A Robot’s Cookbook, Chapter 3

See Chapter 1 for explanation of this unusual recipe collection.

HAM WITH EGGS: Take a few pickled walnuts, flattening through the mutton the same weight of buttered paper through a quart of herbs.  In a Belgian manner, take the liquor; mix the pan, adding pepper torn apart from the paste and all the threads.  Cut the dinner breads over the juice of this way.

PINEAPPLE À LA BOURGEOISE: Braise your gooseberries and let it all in cream, if you can garnish as it was burnt.  Shape the yolks of eggs after the yolks of crumbs remain.  Butter each layer of brown sauce for twenty-five minutes.  Meanwhile, take in sprigs of cauliflower and toss them out.  Let it aside to make cheese on a good green tuft.  Add a ball, salt, pepper, salt, and cold meats.  Open a layer of rich sauce.  Decorate with salt and a thick bechamel sauce and gelatine (melted).  Boil up and roll the liquor in a little boiling water.  Take the juice of well and bake till ready to be early for an English “dinner-party.”  Beat up two minutes, bind the other.  Let it taste like this; let stand in an earthenware pot three turnips, then fry in the sieve, and rub them in the top, leaving the oven.  Put all with a clean cloth so thinly that way.  Then return the dish as anchovies preserved fruit.

SAFFRON RICE: This is excellent with pepper and three sticks of tomato.  Break the neck that I wager you have, and mix it salted.  Take a little mushroom ketchup.  Serve dry boiled, pour in water, drain to moisten them all together and work in two pats of four leeks, a quart of one fish not too much liked, and a small chipolata sausage.  What a fireproof case for a good cream!  Mix all skin for two cabbages.  Trim some hard-boiled eggs.  Add sufficient quantity. Read more of this post

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Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post

Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Old and New

I started a new job three weeks ago, so I’ve been rereading familiar books as a backdrop to all the new ideas!  However, right before going back to work, I read a book published in 1999 that was new to me.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

John is a teenager in the era of zines–that brief time between when teenagers started wanting to tell everyone their innermost thoughts and when blogging became possible.  That time and its trends are perfectly evoked in this novel of self-exploration and the joy of getting to know a really interesting person.  When you’re a straight white suburban guy, and your new best friend is a Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee lesbian, should you ask her to the prom?  I didn’t expect much from this book, but I really enjoyed it.

Kumquat May, I’ll Always Love You by Cynthia D. Grant

I read this book several times as a teenager and liked it so much that it had been on my shelf all these years, but I never got around to reading it again until now.  It’s pretty well done, with zany characters and some very clever lines, but now I see it as kind of self-consciously over-written, and Olivia is so mature and perceptive that her inability to pick up on painfully obvious clues doesn’t make much sense.

Olivia is a high school senior who has been living alone for two years.  First her father died, then her grandmother, and then her mother went out to the grocery store and never came back.  Her mom sends postcards once in a while, always promising to be home “soon.”  Meanwhile, Olivia has kept her solitude a secret from everyone but her best friend Rosella.  But now, her childhood friend Raymond has moved back to town, bringing new energy into Olivia’s life, falling in love with her, and sharing a secret of his own.  What will happen if she tells him the truth about her mom?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This one did not disappoint me when I read it for what must be the fifth or sixth time, at least.  If anything, I’d forgotten just how excellent the prose and dialogue are, how wonderfully the various events of Scout’s childhood weave together into an overall story that feels so true, how perfectly it depicts a range of characters who understand that racism is wrong yet to some extent take it for granted, and how it’s not just about racism but about multiple ways of respecting people for who they are.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

My partner Daniel brought out his DVD of The Secret of NIMH to watch with our two-and-a-half-year old Lydia, who loved this story of a brave mother mouse and has wanted to watch it every week or so since–but Daniel and I were frustrated that the movie so drastically over-simplifies the plot of the book and adds a lot of magical mumbo-jumbo and makes Jeremy the crow so irritating!  We think the best thing about the movie is the colors; many scenes, especially at sunset, are visually gorgeous.  Anyway, I was inspired to look for the book, which I’d read in school in sixth grade.  I found it in the library.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse raising four children alone since her husband’s untimely death last year.  When her son Timothy comes down with pneumonia, she visits Mr. Ages, a mouse known for his knowledge of healing, and gets medicine and the advice that Timothy must stay indoors and warm until he is fully recovered.  But the mice must move out of their winter home before the farmer plows his field and destroys that home, and the weather’s getting warmer too soon for Timothy to make the journey to the summer place.  Mrs. Frisby happens to rescue a crow tangled in string, who advises her to consult the wise old owl about her problem–and that leads her to learn about her husband’s surprising past and his association with the mysteriously intelligent rats who live in the big rosebush.

