Adventures in Breadmaking

My mother still recalls the jaw-dropping moment when as an adult, I told her I was coming home for the holidays and bringing a pear tart. I had never been much of a homemaker so she was a little stunned. We still laugh about it.

But, in hindsight, I saw these days of my life as a time when I started to find more of myself and my interests. I went to college for art – specifically ceramics. Out of school, I worked for a potter in Hoboken, NJ that used to always say that potters made great bakers because we already knew how to knead the bread from all the clay wedging we had to do. (Ironically, all the sourdough recipes out there now are No-Knead recipes, so I can’t use my mad potter’s skills.)

I kinda rolled my eyes at her those days, because the idea of me doing something so domestic made me want to vomit. I was an artist….and of course that meant that I would wear all black, live in a loft in NYC and eat takeout. Hahaha I would never bake bread.

But, we all evolve (thank goodness)…..for me it started with a pear tart from the Martha Stewart Living magazine and now I am activating my own San Francisco sourdough starter.

I love bread.

Who doesn’t? More specifically, I LOVE sourdough bread. Even more specifically, I love San Francisco Sourdough. I was born in the San Francisco area and even though I wasn’t raised there, my parents did what they could to continue getting that Boudin bread in our hands (we were lucky enough to have neighbors that worked for the airlines and traveled there often). Sourdough on the east coast was never exactly the same.

But, why is that? Sourdough bread is actually a “wild yeast” bread……meaning, it is made with wild yeast instead of commercial yeast. So, a sourdough made on the east coast will taste different than a sourdough made on the west coast simply because of what is floating in the air. It may not be ‘sour’ at all! San Francisco sourdough is particularly famous because of the local bacteria – it’s just delicious. I wrote more about this in a previous post about sourdough….I may be slightly obsessed.

Mmmmmm, bacteria.

So, I bought a dry, inactive San Francisco culture online that had to be activated before I could bake it into that delicious bread. It took me forever. So, why was I so nervous? What was I waiting for?

Bread is not difficult. Bread is forgiving. Just go for it. The instructions that came with my dry culture said I had to put my culture in a proofing box to activate it properly (these are little mini ovens that hold low temps and cost $100’s of dollars and are clearly for dedicated bakers). WTH? I was so excited to get this baby going and now I am nervous as hell that I am going to mess it up. All I bought was a glass jar for my starter….. So, I asked around in the homesteading/baking communities and I was talked off the ledge and reminded that this is not difficult. Bread is forgiving. Just go for it…..

So, I did.

Again and again and again and again and again.

I have had my share of mistakes and some small wins and I am still not happy with where I am……YET. I have made bread that ended up looking like a pancake, or was hard as a rock or lacked a toasty crust. I have also made bread that was perfect and tasted amazing. Baking, cooking, gardening or any skill that you are teaching yourself requires trying and failing. This is how we learn.

My sourdough starter got going pretty quickly and without the fancy proofing box. #learnedmylesson I split it into two jars and continue to feed them both each week as I bake bread. Oh yeah……I have been baking lots of bread.

At first, my family was super excited and would eat the loaf within 12 hours. I was worried at first simply because I knew I couldn’t keep up with how much they ate and also because I can’t just feed my family bread – even though it is sourdough which is more digestible.

**HERE COMES SOME SCIENCE: There is this stuff called phytic acid that is present in most breads (particularly whole wheat). Phytic acid inhibits the enzymes that help you breakdown proteins and starches in your stomach resulting in digestive difficulties. Luckily, sourdough has wild yeasts and bacteria that neutralize that phytic acid which makes it easier for us to digest. Oh, and did I mention that sourdough is also a prebiotic? Yup – it feeds your healthy gut microbiome and you know I am ALL about a healthy gut. #hallelujah #plexustaughtme

that’s an active starter!

