My daughter Carly and I were talking about "garden guilt" recently. That's when you have more produce than you can eat and not a lot of time to can or freeze all your garden goodies. If you have a crock pot here is an easy technique for turning an abundance of garden produce into a tasty yummy stock that you can freeze and enjoy summer's bounty on a cold winter day.
If the garden gives you tough green beans make a stock. You can use basically anything to make your stock. I like to start with a nice chunk of kelp. Kelp is a wonderful seaweed that adds depth and flavor to many cooked dishes especially stocks, soups and beans. The rich flavor that seaweeds add to foods is known as umami. It's the Japanese word for the fifth taste sensation. Umami is a great substitute for meats in your stock. Another way to boost the umami flavor is to use dried mushrooms. There's no hard and fast rule for making this broth and it will be different each time you make it- it all depends on what's available in your garden and farm market. For more information about cooking and enjoying sea vegetables check out the cookbook Sea Vegetable Celebration.
The next step is to load your crockpot up with vegetables, onions, beans, tomatoes, squash, carrots, greens, whatever you have an abundance of including bunches of herbs. This is a perfect opportunity to use older and tough vegetables including clean skins. Turn the crock pot on and let it simmer away for hours. I like to cook mine over night, the house is cooler and you wake up to a lovely savory smell.
When everything is cooked, strain the stock. You can stop here and freeze a soup base or you can use gorgeous, lovely vegetables and make a soup. For this step I like to use the best veggies I can. Tender and sweet. I'll put onions and carrots in to simmer until tender and will lightly simmer other veggies including corn, beans, peas, chopped greens and herbs. I freeze my vegetable soup without any grains, pasta or rice. It takes up less room and I can quickly cook up my choice of starch to add to my soup before serving.
It's not a lot of actual work making the stock, it takes awhile for the broth to simmer and then simply pop into your choice of containers and freeze.
Back to School Season means shopping. It's a tradition to start the school year with brand new clothing, backpack and school supplies. The truth is many purchases are unnecessary, expensive and create loads of trash. Save money and save the planet with some simple tips to help you go Zero Waste.
Let's start with clothing. The first day of school is exciting and everyone wants to look their best for the photos but... " fashion is the second dirtiest industry in the world, second only to oil." This was a statement made by clothing designer Eileen Fisher in an EcoWatch blog post. There are a lot of issues involved- raw materials, production, distribution and finally disposal of used clothing. One strong philosophy of zero waste is to buy quality that will last. When purchasing new clothing buy garments that are fashionable and well constructed. When your child outgrows their clothing pass it along to a friend, neighbor, resell or charity shop. Shopping at consignment boutiques and charity shops is both budget and eco friendly. The problem with buying trendy and cheap clothing is they rarely last through multiple washing and the abundance of cheap, worn out clothing is literally clogging up our earth. For more info on this serious topic check out 1 Million Women's Fast Fashion blog.
Next the backpack. Buy the sturdiest backpack you can find, either at a resell shop or from a good quality outfitter- think L L Bean, Land's End, Jansport. Look for a company that has a genuine guarantee. While the initial purchase will be pricier than a discount backpack, you want a backpack that will last for years. But you can't buy a large backpack for your child to grow into because to be comfortable it needs to fit properly. The perfect fit is below the shoulder blades and ending right around the waist. This means a backpack or bag for the preschool years, one for primary and perhaps another larger one for the elementary years. Any big growth spurt means time to buy another back pack. That's why it's so important to buy quality- your outgrown backpack will be perfect for another student. Another tip is to launder the backpack regularly. It's best to turn the backpack inside out before putting into the washing machine. Of course, as time goes on it will show signs of wear but keeping it clean will extend the life and appeal to the next owner. You can add a bit of excitement each school year by applying patches, cool pins or zipper pulls.
I also recommend purchasing a good quality water bottle. In fact depending on the age of your child you might have to buy more than one. Hydrating keeps us at our physical and mental best. You might need a water bottle for the lunch box, one to stay at school and one to keep in the backpack. Again, it's quality over price. Avoid cheap plastic water bottles that contain nasty toxins. You want a water bottle that is leak proof, insulated, non-toxic and dishwasher safe.
For school supplies start with a hunt around your house. I know I have drawers, tins and cups full of all kind of writing supplies. I think it's fair to say to our kids that before we buy new we're going to use up what we have. It's a good life style policy to instill as early as possible. You might even donate a box of found supplies to your child's classroom. When walking down the back to school aisles look for paper products that contain some percentage of recycled paper. Purchase from companies that are working for a better future. Crayola has an easy four simple steps marker recycling program called colorcycle.
