you know exactly how they are made and what's going into them (adjusting the flavor and ingredients as required).

This recipe is good for anywhere between 5 to 10 peppers. How you enjoy them is up to you. I may come back to these for a future recipe (spoiler alert!).
 

Ingredients

5–10 jalapeño peppers

Pickling brine

1 cup water

1 cup white vinegar (I tried a substitute for this once, and the results weren't as great.)

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)

1 to 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano (can be substituted for Italian seasoning, but I prefer oregano)
 

Method

1. Cut the peppers into rings of roughly equal thickness. Quickly rinse under a cold tap to remove any seeds dislodged when cutting. You can skip this step if you like more of a fiery kick, as this step can take some of the heat out.

2. In a saucepan, add the water and vinegar. Next, add the remaining brine ingredients, and give it a stir. Bring the brine to a boil.

3. Once the brine has started to boil, add the peppers. Stir, and then turn off the heat. Allow the brine and the peppers to cool to room temp. You'll see the color of the pepper change as they start to pickle.

4. When the brine has cooled, grab a slotted spoon or kitchen tongs, and pick out the peppers from the brine. Add them to the jar (don't forget the garlic clove(s), too!), and then fill the jar with the brine. Store in the fridge once cooled. They should be good for a week or so.

 

Monday, 13 June 2016 00:00

My local farmers market has finally opened, and in a week or so, my CSA share begins. So many fresh veggies to look forward to in the next few months! In the meantime, I have found a few seasonal items to tide me over; namely, spinach, radishes, green garlic, and broccoli rabe.

I'm told that broccoli rabe is an acquired taste, but I've always been fond of it. I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed its bitterness as a child, but as an adult, I find it adds a refreshing complexity to most dishes. Broccoli rabe is also somewhat common, and can be found relatively easily in local grocery stores. This is in part due to its popularity among various cultures, and its usage in Chinese and Mediterranean dishes. It has also enjoyed a somewhat increasing popularity, though it pales in comparison to that of kale or arugula, which were virtually unknown in mainstream American cooking not so many years ago.

Despite being commonly available and having somewhat of an increase in popularity, broccoli rabe is still not well known or understood. In fact, many people I've spoken to are still surprised to learn that broccoli rabe is not a type of broccoli, as suggested by the name. One reason that there may be some confusion about this plant is that it is known around the world under many different names. In the U.S., the most common names are broccoli rabe (also spelled broccoli raab) and rapini.  Some of its other names include raab, rapa, rapine, rappi, rappone, turnip broccoli, taitcat, Italian broccoli, Chinese broccoli, broccoli rape, broccoli de rabe, Italian turnip, and turnip broccoli.

Perhaps unsurprising, given some of its more common names, broccoli rabe originated in the Mediterranean and in China, and it continues to be extremely popular in both cuisines. Its popularity in Italian cuisine led to it's introduction to the US by an Italian farmer in the 1920. Now, it is a common crop in states like California, New Jersey, and even Arizona. For you avid gardeners out there, or the beginner gardeners as well, you will be happy to hear that broccoli rabe is easily grown, and can be seeded directly into the garden. It is generally recommended as a cool weather food, so it is best to grow it in early spring or in the fall. However, some gardeners will tell you otherwise. The key to growing broccoli rabe all season long is picking a quick-growing variety and then cutting it as soon as it is ready. However, this does require some vigilance, as the maturation dates of the varieties are more like loose guidelines; the time of maturation will very much depend on individual growing conditions.

Another fact that can make growing broccoli rabe a bit more fun is that it will readily cross-pollinate with other closely related plants, such as turnips or mustards. So if you are a seed saver, you might end up with a different plant than what you were expecting in your second season.

When it comes to cooking broccoli rabe, it is extremely versatile. Pretty much any cooking method will work: steam, stir fry, bake, boil, grill, sauté. or braise. Given its popularity in southern Italy, a very typical and tasty way of serving broccoli rabe is sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and a touch of salt. Really, it is an extremely diverse food with a great nutritional profile. It is a good source of calcium and vitamins A, B, C, and K. If you are looking for inspiration for recipes, there are several options available. But essentially, broccoli rabe can be substituted for a dark leafy green like kale or collard greens, or even broccoli. Thus, broccoli rabe can work for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or snacking. I wouldn't recommend it for dessert, but maybe someone out there has come up with an ingenious recipe for that, too. It is always wonderful when good food is good for you.  

Now, if you aren't a fan of food with a little bit of bitterness in the taste profile, broccoli rabe may not be the green for you. But if you are a fan of food that bites back just a little, it might be the perfect find. So, I recommend that if you haven't tried broccoli rabe yet, or even if you have had it, try it in a new way. You can pretty much bet that there is always something new to try or discover in your garden or kitchen. Let's keep spring as the time for having new beginnings, and enjoying really good, fresh local food.

Edited by Lisa Charles, MPH

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 00:00

We've been off farms for several months now, and we're starting to miss simple things like backyard eggs and fresh milk. Luckily, we recently got connected with a local couple who raise pasture-fed Jersey cows as a hobby. Every week or so, we pick up a gallon of raw milk for about the same price as organic milk sold in the average grocery stores. During our visit, we see the cows, and chat with the farmers. It's a great experience.

From this milk, I've been experimenting with cheeses and other dairy products. Properly-handled raw milk is nothing to fear, and it enables so much flexibility in making your own dairy products free from those weird additives you find in store-bought products.

My most recent endeavor was an attempt at cream cheese. I got the basic recipe from The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter, and Yogurt at Home. This has been a great resource as I've been embarking upon DIY dairy products, but you can easily find similar recipes online.

DIY cream cheese is a pretty simple process—heat cream, add starter and rennet, let it sit for 12 hours, heat curd, strain, and enjoy!

