Getting Back on the Horse and a Few Easy Greening Tips

I’ve neglected you internet (read: my two friends that read this blog) but I have good reasons. Sloth, laziness, perceived personal tragedies, and an inability to be creative and entertaining beyond the confines of my small life. I am back, however, with a vengeance, to regale you with tales of organic eating, living a greener life, and making sure the dog doesn’t eat things meant for the recycling bin.

Here are a few easy changes you can make to lessen your carbon footprint, and feel completely, ridiculously, and epicly superior to everyone you know:

  • Get rid of plastic wrap and replace it with aluminum foil. A bit of a pain in the ass? Yes–but totally doable. Just make sure your recycling company takes foil, not all do.
  • Are you a cheap wino? If you are, good for you, those screw tops from those bottles of Kool-Aidesque Malbec are aluminum. Toss ’em in your bin after a good rinse.
  • If you MUST have plastic sandwich and quart bags, use the recyclable ones, even if they cost a bit more. You are saving all that money on cheap wine. Live a little.
  • Cut sulfates out of your life. Even Dr. Oz, the apple of my mother’s eye, agrees with me. They are not only terrible for you, but can have devastating effects on the environment. Widely available eco-friendly dish soap, dishwasher tablets and fluid, laundry detergent, shampoos, conditioners, and body washes are available.  Make a better choice. Or make your own.
  • Wash your damn dishes. Paper plates are easy and convenient and entirely wasteful. Plastic utensils are an abomination, and you know it; ask for your take out without them.

You know I'm not a single serving right? Just kidding. Get yourself a big glass.

I’m off my sulfate-free soapbox now. Go enjoy your day.

Getting to Know Your Farmer

I asked my farmer, M, of M’s Organic Sustainable Farm, to answer some questions regarding her life as an agricultural maven, as well as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the community and its impact. M was gracious enough to let me get my Jim Leher on, despite the week from hell: a freak storm, power outage, and crop damage. She is a total trooper.

The "M" stands for magnificent.

The Unlikely Organic (TUO): How did you get into farming?

MI was a vegan already and interested in healthy, morally correct eating. I interned at an Organic Farm and I remember the day I said to myself, “I wanna do this, I love this simple, peaceful life just creating good food that I love”. I was picking greens and the owners were setting trellises . Honestly, if I would have known how hard it would have been the first 2 years of farming, I WOULD NOT HAVE DONE IT so, Bless my ignorance cuz I’m very happy.
I wanted to do something important and meaningful. It’s not by default, I have a college education plus certifications. I was tired of working for (decent pay yes) big companies and thinking “Nothing I do here matters”.
TUO: What inspires you after a horrible day (bugs, power outages, storm damage, etc)?
M: I go look at something I just did like a weeded half acre. We recently had storm damage and I had to re-train all the tomatoes and I wasn’t happy, to me it was time wasted I could have done 100 other things. But, I started and every so often I’d look behind me to see what I’d done and how good the toms looked and kept going. A lot of times folks will stop by and tell me how great I’m doing and how great everything looks and that picks me up too. I do get mad and I curse, but that lasts not long, cuz it’s not productive. Really, I don’t have time to hold on to disappointment. I just say okay, you got it out now, how can I fix this?
TUO:  What is the favorite thing you grow?
M: Vegetables! Ha. I love them all but Greens. I could tell ya how they have antioxidants, support the immune system, have all the vitamins plus omega 3 but they are just great for you. Cooked in something, or raw on top of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, stir fry, in omelets, I make Mac and Soy cheese with chopped greens, Whatever you are cooking, use them. From Georgia Collards to Komatsuna or Chard, they are packed with flavour and goodness.
TUO: What do you want to share with your customers and the public about CSA’s? Why are they important in the world of supermarkets?
M: I’m not sure that people know that CSA’rs really are necessary to farmers like me. Maybe not to the giant operations, but, my CSA’rs are truly supporting organic, sustainable ag. They, literally, are the reason I have seed and shade clothe. You’ll not get rid of supermarkets but, I do encourage people to grow some of their own food. I get flack from other farmers cuz they think I’m encouraging them to NOT buy from us but, when people find out how hard it is to grow on scale they appreciate more. And, it’s so great to go out and pick your dinner. I want that for people.
TUO: Name three super-awesome facts about your self.
M:
1. I don’t like things that are easy, I get bored.

