How to Freeze Food Without Using Plastic

When I post pictures of my jar-filled freezer on social media, I get lots of questions about it, usually along the following lines:

  • Is it safe to freeze food in glass? (Yes)
  • Do you use special glass for the freezer? (No)
  • Don’t your glass containers break? (Only that one time…)

I have had little trouble freezing food in glass. I do however take a couple of precautions:

Always leave headspace when freezing liquids. I prefer wide-mouth jars for freezing or at least jars without shoulders (i.e., straight sides all the way up to the top). I have broken only one glass container in the freezer—it’s one of those things you do only once. I filled a narrow-neck milk bottle with liquid (likely broth, I forget exactly). Even though I had left head space, when the liquid froze, it expanded and snapped the narrow neck cleanly off the (very nice) bottle. Oops.

Occasionally I’ll use pyrex round or rectangular containers with plastic lids, which I bought before I went plastic-free. I don’t use these very often in the freezer because I like to keep the glass portion of them free for roasting food.

Don’t overstuff your freezer with jars stacked all over the place willy-nilly. When you open your freezer door, jars might fall out onto the floor and break.

What I Freeze

Beans. Depending on the recipe I plan on using the beans in, I freeze these with or without liquid. I love having cooked beans on hand in the freezer. I make channa masala or hummus with chickpeas, a spicy bean dish with black beans and refried beans with pinto beans. I dislike the texture and taste of canned beans, not to mention the BPA (or an equally nasty equivalent) present in the plastic lining of canned food. (Click here for directions on slow-cooker beans.)

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Beans freezing on the right-hand side

Sourdough crackers. These freeze very well! They taste so delicious, they never stay in the freezer long though. (Click here for the sourdough cracker recipe.) Continue reading

Meet Frank, the Zero-Waste Hamster

My youngest daughter, who asked I use a fake name in this post—let’s call her C—repeatedly asked me for a hamster this summer.

C: Can we get a hamster?

Me: Bootsy will eat it.

C: I’ll keep it in my room with the door shut.

Me: Meh.

C: All of a mother’s problems disappear when she gives her child a hamster.

Me:

C: Did you look at the brochure I made about why you should get me a hamster?

Me: No. I mean yes I did but no hamster.

C: Can we get a hamster?

Me: I don’t like having hamsters as pets. They don’t live long. They can’t let you know when they’re hungry or thirsty, like a cat or dog can. Pets are a big responsibility. We have to find a cat sitter for Bootsy every time we go away. We don’t have any of the hamster stuff. Hamsters cost money. They poop constantly. They smell.

C: He can be a zero-waste hamster.

We found Frank on craigslist. C changed his original name—Elon Mouse, which I adored—to Frank. He came with a free cage, water bottle and some cage accoutrements, like a hollow tree stump he likes to curl up under. But his cage offered little room for him to run around.

Every time we entered C’s room—and he was awake—Frank would climb up the (short) wall of the cage and look up at us, as if pleading to be let out. We would open the cage door he’d run around a bit on the carpet but I felt bad putting him back in. So I started looking on craigslist for a bigger cage. I hadn’t been having much luck and last week wondered if I should just cave in and pay a pile of money for a new cage at the pet store. But then the perfect new home appeared…

Chez Frank

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The hamster mansion

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The wooden staircase

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The floor plan

The woman who sold me this handmade cage donated the asking price—$40—to Rattie Ratz, a not-for-profit rat rescue here in the Bay Area. So not only did I avoid buying a new junky piece of landfill in transition that would have cost much more, my money also went to a good cause. I can’t believe my luck!

When we moved Frank to his cage Sunday night, he ran all around and checked things out. He seemed very excited. He gets more exercise now—his wheel fits in the cage and he likes to run up and down the staircase. And he loves to sleep under the wooden shelf below the stairs.

For bedding we have been using shredded paper, which I compost in my yard after I change the cage. Mr. Sierra Club says you can safely compost shredded paper. You may hear conflicting reports of what can and can’t go in a compost heap. I throw all sorts of stuff on mine. (Here’s a post about how I compost.)

box-o-bedding

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My compost, literally a heap on the ground

I have started collecting brown paper bags (we have lots in our recycling bins) and want to try those next. Paper without ink is probably better for Frank. And the thicker brown paper might be more absorbent.

