Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

Confession: I have only used my stovetop once in the last two weeks. My oven, likewise, only once. It's summer, and no one wants to heat up their kitchen on these hot days. But we have not been eating out, not even once. We haven't been living on cold snack food. I have been cooking each day-- what's more, I have been thrilled to cook each day-- in my Instant Pot.

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

The Instant Pot is heavily insulated so it stays cool to the touch (except on the metal parts of the lid!) It can cook long and slow, like a crock pot, or intense and fast, using the pressure cooker function. It can also saute, steam, and bake (and even make yogurt if you get the 7-in-1 model). You can use it instead of the microwave to reheat leftovers in a dish on a trivet, while cooking something else in the pot below.

Until very recently I considered myself to have a bit of a phobia of pressure cookers. The old style stove top pressure cooker is a little frightening, and we've all heard horror stories of them exploding for various reasons. The Instant Pot has many safety features, including a lock on the lid that will not release until the pressure has abated. You could certainly burn yourself on the steam valve when releasing pressure, but it's quite safe to just use a hand towel and push the lever to release, making sure there is a clearance above the pot for the fountain of steam that will issue forth. It can be a bit surprising the first time, but I quickly got the hang of it.

Besides not heating up the kitchen, and the ability to cook foods rather more quickly than normal because of the use of high pressure, the Instant Pot saves energy! It plugs in, and since it's highly insulated, all the energy it uses goes right into cooking your food, rather than heating your kitchen. I have read that it uses only 30% of the energy of cooking in a conventional stove or oven. I can get behind that kind of energy savings.

Also, one incredible advantage for busy families is that the Instant Pot can handle frozen chunks of meat. So if you forgot to take something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, no worries! Just plop it in with some liquid and look up how long it needs to cook under pressure (based on how large the frozen chunks are) and let it do its thing. I know veggies retain more nutritional value and better textural integrity if cooked from frozen rather than being allowed to thaw first. This might be true for meat as well, though I don't yet have enough experience with it to know.

I think of myself as a pretty good cook, but I think it sometimes kind of takes a love of healthy food to really appreciate my cooking. If you know what I mean. But everyone in my family has professed their LOVE of my Instant Pot, because my cooking is getting really amazing results. And I love it because all I have to do is throw stuff in the pot, push a couple of buttons, and forget about it! It's exciting to see how things turn out, and they are always good.

My son lives for mashed potatoes, and so the first thing I made with the iPot was a batch of very simple, two ingredient mashed potatoes. Just yellow potatoes, skin on, and sea salt (cooked in a bit of water that I mashed right in, no steaming liquid to dump!) They turned out SO good, so tasty and perfect, he declared them my best mashed potatoes ever. And it was easier than ever. What's more, pressure cooking turns the relatively unhealthy potato starches into GOOD for you starches that actually help to lower cholesterol, according to this article. So now, not only are they easier, but I feel good about feeding my family mashed potatoes regularly, rather than just as a holiday treat.

Everything I have tried cooking in the Instant Pot has been amazing, from masala chicken with kelp noodles to hard boiled eggs that are incredibly easy to peel; from cinnamon apple oatmeal to beef short ribs and stuffed mushrooms. I am loving this thing, and it has certainly paid for itself a couple of times over, since we normally eat at a restaurant about twice a week, and haven't even wanted to since I've been cooking in the Instant Pot. It's thrilling.

There are places I haven't gone with my iPot. There is a world of baking you can do in them. People profess that it makes killer cheesecakes, banana breads, cinnamon rolls, etc. Things like this bake nicely without drying out as they would in a standard oven, because you bake them on a trivet over a small amount of water. I am looking forward to experimenting with baking in the Instant Pot for sure!