2. I’m non competitive, I’ll help/share with any farmer who asks.

3. I ‘m very good at getting things done: I’m a starter and finisher.

TUO: Where do you see your farm in 5 years? 10?
M: I have the 3 properties currently, I don’t want to expand and get too big so I have to hire people to work here who don’t care about the farm. I know I don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity, although it is becoming, financially, harder to do this. I will tweek what I have. I know I can grow better, more efficiently on what I have. It’s a juggling thing, an organizational thing. Also, I’d like to do more CSA. The market scene no longer supports the farm. Most market management says they want real farmers, then you get there and the food brokers have August veggies in June. So disappointing. Not only because I’m “competing” with them, but it send the wrong message to the consumer.
TUO: What is your client base? Describe your typical customers.
M: My typical customer is educated about the impact their food/$ choices have. They aren’t looking for cheap , they are looking for quality. They realize that in real farming , you cannot have everything, all the time, right now! That has been the American Way for a while now. Now we are seeing GMO foods and the major decline of pollinators, partially due to this old attitude. My typical customer is willing to support what they believe in. Typically, I have more CSA’rs in or from Chicago.
TUO: How has eating locally affected your clients? You?
M: Wow. Okay, I work very, very hard (and I love it), if I didn’t eat this food, I have no idea if I could do this job/joy. As for my customers, I think their commitment to not only eating healthy but supporting something important to them , benefits them physically and emotionally. 
Thank you very much M for your insights. I think this really shows how important local eating really is, and how much commercial agriculture affects what we eat and our attitude towards it. It’s time to get real.

Power Hour

We have no power, and no internet, hence no new posts. I’ll have some awesome updates for you in the future as soon as the lights are back on and the precious internet is restored!

Feel Like Makin’ Soap

I’ve been a busy girl. I have some upcoming craft shows and we are trying to get our Etsy back on board with the new product line. On top of my regular work I’m a little stressed out right now, but I friggin’ love making soap. I just finished two batches of just plain awesome goodness: an organic and fair trade coffee bean soap, and a knock-off Aveda Shampure essential oil blend soap with salt and bentonite clay. I love them both and cannot wait to cut into them tomorrow.

Soap, it makes a body clean.

I’m also making bath bombs, which I kind of hate doing. They are super fun, skin loving, and I enjoy using them, I just don’t get giddy about smooshing them together like I do soap. For me soaping is kind of like painting. It has artistic expression, it takes care and skill to make soap work, to create the chemical reaction, balance heat and cool, and to understand what essential oils work and why. It’s a Bill Nye science experiment, but you get to do it as a grown up. Heck yeah.

Bath bombs are just something I make so people have choices as consumers. Shower gel people might never break up with their chemical laden, artificially fragranced detergent, but they might try a bath bomb. So I make them more as a public service than out of love.

Bath bombs look strangely similar to weird boobs.

I’ve still been cooking, and trying to live a greener life, but soaping is currently taking over, bear with me people. My home smells like a Victorian brothel because I have bombs and soap curing everywhere. The good news: essential oils aren’t as irritating as synthetic fragrances. The bad news: the still can be overwhelmingly smelly. I’m pretty sure I smell kinda whorey all the time too, as all my clothes are permeated with bath product fumes.

Maybe that’s why people keep their distance. Or it could be the goiter.

 

 

Cleaning House

I really enjoy a clean house. Few things make me feel better than seeing my home clean, welcoming, and inviting. We also have 2 dogs, and they are filthy and hairy; if you don’t stay on top of it, so is your house.

