Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Slice of Organic Life

Well friends, I had no school or work today and I'm sick. This means I spent most of the day going through the book I got Jeffry for Christmas A Slice of the Organic Life edited by Sheherazade Goldsmith. Actually, I started last night by doing a basic breeze through most of the book to get a feel for it. Then this morning I started going through with little pieces of post-it notes marking things I found of interest (yes I miss school research). Jeff and I first encountered this book over a year ago at the embarcadero down in SF. Since then, this book seemed to follow us and would pop up at little book stores we visited. We'd always thumb through it but walk away for some reason. I final decided to end the chase and ordered it off amazon for him for Christmas.

This book isn't exactly what I thought it would be, odd considering how much I had already looked through it. Instead of being in depth into any one thing, it is exactly what it's title says, a little slice of everything you need to know to start living a more organic responsible lifestyle. For this review I think a simple pro and con list will be helpful.

- Beautiful pictures and presentation.
- Good general overview about ways to rethink your lifestyle. Covers everything from shopping to child rearing to pest control to gardening and animal husbandry to construction projects.
-Promotes reusable diapers!!! (I don't know why I'm so into that)
-Provides some good recipes for each section whether it's bath time or herbal flea collars
-Contains a great index and list of resources related to topics discussed in the book, especially websites that go into more depth on specific issues or provide links to community organizations.

-Layout doesn't follow logic, you can find information about organic bathing products in at least four different places. I have not idea why they aren't grouped together.
-Can feel a little preachy and make the reader feel guilty at times.
-Doesn't go into great detail. Will not work for a real how-to guide, but it does point you in the right direction.

In short, I think that this is a great book for a young family that wants to rethink their lifestyle and try to make some little changes here and there that will improve both their lives and the environment. This is not a good book however, if you lean to the Right (note the preachy con). I'm generally somewhere in the midlands between Right and Left but there were a few sections even I skipped more because I got the point already. This book also isn't very useful if you are already fairly knowledgeable in the subject. It is a fun read however, so I definitely think it's worth a look. It sort of feels like reading a string of Sunset articles (that's suppose to be a compliment).

Here are a few tips I learned:
1) If you are adding essential oils to a bath, first mix it with one tablespoon of milk. The fats in the milk act as a carrier to distribute the oil evenly.
2)Using reusable diapers is safer for babies skin because disposables are so absorbent that parents often leave them on longer than they should because they feel dry. This results in extra diaper rash.
3) Instead of paying $14 a bottle for face lotion or if you misplace your bottle, go into the kitchen and grab the olive oil. Wet your hands and then put a few drops of oil on them and rub it on your face. It doesn't feel greasy at all. I will enjoy saving that extra cash! Other good oils to consider are emu, jojoba, avocado, coconut and almond oil.
4) Store clothing made of natural fibers with a lavender sachet to keep bugs away.
5) Ants don't like herbs such as sage, mint, thyme or bay so if you crush them in their path or rub them on the area where they enter your home it will act as a deterrent.
6) Both flea collars and fly paper can be made from simple ingredients you might even have around the house. If you want the recipes let me know or by the book!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Preserved Lemons

A sad event happened with the frost that came a couple of weeks ago, all our new baby lemons died. Our tree was chuck full of them and I had plans for fresh squeezed lemonade, lemoncello and preserved lemons. These plans are all gone now however, and I will have to survive on store bought (aka not free and not organic) lemons. I will be on the look out for old Christmas lights however, because I have since learned that if you run a string of those through your tree and turn them on when there is a chance of frost, the heat might save your citrus.

I had also been planning a post for a while now explaining how to make preserved lemons. Although I won't be making myself any home grown ones for a while, I did give several people preserved lemons for Christmas so I will go ahead and explain how I made them and how to use them.

Preserved Lemons

1 medium sized glass jar with a tight fitting lid (don't use metallic lids unless the underside is coated with plastic)
8 lemons( or however many it takes to fill your jar)
4 coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 Cinnamon stick
lots of coarse sea salt

1) Scrub all your lemons really well and pat dry. You'll be eating the skin only so you want them very clean.

2) Cut off the hard ends of the lemon. Make a large cut in the lemon by slicing lengthwise, leaving about a quarter of an inch on both ends uncut, then make a similar cut in the middle of the lemon along the width, so you've cut an x into the lemon.

3) Give the lemon a gentle squeeze over your jar to get rid of excess juice and make stuffing the lemon easier.

