MYO: Homemade Granola
March 31, 2011 at 6:00 am
It’s a funny thing that “granola” is synonymous with healthy living, and yet a good batch of granola can be very tricky to make, even for the “crunchiest” of us.
What I hear from people time and time again is that you can’t get a good, cooked-through batch of granola without burning it.
This was certainly true in our house.
But recently, I’ve learned some tips and tricks that are helping me to make a better batch:
- Bake it in Pyrex baking dishes. My smart friend Rachel told me about this. I’m not sure if it is the glass, or the pan shape, but we haven’t had burned granola in a long time.
- Don’t add fruit before cooking. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fruity granola, you just have to add the fruit later after the granola is cooled.
- Because of dietary restrictions here, for a while, we needed to substitute coconut oil for butter. I learned that I needed to cut back the cooking time a bit. (This made more sense when my friend recommended using coconut oil when baking a chicken to make it skin crispy. That works well too.)
- I also stir frequently — every 10 to 15 minutes while the granola bakes.
- And I have finally learned to trust my nose. I like to bake granola when I have other kitchen chores, so I can stay close and when it begins to smell toasty, I know it is time for a stir.
I’d like to share the basic formula we use for granola today, but I also hope that some of you will share your recipes too. Granola is so versatile, and it is fun to try something new every few batches!
Basic Granola Formula
based on Cynthia Lair’s Maple Nut Butter granola recipe from Feeding the Whole Family
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups seeds or chopped nuts (we like flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds almonds, pecans, walnuts. Hazelnuts are awesome and make me very happy.)
1/2 tsp spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, for instance; I’ve always wanted to try cocoa powder, but never have!)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey (you can add a little brown sugar or maple sugar if you wish, but more for flavoring than as the main sweetener)
1 tablespoon nut butter (peanut, cashew and almond all work well)
1 1/2 tsps extract (vanilla, almond or orange all work well; citrus zest can be substituted for a stronger flavor)
In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients including spices and salt (and zest, if using).
In a small pan, melt butter or coconut oil and add in sweeteners and nut butter. Add extracts after removing the pan. Stir well.
Pour oat mixture into baking dish and add pan mixture. Stir to coat well.
Bake at 325 degrees for up to an hour, stirring frequently.
Add chopped, dried fruit if desired and store in jars.
We’re trying to come up with a name for these noodles
March 30, 2011 at 6:00 am
We’re trying to come up with a name for these noodles.
Just “Peanut Noodles” doesn’t seem very exciting. “Peanut Butter Pasta” seems like something you can only eat until middle school. “P’Noodles” was a step in the wrong direction.
But these noodles made a big hit here this week. Another recipe to help get us out of the lunch rut, but really, just a combination of two familiar favorites: pasta and peanut butter sandwiches.
Nameless Peanut-ish Noodle Dish
1 package whole wheat angel hair pasta
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp agave or maple syrup
I tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp dark sesame oil, divided
about 4 tbsp tamari
toasted sesame seeds
hot pasta water
raw cucumber, cabbage or julienned carrots (or a combination of all)
Boil pasta according to package directions. Saving cooking water, remove pasta and rinse (for a cool or room temperature salad) place in a large bowl. Toss pasta with 1 tbsp of oil.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk peanut butter, agave or syrup, tamari, remaining sesame oil, and vinegar. Add about 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water and mix. The goal is to create a thin sauce in which to toss the noodles. Add sauce to noodles, using more water if necessary. Top each serving with chopped vegetables and toasted sesame seeds. This whole dish is really great with a little hot chili sauce!
March 29, 2011 at 6:00 am
Owen got a typewriter from my mom’s husband.
It is old, a tan electric thing with a broken quote mark key, but he is in love.
He wrote a thank-you note using the type-writer, which he has named “Old Typey”:
“Dear Steve, Thank you so much for the nice gift. It is special because it is sooo old and it has a story with it because it belonged to you and Geeg.”
It is kind of special because of its age. This is not something you could walk into Wal-Mart and buy right now. It’s really hard to find old-fashioned typewriters anymore at all.