How Cooking in the Instant Pot Changed Everything

The cleanup is generally a breeze, since everything is done in one easy to wash stainless steel liner. There was one thing I made that stuck to the bottom of the pan: spaghetti with meatballs, made from gluten free corn noodles. I have since learned that GF noodles tend to stick more, and the pot should be oiled next time. But how awesome is it that you can make a whole spaghetti dinner in one pot? Just toss in noodles, a small amount of water, sauce, and any meat or veggies. I was using frozen meatballs, but the meat can be sauteed right in the Instant Pot before pressure cooking.

There are LOADS of Instant Pot recipes available online, as well as dedicated Instant Pot cookbooks available at the library. You can be sure I will be posting my favorites! I find that once you get the basics, it's very easy to experiment and modify just about any recipe so that it works in the IP.
Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!

Read More

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How To Use A Deep Corner Cabinet

A Life Unprocessed: Storing Food in Jars

My first house had the original 1942 cabinets, with solid wood and well-built shelves, though there were very, very few of them since it was an incredibly tiny house. In my new home, the kitchen is a bit bigger, and it's lovely to have more storage space and countertops. All the cabinetry is new, and pretty cheaply done. When I was first loading things into the deep corner cabinet, which extends behind the dishwasher, the shelf inside it completely failed under the weight. The four little pegs just couldn't support the mass of everything on that long, deep shelf.

After trying to reset the shelf a couple of times, I just decided to remove the whole dysfunctional shelf. Theoretically, there is less storage space in there now, but having it be entirely open is actually really convenient in such a deep cabinet. It's like a big cave that I just have to lean into to get things from the back. Obviously, I put the least used items in the way back, and the stuff I use every day goes right up front. It really is all much more accessible than if the original shelf were in place, since I simply need to reach in and lift out the jar I want, with nothing to move aside. Labeling the lids makes it super easy to find what I want.

A Life Unprocessed: Storing Food in Jars

Of course, it's all about the jars. Since I buy food in bulk, I pour it into 1 gallon glass jars to keep in my kitchen, and store the rest in buckets or bins in the area of the garage designated as my pantry. Jars keep things fresh, keep moisture and pests out, and look pretty nice compared to a mess of open packages. After mice got into the cabinets of our old kitchen one night, and chewed into every little bag and box, I transferred all our food to jars where it would be safe! Heavier stuff, like sea salt and baking soda, I put in tall half-gallon jars so they're still easy to pull out, since gallon jars can get pretty weighty.

There are fancier ways of making use of this often inaccessible space in your kitchen, but this works for me because it's simple and free, and I have access to everything inside without having to remove a bunch of items to get to the storage in back.

Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!

Read More

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter

We live in a region known for abundant, fresh, and clear water, the Pacific Northwest. However, more and more tests are showing that tap water in some cities in the Pacific Northwest, as well as many other regions, have dangerously high lead levels. Many of us feel, have felt for years, that we cannot rely on the cleaning methods of the municipal water system. Having a home water purification system just makes sense in this world where more junk is being dumped into our shared water supply all the time. Factory farms, modern industry, petroleum based global transportation, and the pharmaceutical industry all contribute to the problem of dirty, unsafe drinking water- even in places where we expect the water to be so clean.

Several months ago, I was searching online for a water purification system that would work in our new house. We had installed an under-sink water filter at our old place. At our new house, there is no place at the sink for the spout of that style of water filter to come up through. I considered buying the type of water filter that attaches to the main faucet, but they seem bulky and cumbersome. I did not want a bunch of plastic. I did not want something with expensive filters that would need to be replaced frequently. I really thought I might not find anything that worked for us, and I was tired of drinking water that tasted of chlorine.

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter -

It was actually thrilling when I found this water filter. I never knew this design existed. The gravity fed, stainless steel countertop water filter was exactly what I was looking for:

  • It's very low tech- it requires no plumbing or batteries.
  • It's low maintenance- the ceramic filters do not need to be replaced. When the water filtration rate starts to get too slow, you simply remove the filters and give them a good scrub, and they will filter again like new.
  • The unit is made of high grade stainless steel and ceramic, with very little plastic (the base of the filters and the spigot that comes with it, which is replaceable, are plastic).
  • From what I can tell, this type of filter removes virtually everything you want removed, while leaving the important trace minerals. It renders unsafe water safe, whether that water came from a well, a stream, or your urban tap.
  • And finally, it's an amazing price, considering many water filters cost thousands of dollars.