This is an excellent story combining cute animals with deep thoughts about the nature of intelligence, ethics, and cooperation.  Lydia’s interest in it is really pushing her toward accepting a story with very few pictures!  We’ve tried other chapter books on her, and she’s accepted them some of the time but often insisted on flipping through the book to see all of the pictures or on hearing Chapter One over and over again.  With this book, she keeps asking to hear the part about the owl (perhaps because that’s one of the scariest scenes, perhaps because she likes my owl voice) but she’s generally letting me pick up where we left off, so I think we’ll be able to read the whole book before it’s due back to the library!

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!

Asian Ingredients for Every Kitchen

Longtime readers may have noticed that my family often makes Chinese, Japanese, and Indian food.  Check out my article at Kitchen Stewardship about incorporating Asian flavors and techniques into your everyday cooking!  Here, I’m giving more detail about some of the ingredients I like to keep handy.

Two foods I’ve always considered basics, even when I lived in a dorm and cooked in an electric hot-pot, are rice and soy sauce.

Brown rice is more nutritious and has more fiber; white rice is more traditional.  Basmati rice, sushi rice, or jasmine rice might be most suitable for specific recipes, but properly cooking each variety is a bit of a hassle.  I often use ordinary, inexpensive white rice for everything–Mexican and South American food, too!

Soy sauce should be traditionally brewed–it makes a big difference in flavor.  For years, I only bought Kikkoman because none of the other brands tasted right.  I tried Trader Joe’s soy sauce after learning that Kikkoman now uses genetically modified soybeans in its soy sauce for the US market.  (Kikkoman’s organic variety is, of course, GMO-free…but it’s hard to find and expensive.)  Trader Joe’s house brand plant-based foods are all GMO-free, and their soy sauce is traditionally brewed in Japan and tastes great!

However, if you’re gluten-free, you’ll need a soy sauce with no wheat in it.  Look for tamari, and even so, read the ingredients to make sure.  San-J tamari is gluten-free and very tasty.

If you can’t have soy at all, coconut aminos give a very similar flavor.

Whatever you do, don’t buy La Choy soy sauce–blecchh!!

I do eat non-GMO soy, and tofu is another favorite ingredient in my cooking.  If you’re allergic or opposed to tofu, in most recipes you can substitute boneless chicken–just make sure it gets cooked thoroughly in the recipe, or pre-cook before adding it.

My whole family loves nori seaweed, the greenish-black stuff that’s wrapped around sushi and recently popular in snack packages. We make our own maki rolls (technically different from sushi, maki use more nori) and omusubi (rice balls, also called onigiri) or sometimes we just eat nori by the sheet! It’s great for balancing your metabolism after eating too much sugar.

Rice wine vinegar makes sushi rice taste right and is a useful ingredient in sauces.

Sesame oil is delicious!  It’s more of a seasoning than a cooking oil: Mix it into a sauce or salad dressing, drizzle it on cooked food just before serving, or use a small amount of sesame oil mixed with a lighter oil (like peanut oil) for stir-frying.

A basic yellow curry powder works in both Indian and Thai recipes.  I buy mine in bulk at the food co-op.

Another great spice blend for Indian food is garam masala (also available at the co-op).  I was pleased to find that it has the right flavor for the Middle Eastern dish Loubie, as well.

For hot-and-spicy flavor, dried red pepper flakes or a standard American hot sauce will work, but I prefer sambal oelek chili paste.  It’s spicy but not ridiculously super-strong, just right for mixing into a sauce or adding to one serving just before eating.

Fresh garlic and ginger give the best flavor…but I’ll admit I usually get lazy with ginger and use the dry powder.  A garlic press makes fresh garlic easy to use.