Alright, enough science, let’s talk about the bread baking adventures again. I still have not figured out the exact PERFECT method for myself and my needs and abilities. As I said, this is a process. But, here is what I have learned:

  • Dutch Ovens are a Must. Bake the bread with lid on for most of baking and off for last 10 minutes or so. The steam is what gets you that amazing crust and soft interior.
  • Preheat the oven with the dutch oven inside
  • Use a Piece of Parchment Paper to place your bread into the dutch oven. It can also be reused a few times!
  • Use a Seedling Mat to keep your sourdough starter warm or when you are proofing your dough if your house is chilly. My house is always pretty cool.
  • Slice Deep when you score your loaf. You must control the cracking!
  • Be Patient. Sourdough MUST have a long bulk fermentation and proofing time. There is NO SUCH THING as a true same day sourdough bread. DO NOT believe it. I have made a same day sourdough, but it was not made with a starter, it was instead made with a yogurt culture. It was delicious, but not a true sourdough.
  • Feed Your Starter like a Pet. You must feed your starter weekly if you keep it in the fridge. Daily if you leave it on the counter. You will dump out a ton of starter – learn another way to use it if you can. I give some to my chickens, but I know some people make crackers, pretzels, pie crust, pizza crust, buns, muffins, cakes, scones, naan and so much more.
  • Only Use an Active Starter. If your starter isn’t bubbling enough, it isn’t ready. And don’t wait too long after it gets to it’s peak….. go by the starter!
  • Don’t Sweat It! I know that sourdough can easily be purchased at a local bakery, but you can also make it a part of your daily life if you keep at it. It will become second nature as long as you keep trying! Find your process.

This is where I am right now. I am currently trying to find MY process. I have started with an AMAZING recipe from Homestead and Chill that is 3 pages long in my little notebook. Yup, it is a long process. But, since I work from home, I can mingle it into my daily activities with some practice. I have tried a few other recipes that have not worked out and I always come back to this one. Now I am just trying to tweak each little part of the process in an effort to understand WHY it works this way.

I am here to say that ANYONE can make sourdough bread if you give it a few trys. It is so worth it. I suggest getting started with a few supplies……you will need:

  • mixing bowls & measuring cups
  • dough scraper or spatulas
  • jar for your sourdough starter

If you want to really get into it, I also recommend adding:

  • large banneton with cloth cover
  • lame (a razorblade on a handle for slicing your dough)
  • kitchen scale that weighs in grams

YOU CAN DO IT! And, if you need any starter, just drop me a line and I will send you some of mine!

Preserving your Fresh Herbs

I have always bought my dried herbs at the grocery store during the off-season. An aisle full of little glass jars of alphabetical seasonings is where ya go for your parsley and sage, right? Most of the time…..

Just like when I realized that brownies don’t have to come from a box, I also realized that I can make my own herb blends at home. Duh. In a continuing effort to know where my food comes from and possibly save some money, I had the ‘aha’ moment that this is really, REALLY easy to do. Just like making brownies….

I am a gardener, so growing herbs is part of my life. Using fresh herbs from the garden is a summer and fall staple. There is nothing better than walking out to the garden and grabbing a handful of freshness to add a sprinkle of green parsley to your pasta or zesty cilantro to your salsa. Then the weather turns and you are stuck with those little glass jars. Wahhhh.

Every fall when my herbs would finally die (honestly, my parsley was still green until the polar arctic blast on November 11) I would close up the garden for good and wait until next year to start all over again. This year, I am saving what I can. And whether you have a full garden or pots of herbs on your front porch, ANYONE can do this.

Tender herbs like cilantro, parsley, tarragon and basil are better to freeze in ice cube trays of oils. Chives are easy to flash freeze and store in a jar. But let’s talk about drying your other herbs…

Rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill and mint are all excellent choices for drying and it doesn’t take much time and planning to do this. Why spend all summer growing and tending to these plants and forget to harvest all their goodness?

There are a few ways that you can dry your herbs, so pick what works for you. You can simply air dry them by spreading them out on a screen or hanging in bunches (this always looks so lovely and works well for rosemary). You can also dry them quicker in the oven or microwave nd for those die-hard herb lovers, you can go all out and get yo-self a dehydrator. I am currently looking at Excalibur Dehydrators – Merry Christmas to me….

Before drying, let’s harvest. Harvesting your herbs is best to do in the morning after the dew has dried. I am assuming you are growing your herbs organically like I do, so there is no need to wash them….just give ’em a good shake to make sure you don’t have any stragglers.

Air drying by laying them on a screen –

I use an old window screen that we replaced to dry my herbs. I raise it up off the ground so air can circulate all around. If you do not have a screen, you can always lay out your herbs on a cookie sheet with a towel, but make sure to flip them often. I put mine in a warm area (near the furnace) away from direct sunlight. It takes 2-4 days to dry this way. You will know when they are done drying because they will be crumbly.

