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

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).
  • Brine meat or poulty. 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)
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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.

Chana Masala (Chickpeas in Tomato-Onion Sauce)

I had planned to post this recipe midweek but I wasn’t happy with the pictures. So I made it again, which is fine because I could eat it just about every day, I love it so much. Even my picky daughter will eat this.

tomatoes ready to roast

Dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes ready to roast

In summer, I buy lots of Early Girl, dry farmed tomatoes and roast and freeze them so we’ll have tomatoes for several months after the season ends. You can read about that in this post. I choose this type of tomato because it has an intense and sweet flavor.

In a perfect world, I would run my roasted tomatoes through the food mill to remove the skins. The pictures would look better. But in the real world, I don’t run my tomatoes through the food mill for this recipe—I can’t be bothered. Sure the skin-free pics would make for better food porn but I’d rather post what I actually eat.

onions and spices

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or other oil)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 teaspoons peeled, minced ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 to 2 serrano chiles or jalapeños, minced
  • 2 cups roasted tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

1. Soak chickpeas for six hours or longer and cook in a pot on the stove, in a slow cooker or in a pressure cooker until done. I cooked the chickpeas for this post in a mere 5 minutes in my pressure cooker (I love my pressure cooker).

2. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chiles and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the garam masala, coriander, turmeric and salt and stir to coat the onion mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Stir in the tomatoes. Break them up with the back of a wooden spoon.

add tomatoes

Ooops I forgot to add the spices BEFORE the tomatoes; it still turned out😉

sauce

Sauce ready for the cooked chickpeas

6. Stir in the chickpeas and the water. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.

Serve with rice or naan. We love naan. I have to figure out how to make it…

chana masala

Chana masala

Good, Better, Best Zero-Waste Shopping

Every time I post pictures on Instagram or Facebook of my bulk shopping or farmer’s market hauls, I get lots of questions:

  • Do you bring your food home in bags and transfer it to jars? (No, I bring the jars shopping and fill them directly.)
  • Doesn’t your food cost more because the jars weigh so much? (No, have customer service weigh and mark the jars BEFORE you fill them up with food.)
  • Stores let you bring your own containers?! (Mostly…)
  • I live in the UK where bulk stores are almost non-existent. What can I do? (Read on.)
  • I live in Canada where the farmer’s markets run from May to September only. How do I avoid the over-packaged produce in the grocery store? (Ditto.)

So I thought I should write a post on shopping practices and rank those practices in order from good to better to best. Some practices fall in between these subjective categories so I had to make the call in a couple of cases.

I live in Northern California, with access to several good bulk stores (and one amazing one) and year-round farmer’s markets. Because I avoid buying much of anything besides food (unless I can get stuff second-hand), I can live plastic-free and zero-waste pretty easily. But you may not have similar shopping choices or you may just be starting out on the zero-waste path, in which case, I’d suggest you make your changes slowly. Otherwise you may feel overwhelmed—and give up.

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Bulk food from Rainbow Grocery

Good

Bulk Food

If you don’t have a good bulk store near you, you can still reduce your product-to-packaging ratio by:

Buying giant packages of food (that you will eat and not waste). For example, when I bake a lot, as I fill up my jars with flour yet again, I often think to myself “Maybe I should just buy the large bag of flour the store fills these bins up with.” Yes, I would have a large bag to deal with, but, unless I grow, harvest and mill wheat myself, I do generate some waste shopping at the bulk bins, albeit not nearly as much as if I bought many small bags of flour.

Buying giant packages of food and splitting it with friends and neighbors. When you pitch this idea to your friends and neighbors, explain that they will save not only money but also time, as only one person will have to do the actual shopping and schlepping. Plus, when you all get together to split the goods, you can make a party of it (woohoo!). Who knows, you may even start your own buying club. Over 40 years ago, residents at a commune in San Francisco needed to buy large quantities of food, started buying it in bulk and then began selling it. Rainbow Grocery (a.k.a. bulk heaven) was born.

Produce

Bring a bag. If you don’t have access to farmer’s markets, where you can (usually) find delicious food unpackaged, take reusable cloth produce bags to the store for buying produce. I make very simple produce bags the same size and shape as the plastic ones that stores provide. You can also buy reusable produce bags if you don’t want to make them. Life Without Plastic carries a wide variety. Fill your bags with loose apples, carrots, potatoes and so on. Buy greens such as bunches of spinach and romaine lettuce rather than the pre-washed in plastic bags. Yes, trimming does require more work. Save all the stems for vegetable broth.

