Go Green in 2017: How to Clean

Photographs by Nicholas Efran.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  One change you could make is replacing cleansers that harm the environment with cleaning products or cleaning methods that are safer for your family as well as the wider world.

rubbing alcohol, peroxide, baking soda, vinegarWhat’s wrong with conventional cleaning products?

These health risks don’t affect only people who are in direct contact with the cleanser; many cleansers leave a residue on the surface or in the air that can be absorbed through our skin and/or lungs, and some of these chemicals are bioaccumulative–our bodies can’t get rid of them, so over time our repeated exposures can build up to toxic levels.

p1040148Here’s our complete guide to cleaning a typical Earth dwelling.  We’ve tried many environmentally-friendly products over the past 20 years and have found more good ones than duds.  Here, we recommend some brand-name products that work especially well and some inexpensive basic materials that are great for various cleaning projects. Yes, it is possible to make more homemade cleaning products than we do.  We’ve struck a balance between purchased and homemade products that works well with our cleaning habits and the amount of spare time we have.  If you use an awesome homemade cleanser, feel free to share details or a link in the comments!

For basic home cleaning, you will need:

  • dish detergent
  • laundry detergent
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • toilet bowl cleaner
  • all-purpose cleaner

Other items we use regularly that you may or may not need, depending on your home furnishings and cleaning standards, are:

  • dishwasher detergent
  • hardwood floor cleaner
  • furniture polish
  • antibacterial spray
  • rubbing alcohol

Look for these items in your local stores where you shop regularly. If you can’t find them there, encourage your stores to make them available; meanwhile, order online. Many of the brand-name products are available from Grove Collaborative–click here for a $10 discount on your first order!  Here is more information about Grove (formerly known as ePantry).

Here are the details on how to use each type of cleanser. Read more of this post

Vegetarian Yuletide Stew

Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.

My brother Ben Stallings invented this meal last night, and all 8 assembled relatives liked it!  The red and green colors are appropriate to the season.  It’s healthy, inexpensive, and quick to make.

p1040088To make about 10 main-dish servings, you will need

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 45 oz. canned black beans, or 3-4 cups cooked black beans
  • 45 oz. canned diced tomatoes, or 3-4 cups fresh or frozen-and-thawed diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups shredded kale
  • salt to taste
  • granulated garlic to taste
  • oregano to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste

Dice onion and brown it in olive oil in a large saucepan.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans.

Combine all ingredients in the saucepan.  Simmer until kale is cooked to your liking.

Serve with rice and grated cheese for each person to add as she prefers.  (The serving in the picture is mixed with a lot of rice, and no cheese.)

Visit Real Food Friday for more great things to eat at your holiday gatherings!

3 DIY Repairs to Eliminate Health Risks in Your Home

This is a guest post by Charlotte Meier.  Ms. Meier operates Home Safety Hub, which provides resources on preventing injury and property loss.

People don’t like to think that their homes are responsible for their illnesses, but if you feel worse when you are at home and better when you are not, there is a good chance that something in your house is making you sick. If you suspect that your home is making you sick, there are repairs you can make to reduce the health risks found in your home.

Install Water Filters

If your family has stomach pain or unexplained bouts of diarrhea, you may have an issue with your water. Whether you have well water or municipal water, there may be impurities, toxic chemicals, and carcinogens in it that can harm your health. Water filters reduce and remove the impurities, making your water cleaner, better tasting, and better for your skin and overall health.

Some people opt for whole-house water filters that deliver clean, odor-free water to the whole home. By removing chlorine, chloramines, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and herbicides, these filters improve the taste and odor of your water. Whole-house water filters improve the appearance of skin by eliminating chlorine and reduce stains in tubs, sinks, and toilets. Other people opt for point-of-use water filters to get clean, delicious, odor-free water from the sink. Point-of-use filters are known to block more impurities than whole-house systems and provide better-tasting water. Read more of this post

Coleslaw All Year Long–made with yogurt!

Coleslaw is a summertime food, right?  It’s true that it makes a tasty accompaniment to burgers or cold sandwiches, and its chilly crunch is refreshing on a hot day.

But the main ingredient in coleslaw is cabbage, and in temperate climates cabbage is in season (therefore, inexpensive) in the autumn and winter.  It makes sense to enjoy coleslaw in cold weather, too, especially if you don’t like cooked cabbage so much.  Coleslaw makes a perfect side dish for fish, and who wants to bake fish in the summer?  Try a cozy winter meal of fish, coleslaw, and maybe some biscuits or cornbread.