Hondashi, also called bonito broth mix, is instant broth made from dried fish–essentially, fish bouillon.  It adds fishy flavor to soup, rice, or sauce.

Fish sauce has a stronger flavor than hondashi, kind of smoky.  Generally, fish sauce is more suitable for Thai or Vietnamese food, while hondashi is for Japanese food.  We recently tried a recipe for Thai coconut lemongrass soup that called for hondashi, but I ended up adding a dash of fish sauce to my servings to make it taste right…so the next time I made it, I used fish sauce instead of hondashi, and it was much better!

Coconut milk is yummy, in my opinion and both kids’, but my partner Daniel usually doesn’t like it–that soup is a rare exception.  Fortunately, in many recipes the coconut milk is added at the end of cooking, so we can leave it out of the pot and add it to some people’s servings at the table.  This works well with the “curried lentils and random vegetables” kind of meal.  Canned coconut milk is easy to keep in the pantry for spontaneous use.

Lime juice allows for spontaneity, too, if you keep a bottle in the refrigerator door.

Cilantro is great in Thai, Indian, and also Mexican food.  I wish the stores sold smaller bunches of it, but it’ll last two or three weeks in the refrigerator if loosely packed into a glass jar.

Oyster sauce, plum sauce, and hoisin sauce are bottled sauces you’ll usually find in my refrigerator door–but I don’t just use them by themselves; I mix them with other ingredients to make stir-fry sauce.  I especially like the smoky flavor of oyster sauce–try it in Zucchini Tofu!

We also keep stocked up on two kinds of Japanese noodles: Soba noodles are made of buckwheat and taste great with stir-fry, in place of rice.  Udon noodles can be used the same way or in delicious soup.

Pickled ginger is traditionally served alongside sushi, but it’s a tasty garnish for a noodle bowl, too.  Look for a brand without artificial coloring.  I used to love pickled daikon, too, but lately all the brands I can find contain not only artificial coloring but also artificial sweetener!  I have a scary metabolic reaction to artificial sweeteners, so I can’t have any more pickled daikon…but that reminds me…

Daikon is a big, long, white radish with a mild but interesting flavor.  (If red radishes upset your stomach, daikon might not–especially when it’s cooked.)  Most Asian markets and some supermarkets sell fresh daikon, which can be grown in many parts of the United States.  It’s nutritious and low in calories!  Slice it up for your soup or stir-fry.

Those are some of my favorite Asian ingredients!  What are yours?

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more fabulous food ideas!

Become a Temporary Vegetarian!

This is one of the easiest things you can do to make a positive difference in the world.  Every time you choose a vegetarian meal instead of meat, you conserve some resources.  You don’t have to be vegetarian full-time or forever to make a difference.

Meat production has a huge environmental impact.  Growing plants and feeding them to meat animals uses more water, fuel, pesticide, and fertilizer, per calorie of person-food, than just eating the plants ourselves.  The waste products of meat animals pollute our drinking water.  The use of antibiotics on meat animals contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can kill people.

Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1.  Whether you’re a Christian or not, you can use Lent as a 40-day free trial period to make the small sacrifice of changing one habit to a less wasteful habit.  You will make a difference, and you will learn something.  After Easter, you can reflect on what you learned and decide whether to keep the new habit permanently, modify it, or go back to your old ways and try making a different change next Lent.

Daniel and I gave up meat (including fish) for Lent 15 years ago.  It led to a permanent change in our eating habits.  We’re really glad we tried it!

Click here to read my article at Kitchen Stewardship with lots of advice on trying a less-meat or no-meat diet!  I’m always available for tech support on this topic, so please feel free to ask me about your specific meat-replacing questions.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more great food-related articles!

lessmeat

6 book reviews and Peyton Place GIVEAWAY!!!

p1040349I thought it was time to reread Peyton Place because I hadn’t read it in years–I couldn’t remember how long.  But I found that I remembered it too well to thoroughly enjoy it again, and that’s why I decided to give away this book, which I read 3 or 4 times years ago.  This is a Book-of-the-Month Club facsimile of the first edition of this classic novel of scandalous secrets.  It looks great on the shelf but is lightweight for carrying around with you.

Giveaway is open to anyone with a United States mailing address.  To enter, leave a comment on this article.  One entry per reader, even if you have multiple comments.  Winner will be selected by a random drawing on March 1, 2017.