A Wonderful Low-Cost Water Filter -

Maybe most importantly, the water that comes from this water purifier tastes GREAT. I have started actually enjoying drinking plain water, something I had not really been in the habit of lately. It's satisfying, smooth, and pure. I didn't even know what I was missing before!

There are different brands to choose from, that all do basically the same thing. The two main brands are British Berkefeld, and Berkey. They both make more expensive black carbon filters, which you can pay extra for, and which need to be replaced at some point. I just went with the standard ceramic filters that come with the unit. Both these brands had great reviews; I opted for  the British Berkefeld based on price, and because they had the mid-range size that I wanted. I've recommended the same type to friends and family, people who were still buying water in plastic bottles, and who were contemplating spending several thousand dollars on a high tech water purifier. Seriously, everyone loves it as much as I do. I'm posting an ad for it below, as well as to the other leading brand for comparison. Please check it out if you're interested- any purchases made through my link help support our family. Thanks in advance!

Read More

Monday, May 30, 2016

Why I Quit Wearing A Bra

Why I Quit Wearing A Bra

I had read about this before, and ignored it, partly because I have no history of breast cancer in my family, and partly because when we are young we tend to believe we are to some degree invincible. But there is nothing like a lecture from your doctor to drive a point home, to make the risk seem personal and real, and to make a superficial and potentially risky behavior seem really unnecessary.

My doctor saw my bra during a recent visit, and was like, "Is that underwire? Have I given you my lecture on underwire bras yet?" She proceeded to briefly describe the multiple studies, both in the US and abroad, that show a strong connection between breast cancer rates and women wearing bras with underwire.

I used to never wear underwire bras. They are, after all, quite uncomfortable. But years after having kids, and nursing them for a total of six years, I disliked my breasts, which now seemed to hang limp like empty sacks. When I wanted to feel sexy again, I took the plunge and bought my first shaping, lifting, world-changing underwire bra. Finally, I had some lift! Some shape to my sad flat breasts. This magical bra even gave me a hint of cleavage. I was hooked, and started wearing underwire bras daily, enjoying my new shape and silhouette. Without a bra, my breasts seemed lifeless and tiny. With the bra, my boobs seemed to join the world of the living again.

Getting in the car after that doctor's visit, I promptly removed my bra and felt immediate relief. I was so much more comfortable without it! I could definitely get used to this unrestrained free and easy comfort. But would I still be beautiful? Would my boyfriend find me sexy at all anymore?

I sadly informed him over dinner that I would no longer be wearing bras, on my doctor's recommendation. I described why this decision was necessary, while he nodded and listened delightedly the whole time. "Yes! I fully support this decision!" he said enthusiastically. And I realized that my boyfriend-- perhaps straight men in general-- prefer a woman's natural form and movement and shape, to some idealized, rigid structure. Bras hide our natural form and beauty, while giving us the shape that we think we're supposed to have. My going braless would actually bring my boyfriend joy. This made me feel better about it. But would I still feel sexy and beautiful? I doubted it. I had so loved the shape that special bra gave me.

The next day I tried on several outfits, and was surprised to discover that they looked better, that I felt sexier, without the bra. I was like, Yes, this is actually me! Not some artificial version of the me that I think I'm supposed to look like. I decided to keep an assortment of comfortable, wire free bras to wear with more see-through clothes that need a bra for modesty. I'm not trying to show everyone my nipples. And I did save that one magic bra, in case I ever want to wear it for special occasions, but I stuck it way in the back of a drawer. It will get worn rarely, if ever, now that I have discovered that I LIKE my body. I feel more comfortable and more sexy without a bra.