Beatrix

Sure she looks majestic here, but she cannot wait to get hair, mud, and her weird smell all up on everything you own and care about.

I also have dissertation writing husband that leaves a literal paper trail where ever he goes, and uses more water glasses than the adorable little girl from Signs. I kid you not. I’m not sure if he is brilliantly preparing us for the alien apocalypse or if he just thinks the water “tastes old” and needs a new glass every damn time he takes a sip. I digress. The point is, I like to keep my place paper, hair, and odor free. I like to obsessively clean while I watch Hoarders so I can feel better about myself. I am that person.

Natural cleaning products aren’t always known for their ability to clean. I also straight up hate the smell of vinegar, and I can smell it in minute quantities so don’t even throw that idea at me. I will smack it down like Kong. I need products that are:

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Pet friendly
  • Non-allergenic (I get rashes from artificial colors and scents)
  • Effective
  • Flexible in their use
That doesn’t seem to be a huge list of demands, but it really is. I like to keep it simple. I used to have a cupboard overflowing with cleaning supplies and I realized I had a problem and needed an intervention. My roommate’s scorn also helped bring the issue to my attention. She is a harsh mistress. I had too much clutter and needed reduce and find a better option.
I think I did. I now use the Shaklee environmentally friendly cleaning system for my general cleaning needs.

One little bottle. So many uses. Just like booze!

It’s one single concentrate that dilutes with water into an all-purpose spray, a degreaser, and a glass cleaner. You an also use the concentrate in higher concentrations as a floor wash and other purposes. I also use microfiber cleaning cloths and I have to say my house has never been cleaner with no harsh chemical odors or residues. Shaklee can freak people out–but my experience with these products has been super positive. On top of the cleaning power, I’m saving a bunch of money on my supplies because I go through them so fast with my crazy. You might not drink the Shaklee kool-aid, but these products work, and I would recommend a similar dilution system for ease and economy. I also look totally bad ass when I carry around my organized cleaning caddy.

Making Community Supported Agriculture Work for You (aka Being Outside of Your Food Comfort Zone)

Surprises can be good, bad, ugly, and anything in between. Your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share also falls into these categories. We have gotten used to eating the same foods over and over, and eating what is widely available and produced in supermarkets. There are veggies that I have never even seen, nor considered purchasing because I have absolutely no idea how to prepare them.

I’m pretty adventurous and not scared to try new things, but I’m just a lazy ass human being who likes to keep it simple. Red Russian Kale and Parmex Carrots are  scary new objects in my life thanks to my CSA share.

Parmex Carrot

What. Is. This. Also, why does it seem hairy?

“Shit.,” I cried, “What do I do with this? Tiny ass carrots? Weird lettuce?!!?!? I want McDonald’s!”

Red Russian Kale

This isn't lettuce. Is it a weed? Can humans eat this? HELP ME.

I turned to Google for my answers, of course. Parmex carrots, while freakish in appearance, don’t need peeling. Bonus. I hate peeling anything that isn’t sunburn. Don’t judge me. 78% of Americans feel the same way. I saw it on Fox News. It has to be The Truth. Red Russian Kale is tough, so cook it longer than you ever thought something that looks just like lettuce would ever need to be cooked. Win!

Ok. I’ve got my tools. Thank you interwebs for all that wonderful information and nude celebrity pics to put my mind at ease.

With my newfound Kale and Parmex knowledge, I was able to whip up a pretty good Roasted Turkey Loin with Fingerling Potatoes, Roasted Parmex Carrots and Braised Red Russian Kale.

I have conquered ye, weird natural foods.

Greens aren’t always scary or dirty tasting, but they can be of you let it happen. Just add bacon (only a little) and be sure to keep enough liquid on them while cooking to ensure a tender delicate flavor.

A little bacon really is key here people. It solves so many problems.

Soap making Video

Just a little video featuring yours truly, Lori, and my dogs.

