Thursday, April 30, 2009

Homemade, homegrown Pesto, served on Fresh Kale

I love the smell and taste of fresh basil. I try to take advantage of our year-round warm weather, and have at least one basil plant growing. The one we planted last month has grown into a monster! I decided I would try to make my own pesto.

Aside from loving basil, I'm also a pine nut freak. I have to stop and remind myself how much they actually cost per pound when I start nibbling. Amazon came through again with a great deal on a case of six 4-ounce sealed containers of pine nuts. Too bad they weren't organic though. Still, they were very fresh when they arrived, and very tasty. To keep them fresh, I dumped the contents of all the containers into one freezer-safe quart-size resealable bag and put them in the freezer. One quart-size bag is much easier to store than six half-full round containers.

The nice thing about making your own pesto at home is that you can customize the ratio of ingredients, and achieve exactly the flavors and textures you like. I like mine nuttier, and with more garlic, and a little smoother. This is how I created mine, using our own homegrown organic basil:
3 cups packed basil leaves, thoroughly washed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine the basil leaves, pine nuts, and garlic, stopping the food processor intermittently and pushing down the ingredients with a wooden spoon, if necessary. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil, blending until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Myra Goodman, co-founder of Earthbound Farm, has suggestions on page 192 of "Food to Live by" on how to store your fresh pesto. Refrigerated, fresh pesto will keep for about a month. Myra suggests pouring a thin film of olive oil on top of the pesto to keep it vibrant and green. Another option is to freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, and then transferring them to a resealable bag for long-term storage, up to three months, and easy portioning.

I found a great use for the fresh pesto already, aside from stirring into hot pasta and topping with Parmesan cheese. We picked up some very lovely organic kale from our buying club this week. The leaves were young and tender, and just perfect! Too bad I'm the only one who loves dark leafy greens. This is what I did this evening, making just enough of a side dish for me:
3 fresh young kale leaves with tender stems, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp fresh pesto

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven. Saute the kale for about three minutes. Add the water, and immediately cover, allowing the kale to steam for about two more minutes. Turn off the heat, and carefully remove the lid, watching for hot steam. Toss the kale with fresh pesto, and serve immediately.
Enjoy :)

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The Bissell Steam Mop Hard Floor Cleaner - For a really GREEN clean!

My new friend, and fellow Green Mom, greenology101, requested that I post my review of the Bissell Steam Mop Hard-Floor Cleaner. It would be my pleasure :)

We've had ours for almost four months, and I absolutely love it. Before buying this, I regularly mopped with a bucket of water with Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day All Purpose Cleaneradded. Now, the mop and bucket are semi-retired, reserved only for major spills. The Bissell Steam Mop is now my regular go-to mop for cleaning all of our hard floors (we live in an older home with terrazzo floors).

The Bissell Steam Mop is very lightweight, and requires nothing but clean distilled water. No special cleaners to buy (read: no chemicals). I was very surprised just how well water can clean when it's steaming hot!

Out of the box, it took no time to assemble. I even did it myself, and didn't need hubby's help (yay, me!). The Steam Mop comes with two reusable washable microfiber pads, and they are very easy to fit on the mop head, and tighten and loosen with a drawstring cord. The pads themselves seem very sturdy, and look like they'll hold up for numerous washings. Another green plus! The product itself is also a lovely shade of "green tea" green.

Once the cleaning pad is on, the next step is to fill the water tank. It's not so much a tank, as it is a slim, tapered plastic container. I've always lived in areas of hard water, so I highly recommend buying a $1.49 gallon jug of distilled water from your grocery store. Unscrew the cap, which has a long straw-like tube attached on the inside (it's actually for air; not water). Fill the water tank, screw on the cap, and then invert the tank and insert it on the back of the Steam Mop, into the built-in water filter. Plug the mop in, and within ten seconds, the red light will come on the front of the unit, telling you that you're ready to go!

Much like the Swiffer-type mops out there, there is a handy trigger switch along the hand-hold of the mop. Unlike Swiffers, however, the water comes out of the bottom of the mop head itself; not spraying all in front of the mop. If this is your first time using the mop, or it's been sitting dry for a while, pump the trigger a few times to get the water flowing properly through the heating unit. You'll hear a gurgling kind of noise, which will stop once there is enough water flowing through the system. It will then sound like the steam coming from your iron.

Pull the trigger a few more times to wet the microfiber cleaning pad. You're now ready to mop. I tend to squeeze the trigger and hold it down while pushing the mop head over an unwashed area of the floor. I then let go of the trigger, and push the mop over that same swath again. For really sticky, dirty spots, set the mop head on top of the spot, and hold down the steam trigger for a few seconds. Let go, and mop. Voila! No more dirt! And what else? No slippery wet spots on the floor! There may be a few streaks, but they evaporate fast. No more worries about my daughter or the pets stepping and slipping on wet floors.

