More wholesome food, more activity, fewer chemicals for my picky, dairy-free kids.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Easy Homemade Super Cleaner

It's citrus season!  Grab your orange peels and some white vinegar and make this easy homemade super cleaner.  I love that it's cheap, easy, highly effective, and puts to good use something that would otherwise be thrown away.

It feels very much like something Caroline Ingalls would do.
Easy Homemade Super Cleaner

Orange peels
white vinegar

Fill a glass jar about half full with white vinegar.  As you eat your oranges, add the peels to the vinegar so that peels are submerged.  If needed, top the jar off with vinegar as it gets full.  Let the peels marinate for several weeks (or months--whatever).  Strain out the orange peels and use the remaining orange-infused vinegar as an all-natural cleaner.  

It's quite strong, so it may be diluted with water for general cleaning or used full strength for tough jobs.  My favorite use for it:  cleaning the textured floors of my fiberglass tub and shower enclosures.  This handy stuff is the first natural, non-toxic solution I've found to getting my fiberglass shower floor really clean.  .

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Favorite Bread: Artisan Almost No-Knead Bread

I wish that my favorite bread recipe were 100% whole grain and leavened with natural sourdough, but it's not.  My favorite bread recipe comes from and  (the way I make it) is only 50% whole grain, leavened with a small amount of commercial yeast.  

Breadtopia has several videos demonstrating how to make the bread, but the directions for mixing are not included on the site, so I loosely transcribed them after watching the video. The video, however, is really helpful, especially in clarifying how to shape the loaf.   This recipe does require a Dutch oven or casserole dish (2.5-6 quart)  with a lid.  

Almost No-Knead Bread
My entire family loves this bread.  It is easy because there is almost no kneading (although it does require a bit of planning ahead because of the overnight rise), flavorful (just a little tangy, without being sour), chewy without being dense, and to top it off, it's beautiful.   It works great to accompany soup or salad; it's lovely as a sandwich bread for french dips or even Reuben sandwiches.  

Almost No -Knead Bread
1 1/2 cups (7.5 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
11/2 cup (7.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. honey 
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) water at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) mild flavored lager (beer)
1 Tbs. white vinegar

Step 1:  Combine dry ingredients.  Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Cover loosely. Set aside at room temperature for 8-18 hours. 

Step 2:  Dust counter top lightly with flour. Knead 10-15 TIMES (not minutes--thank goodness!). Avoid over-kneading as you don’t want to remove all the bubbles from the slow overnight rise.  

Step 3:  After kneading, pull the edges up, pursing them at the top, forming a ball with a tight skin underneath. Pinch the top together, sort of sealing it.

Step 4:  Place parchment paper over a skillet. Mist the parchment paper with oil. Place the dough on the parchment with the pinched top down. Mist top of dough with oil as well. Cover loosely. Let rise for 2 hours. 

Step 5: Thirty-five minutes before the end of the bread's rise time (so after the bread has been rising for 1 hour and 25 minutes), place a 2.5-6 quart dutch oven or casserole dish with lid into your oven and preheat to 500 degrees.

Step 6:  At end of rising time, sprinkle the loaf lightly on top with flour if desired (this is just cosmetic).   Score the top of the loaf with a sharp serrated knife, making a ½ inch deep cut. Go over the cut 2-3 times to get the depth without ripping the dough.  Remove the preheated Dutch/oven casserole dish from the oven (use great care as it and its lid will be very hot).   Transfer the bread--parchment paper and all (pick up edges of parchment paper to move it)--into the preheated Dutch oven/casserole dish. 

Step 7:  Place the Dutch oven/casserole dish into the oven with the lid on and reduce the temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes at 425.  Then remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the internal bread temperature reaches about 200 degrees. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

DIY Detangler Spray: Natural, Frugal, and Super Easy

DIY Detangler Spray 
On our quest to reduce chemical exposure through our personal care products, I've discovered a new detangler solution 

I'd like to call this homemade detangler, but do-it-yourself detangler is probably a better label.  Either way, this is a great way to make a frugal, natural, non-toxic leave-in conditioner spray to tame bed-head.

Like many families, we give baths at nights and our kids' fine hair needs some help come morning.  For a while I was making detangler from aloe vera juice and essential oils, but this one is much easier and cheaper.

Homemade Detangler Spray:

2 oz spray bottle*
1/8 teaspoon Conditioner (your favorite non-toxic, natural brand: I like Earth Science Fragrance Free Conditioner)**

Put 1/8 of a teaspoon (or just a small dollop) of conditioner into the spray bottle. Fill with warm water and shake vigorously to dissolve the conditioner.  