4) Stuff each lemon with about 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt and place in jar. After you've finished each layer of lemons in the jar, press down on the to help more juice come out. Continue to layer the lemons until the jar is full. I found the jars I used at Cost Plus for just $3.00.

5) Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds to the jar and press down one more time.
6)Once a day for the next five days you will need to open the jar and press down the lemons to get more juice out. If the lemons are not submerged after the fifth day, then juice a couple extra lemons and add the liquid to the jar.

7) Let the jar marinate in the fridge for one month and then use. It will stay good in the fridge for up to six months.

How to us Preserved Lemons

"Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards. "
-David Lebovitz

Preserved Lemons are used in many middle eastern and Indian dishes but can also be used to flavor basic steamed veggie dishes.
There are also many ways to season preserved lemons and recipes can be found both for making different kinds of preserved lemons, and dishes to use them in with a basic google search. Here are a few I found particularly interesting.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

50s Coffee Cake

Until I moved out of the country and into civilization, I had no idea that coffee cake did not specifically mean the flaky cherry frosted pastry that my family enjoyed every Christmas morning. The idea that this term applied to a whole host of different recipes with an innumerable range of flavors never occurred to me. I think it was actually at Starbucks in high school when I first ran into some other pastry which claimed the same name and was very confused.

I must admit, I have never tried any coffee cake other than my family's recipe and until yesterday I had never made one either. My mother however, was sick on Christmas, so I was given the sacred duty of coffee cake making. To me coffee cake is a very special dish that one only gets the chance to eat one day of the year(and considering what's in it that's a good thing for your body). This results in an overabundance of it being consumed with coffee and milk during present opening time! If you make this for your family next Christmas, be sure to schedule breaks during present opening for everyone to go and grab a second, third or fourth piece!

50s Coffee Cake
(just like grandma used to make it)


4 cups of flour
2 cups of melted butter
4 egg yolks
2/3 of a cup of milk
1 tsp. sugar
1 package of yeast

1 can of cherry pie filling

2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 stick of butter
capful of vanilla extract

1) Add yeast packet to 1/4 cup of warm water and set aside.

2) Mix 4 cups of flour with the melted 2 cups of butter.

3) Add the teaspoon of sugar to the milk and scald.

4) After milk has cooled slightly, beat the four egg yolks and add to the milk.

5) Mix all ingredients from step 1-4 in a large bowl and blend with hands until well combined. The dough will be rather moist.

6) Cut the dough in half and roll each piece into your desired shape between 1/2-1/4 inch thick.

7) Spread pie filing evenly over one piece of dough leaving about an inch around the edges without filling. Place the other piece of dough on top. Crimp edges to keep the filling in.

8) Let the pastry rise in a warm place for an hour. Then cut a few slits on the top and bake for 35 minutes at 350 or until the top begins to brown and looks dry.

9) While the pastry is cooling mix together 2 cups of powdered sugar with half a stick of butter, a capful of vanilla extract and enough milk to make it all come together into a nice icing.

10) Once the pastry cools, spread the icing over the top and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Momma's Poached Eggs

Perhaps it is because I am feeling both overfed and I'm pretty sure a cold is about to take hold of me, but this morning I got a hunger for a couple of poached eggs. If I have made breakfast for you before, then you probably already know that I really love to season up my fried eggs with some dill or basil or if I'm feeling zesty a little chipotle pepper. This is because I generally see eggs as a carrier for some other delicious taste. There are times however, when I just really wish to enjoy the flavor of a farm fresh egg and don't wish for all the extra fluff. When I am in these moods, usually because I am ill or I have over indulged the night before, I like to enjoy a simple poached egg with salt and buttered toast.

I have read several recipes for poached eggs, and I have seen many contraptions for making them, but my favorite poached egg is still my mothers poached eggs. She has made them for me since I was a child and she has always referred to them as faux poached eggs because there is nothing fancy or technically challenging about the way they are made. Perhaps after you've over indulged this holiday season you will enjoy this simple breakfast as much as I do.

Momma's Poached Eggs

1. Fill your smallest pot with about an inch and a half of water and put on high heat.
2. Break an egg (or however many your making) and put it directly into the water and cover with lid.
3. This is the fun part. You will know when the egg is done because the pot will boil over. Don't worry, it's only water so it's not as messy as it sounds. I like my white especially well done so at this point I take the lid off and leave the egg in the hot water for another minute.
4. Remove with a slotted spoon and add a pinch of salt. Do not add any other seasonings. The point of this dish is to enjoy the simple wonderful flavors of the salt and egg.