I've managed to clean two bedrooms, a bathroom, dining room, living room, kitchen, and hallways on less than a full tank of water, and with one cleaning pad. All in all, it takes less than ten minutes to complete the job. I hang the dirty wet cleaning pads in my laundry room, awaiting wash day. They then get thrown in the washing machine with the bath rugs and floor mats. They air dry quickly, and are then ready for reuse. Super easy, and eco-friendly! If you do find you need extra pads, they are available from Bissell direct, and Amazon. However, I'm not sure if they make matching green pads yet. So far, I've only seen white, from the previous model, but I've read that they are compatible in size.

So far, this steam mop has been an excellent upgrade over our conventional mop and bucket. It cleans very well, it's lightweight and easy and quick to use, only needs water, and I love that I'm not throwing away disposable plastic pads (anyone need a used Swiffer Wet Jet?). My biggest beef however, is that the cord is a bit short. I have to devote one 6-foot extension cord for the sole purpose of being available when I need to mop. Bissell, are you listening? I would have also liked to have seen this product made with recycled materials. Then it could truly be considered as a green product.

All in all, for $79, this mop is a great investment. Just add up how much you spend right now on floor cleaning products, and then compare that to the Bissell. Then factor in that it cleans even better (and greener) . Hope that helps in your decision-making :)

Enjoy! :)

Enjoy free shipping, no tax, and the best customer service when buying from Amazon.com.



Bissell Steam Mop image courtesy of Amazon.com

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Awesome Sustainable, Green Jewelry!

Please be sure to check out the unique, handcrafted pieces, designed by my new friend, and fellow "Green Florida Mom", and Annie's Buying Club member, Marcela Rodriguez, and her business partner, Monica Lopez. Based in Miami, 80th Street Boutique specializes in importing seeds and nuts from the Amazon rain forest, and transforming them into works of art. They also reclaim old pieces of jewelry, and turn those into unique pieces as well.

These pieces would make wonderful, green gifts. You can't beat the $2.00 shipping either!

Seeds & Nuts Necklace photo courtesy of 80th Street Boutique.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blueberry Mango Breakfast Smoothie

Many thanks to my favorite aunt, who made tremendous scheduling arrangements to join us all the way from Toronto for a few days during our Vancouver visit earlier this month. She always makes time for everyone, and really understands how to appreciate every single day. She never takes anything (or anyone) for granted :)

During one of our chats, she mentioned that she and her husband have decided to incorporate smoothies into their diet. Every day, breakfast consists of a delicious concoction of fresh fruit and milk. She inspired this recipe, which is very versatile, and easy to interchange with whatever ripe fruit you might have on hand. This is a great way for us to use up what's left of the organic produce box from our buying club pickup last week, as the mangoes all ripened at the same time! Feel free to use plain or flavored yogurt, and your choice of milk. We chose organic vanilla soy milk, and it turned out great! Add a sweetener, if necessary, depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup Manila mango (aka Honey mango, Ataulfo mango), chopped
1 Manzano banana (the miniature kind - substitute with half of a regular banana), diced
1 small Fuji apple, skin on, cored and diced
3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 tbsp agave nectar (optional)

Combine the fruit, yogurt, and soy milk in a blender. Blend until smooth. Add agave nectar if necessary, and blend again for a few seconds to combine. Serve immediately.
Enjoy! :)

Adventures in Cloth Diapering (Part 2 - Potty Training)

Continued from Part 1 - Cloth Diapering "Hi, my name is Faye, and my three-and-a-half-year-old is still not potty trained."

There, I said it. It's nice to know, however, that in my online group of mommy friends, I'm not alone. It was also nice to have recently visited my parents, and to let my own mother experience a day in the life of Green Organic Girl's world, and that just asking her to go, doesn't mean it's going to happen. It's easy to offer advice when you're on the other end of a long-distance telephone call. It's another thing when your granddaughter is looking you straight in the face with those big brown eyes, and proclaiming, "No!" I love my parents, don't get me wrong! Of course they mean well, but now they've seen the reality for themselves, and have decided to stop hounding me to hound her ;)

One of my mommy friends recently said it best -- "She's not emotionally ready."

It's not like she has never gone potty. She will typically at least once a day. Other than that, she is perfectly happy running around in soggy, wet pants. Even worse, she doesn't mind the steamy, warm, mushy pants either. I was sincerely hoping that by being in cloth pants, she wouldn't like the feeling of the dampness. WRONG!

