Thursday, July 29, 2010

Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop #3

Welcome to the third round of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop!  
Remember that these three blogs host in addition to my blog:

A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa 
Sustainable Eats
When you contribute, their readers also see your post!
How are you consuming less and producing more?

Simple Lives Thursday #3 How to Install a Rain Barrel, and Quick CSA/Garden Update

Greetings, happy Thursday!  (It's quickly becoming my favorite day of the week!)
Today I'd like to share my most recent CSA share and then I'd like to tell you about how to simply install a rain barrel, and finally I'll show you just a few updates from the garden.
If you're not already familiar with the idea of rain barrels, read below!
First, the share! 
This week, ZJ Farms sent us home with herbs, kale, chard as always, some little yellow potatoes, lots of garlic, two summer squashes, a bell pepper, a yellow onion, and an oddly conical head of cabbage.  I'd like to try to store some of this cabbage downstairs under the steps.  Anybody have luck with a root cellar?

Learn all about rain barrels and how to install one after the jump!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How I Work, and A Twitter-Inspired Dinner: Roasted Poblanos and Chicken in Cream Sauce

For me, inspiration comes from all kinds of places.  I have never been one to want for ideas of what to do, and am constantly renewed by the world around me in general and the internet in particular.

I've been using Twitter (I'm @culinarybliss) for a while now and have found it to offer its own unique set of voices on food.  One voice I've enjoyed following is that of Rick Bayless, the chef from Chicago who is famous for his use of Mexican foods. (Here's his twitter)  My inspiration for this dish came from a contest Rick's running where he describes a recipe in 140 characters or less and the best versions by his followers get rewarded with signed copies of his books.  We cooked the first recipe and it was so good we cooked it again but modified it to use what we had around.  It's a great way to cook your greens and even though it contains cream, it's really not too much and goes a long way for flavor and texture.  This general technique is easy to adjust, so use what you have around.  Thus, the amounts here are approximate and you should judge based on what's right for your version.

Now that I've talked about inspiration, I thought I'd take this opportunity to show you how I work in the kitchen before I share today's recipe with you.  My little prep station is where I spend a huge amount of my time and I like to have it just so before I dig in to work on a recipe.  I got this Ikea kitchen cart used from Craigslist and it's my main work station.

I have a few large cutting boards that I rotate.  The rule of thumb for cutting boards is the biggest you can find that will fit on your space.   I always keep a damp towel under my board so it doesn't slide around.  This makes prep so much easier.  I also keep a wet cloth so I can wipe down my board and knife after each ingredient.  On the surface I also keep my salt (in the tea cup for easy pinching), my utensils, and a mortar and pestle (seriously worth it. I use it alllllll the time).  Someday I'm going to mount that phone, so just pretend it's not there.

Learn more about how I work after the break

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop #2

Welcome to the second round of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop!  Check out what these ladies have been up to, and what some of our amazing readers have contributed.  Please join the hop and share what you do!

Simple Lives Thursday #2 Combine Backyard Gardening, Farmer's Market, and CSA shares

Hi everybody!
I've been on vacation this week (be jealous, because I'll be on it for another couple weeks) so Simple Lives Thursday has been my first opportunity to post.
I'm excited to join Wardeh, Diana, and Annette to share some tips for living a simpler lifestyle.  If you haven't checked out these bloggers yet, I encourage you to do so!
Today I'd like to talk about using backyard gardening, farmer's market, and community supported agriculture to achieve a diverse and satisfying food routine.  We've used all three this summer and it has resulted in some very healthy and creative cooking which has brought us together as a family and closer to our community and our food.  Each of the three has its benefits and drawbacks, so I'd like to share what I've learned this summer and hopefully it can be helpful to you.

Back/front Yard Gardening

We're lucky enough to have space and arable land, so we use as much of it as possible to grow food for ourselves.  Aside from the end product, growing your own food is a worthwhile activity in the way that playing an instrument or learning a language is: practicing something over and over and learning to do it well is an achievement in itself.  Going out into the garden nightly and fussing for 20 minutes is centering for me.  Here's what I've learned about backyard gardening:

1)  Grow only things you love to eat and that you can preserve for later.
    We love tomatoes, and that's why we have around 30 plants in one plot.  We'll can them and eat them all summer.

2) Herbs are simple to grow and can be done almost anywhere in a container.  
    They vastly improve the quality of your cooking, and can also be dried or frozen.  Again, grow what you love and use.  We grow basil, sorrel, oregano, thyme, and dill in the front yard.

Even if you have room to grow somethings, few people have enough space or a long enough growing season to feed themselves from the fat of the land, so buying from professionals is necessary.  Farmer's market is one of the best ways to buy food because it's cheap, local, and seasonal.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop

This is my FIRST post as one of the four hosts of Simple Lives Thursday: Consume Less, Produce More.