Join a CSA and request no plastic bags. About 10 years ago, I belonged to a CSA (community supported agriculture) but all the plastic bags inside my box drove me crazy. (Also I enjoy picking out my produce myself…) Some CSAs use less packaging than others. Ask around. If your CSA wraps its food with lots of plastic packaging, when you return your box, return the packaging along with it too and a note explaining why. In the US, you can find a CSA near you at Local Harvest

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Loose produce in a bag (I actually grew this but you get the idea)

Better

Bulk Food

If you do have access to bulk bins but the store won’t allow you to use your own containers and produce bags, I have a few ideas:

Ask for a paper bag. Some stores may have paper bags you can use instead of plastic. Plastic is just plain terrible. It lasts forever. It clogs our oceans. It kills wildlife. Paper, while wasteful, does break down. You can also reuse it.

Reuse the store’s plastic bags. My daughter returns to Canada next month for school, and can shop at a Bulk Barn near her. The store, however, will not allow her to bring her own containers. The chain seems to want its customers to use new plastic bags every time they shop. But if you reuse Bulk Barn bags over and over, how will they know? I’m just asking…

Complain. It amazes me that some shops just flat-out refuse to allow customers to do bring their own bags and containers. Don’t they want our money? Is business so good that they can afford to turn it away? If you speak with store management, explain to them that they will save money if they allow people to bring their own bags.

Produce

Shop at the farmer’s market. I try to go to the farmer’s market every weekend. I find it outrageous that in Northern California—where farms abound—I can’t find a local apple at Whole Foods. The apples there travel all the way from Washington or even Chile. Plus they have those annoying produce stickers stuck to them.

Produce at my farmer’s market has very little—if any—packaging and it tastes better than anything I can buy in a store. At the farmer’s market, you can also buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables that supermarkets refuse to carry. This helps reduce food waste (we toss 40 percent of the food we grow in the US).

To make your trip to the farmer’s market zero-waste and plastic-free, you’ll need some minimal equipment:

  • Cloth produce bags. Often farmers will give me a bit of a deal for bringing my own bag—maybe a quarter off or an extra piece of fruit.
  • Metal containers. I like to use these in the summer for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. I had been using my cloth produce bags for these but on the way home, would accidentally make jam out of my fruit. LunchBots sent me six containers recently. I love them.
  • Glass jars. I use these for strawberries also. When I get home, I freeze some of them. I fill the jars with water to wash the berries, cut them up and freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once they’ve frozen, I transfer them back to the empty, dry glass jar and put them back in the freezer.

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Best

Bulk Food

If you have access to bulk bins in a store that allows you to bring your own containers, then you can shop with:

Glass jars. Just make sure you get these tared—in other words, weighed—before you fill them with food. You don’t want to have to pay for the weight of the jar, especially if you buy tea that costs $40 per pound. Where I live, some stores set out scales and you weigh and mark the jar yourself with a sticker (or with a china marker on the glass). At other stores, customer service will weigh and mark the jars for you.

Metal containers. Get these tared also. My small LunchBots are a good size for bulk candy😉

Cloth produce bags. These work well for “chunkier” food, like bulk pasta, beans, rice, popcorn, oats and granola.

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My new LunchBots!

Produce

Extend the season. In Ontario, Canada, my mom can shop at the farmer’s market for only a few months. If you also live in a cold climate, extend the season by learning to preserve food, something our grandmothers knew how to do.

For example, right now, during tomato season, you can buy piles of tomatoes cheaply and:

  • Roast and freeze them. I have been buying extra tomatoes every week and roasting them so I’ll have some throughout the winter.
  • Make tomato or pizza sauce and freeze it. You’ll be so happy come December to find your sauce in the back of the freezer.
  • Ferment them. If you haven’t tried making fermented salsa, you won’t believe how delicious it tastes. You can also ferment tomatoes plain. If you don’t have a cold cellar, you can store these in the refrigerator.
  • Dehydrate them. A chef on Facebook today told me she dries her tomatoes—sprinkled with oregano, salt and pepper—in the oven and then freezes them. I’ve dehydrated them in a solar food dryer and they taste like candy. They actually are candy. I would like to keep them through the winter but we eat them all…
  • Can them. I have canned jam but not tomatoes. You can put up a pile of them now and have them all winter long.

