Wednesday, April 8, 2009


It's lunchtime and I've just spent the morning on my hands and knees (on tile, mind you) painting the baseboards in the living and dining rooms. It looks so fresh and clean that I am encouraged to keep going, but I'm starving and the last thing I want to do is cook something for lunch. Pasties to the rescue! I make these warm, flaky delights ahead of time and keep them in the freezer. A well-balanced, warm lunch is ready in 30 minutes (spent in a 350F oven, so I don't have to do a thing).

Pasties can be filled with anything from fruit pie filling for a sweet dessert or with any combination of meat, veggies and cheese. First, choose and cook your meat. I prefer ground beef, turkey, buffalo or elk.

Then I quickly cook whatever greens I have on hand (a great way to use them up) in a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil and freshly minced garlic. I have found spinach, bok choi, tat soi, beet greens, chard, or mustard greens all work well. I also like to add in potatoes, onions and cheese. I basically use whatever I have on hand, especially when I notice our greens to be getting away from us quicker than we can devour them.

Next, comes your choice of seasoning. Your basic Italian Seasoning goes well with anything and crushed red peppers add a little kick.

Lastly, I recommend pie dough for your wrapping material. I have tried all kinds of dough ranging from flaky to buttery and everything in between. Pie dough is easiest to work with (pinches together well) and is the tastiest. Simply divide your 9" pie dough into 4 sections. Add a small amount of your filling mixture to the center of each quadrant. Fold one corner over the filling and pinch to the opposite corner. Use your fingers to pinch along both open sides. Space each assembled pastie onto a cookie sheet and place in the freezer.

After a couple hours, you can transfer them to a freezer-safe baggie (I use the gallon size). Freezing them this way prevents them from sticking together and then falling apart when you want to take a few out.

To prepare from the freezer, simply take out however many you need and leave the rest in the freezer. Place the pasties on a baking sheet (I use a stone) and place in a cold oven. Set the oven to 350F and the timer to 30min. Walk away and when the timer chimes your return, let them cool slightly before you dive into the golden-brown goodness.

Speaking of which, it's my turn!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Choosing Sustainable Seafood

I'm sure we've all heard that our oceans are being over-fished. We've also all heard the incredible health benefits to adding seafood to our diets. So, how do we have the best of both worlds? How do we enjoy a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein and minerals without harming our oceans? We need to be knowledgeable and picky about where our fish is coming from and what it takes to get it to our plates. Monterey Bay Aquarium has formed the Seafood Watch program to help consumers and animal-lovers do just that.

According to their website, Seafood Watch is described as "a program of Monterey Bay Aquarium designed to raise consumer awareness about the importance of buying seafood from sustainable sources. We recommend which seafood to buy or avoid, helping consumers to become advocates for environmentally friendly seafood. We're also partners of the Seafood Choices Alliance where, along with other seafood awareness campaigns, we provide seafood purveyors with recommendations on seafood choices." Their mission is to "empower consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans."

From regional pocket guides showing the good, bad and ugly choices for purchasing seafood to simple ways to encourage your favorite restaurants (even sushi!) to join the sustainable force, Seafood Watch offers a whole slew of information. They even have a growing list of restaurants whose seafood menu is entirely sustainable. Did you know Google Earth now lets you dive into the oceans, too?? I can't wait to check out this new feature!

The bottom line: While all this information may feel overwhelming, just follow the pocket guide for your region. Purchase/order foods shown in the green and yellow categories and, for now, avoid the foods in the red category. By supporting sustainable, natural fishing, we will encourage those in the red category to step up to the plate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let the Fooling Commence!

Today is the type of day that will bring out the prankster in all of us. Just remember that good pranks should inspire laughter (not just by you, but by everyone involved) and not bring harm. Below are a few of my favorite April Fool's surprises. Husband may find himself experiencing one or more of these today...sssh!

Bathroom Bankroll

Model Parent

Surprise Balloon Swarm

Detach the shower head and sprinkle in some colorless koolaide, then reattach. Hmmm, this water tastes fruit punch!