Don’t forget to harvest those dried dill seeds! That is where all the dill flavor is!

Air drying by hanging in bunches –

It looks so sweet and homey when you hang herbs from the ceiling or a farmhouse ladder to dry, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is not my favorite way to dry because bunches can take longer to dry and you could lose some of those precious herbs if you don’t have a way to catch them. One way to keep them from falling is to wrap a paper bag around the bunches and punch a few holes in the bag for air circulation (but then it just doesn’t look pretty anymore). Bunches should be small (larger ones will take longer to dry and you could experience some mold) and I find that twist ties work best since the bunches will shrink as they dry (so you just need to twist them a little tighter). Depending on the size of your bundles, this type of drying can take 2-3 weeks. Make sure to remove the paper bag when they are dry. Ultimately, you want to make sure your herbs are well ventilated and out of direct sunlight. Now they will look really pretty hanging in your kitchen!

Oven drying –

This is probably the most finicky way to dry your herbs because everyone has different oven temperatures and this method requires much experimentation on your part. Set your oven to no higher than 100 degrees. If your oven does not go this low, you may need to heat it up, turn it off and leave the door open. Use an oven thermometer to help you figure out what works for you. You want to dry the herbs, but not burn them or steam them. When I proof bread, I sometimes put it in my oven with just the oven light on to keep it warm enough. Drying this way can take around an hour but keep an eye on it and make sure to flip the herbs half way.

Microwave drying –

I have never tried microwave drying, but have read that the benefits are a greener color and quicker drying. Start with clean herbs that have been stripped from the stems. Place a single layer of herbs on a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate and cover with a second paper towel. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Keep an eye on them as they could burn at any second. If the herbs are not quite dry yet, continue drying them at 30-second intervals. Depending on the herb and the moisture content, this can take anywhere from 1-10 minutes.

Drying your garden fresh herbs is a great way to preserve that taste all winter long and a way to save you some money! If you grow the herbs, you might as well use them completely.

Once you have dried your herbs, store them in an airtight container and keep them in a cupboard. Some people like to grind them with a mortar and pestle, but I like to keep mine as whole as possible until use. They should last 6-12 months, but the earlier you use them, the more potent they will be. Speaking of potency, remember that dried herbs are more potent that fresh, so you will need less dried than fresh in your recipes!

My favorite method is air-drying on screens because I can put them in the basement near the furnace and they aren’t taking up any space. Whatever way you decide to preserve and dry your herbs, enjoy! You are doing something wonderful for our earth.

Easiest French Onion Soup Ever

I am all about ease in the kitchen. Maybe I am lazy, or maybe I am just not a good cook. But, one thing is for sure, I LOVE good food and I don’t like to follow recipes that have me in the kitchen doing complicated things.

As the temperature drops and the sweaters and slippers come out, it is time for some warm, comfort food….like soup. I love ALL kinds of soup – I never discriminate. One of my faves is Butternut Squash Soup but now that I am getting more into baking bread (post coming soon!), I knew I had to try making french onion soup because it just HAS to have fresh bread and melted cheese on top. #foodgoals

The only thing I hate about onions, is chopping them. I am definitely not up to sous chef ability when it comes to my knife skills. But, I push through. For this recipe I used enormous vidalia onions I bought in a ridiculous sized bag at Costco. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when I bought them, but now I am so glad I did.

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I took about 5, 6, 7, 8, who knows, onions and chopped them all in half, peeled and sliced them in very chunky half moon sizes. Because I was slicing them chunky, I wasn’t chopping for days, so the onions didn’t bother my eyes as much. Usually, I have to take breaks and go cry in the other room it’s so bad.

Heat up your crock pot to low and throw all your thick sliced onions in there. Add a few pats of butter – 2 or 3 tablespoons – who measures? Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. It adds a deeper flavor. I went to the garden and pulled a few sprigs of fresh thyme and threw it in the pot as well. That will come out later.

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Now set that puppy and forget it…..until tomorrow.

Yup…..you read that right. I put these onions in the crock pot the NIGHT BEFORE I wanted to eat the soup. Now, you are probably going….whoa, that’s a long time! But hear me out, the reason why you cook it so long is for the deep, rich caramelized flavor you get from this long slow cooking. The onions get a rich dark brown color and take on such a sweet taste that even my littlest kid liked it. He was quite skeptical about coming to the dinner table when I said I made ONION soup.