Of course, this is the decision of a small breasted woman. If I had large breasts, I have a feeling I would want the support of a comfortable wire free bra on most days. I will continue to wear a sports bra during athletic pursuits like running, to minimize the stress of bouncing. But for most of my day-to-day life these girls don't need any actual support. My doctor also assured me that Victoria's Secret, the source of my magical underwire bra, also makes wire free bras that give the same lift and shape. But personally, I am feeling more sexy and beautiful, more myself, just going bare.

Check out this article for a more thorough discussion of the evidence concerning the link between bras and breast cancer.

Update: A couple of my readers suggested Coobie bras, as a comfortable alternative to standard bras, but with more support than going bare. I had never heard of them, but was surprised to learn, when I googled Coobie bra, that I am actually wearing one right now. I was gifted it from my Buy Nothing group. Click here to read my article about how that gifting group works. Let me just say that this bra is very comfy. I *generally* never wear bras anymore, but this outfit needed one since my top is a bit translucent. My Coobie feels like a gentle hug. There are various styles, but all basically designed with comfort in mind. I'm posting an ad for the Coobie bra on Amazon below. If you decide to purchase through my link, Amazon kicks me back a wee little commission, and I appreciate it!

Read More

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap With Three Simple Ingredients

I know a lot of people are going to wonder why they would ever make laundry soap when they can just buy laundry detergent at the grocery store. First of all, it's super easy. Once you do it, you will probably be like, why have I not done this before? But since being easy is not reason enough, for most of us, there are a few more reasons. In addition to containing chemicals that are hazardous to the environment, the most common laundry detergents also contains known carcinogens and many other irritating ingredients. Many people give every load they wash an extra rinse, because their skin is sensitive to harmful detergents and they need to make sure it's all removed before wearing their clean clothes. You will not have to do that with this soap. Also, with anything you make yourself there is far less packaging waste, and whenever you need to make another batch you can simply reuse the same containers, instead of creating more garbage.

And yes, this works in an HE washer.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

This makes a lot of laundry soap, from a very small volume of ingredients, so it's incredibly economical. I make a two gallon batch and it lasts me over a year. This recipe is easily halved, if you have a smaller container or want to test the recipe before making a ton. Unlike a lot of homemade laundry soap recipes, there's no cooking or grating required. Simply mix together, dissolve in hot water, and then add a large amount of tap water and it's ready to go.

I keep mine in glass pitcher with a leakproof lid, and give it a gentle shake before each use, since the ingredients can settle over time. I mix my soap up in a 5 gallon bucket, and then use this to refill the pitcher as needed.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

On to the recipe!

6 Tbsp Castile soap or other concentrated liquid soap
6 Tbsp Borax (available in the cleaning aisle of department and grocery stores)
6 Tbsp Super Washing Soda (don't be discouraged- I had no idea where to buy this when I first started making laundry soap, so I found out how to make my own from Baking Soda. See instructions at bottom.)
1 quart hot water plus 7 quarts cool water

Place your ingredients in a clean bucket and add about a quart of very hot water to dissolve everything. I use an old 5 gallon bucket, but you could also use an upcycled bottle from a storebought liquid laundry detergent - just adjust the amounts of ingredients accordingly if it's a smaller container, and use a funnel as needed to fill the container you choose.

How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap, With These Three Simple Ingredients

Stir up the ingredients with the hot water until well-mixed, and then add in enough water to equal two gallons overall. (So, if you've already added a quart of water, add 7 more quarts, bringing it to two gallons total.) Stir well and ladle or pour into your pitcher, bottle, or jar for easy use.

Now you have two gallons of wonderful, natural, easy laundry soap. How do you use it? Probably exactly how you have always used liquid laundry soap. Open the soap compartment, pour in what you need, and you're golden. I use maybe 1/2 cup per load. I just pour it into the soap tray to the Max Fill line (assuming I'm washing a full load). Less for smaller loads.

Super Washing Soda:
Maybe you already found it in the same aisle as the Borax. I had a harder time finding any, but fortunately it's even easier to make than laundry soap. Plus, making your own ensures you know exactly what's in it. Conveniently, it's made from a single ingredient that nearly everyone has: Baking Soda.