If you are electrically savvy, you can switch the wiring that controls the on/off feature of light switches. Flipping the switch upwards to turn the light off will cause delightful confusion, especially if you change it back to normal and back again, repeatedly.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kickin' Calamari

We did it! Aaron and I have finally figured out how to more naturally prepare one of our favorite appetizers of a local restaurant. Our rendition of this sweet and spicy fried calamari on a bed of carrots, cabbage and spring greens follows below. This is such a fun meal to prepare together. Grab your fave cooking pal and create an assembly line for preparing the calamari. It is a great way to catch up on life while cooking a delicious, unique and colorful meal.

All of the 'salad' ingredients came from our local CSA. The honey was a fabulous find at our nearby farmer's market. The calamari I had to purchase frozen from the grocery store (Oh, how I wish AZ had ocean-front property!).

Baby Spring Greens mix
Purple Carrots
Purple Cabbage
Calamari (fresh is best)
Bread crumbs, plain
Olive oil
Hot Chile Pepper Honey***you must have this!

Slice the calamari hoods to form rings. Tentacles are usually fine the way they are. If they are not already bite-sized, make 'em be. Dip your calamari piece by piece into the whisked egg, then cover with bread crumbs and place in a very shallow puddle of hot olive oil. Flip it over once it is browned on one side, allow the other side to brown and then remove to a layer of paper towels. Repeat until all the calamari is cooked. Use the paper towels to remove excess want 'em crunchy.

Make your bedding of greens by chopping your cabbage, salad mix and carrots like you would do for any salad. Layer the crunchy calamari on top. Drizzle with the spicy honey and give the whole dish a gentle warming in the microwave. It is ready to serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Leprechaun Hats

Happy St. Patrick's Day! So I got a little festive today, broke out my cake decorating set (first time!) and made these little leprechaun hats. I got the idea from A Feathered Nest. She is so creative and talented! I definitely need more practice and a smaller tip for piping the bows. They will cure any chocolate craving though.

I just love St. Patrick's Day! Simple, down-home traditions make this holiday one of my favorites. Irish Bread is the best part of the whole day so, of course, it is saved for last! The corned beef for tonight's dinner is simmering away...I think the house will smell fabulous when my in-laws get in tonight.

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reusable Shopping Bags

I have been using the Olive Smart Ultra-Compact Full Sack reusable shopping bags since last fall and have been very pleased. Not only do these six bags fit into their own tiny bag that fits right in the glove compartment, but my grocer also gives 5 cents off my grocery bill each time I use one of my own bags and not theirs. Getting paid by the supermarket for not using their paper or plastic - what a novel idea! By the way, if your grocer does not ring up this discount, bring it to their attention. Just like scanning coupons at the end, they tend to forget. If your market does not offer such a discount, let them know of the going rate in your area or you may consider shopping elsewhere.

This set will accommodate a full cartload of groceries. On rare occasions that I need to use the grocer's bags, I leave the store with a half-full paper bag. Not bad! The bags are the same size and sturdiness as paper bags (but are easier to carry) and are easily laundered (I simply toss mine in with the towels whenever they look dingy).

I purchased my set from They carry an enormous variety of reusable items - not just bags. I think we all have grown slightly accustomed to seeing plastic bags floating through the air or snagged on cacti (or green things if you live elsewhere!). Plastic bags do shred into smaller pieces but never fully decompose. Paper bags do, so they are the better step up, but have limited reusability, especially when the family cat claims it as soon as I get home! Cloth bags are even better. I chose these bags over the ones sold in the supermarket based on sturdiness (yes, that bag is only $1 but I can tell it won't be lasting long) and convenience (reusable bags are pointless if you forget to bring them with you to the store).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

72 Hour Emergency Food Kit

Emergency Preparedness is something that has been on my to-do list for quite some time. From making a list of emergency contacts to gathering, storing and maintaining a year's worth of food - it can be pretty overwhelming. Thankfully, Food Storage Made Easy presents it in just my steps!