So, here we are, patiently waiting, after trying numerous incentives -- potty training videos with Elmo, and Bear in the Big Blue House, a half-dozen books, a doll with a mini potty, stickers, etc. We've tried running around the house bare-bottomed. That sometimes results in her going to the potty by herself. Other times, mommy has to get the paper towels and the cleaning spray.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. A couple days ago, I came up with a little game, using several of her most beloved stuffed toys.

"Look, honey! Elmo needs to use the potty!"

I carried stuffed Elmo to Green Organic Girl's potty chair, opened the lid, and sat Elmo down. What luck! She bought it! She proceeded to place each of her favorite animals on the potty, one by one, squeezing their bellies. Extracting imaginary pee? I don't know. It was cute though. And it has turned into a very useful game! We've done that a couple times now, with Green Organic Girl being the last one to sit on the potty chair. We don't always get results, but I'm just happy that she's showing more interest in the chair.

For now, we'll be patient, and continue to use our Kushies training pants. These are adorable pants, that go on like underwear. The outer layer of fabric is taffeta, so it's not exactly waterproof like the outer shell of the All-In-One diapers. It will contain what's inside, but it can, and will get soaking wet, with a heavy wetter. When we are home, the little one typically runs around in a t-shirt and her Kushies training pants (no shorts). For night time, we use Seventh Generation disposable training pants. They, too, go on like underwear, and hold quite a bit of liquid. No leaks at all with those pants; not even overnight.

As for the care and use of the Kushies training pants, they're even easier to use than the All-in-Ones. No flaps to worry about, and no inserts. It's like washing a thick pair of underwear. I typically turn Green Organic Girl's inside out before soaking/washing. The same two-step wash cycle works for these training pants, and they air dry even faster than the diapers.

Happy diapering/potty training!

We buy Seventh Generation training pants by the case from Amazon.com's Subscribe & Save program. Save 15% on their everyday low prices, and enjoy free shipping!



Kushies Training Pants photo courtesy of Diapers.com

Monday, April 27, 2009

Adventures in Cloth Diapering (Part 1)

Probably the next most important question for all expecting parents (after breast or bottle?) is disposables or cloth? Now don't go screaming and running away. Just as technology has evolved, so have cloth diapers. I'm also here to hold your hand.

I'll be the first to admit, that in the initial weary, zombie-like, sleepless days and nights after Green Organic Girl was born, we did use conventional disposable diapers. Now mind you, I did spend a lot of time and effort, amassing a lovely layette of adorable Kushies All-In-One cloth diapers. A lot of research went into my selection, as there are a multitude of different types and brands of cloth diapers. Ultimately, I needed something straight-forward to use, in order to get hubby on board. Kushies just happen to be high-quality Canadian-made products as well (Canadian-made, like me). However, even though Green Organic Girl was 8 pounds 4 ounces when she was born, the infant-sized Kushies were still much too big. It wasn't until she was about 9 months old that we finally used these cloth diapers full-time. The Kushies were very good to us, and even now, Green Organic Girl uses Kushies washable training pants. All of Kushies' products are too cute for words, and very well made.

Let's talk about the diapers first. The All-In-Ones from this company go on pretty much like a regular disposable diaper. There are Velcro tabs that hold the diaper together, much like the sticky tabs of a disposable. Each diaper is padded, and has a waterproof cover, with many cute designs to choose from. The most obvious difference with using these diapers is that they are thicker (much thicker) than a disposable. The waterproof cover is actually not at all scratchy, but it is a bit stiff. No worries, you'll get used to that. One of the nicest features with using cloth is the option to customize the absorbency. Many cloth diapering manufacturers also sell inserts to lay inside the diapers. We used Kushes' own brand of cotton liner inserts, and by the time Green Organic Girl was a toddler, we were using three inserts for overnight.

Okay, I've kept you waiting long enough. What to do about poo? Not to worry. Kushies has a solution for this, too: flushable paper liners! These sheets come on a roll, about the size of a toilet paper roll, but that's where the similarities end. These paper liners are very sturdy (but not scratchy), and are long enough to span the entire length of the diaper. Now, these are liners... not miracle workers. They will catch most of the poop, but do expect to have a little that will end up on the diaper itself. No big deal... poop washes out easily. Fold down the Velcro tabs, so they don't catch on anything, rinse off any solids in the toilet, and toss the diaper in the pail, awaiting Wash Day. But before we wash...

