Category Archives: Organic Living
I kid you not, ladies and gentlemen. This really works.
Last year, I started DIY-ing my lifestyle by making all of our households cleaning products and beauty products. I thought, “Being holistic chef has allowed me to make healthier meals for my loved ones with whole ingredients found in my kitchen. Time to improve our beauty and cleaning routines with the same principles.”
Here is one of those success stories.
Baking Soda Shampoo
2-3 tablespoons of baking soda (depending on length of hair)
¼-⅓ cup of water
small jar for mixing
Spoon the baking soda into the jar. Add the water, seal, and shake.
Pour in batches over wet hair, beginning at hairline and working in each section with your fingertips.
Once your entire head has been gently massaged with the baking soda solution, allow to sit for a couple minutes before rinsing out.
Follow up with conditioner or apple cider vinegar rinse.
Since starting this routine, my hair has been softer, has more volume, stays oil-free for longer and holds its style longer, although since it’s improved the natural texture of my hair, I style it about ⅓ as often as I used to.
People stop me at cafes and clothing stores to ask what my secret is. Naturally, they’re shocked when I credit baking soda and not expensive designer products.
Try it. Report back. And if you love it, treat yourself to something beautiful with all the money you save from replacing $20+ bottles of shampoo with $2 boxes of baking soda.
Smudge sticks are tightly bound bundles of dried woody, resinous herbs, that are slowly burned as a way to purify and cleanse the air. While the roots of burning a smudge stick, or smudging, is in North American Native purification rites and ceremony, they can be used by anyone to bring the woody smell of the outdoors inside.
If you have a garden, chances are good that you have enough ingredients to make at least one smudge stick. The traditional and most popular herbs used in smudging ceremonies are white sage (Salvia apiana), Cedar (Thuja), Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata), sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). However, in my travels I have noticed that the smudging sticks available vary by region and there seems to be a lot of opportunity to branch out (so to speak) with other woody, resinous herbs including, but not limited to:
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), lavender, yarrow, juniper, pine, mullein (Verbascum thapsus), rosemary, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), mint (Mentha), Bee Balm (Monarda), and catnip (Nepeta cataria) to name a few.
On Growing White Sage in a Cold Climate: The other day I harvested a large white sage (Salvia apiana) plant that I have been growing in my garden’s sandy, dry bed. This plant is on the cusp of hardy in my area (I am in zone 5-5bish and its hardiness begins at zone 6), but this year I decided to free it from life in a pot to see how it did in the ground. Unlike the specimens I saw growing wild in Northern Mexico, my plant grew gigantic leaves, most likely the result of the wet season we’ve had. Still, it has a very strong, medicinal odour typical of the plant. I’ve left enough in that soil that should we have a mild winter, it just might live through to the next season.
When Choosing and Harvesting Herbs: Please be careful as some herbs — even the culinary types — don’t lend themselves well to burning and can be toxic or set off dangerous allergic or asthmatic reactions in some people. I have often seen common garden sage (Salvia officinalis) used to make smudges. Years ago I tried to burn some and did not like the smell. I have since read that this is not a safe herb to burn despite its safety in a host of other applications. When in doubt, burn a very small amount outdoors, in order to test the smell and indicate whether you might have a problem with a particular herb. I also have a dangerously strong negative reaction to yarrow, so again, please use caution with this herb.
Harvest herbs on a sunny and dry day. Moist herbs will grow mouldy inside the bundle where there is very little air. Pick herbs on the day you plan to use them; resinous herbs tend to dry very quickly and are nearly impossible to wrap tightly once dry. A final note that when harvesting from the wild please leave enough plant behind that it may live on happily and healthfully. Use a sharp knife or clippers to cut stems and never dig up the root.