I am currently working on Baby Step 2 which involves:
- Grab List - items to be sure to grab in cases like an evacuation, listed in order of descending priority
- Car Kit - essential first aid and other emergency gear to always have with you on the road.
- Clear an area near the main exit to house my Disaster Kit and Emergency Binder - quick and easy grab on the go.
- 72 hour food kit, as the picture shows.

I was lucky enough to have this air-tight plastic container on hand that I don't use much and won't miss in the kitchen. It is large enough to hold all the food necessary for both Aaron and I for 3 days. The list on the side not only shows the contents but shows a menu plan per person for each of the 3 days. Always record the date on your food storage. This kit will need to be used within one year. So, by next March I will take out this food, eat it and replace with new.

Though I do have all the food, I am not quite finished. Taped to the lid are the items I am still missing (posted there just in case we need to use this before my next trip to the store). A disclaimer to myself, if you will! I still need to purchase a wing stove with pellets and matches (quite important!).

I also still need to store my water for my 72 hour kit. Enough water to fill a 2-liter soda bottle is needed to reconstitute all the food within this kit. It is also recommended to have 3 2-liter bottles per person for drinking. Off to find containers...!

Here is the link to the menu for our 3 day emergency food supply. It was a long day in the grocery store looking for these items that I rarely, if ever, eat. I came sooo close to asking for help in finding the 'beanie weanies' because I had never heard of them (though I could guess what they are). However, I had a hunch that they were something All-American, so fear of humiliation kept me quite...for 20 stinkin' minutes. I was right! Glad I didn't ask. They are right next to the pork n beans!
I hope by next year's replenishment, I will have homemade canned goods so our emergency stash will have more natural foods. This list is lacking in fruit big time! But hey, it's all about survival, right?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cheese Making

I stumbled upon this post at the perfect moment! I just read in Barbara Kingsolver's 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' about making my own cheese and I was intrigued. Laura at Heavenly Homemakers posted detailed steps for her cheese making. Just what I needed - pictures to answer my questions!

We don't drink raw milk around here so I am waiting until milk goes on sale and then trying this out. Since store-bought milk is homogenized and pasteurized, it won't make butter (missing the cream), just the cheese.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Laundry Soap

I've been making my own laundry soap for over a month now and have been pleasantly surprised by how eco- and budget-friendly it has been! It cleans well, too! I have not had any trouble getting out stains...just toss in the dirties and start the engine. I have also been using distilled white vinegar for my fabric softener.

I use unscented, all-natural Castile Soap in my laundry soap. The most dramatic change for me was the lack of the "clean" smell of the freshly laundered clothes. It still boggles my mind that the laundry smells like nothing right when it is pulled from the dryer. In our world where literally everything is scented, or expected to be, it is hard for me to describe freshly laundered clothes as not having a scent. If it doesn't smell clean, how do I know that it is clean?? Well, it doesn't smell dirty and the spaghetti sauce on the white dinner napkin is gone.

My two most favorite scents are the desert rain and the smell of clean laundry. The "clean cotton" smell has largely been my choice of aroma for candles, body wash, you name it. Oh, how my nose has been deceived. The desert rain smell I love so much is actually the oils from the creosote bush that is excreted into the air when the bush becomes wet. Thank you, Barabara Kingsolver. The clean cotton smell is anyone's guess...a concoction of some manufacturer. My newest goal is to attempt at creating a similar scent with a combination of essential oils.

The recipe for my homemade laundry soap follows. I purchase my Castile Soap from Mabel White. If you miss scents like I do, then choose from one of her many scented varieties (Fresh Cut Grass anyone?), or create your own. I know many people also use Dr. Bronner's castile soap. To be honest, the only reason I chose Mable White over Dr. Bronner's is because she answered my question much quicker (the same evening, in fact) than Dr. Bronner's website did (several weeks later). I am happy to report that castile soap is safe for use in HE washers!

