Monday, October 3, 2011

Non-toxic Microwave Popcorn

What?!  Non-toxic microwave popcorn?  Am I saying that microwave popcorn might be bad for you?  Yup.

Microwave popcorn contains a Teflon-like chemical in the lining of the bag to keep it dry and non-stick.  This chemical, PFOA (which the EPA classified as a likely carcinogen), has been shown to cause cancer in lab mice. And it has been found in small amounts in the blood of nearly 95 percent of humans.  I don't know how much evidence links it to cancer in humans, but I don't want to find out in thirty years that there is a connection.

Many of the companies who make microwave popcorn have plans to remove PFOAs by 2015, but I'm not sure that the chemical with which they will replace it will be any better.  It's best to avoid as many chemicals as you can.

Luckily, you can still use the microwave to cook up a quick, healthy, and non-toxic snack. Just buy a container or bag of plain popcorn at the grocery store.

Place 1/4 cup of the popcorn into a plain paper bag, and fold it over twice. Make a nice, strong fold, so your snack doesn't start popping out all over the microwave. Press the popcorn button on your microwave (or pop for three to four minutes).

Top as you like: butter, salt, nutritional yeast, Old Bay, or cinnamon and sugar.  Easy, and no unwanted chemicals.

I wanted to take a picture of the popped popcorn so you could see how pretty and fluffy it was, but I ate it all before I thought of it.  Oops.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Natural Soultion to Ants (And Other Bugs)

Every spring (yes, I've been meaning to post this for a while), we get inundated with ants in the kitchen. Blech. I've tried just about ever imaginable natural solution: tea tree oil, peppermint, orange and lemon, cinnamon, etc, etc, etc. I spent all of last spring trying to defeat the ants with no success. They would continue coming in--Ants are easily squished, but they soon come back--and in greater numbers. (hee hee. anyone get that mangled allusion? anyone? anyone?)

This ant is not one that invaded my house. I invited this one in!
He lives in our AntFarm.
Well, this year, I found a miraculous, all-natural, non-toxic bug destroyer! Diatomaceous earth. Wha? That is a mouthful, but read on--it's worth it.

Diatomaceous earth (not dirt) is a rock that contains fossilized diatoms, one celled algae that have a hard cell wall, like a shell. The rock has been ground to a fine powder and you can sprinkle it where ever you have ants (or any bug with an exoskeleton, like roaches, stink bugs, or bedbugs). The bugs walk across the powder, which contains microscopic shards of the diatom's shell, and it makes tiny cuts in their exoskeleton, and they dehydrate and die. Yes! Triumph!

I sprinkled it across my door frame and window sill, and I sprinkled some on the anthills in my backyard. And within two days, there were no more ants in my house. I sprinkled more on the anthills a week or two later just to make sure that any new ants would die! Die! Die!

I bought diatomaceous earth at a local garden center, but it is also available online and at some home improvement centers. I have tons left over for future springs and in case of other insect invasion.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Increasing Garlic's Health Benefits

I love garlic. It is yummy and really healthy, too. And recently I read that waiting 10 minutes between chopping your garlic and cooking it preserves the anti-cancer properties (and anti-inflamatory, anti-fungal, and anti-atherosclerotic properties)!

Mostly, that's all you need to know. But if you quest for more nerd knowledge, like I do, there are two compounds in garlic that are separated from each other by the cell walls. When the cell walls are cut, the two compounds combine, do some enzymatic magic, and form allicin. (Allicin is the anti-cancer, anti-everything-bad compound.)

This is why you need to wait to eat the garlic, even if you're eating it raw. It needs time for the enzymatic action to create allicin.

Awesome! And research shows (this is one of my favorite phrases, by the way. I use it frequently. [I'm a nerd.]) that rats fed garlic that was cooked (but didn't sit for 10 minutes) showed no health benefits and rats fed garlic that was chopped, sat, and then cooked DID show health benefits.

So mince, wait, and enjoy the health benefits.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Fun: Almost Instant Strawberry Ice Cream

Strawberry Ice Cream!
Before strawberry season ended in our area, we picked a large amount of strawberries, and ate them with whipped cream until our bellies were stuffed. 

I make my whipped cream from scratch because it's natural and because I like to show my children where foods come from and how they're made. And, really, it's cool.

Whipped Cream:  All you need is a container of heavy whipping cream (we buy organic), some sugar, and a mixer. Pour the container of cream into the mixing bowl and whip at a high speed until fluffy and firm. Add 1 - 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar (I've used granulated and it's fine, powdered just works a little better.) to taste. Just don't eat it all at this stage.

My only recommendation: DO NOT WHIP THE CREAM TOO LONG or it will turn into butter. I have actually done this because I have a habit of starting a cooking project then getting distracted. Squirrel! (Sugared butter is yummy, but not really what you want on your jello.)

Anyway, on to the ice cream. The whole process was a lot of fun! 