Six years ago, I found a recipe for Copycat KFC Coleslaw that we really liked, but it calls for buttermilk and mayonnaise.  We never have buttermilk on hand, and we rarely have mayonnaise.  So I substituted plain yogurt for both, and that was pretty good, but I often wound up tweaking the coleslaw by adding more of this or that, taking notes.  Now I’ve worked out a yogurt-based recipe that consistently comes out well.

The Earthling’s Coleslaw Recipe

For best results, make this recipe at least 2 hours before you plan to eat it.  The flavors combine better with time.

First, grate your cabbage and measure to see how much you have. Read more of this post

EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT.

This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell since it happened, but it almost doesn’t sound real.  This really did happen, though, and it was an important encouragement just when I needed one, and now I’m at a point where I really need encouragement again.  I’m kind of writing this for myself to read, but I also hope that it will help other people to see a glimmer of hope in desperate times.

In November 2014, I was in my fourth month of pregnancy and finally starting to get past the nausea when I had a nightmare.  I dreamed that I was walking in the jungle, admiring the exotic plants, having a pleasant hike until I noticed a glimmering spot in my vision.  Then, gradually, I understood that a migraine was coming, but I was in the jungle with no medicine and no help and–and I woke up, and in fact my vision really was disrupted.  This is the only time in my life that this ever started while I was asleep and I was able to perceive it.  I quickly got up and took my prescription migraine medication, which the midwife had told me was safer for my baby than allowing the migraine to proceed because migraines disrupt blood circulation.  I did not get much of a headache and was able to go back to sleep and then get through a normal workday.

The next time, I had no warning.  I just suddenly got a bad headache, and when I took my medicine it came right back up again.  But I had to go to work I had to I had to, because I was working toward a deadline but also because if I missed one more day, I wouldn’t be able to travel for Thanksgiving.

By then I’d worked out a morning survival strategy that involved having a bagel with butter at work every morning, except on the day when I was out of bagels and therefore would go to the bagel shop before work to buy a half-dozen bagels for later days, plus a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee to enjoy at the bagel shop.  This was my cream cheese day.  I told myself to look forward to the treat because I would feel better when I ate it, if not before.

Instead, I got worse.  A lot worse.  You know how doctors ask you to rank your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?  For years, I never ranked anything higher than 9, because it seemed to me that it would be possible for pain to be worse than what I had experienced.  I was right: In 2010, I had a migraine that went to Level 10 and stayed there until I went to the emergency room and was given an off-label schizophrenia drug that brought it down to a 3.

On this day in 2014, I hit Level 10 as I stepped off the bus into bright sunshine.  It only lasted one minute, maybe less, but that was too much.  My vision fragmented as if smashed by a rock, and that was about how my head felt.  I staggered across the sidewalk, crashed into the fence, and clung there, not thinking, barely breathing.  Then the pain dropped to Level 8, which for me is the clumsy, self-criticizing level where speech is difficult and vomiting is likely.  I ripped myself off the fence and stalked across the street toward the bank (because I needed cash for the bagels) as my brain yammered, Don’t you dare throw up; the baby needs every calorie; you are a terrible mother taking terrible care of your poor innocent baby; don’t even think about the hospital; they won’t give you any off-label schizophrenia drug when you’re pregnant; don’t be ridiculous; they can’t help you; stand up straight and look normal you freak; go to the bank like a grown-up and get your stupid bagel and go to work; nobody will help you; get yourself together and act like someone who can be trusted with a baby!!!

So I got to the bank machine, and I kept dropping my card, and then I must have pressed the wrong button because the machine was in Spanish, and it was my fault that I was doing it wrong and my fault that I don’t know Spanish, and although I muddled through well enough to get the cash, by then I was in tears.

I turned around, stupid and incompetent and crying in public, and in front of me was someone I had never seen before.  She was young, probably a student at the adjacent University of Pittsburgh.  She had a Chinese accent.

She smiled so gently at me and said, “Everything will be all right.”

I stared at her for a moment, and then, slowly, I repeated, “Everything will be all right.”

