Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bananas over coconut products

Several months ago, I ventured to experiment with homemade body wash and shampoo.  At the prompting of my 17 year old son, we have completely made the switch to all natural and homemade personal care products...including deodorant.  Coconut oil has anti-fungal, anti-viral and bacteriostatic properties. My son had second degree chemical burns from a deodorant product that is still on the market, unfortunately.  To my surprise, there are many complaints circulating about this particular deodorant.  We've decided not to use the money off coupons that we were compensated for our complaint.

This recipe has been put to the true test of three potentially stinky males in our home as they went two days without a shower while roughing it at hunting camp.  Eww.  You did read that correctly.  Two days. Interestingly, they did not have body odor. It's not that we're immune to stinky smells like that.  In fact, I have a very overly sensitive sniffer.  Their trial passed my test, so I decided to give it a go.  Much to my surprise, I didn't feel all sticky-like under my arms as I expected I would.  In a moment of weakness, I decided to go back to my regular anti-perspirant/deodorant for my weekend at work. Guess what?  The national leading brand that I'd relied on all these years did not work as well.  I was feeling sticky and unconfident by the end of my ten hour work day.

I've now made the decision to switch to my own concoction permanently.

Here's my recipe:

3 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
2.5 tablespoons cocoa butter  (I use NOW brand)
4 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 tablespoons baking soda,  aluminum free

5 drops (optional) essential oil

Melt down in a sauce pan. Pour into an old (but cleaned!) deodorant container and cool. The cocoa butter will solidify the entire stick.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My healthier version of a kitchen staple

I'm not a big mayonnaise fan, but on occasion I have need for it in a recipe and the men in our home love it slathered on sandwiches, burgers and french fries.  It was easy to feel a little disappointed when I needed some yesterday for some artichoke dip...and lo, the container was empty.  That's okay!  We had intentions of abandoning the store bought mayo in lieu of something without the soybean and hydrogenated oils.  This was our chance.

If you've ever tried vegenaise, you'll understand why I made it a mission to find an alternative.  The other requirement was that it had to delight the discriminating taste buds of my husband who is, and always has been a mayo and ketchup snob.  Many years ago, I tried to sneak generic into the leading national brand's empty jar but he knew right away.

Mayonnaise can be a little tricky to make. As if it's not enough to have just the correct blend of flavors to match that of the national brand, texture is very, very important.  I did attempt to make mayonnaise some years ago, but it had a very runny texture and BOO! I used canola oil.  Back in the day, canola oil was considered healthy.  Now I know better.  Before we get to the secret recipe, let me explain a bit on why canola oil is NOT a good choice: most of the rapeseed from which canola oil is derived is genetically modified.  That's a different hot button for me and a post for another day.  Secondly, canola very easily goes rancid in processing.  Rancid oils are high in Omega 6 fats, which are inflammatory.  That also is another post.  I suppose I'll be busy posting this month...

For the recipe, you'll need the following ingredients:

1 whole organic egg (free range if you are so fortunate to find them!)
2 organic egg yolks
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
1/2 Tablespoon FRESH lemon juice
1/2 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I used Braggs, but use what you have)
1/2 teaspoon salt (we use Celtic sea salt or RealSalt, not processed and iodized)
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
3/4 cup organic coconut oil, gently melted to liquid form
1/4 cup avocado oil, preferably cold pressed

Place eggs, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor on LOW for a few seconds.  This will vary with the power of your blender.

Next is the trick that will make or break your efforts...

With blender running on LOW speed, start adding the oils very, very slowly beginning with a few drops at time and over the course of several minutes pouring only a thread-thin stream of oil at a time.  Take a break if you need to.  Several minutes feels like forever when holding a heavy glass measuring cup higher than your shoulders, but trust me, you do NOT want to rush this step or your mayonnaise will fail!  This step is critically important to give the oils time to emulsify and blend with the other ingredients.  You will see the mayonnaise thicken as the oils blend in.  Voila! You have a healthy mayonnaise that can replace one of the most dangerously unhealthy foods in your refrigerator!

Disclaimer: Mayonnaise preference is highly personal.  Some people like Hellman's (Best Foods), some people prefer Miracle Whip, some can use generic without issue.  This mayonnaise recipe was created to most closely resemble the first listed.  With that said, some people simply don't like the taste of olive oil (I'm one of those people!) and this recipe has a very faint taste of olive oil.  There are milder olive oils  available, and one that was suggested by my WAPF nutrition group is Napa Valley Naturals EVOO.  If the taste of olive oil absolutely repulses you, you may substitute that portion with an organic sunflower oil.  As usual, I improvised with what I had available.