If you remember from yesterday, this blog hop is hosted by three bloggers along with myself:

A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa 
Sustainable Eats
Some great bloggers have already added their posts to the hop, and I want you to join!
Tell us how your make your life simpler.  Do you thrift shop?  Make your own?  Grow your own?  Repurpose something in a new way?  Tell us about it and link back to this or any of the home posts at the above blogs using the link labeled "You're next" below the thumbnails.  All you have to do is give your url and a photo from the thumbnail and your post will be shared across all four blogs!  Please share what you do!
Don't hesitate to email if you are having trouble, and browse the informative and beautiful posts displayed below.

Simple Lives Thursday #1 Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies for Home and Body

This is my first post for the Simple Lives Thursday hop and I'd like to share a few things we do to avoid purchasing products from the grocery store.

Basic Vinegar Cleaner

This was my first foray into home made cleaning products.  I was impressed with how cheap it was, but I was most surprised to find that it was much more effective at cleaning than the products I'd been using.  We keep a spray bottle filled with it on hand and use it for everything from cleaning the stove and oven to removing wallpaper adhesive (really!).  The area will smell like vinegar for a couple minutes afterward, but it passes quickly, especially if you have the windows open.  (And it's a significant improvement over the smell of industrial chemicals!)

As with all cleaning products, test on a small area first.
If your surface needs deep cleaning, you can spray a light coat and let it sit for a few minutes, or you can add some baking soda to make a paste and scrub.

I found spray bottles at the dollar store.  We bought a few with different colored handles and keep them full of this, bleach water, and plain water.  It's extremely important to label your bottles so you don't mistake one for the other in a hurry.

In a spray bottle, combine
1/2 c. white vinegar
1-2 tbsp (approx) dishwashing liquid
warm water to fill

Laundry Soap

Once I tried the vinegar, I was excited to try replacing my dishwasher soap and laundry soap.  I still haven't been successful with the dishwasher soap, but this laundry detergent is a staple at my house.  We have really noticed that we don't have to recycle boxes or bottles for detergent, which has significantly reduced the cleaning product waste around here.
You can easily scale this recipe up!

1 part grated Fels Naptha soap ($1 per bar, available at HyVee or you can buy online here)
2 parts Borax
2 parts washing soda

We use 1/4 c. per load, cold or warm.  I grate the soap in the food processor and it's done in seconds.
If you like scented laundry, you can add some essential oils to the mix or each load.

"No Poo" Method 
Finally, I wanted to share the fact that I don't normally use shampoo these days.  Instead, I use the 'no-poo method' of using baking soda and vinegar to clean my hair.  If you color your hair or have very delicate hair this method might be too harsh for you, but otherwise it's an excellent way to reduce the amount of shampoo you use or eliminate it completely.

Keep a small cup in the shower.
Use it to make a paste of baking soda and water.  I have a lot of hair and use around 1/4 cup of soda.
Spread the paste onto your scalp and scrub, being sure to touch all parts of your scalp.  You don't need to clean the ends of your hair because they really don't get dirty.
Rinse very well.
Rinse the cup and combine equal parts vinegar and water.  Add this to your hair and let it sit for a few moments before rinsing well.  (I find that my hair does not smell like vinegar at ALL after this!)

Until next week, keep it simple!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Summer Cocktail and Announcing Simple Lives Thursday

I hope this post finds you well and cool.  Iowa has been in that heatwave that hit the rest of the country last week.  I'm contemplating a kiddie pool for the backyard, but until then I have been turning to adult beverages to cool us off.  We drink beer a lot of good beer. Sam Adams and Fat Tire are two great basics that are available in most places.  If you want to get a little fancier we really like the India Pale Ale from Two Hearted, and the sampler pack from Unibroue is a great buy if you want to try out some higher-alcohol brews.

These beers do great with food and are fun to drink, but sometimes I want a change of pace.  Yesterday I wanted something fancy and girly to accompany the gorgeous baby shower invitations I was about to spend hours (literally) putting together.  I wanted something tart and cool, and definitely not cloyingly sweet like most pink drinks.

I had the last of the fresh raspberries from the backyard, so I knew I wanted them macerated into the bottom of a glass.  We found some raspberry vodka and decided limeade would make for a great pairing of tart to sweet.

If you're really good you'll make your own limeade, but I'm fine with pre-made ones like Simply Limeade which just contains water, lime juice, sugar, and natural flavors.  Avoid the stuff in the freezer section, which is largely high fructose corn syrup and coloring agents.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ina's Outrageous Brownies, CSA Share, and Garden Check-In

Guess what?  I have an actual recipe for you this time.  Allow me to tempt you:

Before we get to that, I'd like to show you the last share we got from our CSA with ZJ Farms and just how far along the garden is coming.  (Spoiler alert: the tomatoes are exploding.)  

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