Pour a couple cups of baking soda in a large baking dish, and bake for 1 hour at 425 degrees. Give it a bit of a stir once or twice, to ensure even baking. This long bake changes it chemically so it is no longer baking soda, and it will have a different consistency when it's done. Less sticky and clumpy, more dry and smooth. 1 1/3 cups of baking soda will reduce down to 1 cup of washing soda, when it's done. Save any excess washing soda in an airtight jar for your next batch of laundry soap. For more info on super washing soda, check out this article.

If you prefer, Amazon sells a handy two pack of Borax and Super Washing Soda, perfect for this kind of endeavor.
Purchasing them through my ad below provides a small boon for our family; thank you in advance!

Read More

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Your Healthy Morning Cup of Chocolate

Your Healthy Morning Cup of Chocolate

I remember when I first read that people used to drink a cup of hot chocolate every morning. How deliciously opulent! I thought. How unhealthy!

But of course we now know that dark chocolate is nutritious and rich in antioxidants, good for your heart and shown to be protective against cancer. It's the sugar, which chocolate is generally paired with, that is not so healthy. And when it comes to hot chocolate, specifically, most people are still drinking instant hot chocolate mix. It's easy because you can just open a packet and add water, but it's basically lacking in any health benefits, packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners, powdered milk, and often even artificial flavors. The original cup of chocolate in the morning was free of this health sapping crud. Here is how to make your own rich, healthful beverage for seemingly decadent mornings.

First of all, if you like black coffee this is going to be exceptionally easy. Simply take a mug of hot water and stir in a generous spoonful of unsweetened chocolate powder; bakers' chocolate or raw cacao powder both work. Drink up and be amazed. It's better than coffee, in my humble opinion, and still has a bit of the caffeine kick that makes it a good morning drink.

If you prefer things a bit more sweet, you of course can sweeten this simple chocolate drink however you want to, and add any kind of milk you like. For my own hot chocolate, I mixed 4 parts cacao powder with one part unsweetened carob powder. Carob is naturally sweet, and cancels out the bitterness of dark chocolate nicely. If I have some kind of milk or cream, I add a dollop. This mix is lovely. I don't drink coffee these days, and with this dark, rich beverage I really don't miss it.

Your Healthy Morning Cup of Chocolate

Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!

Read More

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How to Make the Perfect Fresh, Delicious, Healthy Pesto

Pesto is a mainstay in my kitchen. Not only does it pack a ton of flavor, it is a nutritional powerhouse. The simple ingredients, including basil, garlic, olive oil, nuts & seeds, and sea salt, are pretty much all superfoods. Read about garlic's anti-cancer, prebiotic, and other health benefits here. The nuts and seeds in the recipe include walnuts and hemp seeds; both are rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. They help to mellow out the bite of the raw garlic, making this an extremely palatable way to eat a lot of this healthy plant. Check out this link to read more about basil's nutritional benefits, including its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. And of course olive oil is well known for its health benefits; follow this link for the specifics. This recipe is completely raw, so it's great for anyone on a raw foods diet or cleanse.

Pesto is so delicious and good for you, and with my recipe it's very easy and affordable to make large amounts yourself and have it on hand anytime. While pesto does freeze well, I find I can make several jars of it at a time and they'll keep in my fridge for at least a few weeks. You can top off the pesto with a bit of olive oil in order to prevent the discoloration from oxidation. Personally, if I stick things in my freezer I'm likely to forget they exist; things stored in my fridge are way easier to keep track of. If you grow basil and harvest a ton of it at once, excess can definitely be frozen or canned for long term storage.

Don't limit your pesto use to just the typical pasta and pizza! I find I can put it on just about any savory dish that needs a little salt and flavor boost. It's great on savory sandwiches, on crackers with cheese or other toppings, with rice and fish, or as a salad dressing.