Simple as that you have easy, non-toxic, and super-cheap detangler spray.  This spray works as well on my daughter's hair as the Paul Mitchel spray we used to buy.

Now, for fun, check out your commercial detangler and notice that the first ingredient is probably water.  I realized I'd been spending $9.00 a bottle for a detangler spray that was probably at least 95% water.

No more!

PS  I'd love to give credit to the source of this idea, but I can't remember where I saw it!

*Check the travel section in the personal care section of your store. 
**Check the toxicity rating of your favorite conditioner at the Environmental Working Group's Database:  Skin Deep.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to Dry Fruit Without a Dehydrator

A friend recently recommended a lovely book to me:   Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation.   (More about this book another day.)

It indirectly inspired me to try drying fruit without using my electric dehydrator.  This time of year I keep my Nesco dehydrator busy with as much fruit (preferably free: my favorite kind) as possible.  I had the happy problem of having more (free) apricots than my dehydrator could accommodate, so I decided to try drying two small batches in two ways:

  • inside my hot car parked in the sun
  • outside in the direct sun

For drying with out a dehydrator, the book suggests arranging the fruit on a screen stapled over a wooden frame to allow airflow around the fruit.  
  • Instead, I used some spare dehydrator trays. 
  • I cut my apricots in 1/8ths (because my experience with dehydration is that apricot halves and even quarters take ages to dry).  
  • I spread them out to ensure that they were not touching and air could move freely around them.  

Drying Apricots in My Car

I positioned the tray on an old towel in direct sunlight in my car and left it with doors and windows closed:
Apricots drying in my hot car.  

I re-parked my car a couple of times a day to ensure that the apricots remained in direct sunlight as much as possible.  I was quick getting in and out because let me tell you, that sucker got hot!  

After a mere 30 hours my apricots were finished:

Apricots done dehydrating in my car. 
Pros of this method:
  • These apricots dried almost as quickly as they would have on my electric dehydrator.
  • Their texture was great.
Cons of this method:
  • The apricots had an off flavor.  This is a huge con (obviously).  At first I thought it was just these particular apricots, until I tasted another batch of the same apricots dried with a different method.  I can only describe the off flavor as chemically.  And I can only assume it came because some one I love likes to polish my car interior with a product I'm sure is not considered food safe.  
  • Turning my car into a dehydration chamber reduced its effectiveness as a means of transportation.   I didn't want to drive it without the AC and dehydrate myself, but I didn't want to drive it with the AC and drop the temperature for the drying fruit. So I just didn't drive it.  

Drying Apricots in the Sun:

I positioned this tray of apricots on an old cotton sheet (with a stunning floral pattern) on our patio table:
Apricots Ready to be Dried in the Sun
I folded the sheet over the top of the tray so that the fruit would be protected from dirt and bugs.  

The patio table is on the east side of our house, so it is sunny from dawn until 2:00ish in the afternoon.  The first day, I moved the tray to a sunny spot for the later afternoon and evening and then brought them inside at night (to avoid any moisture overnight).  

After 24 hours, we had made some progress, but not a lot:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 24 Hours
Then I went out of town for three days and left them on the patio table with no one to move them in the afternoon and no one to tuck them into bed.  

I came home, four days after having set them out, to beautifully dried apricots:
Sun-Dried Apricots after 4 Days
A few had some dark discoloration:
Apricot Discolored from Caramelization
These dark spots did not seem to be mold or spoilage of any kind.  I think they are simply spots where the fruit's sugars caramelized.  This happens sometimes during dehydration, particularly with over-ripe fruit.

Here's what the weather was like during these four days of dehydration:

Day 1:  High 92, Low 57
Day 2:  High 99, Low 58
Day 3:  High 93, Low 63
Day 4:  High 99, Low 61

Pros of this method:
  • The finished fruit was delicious!  The texture and flavor were great.
  • This method saves money over using an electric dehydrator.  My frugal-self loves it:  drying free fruit with free solar energy!
Cons of this method:
  • It took 4 days.
  • It's risky:  what if there had been rain?  A sudden shift to cool weather?  Did I just freakishly stumble upon four perfect days, or would this work with a greater range of temperatures?


Because of the chemically, off flavor of the apricots dried in my car, I won't be using that method again (bummer).  Because of the uncertainties of drying in the sun, I probably won't be abandoning my Nesco dehydrator anytime soon.  

However, when an abundance of free-fruit lands on my door step (some one invited me to come pick plums tomorrow!), and the weather looks favorable, I will definitely try sun-drying again.  The results this time were great.  Not to mention, as I'm spreading fruit out under a sheet in the sun, I feel like I'm getting in touch with my inner Caroline Ingalls.  