Peyton Place is the story of a small New England town and dozens of its inhabitants, many of whom have secrets: past decisions they regret, plots to deceive each other, or unacceptable yearnings.  Set in the late 1930s through the 1940s, published in 1956, it vividly evokes a society with strict taboos and enormous fear of gossip.  The character development and dialogue are excellent, and the scene-setting prose really pulls you into each moment.  The book became famous because it was so shocking by 1950s standards, but it’s become a classic because it’s really a compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Murder. Incest. Abortion. Gruesome poverty. Profanity and hostile language. Sexy teenagers. Lewd jokes.

Now, on to the six new books I’ve read in the past few months!

The Bronze King by Suzy McKee Charnas

Tina is on her way to school in Manhattan when she hears an explosion in the subway station.  She decides to take a bus instead.  Nobody’s heard anything about any explosion, and she wouldn’t think any more of it, except that her tuna sandwich is mysteriously missing.  Next day, her sneakers are missing.  Then it’s a statue in the park, then her bathroom medicine cabinet–and then she’s assaulted by a guy on a skateboard whose jacket says Prince of Darkness.  Tina remembers her grandmother’s advice to “make a wish by running water and seal it with silver,” and she wishes the statue would come back and set things right.  Then she meets a mysterious subway fiddler and a semi-annoying boy, and together they save the world from doom!

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I’ve now fulfilled my pledge not to read this book until I could get a used copy for free–thus, no impact.  I heard about Colin Beavan’s attempt to change his family’s lifestyle to zero environmental impact when he was doing it in 2007, but because I’d been on the greener-living journey for about 17 years at that point, I figured there would be no surprises for me in his blog or the book he wrote after completing the year.  I was wrong.

You see, I was raised in a family (and Girl Scout movement) that valued “using resources wisely,” so I always was thinking about it to some extent, and then I started gradually trying one thing after another to conserve more and produce less waste.  It’s been a very gradual and mostly comfortable journey.  Colin Beavan, and even more so his high-fashion, grew-up-rich wife Michelle, started with a carelessly wasteful lifestyle and suddenly tried to change everything really quickly.  They tried things I never have, like living without electricity.  They had to learn skills I picked up as a child and have never set aside for any length of time, like cooking from raw ingredients.  Their insights and personal growth are really impressive.

The experiment began with Colin waking up in the morning and realizing that he couldn’t blow his nose on a disposable paper product.  He eventually realized the answer was handkerchiefs and that he could use cloths he already had.  But by the time he figured that out, he’d realized that he’d been thinking of this project as a battle against his “selfish” needs and desires, but it was really about learning new habits that fulfill the same needs and desires.

What’s most remarkable about this story is the changes in what Colin and Michelle began to think of as rewarding, fun, and normal, especially those that came from tuning in to what their toddler was doing or from listening to their own minds instead of television.  Although they didn’t continue the most extreme of their changes after the year ended, they made many permanent changes.  Can one family’s choices really make a difference toward slowing global climate change?  Here’s one of my favorite passages:

Just because our individual actions are not remembered doesn’t mean they’re not crucial.  The straw that breaks the back requires all the rest of us straws.  The domino that begins the domino effect requires each of us to be in line for the chain reaction to take place.

The one thing I don’t get about this book is the author’s hostility toward the many people who asked him what he used instead of toilet paper and his refusal to answer that question.  He seems to think people were asking with intent to portray his project as disgusting and crazy.  Gosh, isn’t it possible that they were asking so that they could switch to this greener habit themselves?  They can’t do that if you won’t tell them how!  Well, don’t worry: I will tell you.  (I’ll also tell you what his daughter used instead of disposable diapers and what his wife used instead of tampons.  He didn’t mind putting those facts in the book….)

The Survivalist’s Daughter by Hazel Hart

Kindra is the sixteen-year-old daughter of homesteaders who live in an isolated mountain cabin, home-school her, and attend a very conservative church.  She’s restless and wants to see more of the world, but her parents barely allow her to talk to the guy working at the general store.  Suddenly, one morning, federal agents raid their home, kill her mother, arrest her father, separate Kindra from her one-year-old brother, and take her in for questioning about her father’s illegal gun sales.  The grieving teenager so sheltered she’s never eaten fast food is suddenly plunged into the real world and the custody of relatives she never knew she had.  The adults want to integrate her into the family’s everyday life by pretending everything’s normal and there’s no time to talk, but Kindra wants to understand why her father lied about her family and to find her brother and take care of him.  She and her newfound sister hatch a plot that ends up having unintended consequences.

