Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Activity Idea

Want to do something fun with your kids for Halloween that doesn't involve candy? Here is one of the annual activities that my kids look forward to every year. 

We call this a Monster Hunt. It's a Halloween themed riddle scavenger hunt. We write little rhyming clues that we hide around the house and yard, and the last clue leads to some kind of themed gift. This year it was the coveted Welcome To Night Vale book. When my kids were younger it might be a Halloween picture book, cool costumes, or some kind of dark and spooky decoration or toy.

These are our family's clues, things my kids' dad and I knew they would be able to figure out. They refer to things like our favorite Halloween books, decorations we have around the house or yard, the dollhouse which my kids decorate each year, the refrigerator, the costume bin, and one year to a volunteer pumpkin that we had growing in our garden. You might be able to use some of these clues as is, or change them around, or just read them and get your own ideas altogether. 

Each year, inside one drawer of their Halloween Advent Calendar, is a little piece of paper that tells them today is the Monster Hunt. (Follow the above link to see what other ideas we use in our advent calendar.) I hide all the clues, being careful that the order they're in makes sense, one leading to the next, and that the last clue leads to a spot that's big enough to hide whatever their gift is. The kids are so excited, and always love this little Halloween tradition.

This was the first year that my youngest was able to read the questions himself. Each time they found a clue, he'd settle in and make himself comfortable, then read the clue aloud to us, before running off to the next location. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Save Your Teeth and Gums with This Simple Trick

Have you ever heard of oil pulling? A few years ago, after reading all kinds of articles about how this traditional oral hygiene technique would prevent cavities and improve health, I tried doing it every morning. I would wake up and swish coconut oil in my mouth for several minutes as my tea brewed. Not the hardest thing to do, but I never really noticed any effect, so I eventually let it go. I asked my dentist about it, and he knew really nothing about it either way. So I was pretty uninspired to continue, until recent developments.

A few months ago, I suddenly found myself plagued with sensitive gums. They felt a little puffy, and would bleed a tiny bit every time I brushed. This continued for a few weeks. It was minor, but it was persistant. I was worried the dentist would tell me I had gingivitis, or some type of mouth plague. So I resolved I'd do what I could on my own for a few weeks, and then get to a professional if I couldn't clear it up.

I came up with this recipe because I know a lot of natural oral care products contain tea tree oil, which has very effective antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oil is extremely strong, and best used at a very low concentration, so I just needed something to mix it with. I knew from all my reading about oil pulling that coconut oil, which is antiviral, antibacterial, and even antifungal, would be the best base for a mouthwash.

So, simply, I made a mouthwash by mixing coconut oil with several drops of tea tree oil. I swished this combination around in my mouth every day for a few minutes, and my gums were completely better within a day or two. I did finally go to the dentist for my annual cleaning and checkup, and the dental assistant who cleaned my teeth and checked my gums said she couldn't believe I was recently having problems, since my gums looked extremely healthy.

Inspired to try it yourself?
Mix together in a little jar about 1 cup of virgin coconut oil and ten drops of tea tree oil. Stir it very well, and swish a small spoonful around in your mouth once a day.

Bonus! It freshens your breath while it kills all the junk in your mouth.

Tea tree oil is safe for oral use, however it should not be swallowed.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gomashio Sesame Salt Tutorial

Gomashio, or gomasio, is a salty/savory Japanese condiment that tastes great on all kinds of dishes. You can buy it, but with just two inexpensive ingredients, why not make it fresh?
My kids want to sprinkle this on everything. It's good on salads, pasta, anything savory, really, that might benefit from a bit of added saltiness. But it also imparts a rich flavor from the toasted sesame seeds, which just makes things taste more interesting! 

At a ratio of about 8:1, the sesame seeds considerably dilute the actual salt content, making this a great choice for people trying to reduce their sodium. Of course the balance can be messed with however you like. Want it saltier? Add more salt, I won't be offended.

2 c raw sesame seeds
3 tb sea salt (I use coarse Celtic sea salt, but anything goes)

To begin, simply roast the sesame seeds and salt.
I use a cast iron skillet. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently until seeds are pretty universally golden and smell good. Let cool.

When the toasted seeds and salt are cool, grind to a coarse powder. I do this in small batches in a coffee grinder. Overgrinding will turn your gomashio into tahini, or sesame butter, and that is not as useful for sprinkling on food. I prefer to err on the side of undergrinding. You don't want to have too many whole sesame seeds left, but a few will be fine.