Also, know the source of your eggs.  Much has been in the media about the occurrence of salmonella and food borne pathogens in eggs.  I remember when Rocky Balboa put RAW eggs in his protein drink.  I even have a 1980's recipe that calls for raw eggs in homemade egg nog!  As our food supply becomes more and more industrialized, its safety declines due to the farming practices and mass production.  I have no hesitation in using FARM FRESH or organic raw eggs for this recipe when I know the source.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What to do with a garden surplus

My first inclination is to give it away!  However, my neighbors are likely as tired of cucumbers and tomatoes as I am.  Two years ago, we had a crop of 1,800 tomatoes.  This year was not as abundant, probably due to the inconsistent weather that we've had.  We still ended up with a LOT of tomatoes.  Our best producing tomato bush is the one that we have tilled under year after year, and it keeps coming back in the same place!  It was an heirloom tomato bush that we purchased from a farmer on the side of the road for $1.  It looked rather straggly and we felt sorry for it. Three years later,  I now refer to it as Father Abraham.

Last night's crop.

Just about the time this morning that I began to wonder what to do with all of these tomatoes, my 11 year old son begged me to make homemade tomato soup.  Here's my favorite, oh-so-simple recipe.

Tomato Soup for Two

2 cups of pureed, fresh tomatoes (skin and all, I throw them into my blender)
1 tablespoon of butter (I use ghee, which is an excellent grass fed source of vitamin K2)
1 tablespoon of flour
1 cup of milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of dried basil (or fresh, if available)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or garlic sea salt (if you use iodized table salt, cut back the amount slightly)

In a saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Add the flour and stir to blend.  Quickly add the cup of milk or cream and whisk until smooth.  This is your classic white sauce.  Add the 2 cups of pureed tomatoes and the remaining ingredients.  Heat through, then remove from heat. Cover and allow the soup to sit for five minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

You can substitute nearly any vegetable for the tomatoes in this recipe, I just used what I had in abundance.  In the past, I have made cream of asparagus, cream of broccoli and even cream of celery when needed for a recipe.  Some vegetables require steaming them to soften them before pureeing.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to make expensive Greek yogurt for less than $5 a gallon

Greek yogurt has been all the rage for the past several years, and for good reason.  It's a power house of nutrition, especially protein.  If you factor in the additional benefits of probiotics (beneficial bacteria for your gut), Greek yogurt is a health bargain, even at full price.

But you can successfully make it for less than $5/gallon (your mileage may vary depending on that you are willing to pay for a gallon of milk).  Here in our home, we prefer "real" milk, purchased directly from the farmer. We have been consuming "real" dairy products since 1998, and have never, ever had a food borne illness from consuming non-pasteurized or non-homogenized milk products.  The concern is trumped up, but that's a different blog post.

To make your fancy yogurt you'll need a large slow cooker, a wooden spoon, approximately 1/2 cup of plain yogurt with live cultures (just about any commercial yogurt on the market and you can be as discriminating as you want), a gallon of milk, some cheesecloth to line your strainer, and a pot to catch the yellow liquid (called whey) that will drain off of the yogurt.

Pour your milk into your slow cooker.  Turn it on to "LOW" and allow to warm up for several hours until you see many tiny bubbles on the surface.  You do not want to boil your milk.  I have, in the past, accidentally overcooked the milk until it turns a light tan color.  It didn't affect the quality of my yogurt, it just looked bad to those in the family who prefer their milk "white".  Because there is no true standard amongst slow cooker temperatures, I cannot tell you how long your slow cooker might take to reach the tiny bubble stage, but mine took 3 hours to reach approximately 140F degrees on my digital thermometer.

I then turned off the heat and removed the lid to cool my milk to 110F degrees.  This took about two hours, and will vary depending on your room temperature.

When my milk reached 110F degrees, I added my 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Fage plain Greek).

Stir the yogurt in until completely dissolved.  Now your milk is ready to "incubate".  There are different methods to achieve this.  My inner crock from my slow cooker can be removed, so I take it out, put the lid on, and put in my unheated oven with the light on.  The light is sufficient to create just enough warmth to maintain the temperature at 101F degrees. The idea is to maintain the temperature between 100F and 110F degrees for at least six to ten hours, or until your yogurt is thick.  Another method is to set your pan or crock on a heating pad on the counter and wrap with a towel.