I strayed from the original recipe a little bit, using kefir as starter and liquid vegetable rennet instead of a tablet. The recipe promised a drier cream cheese that would be great for cheesecake, and I was not disappointed!

You may have noticed that there's no "recipe" in this post. I'm not kidding that you can easily find these recipes on the internet or in the cookbook section at your local library. If you have access to fresh milk, find a soft cheese recipe that looks interesting, give it a try, and let me know the results!

I've also made butter, sour cream, yogurt, chèvre, panir, and halloumi. (I've attempted mozzarella... Let's just say, that one needs more practice.) I look forward to having the appropriate space and time to give hard cheeses a try, too.

DIY dairy definitely takes time and patience, but knowing exactly what's in my food—and exactly where it came from—is worth the effort to me. And supporting a local farmer? Priceless.

Saturday, 08 April 2017 00:00

Ingredients
4 large tomatoes
2 jalapeño chilies
3 garlic cloves
1 onion
Salt
Pepper
Cilantro

Directions
Grill tomatoes, chilies, garlic, and onion on medium heat until charred—approximately 7 minutes, turning often during grilling. Remove and transfer to a plate when charred.

Remove stem and core from chilies and tomatoes. Combine chopped tomatoes, chilies, garlic, and onion into a food processor. Blend until desired texture is reached. Blend in chopped cilantro. Add salt, pepper, and lime to taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017 00:00

Check out this great fire cider recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Ingredients

1/2 cup fresh grated organic ginger root
1/2 cup fresh grated organic horseradish root
1 medium organic onion, chopped
10 cloves of organic garlic, crushed or chopped
2 organic jalapeño peppers, chopped
Zest and juice from 1 organic lemon
Several sprigs of fresh organic rosemary or 2 tbsp of dried rosemary leaves
1 tbsp organic turmeric powder
1/4 tsp organic cayenne powder
Organic apple cider vinegar
Raw local honey to taste


Directions

Prepare all of your roots, fruits, and herbs, and place them in a quart-sized jar. If you've never grated fresh horseradish, be prepared for a powerful sinus-opening experience! Use a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal, or a plastic lid if you have one. Shake well. Store in a dark, cool place for a month, and remember to shake daily.

After one month, use cheesecloth to strain out the pulp, pouring the vinegar into a clean jar. Be sure to squeeze as much of the liquidy goodness as you can from the pulp while straining. Next comes the honey. Add 1/4 cup of honey and stir until incorporated. Taste your cider, and add another 1/4 cup until you reach the desired sweetness.

Monday, 09 January 2017 00:00

When body aches, chills, fever, and fatigue come calling, natural resources may bring a sufficient level of comfort and relief. The winter months have settled in, and therefore the cold and flu season is well underway. Getting plenty of rest is extremely vital in helping your body cope and recover. In addition to resting your body, hydration is another important element. Keep hydrated by consuming water and vegetable broth. Vegetable broth loaded with onions and garlic is especially advantageous because these two vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties. Medicinal teas are a beneficial choice for many cold or flu-like symptoms. Consider trying ginger tea in order to relieve stomach nausea. Brew a bit of chamomile tea to aid in sleeping. Sip a cup of thyme tea as a treatment for coughs. National Geographic’s Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies book states that thyme has a long history in Europe of being used to treat this symptom. Mix salt and warm water, and use the mixture to gargle several times a day to alleviate a sore throat. According to an Herbal Remedies magazine article, "First Aid for Travelers," written by Laurel Vukovic, using a eucalyptus and peppermint steam inhalation promotes the breakup of mucus, and opens sinus passages. Furthermore, eucalyptus and peppermint both have antimicrobial properties to fight infection. Boil 1½ quarts of water, and add 3 drops of eucalyptus essential oil and 2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Put a towel over your head, and breathe in the steam for 10 minutes. Each of these treatments, met with a continued effort to live a healthy and natural life every day, can assist in coping with your cold successfully. Use this article and its sources in addition to consulting a licensed healthcare professional.

Sources:
Linda B. White, M.D., et al
National Geographic Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies (Home Remedies on Hand)
National Geographic Society, 2014
p. 25

Laurel Vukovic
"First Aid for Travelers"
Herbal Remedies
Harris Publications, 2016
p. 103

Saturday, 28 January 2017 00:00

There are so many great camera bags on the market today, but most of them are made out of synthetic materials, and are not recyclable. I have started exploring ways to create camera bags out of organic, compostable, and recyclable materials.

My ultimate bag would be made out of organic cotton and have a waterproof cover that I could put on or take off. All of the materials used would be compostable or recyclable.

I have started working on prototypes of cotton duck that will hold their shape during use and are not too difficult to make at home. I am also creating a plastic cover that can go over the top of the bag.

Take a look at the video below to see some of my early ideas for this.

 

Friday, 06 February 2015 00:00

Clean and abundant drinking water is something that most of us take for granted, but in many parts of the world, potable water is a lot harder to come by. Millions around the world still live with either insufficient or unsanitary sources of drinking water. Thankfully, there are many people doing work to develop and improve water sources across the globe. For example, there are some truly ingenious engineers and architects out there coming up with innovative ways to extract water from the air. Here are a few of my favorite innovations:

A water-collecting billboard in Lima, Peru was built by the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru, in the hopes of drawing the interest of more engineering students for the university. The billboard runs off the power grid, and houses five condensers similar to those in an air conditioner. Water vapor cools and liquefies on the surface of the condensers, then runs down through a filtration system to be stored and dispensed from a faucet at the base of the tower. The billboard reportedly produces 96 liters (or 25 gallons) of water per day.

Along similar lines, Eole Water, a company based in France, specializes in the production of a water-collecting wind turbine. The turbine generates electricity to run a condenser that collects water from air drawn in at the top of the unit. The water flows down through a filtration system and into reservoirs for use by the community. Eole says their system can collect up to a whopping “1200 liters of water per day.” That’s about 317 gallons! Eole also offers a range of solar-powered water condensation systems.