“Yes!” she said. “Everything will be all right.”  She hugged me.  My brain filled with different ideas: The headache will go away; I will feel better soon; I have money in my hand and more in the bank; I’m going to have a nice meal and several more meals today; I’m really quite lucky; I have what I need; I will have a healthy, beautiful baby, and all the struggles will be worth it worth it worth it.  Everything will be all right.  Maybe not this instant, but it will be.

She stepped back, gave me a radiant smile, then hurried on down the sidewalk as I called a bewildered “thank you…” after her.

Then I walked to the bagel place, and by the time I got there I was running; I ran straight to the back and into the bathroom and puked, but I hit the toilet perfectly, and after washing my face I looked into the mirror and said aloud, “Everything will be all right.”  That demonstrated that I could speak normally.  I went out and ordered my bagels and coffee.

Half an hour later, I had no headache at all.  I went on to a happy and productive day at work.

Of course, not everything was all right forever from then on.  I hit more really low spots before that pregnancy was over, and I’ve hit many more since then.  Life sucks sometimes!

But the odds are that everything will be all right, pretty soon.  Hang in there!  Try to notice the things that are okay, as well as the bad things that are so much more noticeable.  Try to look forward to the future.  It’s hard.  The past several weeks have made it obvious to me, again, that I’m not good at this.  I tell myself awful things and wish I could just give up.  I can tell that my brain is upside-down, but I don’t know how to fix it.  I just have to try to get along until things pick up.

This is Advent, the season of waiting, the darkest time of year.  Even if you are not a Christian or not religious at all, try for a few weeks to pray when you find yourself waiting.  It may not seem to accomplish much, but it is better than doing nothing.  If you’re too upset for specific prayers, just focus on this one idea: Everything will be all right.  It will.  It will.

Turnips Armored in Self-Defense

For my latest article at Kitchen Stewardship, Kitchen Shortcuts for Busy Times, I needed photographs of at least one of the shortcuts, and the one I chose was cooking rice at the beginning of the week to use in three different meals.  Naturally, I found myself doing this at a busy time…which got busier…so that I ended up making the three rice-based meals on the last three days before the deadline and having very little time to take photos because everyone was hungry.  In fact, I forgot to take a photo of this dish until after we’d started eating!  And this isn’t a very good photo.  But this recipe, which we were trying for the first time, has such an interesting name and backstory that I decided to write about it over here rather than clutter the KS article–where it’s just the main dish that gets rice as its side dish.

p1040004Okay, so what we have here are some baked turnips with cheese and seasoning.  This is the tastiest way to prepare turnips that we’ve ever encountered, and it was easy and quick to put together, with a short baking time.

I mean, it’s not as if we like turnips.  I don’t think we’ve ever bought them on purpose.  We just get them in our farm share and then have to figure out how to use them.  Typically, we’ve either put them in Japanese Udon Noodle Soup or roasted them with olive oil and herbs, and either way they are good enough that we enjoy eating them in that meal.  Then we’re done with turnips until the next ones show up.

Well, this autumn we received large bags of turnips two weeks in a row.  We made the Udon Soup, but that only used three large turnips.  We’d recently roasted various other vegetables and were feeling a bit tired of roasted vegetables.  Time for something new!

Daniel suggested, “They had turnips in Europe in the Middle Ages.  Let’s see what they did with them,” and pulled out two books of authentic medieval recipes.  Both of them gave the same basic instructions, which sounded plausible, so we decided to try cooking turnips by this method whose “odd name might be a way of warding off attacks by hungry diners in Rome’s busy taverns, but it only made the poor turnips more vulnerable!” according to Gillian Riley in Renaissance Recipes.

We agree that this tasty armor’s effect is the opposite of protecting the turnips.  Here’s what we did, based on the somewhat vague instructions in the cookbooks:

  • Peel all the turnips and slice about 1/3 inch thick.
  • Steam turnips in a pot with just a little water, just until they begin to soften.
  • Grease the casserole dish with butter.  Put a layer of turnips on the bottom.
  • Put thin slices of cheese (we used muenster) on top of turnips.
  • Sprinkle with nutmeg and black pepper.
  • Make another layer of turnips, then cheese, then spices.  Continue until all turnips are in place.
  • Bake uncovered at 350F until cheese is thoroughly melted–about 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve with rice and perhaps a salad or fruit.  We had clementines.

We highly recommend this approach to turnips!  They were sweet and tasty, complemented by the flavors of the cheese and spices.  It was a gooey, satisfying, filling dish.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more great food ideas!  Don’t forget to check out my time-saving tips!