Let's talk soaking. Some people do the dry method, and just throw the diapers in a dry pail, until it's time to do the laundry. I think you're just asking for trouble when you do that (stains, smells, mold, etc.). I highly recommend soaking the diapers in water, with a little vinegar. We've had a lot of luck, using a step-on trash can from our local discount department store, that came with a plastic bucket/liner, with a handle that tucks away. We keep this in the bathroom, with a baby gate across the door, to keep curious little ones out. Please do be careful where you keep your soaking pail! I've had the best results filling the soaking pail with cold water (about 2/3 full) and about 1/4 cup of vinegar. We tried baking soda before, but it really doesn't help with smells. Vinegar does, and it helps minimize stains as well. (Whatever you use, please don't use laundry soap. It will break down the fibers of the fabric.) It's best to rinse off any solids before you toss your diapers in the pail. At the end of each day (or whenever I could remember), I would dump out the dirty water from the soaking pail in the toilet, fill it with fresh clean water, dump it again, and fill it one more time and add the vinegar. Believe me, this will make for a much more pleasant experience, come wash day.

It's been a few days, and your diaper pail is full. Time to wash. If you haven't rinsed the pail recently, do so now, and drain the water before lugging it off to the laundry room. Dump the contents of the pail in the washing machine, and give it a spin. We have a top-loading washing machine, and it typically requires two wash cycles to get the diapers clean. Let's start with the first cycle. Wait! Put that soap down. You're only going to need a little. Use about 1/3 of what you typically use to wash a load of clothes. Too much soap will leave a residue on the fibers, that interferes with absorbency. That residue will make the diapers stinky, too. Got the soap measured? Good. Now add about a cup of white vinegar to the wash. That's it! Let the cycle run. When that finishes, we're going to do one more, but this time, no soap. Just vinegar this time. The vinegar will help remove any soap residue that may still be clinging to the diapers from the first wash. It will also help neutralize any lingering odors. The vinegar smell will disappear fast, I promise. The diapers should smell like clean cotton.

Now that the diapers are washed, it's time to dry. I have gone through the experience of drying diapers in the dryer, and also line-drying them. If you want your diapers to stay in good shape, and not wear out so fast (especially the waterproof outer shells), keep them out of the dryer as much as you can. There may be times when you're in a hurry, so once in a while is okay. Adding a clean, dry bath towel to the dryer will help speed up the drying process as well. Otherwise, manage your washing schedule so that you have enough time to allow for air drying.

When my diapers were dry, I would prep them in a stack, so they were ready to go. Kushies have a loose flap inside, and the top end needs to be folded and tucked under, about an inch, to avoid wicking moisture out onto baby's clothes. Under this flap, I would usually tuck one or two cotton liners. Fold the diaper back up, and continue until the whole stack is ready. All that's needed now is to insert a paper liner when you think it's close to baby's regular time to do her business.

And look, we're done! You're cloth diapering! How easy was that?

I'll discuss the Kushes training pants, and our slow-going potty training adventures in Part 2.

Kushies Diapers photo courtesy of Diapers.com

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Do something fun together: Homemade Play Dough

It's been a little while since I made a batch of homemade play dough for the little Green Organic Girl. She had fun helping me mix the ingredients this time. It's simple to do, and takes no time at all. Once you have all the dry ingredients mixed together, it's very easy to portion it out, and make several batches of different colors. Here's how we make ours, to achieve four different colors from one batch of ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup cream of tartar
2 cups cold water
2 tbsp canola oil
2 drops each, of four different colors of food coloring

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly blend together the flour, salt, and cream of tartar.

In a cold non-stick sauce pan, add 1/2 cup cold water and 2 drops of food coloring. Swirl to mix. Add 1/2 tbsp canola oil and stir with a wooden spoon. Scoop in 1/2 cup of the dry ingredients, and thoroughly mix, forming a uniform paste. Gently heat on medium-low, stirring the mixture, as it will quickly solidify. As the ball of play dough forms, roll it around the sauce pan, to pick up any batter that might be stuck to the sides of the pan. Knead the dough ball with the back of the wooden spoon, to allow it to cook thoroughly. When the play dough is smooth, remove it from the heat, and allow it to cool before play. Start the next batch with a new, cold pan. Repeat the above instructions for the remaining three batches. Cooled play dough can be stored in a sealed plastic container, in the refrigerator.
This homemade play dough has kept well in the fridge for us for up to a month at a time. I tend to throw it out after a month's use, as to avoid a buildup of germs.

Enjoy! :)

Light and Easy Pasta Primavera

We're halfway to next week's scheduled organic produce pickup, so we'd better continue with our new-found healthy eating. I know I've already lost a couple pounds!

This dish is reminiscent of my college days. One of the dorm cafeterias had a pasta station. Students could order an endless combination of veggies: peppers, mushrooms, olives, onions, carrots, broccoli, etc.