 

 

Dirty Business

I like a lil’ side action now again. Some Dirty Business if you will. My husband doesn’t mind–in fact he is quite encouraging. It brings in a little extra cash every now and again, and everyone is happy about that. I even have internet sales. Escalando!

While this sounds very sketchy, it’s actually quite a clean project. I run The Dirty Business Bath Company, an all-natural bath and beauty business. I really love to make soap.

Tickled Pink Soap. Pink Grapefruit and Sweet Orange Essential Oils. Amazeballs.

The Dirty Business Bath Company started out of a genuine love for creating beautiful, beneficial, super-bad-ass bath and body products, and because I am literally allergic to the world and needed to find skin friendly alternatives to keeping the stank at bay. A lot of commercial ingredients make me itchy, give me hives, and a while slew of other nasty, icky, lesion-like symptoms. I have a huge addiction to handmade soaps, I have since I childhood. It seemed like a natural step to do this myself. However, you make a lot o’ soap at one time. I gotta get rid of the rest somehow, so I sell it to the unsuspecting public.

My mission is to stay as “natural” as possible, using only essential oils, botanicals, clays and other good for you crap. My business partner, Lori, hates making soap, but is a wonderful balm and lotion maker, and her bath salts are to die for. We are kind of like the Planeteers, when we unite something rad happens.

Tryst. Lavender and Lemongrass soap. You will smell like a magical unicorn lovechild.

You should support your local artisans. We are people too.  Quit going to the big box stores and buying chemical laden crap. Buy our tree-hugging crap. Your skin will thank you, and so will the water table. Let me tell you a little bit about your shower gel, which probably contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).

Both Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its close relative Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are commonly used in many soaps, shampoos, detergents, toothpastes and other products that we expect to have foaming or bullin’ action. Both chemicals are surfactants, a fancy word that means they clean stuff real good. Your dish detergent is  full of surfactants, which surround dirt and oil, lifting it away from the surface of what you are cleaning, leaving it grease free.

The problem with this is that humans are not supposed to be grease free. Our skin needs natural oils to remain supple and skin like. Removing this layer can create all kinds of problems, from minor irritation to full-blown skin infections. Our friends SLS and SLES also have a reputation for:

•Being known skin irritants. Sodium lauryl sulfate is used throughout the world for clinical testing as a primary skin irritant. Nasty.

•  Penetrating and remaining in human tissues, like the eyes, internal organs, and THE BRAIN. Not much is known about this long-term exposure…to YOUR BRAIN.

•Damaging hair follicles leading to hair loss.

•Interrupting skin’s natural moisture retention.

•Causing nitrate contamination. SLS reacts with many types of ingredients used in skin products and forms nitrosomines (nitrates). Nitrates are potential cancer-causing carcinogenics. Awesome.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. This is messed up yo. If you care about what you put in your body (hehehehe) you should also care about what you use on it. ‘Nuff said.

Gnocchivore

We are a gnocchi loving household. These delish little potato dumplings are fast and easy to make. I’m lazy and frequently turn to organic store-bought options for a fast, satisfying meal. We received some beautiful spinach and oregano in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, and I needed to use it up. We also had a friend visiting, who of course is a picky eater, so I had to make 2 versions of gnocchi to satisfy the masses. Damn you Shelley. Who hates onions and mushrooms? This girl:

Shelley

This might not look like the face of deliciousness hating evil, but it is.

Really, how on earth can you hate Browned Butter Mushroom Gnocchi with Breadcrumbs? How? It’s sinfully delicious.

Mushroom Gnocchi

I want to be buried in a mound of this. It's in my will.

Look at that–delicious, rich, and cheesy. Kind of like a classier, edible Donald Trump.

