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?