I had a couple very ripe tomatoes and a red pepper that needed to be eaten today. Kaylee and I just had two delicious helpings of this healthy, meat-free, veggie-packed pasta dish. Feel free to vary the ingredients with whatever you have on hand. Believe me... with all the fresh flavors, you won't miss the meat!
1/3 pound dry pasta
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup broccoli florets
2 green onions, diced
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half and half
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the pasta to al dente, per box instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.

While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Saute the tomatoes, bell pepper, and broccoli for about two minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for three more minutes, stirring frequently. Allow the tomatoes to soften, and the juices to start to evaporate, forming a thick sauce. Add the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce, and stir in the herbs. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the half and half, and the cooked pasta. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for one more minute. Serve immediately, topping hot pasta with Parmesan cheese.
Enjoy :)

Great Mother's Day Giveaways!

Please be sure to visit Tech Savvy Mama's blog for this fantastic Mother's Day Giveaway, featuring numerous products! There are just too many great gift ideas, and giveaway prizes to mention. Come see for yourself!

Personally, this mama would love a box of these delicious See's Candies. It's been years since I've had See's!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bring Your Own Reusable Utensils

Every time we visit my parents in Vancouver, Canada, we always spend a lot of time eating out. This Chinese girl is Chinese-food deprived, down here in the Florida Keys! Some of the tastiest dishes aren't always found in sit-down restaurants. A few of our favorite places can be found in the food courts of the suburban Asian shopping malls.

Alas, I am always blown away by the amount of garbage generated by the patrons of those food courts. Just imagine every customer using a Styrofoam noodle bowl, a plastic soup spoon, and a pair of disposable chopstics. How many bowls, spoons, and chopsticks are used in one lunch hour? One day? One week? One month? You see where I'm going with this.

Next time we visit, however, we will be prepared! Check out The Chopstick Buddy! It's available in a variety of colors, and feel free to choose a Boy Buddy or a Girl Buddy. The Chopstick Buddy comes with a pair of chopsticks, or feel free to insert any other pair of chopsticks in the stretchy, silicone feet. Kaylee and I lucked out today, and found these at our local discount store. She's three, and could definitely use a little help learning to use chopsticks. As for me, I had a nasty bout with meningitis as a teen, and suffered permanent nerve damage to my right shoulder. I've since had to learn to do most everything left-handed; including eating with chopsticks. That still proves to be difficult, so I bought myself a Chopstick Buddy, too ;)

We're not done there with just reusable chopsticks. Check out the Micro 5-in-1 Utensil Set by Guyot Designs. Sierra Trading Post is having a mega sale on these awesome reusable utensils. Not only does each set serve as a perfect-sized and very functional spoon, fork, knife, spreader, and spatula; they are made from reclaimed nylon, and actually have a carbon-negative footprint! The two pieces also lock together securely for easy transport. I ordered a few sets for us, and for stocking stuffers. We're now ready to lessen our carbon footprint a little more :)


Chopstick Buddy photo courtesy of Giggle.com
Micro 5-in-1 Utensil Set photo courtesy of SierraTradingPost.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Organic Blood Orange Marmalade

I was inspired by Rebecca of The Herbwife's Kitchen, and her recent experiment, making several varieties of homemade marmalade. One of which that she made was from blood oranges. Thanks to Annie's Buying Club, we had delicious, farm-fresh organic blood oranges to work with. Using organic oranges was very important to me, as marmalade is all about including the peel. No pesticides in our marmalade, please.

I first tried Rebecca's "lazy method", of using a 1:1:1 ratio of the whole oranges, sliced, simmered in water, and finally cooked down with sugar. That yielded the deep pink jar on the left, in the picture. It was similar in color to the one Rebecca made on her blog. However, I was not entirely happy with the results. The marmalade tasted very much of pith. Lots and lots of pith. The whole point of making my own marmalade was to:

A) Know exactly what was in the jar (organic oranges, water, and sugar. Nothing else.)
B) Control the sugar content.

As such, I didn't want to overload the marmalade with sugar to try to cover up the pith taste. I experimented with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and cooked the finished marmalade for a couple more minutes. That seemed to help with the pith taste... a little.

I had two oranges left, so I decided to give it another go. This time, I zested the oranges, and used only the zest and the segments. No pith. It turned out fantastic, yielding the deep red jar on the right of the picture above. It looked like red raspberry jam, with that glossy sheen, and jam-like texture. The orange zest turned to pure candy. Just delicious! It also required much less cooking time to achieve these results. Here is my recipe, which is enough to make one small four-ounce jar:

2 organic blood oranges, thoroughly washed
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 clean, sterilized 4 oz. glass jar with tight-fitting lid

Using a citrus zester, zest both oranges. Add water and zest to a non-reactive sauce pan, heating on medium heat. Peel the oranges, discarding the pith and remaining peel. Dice orange segments and add to the sauce pan. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low, and add approximately 1 cup of sugar, to taste. Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Peels should begin to candy, and the marmalade will start to gel. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Store marmalade in a clean, glass jar, in the refrigerator, or follow FDA guidelines for proper preserving.