This exciting story really pulled me along, and many of the details were well-written and realistic.  But some of the dialogue and characterization and plot points felt amateurish.  The author teaches community college, and this book reads a lot like something somebody wrote for school–but an A+ effort!

Trigger warnings: Violent death of a parent.  Otherwise, this is a surprisingly tame story considering the plot–scary ideas more than graphic scary action.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

This interesting set of essays on Christianity comes from the perspective of a guy from Texas who barely knew his father and barely knew God, despite lifelong church attendance, but slowly things started to change, and now he’s been on a long road trip and lived in the woods with hippies and ended up in Portland, Oregon, where he spends a lot of time at the famously liberal Reed College.  He’s become a Christian in a whole different way than he was before, and he’s still learning.

Throughout the book, I wondered how old the author is, because he writes in an innocent way that sounds young, yet he’s clearly had a lot of experiences.  One of my favorite parts is the story of how he started tithing, giving 10% of his income to the church.  It’s so much like my “magic penny” experience of quadrupling my contribution that it gave me chills.  He does a great job of explaining the weird feelings of being a Christian “outside the safe cocoon of big Christianity” so that you find yourself explaining your beliefs, like this:

I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out that the show isn’t real.

Wolfy & the Strudelbakers by Zvi Jagendorf

Wolfy Helfgott is a little boy when he and his parents, uncle, aunt, and cousin flee Nazi-occupied Vienna and settle in London–only to be bombed out in the Blitz and evacuated to a little seaside village.  They return to London after the war, and Wolfy grows into a teenager juggling British everyday life with the demands of Orthodox Judaism and the eccentric customs of his family.  Some of the chapters are from the perspective of other family members.  As an adult, Wolfy–who’s now changed his name to Will Halfgo–travels to Israel to meet the other part of the extended family who fled Vienna, and he repeats the traditional cemetery visit that connects to so many threads of his past.

This book combines zany humor and eccentricity with deep grief and worry in the way only twentieth-century Jewish stories can.  I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Korobi Roy is a college student in Kolkata, India, raised by her grandparents after both parents died.  She’s engaged to marry her true love, Rajat Bose, whose parents own an art distribution business with a New York City gallery that’s struggling in the aftermath of 9/11.  Everything seems perfect as Korobi and Rajat prepare to marry–but then Korobi has an argument with her grandfather, and later that night he suffers a fatal heart attack.  Her grandmother now feels released from her grandfather’s insistence that they keep secret from Korobi the truth about her parents.  When Korobi learns that her father is not Indian and may still be alive in the United States, she feels compelled to travel to find him.  While she’s away, things go wrong for both the Roy and Bose families, both Korobi and Rajat are tempted by other people, and then Korobi discovers a terrible secret about the New York gallery and then learns that even her grandparents didn’t know all the truth about her parents.

I love this tensely plotted novel, thick with descriptions of Indian life both traditional and modern.  It has so many plot twists yet never seems over-the-top.

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!

Muslim women in India: Are they like us?

My daughter Lydia, who is two and a half years old, noticed this picture in the newspaper I was reading.  This is a photograph by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, as it appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, February 12, 2017.


LYDIA: Who are they?

MAMA: They are standing in line to vote in India.

LYDIA: Are they like us?

MAMA: Well, they are people.  They live in a country where the grownups vote to choose a president.  They stand in line like we do.  But their country is far away, so some things are different.  They have different people to choose when they vote.  And they are all wearing headscarves.

LYDIA: I wear a headscarf!  It’s blue.

MAMA: These have some very pretty flowers and patterns.  (We admire the scarves until something else catches her attention.)
I vaguely recall that I once tied a blue bandanna around her head.  She has often seen Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women wearing scarves that completely cover their hair.  Are they like us?  Yes and no.  We all are people, and the things that are different between people make Earth an interesting place to be.  That’s not so hard to understand.