Choosing String: Remember that anything you use to bind the bundle will eventually burn so it is advisable to stick with natural materials that will not give off a toxic fume or compete with the smudge smells. I try to use as little string as possible to avoid creating a strong burning string smell. I suggest using thin, organic cotton string when you can. Embroidery floss separated into 4 threads (they typically come as 6 threads) is strong enough. Use a single color of string or experiment by mixing colors. I like using a simple color to bind and a subtle colour that compliments the foliage to make the handle. Red is a common colour for ceremonial usage, which is why you will see many commercially sold bundles bound with it.
How to Bind an Herbal Smudge Stick
The key to making a successful smudge stick is in binding tightly. I liken it to cigar making in that a tight bundle of leaves burns more slowly. I also find that the plant materials shrink as they dry and a loosely tied bundle is more likely to lose bits and pieces along the way or fall apart completely. With that in mind, grasp plants firmly and give the string a tight yank each time you turn or tie.
- Step 1. Clip herbs into similarly sized lengths. Don’t skimp out — thick bundles smoulder slowly and are better looking. Pluck off any diseased or ugly leaves. Arrange the stems into a bundle and tie a tight knot around the stem end to secure. Wrap the string around the stems a few more times and then tie another knot to secure.
- Step 2. Grasp the bundle with one hand and begin winding the string on an angle up to the tip of the bundle. Try to use as little string as possible and pull tightly as you go. I find that large-leaved herbs don’t need much binding, while very thin leaved herbs, especially conifers require more winding to prevent the leaves from falling out. You can leave the foliage loose at the end or fold under to keep everything tight.
- Step 3. Turn the bundle around and begin winding down back to the start, creating a criss cross pattern overtop the first strings.
- Step 4. You can choose now to either go back up and down again, retracing the path you took with another layer of string, or you can bind off and complete. I find that the pass tends to create a tighter bundle and is a good way to pull in and secure any pieces that got away the first time around. Wind plenty of string around the base of the bundle to create a handle. You can use as much string as you want here since this part will not burn. Tie off and clip any loose strings to create a neat and finished look.
- Step 5. Set the bundles aside somewhere dry and dark where there is good air circulation. You can hang them using thin wires or Holiday tree ornament hooks wedged underneath the handles. You can also lay them out flat to dry, but here I suggest setting them on top of a screen or very loosely woven basket that is raised up off of any solid surfaces so that air can flow underneath and around the bundles.
Wait until your bundles are completely dry (this usually takes a few weeks at least) before burning them.
How to Use a Smudge Stick
Holding the “handle” of your smudge stick, light the end (a candle works best), being careful to avoid flyaway ends and falling embers or particularly combustable herbs. Hold the burning end over a clay bowl, ashtray, or other non-flammable container at all times. Allow the stick to burn for a few seconds and when it seems like it is going, carefully, gently blow or wave it to put out the flame. Allow the stick to smoulder for a few minutes; never leave its attendance. To extinguish, smother or crush the smouldering end until it goes out. Try to avoid using this water as this can ruin the stick for further use.
Include directions for use if you plan on giving bundles away as gifts,
What are you doing to stop the genetically engineered apple? The GM apple that will look fresh 15-18 days after it’s cut. The GM apple that has 2 different bacteria and 1 plant virus added to the apple DNA to stop it from browning. The GM apple, that if approved, will lead to genetically engineered granny smith, golden delicious, fuji and gala apples as well as cherries, peaches and pears.
Get signatures on the petition now at GE Apple petition
Every now and then I like to experiment with completely new ingredients. I just go grocery shopping and I pick one thing that I’ve never cooked before. If I’m lucky, I discover a great new flavor and that one ingredient usually ends up on my go-to shopping list. This time, I was wandering along the store’s aisles when I stumbled upon an acorn squash. I liked its shape and its color, so I decided it would be my new ingredient of the week. This recipe turned out to be one of my favorites so far! It’s full of sweet and savory flavors, healthy, filling and beautiful just to look at. Bon appétit!