Here’s what you need to feed 8-10 people who you absolutely love a pile of goodness (go organic with the ingredients if you can):

  • 2 and a half packages of potato gnocchi
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Several handfuls of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 24 ounces of fresh mushrooms, medium-thick sliced
  • handful coarsely chopped oregano
  • 1 and 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs
  • salt
  • pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • Shitload of garlic, pressed or finely chopped
Get water boiling and prepare gnocchi according to package instructions. Brown 3 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan and set aside. Heat olive oil and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan, big enough to fit all the shrooms. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Brown the shrooms until they are golden and delicious. Throw in the garlic and keep going until it is fragrant and just starting to brown. Pull off the heat, toss in the browned butter and bread crumbs. Toss in the gnocchi as well, and coat thoroughly with the shroom, butter, breadcrumbs mixture.
Plate and top with grated parm and a sprinkling of oregano. Be prepared for the flavorgasm that will occur in your mouth. Bam! That just happened. You can take a nap now.
Spinach Gnocchi

Spinach Gnocchi. So damn good...for you.

For the lame mushroom hater, I made gnocchi with garlic and spinach. I lightly browned the gnocchi and garlic while wilting the spinach to give it some toasty goodness. This also has the CSA oregano in it, and a sprinkling of parm.

These 2 quick dishes are made from fresh, good ingredients. Yes–there is butter in it, but 4 tablespoons for 8-10 servings isn’t going to stop anyone’s heart. Pair this with a fresh salad, and you have a wonderful, filling meal.

 

 

Delicious Done Right-Teriyaki Tofu, Oven-Baked Veggie Tempura, and Stir-Fried Joy Choy

Teriyaki Tofu and Oven-Baked Veggie Tempura

This recipe is mostly courtesy of my friend and fellow sister-wife Lauren, to whom I owe a great debt. This is a great way to utilize veggies you need to eat and get rid of, as well as using an unfamiliar ingredient (joy choy in my case) that might come in your CSA share or show up at your grocer. We got quite a bit of joy choy in our share which sent me into “WTF?!!?!?” mode, but this was easy and delicious. I also had a bunch of tofu that was about to “turn” we needed to eat. Serve with a heap o’ brown rice, and if you are obsessed like me, a dash of Furikake.

Low-Fat, Sorta Local, Super Good.

Ingredients and Instructions:

Dry-Fried Tofu (A delicious and low-fat way to get crispy awesomeness on your tofu)

1 Package Organic Firm Tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch thick squares

Heat a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Simply grill tofu in the ungreased pan until both sides are golden brown.

Teriyaki Sauce

1 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup Mirin

4 crushed garlic gloved

2 inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly sliced

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Heat first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally until boiling. Combine cornstarch and water, thoroughly mixing and add to the mixture. Boil another 2 minutes. Take off heat, and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Strain and Serve.

Veggie Tempura

Assorted organic veggies (Cauliflower, Broccoli, Onions, Peppers, Green Beans, and Sweet Potatoes work well)

Panko Bread Crumbs (You may need one or two bags depending on how many veggies, and your level of breading)

1 Egg

3 cups milk

Several cups flower

Organic Cooking Spray

Slice veggies into easily breaded pieces. Put flour in bowl.Mix egg and milk together for a milk bath. Use cooking spray to coat baking sheets and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Place panko crumbs in another bowl. Make an assembly line of sorts. Begin with tossing veggies in flour to lightly coat them. Quickly dip in egg bath, then toss in panko and transfer to baking sheet. Don’t mess with them or the breading will fall off. Lightly spray with cooking spray. Place in oven and cook until crisp and browned, turning half way through. Usually this is a 20-25 minute total cooking time, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the type of veggies used.

Stir-Fried Joy Choy 

3 heads of cleaned and roughly chopped Joy Choy

2 cloves Garlic, pressed (cheating, I know)

Splash of Sesame Oil

2 Scallions, diced

Salt and Red Pepper Flakes to taste

Toss all ingredients into a wok or non-stick pan. Saute on high heat until fragrant and tender. Don’t cook too long or it will destroy the delicate flavor of the sesame oil. The goal is to take the edge off of the garlic, and mellow the joy choy.

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