My kid thinks that is kind of cool, and I’m inclined to agree.
And so, every day, he is spending a little time writing books on something he calls, “basically a computer without a screen.” This makes typing harder, he says, because you make a few more mistakes.
Owen asked me the other day what would have happened if he hadn’t “wanted a typewriter his whole life,” and become the happy recipient of Old Typey.
I’m not sure what would have happened. But it has a home now with a boy who loves it a lot.
It’s a reminder to me that sometimes the best gifts are the ones that escape the recycling bin to get a brand new life.
What is your favorite hand-me-down at your house? Share the story in the comments below!
Monday’s Organic Living Journal
March 28, 2011 at 6:00 am
New feature! New feature!
Starting today, I’m introducing a new Monday feature — My Monday Organic Living Journal.
There are lots of little things throughout the week that I want to share with you, but some of them just aren’t whole post worthy.
I am also hoping that you will get involved! If you write a blog where you talk about any aspect of green or organic living, I hope you’ll share a link in the comments below.
Even if you don’t have your own blog, I hope you’ll share some of your goals and ideas for the week ahead!
So without further ado …
- We are did a free home-makeover this weekend. But it was mostly just to accommodate the hole where the living room television used to be! Yup — we are experimenting with going TV free for a while. So far, so good.
- I am finding it easier to drink green smoothies if I spend less time looking at them.
- I am so excited about a couple of school-related purchases made yesterday: a root viewer and butterfly larvae.
- The new kick around here is Beatrix Potter. This is a well timed kick because our other big kick is garden planning, and those animals are all about lettuce and radishes.
- I am so thankful that a parking lot bump on the head this weekend was just a bump on the head. Nothing a bag of frozen peas and arnica couldn’t fix.
- My new yoga class is making me happy. I had never done Kundalini before. Considering this DVD to bring the practice home.
- I’m looking forward to making custard this week and then doing a craft project with the egg shells. I hope to share the results here!
So what do you have planned this week?
A Simple Sunday
March 27, 2011 at 6:00 am
A very simple spring time experiment …
You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it. ~John Updike
Are you celebrating Earth Hour?
March 26, 2011 at 6:00 am
A small break in format this week (Very Good Week links will be back next Saturday) to ask you if you are taking part in Earth Hour this year.
It’s pretty easy in theory — turn off your lights for one hour between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m in your time zone.
I like the idea of Earth Hour for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it is a reminder that little things do make a big difference, especially when we work together.
So tonight as my husband and I are putting two little ones to bed, we’ll read stories by candlelight or flashlight. The kids will love it, I think. It may begin a new night time ritual!
Will you be celebrating Earth Hour this year?
Green Spring Cleaning: Tackling the Kitchen and Homemade Dishwasher Soap
March 25, 2011 at 6:00 am
I love a clean kitchen.
Unfortunately, I very rarely have a really, really clean kitchen. Because I use my kitchen. A lot.
Right now, I am making beans in my slow cooker, bread is rising on the stove and there are dishes in my sink. Ack. I know … this being domestic stuff is harder than it looks.
But when I do finally get around to cleaning, I like to use homemade green stuff whenever possible.
As part of our green cleaning series, today I would like to talk kitchen.
Last week, I shared a recipe I use for making a spray cleaner. And honestly, I use it a lot in my kitchen, from cleaning up spills, to floors, to the stovetop and everywhere in between. It is great for a quick fridge clean-up and wiping honey spots out of cabinets. It truly is an all purpose cleaner.
But it isn’t going to unclog a drain. For that, I make an old-fashioned volcano (without the red dye, although that would be more entertaining for the kids). I pour up to two cups of baking soda into the drain and wait for a few minutes. Then I add a cup or two of vinegar and wait again … longer this time, maybe 20 minutes to a half-hour. I then run hot water in the drain until clear.
It really is effective. I haven’t bought a container of Drano since I discovered this trick, and I hope I never have to go back.
Baking soda is also great for oven cleaning. I make a paste with a little water and use an old rag to scrub the inside (make sure the oven is nice and cold when you clean it). I then make a mixture of warm water and a little vinegar and use another rag to wipe down the inside of the oven thoroughly. Nice and clean!