Serve the egg(s) with some buttered toast to sop up all the runny yoke!

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Cook Book

As much as I love a light delicate modern dish, I must say, there are few words that make me go all a twitter more than Rustic. Just the mention of that word and I am swept up in thoughts of roasted chicken with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, lamb chops cooked over an open flame and seasonal veggies covered with fresh herbs. All served with warm crusty bread of course! On the flip side, rustic can mean berry cobblers and apple galettes or rhubarb pies and blueberry pandowdies. Ok, so maybe I hadn't heard of a pandowdie before yesterday, but it has now made my list.

Last night one of my friends gave me a cookbook I have been coveting for at least a week since David Lebovitz, whose blog I love to drool over, told me I needed it. This book is Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. Don't get me wrong, I love some tasty chocolate, but as a general rule I prefer fruity desserts (rustic + fruity = Mmm Mmm Good). They feel less sinful somehow, and instead of leaving me feeling heavy at the end of the meal they add a lightness that I quite enjoy. While I haven't had much time to thumb through it yet, I am already enjoying some of the books helpful hints and the fact that it's arranged by season so you can be sure your recipe is using fruit that will be in season at the time.

I think I will be trying out a few of these recipes over the next couple of days, along with my new french rolling pin (our house now has three rolling pins)! Perhaps a blackberry grunt and an apple galette and a peach cobbler and...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Turkey Soup

Nothing warms the bones during these cold weather snaps like a big steaming bowl of homemade soup, and luckily, nothing is more easy to make. This year I froze the turkey carcasses (I wish there was a prettier word for that) Thanksgiving night and the next week I boiled them down into a delicious stock. I just threw the birds (you can also add the necks if you save those) in my water bather, covered them with water and let it simmer on low heat for a hour and a half or so. I wanted to make a plain broth, but you could also add a bay leaf or other herbs to it while its cooking. After the broth was done I let it cool overnight. then pulled the birds out, stripped any good meat off them and poured the broth into gallon zip lock baggies to freeze. From two birds I ended up with a little over 3 liters of broth and several cups of turkey.

This last weekend Jeff and I defrosted a bag of broth and made ourselves a hearty turkey soup with the last of our garden veggies. We served the soup with some left over rolls we had frozen from Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Turkey Soup

2 cups of left over turkey bits torn into little pieces

1.5 liters of turkey broth

Any veggies you happen to have cut into chunks:
Chard (add right before serving)

5 garlic cloves minced

3 cans of white beans

1) Defrost broth and add to a large stock pot on medium heat. Toss in garlic and beans.

2) Cut veggies into large chunks adding those that take longer to cook first.

3) If you don't have any fresh veggies (or if its just too cold to go out and pick them), add a few vigorous shakes of Italian seasoning. Otherwise, add some fresh rosemary, parsley and a bay leaf. Salt and Pepper to taste.

3) Simmer soup until the carrots are soft but not mushy, 20-30 minutes. Add meat in the last five minutes just to heat it up.

4) Pour into bowls with torn up chard in the bottom. You can grate some cheese over the top if you have any on hand (we used Gouda).

I know this recipe isn't rocket science, but soup is a great way to use up some veggies from the crisper drawer that you might not know what to do with. The whole meal also only takes about 30 minutes to make, so it's a perfect weekday meal that is big enough for leftovers.

feel free to exchange the beans for any starch you might have on hand (potatoes/rice/pasta).

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cranberry Sauce

I know its been a while, but this time of year I have trouble staying focused on gardening issues. Actually, this is the dreaded time of year when I often forget that I have a garden and I step out in the backyard a month later to find everything dead!

I have however, been cooking. Jeff and I hosted Thanksgiving this year, and since many Thanksgiving recipes also find there way to the Christmas table, I thought I'd share my simple cranberry sauce recipe with you. The ginger gives it some unexpected spice while the orange complements the cranberries and adds another dimension to the sauce. I tamper with the amounts every time I make it depending on my mood, but here is the basic recipe to start with.

Orange-Ginger Cranberry Sauce

1 bag of cranberries

1 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp orange zest

1) Bring 1 cup of water and the white sugar to a boil, add cranberries and reduce heat to keep it from bubbling over.

2) Add brown sugar, ginger and orange zest and cook for about ten minutes. You will know the cranberries are getting done when they have popped/split. Stir it regularly during this time and don't be too worried about over cooking it.


If you don't have fresh oranges, you can also use a splash or two or Grand Marnier or the like.

You can also make this recipe a day in advance which gives the flavors time to blend together nicely.