Getting Personal: a Lost and Found

First, the excesses of modern Western “culture” sometimes make me a little queasy. A whole aisle of toothpaste? Two aisles of hair care products? Don’t even get me started on body washes and face soaps. And secondly, if you’re like me and have struggled either with general oiliness and acne and have had a tough time finding something that was OK for your hyper-sensitive skin, it just makes you all the more queasy. Whole aisles of stuff that not only don’t work, they make the problems worse.

How did it go in the olden days? I think either you didn’t brush your teeth, or you made your own toothpaste. Huzzah. So – here we go…..

There are some easy things you can make at home, if you want. Now, there are always going to be some things that ALL of us will say, “Why would I EVER make that? I can walk into any store and buy it!” If your reaction to any of these things is that, that’s totally cool. We can still be friends, yo.

I’m just sayin’ — here are three that *I* make and use, and they’re all easy.

Deodorant – Easy! Mix cornstarch (or arrowroot powder) and coconut oil in roughly equal amounts, heating until soft yet thick. If its too liquidy, add more starch. If too dry, add more oil. You can also add some drops of essential oil – I like tea tree or lavender. Just 2 or 3 drops, mind you, the stuff is strong! Scoop into a used deodorant tube, and keep in bathroom (if you house stays cool) or in fridge (if, like my house, yours gets over 73 degree or so in the summer, at which temp the coconut oil will get soft and/or melt). Does it work? Yes. Is it weird to have deodorant in my fridge? Obviously *I* don’t think so. I think the less chemicals I put into my body, especially close to my chest, the better. Some studies link certain kinds of chemicals (found in deodorants) to increased cancer risk. Maybe so, maybe not – but this is easy, and effective. I’d rather not take chances where cancer-causing agents are present. Pros: you can choose your own fragrance? Cons: If you’re looking for a clear-gel type, unfortunately this is not the best one. I have to be honest. As I don’t wear a lot of sleeveless shirts, there isn’t much of a risk for me. There is a great post about making your own underarm stuff here: http://homesteadrevival.blogspot.com/2011/01/homemade-deodorant.html

Shampoo – Even easier! So, this is a concept called “poo-free”. You use baking soda, perhaps 1 – 2 times a week, so scrub your scalp and get rid of any dirt or build up. Run a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water through your hair, concentrating on the ends. I do this process once a week. To freshen up, I do wash and scrub, but with water only. I also am going to make begin using some jojoba oil, or a mix of grapeseed oil and lavender essential oil through my hair, just because it has a really pleasing scent. For a lot, lot, lot more info on this and some very helpful faq’s, check out http://ourlittleapartment.com/2011/10/still-shampoo-free/

Now, the trick with going poo free? When you start, your poor hair isn’t going to know what has hit it. Every time you use a conventional shampoo, it strips your hair of its natural oils. You’re tricking your follicles, then, to produce MORE oil. Yor very dazed and  confused hair follicles may commonly OVER-produce oil, to compensate. For a week or so (up to a month for some people, I’ve heard), you may have some oily hair. So, either just go for it, or pick a ‘hermit month’ and don’t go out.  Seriously, for me, it wasn’t too bad.

The other trick is finding out what baking soda method works best for you. I’ve tried a couple of things: 1 – 2 Tbl. baking soda dissolved in a squeeze bottle (an old mustard bottle works well), and baking soda mixed with water. It is the latter that I’m currently using. I put about 1 tsp, very small amount, in my hand, just wet with water, and rub on my scalp. I spend about 3 -4 minutes massaging my scalp lightly, yet firmly, in a circular motion with my fingers. I rinse well with warm water. Then, I get my jar of ACV/Water (half and half mixture is what I use, but you can increase or decrease the strength) and wet the end of my hair, but also I put it throughout my hair (that is the step that might not work for everyone, but it works for me). This is a natural softener/conditioner. The last step, I turn the water on cold. I rinse the ACV out in cold water, which I think tends to close up my hair follicles and prevent oils from being over-produced.

Pro: My hair is soft, manageable, and has more volume. Seriously! Con: I sometimes miss the smell of my old shampoo. Seriously. But, since so many people are affected by our overly-smelly chemical-ly world, I figure taking some smell out of the air is a small sacrifice.