The zero-waste menu

When I said yes to the hamster, C and her sister MK immediately researched hamster food online. Hamsters eat small bits of vegetables or fruit a few times a week. I can easily find unpackaged produce, so I checked that zero-waste box on the priorities list.

When I chop vegetables, I now reserve a few bits for Frank. He ate some of the scraps you see in the little pile at the bottom of the pic below. He gobbled up the zucchini.

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Stir fry ingredients and a few scraps (bottom) for Frank

I can buy dry food—what hamsters mostly eat—in bulk where I live. One recipe I found called for equal parts popcorn kernels, lentils, split green peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seed and millet. So I decided to make that. I had also read that hamsters like sesame seeds and because we have a lifetime supply of them (MK went crazy one day and bought tons for fermented porridge), I added those to the mix too.

ingredientsI had originally planned to include 1 cup of each ingredient but I worried Frank might not like his food and it would go to waste (or I would spend hours picking out every last flax seed and millet grain). So I made a small batch, with 1/4 cup of each ingredient. seed-mix

dinner

Dinner time

But will he eat it?

Frank is camera-shy. And he can’t sit still. I had SO MUCH trouble getting a decent shot of him. I have no idea how the creators of Hammy Hamster pulled off filming rodents.

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Shy Frank

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Did someone say dinner?

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Mmmm sunflower seeds…

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I need every sunflower seed in my cheeks now

When I set out his dinner, Frank crawled out of his nest under the stairs and chowed down for a while. He liked the sunflower seeds best and quickly stuffed all of them into his cheeks. After eating, he retired to his little wooden house to digest his meal.

frank-post-dinner

The lentils weren’t a big hit. I saw him spit one out across his plate. I wish I had caught a shot of that. So let’s see what he left behind…

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The lentils, yellow split peas and popcorn weren’t his favorites. He ate lots of pumpkin seeds. He missed just one sunflower seed. I’ll check again in the morning.

So, C certainly knows how to win me over—just dangle the zero-waste carrot.

And keep the little thug below away from Frank.

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Bootsy curled up on a second-hand chair

How to Make Eggshell Calcium Powder

My daughter MK made me some homemade toothpaste a couple of years ago that I really liked. It was very similar to this recipe but she added calcium powder to it. She bought calcium supplements and emptied the contents of the gelatin capsules into her toothpaste concoction. I have wanted to make her toothpaste recipe for a while but have avoided buying calcium powder. Like most supplements, it comes in either a big plastic bottle or a glass bottle with a big plastic top.

Then I remembered something MK had told me a couple of years ago: You can make calcium powder from eggshells. How could I have forgotten about this?

The eggs

First things first. I don’t buy eggs from just anywhere. I get mine from farmers I know. I live in an intentional community, which bought a farm a few years ago. It has been keeping chickens for a couple of years now and I have a weekly egg subscription. These well-treated, pastured hens roam free and eat an organic diet. Unafraid, they run up to humans visiting the farm. The farmers themselves are all vegetarians and we do not eat these chickens.

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A vendor at the farmer’s market takes my cartons to reuse

This is not an Rx

Chicken eggshell powder contains lots of calcium. According this this study, “It may be used as a Ca source in human nutrition.” You can read the entire article here. According to the studies the article cites, 1 gram of eggshell calcium contains roughly 400 mg of calcium. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adults consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day.

I’m not a doctor but my sister is and when I told her about my homemade calcium powder, she said some studies link calcium supplements to heart disease. Read more about the calcium supplement controversy here on the Harvard Medical School blog. Michelle, like many doctors, suggested I get my calcium—and other nutrients—from, well, food.

I’m not prescribing eggshell calcium to anyone. I’m merely explaining what I’m up to. Personally, I would eat this stuff in place of a calcium supplement, if I took one. I am using this eggshell calcium for toothpaste however (by the way I’m not a dentist either…). I’ll add a couple of tablespoons to my usual toothpaste recipe, which you can find here. I’ll also add more coconut oil since with the addition of this powder, the toothpaste will be quite thick.


Eggshell Calcium Powder

Ingredients

  • 12 eggshells
  • water

Directions

1. Save cracked eggshells in the refrigerator until you have enough. I used about a dozen for this post, which I accumulated in about a week.

egg-shells

2. Boil the shells gently in water for 10 minutes to kill germs.

shells-boiling

3. Scoop off any white foam that forms.

white-foam

4. Drain the eggshells until dry. I drained mine on a cooling rack for an hour or so. Overnight would be better as these would require less time in the oven, they would be so bone-dry.