(This method may take more elbow grease that using chemicals, and I will just say it is easier if you don’t wait for your oven to get really, really nasty … but even if you do, this will get the crunchy baked-on stuff off.)
I mentioned in my ode to all-purpose spray cleaner above that I spray it on sticky spots and spills on the floor. But when more serious floor cleaning is in order, we start with a bucket of water and add 1 cup of castile soap (a scented one is nice – I really like Dr. Bronner’s peppermint or citrus for the kitchen!), a 1/4 cup of vinegar and a few drops of tea tree oil.
Making a basic kitchen soap to use on dishes or to “deeper clean” countertops and such is really easy too. I just mix a little liquid castile soap with a few drops of essential oils like tea tree or eucalyptus. Peppermint-scented castile soap is great on its own too — especially when you are looking to naturally deter pests like ants.
Finally, I’d like to talk dishwasher soap. This has been a challenge for me. I have tried many recipes, including just sprinkling the dishes with baking soda and adding lemon juice to the soap reservoir (didn’t work, I wouldn’t recommend it).
This is an especially bothersome because a question I often get from friends looking to green-up their cleaning is, “What kind of dishwasher soap do you use?”
It makes sense. The soap you choose is coming into contact with your food and in the case of cups and silverware your actual mouth, so a non-toxic choice here is good.
In the past few weeks, I have tried all combos of castile soap, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and on and on in anticipation of this post. But this recipe actually works:
Homemade Dishwasher Soap
Mix in an old container that has a lid …
1 cup borax
1 cup baking soda
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup citric acid (available at natural food stores in the supplements section)
15 drops of tea tree oil
15 drops lemon, orange or lemon verbena oil
Stir together. When it comes time to do dishes, fill the soap reservoir with mix.
Label this cleaner clearly, and use common sense caution. Just because it is green, still treat it the way you do other cleaning products when it comes to kids, pets, etc. And don’t actually handle the soap. Use a little scoop or spoon to add it to your dishwasher. But you knew that already.
Next week: Green laundry!!
Do you make any green cleaning products for your kitchen? We’d love it if you’d share the recipe in the comments!!
A Behind the Scenes Interview with Earth Day Artist Chris Hajny
March 24, 2011 at 6:00 am
I was excited to get a little behind-the-scenes peek this week at the process of creating I’m Organic’s 2011 Earth Day shirts and bags. I thought it would be really fun to share what I learned in today’s post!
Several months ago when I’m Organic started coming up with ideas for the Earth Day 2011 limited edition design, president and co-owner Justin Hajny realized that the many slogans he had been thinking about had one thing in common: they were all about how taking care of the earth just makes sense.
And so the theme It’s (Eco) Logical was born.
The owners knew they wanted a really creative, inspired design to go along with this year’s theme and I’m Organic’s overall message and mission.
So they contacted Chris Hajny, a Minneapolis-based product designer, illustrator and creative director who has been making a living creating art since graduating from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2004.
After I’m Organic provided him with some key phrases, he sat down with a pencil and sketchbook.
“Even if I think I have a good idea, I have to draw for a bit,” Chris said.
Some of those early sketches illustrate I’m Organic’s theme, along with Chris’ concept that eventually spurred the tree design.
“Once I had concepted ideas for a while, it was pretty easy to pick my favorite idea out of the group and luckily for me, I’m Organic was just as excited.” Chris said.
He had been looking for a way to blend typography with the illustration instead of layering the words on top of an image.
“So when I sketched a tiny tree with ‘Earth Day’ hidden in the branches I was pretty sure I knew I wanted to flesh that out,” he said.
Chris has a background designing apparel through his work at Paper Bicycle, a design studio that consists of Chris, his wife Lindsay and close friend Francesca. Together they create art, design, stationery, apparel and products for companies like Target, Department 56, MEAD, The History Channel, and more.
(In addition to the family connection, Paper Bicycle was an easy choice to work with on product design because of its portfolio and vast experience creating apparel designs and other original artwork, Justin said.)