Prep time : 40 min
- 1/2 acorn squash
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/4 cup yellow onion finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbs olive oil
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A couple of weeks ago I did a cooking demo at Toronto’s Harbourfront. No stranger to crowds, cooking in front of strangers didn’t present a problem and besides..I was doing what I love – sharing good, comforting food. When I was asked to conduct some cooking demos the prerequisite was that I showcase comforting dishes that are easy to prepare and ready within the 20-minute time slot alloted for the sessions.
I came up with ‘Nacho’ macaroni & cheese and discovering that making your own cheese sauce for macaroni tasted and looked similar to the cheese sauce that one gets in a jar or served with nachos at Tex/Mex eateries. I used elbow macaroni as they are hollow and I would recommend using a similar hollow pasta so that cheezy sauce can get in the pasta too!
Macaroni & cheese is an easy dish that starts out with making a roux with butter and flour then whisking in some warm milk until it thickens then the grated cheeses are added. I used two cheeses here: grated Parmesan and an aged white cheddar cheese. The better the cheese, the more flavour you’ll get without having to use excessive amounts of cheese.
There’s some sweet paprika, a pinch of chilli powder and dried oregano to give the dish that “nacho” flavour. Once the grated cheese melts into the béchamel stage of the sauce, your mac n’ cheese is ready. Just toss the cooked pasta, add some oregano and a pinch of chilli flakes and Nacho Macaroni & Cheese is done. For that extra Tex/Mex flavour and texture, I crush some nacho corn chips on top!
This weekend I’ll be at Harbourfront cooking on both Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 & 3:30 pm at the Lakeside Eats Cafe. There’s a skating rink out front, skate rentals and a fantastic view of Toronto’s lakefront. Drop by and see what I’ll cook next!
Nacho Macaroni & Cheese
2 1/2 cups of elbow macaroni
3 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
2 heaping Tbsp. of flour
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp. sweet paprika
pinch of chilli powder
2 cups of whole milk (warm)
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste
pinch of chilli flakes
½ tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup crushed nacho chips
- Place a large pot of water on your stove-top and bring to a boil. Add a good amount of salt and add pasta and cool for 8 minutes. In the meantime, add your butter to a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter had melted, add the onions, garlic, chilli powder and paprika and stir. Sweat for 5 minutes or until softened. Now add the flour and stir for a minute. Now add your milk in increments while stirring and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the cream while stirring and continue to stir until the sauce has thickened enough to just coat a wooden spoon. Add your grated cheeses and stir in until melted. Adjust seasoning with fresh ground pepper, chilli flakes and some oregano (salt if needed).
- Once your pasta is cooked, strain and add into your sauce along with oregano, and chilli flakes. Gently toss with a slotted spoon or spatula and divide and plate with a topping of crushed nacho chips.
and finally, there’s teff
Today is the darkest day of the year. Outside my window, rain splashes down in furious puddles on the Seattle streets. People walking by look harried, clutching packages and bags with fraying handles, their hands loaded down by last-minute presents. Were all fighting the darkness with lights and action. And what am I doing to deal with the shortest day of the entire year?
Im staying in and baking.
Actually, thats not all. Im working on an enormously important writing project. Schools finished for two weeks, which means I can sleep in and really dive into my writing. So I pace around the living room, looking at the Christmas tree, and humming, words thrumming through my mind. When Im in this space, all is right with the world. The dishes may be undone, the bills are yet to be paid, the presents Ill need under the tree in four days remain unknown never mind. What does any of that matter when I have the entire day to create?
And when Im writing, doing the work I love, I suddenly feel even more of an urge to cook. Cooking is a deeply creative act, after all. When Im stirring something in a deep pot, the smells wafting up to my nose, it feels the same as the pen drifting across the page. Deciding what to cook, then watching it emerge from underneath my hands feels like something from the deepest part of me, where its dependent on my awareness and entirely out of my control. Washing the dishes feels like scratching out the unnecessary words.