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5. Spread shells out on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes to dry them out completely.

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Dried egg shells after 30 minutes in the oven

6. Crush eggshells in a coffee grinder, food processor or mortar and pestle. I quickly first crushed mine in my hand.

crushed-shells

I then put these crushed shells in my blender. I do not recommend this. My blender, a bit of a dud, spewed fine powder all over the place. I think a coffee mill or spice grinder (I have neither) would have worked better.

blender-mess

Ugh, I have to clean this up after I post this blog…

So my boyfriend Chandra suggested I switch to a mortar and pestle.

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Gritty eggshells in my mortar

You can see the eggshells are quite coarse above. I think that’s okay if you just want to ingest them for calcium. You can mix them into a drink if you like. But for toothpaste, I wanted a fine powder that would be gentle on my teeth. I managed to render powder, although it took a while with such a small mortar and pestle.

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Fine eggshell powder

Chandra is a potter and so has lots of practice grinding up glazes in a mortar and pestle. Here’s a clip of him using mine for the shells.

10 Alternatives to Bottled Water and Soda

If you do nothing else to reduce your waste or if you want to start on the zero-waste, plastic-free path and don’t know where to start, consider cutting store-bought bottled beverages. The gazillion plastic bottles these drinks leave behind create an environmental mess that Big Soda expects us—the consumer—to clean up for them. In addition, because liquids weigh so much, shipping bottled drinks requires a huge amount of fossil fuels. And the plastic itself is made from oil.

All these resources go into getting exactly what to market? Usually water or sugar-water. Maybe some food dye. A pinch of aspartame. A dash of caramel color (a possible carcinogen). And we’re afraid of what’s in tap water? With less expensive—and tastier—alternatives, why spend our hard-earned cash on this stuff?

1. Tap water

Americans buy half a billion bottles of water every week. Making tap water your drink of choice greatly simplifies your life. You buy nothing. You dispose of nothing. You no longer support corporations like Nestlé, which has been pumping California dry. During a drought.

If you like the convenience of bottled water, I promise you will not find the switch to carrying a reusable water bottle painful. Soon, you won’t leave home without your water bottle, just as you wouldn’t leave without your keys. Klean Kanteen sent me the insulated bottle pictured below (no strings attached—I received no compensation for this post). They also included the bamboo and steel top I asked for (yay, no plastic!). I’ll drink my tea and water out of this every day.

klean-kanteen

Around the bottom of this Klean Kanteen, notice the halo it has earned for keeping plastic out of landfill😉

2. Filtered tap water 

Here in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency frequently and regularly tests tap water. The bottled water industry, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as food, merely requires beverage companies to do their own testing. Feel reassured?

So maybe I have convinced you to drink tap water but you would prefer to filter it. In the community kitchen where I live, I can get filtered water so I usually drink that but not always. If you want a plastic-free alternative to Brita filters, you might like these naked hunks of charcoal which remove chlorine, lead, mercury, cadmium and copper (bad minerals) and impart calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphates (good minerals). They have no plastic casing; you simply plunk the charcoal in a water pitcher or water bottle. I haven’t tried one but they sound great.

If you insist on buying bottled water despite my attempts to persuade you not to, please watch “The Story of Bottled Water” video below, from The Story of Stuff. That should do the trick.

3. Tea 

A cup of tea soothes so many ills—a broken heart, a bad cold, and yes, even waste if brewed with care.

The tea: I buy bulk loose-leaf tea in glass jars I bring to the grocery store. Just make sure you mark the tares (the weights) of the jars before the cashier rings you up. You don’t want to pay for the weight of the jar when buying $40 per pound tea.

The teapot: I have a small teapot with a metal sieve inside, into which I drop a spoonful of loose-leaf tea. I have been using this regularly for about 10 years. Let’s say I have one cup of tea a day. My little teapot has reduced my waste by about 365 x 10 = 3,650 tea bags and their wrappings.

The water: I fill my teapot with tap water or filtered tap water (you may notice a theme here).

jars-of-tea

Tea, glorious tea!

