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. 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.
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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

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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!
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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.
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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.

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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.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Body Donation: The Frugal Death

family at cemetary

Many of you probably have very specific ideas in mind for what should happen with your body after you die: Cremation, burial in a family plot, scatter your ashes from a mountain top, or perhaps something else. Maybe you haven't thought about it at all, or can't decide. For me, I've always hated the idea of being embalmed, of being pumped full of chemicals and placed in a fancy box for some weird open casket funeral. Ideally, I'd prefer to die in the woods and have my parts decompose just like the shed leaves of a tree, turning into rich mulch deep in the rainforest somewhere. This is not really possible, though, or practical at least.

What I've decided to do, it turns out, does involve getting embalmed- but for science! I'm donating my body, on my death, to medical science. It will likely be used for teaching future doctors anatomy, so when it comes time to save someone's life, they know firsthand where things are.

This option, in addition to being helpful, is much cheaper than any traditional method of taking care of the body after death. There is no cost associated with body donation, which is great because death can be surprisingly expensive. While it may seem strange to worry about being frugal in times of death, I like the idea that my family won't be saddled with funeral home bills or big decisions about what to do with me after I die. My family will simply have to call the number on my donor ID card, and I will be whisked away by the program I've donated my body to, which happens to be the University of Washington School of Medicine.

body donation forms
The paperwork is brief, and only requires the signature of two adult witnesses.
Here is a great introductory article, that explains more about the pros and cons of body donation. In order to find a specific program that I could apply to, I had to do a web search for "body donation" plus my home state. This program had a simple form to fill out, which just needed to be mailed in. Soon after, they sent me a card to keep in my wallet, which has a number to call if I should ever die.

I honestly have rarely even considered what would happen to my body after death, being relatively young, but it feels good to be prepared, and to know that it's not something my kids are going to have to figure out during a difficult time. As unpleasant as it may be to plan for these things, a good time to make important decisions about what to do with your body, is before you die.
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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Scavenger Hunt!

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. 

Halloween Scavenger Hunt

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.

Halloween Scavenger Hunt

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. 

Halloween Scavenger Hunt

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.

Halloween Scavenger Hunt

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. 
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Oil Pulling: How to Save Your Teeth and Gums with this Simple Trick

oil pulling coconut oil tea tree oil

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.

coconut and tea tree oil

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.
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gomashio Sesame Salt Tutorial

gomashio gomasio sesame salt

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! 

gomashio gomasio sesame salt

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.

gomashio gomasio sesame salt

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

gomashio gomasio sesame salt

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.

gomashio gomasio sesame salt

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.

gomashio gomasio sesame salt with spaghetti
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