These days, Im cooking less often with recipes. For months, I studied every good cookbook I could find with a fervent attention normally only reserved for the work of scholars. And then Id try to replicate the vision I had formed in my mind on the plate. Im glad for all that time trying to follow other peoples minds, because it led me to mine. Now, more and more, I imagine a taste, and then throw in ingredients that feel right. What happens if it all falls apart? Oh well. It couldnt taste too terrible. Even if it does, I have a garbage disposal. But Im finding, again and again, that trusting my foodie instincts leads me to places I never knew existed. If I needed it all to be perfect, Id be doing something else. Its the experimentation that I remember best.
The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking youve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.
And so, with a what-the-hell attitude firmly in mind, I decided this morning to make some banana bread. With teff flour.
Teff (also spelled tef or tef) is the staple grain of Ethiopia. Packed with protein, calcium, and iron, tef is also one of the gluten-free grains, along with amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa. In fact, one cup of cooked tef contains as much iron as the USDA recommends for adults in one day. Its nutritionally rich because most of the grain is made up of bran and germ, where the nutrients live. The whole grain is made into flour. It takes 150 teff grains to equal the weight of a single wheat grain. The name, in Amharic, means lost, perhaps because each individual grain of tef is so small that, if dropped on the floor, it would be lost. Perhaps this explains why its so soft in the mouth, almost melting away immediately.
Teff was almost lost to the world. Grown exclusively in Ethiopia for thousands of years, teff was cultivated by Coptic Christians in Ethiopia. Isolated by their geography and religion from the rest of Africa, the teff farmers did not trade their grain, which is also quite labor intensive to grow. After the death of Haile Selassie, in 1974, the socialist military government insisted that the farmers grow less labor-intensive crops, such as wheat, to export to other countries and make more money for the state. Teff farming was beginning to die out. An American from Idaho, Wayne Carlson, was working as an aid worker in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Fascinated by the growing practices he witnessed, and having fallen in love with Ethiopian food, he took some of the teff seeds back home with him when he left. From there, he started growing teff in Caldwell, Idaho, then selling it to the Ethiopian communities in US cities. Today, the Teff company has a thriving business. I can find bags of teff flour fairly easily in Seattle.
And thank goodness for that. I adore Ethiopian food. We have a number of Ethiopian restaurants in this fair city, and I have visited most of them. My brother and sister-in-law and I have come to rely on Amy’s Cafe on 29th and Cherry, which looks ramshackle, and even boarded up, from the outside. Inside, the windows are steamed up from the cooking, and almost everyone at the tables is Ethiopian. They don’t even offer menus. You have to know what you want, or ask the kind waitress to explain in her broken English what she thinks you should eat. When I introduced a new foodie friend to his first Ethiopian meal recently, he couldnt believe the taste. Its fantastic. And it doesnt taste like anything else Ive ever eaten. The spices are just different. Hes right. In case you have never eaten Ethiopian food (and you must rectify that soon, if its true), you should know that various spiced lentils and vegetables arrive arrayed on a large platter, which is covered in injera bread. Injera, which has a slight sourdough taste, and a texture like a yoga mat, is made from teff flour. (Gluten-free readers beware: at some Ethiopian restaurants geared toward typical Americans, they might mix the teff with wheat flour. Be sure to ask.)
In order to reach the tiny little cafe (six tables, no more) at Amy’s, you have to walk through the Ethiopian grocery store. All the spices you could need to make your own veggie combo at home, plus big bags of pure teff flour for $5.99! Plus, Ethiopian dvds, should you want them. All of it enshrouded in clouds of incense smoke.
Ive eaten so many warm, beautifully spiced Ethiopian meals that I cannot imagine my life without them. Its a communal eating experience, because there are no forks involved. Instead, everyone tears off portions of the injera bread and pushes it into the cooked cabbage or spicy lamb. All formalities disappear. You cant help but talk and laugh as you bump fingers over the Ethiopian cheese or chicken wat or beef kitfo. The bread satisfies, deeply. And after a few moments, its all gone. And you feel wonderfully sated.