Without further ado, the recipe, which makes about a half quart of pesto:

4 oz fresh basil
4 to 8 cloves garlic
1/2 c raw walnuts
1/4 c hemp seed hearts
1 tsp sea salt
1 c olive oil, more as needed for blending

This recipe uses 4 oz of basil, because it comes in these handy and well-priced tubs at our local grocery. You can easily double the batch, depending on how much basil you have on hand, and how much you love pesto.
First, de-stem your basil. Simply pinch off the leaves, discarding the tough stems and any brown leaves. Place in a blender.

Peel your garlic cloves. They can be added to the blender without chopping if using a high speed blender.

Add sea salt. I find one teaspoon is safe. I overdid it on the salt when I made one batch, and my family was a little scared of my pesto after that. Since that experience, I feel like it's better to undersalt it than use it too liberally.

Add nuts and seeds. You can mix and match as much as you want. Traditional pesto uses pine nuts, but I prefer raw walnuts and hemp seeds, both for their flavor and nutritional profile. You should add a total of 1/2 c to 1 c nut/seeds. 

Add oil. Extra virgin olive oil is traditional. Walnut oil and pistachio oil also make delicious pesto. 

Blend all ingredients. You might need to pause and stir, to get everything incorporated. More oil can be added to assist blending, but once you get the proportions right, it will blend up into a smooth green pesto.

What's your favorite way to use pesto? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

While you can make this pesto in a standard blender, this and many of my other recipes really benefit from the power of a high speed blender. I don't go a day without using my Blendtec, often twice. Once you try a truly powerful blender, you will never go back! I'm posting the ad link below to my beloved Blendtec, as well as the other leading brand, Vitamix, for comparison. Please check it out if you're interested. Every purchase through my link helps provide us with a little bit of income.

Read More

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Compost - Whether You Garden or Not

I recently came across an article in a popular magazine about whether to put foods down the garbage disposal, or to throw them in the garbage. Every item that it mentioned, from the wet stuff they advised to put down the drain, to the solids they recommend we throw in the garbage, are things that we compost. Nowhere in this article did it even mention composting. I was kind of floored.

We've been reducing our impact on landfills and enriching our garden soil for years with this incredibly simple practice. While I appreciate having a garbage disposal just because it quickly and easily removes gunk that gets rinsed off our dishes, I never intentionally put food, leftovers, cores, rinds, or anything food-based down the drain. Composting is easy! Why waste water sending ground up food down to the water treatment plant, or create stinky, rotting garbage every week, when you can let kitchen scraps do what they do best: turn them into natural, rich compost!

During fruit fly season, or if you have curious pets, it can really help to keep your compost container covered. Our compost bin came from a thrift store without it's original lid, so our makeshift and fully functional lid consists of a conveniently sized plate. Every time we empty the container, I give it a quick wash to ensure that it's not getting gross. I think when there are a lot of fruit flies around people's compost, it's often because the container hasn't been cleaned thoroughly. During fruit fly season, emptying and thoroughly washing the bin every 48 hours will prevent fruit flies from breeding in it.

Composting in Your Yard:

Our system is straightforward. Everything that we don't eat or feed to our pets gets scraped, tossed, or poured into our little kitchen collection bin. When the bin gets full, a couple times a week, we dump it into our large backyard compost bin. Whenever I have newspapers or non-shiny junk mail, or when the kids finish a workbook, I tear them into strips and toss them into the yard bin. Ideally, there should be about an equal volume of "greens" (fresh, wet, food waste) and "browns" (dry leaves, shredded paper) in your bin.

We have a two-bin system, where we place waste in one bin until it's full, and then let the compost mature in that bin, while filling another bin with kitchen scraps and paper. It can take several months for compost to mature, depending on the season. It helps to give it a stir with a pitchfork every once in a while. If it's dry give it some water. Keep it covered so it doesn't dry out in the sun or get too wet from rain. Heat helps things break down, so we keep our bins in a warm, sunny nook in our yard, conveniently close to our garden bed where the finished compost will be used.