There are many other ways to be more green when going back to school including lunches which is the subject of another blog.
This month- there is a world wide movement- Plastic Free July with the goal of raising awareness and challenging people to do something about single use plastic. Single use plastic is plastic that is essentially used one time and then discarded. Straws, coffee cups, lids, take out containers. Basically anything that is convenient, quick and saves time.
It's not that plastics are inherently evil. The Plastic Free July organization has a really interesting perspective on plastics- "Plastics were developed in the early 20th century and were environmentally important, replacing ivory, tortoiseshell, horn and other plant and animal products. By the 1960's plastic had gone from being used in durable items to widespread use including disposable plastic packaging." When you think about all the plant and animal products that have been saved you realize plastics have a place in our society and often especially with medicine and agriculture the benefits of plastic can make life better.
The problem is we have too much of a good thing. We are simply using way, way, way too much plastic- it's everywhere and it's created a host of problems. "Everypiece of plastic ever produced still remains somewhere in the earth today. In the last half of the 20th century over 1 billion tons of plastic was produced. This figure has already doubled in the first ten years of this century." One of the biggest culprits is single use plastic, in the USA over 500 million straws are used daily.
And while many people recycle household plastic, single use plastic is the least likely to be recycled. We tend to use these plastic products at events, concerts and while traveling. Often our recycled plastic is sent to a developing country where we can't see it but it's still there. There may also be health issues related to plastic especially with food stored or cooked in plastic. And finally just the trash that is filling our land and oceans. Plastic pollution in the oceans affects all sea creatures. According to the Ocean Conservancy the biggest source of ocean pollution is plastic beverage containers. They break down into smaller and smaller pieces and are often mistaken for food by hungry animals.
The best way to get started on your Plastic Free Journey is to visit Plastic Free July and take the Pesky Plastic Quiz. Answering the questions will give you a great starting place to make a change in your life. I guarantee once you get started you won't look back.
Resources to get you started-
Another resource from Treading My Own Path has Enough is Enough- 18 Ideas for Embracing a Life With Less Waste and Less Stuff. She also writes great blogs with practical tips, her latest is How to Buy Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Without Plastic.
Follow Australian writer and activist Anita Horn on Facebook, her page is devoted to Plastic Free Produce. It's an easy one to start because many of our fruits and vegetables are beautifully packaged by Mother Nature.
If your idea of a good time is sitting outside listening to the birds chirp and watching your garden grow while sipping a fruity, boozy drink then infused vodkas are for you.
I first read about infusing vodkas in the cookbook "How to Be a Domestic Goddess" by Nigella Lawson. Her rhubarb schnapps recipe caught my eye. Living in Maine rhubarb is one of the first things to pop up in the garden and this was a new way to preserve it.
I've been tinkering with infused vodkas ever since. I tend to focus on seasonal fruits but my Finnish friend told me wonderful stories about herbal infused vodkas that pair beautifully with fish.
You need three simple ingredients- fruit, sugar and vodka.
Plus big glass jars. I don't recommend plastic. The easiest jars to repurpose usually contained a vinegar based product so wash quite a few times. Otherwise you'll end up with this slightly vinegar note that is so disappointing.
It's a bit of a balancing act and a mystery how much sugar to add. If you are super serious about the process- keep notes but remember you are working with natural ingredients and there will always be variation due to weather and growing conditions. In general, I use more sugar because my favorite way to enjoy is to sip from a glass filled with vodka, a slice of citrus and lots and lots of ice. I found if I skimped on the sugar it has a raw taste. If the infusion is too sweet I can tone it down by adding seltzer, juice or water to dilute.
Strawberry Rhubarb Liquor
1 lb rhubarb chopped and 1 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries and 1/2 cup sugar
Combine fruit and sugar in a large bowl and mix to coat fruit evenly with sugar. Put in glass jar, fill with vodka. Shake. Store in cool, dark cupboard for at least 6 weeks. Strain into a pitcher and pour into a fancy bottle. Viola- perfect holiday gifts and what a treat it is to sip summer fruit on a snowy winter's night.
If you keep vodka and sugar on hand you are ready for whatever is in season is in season. You don't have to make big batches, have fun experimenting with flavors and combinations in small jars.
And finally the trash- I composed my rhubarb and strawberry bits, the strawberry baskets I'll see if my local farm can reuse them first or compost or recycle. The vodka bottle can be returned for my bottle deposit and the sugar bag will get recycled. That's not to bad for waste.
Happy infusing! I'd love to hear about your adventures and combinations.