Grow your own. I originally planned to include “shop at the farmer’s market” in the best category but I think growing your own—which I know many of you do—is ideal. Not everyone can do this (or wants to) but when you grow your own, you become more self-reliant, you save money, your food tastes delicious, you teach your children valuable life-long skills, you reduce your waste and your food travels the shortest distance possible to your table. (Gardening also provides cheap therapy.) I have grown food sporadically in the past. One of these days, I hope to have the sunny space for it.

barn

You don’t need a gorgeous farm like my sister’s to grow your own food (but I would take it!). A yard also works.

This post contains affiliate links to Life Without Plastic, a great small business I feel good about promoting.

Two New Webinars: Dill Pickles and Ginger Beer

Jump to the webinar info

I moved this past weekend to a different unit in my intentional community and I have so much more light in my kitchen that I decided to schedule two more webinars. The lighting in my previous abode had made recording these problematic.

This is much brighter!

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Please stay this tidy

Continue reading

How to Respond to Zero-Waste Naysayers

Perhaps you’ve taken the Plastic Free July challenge. You’ve banned plastic wrap in your home, started carrying your reusable water bottle everywhere and maybe you’ve learned how to make yogurt. You feel very excited about your progress (as you should)! Then your friends and family criticize you and burst your bubble. Sound familiar?

“You don’t make a difference.”

Well, if nothing else, I have made a difference in my own life. I don’t eat processed food. I eat more delicious and healthier food. I get sick way less often. My kids know how to cook—a valuable life skill. I am happy. No, I can’t save the world, but I have had friends, neighbors and followers on social media tell me they have adopted some of my habits. Beth Terry’s blog influenced me and my daughter when MK found it in 2011. Imagine all the people she has encouraged to change their lifestyles. We all do make a difference.

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Food, glorious food!

Continue reading

Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans

Click here to jump to the recipe

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“Hi my name is Anne-Marie and I’m a jaraholic. It’s been one day since I salvaged a jar from the recycling bins.” (Some empty jars ready to pack.)

I am in the throes of moving.

Packing ALL of your cookbooks, several pots and pans and even some of your food really forces you to get resourceful in the kitchen. I feel like I’m camping indoors, except I don’t have to look out for bears when I use the bathroom in the middle of the night, just a cat I might trip over, sending me to an early death.

When I had that what-on-earth-will-we-eat-for-dinner moment Tuesday morning, I remembered that I hadn’t packed the black beans or rice and that I had fresh jalapeños (I have fermented also, for when jalapeños are out of season). Time for beans and rice. I needed cilantro, so on my bike ride home from work, I grabbed some at the store.

ingredients spicy black beans

Improvisations for this post

Olive oil. I like to cook the onions in lard but I cooked this for a vegetarian, so I opted for olive oil. Also, I haven’t rendered lard lately, and so have none…

Onions. Ordinarily, I would use a white or yellow onion for this but I only had shallots, which Anthony Bourdain says separates the chefs from the cooks, so maybe this is a good thing.

Citrus. I would prefer lime juice in this rather than lemon, but I grow lemons and so lemon it is.

Quick soak. Because I am obsessed with my pressure cooker, I hadn’t packed it. I didn’t think to soak the beans the night before though, so I did a quick soak in the afternoon. I brought the black beans to a boil, turned the heat off and let them sit covered for a couple of hours. I then drained them, added more water and cooked them to perfection in my pressure cooker in a mere four minutes! Here’s a post on cooking beans in a pressure cooker. If you haven’t tried using a pressure cooker, I highly recommend it. It will change your life.


Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dry black beans
  • 2 tablespoons fat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeños or to taste, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Juice of 2 limes or to taste

Directions

1. Cook dry beans and reserve the liquid.

2. Saute the onion, garlic and jalapeños in oil until tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Add beans with some of their liquid and simmer until most of the liquid has cooked off (about 30 minutes).

4. Add salt and lime.

5. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro and sour cream or yogurt, if desired.

spicy black beans