You should find an Ethiopian restaurant today.
So I knew about injera bread before my celiac diagnosis. But it wasnt until I was told I had to go gluten-free that I realized I could buy teff flour, or that I could make other foods with it. Nutty in flavor and fine in texture, teff actually makes an excellent baking flour. Ive been eating it for months. Teff makes an excellent pie crust, when you cut it with another gluten-free flour. In fact, it might be the best pie crust youve ever tasted.
This morning, revved up from writing, and eager to begin cooking, I noticed some bananas growing soft on my windowsill. And somehow, I realized I had never written about teff here before. Oh, I wrote about a sweet corn quiche with a teff flour crust, based on a recipe from 101 Cookbooks. But I barely knew how to post photographs then. (The dark days of this website.) Shame. And I knew I had to rectify that situation, immediately.
Ive grown comfortable enough with gluten-free baking that I felt safe making up my own recipe. I threw together some bananas and plain yogurt, butter and eggs. And in a separate bowl, I stirred in half gluten-free flour mix, half teff flour. Plus, unsweetened cocoa powder. And plenty of cinnamon. Other stuff too. Youll read it in the recipe. I was just throwing in food that felt right, in the spirit of that what the hell quote I have stuck to my refrigerator door. Humming along, eager to see what would emerge, rather than worrying about following a recipe correctly.
Would it be terribly gauche of me to say that it turned out spectacular?
Teff flour, being so soft, and slightly gelatinous when it cooks, makes a perfect ingredient for baking quick breads. This one tastes a little like a cake, in that way. A touch of cinnamon. Dark chocolate threading through. And the bananas emerging, bright, but not too much so. A good crumb, solid structure. And mostly, just a brilliant taste of something light, on the darkest day of the year.
You see what happens when you throw caution to the dark, rainy winds and just cook?
Chocolate Banana Bread with Teff Flour
In making this bread, I used a round enamelware pot, instead of a loaf pan. This lent itself to the cake-like quality of the bread, which I found I loved. If you want a more traditional quick bread texture, then try the loaf pan.
1 cup of gluten-free flour of your choice
1 cup of teff flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons high-quality, unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 overly ripe bananas
1/4 cup plain yogurt (make sure it’s gluten free)
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350° degrees. Move the rack to a position in the lower half of the oven. This will prevent the crust of the bread from burning. Grease the pan you intend to use.
Stir together all the dry ingredients, making sure to tame the lumps of cocoa powder with a fork. Set aside.
With a standing mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs lightly. Then, add the yogurt, vanilla extract, and melted butter. When this assemblage is completely mixed, then gently add in the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients until they are just mixed.
Scrape the dough into your pan. Pat down the top to make a flat surface. If you wish, toss a few pecans or walnut halves onto the top. Place into the oven and bake for about forty minutes, or until the knife you insert gently into the bread comes out again clean. Let the bread sit in the pan for five to ten minutes, then turn it over onto a wire rack. Serve warm, with cream cheese, if you wish.
You may not believe this but there is more to my life than photography and paintings. Some of my days in fact are swaddled in domesticity. Today is one of those days. Now that I have the half-dry sheets from the third load of laundry in off the line to finish up in the dryer, let’s see what we have to offer…
Sunday dinner at la casa de inspiracion simmered in a late May drizzle is an Oven-Baked mild chicken curry and rice served with a side of seasonal asparagus and dark rustic bread.
Ingredients are all are local organic whenever possible. Thank you Mayne Island Farm Gate Store. The ingredients are in bold for ease of identifying what is needed.
Two chicken legs with thighs (cut at the joint)
1 chicken bouillon cube (optional but add salt if don’t use)
¼ cup chopped onion…
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I have 8 inside furbabies. Yes, you read that right. Eight! 4 cats & 4 dogs. Needless to say, when it comes to products that make my house smell nice – I am a fan.