So, let those onions cook for 8-12 hours  I honestly don’t even remember how long I cooked mine. Maybe even longer. Hmmmmm…. The next day I added beef broth until it was the right liquid to solid ratio I prefer for my soups (probably around 3 boxes) and then I let it go until dinner time. When everyone was ready to eat, I thickly sliced some crusty bread (it’s gotta be a medium density artisan bread – sandwich bread will fall apart) floated it on top with a slice of whatever cheese I had in the sandwich drawer – provolone or swiss? and put it under the broiler and watched it like a hawk. When the cheese melted and got some warm brown spots, I served it to the family.

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One of my kids hates melted cheese (crazy, right?), so he just got the bread on top.

My oldest child didn’t even come to the table, my middle child said it was OK and my youngest (as usual) praised me up and down saying he didn’t know onions could taste that good. I actually consider this a success. My husband and I were in heaven and we even had a few pints to put in jars to share and freeze.

I heated up a bowl for lunch yesterday since I made a loaf of sourdough for breakfast and it was just as delicious as day 1. Mmmmmmm

Not fast, but so, so easy and with a little planning and a few basic ingredients, you can have some rich, delicious soup this weekend too. Don’t forget the red wine…..

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Reflections on my Modern Homesteading Lifestyle

It’s a rainy summer day. I’m sitting on the sofa with my kids watching a movie while the piles of laundry cycle through the washer. The rose outside my window is gently swaying and releasing the sweetest scent. Perfect time to reflect on the last few months…

I started this blog about 8 months ago when I was very early into my homesteading journey. And if this seems foreign to you, let me explain….

Homesteading is defined as a lifestyle of sustainability – which usually involves agriculture, food preservation and sometimes small scale production of items like textiles or craftwork for the home or for sale.

(man, do I fit this definition!) I also like to include ‘clean, less toxic living’ in my homesteading definition which is kind of implied since it’s DIY so of course I pick safe ingredients, but I like to show that I do this SPECIFICALLY because I care about those ingredients.

Most people think homesteading means you have to live on a full sized farm, milk cows, ride horses and wear a bonnet – all or nothing. But homesteading is actually about sustainability, not churning your own butter (although I would love to try this!). This is the 21st century and there is a whole new insurgence of people seeking a simpler lifestyle with less plastic, less technology, less chemicals and less waste. Can you blame us? Things have really gotten out of hand (I should know, I am a child of the over-the-top 80’s).

During the 4 years of being with my health and wellness company, I have eagerly absorbed tons of information about the ingredients we put in our household products, the chemicals in our foods and how deeply they affect our well-being. Health is not just about diet and exercise.

The problem is that the chemicals and toxins we are affected by are EVERYWHERE. They are in the sofa I am sitting on, the soap I washed my hands with, the cereal my kids ate for breakfast, and so on and so on. It can be overwhelming. I know how easy it is to give up and throw in the towel when you find out you are completely surrounded.

Just give up, right?

In the past, I did.

Not anymore.

My health and wellness company taught me that we can all start with small changes. Those small steps mean you are moving in a positive direction. Making lifestyle changes is NEVER easy – the change always seems so big which is why most people give up on their dreams. I follow the small steps mantra with my homesteading as well as with my health and wellness needs. I don’t have my own goats to make cheese or a field of corn or pigs to make bacon (wahhhh!)….but I HAVE started a small garden, begun the canning process, have a flock of egg laying hens, mix my own shampoo and detergent, and even create my own household items and art. Yep, I AM a homesteader.

This year so far of blogging and building and mixing and creating has taught me so much and yet I still feel like a newbie with tons more to learn. I have connected with other farmers and homesteaders to absorb what I can and continue to ask questions, try new things, document them and share. The journey to make such a huge lifestyle change takes time and patience. I have made mistakes, been lazy and felt defeated many times already.

I will not give up.

The health and happiness of my family are my biggest priority. Through organic living, DIY household items, health and wellness supplements from my company, canning and preserving as much as possible, building/creating more and purchasing/wasting less, I know I am on the way to get my family where I want us to be – living a more sustainable life that shows respect to our planet, to others and most of all, to ourselves.