A less technological approach to water collection is being developed by Warka Water, and is currently being implemented in Ethiopian communities. This one uses no generators, condensers or electricity, focusing instead on simple materials and construction that don’t require heavy machinery or power tools. A bamboo frame supports a plastic mesh, on which water droplets from the air collect and trickle down through a filter to be collected at the bottom. On average, the tower can collect between 13 and 26 gallons per day. That’s pretty remarkable for an unpowered structure. The design of the tower implements elements of various plants and animals that have adapted to survive in low-moisture regions, and the name comes from the Warka tree, a fruit-bearing native tree that serves as a community gathering place in Ethiopian culture.

Thursday, 28 April 2016 00:00

I love shawls, and I have a special place in my heart for shawls made out of plant fibers. They feel drapey and breathable, which makes them perfect for the summer weather that is approaching the Pacific Northwest.

One of my all-time favorite patterns is really more of a recipe or formula than a pattern. It’s called a triangle shawl, and it is truly simple. You can memorize it and customize it to fit your skill level or time. You can do it while walking, or, like I did, while watching a movie.

You only need to know two stitches for the most basic version: Knit and Yarn Over. That’s it!

When beginning, it will feel like you are working from the bottom or point of the triangle up, but in fact you are working from the middle of the long side or top of the triangle. You will be increasing by 4 stitches on each right side row, starting with Row 3. Here is how to do it.

Abbreviations

k - knit

yo - yarn over

pm - place marker

sm - slide marker

Triangle Shawl Pattern

CO 3 stitches

Row 1 - k1, yo, pm, k1, pm, yo, k1

Row 2 (and every even row) - k to marker, sm, k, sm, k to end

Row 3 - k1, yo, knit to marker, yo, sm, k1, sm, yo, k to last stitch, yo, k

Repeat Rows 1–3 until shawl is desired length. Cast off loosely. Weave in ends. Block if needed. To sum up, you only need to know how to do 3 rows, and one of them (Row 1) you will only do once at the very beginning. The rest of the rows are simply knit one and yarn over (creating a new stitch) at the beginning of all right side rows; knit until you get the center stitch (signified by the markers); yarn over on both sides of the center stitch (creating two additional stitches), and then knit until you get to the last stitch on the needle, yarn over (creating your final new stitch for that row), and then knit the last stitch. On the wrong side/even rows, simply knit all the stitches, sliding the markers when you come to them so they stay in their proper place.

Following this, you can get as creative as you want. If you like stockinette better than garter, purl the wrong side rows instead. Don’t like the holes made by a yarn over? Here is a great reference for other types of increases you can do that don’t make holes. If you are an advanced knitter, you can add your own lace or cable pattern. Play with self-striping yarn. As long as you keep increasing by one on both ends and by two in the middle, the shawl can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

Here is a pattern for a fun short project:

Lacy Triangle Headscarf

You will need:

1 skein of Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy in Light Blue (042) or similar yarn

Size 9 US 28” circular needle

A ½ to ¾” button (bamboo would be lovely; I opted for a vintage one I had lying around)

A tapestry needle that will fit through your buttonhole

Using the above pattern, knit Rows 1–3. Repeat Row 2 & 3 twenty times or until project measures about 19 inches in length and 7.5 in height (adjust for your head size, if needed). Repeat Row 2 one more time so you finish on a wrong side row, and cast off loosely, leaving a long tail at the end to sew on a button. Block. Sew button on, and weave in ends. The button will simply go into one of the yo holes on the opposite side.

The triangle shawl is a great way to make something with a yarn that has been sitting in your stash a while but maybe doesn’t have enough yardage to make a big project. Get creative, and have fun with what is really one of the simplest patterns.

Full headscarf

Vintage Button

Stitch Detail

 

Saturday, 30 May 2015 00:00

Better Cotton Initiative: How retailers can commit to a Better Supply Chain

When we look at the impact a material we use has on the environment, we need to look at its lifecycle. It is important to know how it is grown or the process of extraction, the production processes, the method of transportation and how it is sold and used. It is only when we know the overall impact that a change can be made in the production process.
While cotton textile is a staple material used in clothes, bed sheets, towels, drapery – its use causes the greatest environmental impact. The impact is growing with cotton production increasing to meet the world’s growing demand. Currently cotton accounts for 40% of the world’s textile production – and uses approximately 10% of the world's agricultural chemicals.
Global cotton production comes increasingly from countries where laws about pesticide and fertilizer use are lax and the farmers are paid low wages. These countries rely heavily on the exports of this cash crop. Unfortunately, intense competition has kept the price of cotton to a minimum while inputs and costs of production have increased. The increased use of pesticides impacts the health of the farmers. Additionally, the cotton crop is becoming highly vulnerable to pests and to the decreased availability of water. The crop production process thus needs to be addressed to keep the current supply of cotton.


Moving towards a Sustainable Supply of Cotton

The Better Cotton Initiative was established in 2005 by a group of retailers. Their objective was “to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future”. The advantage to the retailers in investing in the BCI are multifold - the most important being it would secure a future supply of cotton. Today famous retailers such as Adidas, Nike, Ikea and Levi Strauss & Co participate in the BCI.


The BCI has four aims:
• Reduce the environmental impact of cotton production
• Improve livelihoods and economic development in cotton producing areas
• Improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout the supply chain
• Ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative


The BCI is trying to achieve the production of more sustainable cotton (cotton with a lower environmental impact and better economic impact) by building the capacity of all of its stakeholders. This means the farmers, ginners, suppliers and retailers. Each is taught the benefits of sustainable cotton and how to document the inputs at each stage which can lead to the certification of the entire production process with the Better Cotton Standard System. While the Better Cotton Standard is applicable to farmers, ginners also receive training for monitoring – playing an important role “as an actor that bridges farm level and the global cotton supply chain”.