4. Iced tea 

To make iced tea, you can either brew tea as usual and then plunk ice into it to cool it down or you can simply brew it cold in the first place. Cold brew does require more time to but it uses less energy. You do have to put it in the refrigerator (which consumes energy) but you probably own a running fridge anyway… This Bon Appétit primer explains how to easily make cold brew iced tea.

5. Hot chocolate

Simply because you’ve gone zero-waste and plastic-free doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself chocolate. I can buy bulk chocolate chips in many shapes, sizes and varieties (bittersweet, semi-sweet, white, etc.) and also bulk cocoa. I use bulk cocoa, sugar, water and a pinch of salt to make homemade chocolate syrup, which you can then add to milk and heat up for quick hot chocolate.

I'm able to buy bulk cocoa!

Bulk cocoa!

6. Kombucha

This fermented sweetened tea, currently undergoing a renaissance like so many other fermented foods, is very popular, very expensive and very easy to make. If you can brew tea, you can brew kombucha (here’s how you do it). The only trick to brewing kombucha is finding a good SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to ferment your tea. Look on Craigslist for someone trying to unload theirs. They will be so happy to give you some. SCOBYs reproduce prolifically and will overrun your kitchen if you don’t occasionally get rid of some. I hereby update the cliché “breeds like rabbits” to “breeds like SCOBYs.” It could catch on…

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Ginger kombucha (left) and peach kombucha with crushed red pepper flakes (right)

7. Water kefir

I haven’t made water kefir but my older daughter buys outrageously expensive coconut water kefir occasionally and loves it. I have several starters going already and can’t take care of any more. They are like pets. If I don’t feed them, they will die. If you need grains to get started, again, look on Craigslist for someone trying to unload their grains.

8. Ginger beer

Want something fizzy and delicious? Make ginger beer, my absolutely favorite fermented drink (don’t tell Etheldreda, my kombucha SCOBY). You need three ingredients to make fantastic ginger beer: organic ginger, sugar and water. The ginger must be organic. The naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts present on ginger will die during the irradiation process that non-organic ginger sometimes undergoes. These bacteria and yeasts ferment your ginger beer.

My ex has been addicted to soda for over two decades. I sometimes give him ginger beer to take home when he picks up our daughter Charlotte. He now says soda tastes awful. This officially makes my ginger beer a miracle cure for soda addition. Call the Vatican.

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My boyfriend’s delicious cold brew ginger beer

9. Beet kvass

Looking for something a little savory? Beet kvass, like everything in this list, is easy to make, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. My neighbor told me she pays around $7 for a small bottle of this at Whole Foods! When I cook beets in my pressure cooker (it takes all of five minutes—I am in love with my pressure cooker), I peel them first and then use the peels to make a small amount of beet kvass. YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO USE THE ENTIRE BEET! This is about as frugal as it gets. 

10. Booze

Looking for something a little alcoholic? If you let your ginger beer ferment for a while, it will become alcoholic. I recently made cold brew ginger beer. It didn’t taste nearly gingery enough for me but it certainly contained some alcohol, so it wasn’t a complete failure, depending on one’s perspective. I’ll continue to tweak the cold brew process for that. You can also make mead, a delicious alcoholic drink made from only raw honey and water. Or you can ferment tomatoes for a delicious Bloody Mary.

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Mead ready to imbibe (left); mead on day 1 of brewing (right)

How to Repurpose Jars

I am a crazy jar lady. (And a crazy cat lady, but this post is about jars…)

I had no idea when I went plastic-free in 2011 that I would develop a jar obsession. I can’t hoard enough jars, although I won’t settle for just any jar I can get my hands on (a good rule to follow for just about everything in life). I use jars for buying food, storing food, fermenting food, packing food for lunch, eating food…

Neighbors give me jars (I have a reputation) and I occasionally score nice ones rummaging through the recycling bins where I live. Over the course of the summer, my daughter MK brought me home six 1/2-gallon jars from the tapas restaurant where she worked.

But almost all of these jars have labels stuck to them. If you are a fellow jar connoisseur, you have no doubt found that the biggest and best jars had once housed something pickled. In other words, the lids smell. Both problems have easy solutions.

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Two 1/2-gallon jars with stubborn labels and smelly lids

Here’s how you get the labels off

1. Try water

If you are lucky, you can soak the jars in water for several hours and the labels will peel right off in one go. I find this technique works only occasionally.