My friends and family can expect to receive some candied marmalade for Christmas ;) I did find a use for the first batch of marmalade with all that pith -- Rebecca said it tasted great on ice cream, so I tried it on Greek yogurt. The creaminess of the yogurt really did the trick, in helping mask the bitterness of the pith. It made for a delicious midnight snack :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Many thanks to Annie's Organic Buying Club!

This post was first written in 2009. Our family's position on this club has since changed, and we have rescinded our membership.  Please see our updated post.


OMG! As if my fridge wasn't packed enough already. Green Organic Girl and I just came back from picking up our very first box of organic produce from Annie's Organic Buying Club , and what a box it was!! We couldn't wait to dive into the raspberries. I had to force myself to spare a few for hubby when he comes home from work.

The asparagus is to die for. I've never smelled asparagus like this before. It's so lush, and green, and firm. This is the freshest asparagus I have ever seen. I'll be roasting those with a little olive oil and salt and pepper shortly. We can't wait to try it!

Also, Note to Self: do not wear a light-colored shirt when eating blood oranges (thank goodness for SHOUT). They are so incredibly juicy, and I find them milder, less tart, and more enjoyable than navel oranges.

Many thanks to Annie, and all the volunteers who work so hard to bring these farm-fresh delights to us.

I'm also experimenting with homemade cotton produce bags. I was inspired by those from Ecobags, but why spend $5 each, plus shipping, when I could make them myself? Green Organic Girl and I took a trip to the craft store yesterday, and for about $8, we got 3.5 yards of unbleached cotton muslin fabric. That's turned out to be plenty enough to make six large bags (equivalent in size to the clear plastic ones in the grocery stores), and six half-size bags as well. The half-size bags are perfect for three or four pieces of fruit, or a bunch of fresh herbs. As the fabric we chose isn't see-through, I wrote on each bag with a washable crayon, to label what's inside. The bags will go in the wash with the tea towels at the end of the week; ready for next Tuesday's produce pickup.

Okay, my stomach says it's time to start cooking! I'll be sure to post a few recipes when we're done.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We've joined an organic produce buying club!

This post was first written in 2009. Our family's position on this club has since changed, and we have rescinded our membership.  Please see our updated post.
 

Many thanks to Annie, a fellow Florida Keys mom, for understanding the importance of having affordable, organic produce. She took matters into her own hands, and we now have Annie's Organic Produce Buying Club of South Florida.

Annie is such a sweetheart, and added our family to this coming week's pickup, on short notice. We are very much looking forward to a bountiful box of farm-fresh goodies. For $45, a box of over thirty pounds of organic produce is truly a bargain. There's also no way we could ever get such freshness and variety in our local stores. Annie has a few customizable options, and we added on the extra fruit share for $10. This is what we can expect to pick up this week:

• Asparagus
• Broccoli
• FL Eggplant
• FL Collards
• Sweet Red Bell Peppers
• Celery
• FL Tomatoes
• Scallions
• Cilantro
• FL Romaine Lettuce
• Avocados
• Blood Oranges
• Bananas
• FL Blueberries
• FL Cantaloupe or Golden Pineapple

Fruit Shares: Raspberries, Pineapple and/or Ataulfo Mangos

We're going to to be in for some really good eats :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shrimp and Pasta Salad

We are blessed with plentiful seafood here in the Florida Keys. Oftentimes, seafood prices here are better than those of meat. We are careful of fish with high mercury and dioxin levels, but thankfully, shrimp and shellfish are still okay to eat. And boy, do we love shrimp in this house.

We just came home from our weekly grocery run, and picked up a pound of cooked shrimp. The spring produce is making its way into the markets now, too, including beautiful English cucumbers, bright red peppers, and giant Hass avocados. It's a lovely, breezy evening tonight, but still warm enough to enjoy a refreshing cool dinner. Here's my recipe for a very quick and easy Shrimp and Pasta Salad:

1/2 pound (half a box) uncooked Rotini pasta
1 pound cooked, peeled shrimp
1 ripe avocado
1 ripe tomato (small)
1/3 of an English cucumber
1/3 of a small red pepper
2 chopped green onions
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp shredded fresh basil
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup yogurt-based salad dressing (we used Bolthouse Creamy Italian)
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking process.

Combine the salad dressing, lemon juice, green onions, and fresh herbs in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Dice the avocado, tomato, cucumber, and red pepper into small bite-sized pieces, adding to the mixing bowl. Toss with the shrimp and pasta. Serve chilled.