Your yogurt should thicken up nicely if kept in the correct temperature range. If it still has not thickened, cover it back up and continue to incubate it for several more hours.  Don't worry, there is a large margin of error before you could actually ruin the yogurt.

When your yogurt is thick, congratulations!  You now have yogurt!

But don't stop there, Greek yogurt requires a few more steps...

Line your strainer with cheesecloth and position over a pan large enough to catch the precious yellow liquid (called whey).  Pour your yogurt into the strainer and let sit for about an hour or more.  As the liquid whey drains off, your yogurt becomes even thicker.  If left to strain for days, it will eventually become a very soft, spreadable cheese, resembling cream cheese.  But if you stop the process after only straining for about an hour, you will have Greek yogurt at a fraction of the cost of store bought Greek yogurt.

Do not throw away the whey!  It's an excellent medium for soaking grains and flour or for adding to to baked goods for added nutrition.  I've also used whey to make dill pickles using a process called lacto-fermentation.  They were a big hit here in my home, and fermented foods will be a topic for another day.

This is the yellow liquid that was strained from my yogurt.  It's called "whey" and is packed full of nutrition.  Whey lasts a long time in the refrigerator without spoiling, and usually our demand is more than our supply.

A gallon of Greek yogurt barely lasts a week in our home as we use it to substitute for sour cream and I use it for baking.  Remember to save a half cup of your yogurt creation to use as a starter for your next batch!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Frugal and natural personal care products

For thirty days, I've been an experiment in making and using my own body wash and shampoo.  It all started when my husband went to visit a friend of a friend who lives off-grid in the mountains of Georgia.  He came home from that trip so excited about the possibility of making our own body wash and shampoo.  I'm a woman who enjoys the delightful smells of life, so my first inclination was to brush off the suggestion and hope that the idea would fade.  Yet my husband kept on about how the major corporations in the personal product industry peddle harmful chemicals in a deceitful way:  they sell you a shampoo that chemically strips the dirt and grime out of your body and hair, leaving it void of moisture, and in turn market conditioners and lotions to you to replace the moisture. They most usually have to add fragrance back into the product to cover up the chemical concoction's unpleasant smell.  Thus, they've snagged you not once but two or three times in a very cleverly orchestrated campaign for your dollars.

It turns out that my husband's own marketing campaign was successful.  He knew exactly how to appeal to my practical tendencies. Aside from resisting any product that contains ingredients that are proven be carcinogenic, as well as hormone disruptors...quite frankly, I'm cheap.  

And so it began.  We use this simple recipe for both our hair and our bodies.  I've also been using it to bathe our dogs and they smell so fresh after their baths!

For this recipe, you'll need:

6 cups of water
several drops of vegetable glycerin (optional, for added moisture retention)
several drops of your favorite natural essential oil for fragrance

  • Heat the water on the stove, but do not boil.  While your water is heating, grate your bar soap.  I like to use my Salad Shooter, which makes the job of grating go much more quickly. The bar soap is fairly soft, so a manual grater would work well also.

  • Add your grated soap to the water and stir until dissolved.  This process only takes five minutes at the most.  Remove from heat after the soap is dissolved.

My hair is noticeably softer after thirty days using our body wash/shampoo.  Once per week,  I deep condition with pure extra-virgin coconut oil.  I give special attention to the ends. If you have dandruff, apply the coconut oil to your scalp.  I leave it in my hair for 10-15 minutes, then shampoo with my liquid soap. My hair texture continues to improve with each use. No, this does not make my hair greasy.

  • Allow to cool before adding the vegetable glycerin and/or essential oil.  This step is completely optional.  My husband and I both have middle-aged hair, and as it grays it becomes coarse.  To counteract the coarseness and keep it smooth, we like to add the glycerin.  As far as essential oils, we opted out because we actually like the pure, clean smell of the Kirk's soap.
  • Transfer to a container of your choice.  We recycle a pump type dispenser to use for our soap. One recipe has brought us 30 days of daily use.  Your soap will be very thin and will gradually thicken as it ages.  Coconut has antibacterial properties, so no preservatives are needed.

Just a note: Any castile soap will work.  We chose Kirk's because of the simple, natural ingredients and the price.  On sale, a bar of this soap will cost less than $1. I order other products frequently from iHerb and Swanson, so my shipping is usually free.  Kirk's has also been spotted from time to time in Dollar Tree stores in the Southeast.  You could also substitute any castile bar soap for this recipe, but the other "name brand" castile soap (bearing the name of a certain Doctor) has a higher price per bar and fundamental beliefs of the company do not align with our family's.