Homemade Laundry Soap

To your gallon-size container, add 1 c. distilled white vinegar. Dissolve 1/3 c. salt and 1 c. baking soda in water on a low heat setting, stirring constantly. This won't dissolve entirely - just get it to uniformly cloudy and then add it to your container. Fill the rest of the way with water to make 1 gallon of laundry soap. Add essential oils (optional) to your nose's liking.

Additional notes:
- This laundry soap mixture will need to be mixed well prior to each use so choose your container with this in mind. A clean, gallon milk jug works well.
- For spot treatments, apply a small amount of castile soap directly onto the stain and rub. Wash as normal. (I have not yet needed to do this...regular laundering has removed all stains.)
- I haven't crunched the numbers yet, but I know this is much cheaper than what you can buy in the store. For Mabel's Miracle, it is $32 for a half-gallon of castile soap. I use 1 c. of this to make 1 gallon of laundry soap that lasts me about a month (~5-6 loads per week). The remaining ingredients are available at a nominal cost.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Composting the Ewwey Gooey Way

Feast your eyes on this! This is where we grow our food...well, eventually. We just started composting with red worms. While we are doing CSA now, we will someday have our own bountiful harvests from our backyard. Our compost bin is actually a 'rubbermaid-like' storage bin that we drilled with holes (so the worms can breathe). Then you create bedding material out of shredded cardboard and newspaper, add your waste (a.k.a. worm food) and worms. Composting with red worms allows you to have finished compost sooner because the worms digest the rotting food, helping to break it down more quickly. Also, since the worms are feasting on the nastiness, our yard should not have the lovely compost aroma in the air! After researching composting, I feel this is the best route especially if you are limited on space. You can even keep your red worm compost indoors so it is perfect for apartment and condo-living. I found Red Worm Composting and WikiHow to be great resources. Anyone already have experience with this form of composting?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pink Pancakes

So I know Valentine's Day has come and gone but I just had to share these pink pancakes. Aaron made them into little heart shapes for our first Valentine's breakfast as an old married couple. We got the recipe out of a cookbook (a gift from our wedding) called Deceptively Delicious. Jerry Seinfeld's wife has created many ways to 'hide' fruits and veggies in our everyday meals. I think we are pretty good about eating our veggies but her recipes offer unique ways to enjoy them. Her style is to cook the produce, puree it and then store it in the freezer in convenient measurements. Then you can take out the produce and sneak it into your meal later on. I have found this a great asset to CSA. Sometimes, we get more produce than we can handle in a given week due to being out of town, eating out, etc. and this allows me to answer the question, "Just what am I going to do with all these beets?" How else did you think we made our pancakes pink? ;) I know it sounds crazy but they really are de-lish! They are high in protein and give me sustaining energy long into the day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

Aaron and I joined our local community supported agriculture (CSA) a couple of months ago. What is a CSA, you ask? Well, it is basically getting your produce (and sometimes meats, cheeses, eggs, and grains are options) straight from the farm, rather than a grocery store. If you are not a gardener or just don't have room for a garden right now, a CSA is a great choice. We are enjoying the farm-fresh vegetables, fruits and grains so tremendously! Our diet is more diverse and well-balanced. It is more nutritous because we are eating produce that has been allowed to ripen, not just on the vine, but on the fully-intact plant and is free of any pesticides, waxes, etc. that is found in the store.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to visit Crooked Sky Farms, where our produce is grown. It was amazing to see such a lush, beautiful garden-like farm in the middle of the city. In the picture, you can see that the farm is directly next to I-17 (the tan block wall) with downtown Phoenix just on the other side. I must say, Phoenix has never looked so beautiful! At the farm, we were treated to a crop tour, lunch made from the bountiful harvests and unlimited pickings of whatever we wanted! Such a scrumptious surprise!