In many ways, the I’m Organic Earth Day project was similar to work he’s done for other clothing companies, Chris said. He’s is always thinking about who’s wearing what he’s creating.
“The fun part about creating designs for I’m Organic, as compared to a mass-market retailer, is that I think organically-minded people are, on the average, a bit more educated and clever, design-wise,” he explained. “I give that audience credit for having a more delicate palette when it comes to design. That gave me the freedom to go places I might have to avoid, normally.”
He also embraced working with I’m Organic because he enjoys doing projects that he connects with on a personal level.
“I’ve done things like creating promotions for a local (and amazing) theater company, participating in a bicycle-themed group art show, and now working with I’m Organic to make fun products that raise awareness of being awesome and living organic,” he said. “On an artistic level, it’s very collaborative and free and they appreciate the sensibilities and input that I bring to the table. I also love knowing that it’s organic, local and honest.”
And I’m Organic loves working with Chris as well. He has already begun work on some new designs that will be released soon.
(I’ve gotten a sneak-peek of those too, and am very excited for the new apparel to become available!)
In the meantime, you can check out more of Chris’ work at his art blog and his design blog.
The limited edition products are 100 percent organic cotton and are made in the United States using water-based ink.
The 2011 Earth Day shirts and bags are available now. And I just found out last night that a women’s version is now available!
It’s a little fishy …
March 23, 2011 at 6:00 am
I think I’ve mentioned before that as a young kid I became a vegetarian.
My kids were too up until last year when food allergies meant that we found ourselves trying new things to replace everything we had to give up (dairy, soy, corn, gluten, citrus and about 45 other foods. Seriously.)
Luckily, we have been able to reintroduce those foods. But we now are more of a chicken and fish family, even if I can’t actually make myself eat the chicken (or most of the fish).
There are a lot of reasons that we haven’t jumped entirely onto the meat wagon. One is that as a long-time veggie (more than 20 years now), I don’t actually know what to do with meat.
Another is that if we buy animal protein at all, we want it to be good animal protein — humanely raised, antibiotic-free, you know the drill. And that stuff costs a lot.
So I am a crunchy-mama-flight-attendant now: “Chicken or fish.”
The chicken is easy — we buy one organic one once every other week or so.
But fish — yikes. That’s a complicated tackle-box full of issues.
I try to simplify it here. Fish-buying comes down to two things for me: safety and sustainability.
Sure — there’s probably other stuff to consider too, but those are the biggies for me.
The first issues is the safety of the fish I am feeding my family. Mercury and other toxins are a concern, unfortunately.
Sustainability is also a real problem. We want to make sure that our choices here don’t wipe out a species.
The main source I have found that really helps me is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch web site. There is even an option to print out a card for when you go shopping. For people more technically savvy, there are iPhone apps to download too.
Other good sources are:
Still, now that we are living without allergy restrictions, we only eat fish about twice a month. But when we do, we try to make sure that it meets the safety and sustainability requirements that put our minds at ease.
One of our favorite really simple fish recipes is for baked tilapia (U.S. farmed tilapia is best). We put it in a baking dish with a few cloves of garlic and drizzle it with olive oil. We add salt, pepper and paprika and bake until flaky. The we squeeze a lemon over the top.
Totally simple. Totally my speed.
And my kids gobble it up.
I just try to be a good sport, and eat extra broccoli.
What’s your favorite fish to buy and how do you prepare it?
A day of bulk buying
March 22, 2011 at 6:00 am
Sometimes, when you take two young kids and a tote bag full of jars to the natural food store, funny things happen.
Here are some funny photos that the kids took with my phone last week while I was busy filling jars and little bottles (and yes, still a bag or two sometimes — we’re getting there) full of stuff like cinnamon, lentils, millet, rice, pasta, basil, bay leaves, curry and cocoa powder.
I love bulk buying. I don’t like the little spice scoops, though. I wonder how the store would feel if I started bringing my own funnel …
The best days of living organically are sometimes filled with giggles and a little curry powder in the bottom of my shopping bag.