Some of the goals I have reached and continue to learn in this modern homesteading life are:

  • gardening in small spaces
  • preserving and canning
  • propagating plants
  • baking breads
  • making cheese
  • sewing/crochet/macrame
  • caring for egg laying chickens
  • seed sowing/seed collecting
  • cooking more meals from scratch
  • foraging for wild edibles
  • less waste/less purchasing (esp plastics)
  • fishing
  • chopping wood
  • using scraps in the kitchen for cleaning, the chickens or composting
  • composting
  • make my own shampoo, conditioner, detergent, cleaners, lotions, lip balms, makeup removers, toothpaste, bug repellent, etc
  • building wooden structures like the coop, furniture and raised beds
  • make my own chicken food/treats
  • plant enough food in the garden to preserve
  • organic gardening
  • dealing with pests naturally
  • use aromatherapy
  • make my own candles and other products with beeswax
  • use a clothesline whenever possible
  • reduce, reuse and recycle

So, in reflection, I KNOW I am on the right path and hopefully I can encourage more of you to do the same. Whatever you need help with – send me a message. The more sustainable we all are, the better.

Garbage Disposal Deodorizers

I didn’t grow up with a disposal, so having one as an adult means I am learning everything about them now. I honestly had no idea why someone would want one unless they were in a horror movie. They just didn’t seem that necessary.

But, then I got one…..and now I can’t live without it and wonder how others do. My kids are taught to scrape their plates into the trash can and put compostable materials in the compost bin, and yet…..there are still chunks in the bottom of my sink.

Ya know those pet peeves that drive you crazy, but just aren’t worth creating a stink about? Mine is a dirty sink. We are a busy family and dishes stack up sometimes. I don’t expect perfection (not even close). But I will admit that it drives me nuts when I find an oatmeal bowl next to the sink that was actually rinsed but the oatmeal has now created a cement like substance all over my sink basin. Grrrrr.

My poor sink. But, it’s a sturdy one.

What I have discovered is when you have chunks of food in your sink, you have them in your disposal too. There is nothing worse than walking into your house and smelling that nasty, moldy, stinky, rotten smell and not knowing where it comes from (and hoping your best friend can’t smell it when she comes over to visit). Masking smells with candles and scents is just not healthy, so I need to find a way to keep that disposal clean without using chemicals or toxins.

In the past, I have taken the citrus rinds from oranges, lemons and limes I have eaten or used in a recipe and frozen them. I just throw the frozen rinds in the disposal when I think it needs a refresh and the citrus smell is lovely while the frozen pieces helps to scrub away grime.

But, lately, I am in need of a little more and as you know, I prefer to make my own CLEAN products.

So, let’s do this! I found recipes to make little tabs to drop in your disposal, but let’s be real here, a couple sprinkles of a powder is just as effective, just as easy to use and MUCH easier to make. So, here are both recipes that I found from Living Well Mom.

TABS:

  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup fine salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronners is my fave!)
  • 30 drops total of essential oils – I use 10 of lemon, 10 of orange and 10 of tangerine

Mix baking soda and salt in a bowl. Mix water and castile soap in another bowl. Add liquid mix to dry mix slowly while stirring. You want to get the best consistency in order to be able to hold it’s shape, so not too liquidy. If you add too much liquid, just put a bit more baking soda in the mix. Add your oils! Now, take a spoon and make flatish spoonfuls and place them on a sheet of parchment paper to dry. They take 1-2 days to air dry or you can pop in 175° oven for 1-2 hours.

But, this is waaaaay easier so this is what I made…

POWDER:

  • 5 oz citric acid
  • 8 oz baking soda
  • 30 drops total of essential oils – I use 10 of lemon, 10 of orange and 10 of tangerine

Mix the powders and then add the oils and mix! I mixed everything right in the glass jar (repurposed jelly jar) I was using to store it – use glass as the citric acid can mess with plastic – and then put the cap on and shook it up to mix. Easy.

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I tried it right away…..and yes, I totally cleaned my sink of the dishes and stuck on food before taking these pics….I think.

To use the tabs or powder, just run some hot water for a little in your sink and then add your tab or 2 Tbsp of powder. Check out that citric acid bubbling. Let the disposal rip!