DIY Vegan Bacon from Potato Peels!

I’m excited to share this recipe because it seems to be unique or at least not well-known.  I did some web-searching, seeking tips for perfecting my recipe, but all I found were recipes for making vegan bacon from other (more expensive) ingredients or for making stuffed potato skins using store-bought vegan bacon.

We had this idea when we were peeling a lot of potatoes to make cream-of-potato soup.  We were talking about how the tastiest potato soups have a little ham or bacon in them, and about how a crisp slice of bacon makes a delicious garnish on top of a bowl of soup, and meanwhile we were looking at all these long curly strips of potato peel . . . and someone, I think it was 12-year-old Nicholas, wondered aloud if maybe we could fry up the potato peels into something kind of like bacon.

potato peels fryingYes, we can!  Even our first try was pretty good.  After several rounds of experimentation, we’ve decided that we’ll never be able to get anyone to think this actually is bacon, but it’s a yummy, smoky, salty, greasy, crispy food that makes a better substitute for bacon than anything else you can make out of garbage in 5 minutes!

It’s especially practical if you want something bacon-ish to go with your potato-based meal.  But if you’re peeling potatoes for something else, and you want the “bacon” for another meal, just stuff those clean peels in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day or two until you’re ready to cook them–or cook them right away, refrigerate, and reheat in a skillet when ready to eat . . . or just eat some out of the jar with your fingers every time you open the fridge, because they really are that good.

What you see here is a 12″ skillet containing the peels of 4 medium-sized potatoes.  This produced a little over 1 cup (loosely packed) of finished “bacon.”  This recipe is not written with specific quantities because the amount of peel we’ve been working with has been different each time, and the seasoning is really a matter of taste. Read more of this post

10 Links for Greening Your Lifestyle

This is a guest post by Michelle Peng, who collected these resources on realistic ways to go green in everyday life.

Save About $600 per Year by Switching to Solar Energy

Financial Incentives for Green Home Improvements

18 Green Business Ideas for Eco-Minded Entrepreneurs

Home Energy Conservation for Kids

5 Unique Ways to Go Green if You’re Living in a Dorm  [EDITOR’S NOTE: I laughed out loud at the idea that “It might be more expensive . . . buying a small set of dishes, bowls, and silverware instead of paper goods.”  I still have more than half of the dollar-store dishes I bought when I started college in 1991!!!  Imagine how much money I’ve saved and how much garbage I’ve prevented!]

Harness The Power Of The Sun: The Complete Guide To Using Solar Energy

21 Easy, Life-Changing Home Improvement Tips for Greener Seniors

A Guide to Becoming a Tree Hugger: 40 Resources for Green Living

10 Painless Ways to Go Green with Your Pet  [EDITOR’S NOTE: These are focused on dogs and cats.  If you’re choosing a new pet, a smaller animal has a smaller environmental footprint and may even protect you from identity theft!]

Tips for Hosting a Sustainable Sporting Event

Feel free to share more helpful links in the comments!

Is Your Pussyhat Keeping Someone Warm?

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper.  Click photo to read the article

Photo by Joeff Davis from Pittsburgh City Paper. Click photo to read the article “Pittsburghers pledge to continue fighting after women’s march.”

In photographs of last Saturday’s women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and around the United States, many pink hats are visible, most of them with ears, indicating solidarity with the Pussyhat Project that was so popular it caused shortages of pink yarn in some parts of the country.  It’s obvious that many thousands of pink pussyhats now exist.

Why haven’t I seen any of them this week?

I live in the East End of Pittsburgh.  This is a very liberal area where support for equal rights is seen as a good thing by the general public; it’s highly unlikely that someone would be harassed for wearing a feminist symbol in public around here.

The weather has been warm for January but damp.  I do see people wearing knitted hats.  I haven’t yet seen a pink hat with ears, not even one.  Where did they all go?

If you have a pussyhat, wear it as your warm hat for the rest of the winter!  Let it remind you and everyone else that this protest was not just a one-day thing but that we need to stand up for equal rights for everybody every day!

If you have a pussyhat that you are not going to wear again, for whatever reason–please give it to someone who needs a warm hat or to an organization like a homeless shelter that will put that hat on a cold head.  A warm hat can keep a person alive on a cold night.