Becoming a Better Cotton Licensed Farmer

The BCI’s work with farmers includes training the farmers how to grow cotton to give an optimum yield. Farmers are trained on Better Production Principles: crop protection; water; soil health; natural habitats; fiber quality and decent work, and a number of production criteria. This has in many instances been undertaken by understanding many of the traditional practices that were used 30 to 40 years ago. This includes the ideal time of watering the crops, method of picking cotton, and soil maintenance. Many of these practices had been lost by the lure of modern methods such as the use of fertilizers. Farmers were using fertilizers and even pesticides without knowing the proper methods. This led to overuse, causing negative impact to cotton crops.
To become a Better Cotton licensed farmer, the farmer has to maintain a log book – the Farmer Field Book, recording his methods of cotton production such as the use of fertilizers, pesticides, water, yield, and profits. The data gathered is used to compare with farmers not taking part in the BCI. The BCI uses the data to monitor and evaluate the positive results. BCI farmers are getting better yields in all of the regions where it is currently being practiced.


Supporting initiatives by shopping from retailers investing in the Better Cotton Initiative

As consumers we have become aware of how the decisions we make impact the environment and society. By choosing to buy products made from BCI certified cotton we choose to reduce our impact on the environment. We also choose to improve the livelihoods of the producers with better wages, and improving health as they use fewer pesticides in the production. A conscious decision is the only way to move forward.

 

 

Tuesday, 02 August 2016 00:00

I have two types of cucumbers growing in my yard, and one variety was getting quite large but not turning green. They looked very pale, and didn't seem to be ripening. I finally checked the seed packet, and eureka! The variety is called "Silver Slicer," and the skins are a pale yellow color when ripe. They are available from Uprising Seeds. So, how do they taste? They have a tough skin and a "pale" cucumber taste. I think they will be excellent in my veggie pasta salad with a bit of vinegar and olive oil.

Sunday, 23 April 2017 00:00

Recently we provided a list of the top 20 best uses for white vinegar around the house. Today we’re going to share with you the secret recipes that keep houses clean without the chemicals!  

Here are the first ten secret white vinegar cleaning uses!

1. Clean windows.  One part hot water to one part white vinegar in a spray bottle.

2. Carpet Stains.  Two parts cold water to one part white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray directly on the surface, and let it sit for a couple minutes. If the stain is difficult to remove, I also add additional water directly to the stain after the original spray application. Then dab with a paper towel or soft towel to soak up the moisture. Remember not to scrub the surface; this will cause the stain to spread.   

3. Remove water stains.  One part water to one part vinegar. Spray on the surface directly to hard-water stains. Let it sit for a couple minutes, and then scrub the surface with a sponge. Rinse and repeat if needed.

4. Clean toilet bowl.  Use undiluted vinegar, and pour a cup directly into the toilet bowl. Then scrub and flush just like other toilet bowl cleaners.

5. Clean ceramic tiles.  One part hot water to one part white vinegar in a bucket.  Remember to make a new mixture once the water is dirty.    

6. Clean pet accident areas.  One part water to one part vinegar in the spray bottle.  Spray directly on the surface, and dab clean. If the accident is on a carpet or rug, remember not to scrub the surface; this will cause the stain to spread. Repeat if needed until the area is clean.

7. Clean the fridge.  One part water to one part vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray directly onto to the surface, and wipe it clean.

8. Clean coffeemaker.  One part water to one part vinegar, and pour directly into the coffeemaker. Begin brewing to run the solution through the coffee maker. Once complete, add only water to the coffee maker to rinse, and begin brewing. Rinse as many times as needed.  

9. Wood floor cleaner.  Mix ½ cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water. Use a soft sponge to wipe down the floor, and repeat if necessary.    

10. Clears drains.  Pour distilled white vinegar directly down. Follow with hot water after a couple minutes. Depending on the age of the drain and the clog, this may need to be repeated. I’ve used up to one gallon of white vinegar in one cleaning session in the past.  

Keep checking back for the next ten!

Save

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 00:00

The cashews you see in the bulk bins at your local grocery are not actually raw. Raw cashews can contain toxins that would make them inedible if not processed. Here is a video of the process.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017 00:00

The number of cleaning product choices at the grocery store can be overwhelming and expensive at times, when standing in an aisle looking at countertop cleaners, floor cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners, among numerous other options.

But did you know there is a healthier, simpler, less expensive way to clean your house?

It’s true, there is an eco-option available sold at any grocery store that can clean and disinfect. The secret is white vinegar.

Here are the top 20 white vinegar cleaning uses:

1. Clean windows
2. Remove carpet stains
3. Remove water stains
4. Clean toilet bowl
5. Clean ceramic tiles
6. Clean pet accident areas
7. Clean the fridge
8. Clean coffeemaker
9. Wood floor cleaner
10. Clear drains
11. Cut grease stains
12. Remove stains from pots and pans
13. Brass polisher
14. Remove sticker residue
15. Clean tubs and showers
16. Clean mirrors
17. Clean ovens
18. Remove clothes stains
19. Eliminate odors from garbage disposal
20. Clean and disinfect cutting boards

In some cases, white vinegar will need to be diluted with water before cleaning, or another ingredient added to the solution before using.

Check back soon to see cleaning recipes using distilled white vinegar!

Friday, 21 April 2017 00:00

Hitting the trail and need some extra motivation to climb that last mile, or just craving an afternoon energy boost?
Tiger nuts, cacao nibs, and walnut pieces combined with fruit create a customized snack mix that packs a punch with protein, fiber, healthy fats, and complex carbs.

The plant-based superfoods in this mix also provide antioxidants, vitamins, and a hint of caffeine.