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Ahhhh enjoy the clean, citrusy smell of your sink and repeat again next month (or week depending on how good your family it as cleaning out your sink).

English Breakfast

After I graduated from college, I spent 2 months backpacking around England, Scotland and Ireland. That time is so precious because it is the only time you have between school and a career and other responsibilities that are never ending. It was one of those experiences in life that I NEVER forget or regret. In fact, I suggest to all graduating students to take a few months off to explore. You will never have this moment ever again…

I have so many incredible memories from this adventure. The history, the landscape, the people, the experiences and even the food. I fully believe in immersing yourself in the local flavor of each town you visit. I love a good challenge and am very curious about other cultures. I even ate haggis.

I stayed in a few bed and breakfasts, during my travels, and with some lovely families and friends I came to know. I have so many fond memories. I tell stories from my travels all the time….I am sure my kids are sooooo tired of it. Out of all my different stories from the female mason working on restoring an old stone church, the buildings that got wider as they got taller, the hostels and the rail trail pass, the Cavern Club where the Beatles played, trying to make phone calls to the US from those bright red boxes, birds stealing my scones from Lands End, riding a bike through the purple heather in western Ireland, castles, castles, castles and even the Loch Ness monster – I think my favorite is talking about the food.

I never expected the food to be as different as it was. It was very eye opening to how processed and cheap our American food habits are. I tried the haggis, ate lots of “take-away” fish and chips, had some shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and lived on “toasties” (grilled cheese sandwiches) with tomato and onion. The trip changed many of my eating patterns for the rest of my life. The most fascinating to me was breakfast. A typical English breakfast almost always included eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, toast, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes (and sometimes black pudding – look it up). As an American, beans were what I ate at a picnic with a hotdog and mushrooms were served with a steak, so seeing them on my breakfast plate was so odd. But, I have always been a brave eater and love my food to mingle on the plate.

The breakfast is usually called a “Full English” or “Fry Up” and can be found pretty much in any restaurant or pub you stumble into while abroad. But, it’s also extremely simple and you can make it at home too! I highly recommend giving it a try. Here is a simple and delicious recipe from The Culinary Ginger.

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The Culinary Ginger

It’s a big meal! So, sometimes, I like to mix up a smaller lighter version of the beans to eat with just toast and an egg. But, best of all, I can freeze it in small portions to grab in a pinch. It’s super easy, perfect for freezing and gives you some good protein for your busy day.

I learned this from a lovely British Instagram friend – just take a couple cans of cannellini beans or butter beans, a can of crushed tomatoes with italian herbs and some sliced red onions. Start with the onion and than add the tomatoes and beans. Cook it all together in a frying pan until it’s heated through and saucy delicious. You can add crumbled bacon, different herbs or some mushrooms too! Play with it so it fits your needs. Portion out and freeze if you want or serve with toast and a fried egg for breakfast – add an avocado too! MMmmm….

Reducing Paper Trash

Our family has been tackling the plastic reducing with much frustration. Plastic is everywhere and in so many unnecessary places. Some stores that brag about their fresh and organic foods tend to have more plastic than others. Very frustrating!

At least with paper, I have actions in MY OWN control for reducing our use. Reducing paper use may not seem like it would make a huge impact, but consider this:

When 40% of the world’s industrial logging goes to paper, (and that percentage is rising) you have to take a deeper look. Producing paper is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries and the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The production uses chemicals and toxins that can cause major and persistent health issues. It uses up natural resources and ruins animal habitats. (save the animals!) Paper plantations aren’t offering any wildlife habitats at all with their perfect rows of pesticide ridden trees. It’s so sad.

Time to rethink your daily paper use. Is ease of use really worth the price we are ultimately paying?

I highly suggest doing another trash audit on your household (and also at work!) just to get a good picture of what you are using daily. Paper products include plates, napkins, towels, tissues, notepads, writing/printing paper, mail, receipts, anything that comes in boxes at the store, etc, etc, etc. It can be overwhelming.

The best ways to reduce your paper:

  • cloth napkins
  • cloth towel wipes for the countertops
  • use an e-reader, phone app or whiteboard for reading, list making and notes
  • handkerchiefs
  • washable pads/liners or diva cups
  • change bill paying to entirely online
  • cloth diapers
  • washable coffee filters
  • request an e-receipt
  • washable dishware – and to go
  • use 100% recycled paper/toilet paper
  • if you must print something, use both sides

Recycling is excellent, but it is not the ultimate answer. REDUCE and REUSE FIRST!