Don’t let that knitting go to waste!  Share the warmth and keep America great!

Matrix Logic: The New Baby’s Relatives

Matrix logic or logic grid puzzles challenge you to figure out the characteristics of several people, using a series of clues, marking “yes” answers with an O and “no” answers with an X in a grid of boxes.  You can see an example grid in this Wikipedia article.

My 12-year-old Nicholas enjoys matrix logic almost as much as I do, so when he asked me last night to make up a matrix logic puzzle for him, I jumped at the chance.  He wanted it to have 5 people and 5 facts about each.  I challenged myself to do it with just 5 clues.

This puzzle is about 5 people who have a new baby in their family.  What is each person’s first name, last name, month of birth, day of birth, and relationship to the baby?

Get your graph paper!  Read more of this post

How to Approach Life Planning to Secure Your Children’s Futures

This is a guest post by Jackie Waters. Ms. Waters believes balance and diligence can help you achieve a beautiful, clean home. She runs hyper-tidy.com, providing advice on being…Hyper Tidy!

If you’re not an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, you may have anxiety about life planning and making the right decisions to secure your children’s futures. You’re not alone. Many parents are not sure where to begin with planning for contingencies in relation to their children, making financial considerations, and knowing where to go for help. Our guide will help get you started.

Do Estate Planning Now

You need to do some basic estate planning regardless of your age and the ages of your children. The first step is to write a will to determine who will serve as guardians for your children if they are minors. Even if your children are not minors, you should have a will so that you can rest assured that your final wishes will be carried out and that your property, possessions, and assets will be divided as you desired them to be.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on attorney’s fees in drawing up a will; many online resources are cost-saving alternatives that produce binding legal documents just like attorneys do. However, if you have a large estate, several specific requests, or questions about guardianship, it may be better to meet with an attorney. Read more of this post

How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week. Read more of this post

Go Green in 2017: Drink Better Milk

Did you make a new year’s resolution to “eat better” without defining specifically what you meant? or did you try to start the new year choosing all the healthiest, most responsible foods, and now you’re reeling at the difficulty of changing too many habits at once?

Sometimes it’s best to make one change at a time so you can focus on getting it right.  (To make more changes in a year, try a new month’s resolution each month, or give up something for Lent.)  One change you might make is choosing milk that’s better for your health and the environment.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Where does the milk come from?  Where do the cows live, and where is the milk processed and packaged?  Milk that travels a shorter distance from farm to packaging plant to store is better for the environment because less fuel is burned to transport it.  Here’s a handy online tool for finding your milk’s source.
  • Are hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides involved in the production of the milk?  Did the cows eat grass in a pasture or eat genetically-modified corn or even gummy worms in a crowded barn?  Grass is what cows are made to eat, and the milk of grass-fed cows contains more conjugated linoleic acid, which is good for the heart.  Grassy pastures are better for the environment than concentrated animal feeding operationsCertified organic milk comes from cows who were not treated with hormones or antibiotics, ate food that was not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and got at least some outdoor grazing time eating fresh grass.  Many small farmers that can’t afford every detail of organic certification still manage to meet most of these standards.
  • How is the milk packaged?  Milk stored in light-permeable containers loses riboflavin and Vitamin A.  If your milk containers are recyclable, will you actually recycle them?  If you won’t recycle, do you have a second use for those empty containers?  If you’re able to buy milk in returnable, refillable containers, that is the option with the lowest environmental impact: Washing and sterilizing a bottle uses much less energy than making a new bottle even from recycled material.
  • Where can you buy the milk?  If the milk that’s best according to all the other criteria is available only from a store that you otherwise wouldn’t visit, and you have to drive to get there, your car is burning fuel, which might be enough to offset the environmental benefits of that milk.  Also, if buying better milk is inconvenient and time-consuming, you’re unlikely to keep up the habit.  Aim to buy the best milk you can get at stores where you’re going anyway, where you can easily stop on your way home from somewhere, or within walking/biking distance (so you can double up with that resolution about exercise!).