Oil Cleansing Method for Skin: Using the proper ratio of castor oil to olive oil, and 3 drops of tea tree oil, I clean my skin using the ‘like dissolves like’ principle. I have struggled with acne all my life, and this method has given me some good results. I break out from the slightest irritation. I also know now that I have some food triggers that affect oil production in my skin, as well as hormonal cues that affect me. Both subjects of other posts. You can check out the post that got me going on this method at this site, right here: http://simplemom.net/oil-cleansing-method/

So, once you’ve got this concoction mixed up, you put a dime-sized amount in you palm, and rub it right in to you skin. Then, take a washcloth and get it wet in realllly hot water – as hot as you can stand (without getting burned of course)  – Wet and wring on the cloth, then lay it over you face. Give yourself a relaxing facial steam. Stand there until it gets cool, then lift off cloth and repeat. You can do this 2 – 5 times; I usually do twice, then I gently rub my face in a circular motion, lifting off any oil that remains. Make sure to get good and rinsed off around your hairline and ears. You’ll only need to do this every other, or even every third day!  Pro: You’ll notice soft skin with a glow! I hope, like me, you will notice fewer breakouts as well. Con: It is especially important to REMEMBER to do this. I do sometimes forget, and when I’m not diligent, I notice more oilyness and breakouts that my skin seems to be prone to anyway.

So, you made it through the post. Congrats. And more kudos to you if you consider trying one of these things, even if its just for a week, or for a month, or for the summer!

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Lost: Homes as Units of Production

Do you consume more than you produce?

For pretty darn near all of us, the answer is ‘yes’ –

In this modern world, even for those of us who are garden-ing inclined, or terriffic sew-ers, er seamstresses/tailors?, or people who know how to nail things together — we don’t produce all that we own, or all that we need.

I am reminded, as I look in my nearly empty deep-freeze, that there is no possible way on heaven, nor on earth, that I could grow all the fresh food, and preserve all that my family would need! At least, not on the 18th of an acre on which I live. And, I’d have to focus all my time and attention on just that thing. And the kids would have to help. And,…and…and…

What was I saying? I just started hyperventilating there.

Okay, so, homes as units of production? Why bother?

There are some big reasons why we should all #1: Figure out the talents we’ve been blessed with #2: Use them to care for ourselves, our families, and our friends #3: and don’t delay.

It really feels good to do some things ourselves. Its the reason why local foods are so exciting – we know the person who grew it! We are meant to be interdependent – even if I COULD grow all my food myself, doing so would isolate me from everyone else – because, as I mentioned, hyperventally above – all the time and attention would be focused on it. But, if I can produce a couple of things, and you a couple of others, and we can swap, barter, trade, or otherwise make a gonnection, we have not only helped each other, but we’ve given each other an opportunity to use the talents we have been uniquely gifted with.

Isn’t that special?

Households used to produce more for themselves. Think about the last time you made something, instead of buying it. If you can’t even remember EVER doing that, or really can’t remember the last time, challenge yourself to reuse something to make a new item. I get crazy urges to save things and make stuff out of them. Sometimes it turns out awesome – sometimes, it tanks.

I’ve been saving onion bags for awhile. The first time I had a slew saved up, I made some pot scrubbies! They turned out pretty good — okay, not PRETTY to look at, but the definitely worked. I also hung suet cakes in them, and put them in the yard to feed winter birds.

I had this idea of making some more pot scrubbies, as I had quite a stash saved up. I had a great tutorial slideshow planned: just imagine: first, the big pile of bags, how to cut the bags so you can join them into a kind of ‘yarn’, what size needles to use, how the ‘yarn’ looks all rolled up into a nice skein, and then — last photo —– everything in the trash!!!!!!!!! AUUUUUUURRGHUADSKAJSDKJD!

As I spent over 45 minutes just on those steps, (before the trash step) and then started first knitting (total, epic fail), and then crocheting (which I did last time, only this time, my patience was just — kapow. Totally gone.). I threw the works away.