Plastic Bag Ice Cream

1 cup whole milk (or a mixture of milk and cream).
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
diced strawberries (about 1/2 cup)

Into a quart sized zip-lock bag, pour all the ingredients. Zip to seal, and add a length of tape over the zipped edge just to make sure the bag doesn't open while you're jostling* it around.

Place the quart-sized bag into a gallon-sized bag and add some ice. (I used about 4 or 5 cups.) Pour about a cup of rock salt over the ice, seal the bag and shake the bag back and forth for about 5 - 10 minutes, turn it, knead it, jostle it. Whatever. A pair of winter gloves helps because the bag is very cold.

I never buy strawberry ice cream at the store, but our homemade ice cream was so fantastic! The local strawberries were so fresh and sweet, it really made a difference.

Obviously, you can make any flavor of ice cream with this recipe. Eliminate the strawberries and add chocolate chips, cocoa powder, mint extract, etc. Many thanks the the leader of our local Children's Garden for sharing this recipe.

* I actually talk like that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Fun: Old-Fashioned Tree Swing

There are few things that can evoke images of summers long past like a tree swing. The super-long ropes give tree swings a long, smooth arc that gives you the sensation of flying.

My kids decided they wanted a tree swing and we made it in one day! (That's quite a feat for us--my husband and I can stretch a home-improvement project out for months, years even. We're pros at that.)

My husband cut a 1x8 plank of wood we had in the basement into two 2-foot lengths. I glued the two pieces together (using clamps to hold them tight) and drilled holes at either end. I painted the wood a bright yellow using leftover paint.

While that dried, we got the lengths of rope into the tree. We tied twine to a sock with a tennis ball inside and threw the sock-ball over a somewhat horizontal branch.

Then we tied the rope to the twine and pulled the rope over the branch. We kept pulling until we brought the rope all the way back to ourselves and untied the twine.

We only wanted a single length of rope on each side of the swing, so I tied the rope onto a steel ring that we had gotten at the hardware store (get one that holds more than 100 pounds). I used some crazy knot I know by heart, but don't know the name of (bowline? double sheet bend?). I cut the other end of the rope and threaded it through the ring and pulled the rope to fasten it around the branch.

I'm hoping that this doesn't "choke" the branch. If no weight is on the swing, there is almost no pressure on the branch, so as it grows, the ring/rope-loop will simply widen with the branch.

Then we threaded the rope through the hole drilled into seat and did the crazy knot again. We did this whole routine to the other side, and within a few hours, we had a fabulous tree swing. My kids LOVE this swing and have played on it almost every day so far this summer.

A closeup of the ring-loop

Summer Fun: Cherry Pickin' and Pie

I'm a little behind on my posts because I'm having so much fun this summer! Yay! But I will do my best to  catch up while still having fun!

Early in June, some friends said we could pick their sour cherries. Who could resist? Free food and a fun summertime activity all in one. Plus the hope of pie.

Peanut and Butter help pick cherries.
We picked as many cherries as we could reach--and some that I really shouldn't have reached.

Imagine me on tip toes on the top step of the ladder, balacing myself with a taut branch pulled close, reaching ... reaching ... for the bright red cherry just out of reach. As I was teetering there, I thought of the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana is reaching for the grail just beyond his fingertips. I let the cherries go. (See? Movies can be good for you.)

Out-of-reach cherries notwithstanding, we still picked a huge box of cherries and took them home for pie.


Jelly pits cherries
Butter makes pie. (And I do use butter in my pies.)


Butter and I decided to try a beautiful lattice pie, and it was easier than we thought!  I followed instructions online at Simply We were very happy with the results, but the best part was the eating.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I never cease to be amazed by nature. I get really excited to see things blossom and fruit. Yes, I've done this before, and yes, it is still amazing. The miracle of life. When I first see the signs of fruit, I usually throw my hands in the air and shout, "Blueberries!" or "Cucumbers!" like Tom Hanks shouting "Fire!" in the movie Castaway. I do this every year.

Last spring, I planted two blueberry bushes (of different varieties) at the base of my porch, which is partly shaded, so I wasn't sure how they would fare this year. One of my plants has done just fine--there are plump berries all over it. Yay!

The other bush only produced a few berries, which dried up right away. I don't know why. Does one get more sun than the other? Is one variety more resilient than the other? It would've made sense to label them, but I never got around to it, so I don't know which is which. But I read that the two varieties I have (Bluecrop and Bluejay) have different colors of leaves in the fall, so I'll get back to you on that.

Patio cucumbers growing ... on my patio! Yay! I may not need to self-polinate this year. I mean hand-polinate.

And strawberries! I'm not expecting much from this everbearing crop. (Shady yard.) I grew them in containers on my porch last year, and they grew pretty well, but chipmunks and squirrels and slugs and who knows what else ate them. I tried putting chickenwire fencing (*chicken* fencing, not chipmunk fencing--that was my mistake!) around them, but it didn't keep out the little critters.

In the fall, I planted them in the ground so the roots wouldn't freeze over the winter. They came back nicely, and are producing fruit. I'm sure we're in for another battle with the critters.