The above compost has been maturing for a few months. It hasn't been stirred, so the stuff on top has not been broken down, but underneath will be a heap of mature soil. We also use red worms in our compost, which help digest food waste into clean soil. Ask friends who garden, or your local gifting group, if they have a couple handfuls of red worms they could spare to help get your compost going. (Note: I usually tear up my egg cartons into smaller pieces, which makes for easier composting, but sometimes I get lazy/busy and just toss it whole into the bin. Either way, it will become soil eventually!)

If You Don't Compost at Home:

What if you don't have a yard? Or don't want to mess around with making compost in your yard? Many urban areas now offer free compost collection, included with your weekly garbage service. This giant gray bin is for yard and food waste, and essentially anything made of natural materials that will break down into soil. Just like the big blue recycling bin, yard waste collection in our area is free for all garbage service customers. Your food and yard waste will be picked up and brought to a large composting facility, where it will be turned into great mature compost for local gardeners to purchase. This option is easy and straightforward, and does serve to keep a lot of unnecessary waste from our landfills. However, I prefer to skip the middle man and make my own compost for my plants, rather than needing to buy someone else's.

What Not to Put in Your Compost Bin:

If you are making your own compost, there are certain things you will find that don't break down as easy as others. Mango pits, orange peels, onion skins, avocado pits and peels... I still toss these things in. I know they'll break down eventually, and I don't mind having a chunkier "mature" compost.  However, you never want to put meat, cheese, or other animal products in your compost. This would just open the door for rats, who smell that stuff from down the street and will come running. Rats won't be an issue if you keep your compost plant-based. Throw on a good layer of shredded paper anytime fruit flies become a problem.

Things I avoid putting in my home compost bin, but which are fine in the bin that gets picked up, are branches (woody debris takes more time + heat to break down) and those compostable take-out cups, utensils, and containers (unless they're simply made of cardboard, they just won't get enough time and heat in a home compost setup). Likewise, meat scraps, bones, and other animal products can be placed in the bin that gets picked up. Bones will definitely break down in those giant compost heaps. Plus, animal scraps are no more likely to attract rats in the yard waste bin that gets picked up every week, than they would be in the garbage. Natural fabrics like silk, wool, hemp, and 100% cotton will break down in the compost, but may not break down quickly enough for the home composter.

Things made from plastic, glass, styrofoam, rubber, nylon, metal, etc need to be recycled or placed in the garbage, as appropriate for your area. Fortunately most packaging is recyclable these days, and hopefully someday more of it will be compostable. Do not compost any soaps or cleaning chemicals, as this would harm the microbes that are essential for breaking things down.

What to Compost:

I compost all fruit and vegetable scraps, bits of bread that my kids don't finish, any food that has gone bad, used tea leaves and tea bags, coffee grounds and coffee filters, egg shells and cardboard egg cartons, paper grocery bags, paper napkins and tissues, and non-shiny junk mail and newspapers, which should be shredded into approximately 2 x 6" strips. This is a great way to get rid of sensitive documents that have account numbers and personal information on them. Turn them into soil, problem solved!

We lived for several years without having garbage service at all, which worked for us because we were able to compost so much of our waste. We eventually needed the service again though, mostly for the recycling collection that goes along with garbage pickup.

With a tiny bit of effort, you can reroute this vital waste stream from landfills to create an enriching soil, for your garden or some gardening neighbor. Mature compost holds vital nutrients, stores rainwater, and supports so much microbial life, which is essential for thriving plants.
Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!

Read More

Monday, March 7, 2016

How to Score a New Wardrobe Without Spending a Dime

Shopping for new clothes is a huge hobby for many people. It can be really fun, thrilling to find deals and treasures; but it can also really hurt later, when you get the credit card bill. Here's a totally fun, and completely free, way to overhaul your wardrobe.