I wrote about my family’s milk choices in 2012–check out that article for more detail.  Since then, the milk that used to be our #1 choice is no longer available, but we’ve found a new favorite milk. Read more of this post

Top 10 New Articles of 2016

This isn’t really a blog.  It’s a constantly expanding reference book.  Every year, when I look at the statistics on which articles drew the most readers in the previous year, all or most of the popular articles are more than a year old.

2016 was an unusual year for The Earthling’s Handbook.  Losing my job in June, after working reduced hours since March, meant that I no longer had lunch breaks sitting in front of the computer writing new articles and promoting the site by leaving comments on other blogs.  I’ve found it much harder to work writing and blog-reading time into my schedule while I’m at home, often distracted by my two-year-old’s needs or my twelve-year-old’s desire to use the computer himself, and using a lot of my computer time to look for a new job!  I wrote fewer new articles in 2016 than in past years, but more importantly, I was less active on other blogs.  (By the way, Facebook has not brought me the incredible increase in traffic that “everyone” said it would.  Linking my articles to blog carnivals and commenting on other blogs brings in far more readers.)

Also, in 2016 I became a contributing writer at Kitchen Stewardship.  Each of my monthly articles includes a lot of links to The Earthling’s Handbook–often to articles that are more than a year old.  That causes a surge in overall traffic for a few days after the publication of each new KS article, but a lot of it is going to old articles.

I’m not surprised to see that 2016’s top 10 most-read articles overlap heavily with 2012’s.  All the suspense lies in seeing which of the new articles got the most readers–and the short answer is, book reviews.  If I just gave you the top 10 list, 6 of the articles would be book reviews! See, this is what I mean about the effect of linking to blog carnivals: Quick Lit, hosted by The Modern Mrs. Darcy, brings me a lot of readers every month I can get my act together for a book-review post!

So I’m just going to tell you that the most popular new article of 2016 was Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Coincidental and that you can read all my book review posts here, and then I’ll get on with

Top 10 New Articles of 2016 That Are NOT Book Reviews

  1. The City of Slim Shadies.  This essay on my experience of working for 17 years with data on the lives of 1,517 high-risk boys is probably the most introspective writing I did all year.
  2. A Person Who Deserves to Wear This Dress.  Cleaning all the way to the back of my closet, I found a surprise that served as both a Halloween costume and a self-esteem boost.
  3. Homemade Halvah: A sweet, nutritious, energy snack!  This is my easiest new recipe of the year.  Vegan, gluten-free, and perfect after a long walk.
  4. Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan.  Here I horrified some of my readers by explaining how I keep my coffee consumption down to a level they would never attempt.
  5. 5 Fish-Free Family-Friendly Meals.  Annoyed by “meatless” menus for Lent that all involved fish, I promoted these vegan, gluten-free ideas: Gallo Pinto, Green Ribbon Lentils, Black Bean Soup, Sloppy Joes, and Masoor Dal.
  6. A Really Real-Life Meal Plan.  When life gives you 7 weeks of craziness, make a blog post based on a photo of your so-called meal plan that hung on the kitchen cabinet…and give yourself some credit for having come up with any healthy, home-cooked meals during that time!
  7. Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?  I was surprised to learn that splitting everything 50/50 doesn’t necessarily result in feelings of cooperation and harmony between parents…so we did it differently with the second baby.
  8. How to Clean a Blackened Baking Pan.  When I made the batch of Honey Baked Lentils and butternut squash that provided the photos for my Kitchen Stewardship article about this tasty, thrifty, nutritious meal, I managed to get one of the pans totally encrusted with burned squash-juice…thus creating an opportunity for photographic documentation of my best pan-cleaning technique!
  9. Cooperation, Communication, and Consequences.  This is one of the few parenting/discipline articles I’ve written lately, featuring examples from a discussion board as well as from my own family.
  10. Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!  This photo tutorial explains how to turn your random bits of stale bread into useful breadcrumbs and how to freeze them for later use.

There really was more to life than books in 2016!  But I’m grateful for all the excellent books I enjoyed last year–and looking back on it, I’m glad I wrote so many reviews because they help me to remember what I read, what I liked about it, and where I was in my life when I read it.

It’s hard to predict what will happen around here in 2017.  Maybe I’ll get a new job with the same kind of lunch breaks, and my writing will really pick up.  Maybe something different will happen, but I’ll figure out how to do more writing from home.  Either way, thanks for reading, and please stick around!

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