If we all try to use less, we can reduce the impact we have on our forests, cut down on energy use and toxic emissions, lessen pollution and ultimately produce less waste – and let’s not forget the human rights abuses that go hand in hand with this industry.

I’m no tree hugger (well, maybe I am) and I am definitely not much of an activist leader, but I do know when things need to change and right now, we ALL need to make some changes. If it all seems like too much, just start with one idea and see where it takes you.

Today, my family started using cloth napkins for everyday meals. I purchased a pile of old, unmatching linens at an antique store for a tiny cost just for this purpose (reuse and repurpose!) They were all a bit confused about the funny old napkins with cross stitching, lace and scalloped edges, but hopped right onboard my crazy train because they know that what I am doing at our dinner table is good for our world and their future.

Quiet Pastimes

It’s Sunday night and I am reflecting on a weekend full of sunshine, warm weather and lots of outdoor activity. We spent many hours both days tackling a very adventurous backyard project that we have been working on for weeks.

Exhausted from yesterday’s grueling work, we both fell asleep on the sofa. So, when my husband woke this morning and said he was going to go fishing, my first thought was that I would sleep in while he was gone. But instead, I got dressed.

Nature is grounding……refreshing……connecting.

Even though we were outside in the yard for maybe 10 hours working the day before, when your yard is a fenced in box and you are shovelling never-ending piles of clay, it isn’t exactly calming. That real peaceful connection with nature is what you get from being in the woods, on the top of a mountain or near a babbling brook. So, I am going fishing too.

Fishing is a tranquil hobby (for me). You have to be quiet so as not to scare away the fish especially when standing on the bank of a river. But, something magical happens when you whisper, move intentionally and watch that lure flit across the river. A connection occurs between you and your surroundings which can actually HEAL you:

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.” ~ How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing

The outdoors have such an impact on us that they can actually reduce our stress which impacts your physical health! It makes so much sense to me because I understand my need to be outdoors, but not everyone may recognize it. Maybe for others they recognize that a view of the park out your window instead of a busy highway is stress reducing. Or maybe it’s the houseplants you have scattered around the home.

Whether it be pictures of mountain ranges or actually being barefoot in the park, find what heals, restores and refreshes you. Reducing stress is something we all need to manage for our mental and physical health.

Having that hour of being outdoors fishing meant that we were refreshed, focused and ready to tackle the next day of grueling work in the backyard. Progress and success.

Find your nature connection. It’s important to your health.

Adventures in Cheesemaking

Mmmmm cheese. I LOVE cheese…all kinds – extra sharp cheddars, nutty bries, soft goat, slices of provolone, bleu, smoky, dilly, stinky, fruity, crumbly, moldy, give it all to me. There are so many amazing cheeses and so many different ways to enjoy them. I cannot imagine life without cheese. Nope.

Not too long ago, I thought brownies only came from a box. The idea of making anything from scratch was such a foreign concept, I didn’t even try to figure it out. I would just buy the brownie mix, buy the pancake mix, buy the macaroni and cheese box, buy the pizza dough, buy the cake mix, buy the soup can, etc etc etc. But recently, I have been venturing out of my comfort zone and baking my own bread, making my own shampoo, melting my own candles and so much more. Knowing EXACTLY what is going into the foods you eat and products you use on your skin and in your home is rewarding. It’s time to combine my newly found confidence with my love for cheese.

Let’s try making it….I am starting with the easiest cheese first: mozzarella. From what I have read in several recipes, I should be able to make a ball of mozzarella in less than 1 hour, including cleanup. Then I can enjoy with my well stored fresh bread from yesterday.

Making mozzarella isn’t a ton of ingredients, but requires some special ones. First of all, you need whole milk that is not ultra pasteurized. The organic whole milk I buy for my family to eat the 28,000 boxes of cereal we go through each month is not gonna cut it. Good for cereal, but not for cheese. I just ran over to our local dairy farm and bought what I needed there.

The next special ingredient is called rennet. Rennet is an enzyme specifically for making cheese and comes in a tablet form (isn’t that odd?). According to Wikipedia, “rennet is a complex set of enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals. Chymosin, its key component, is a protease enzyme that curdles the casein in milk. This helps young mammals digest their mothers’ milk. Rennet can be used to separate milk into solid curds for cheesemaking and liquid whey.