Store in a sealed jar in the fridge. Use liberally instead of table salt.
Doubling the recipe works great; it keeps forever in the fridge and if you end up liking it on everything like we do, it can save time to make a bunch at once.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nature's Carwash

We had a drought most of the summer, but finally got a heavy rainstorm. Eric and I took this opportunity and ran outside with spray bottles of homemade cleanser and rags, and got absolutely soaked while our cars got clean.

I used to just grab the hose and some rags on sunny days, once my car had reached unbearable levels of grime, and go to town. Six months ago though, we moved to a house that has a spigot in the back, too far for the hose to reach the driveway. After living here for a while, parking under trees that constantly sprinkle our cars with sticky leavings, we finally realized our cars weren't actually going to wash themselves.

Today, well into October, I woke up to pouring rain and decided to wash my car again. I had thought washing my car in the pouring rain might be doable only during the warmer rains of summer, but knowing I could change into dry clothes right after made it totally fine getting soaked.

This time I used a big bowl of warm soapy water, which I preferred to the spray bottle method.

It's actually a bit fun. I know getting soaked while scrubbing away isn't for everyone, but I enjoy getting dirty once in a while. We spend so much time avoiding the rain here in Seattle, sometimes it's really amazing just to fully experience it. Plus, the only water I used was what it took to fill the bowl, and no rinsing required!

Just make sure you use a natural cleanser so that the drippings that wash into the gutters or your yard are not too toxic.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to Preserve the Other Half of that Avocado

Because sometimes you just don't want a whole avocado all at once. Don't get me wrong; I can eat an entire avocado with my eyes closed. But often I'll use only half to garnish a salad or soup, or spread on some crackers. And I want the rest to still be good later.

When I was a kid we'd just tuck half in the fridge, with some plastic wrap on it or slipped inside a sandwich bag. It invariably had completely browned on top by the time we got back to it.

The method I use these days is painless, mindless, and all too simple: 
  1. Cut your avocado in half, and use the half you need. 
  2. Don't remove the pit from the half you want to save. Leave it intact.
  3. Cover the saved half with the empty husk by balancing it on top. Just close it up like a lid of a box.
  4. Pop it in the fridge, and try to remember to use it within a day or two. 
It will stay green and delicious.

Same avocado, the next day. Still appetizing!
What if you have a different problem, and find that you've sliced into an avocado that's not yet ripe? Don't worry, it's not wasted! Check out my technique here for ripening an avocado that's been opened already.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's Time To Get Brutal With Your Tomatoes

Giving gardening advice at the moment seems ironic, considering the only things I have growing outside at present are two sprawling tomato plants, a teensy rose bush, and a few herbs in pots- but I just moved a few months ago so I've not got a lot going on the urban farm front just yet.

With so little in the garden, I do want to maximize my few food producing plants, and with the cooler weather it's about time to clip down the tomato plants. My tomatoes are indeterminate cherries, which never quite recovered from the Great Windstorm of 2015, but nevertheless have kept us in tomatoes all summer. With sunshiny days coming to their seasonal end, now is the time to take measures to help ensure all your current green tomatoes ripen up before the rain has its way with them.

For you in the sunshine states, just never you mind. You get tomatoes all year, right? This is only for those of us who spend the autumn and winter mired in drizzle, rain, and frost. Where we have to harvest our crops before the chill and wetness get the best of them. With tomatoes, there is a pruning technique to getting those green fruits ripe in a hurry.

So what do you cut? Clip away any new growth. For some of us who haven't pruned our tomatoes since transplanting them, that may mean cutting away whole branches. Inspect the entire plant carefully, and cut off any sections of flowers, or tiny leaves that are trying to grow up into proper fruiting branches. They won't have time to mature, and are just stealing resources from the current fruits. You only want mature leaves, which will give all their energy to the remaining clusters of green tomatoes. Try to disturb your fruits as little as possible, but know that everything you cut away is helping them. Be brutal, so you can be kind.

One bonus of clipping away all the suckers and buds today: I found more ripe tomatoes hiding in the jungle foliage, which otherwise would have slipped my notice and gotten rotten. Definitely having tomatoes for dinner tonight!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Now There's An Easier Way To Follow A Life Unprocessed

Many of us are not interested in adding to the load of emails we have to sort through in our inbox. While you can still receive email updates when I publish new articles, I've created another option for those of you who use Facebook. I think my mom might be the last Facebook holdout in the first world, so it's pretty safe to say that most of my readers are on Facebook. Right?

Let me know by following my page. I promise to give you the same quality content you're used to, just in a format that's a bit easier to share. Here's the link:

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