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A spice jar soaking in a jar of water

spice jar sans label

Naked spice jar

2. If water doesn’t work, use oil

I usually just start with oil and skip the water. Even after soaking in water, inevitably some of the label remains and oil will help remove that. I happened to have a bit of olive oil that had gone rancid, so I used that for the jars in this post. I was happy to find a purpose for it.

Smear the label with oil and wait overnight. Peel off what you can. You may need to reapply more oil and repeat.

jar-triptych

In the top left pic, I have just applied oil to the label. I took the middle picture the next day. You can see how the oil has seeped in behind the label over time, where it has broken down the glue. At that point, the label came off completely but left behind some glue residue, as seen in the right.

back-label-collage

The back label required a couple of coats. After the oil has soaked through the paper (in the pic on the right), peel the label off.

3. Remove sticky residue

A razor blade or utility knife works really well to remove sticky residue. I use one of my lames (pictured below) that I had made for scoring sourdough bread. If you don’t have a knife, you can scrub it off with steel wool, a copper scrubber or baking soda. After I remove as much gunk as possible with a blade, I scrub the rest off with my trusty baking soda.

razor blade

4. Smelly lids—a tip worth the price of admission

You can easily remove the pickle (or other) smell from a glass jar simply by washing it. This doesn’t work for lids.

I have tried a few techniques to remove stubborn smells from jar lids. I have soaked them for several hours on low heat in my slow cooker filled with baking soda and water—with so-so results. Soaking them in a dish filled with vinegar and baking soda works better.

But I have found that the best and easiest way to get the smell out of the lids is…

lids baking in the sun

…to put them underside up in the sun for several hours. I was amazed the first time I tried this. It works so well and uses no energy or resources.

Some jars at work

Below are a few cleaned-up 1/2-gallon jars storing some kitchen utensils (left), wedding cookies (middle) and homemade granola. I hope MK works at the restaurant again next summer😉 I could use more of these.

jars at work

Vodka Sauce

We ate tomato-based dishes every night last week: pizza, chana masala and this vodka sauce with pasta. I have yet to tire of tomatoes though. I eat lots of them while they’re in season and roast and freeze a bunch to get through most of the winter. For me, part of the joy of eating seasonally stems from the anticipation for what comes next (right now, think pumpkin pie soon). If we could have delicious local fresh tomatoes year-round (i.e., not imported and gassed), would we appreciate them as much as we do every summer?

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Roasted tomatoes, frozen in glass jars

Almost every weekend for the past several weeks, I’ve bought lots of tomatoes at the farmer’s market to roast when I get them home. When I want to make this or another tomato-based recipe, I just grab the prepped tomatoes from the refrigerator. The roasted tomatoes are my version of store-bought canned—but taste so much better. Compare a tomato you buy in January to one you picked off the vine in August. That’s how much better than canned these tomatoes taste. (Here’s my post on roasting tomatoes.)

For this post, I did get out my food mill to remove the tomato skins. I mentioned in my post for chana masala that I didn’t want to be bothered with this step but for a silky smooth sauce like this vodka sauce, it’s worth the small effort cranking a food mill requires. Mine cleans up very easily too.

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Action shot of food mill

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Roasted tomatoes processed through a food mill

If you don’t own a food mill and want to rid your tomatoes of their skins, you can try mushing roasted tomatoes through a medium-fine sieve with the back of a wooden spoon. You can also score, blanch and peel tomatoes but I use such small tomatoes (for their intense flavor), I would be at that all day long. Larger tomatoes would take much less time though.

Serve this sauce with very hot pasta. I can buy pasta in bulk where I live. My daughter MK also makes it occasionally. She returns to university in the Olde Country Friday though, so I’ll have to start making it myself. Sourdough pasta has sat on my to-make list for a couple of years now. One of these days I’ll get to it…

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MK’s homemade pasta

A splash of alcohol makes everything taste better

I love cooking with alcohol. A bit of wine or in this case, vodka, makes food so rich and tasty. I had always heard that alcohol burns off when cooking with it, but when I did a bit of research just now on the topic, I discovered that some alcohol does remain. If you add it early, the food contains less. Even I, total lightweight, cannot detect any alcohol in this dish but I wouldn’t feed this recipe to someone one the wagon.

I based this on the Joy of Cooking recipe “Penne with Vodka.”