Say Whaaaaaat? Alright – this is wildly interesting. Check out this super odd video about how to extract rennet from a calf’s stomach….I have no idea why she is wearing old timey clothes….. but it’s fascinating. Just take a peek.

You also need citric acid (powder that makes sour candies taste sour) and salt and water, but those are all things I had in my pantry already. Rubber gloves and a candy thermometer are handy as hitting the right temperature is very specific.

<<This cheesemaking post contains affiliate links so you can get some supplies and make cheese too! No extra cost to you and a kickback to me so I can keep making fun stuff to share with you all. Cheers!>>

Alright, let’s just do this:

I followed this recipe video from Felicia at the Starving Chef blog which is very simple once you do it one time. Yes, it is simple. As long as you have the proper ingredients and proper tools and understand why you are doing what you are doing, it will be easily repeated. The mess I made to get this tiny little, maybe 1 pound ball of cheese is astronomical but I made flipping cheese, y’all! CHEESE. I. MADE. CHEESE. In an hour, nonetheless. I told my son that I was gonna make cheese and he asked me why and then walked away laughing. But, once I started squealing with delight from the kitchen when my curds and whey started to separate, he was all in with me.

Curds and whey, Lil’ Miss Muffet!

Making this cheese was easy. I am not saying all cheese is easy to make, because it definitely is NOT. But if you want to give cheesemaking a try, this is a great video to watch and follow. When the tomatoes start to ripen from the garden, I will be making lots of this cheese because nothing is better than fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar…..NOTHING.

Give it a try. I promise you will feel damn good about yourself and want to tell all your friends….maybe even write a blog about it. Hmmmm

Storing Bread

I have always bought my bread from the store. Occasionally a loaf gets baked and eaten within an hour by my ravenous family but it was never a weekly event. I have never been much of a baker, but bread is something I am interested in getting more experience with. Give me warm fresh bread and some creamy butter and I am just as ravenous as my family. Mmmm…

My kids love toast and sandwiches (and just warm bread with butter, surprise!) and we can easily go through a loaf of bread in just a few days. All those plastic bread bags don’t work with my less plastic lifestyle now and paper bags turn my bread rock hard. The cost of the bread and the “extra” ingredients and the constant trips to the store make me cringe too.

I need a better way.

To solve my issues, I started to bake my own bread more often (as you may have read about in a previous blog post), but am still in the process of perfecting that easy ‘cut and come again dough in the fridge’ option. So far, I have made a bunch of artisan loaves which are very easy to do, but I am working towards a slicing loaf too. It has to fit the family’s needs or else what is the point? I am confident that I will get there soon enough…

When you bake a loaf of bread or two and want to keep it for sandwiches and toast for the week, what do you store it in? In the past, we would just eat the whole loaf while it was still warm, but I need an option that is good for keeping the bread fresh. I want the center to stay soft while keeping the crust crisp as well. No stale bread allowed.

Apparently, linen bags seem to be my answer as the Europeans have known forever. Why don’t we listen? Linen is:

  • Breathable
  • Keeps the bread in the dark
  • Washable
  • Keeps bread from drying out
  • Linen naturally attracts moisture
  • Looks way cuter on my countertop than a plastic bag!
  • Reusable & safe for the environment

I ordered some heavy linen to make some bags from scratch, but the easiest thing that ANYONE can do is upcycle some linen tea towels or napkins. Just ask grandma…. I have tons of tea towels – you can never have too many! I chose a 50% linen check towel to make my bag (because it is what I have on hand right now) and made sure it was washed and ironed inside out. If you need help figuring out if something is actually linen, check out this post….

So many options!

<<This post may have affiliate links at no extra cost to you – thank you!>>

I pulled out the sewing machine and set up my thread to match (sorta…..the stitches won’t be seen). Fold the tea towel in half length wise and inside out,then a quick pin around the 2 edges being sewn and we are ready to roll. Zip zip. Done.

You can make it more complicated by adding a drawstring top for some twine, string or roping, but I just went ahead and made it the easiest way of all…..

Look how cute this is gonna be on my countertop! A simple twine ribbon. See you at  breakfast! Sitting pretty.