Carpet powder is one product that I can’t do without. Even though it is a reasonable price, I buy so much of it that it works out to be pretty expensive. Plus, it doesn’t always work as well as I like.
Homemade carpet powder to the rescue!! It’s cheap & it has not met an odor that it doesn’t take care of.
All you need is baking soda & orange essential oil. You can use other essential oils if you like, but I like the orange because of the great clean smell that it gives off. Some readers have also suggested using cloves instead of the essential oil, and while I haven’t tried that personally – I’ve heard some great stuff about it!
It is also nice to have an empty Parmesan cheese container, or some other shaker.
Mix the baking soda & several drops of the orange essential oil (or other essential oil of your choice) together in a bowl using a whisk. Then, spoon the mixture into your shaker. OR… you can do this the lazy way like me and just put it all into your container & do the hokey pokey & shake all around…
Sprinkle onto your carpets – let it sit for about 15 minutes, then vacuum up.
Simple & thrifty – and works like a charm.
- 45+ Every Day Uses for Essential Oils (naturemoms.com)
- Homemade Cleaning Products! (raddestmom.com)
- homemade dry shampoo (instructables.com)
- Clean Green: Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products (apartmentguide.com)
- Using Essential Oils in the Laundry (earthelixir.ca)
- DIY: Make Your Own Natural Air Freshener with Essential Oils (fibronomore.wordpress.com)
- Laundry Day! Homemade Powdered Detergent. (thestartuphomestead.wordpress.com)
- Homemade Carpet Deodorizer (endlesstimeout.wordpress.com)
- Homemade Mattress Deodorizer (endlesstimeout.wordpress.com)
Covered Greenhouse Garden
While we’re waiting for our fence to suntan before we stain it, I took on another outdoor project this weekend.
Yep, it’s Garden 2013! And there’s a reason for the Oregon Trail look, I promise. Since we’ve moved here, we’ve had some windy nights and some CRAZY 30 mph windy nights. On top of that, the neighbors all comment on the foggy summers. So to help my future tomatoes out, I decided to build them a little green house to protect them from the wind and to elevate the temperature during the colder days. This should also help me with the “year round” gardening Bay Area people seem so keen on.
I started out with 2x12s at 8 feet and 4 feet. (I do not recommend 2x12s as they are very expensive, and you can get the same results with stacked 2x6s.) We leveled out the dirt a bit before assembling them.
I used the pocket hole system once again to join the pieces of wood. Then, because we have some resident moles in the yard (ew), we stapled some chicken wire to the base and flipped the whole thing over.
Then we built a frame to go on top out of 2x2s and 2x4s for corner braces. This will be the base for the covered part.
Then we attached 1/2″ 10-foot PVC pipe to create the arches.
I put one screw into the inside bottom of each pipe (to keep it from slipping), then secured it with a pipe clamp.
I stapled some 3.5 mil plastic to the 2×2 frame, which I do not recommend attempting while it is breezy outside. Plastic everywhere, suffocation, etc.
I attached two hinges on one of the short 4′ sides.
And some plastic chain on the long 8′ side. (I do not recommend plastic chain, as it bends and stretches far too easily. I bought it because I thought it would be easier to work, rust-free, and lightweight, which it is….but the stretching is no bueno.)
I’m planning on rigging up an automatic watering system for my soaker hose, so I installed this adapter in the side. The garden hose will go on the blue side and the soaker hose will come out the other side.
On the last Saturday of every month, Berkeley puts out a bunch of free compost near the Berkeley Marina. We went and shoveled some into some boxes and mixed it with existing soil from the yard and a healthy amount of pine needles.
Now it’s time for planting! I’m still working on the layout, but I’ve got my tomatoes planted and safe from the cold and wind. I’m planning on a bunch of basil, squash, swish chard, onions, garlic, and some herbs. But mostly it’s gonna be tomatoes and basil. Nothing beats homemade pasta sauce with home-grown veggies! MMmMMmmm I can’t wait.