Ingredients:
1 cup original tiger nuts
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup plain walnut pieces
1 cup of your favorite freeze-dried fruit—try bananas, blueberries, or strawberries

Directions:
Mix the ingredients and place in a sealed container or bag.
Grab a handful, and enjoy.

Saturday, 21 March 2015 00:00

Knowing how to make your own granola opens up a multitude of possibilities—you can make your own (healthy!) breakfast cereal that tastes way better than anything you can buy, and contains only ingredients that you added yourself. You can control the level of sugar, salt, and fat, and you can make it vegan or gluten-free. You can also add all of the healthy extras you can handle (barley flakes, flax, quinoa, wheat germ, ginger?) or add in tasty extras for a sweet –but still nutritious—snack (chocolate chips and peanut butter coated oats; dried cherries and dark chocolate chunks!). You can try new flavor combinations to switch things up: banana-cashew-cacao nib (recipe below!), sea salt-olive oil-apricot, cranberry-maple-pecan, pumpkin-cardamom, dried cherry-almond; the options are endless. The most important thing to remember when making granola is that the recipe is under your control. You can change most of the ingredients to suit your preferences and you can be sure that it will work out.

 

To get started with making your own granola, you need a basic formula that can be endlessly adapted for variety and convenience. There are two approaches to granola that most recipes follow:  

 

a) The simplest granola: Dump all ingredients except dried fruit into a large bowl, mix, spread onto baking sheet(s), and bake. When cool, add dried fruit.

 

b) Two-step granola: Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and combine the wet ingredients in a pot; heat wet ingredients, incorporate into dry ingredients, pour onto baking sheet, bake. Add dried fruit when cool.

 

The former method is the most common, and it’s the one I use for my everyday granola. It’s obviously more convenient: you can wake up, realize your granola jar is empty, and bust out a new batch before your brain is fully awake. The latter method is for extra-special granolas that incorporate difficult-to-combine ingredients like peanut butter or fruit purees. By first heating the wet ingredients on the stove, you’re transforming the clunky ingredients into a kind of granola sauce that can be stirred in to evenly coat the oats, nuts and seeds. I’ll demonstrate the more elaborate, two-step method later on with a recipe for banana, cashew and cocoa nib granola.

 

Many recipes also differ on the baking temperature and bake time. I had always baked my granola for about 20 minutes at 400°F and I liked it just fine. But when researching recipes for this article, I saw again and again that my favorite food writers instructed to bake their granola at 300°F for around 45 minutes. I tried it and I was amazed at how evenly toasted and deeply browned my granola came out of the oven. I will still make granola the quick way when I don’t have the extra time, but I do recommend the longer, slower bake time if you can wait for it.

 

Some people idealize clustery granola. My preference is loose granola with some clumps running throughout. If clumpy, crunchy granola is your goal, there are a few ways to achieve it: you can use less oil, press the granola down into the pan before baking, or add an egg white when adding the wet ingredients to the dry. And be careful when stirring the granola throughout the baking process—aim for flipping the granola rather than stirring it. When the granola has cooled in the pan, you can break it up into the sizes you prefer. Also it is important to add the dried fruits after the granola has cooled, and for the crunchiest granola, don’t add dried fruit into the granola mixture at all, keep it separate until you are about to eat it.

 

Granola is basically made of the following elements: grains (usually rolled oats), nuts and seeds, sweetener, spices and flavorings, and dried fruit. Each of these broad categories has countless ingredients that you can swap in to make your own favorite recipe, or that you can switch up for endless variations.

 

The base: The bulk of granola is most often made up of old-fashioned rolled oats, but you can swap out a cup or more of the oats for spelt flakes, rye flakes, barley flakes or wheat flakes.

 

The sweetener: Granola is often quite sweet, but it doesn’t have to be! The least amount of sweetener I’ve used is two tablespoons of honey. My current preference is for ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor and 2 tablespoons of honey to add some more sweetness. Sometimes up to three types of sweetener are used in a single recipe, with each one providing its own unique characteristics, for example, ¼ cup of honey for sweetness, ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor, and ¼ cup brown sugar for caramel flavor. Other sweeteners you can experiment with are agave syrup, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.

 

The fat: I use olive oil in my granola because it has an interesting savory quality. It also helps the granola brown nicely. You can use any oil you like, but most popular are canola oil, coconut oil, melted butter, browned butter, and even a small amount of hazelnut oil.

 

The add-ins:

Before baking: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds (chopped, slivered, or sliced), chopped hazelnuts, pecans, walnut, cashews, pistachios, wheat germ, coconut flakes.

 

After baking: Dried fruit (i.e. raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, dried apple or banana, dried figs, prunes, or dates), larger pieces chopped, carob chips, chocolate chips, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds (I would add the hemp, flax, or chia seeds to granola after baking as you are likely eating them for their healthy properties, and heating them doesn’t improve their nutritional quality).

 

Flavorings and texture enhancers: Some recipes use fruit puree (i.e. apple sauce, banana puree, or pumpkin puree) or fruit juice concentrate to add sweetness and flavor, and to replace some of the oil in the recipe. Peanut butter or other nut butters can add a delicious, nutty coating to granola. An egg white added to granola before being baked makes for clumpier, crunchier granola. Spices are optional in granola; some great recipes choose to let the natural flavors of the oats, nuts, and seeds stand on their own. I like adding cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, but I’ve also tried nutmeg, allspice, and even a touch of black pepper. Salt is not essential but most recipes use between ¼ to ¾ teaspoons. I use a ½ teaspoon.

 

Here is the barebones recipe for granola that can be used as a starting point for making your own. Just choose the ingredients you like from above for each element of the granola.