Enjoy :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Refreshing Summertime Potato and Corn Salad

From the moment I saw this photo in the August 2007 issue of Parents magazine, I just had to try this recipe for Potato and Corn Salad.

This is a delicious, healthy, and simple mayonnaise-free summer salad, and it's very easy to tweak the ingredients and make it your own. When I have lemons on hand, I sometimes add a squeeze of juice to the vinaigrette. Here is my version, using organic ingredients, whenever possible:

1.5 pounds mini red-skinned potatoes
1 can kernel corn, drained
1 rib diced celery
2 diced green onions
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp Basil & Oregano seasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Cover whole potatoes in cold water in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer for about 15 minutes, or until just cooked. Do not overcook, or potatoes will be gluey. Drain immediately, and set aside to cool.

In a sealable container, combine olive oil, rice vinegar, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Seal the container, and give the jar to your favorite little kitchen helper to shake well. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, quarter them. Combine the quartered potatoes and vegetables in a large mixing bowl, and toss with the vinaigrette. The warmth of the potatoes will help with absorption. Enjoy chilled.

Product Review: Dandelion Leek Miso, by South River Miso

UPS was just here, with my much-anticipated packages! I can't say enough about South River Miso, and their unique, handcrafted, certified organic, unpasteurized miso paste. South River Miso is made from whole grains, giving it a completely different texture and taste, compared to what you get in the standard cup of soup from a sushi restaurant. You can see and feel and taste the individual ingredients; instead of a mouthful of salt.

This is the first time I've tried their "Dandelion Leek" and "Garlic Red Pepper" varieties. The Garlic Red Pepper will have to wait until I'm ready to make a salad dressing, but it smells amazing!!

I did immediately make myself a cup of Dandelion Leek broth. Oh my goodness... I think I have a new South River favorite. Let me read you what the jar says:

A Three-Year Dark Miso.
This legendary miso is made with wild-crafted plants which we gather from remote woodlands and our farm along the South River. Mineral-rich sea vegetables from the coast of Maine enhance its healing power.

Ingredients: Deep well water, organic soybeans, organic brown rice, sun-dried sea salt, organic dandelion greens, wild leeks, organic nettle greens, organic sea vegetables, and koji culture.

South River Miso is the only unpasteurized, certified organic miso, that is entirely handcrafted in the centuries-old Japanese farmhouse tradition. Central to our process is the long, slow cooking of the beans by wood fire with a massive masonry stove. Our time-honored methods crate the rich flavor and distinctive whole-grain texture common to all miso made before modern food processing. Each teaspoon contains millions of active, probiotic micro-organisms and enzymes which unlock the nutrition and full flavor of all foods.

I've become a huge fan of leeks, after reading Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat. I remember one time when I was fighting a nasty flu, I was out of miso. I ended up making myself some of Mireille's Magical Leek Soup, and felt 10 times better the very next morning. So, you can imagine my joy in finding a leek-infused miso. How often do we find something that is tasty and good for you too?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Probiotic Foods: Salted Lemons, & Miso

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is NOT intended to provide advice on the diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of any disease. Please consult your doctor.

During our vacation in Vancouver, Kaylee unfortunately caught a case of the sniffles. While she quickly recovered after a couple of days, she subsequently gave it to me and my parents, and I got the brunt of it.

I'm a firm believer in the health benefits of probiotic foods. Foods like yogurt, pickles, and Japanese miso, contain millions of helpful bacteria through their fermentation process. It's this bacteria that help fight off the harmful ones, and have helped me speed up healing and recovery.

Back to our Canadian colds, I was far from home and my trusted jar of South River Miso paste in my refrigerator. Every time I start feeling a little under the weather, I stir up a spoonful of miso paste in hot water, for a quick, steaming, soothing, and warming broth. South River Miso specializes in making miso the traditional Japanese way, in small, handcrafted batches. Their miso is also unpasteurized, unlike the commercialized packets typically sold next to grocery store sushi. I did see some refrigerated miso in the Asian grocery stores in the Vancouver area, but unfortunately I can't read Japanese, and wasn't exactly sure if what I was buying was truly unpasteurized. That's when my mother reached into her fridge and pulled out an old spaghetti sauce jar, with some kind of brown, mushy paste at the bottom.

"How about some salted lemons?", she offered.

"Salted lemons?"

"Yes. Dad and I fermented this one three years ago. We've got two more jars that have been fermenting for the past year."

There it was. A whole jar full of lacto-fermented goodness! For those who have never tasted a salted lemon, it's actually much tastier than you might imagine. It's a staple ingredient in many Morroccan dishes, and my aunt makes Morroccan-style fish by laying some salted lemons on top before baking.