 

So, I am not sure how to end this post. I guess sometimes my home is a unit of production – and sometimes I’m just producing trash. But, I’m trying to find, little by little, ways to produce more, and consume less. At times, its two steps forward, and two steps back. I think that’s better, though, than mindless consumption and waste.

What do you produce? What would you like to learn more about?

Lost: Homemade Sauerkraut

The book Nourishing Traditions, which ennumerates the Weston A Price research and school of thought on traditional foods, many of them fermented or cultured, opened my eyes to new/old wisdom, and lots of new weird recipes!

One of these weird foods is sauerkraut.

Who could have guessed that something so smelly could be so good for you?  Before I became a weird person who sometimes ate weird smelly things, my memory of sauerkraut was related solely to almost throwing up at Valleyfair. I was in the old school ‘Pint Sized’ part of the park, since replaced by Berenstein Bears Land,…and is probably something else, now, as I haven’t been there in eons. Well, not literally eons. I’m not THAT old and weird. More weird than old. Anywho….

I was on a spinning ride (and, to further digress, why I can’t I go on any spinning rides anymore without thinking I might die? Maybe I’m older than I thought…) – and each time I spun around a certain point, I’d smell it – vile, vile sauerkraut. An old guy was eating it plain, with a spoon, resting against the gate near the turn-stile entrance to the ride. He was grizzled, gruff, and a large guy. Sauerkraut seemed to fit him, somehow, to my young mind.

The smell was locked in my mind, and I vowed never, never, never.

Well, now its the year 2012, and as Justin Bieber so keenly reminds us, “Never Say Never.” I think. I don’t know if I could recognize one of his songs, but he seems like a good kid, and I often am reminded that I could watch his movie instantly on Netflix. When I run out of foodie choices, I will consider it.

My 180 on Sauerkraut, or, Why is sauerkraut so-o-o goo-oo-ood?

From an article by Linda Forrestal in her article “Sauerkraut: the Miracle Cabbage”,

       Many sources say raw fermented foods are beneficial to the digestive system by increasing the healthy flora in the intestinal tract or creating the type of environment for them to flourish. Sauerkraut and its juice are traditional folk remedies for constipation. Fermentation actually increases nutrient values in the cabbage, especially vitamin C. Fermented foods are also said to facilitate the breakdown and assimilation of proteins. They have a soothing effect on the nervous system.

         Before the days of refrigeration, sauerkraut served as the only source of vitamin C during the winter in northern climates. It was used on long ship voyages to prevent scurvy. (Read the rest of the article, which includes diverse cultural varieties of fermented cabbage)

But, now I can also say, I don’t mind the taste and smell. Canned sauerkraut IS different than the stuff I make. Mine is crunchier, and tangier. Its not disgusting mush bereft of nutrients. Raw sauerkraut is alive with all kind of beneficial bugs, similar to the kind you’d find in yogurt or kefir or brined raw pickles. I use an anaerobic way of making it, right in a mason jar. The recipe I use comes from my FAVORITE COOKBOOK: Simply In Season. 

What you need:

– a beautiful local cabbage, green or red, like I picked up from the farm of Ladybug Acres, sold at the Veggie Barn on S. Univ (by Kmart) late last summer, Thank you, Amanda!

– some sea salt, or pickling salt, or regular salt

– a jar – I use quart jars, because its a good size for 1 – 2 meals for my family size

– a cool, dark place. My root cellar is ideal. Thank goodness for *this* old house.

How to make it:

– Chop up the cabbage finely. Honestly, mine usually ends up a bit chunky, because I’m usually multi-tasking.

Resist using a food processor, even though this would make it easier. But, it does something bad – like releasing too many enzymes or something, can’t remember. Look it up, and let me know what you find.

– Or, chop it with one of these — Lehman’s Triple Bladed Cabbage Cutter. (Watch your fingers)  On my wishlist. Donations accepted.

– Put a bit in the jar, and mash it with a utensil that fits in your jar. Mash, mash, mash away. You want to really, really bruise the leaves. Crack ’em. Just go to town.