 

The basic recipe

4 cups rolled oats

3 cups add-ins (i.e. 1 cup seeds, 1 cup nuts*, 1 cup coconut flakes)

2-3 Tbsp fat

¼ cup to ½ cup maple syrup, honey, or preferred sweetener

2 Tbsp water

Optional: 1 Tbsp vanilla

Optional: 1-2 tsp of sweet spices

Optional: 1 egg white

1 ½ cups dried fruit

 

Directions:

 

For 20-Minute Granola:

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, including egg white if using, except for coconut flakes and dried fruit. Pour into two baking pans with sides (optional: press into pan for clustery granola). Bake on middle oven rack for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and add coconut flakes. Stir the granola and bake for another 5-10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the granola near the end of baking. When the granola is golden and smelling delicious, it’s ready. When granola has cooled, add the dried cranberries and cherries. Pour into an airtight container. 

 

For extra-toasty Granola:

Same as above, but include all nuts and coconut in the bowl with all ingredients except dried fruit. Bake at 300°F for 45-55 minutes, stirring halfway through. Watch carefully near the end of baking and pull the granola out of the oven when it’s thoroughly toasted.

 

Notes:

*If using the higher baking temperature, sliced or slivered almonds can begin to burn before the other ingredients have toasted. If using smaller pieces of nuts, like sliced or slivered almonds, wait to add them until the last ten minutes of baking, and them with coconut flakes.

 

Here is the recipe for my very best, everyday granola. I’ve experimented with many recipes and I’ve taken the best aspects of each one for my ideal granola. It’s perfectly, lightly sweetened, and it has just enough healthy add-ins to feel good about eating it for breakfast—which I do, daily, with organic plain yogurt and seasonal fruits.

 

Favorite everyday granola:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup barley flakes

Heaped ¼ cup wheat germ

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup slivered, slivered, or chopped almonds

1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ cup grade B maple syrup*

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp vanilla

heaped ½ tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, and dried ground ginger

Two pinches of salt (about ½ tsp)

optional, for clustery granola: one egg white

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dried cherries

 

*Grade B maple syrup has a stronger maple flavor than Grade A maple syrup (it’s often cheaper, too!). However, the labeling of syrup will soon change and the “grade A/B” labels will be phased out—not to worry, look for “dark maple syrup” on the label.

 

Here is a recipe that uses the slightly more elaborate, “two-step” method for making granola. You can use this as a base for many other granola flavor combinations: swap out the banana puree for 2/3 cup of nut butter (also add 2 tablespoons of water) or switch the banana puree for another fruit puree (apple, pear, pumpkin). This banana cashew granola has flavors that remind me of a tasty granola bar I loved as a kid. It’s sweeter than my usual granola so it’s not something I would eat for breakfast daily, but it makes an amazing snack!

 

Two-step granola method:

 

Banana-cashew granola with cocoa nibs

 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2.5 cups cashews

2/3 cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup cocoa nibs

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup banana purée

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

optional: ½ cup golden raisins

 

 

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix the oats, cashews, pumpkin seeds, cocoa nibs, brown sugar, cardamom and sea salt in a large bowl.  In a small pot, gently heat the banana purée, maple syrup, honey, and oil. Pour the pot’s contents into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and combine. Spread the granola mixture onto two baking sheets with sides and bake for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through and checking often near the end of baking time. Remove from oven, let cool, add raisins, and enjoy!

Friday, 28 April 2017 00:00

This is a very easy recipe with a few ingredients. The procedure seems a bit long, but it is just fermentation time, and you can make this bread while doing other chores. The best thing is that you get two loaves in one recipe. I usually freeze one loaf after cutting into slices.

Ingredients
2-1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon salt
6 to 6-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

Method
1. Add the yeast to the warm water in the bowl of your standing mixer/a big bowl. Let stand for a few minutes till the yeast starts frothing.
Meanwhile, warm the coconut oil with the honey/maple syrup till the oil melts. Add this mixture to the yeast and water mixture. Also, add the salt. Stir all.
2. Start adding the whole wheat flour gradually while kneading the mixture. Add the flour in small amounts while kneading with the dough hook/hand. Check after adding 6 cups if you need to add more to make a dough that doesn't stick to the hand. Knead well, and keep in a greased bowl. Let the dough rise for an hour or till doubled in size.
3. Grease two loaf pans.
4. Punch down the dough, and let rise again. Punch the dough down again, and divide it into two. Make two balls. Stretch one of the balls into a rectangle as long as the loaf pan. Roll the rectangle into a log, and place inside the greased pan. Do the same for the other ball.
5. Cover the loaves with cloth/plastic wrap sprayed with baking spray. Let the loaves rise again.
Bake the loaves in a preheated oven at 350 °F for 30–35 minutes. Let the bread loaves rest in the pans for 10 minutes before taking them out. Cool on a cooling rack before slicing with a bread knife.

Tuesday, 04 April 2017 00:00

A creative twist on cauliflower. This is savory enough to be an entrée or can be paired with any dish as a side.

Prep Time: 90 minutes
Serves 8

Ingredients

3 heads of cauliflower, chopped
8 ounces Gouda cheese
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
½ teaspoon pepper

Directions

1. Boil cauliflower for 20 minutes in a large pot until soft but not falling apart, then set aside to dry.
2. Bring heavy cream, cream cheese, Dijon mustard, cheddar cheese, and Gouda cheese to a simmer until all is melted.
3. Add garlic powder and pepper seasoning, then the egg.
4. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower in a baking dish (we used a cast iron skillet).
5. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until browned.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017 00:00

Cooking something new can be intimidating, especially if you’re using unfamiliar ingredients. I’ve had little experience cooking with tofu myself, but I have tasted some great recipes, as tofu is a very versatile food with a ton of protein. Today I’m going to share some unique tofu recipes.

Want something spicy? Why not some Crispy Tofu Tacos?
Admittedly, I wouldn’t think to combine tofu and tacos together, but this recipe is a ringing endorsement for the two. Sweet, spicy tofu bites, covered with cornmeal to give it that nice crunchy texture, drizzled with a tasty scallion cilantro sauce and topped with all your favorite taco toppings—as a taco fan, I’m really excited to give this one a try.