Benefits of joining a CSA:
Less Pollution - Since the produce is grown locally, it doesn't have to travel as far to get to you.
More Nutrition & Flavor - You will immediately notice increased flavor & aroma when food is allowed to ripen completely before being harvested. We could smell our green onions the second they were removed from the ground! Your food also has more nutrients when it is harvested only once it's ripe.
Less Chemicals & other Additives - Our farms do not use pesiticides or other chemicals (i.e., waxes) to unnaturally enhance the way produce appears. This makes it healthier for you, the environment, and the workers of the farm. Besides, that two-legged carrot still has the same nutrients and flavor as that 'normal' one-legged dude over there! Makes me think of Misfit Toyland..."Nobody wants a Charlie-in-the-box!" And, how is a shiny, waxed apple better than one that goes straight from the tree limb to your mouth? I can tell you, it's not.
Less Expensive - Traditionally, CSAs are cheaper than buying organically at the store. We didn't buy organic before, so it was a little bit of a jump for us at first. Or so we thought. I am now noticing that it is easier to stay within our grocery budget. I think this is due to learning that many parts of the produce that we don't think to eat (or that isn't even available in the store) is actually edible and quite good. For example, beet greens (tops) are a vegetable for dinner one night while the beet roots are used at another meal.
Support Local Farms - Who doesn't want to support family farms? CSAs give them guaranteed business as opposed to selling at farmer's markets each weekend where the unsold produce will basically become compost because it doesn't keep fresh for long after harvesting.
Urban Green - Like I showed above, this farm is located smack-dab in the middle of a city that many people call "The Concrete Jungle." It is surrounded by downtown and warehouses. If the farm wasn't still here, you guessed it, it would probably be concrete.
Learning Experience - Learn what foods can be grown in your area and at what time during the may be surprised. You will also inevitably eat foods you may have never seen or heard of, let alone, eaten. This forces you to try new things. Getting stuck in a rut with your diet is not good for you! Aaron and I have had fun trying out new recipes on foods that we have forgotten the name of by the time we get home from picking them up!
Know Your Farmers - Knowing the person who is growing and handling your food before you get it is such a nice feeling! Here is our Farmer Frank. He is so full of garden & farm wisdom and eager to share that Aaron and I were sponges, soaking up all his knowledge and experience.
To find out more about CSAs in your area, check out Local Harvest.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wedding Signature Quilt

So my signature quilt from the wedding is still in pieces. I hear this is a common trend caused by post-wedding bliss (...or something). In an attempt to prevent this, I made sure to have the quilt in block form prior to the wedding. I think this helped a lot with the issue of guests signing beyond the sewing line, which causes you to then have to get them to resign later (so unromantic) or secretly forge their name (feeling dangerous?). The quilt will remain in blocks until all our loved ones have added their signatures and blessings. Gathering all the family that were unable to travel for our wedding is a task that probably won't be completed until this July, and one that will probably require me to make more blocks. Definitely worth it!

I must say that I am so happy to have chosen this keepsake over a guest book. I love its uniqueness and how guests eagerly shared their blessings and comments right on the quilt. I may take out their cards and read them from time to time but I will see this much more often. My uncle has always drawn a self-portrait when signing my birthday cards and I absolutely adore that he chose to sign my quilt the same way!

I especially enjoyed learning how to quilt with my mom. This is the first quilt for both of us and we both want to do it again. We'll see how we feel when it is actually complete! An avid quilter friend of mine tutored me along the way and she is also going to quilt the whole piece when we are finished. In the center of the quilt will be an embroidered block of my husband's and my name with our wedding date.

For this signature quilt, I used archival-quality, permanent markers. I did toy with the idea of using washable markers so that I could hand-stitch over the signatures, making them more permanent. I think that would be absolutely beautiful! It is a much bigger undertaking, though and this being my first quilt, I thought it better that I not overwhelm myself and then never want to quilt again! It is probably a better match for a smaller signature quilt like a baby shower. We shall see. I wanted the wedding quilt to be a wall hanging but, realistically I think it will cover a bed when it is all finished. Of course, size depends on your guest list and the pattern you choose.

I chose the pattern Misselthwaite for several reasons. First, you can fit 4 signatures on a single block. I also love the story of The Secret Garden and gardening in general. I also considered Don't Fence Me In because it screamed signature quilt to me, but I thought a pattern name like that would be bad ju-ju and not appropriate for a wedding.