– Sprinkle some salt, maybe a tsp per layer (I don’t know, I never measure! scandal!) over the bruised cabbage, and repeat until jar is full with 1 inch to spare. *You technically should let the cabbage sit, and let the salt draw out moisture from the cabbage. I am generally too impatient, and just smash it, salt it, and water it. My bad. It still turns out awesome.*

– Put in cool water, all the way to the top. Cover with sterilized lid, and screw band, and put in a cool dark place. A dark corner of a closet, root cellar, dark corner of the garage as long as it stays around 55 degrees so it won’t freeze, unheated dark corner of your front entry? All these are possibilities. You don’t have to be jealous of my 90 year old house, really.

Ready for the root cellar!

Place something under it — a single-use plastic container is nice, so it won’t be single-use any longer — because over the course of the next week, you might wonder, “What have I DONE?” because it will leak, ooze, and might even bubble a bit. That’s normal. It means all the yummy goodness is being prepared for you. It is ready in about 2 weeks, but the longer it sits, the better the flavor gets.

Variations:

Layer in onions, carrots, or jalapenos! Use alternating red and green cabbage. It will start out striped, then turn pink.

* Now, because air isn’t interacting with it, mold shouldn’t be an issue. But use your head – if its moldy, really fuzzy, or smells off, don’t take a chance. Just because I’ve personally never had a problem with this method doesn’t mean you should trust me explicitly.*

This is not the ‘usual’ way to make raw sauerkraut.  Another method is here. I have not tried it, but have tried to brine pickles using this traditional method, and I have not gotten the hang of it. My first batch of brined pickles was awesome – my second one was really slimy and rotten. If anyone has made sauerkraut with the barrel method, I’d love to hear about it.

Here’s a fun recipe:

Sauerkraut Soup

Open your jar of sauerkraut. Boil a few cut up potatoes in your homemade chicken broth (just enough broth to cover) until slightly soft. Mash half, leave some chunky. Add the jar of sauerkraut, juice and all. Spoon in cultured sour cream (I like the Cascade brand from the natural foods section at the Fargo Cashwise.). Eat with crusty bread to dip. Don’t heat it to0 hot – you don’t want to kill all the beneficial bugs in the ‘kraut.

What stinky food do YOU like? Is it as good for your as my stinky sauerkraut?

Lost and Found: A Way to Use a Whole Chicken X 3

This post is both a lost AND found.

When was the last time you made a whole chicken? I would challenge you to try it, or to do it more often. It is economical, and really healthy for you. I never really thought much of buying a bag of frozen chicken breasts, but as I started contemplating having backyard chickens, and looking at pictures of chicks on the internet (ha ha), I noticed something:

They had heads, legs, thighs, and backbones.

My hot chicks, last summer. Even though small, I hope its clear to see they have many parts.

Now that I’m a caretaker of a flock of chickens, I feel even more convicted that using the whole bird is better for the world, and for our diets. Being good stewards means, at times, learning about what we’ve lost along the way. One of those things is how to use a whole chicken.

Cooking a whole bird is so easy, and so delicious.

What I’m doing lately is using the crockpot to cook my bird (shhh — don’t tell my backyard hens). So, so, very, very easy.

Take a  4 to 5 lb fresh or defrosted chicken, preferably from your local farmer. Take out your slowcooker. Grease the inside. Cut up an onion or two, and put on the bottom. Make up a spice blend, or use one your like, such as the Wildtree Smoked Mozzarella and Tomato Blend. Place the chicken on top of the onions, and rub about 2 Tbl. of spice blend all over it. Set crock to high, and in about 5 – 6 hours (when chicken temps done and juices run clear), cut up to the best of your ability, and enjoy. Thank you to Lisa Leake at the 100 days of Real Food blog, where I found this recipe!

Important: Save the skin and bones! Even if someone has nibbled on it! Save it!

After dinner dishes are done by your husband, put all the bones and stuff back in the slowcooker. You don’t even need to clean it out (you could, if you want. But you don’t really have to, in my opinion). Fill up with water. You can add additional cut up veggies, like celery and carrots. Before you go to bed, turn the slowcooker on low, and in the morning,

take cheesecloth or a flour sack dishtowel and then put a colander over a large bowl or other broth-catching receptacle. Strain out the skin, bones, spices and veggies (you can use the veggies, but keep in mind their nutrients are now in your delicious broth. They still have some fiber, though).