There are many community gifting groups on Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, and live anywhere near other people, there is likely already a local gifting or sharing group that you can join. If not, it's easy to start one and then just invite all your local friends, who will spread the word until you have a lovely, thriving group. Either way, it's a great way to ditch things you're ready to pass on, and acquire new things that you need, beautiful items that you didn't even know existed, and fun or educational stuff for the kids. It's great to be able to hand off something you're done with directly to someone who can use it. This really helps with my tendency to save everything "just in case I need it later".

Where exactly do all these free clothes come in? Well, things people are giving away are usually posted with a photo, and a brief description. This type of post can be tedious to do when you have a lot of stuff to give away, as people usually do when they clean out their closets. So people tend to offer a whole lot of clothes at once, which then get passed along to everyone who is interested in checking them out. People can try stuff on, keep what they like, add anything of their own that they don't want, and then pass everything along to the next person who wants to look through them. Most of my clothes are acquired this way, for the past few years. And every time I clean out my closet I send along what I won't wear anymore, or what my kids have outgrown, etc, to others in our gifting group.

There are various types of these groups, some with different rules, some more active than others. You can do facebook searches to see if there are any in your area, or click here to see if there is a Buy Nothing Project already in your area. For more info on starting a Buy Nothing group, click here.

Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!
Read More

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How To Make Spaghetti Squash

Baked Spaghetti Squash

I love spaghetti squash. When you make this meal, it's lovely knowing basically every part of your dinner is a vegetable (OK, maybe squash and tomatoes are botanically fruits, but still!) This is an incredibly easy, grain free meal, totally healthy, and naturally gluten free.

Spaghetti Squash in pan

How To Make It:

To start, bake your squash. Do this well before dinner time, so it has time to bake and cool. You could even bake it the day before your meal if that works better for your schedule.

Spaghetti squash come in different sizes, so sometimes I use two and sometimes I only need one for a big meal. I always bake my winter squash whole; click here to read about how to bake whole pumpkins for puree. Stick the uncut spaghetti squash in the center of your oven, and bake at 350 until fully cooked. I like to put a pan on the rack below the squash, in case they sizzle any liquids out while baking. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your squash, but I always bake mine until the top browns, and then I roll them over and continue baking until the other side is brown. From experience, it's definitely better to have a soft, overcooked spaghetti squash, than a firm, undercooked one.

Once it's fully cooked, you can speed cooling by slicing it down the middle. So much easier to slice a cooked squash than a nasty hard one.

Then, fish out the seeds from the center with a spoon. It will be a little bit goopy. Be careful to get just the section with seeds, and not too much of the actual "noodles".

removing spaghetti squash seeds
The removed pulp is very nutritious for dogs or chickens, and can be mixed in with their foods. Your cat might even like it. Otherwise, it makes for excellent compost!
On to the Meal!

While the squash cools, prepare you sauce. You can use a jar of your favorite marinara sauce, your mom's secret recipe, or whatever sauce you typically enjoy on spaghetti.

Spaghetti sauce
I use organic hamburger and loads of veggies in my homemade sauce. I'll post the basic recipe in a future article.
Let the sauce simmer, covered, while you get the noodles ready. Using a large spoon, scoop the soft squash away from the edges of the hard shell. With a well-cooked spaghetti squash, this is particularly easy. Some recipes might say "use a fork to fluff the noodles". Do this if you want your noodles nicely separated. I don't bother, just mixing them up a bit with the spoon is enough.

spaghetti squash noodles

It's up to you if you want to serve your noodles separate from the sauce, or mixed together. With spaghetti squash, I like to just add them right to the sauce. Simply use your spoon to empty the noodles from the shell, to mix with your sauce or on their own in a serving dish.

spaghetti squash and sauce

Stir to achieve perfection, and it's ready to serve! If you'd like, you can use the empty squash shells as serving bowls.

Spaghetti squash in the shell
OK, yes. It could be prettier. But trust me it's delicious! 
Serve with parmesean, or try it with sesame salt; click here for the recipe.

Below are Amazon Affiliate Ads. Any purchase made through them helps support our family. Thanks in advance!
Read More