Want some breakfast? Have a Tofu Scrambler.
I’m not as into the breakfast craze as are some of my friends, who could literally just have breakfast for lunch and dinner, but I do like scramblers. This was another recipe that piqued my interest because egg has a very distinct flavor, but with a splash of turmeric, garlic, green onions, and ketchup, I can start to see the makings of a very tasty meal. For anyone who loves breakfast but wants to try something egg-free, you might want to give this a try.

Need more variety? How about some Tofu Lasagna?
For anyone vegan, this recipe is up your alley! Substitute tofu for cheese in a tasty, creamy “ricotta” filling. This dish will melt in your mouth. Enjoy the blend of tofu and spinach mixed with garlic, lemon, and basil that could stand toe-to-toe with any meaty lasagna recipe.

In a hurry? Maybe try these Oven-baked Honey Garlic Tofu Bites.
I’m usually in this particular situation, where I lose track of time, and with what is left of it, I need to whip up something for dinner, and fast! Although I see this more as a snack than a meal, if you already have some leftovers sitting in the fridge or the veggies needed for a simple salad, this recipe would be a great complement to your meal. This recipe also has me sold on honey and garlic.

Want to Thai something new? Have some Ginger Lemongrass-Infused Thai Soup.
A few of things about me: I like Thai food, I like soup, and I like definitely like lemongrass. Add the fact that this recipe is entirely vegetarian but still gives me enough protein, and I call this dish a win-win. Smooth, creamy, with the zest of ginger, lemongrass, and coconut—I can hardly wait to eat this.

All right! I feel inspired, and I hope you all feel that way too. Maybe tonight I’ll get to warm myself up with some tofu Thai soup. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 00:00

Ingredients

1 cup lentils
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. cumin
1/2 tbsp. ginger
1 tsp. olive oil
1/8 cup soy milk
1/4 chopped bell pepper
Lettuce, sliced onion, and avocado for toppings
Serve on split grain burger rolls

Cook lentils in a 3:1 ratio with vegetable stock of your choice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove excess liquid from lentils.
Add peppers, oil, and other dry ingredients to the lentils in a large mixing bowl. Mix.
Slowly add soy milk, and continue to mix.
The mixture should come to a consistency similar to ground beef (the way it holds together). Remove palm-sized amounts, and shape into patties.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place patties on a baking sheet coated with oil (to prevent sticking).
Keep patties in the oven for about 30 minutes, removing them at 15 minutes to flip, then placing them back in.
Finally, remove from the oven, place on a bun, and dress however you like!
*The burgers go really well with Marie's Habanero Avocado Ranch dressing.

Monday, 10 April 2017 00:00

Tempeh is the often forgotten vegetarian protein source. Rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, tempeh is earthy and delicious. Although soybean-based, tempeh is different from tofu due to a unique fermentation process that maintains the integrity of the whole bean.

Cooking with tempeh is, well, easy. I find myself cooking with tempeh on some of my busiest evenings due to the minimal prep time that is needed to make a fresh, colorful meal with this protein.

There are several ways to prepare tempeh. My favorite way is to crumble the tempeh and simply heat two tablespoons of EVOO in a skillet and cook it until it's a nutty brown. How do you make this into a meal? Prepare your favorite vegetable and herb combinations, season everything to your liking, pair them with the tempeh, and voilà!

Here are some of my favorite tasty tempeh bowl combinations.

Tempeh Taco Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil (or other desired oil)
Avocado
Green leaf lettuce
Red onion
Tomatoes (or your favorite salsa)
Seasonings (your choice of paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne, and/or sea salt)

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add fresh ingredients: avocado, green leaf lettuce, red onion, and tomatoes (or your favorite salsa).
3. Season to your liking with paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne, and/or sea salt.
4. Add any other topping you like on a taco salad.
5. Add sour cream or cheese, if you prefer.

 

Tempeh Teriyaki Broccoli Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil (or other desired oil)
Broccoli
Bean sprouts
Garlic (chopped)
Tamari
Red pepper flakes
Honey

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add fresh ingredients (broccoli, bean sprouts, and chopped garlic), and sauté.
3. Season to your liking with tamari, red pepper flakes, and honey.

 

Southwest Tempeh Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil
Red and green bell peppers
Yellow onion (or green onion)
Seasonings (your choice of black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and/or red pepper flakes)

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add in red peppers, green peppers, and yellow onion (or green onion), and sauté.
3. Season to your liking with black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and/or red pepper flakes.

 

Look for tempeh in the organic refrigerator section at your market, and make something new tonight!

Thursday, 23 March 2017 00:00

Rick Stillwagon isn't your typical Pacific Northwest distiller. The most obvious reason is Rick's product line—most craft distillers in this region produce whiskey, and while Rick does produce small batches of whiskey (and vodka), his main product line is rum. Like most craft distillers, Rick is happy to talk about the process of making his products, but my recent conversation with him also included words like "aquaponics," "microorganisms," and "goal of zero emissions." He dreams of a greenhouse heated by spent wash where he can grow his own vanilla and raise tilapia—not necessarily for food, but rather to help with biofiltering. Plus, when he's not distilling, he's an inventor, artist, and martial arts instructor.

I got together with Rick a few weeks ago for a tour of his distillery and a conversation about his green practices. Rick's interest in sustainable distilling came from his work with aquaculture, aquaponics, biomass energy, and various other sustainability projects over the years. Freshwater conservation has always been a priority for him. "If an individual can learn to recycle water into fresh water, there are two obvious, positive results: increased self-sufficiency and decreased demands on fresh water," he commented during our talk.

Rick's rum business is growing, and from his distiller's perspective, increased growth means a greater need to use *less* water, not more. His property has a few low-volume wells, and he collects rainwater. Spent wash runoff goes through an aeration and dilution process that results in water that can be used for fertilizer and soil amendments—in other words, he waters his trees with the spent wash, and is now testing it on the garden, too.