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups roasted tomatoes, run through a food mill
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • A few tablespoons chopped fresh basil if desired

Directions

1. Sauté onions over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until soft.

2. Add garlic and sauté for a minute.

3. Add tomatoes, vodka and spices, bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Some of the alcohol will burn off.

4. Stir in heavy cream and heat through.

5. Season with salt, pepper and basil if using.

6. Toss with hot pasta.

vodka sauce

Vodka sauce

vodka sauce pasta

Vodka sauce with pasta

Raid Your Kitchen to Clean Your Bathroom

“Raid” is a bit of an exaggeration…

I recently gave a workshop at the Menlo Park library on fermentation. I love facilitating workshops. The audience is so enthusiastic to learn about zero-waste cooking, fermenting, sourdough baking, produce bag sewing and so on. I thought homemade cleaners might make another great workshop but quickly realized it would last only a few minutes. It would go something like this:

“Use baking soda and vinegar.”

The consumer products industry has convinced us that we need all sorts of products to clean our homes: kitchen cleaner, surface degreaser, bathroom cleaner, disinfecting bathroom cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, glass cleaner, toilet cleaner, those blue disinfecting toilet disks… Does it really matter if your toilet water contains germs? You don’t drink out of the thing.

We actually need very few items to keep our homes clean and in fact, we have rendered our homes too clean. The use of bleach, antimicrobial cleaners and alcohol-based sanitizers has dramatically reduced the contact with harmless bacteria that we need in order to build up our immune systems. In The Good Gut, microbiota researchers Justin and Erica Sonnenburg offer some cleaning alternatives:

“A more microbe-friendly approach to cleaning is to use less-toxic cleaners such as vinegar, castile soap, and lemon juice, which will allow increased exposure to microbes and may lessen the risk of the misfiring of the immune system that is plaguing the Western world” (p. 215).

cleaning supplies

T-shirt rags, bulk baking soda and kombucha vinegar

I clean my bathroom with vinegar that I make, baking soda that I buy in bulk and rags that I cut out of old t-shirts. In the bathroom cupboard next to the baking soda and vinegar, I store a jar of these rags, hoping to inspire someone other than myself to clean the following (this tactic may work better in your home…):

  • Toilet. Pour 1/4 cup or so of vinegar into the toilet. Let it sit 5 minutes. Swirl a toilet brush around. Flush.
  • Sink, tub and tile. Make a paste of baking soda and vinegar. Scrub surfaces. Rinse with water.
  • Floor. Spray with vinegar. Wipe with a dry cloth.
  • Mirror. I usually just use a wet rag to wipe this off and a dry one to dry it but diluted vinegar will also do the trick.

Of course, baking soda and vinegar work well in the kitchen also.

Homemade Vinegar—Two Methods

1. Scrap vinegar

For the scrap vinegar fermenting in the pic below, I saved apple scraps in the freezer until I had accumulated enough for a small batch. Basically, you put the fruit scraps in a jar, along with a teaspoon of sugar and cover everything with water. Stir daily to prevent mold from forming. After about 10 days or so, you’ll have mild vinegar. Strain and bottle it. The acidity will increase slowly over time. I occasionally use pears. Pineapples also work but I never buy them because I don’t live in Hawaii. Here’s my post with detailed instructions on making scrap vinegar.

scrap vinegar in progress

Scrap vinegar day 1

2. Mature fermented tea (kombucha)

Make kombucha and let it brew for six weeks or so. The SCOBY will eat all the sugar in the tea, transforming it into very strong vinegar. Here’s my post with detailed instructions on brewing kombucha. The only trick to making kombucha is tracking down a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to ferment your tea, which leads me to…

Etheldreda

Help me…I am overrun with kombucha SCOBYs

…A SCOBY Giveaway!

I keep track of my kombucha SCOBY’s travels on the map below. Etheldreda, my SCOBY, longs to see other parts of the country. So, if you live in the US and would like to enter a random drawing for a SCOBY, please leave a comment below before Friday, August 27th, midnight Pacific. I’ll send a small piece of Etheldreda to one person. If you’ve won, I’ll let you know and add your city to my map. I’ll also update this blog post with the name of the winner.

Garlic-Dill Pickles

“For pickles, fermentation was the primary means of preservation until the 1940s, when direct acidification and pasteurization of cucumber pickles was introduced.” — The Art of Fermentation

Store bought pickles may taste good but to render them shelf-stable, food manufacturers pasteurize the cucumbers in vinegar. On the plus side, they last forever. On the down side, these dead vegetables lack the probiotic goodness of fermented dill pickles. (Click here for info on why you would want to eat probiotic foods.)