Mom mixed up a slice of the fermented lemon in a cup of hot water for me. It was very soothing to my scratchy throat. I drank a couple mugs of this for the next few days, and was feeling better in no time, and ready to enjoy my vacation again. I, of course, asked Mom for the recipe.

"Just sliced lemons, and salt. Let it all sit for about three months."

I couldn't wait to get home and try to make my own batch. Before getting started, I did do a little research to see what others had to say about creating this simple yet magical mixture. The Herbwife's Kitchen offered a little more on the traditional Morroccan way to pickle lemons. I combined a few hints and tricks, and this is what I came up with. I used my parents' method of slicing the lemons in rings, which made them more manageable and easier to use when they are done fermenting, but feel free to cut them the way that suits you the best. The amount of salt is not exact, but I found it worked out to about half a cup for every two lemons. You may find that you need a few more or a few less lemons, depending on their size, and the size of your jar. This is how I created mine:

1 clean, dry, sterilized glass jar with tight-fitting lid (I used one spaghetti sauce jar)
6 lemons (thoroughly washed and dried)
1.5 cups salt (pickling salt, kosher salt, or sea salt)
plastic wrap

Trim the ends off the lemons. Cut the lemons into slices of medium thickness. In a large mixing bowl, toss the slices with salt, coating each one on both sides.

Spoon a small amount of salt in the jar; enough to cover the bottom. Layer the salted lemon slices in the jar, covering each layer with more salt, all the way to the top of the jar. Leave a little air space.

To prevent corrosion of the metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before sealing.

Set the jar in a dark, cool place for about a day. As the juices will start coming out of the lemons, give the jar a few shakes, during this first day.

The following day, shake the jar again, and then open it. Using a wooden spoon, push the lemon slices down, to fill any gaps, and to ensure that all the slices are submerged in lemon juice. If there is not enough liquid to cover all the slices, add more fresh lemon juice, but leave enough of a gap for some air space. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover the jar once again with plastic wrap and the lid. Return the jar to a dark, cool place. After about a month, you will have fermented salted lemons :)
The fermented product can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year, but in my parents' case, they had one that was three years old and still very much useable.

We can't wait to try some pickled lemon recipes next month :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We are home!


We had a lovely time in Vancouver with our family. Thanks to everyone who played host, and those who also made the trek to British Columbia for our family gathering :) No family gathering is complete without lots of food -- we had our fill of delicious Dim Sum, piping hot Vietnamese Pho noodle soup, carefully crafted sushi, and Grandma's homemade Chinese desserts. It was all so good, I came back three pounds heavier. LOL ;)

We're home safe and sound, with the only mishap being a delayed suitcase. Mind you, it was full of Whole Foods Market organic truffles that got to spend an extra night in Miami, but they're still quite edible; although now kind of stuck to each other.

Our good friend John, fisherman and mechanic extraordinaire, stocked our freezer full of lobster tails while we were gone. I thawed four of them out, snipped through the shells with kitchen shears, top to bottom, front and back, set them in a baking dish, lined with parchment paper, drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil on the tails, seasoned them with McCormick Roasted Garlic seasoning, and baked those at 350F for about 25 minutes. Yum yum :)

It's officially summer here in the Florida Keys. The air conditioners are on full-time, and the long-sleeved clothes have been put away. DH diligently watered our organic veggie garden while Kaylee and I were away, and it just exploded with growth! Rachelle was right... the zucchini has decided it owns that garden bed. The eggplant didn't quite take root, but that has now left an empty spot, which may be the new home for the basil. That poor basil plant is doing all it can to hold what little ground it has, next to the monstrous, ever-growing zucchini. The basil is doing very well, however, and we just enjoyed a nice Basil and Tomato salad. Florida tomatoes were on sale at the store, and we definitely try to buy local; if not local and organic.

On that note, does everyone know not to refrigerate their tomatoes? Refrigerating them diminishes a good portion of the lycopene and other goodness in the fruit. Buy only what you can use up immediately.

Back to our salad, I chopped up one tomato, tossed it with a little sea salt and just a wee sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper (gotta keep it kid-friendly for Kaylee). I then added four freshly picked basil leaves from our garden, cut into fine strips, and drizzled extra virgin olive oil on top. Let all this sit for about a minute, to let the flavors mingle. The basil brings a nice freshness to the mix, but Kaylee, like most kids, won't eat the basil leaves themselves. That's what that brief marinating is for -- to infuse some of that basil flavor, and then I can pick out just the tomatoes for Kaylee. She gobbled up the first bowl, and asked me for seconds. Thank you, sweltering heat, for this delicious and refreshing summer salad :)

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