That's just the beginning, though. Rick's next project, currently in progress, will result in spent wash being processed in such a way that the final product is clean water that can be reused during the fermentation process. Rick predicts a 70% reduction in water usage per batch. Along the way, this process will provide free heat and CO2 for his future tropical greenhouse; organic fish food for those tilapia he plans to raise; and compost—all of which equal zero production of hazardous or solid waste.

Another big focus for Rick is the symbiotic relationships between commercial production and local food production. He partners with the local Coos Bay craft brewery, 7 Devils, for his grains, and uses local products for his rum infusions whenever possible (including Bandon's famous cranberries, and fresh-picked Feijoa—which actually does grow in Oregon!).

Other infusion ingredients include fresh pineapple, coconut, cinnamon sticks, ginger root, allspice berries, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, cacao, fresh roasted coffee beans, and lime juice. The infusion shelves on their own are quite impressive, and the resulting rum flavors are quite unique!

In his "spare" time, Rick focuses his energy on small groups around him, helping them to become more self-sufficient with what is locally available. This is actually how I met Rick—he consulted with our local WWOOF hosts on the design and construction of their biochar oven that they fired up during our WWOOF stay last summer. He also spends a good deal of time working with politicians to improve policies to keep products local.

I enjoyed learning more about Rick and his business approach. Of course, the rum tasting after our talk was pretty awesome, too! His energy was inspiring, and I'm really looking forward to watching his progress in the years to come.

For more information about Stillwagon Distillery's sustainability efforts, visit Rick's website or Facebook page. His products are available throughout Oregon, as well as in Idaho and Pennsylvania, and he'll be moving into other states this year. Next time you're passing through the southern Oregon coast, stop by one of his tasting rooms, and pick up a bottle!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 00:00

Local Sustainable Woodcrafter

 

photo by Indo Gemstone

Let’s be honest, woodcrafting is a much bigger topic than it might seem at first. To begin with, woodcraft is a term that may refer to any item made crafted from wood. So, under this umbrella term, we’re talking about anything from building materials to furniture, from kitchenware to art.

Then, of course, there are multiple ways of assuring sustainability. The two easiest ways are first by using materials from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Counsel, and then also by using reclaimed materials. Now, I love the idea of taking something old and giving it new life, so the majority of the woodcrafters featured in this post below are focused on reclaiming practices. Of course, sourcing local materials is always a preferred means; I myself am located in the Northeast, but in this case let’s use Oregon as our base of operations, as Greener Good also calls it home.

 

Viridian Reclaimed Wood www.viridianwood.com

Viridian Reclaimed Wood was founded in 2004 by Joe Mitchoff and Pierce Henley with the unique idea of taking shipyard discards, such as pallets and crates, and reclaiming them for new use. Sounds easy enough, right?  Except for the fact that these materials are particularly challenging to recycle. However, where there is will, and creativity, there is a way. They pioneered a method for upcycling these materials, which otherwise would have been destined for a landfill.

Since then, they have expanded to include FSC-certified wood, and they have even gone beyond the shipyard to include wood reclaimed from abandoned buildings, old gymnasiums, and forest salvage. They now offer a variety of products: solid flooring, paneling, decking, beams, stair treads, tables, counters, and custom designs.

Viridian was started in, and continues to operate out of, Portland, Oregon. Some of their work can be seen at other Portland establishments, such as, Ex Novo Brewing and Multnomah Whiskey Library.

 

photo by Indo Gemstone

Pioneer Millworks www.pioneermillworks.com

I’ll admit: I was surprised to find that Pioneer Millworks was founded in 1988, making them by far the oldest company on this list. They started small, in a small New York town, and, as the industry has grown, so have they. They now have two locations—one in Portland, Oregon, and the other in Farmington, New York. The facility in in New York is 50,000 square feet with a 9-acre yard. This didn't come as a surprise once I learned that they are apparently the largest domestic resource for reclaimed and sustainable wood products.

While they have grown substantially from their humble start, they have maintained their values of running a socially and environmentally responsible business. They also offer a variety of products, such as flooring, siding, paneling, beams, countertops, tables, fixtures, and custom designs. They provide even more products through their sister companies, NEWwoodworks, a fine woodworking company, and New Energy Works Timber Framers, a timber framing company.

 

Salvage Works

Salvage Works was established in 2010. It started as a one-man project and has now grown tenfold. The company is a lumberyard and wood shop that focuses on reclaimed construction materials. One thing that makes them unique from other companies is that, in addition to providing upscaled or refurbished items, they also provide vintage materials to be used by the customer in a new way. Some of the products that they try to keep on hand are barn wood, barn doors, barn ladders, live edge slabs from urban cut trees, corrugated barn roofing, vintage flooring, and home collectables. In addition to these materials, they also offer tables, fixtures, countertops, bar tops, bookshelves, mantelpieces, screen doors, wall treatments, art walls, and custom designs. They are also the only company I’ve listed that provides even smaller gift items such as cutting boards, stash boxes, picture frames, mirror frames, and planters.

Salvage Works is located at 2024 N. Argyle St., Portland, Oregon 97217. They also do a number of events, such as the Kenton Street Fair, and they even host some events such as their “Third Thurs” featuring art, music, food, and fun. It is very evident that they are a company that is receiving tremendous support from their community, as their work can be seen at a number of other Portland establishments such as The Sweet Hereafter, The Bye and Bye, The Alleyway Bar, Tin Bucket, Keen Shoes, Danner Boots, Arbor Lodge Coffee, Motavasi Coffee, and Ned Ludd.

As always, I encourage you to do a little research of your own. I’m sure there is a crafter just around the corner with from you making something beautiful out of something old or unexpected.

 

photo by Indo Gemstone