I shared this post at Simple Lives Thursday #109.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Frenchifying Dinner, Part 3: A Fancier Table

Inspired by Karen Le Billion's book French Kids Eat Everything, I've unleashed a French food-attitude makeover on my family.  I'm hoping to make our dinner a sacred hour of family time together, patterned after French eating principles:  more courses, a more leisurely pace, a fancier table, and better conversation.
Simple Centerpiece:  Flowers Floating in Jam Jars
Trying to dress up our table is way out of our comfort zone, but here's what's happened so far.

A Fancier Table

Ahem.  One couldn't get much less fancy than we were.  Our table serves as craft-central, lego construction site, and play-dough spaghetti factory.  I'm usually pushing a popsicle stick creation out of the way, while scraping up glue stick residue as I set out our dishes.  So far we've added place mats, cloth napkins, and the occasional center piece.
Fancy (for Us):  Napkins and Place Mat with our Salad Starter

What I've noticed . . . 
  • The cloth napkins in particular seem to set a new tone for the kids, creating a bit of . . . . perhaps . . . respect ?? for the meal . . . I'm not sure . . .
  • Making our table setting a bit more formal has created a pre-dinner job for my four year old--in which she's delighting.  
  • I love that they're figuring out how to use a napkin, setting them up to feel more comfortable at restaurants or holiday dinners.  

Apricots in a Contrasting Bowl:  a Center Piece and Dessert

Friday, July 27, 2012

Frenchifying Dinner Step 2: A More Leisurely Pace

As part of our French food-attitude makeover, I'm re-making our dinner hour in the French image one element at a time:  more courses, a more leisurely pace, a fancier table, and better conversation.

A More Leisurely Pace

In French Kids Eat Everything, Le Billion mentions approaching setting the table as if heading out on a long car trip.  I've started making an effort to anticipate every possible need before sitting down (salt, pepper, dressings, drinks, napkins, etc).  I also stay-put as long as anyone else is eating rather than beginning to clean and tidy up as others are finishing.

What I've Noticed . . . 

  • Being able to stay-put once I sit down makes a huge difference for me.  I'm able to relax and engage more in conversation.
  • Remaining at the table and chatting seems to encourage the kids to linger longer and eat more food, naturally consuming a greater variety in the process. 
  • I'm really surprised at how long my four year old and six year old will now stay at the table.  Was my jumping up to start cleaning--so I could move on to the next thing on my list--having that great an effect on their eating?  It must have been.  
  • Serving multiple courses helps slow the pace of the meal down.  
Join me next week as I scrape the play-doh residue off the table in an effort to make things a bit fancier.  

Read more about our French food-attitude make over:  
French Kids Eat Everything:  A Paradigm Shift for Parents of Picky Eaters
Six Ways Eating on a Schedule Has Improved Our Lives
Frenchifying Dinner, Step 1:  More Courses

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini Waffles: More Breakfasts Al Fresco

In my quest to find cool breakfasts for hot days, I've resorted to cooking on the deck again.  My husband thought I'd lost my mind when I suggested we make waffles on the deck to prevent heating up the kitchen.

But, he tries to be a good sport, so he went along with it.

My husband, making waffles on the deck. 
Waffles are great cool breakfast not only because the waffle maker can be plugged in on the deck, but also because they freeze and reheat in the toaster so beautifully.   We made a big batch and then froze the leftovers for future cool breakfasts.

For my current favorite dairy-free waffle recipe, I converted this zucchini pancake recipe from Amanda Rose, who blogs at Traditional Foods.

Zucchini Waffles

Dairy-Free Zucchini Waffles
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons baking powder

4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or sucanat, rapadura, etc.)
2 cups coconut milk beverage (or other milk substitute)
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini

1.  Preheat your waffle maker (optional:  on the deck )  
2.  Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  
4.  Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, stirring with a minimum of strokes to avoid over-mixing.  
5.  Cook on your waffle maker according to the manufacturers directions.  

Freezing Tip:  
Spread your waffles in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for about an hour.  Then remove the waffles; store and freeze in a zipper bag.
Freeze Waffles in a Single Layer, Then Transfer to a Bag

 Freezing in a single layer first will prevent them from freezing into a solid mass and make it easy to remove them one at a time to reheat.

I thought our waffle breakfast-picnic was a hoot.  My husband . . . not so much.  Fortunately, the kids enjoyed their waffles with gusto.  

 Waffle Picnic on the Deck

Looking for cool breakfasts for hot days?  

Check out these other ideas to keep your kitchen cool in the morning:
Gingerbread Granola Al Fresco
Dairy-Free Spinach Strata
Peanut Butter Banana Muffins
Mini Hootenanny Fruitenanny Buffet