This pattern uses paper-piecing which I was really intimidated by since I have heard it to be tediuos and hard to wrap your mind around. But, it was so easy! If you can trace, then you can do this! It really is just tracing with a sewing machine instead of a pencil. It was an added bonus to have the paper backing on the blocks during signing - it added extra stability so the fabric did not bunch. Speaking of fabric - all of my fabric came from Hancock's of Paducah where I found Deb Strain's beautiful peices. I was very impressed with the quality.

I will be sure to post the completed version of our signature wedding quilt....stay tuned!

What is a treasured keepsake from your wedding? How did you capture who was in attendance?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Home Control Journal

Rather quickly after getting married, I realized I needed to create some sort of home maintenance/cleaning schedule. I am accustomed to caring for a 500 square foot apartment with an even smaller balcony. So when I moved into Aaron's 1600 square foot home with both front and (gasp!) back yards, needless to say I was a bit overwhelmed as to where to begin. Not to mention moving in all of my worldly goods made for piles of homeless items all over the house. I didn't know where anything was and I knew two things were in order:
1. Simplification
2. Organization

Now, I LOVE to organize. Call me a freak but I get such a sense of accomplishment from organizing and I enjoy the mental challenge. Though I am a pack-rat by nature (I WILL need this someday...), being surrounded by simplicity offers such a breath of fresh air for me. Not to mention my internal control-freak beast is satisfied much quicker when there are only a few things to manage. Given all this, you would think I would need absolutely no help in getting a home in order. I am impatient. It drove me totally bonkers seeing our home still in c.h.a.o.s. (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) a whole month after the wedding. (In hindsight, I see how ridiculous I was being.) Basically, I needed some sort of rule of thumb to gauge my progress so I would FEEL like I was getting somewhere. That is when I found FlyLady.

Now, I don't feel that I need to be reminded to put on my shoes everyday, but her simple steps to creating a schedule sent me shooting off into the right direction. Besides, it is such a little ego-compliment when she is trying to instill the habit of getting dressed everyday and yahoo, me! I already have that one down pat! Creating a weekly schedule is my first step to a Home Control Journal. I'd love to hear about other schedules that you have found to work for you and your family. I am able to get each day's "chores" completed before I begin work each morning around 9am (or I save some of it for a break in the afternoon if I have an early meeting, etc.). I will explain my daily schedule at a later time.

Spend one hour 'blessing' my home (Wash bedsheets, empty all trash, gather recycling, vacuum upstairs and stairs, clean vacuum, clean mirrors/doorknobs/light switches, dust)
Spend 15 mins. decluttering
Spend 15 mins. performing a Spring Cleaning-like chore

Clean fridge
Menu & Shopping List planning (coupons, etc.)
Put trash and recycling out at the curb
One load of laundry
CSA pickup
15 mins. each on Spring Cleaning and decluttering

One load of laundry
Calendar sync with husband
Errand day
Clean out purse & car
15 mins. each of Spring Cleaning and decluttering

Clean toilets & tubs
Sweep patios
One load of laundry
15 mins. each of Spring Cleaning and decluttering

Date Night!
Sweep and mop tile (which is most of our house!)
Clean birdcage & catbox
Water & fertilize plants
One load of laundry
15 mins. each of Spring Cleaning and decluttering

play, play, play!
Farmer's Market

Rejoice & Relax!
Calendar Sync

How does home management work in your household? What are your tricks of the trade to keep on top of it all?

Welcome to Natural Homemaking!

Greetings and welcome to my homemaking journal. My name is Vicki and have been married to my husband, Aaron, for a little over 3 months. We are an eHarmony success couple! I am very interested in all things homemaking...and the more natural the approach, the better. You are invited to share in these experiences with me as I meander through my new roles as wife, homeowner and (later!) motherhood. I encourage you to share your experiences with me as well (I am new at this, you know!) as I encounter the challenges and blessings down this new road in my life. Happy Homemaking!