I do like to squeeze the flour sack towel at the end to get out some more fat.

I like to then put the broth in a pitcher, and just put it in the fridge.

Broth, and you can see the layer of fat, even while still lukewarm, starting to rise to the top

Within a couple of hours, you’ll see the top of it hardening – that is chicken fat, or schmaltz. If you want to read a really wonderful, interesting, at times heart-wrenching book (that expounds succinctly on the highly valued schmaltz), check out 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman. Review to come. Use the broth when you boil pasta, make rice, or steam veggies. Broth is good for your bones, because it comes from bones. Makes sense.

I skim off the schmaltz

Hardened schmaltz, ready to be skimmed off

and put it in a capped jar which I keep in the top back shelf of my fridge. Its great for greasing a pan when I’m going to make something savory. You could also fry with it, though I don’t know what the flash/smoke point is, and I do keep it on the low side so it doesn’t burn, smoke, or destroy the nutrients present.

1 chicken – 3 ways.

For dinner, for broth, for fat.

B-gaaaaaawk!

Lost: Lard

As promised, this Monday’s post continues Friday’s Fatty theme, and today, we’ll explore Lard.

Lard gets a bad rap. And while its true you can eat too much of any kind of fat, many of us fear fat unnecessarily, as I alluded to in Friday’s post.

Traditional fats and foods were studied by dentist Weston A Price, and the results continue to astound people. Controversial, to say the least, but when you examine the foundational study (published in 1953) that declared saturated fat to be a villain, you’ll see, as other researchers have, that the logic is flimsy at best, flawed at worst. (Conspiracy theory, anyone? Bueller?) You can dwell on the controversy here, and here, or just enjoy the fatty slide show at the bottom of the screen.  Depends on how much you want your thinking challenged this early on a Monday morning.

But now, the story of my happy pig. This past fall, our family had the opportunity to purchase a whole hog, organic, pasture-raised (YESSS) with two other families. I opted to receive the fat as well – so I could render lard. It came in three humungous bags, all ground up, which was nice and would save me time. One of the families didn’t want their share of fat, so I have one bag still left in the freezer! Suh-weet!

I came across this idea of rendering lard on another blog, which led to a search on several other blogs for the method I wanted to go with (sound familiar? I hope on the computer to do one thing, and …..3 hours later….) I settled on the Simple,Green, Frugal Co-op site  post, as it had the most detailed instructions, and I remain pleased with the results – the method worked out great! Read the post, then enjoy my Lardshow, which is like a slideshow, only all the slides contain something lard-related:  You’ll see the whole frozen fat, the fat in the crockpot, the honey-colored warm lard right after I strained it in a flour sack dishtowel, the “cracklins” (more on that in a post soon!),  the finished white solid lard, and the first delicious pie crust I made! I keep the jars in the freezer until I’m ready to use them. Then, I move the jar to the fridge, and just work away at it.

Embrace the fat. Yum! Yea, verily.

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Lost: Fat

“Just the fats, Ma’am.”

“Fat-tastic”

“Fun with our favorite fats”

…Those were some of the rejected titles of this first post in a succession of fatty posts. But, in keeping with my original thoughts with this blog – to reconsider knowledge lost to us, to discover and find new food sources, and to keep it local – I decided to make sure you would be intrigued enough to read more.

Do I still have you? Maybe this picture will help.

Here we have, from L to R:  Natural expeller-pressed grapeseed oil, real butter, olive oil, beef tallow, chicken fat (or schmaltz) and pork lard. The last three I “made” myself, with a liiiiittle help from animals of  course. Local, organically and humanely raised animals, I might add. These are the current fats in my kitchen, and I use them for baking, sauteeing, putting on toast, and to grease the odd muffin tin.

Are you afraid of fats? I hope that by reading my “Lost” posts on the subject you’ll lose a little fear, and get into using real fat. Its way healthier for you. Seriously.

Look for the first installment next week on Monday.

In the meantime, consider your current relationship with fat. Do you fear it, or embrace it – in your cooking?