A few grocery stores near me carry fermented, probiotic-filled Bubbies dill pickles in the refrigerator section. But I enjoy making dill pickles myself when cucumbers are in season. They’re pretty simple to prepare—you stuff a bunch of ingredients into a jar and wait. They don’t cost much either.

Keeping the cucumbers crispy, however, poses a challenge. Adding grape leaves or other ingredients that contain tannins (oak leaves, horseradish leaves, loose-leaf black tea or, according to a tip from a follower on Instagram, black currant leaves) renders a crispier pickle. However, even with the addition of tannins, you must keep an eye on your cucumbers while they ferment—they can turn from crispy to mushy very quickly, especially in hot weather (when cucumbers happen to be in season).

I have made these with spices and without. Both taste good. I’ve also made them with various amounts of garlic. Err on the side of too much garlic. I find they taste best with tons of garlic. You don’t have to peel the garlic cloves but I like eating them pickled, so I do peel my cloves.

As with all vegetable ferments, you must ensure that the cucumbers remain submerged in liquid at all times. The anaerobic lactic-acid bacteria that ferment vegetables thrive when cut off of oxygen. I weigh my vegetables down by placing a leaf on top of them, and a small jar or tiny glass bowl on top of the leaf. When I close my jar of cucumbers, the smaller jar forces the grape leaves—and all the vegetables—down below the liquid.

After you gobble up your cucumbers, save the brine. You can do several things with it:

  • Drink it. My boss drinks a gut shot every day to help maintain a healthy gut. She buys this drink—fermented pickle or sauerkraut juice—at the farmer’s market but you’ll get it free as a byproduct of your dill pickles.
  • Use the brine to add some flavor to soup (the microbes die when heated but the brine tastes good).
  • Liven up bland food. I recently made some tasteless hummus. I had cooked too many beans for the small amount of olive oil I had on hand, so I used leftover brine to thin out the very bland hummus and to add some much-needed flavor. So good! A bit of brine would also taste delicious in potato salad.
  • Brine meat or poultry. This blog post from Kraut Source explains how marinating meat in fermented brine before barbecuing it helps reduce the number of carcinogenic compounds heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that form when grilling meat over high heat.
  • Reserve a few tablespoons of the brine to kickstart the next batch of pickles or a batch of sauerkraut.

dill pickle ingredientsIngredients

  • 8 pickling cucumbers or enough to fill a 1/2-gallon jar, stems and flowers removed
  • 6 whole cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 4 cups water
  • Spices of your choosing. For this post, I added:
    • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
    • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 large grape, oak or horseradish leaves OR 1 teaspoon of loose-leaf black tea (not Early Grey)
IMG_20160815_085952

Packed cucumbers on day one

Directions

1. To make the brine, stir together the salt and water in a large measuring cup. The salt will dissolve fairly quickly.

2. I like jars with flip-top lids but any jar with a lid will do. Place garlic and spices in the bottom of a 1/2-gallon jar. Place two of the leaves on the spices to keep them from floating to the surface (some will escape, which is fine). Stuff in the dill, stems and all.

3. Fill the jar with cucumbers, leaving about 2 inches of head space.

4. Pour the brine over the cucumbers.

5. Place remaining leaves on top of the cucumbers and a small jar or weight on top of the leaves.

6. Close the jar and wait. Place a plate or bowl under the jar to catch any pickle juice that will bubble up during the fermentation. Burp the jar (i.e., open it) daily to release built-up carbon dioxide. After a couple of days or so, the pickles will turn color from bright green to olive green and the brine will become cloudy. These changes indicate successful fermentation.

7. Taste the pickles around day 3 (day 0 being the day you pack them). If you like the taste, transfer the jar to the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation. The pickles will keep in there for months, even a year or more (if you don’t eat them all up that is).

If you prefer the pickles more sour, allow them to continue to ferment at room temperature and taste them daily. But be careful as they can turn mushy quickly. The cucumbers in this post were ready on day 7, although I ate several along the way to test them😉

freshly packed cucumbers

Cucumbers just packed

day three

Cucumbers on day 3 have begun to change color

That’s it. Very easy. I did a webinar on these tonight and you can watch the recording below.