Thursday, January 3, 2019

New Year

I think it's really interesting that whenever the New Year rolls around, everyone gets very introspective. For whatever reason it encourages us all to look at our lives, reflect on the passage of time, and for a lot of people, decide what changes they'd like to see in their lives or the world around them.

I'm no different really. New Years resolutions were made to be broken it seems, but sometimes they will stick. I try to keep them simple and just pick a few these days. And I try to focus them on making myself a better, happier person. I think that things like, "Loose 20 lbs" are so easily broken because unless you're making a change that changes something inside of you, it's unlikely to stick.

So, for 2019, these are the things I choose to focus on:

  • I'd like to read 20 books this year. Last year a set a goal of 12 books and read 15. As my Mom pointed out when I told her I had read 15 books, that is a far cry from the hundreds of books I used to read as a kid. But let's be honest, I have a bit more on my plate now than I did when I was 12. So with a new baby coming 20 ought to be enough of a goal, really. 
  • I'd like to continue on my journey towards minimalism. The idea of having less and having only things that make you happy and that you need. The year Teddy was born I went through the entire house and got rid of a ton of stuff. Literally felt like a ton. But it's something you kind of have to work at. It's a lifestyle change and it takes awhile before you can really make it your own, you know? And it looks different for everyone. I still have places in my house that gather clutter. And I still struggle to not make emotional purchases. It's a work in progress. The first thing I'm going to do is tackle the kitchen. The Faux Martha is a blog that focuses on simplicity and minimalism in the kitchen. She's doing a free online course starting January 8th that is supposed to help you clean out your kitchen of all the unnecessary stuff. So I signed up and we'll see how it goes.
And that is really it. With a new baby coming, that is enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Making Bread!

So I've been posting to Instagram/Facebook about my efforts to have less plastic in my life. I've kind of been surprised by all of the positive feedback I've gotten, and my post on making my own bread probably stirred up the most questions. So I thought that it would be easier to put together a blog post that I can share with all of you rather than trying to answer all questions on Facebook :)

Bread making is actually quite easy, but it is also really easy to mess up, lol. I have had my fair share of loaves of bread that are hard as a rock and dry to boot. The only way you really get better at making bread is to make bread.

The first thing you have to understand is the yeast. That is the crucial part that will make your bread light and fluffy and delicious, or hard as a rock and chewy. The yeast has to be at the right temperature, and you have to activate it.

I'll be honest, I've never had much luck making bread by hand. My Mom does it and she makes it look so easy, but I have failed time and again. So I basically have two ways I make bread. In my bread machine, or in my KitchenAid mixer.

I'll talk about the bread machine first. My first bread machine was made by KitchenAid I think and I got it at a garage sale for $10. It make a 1 pound loaf and served us well for many years. When it pooped out, I bought a Zojirushi 2lb bread machine, and so far have been pretty darn happy with it as well. With both machines I have tweaked recipes that they gave me in the manual for my bread. It took some trial and error with both of them to get something that I liked.

I like whole wheat bread. But, despite what those beautiful and light loaves of whole wheat bread at the grocery store would have you believe, it is hard to make a light whole wheat bread. The whole wheat flour is not broken down as easily. The gluten content is lower, and as a result it takes a LOT longer to rise. So I almost always make bread that is a combination of white and whole wheat flour. Usually about 50/50 mix. If you use that much whole wheat flour, it is a good idea to add in some vital wheat gluten. It will make you bread rise higher and faster, which is important in the consistency of the bread at the end.

When I put in my ingredients in my bread maker, I layer them. On the bottom is all the wet ingredients (water/milk, honey/agave/molasses/sugar, egg, oil/butter) plus the salt. Then I put the flour on top of that, trying to cover the wet ingredients with the flour. Then I put the yeast and vital wheat gluten, if I'm using it. Then hit go, and in a few hours you'll have freshly backed bread!

One of the down sides to a lot of bread machines is the shape of the loaf it makes. My 1 lb machine made this block of bread that was too big to use two pieces for a sandwich, but 1 piece cut in half was kind of a small sandwich. So I used to use the dough setting, and when it was done, I'd take the dough out, shape it into a loaf, and put it in a loaf pan for its final rise before baking. This worked fine. If I make a 2 lb loaf in my Zojirushi, it is kind of the same issue. But a 1.5 lb loaf in the Zojirushi is perfect, so that is often what I'll do.

If I'm feeling ambitious, I will make bread from scratch in my KitchenAid mixer. My favorite recipe from from the cookbook The Commonsense Kitchen. I usually halve the recipe, which will make two loaves. I put one loaf in the freezer and keep the other one out. The recipe for this will follow this post. When making bread like this, or from scratch, it is important that you knead it for as long as the recipe says. You will notice the consistency of the bread changes as you knead it.

To form my bread into loaves, I just roughtly roll it out into a rectangle. Roll it on itself, and then fold the sides over.

No matter how you make the bread, it is important to get it out of the pans as soon as its done. If you leave it in there water will condense and make the bottom soggy. No one wants a soggy bottom on their bread :)

To store my bread I wrap it in a big Bees Wrap and put it in my bread drawer. Since my house was built in the late 1940's I have a breadbox built into one of my drawers :)

A few words of caution. Homemade bread will mold faster than store bought bread. I'm not sure why, but once I figured that out it made me kind of grossed out my store bought bread. Like why isn't it molding? What did they do to it? Anyways, only keep our what your family will eat in a few days. Mine will last a week if I'm lucky. Sometimes a bit longer in the winter when it's cooler in my house.

So, those are my tips/tricks for making bread. Honestly a lot of it was trial and error. I've tried a few recipes in my bread maker that were total flops. Didn't rise, hard as a rock, weird shaped loaf. I've certainly done that with bread made by hand as well. But we eat it, even if its hard. And worse case scenario you can put it in your food processor and turn the hard bread into bread crumbs, lol.

Dinner Bread from The Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens


  • 1 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees, I usually put it in the microwave until I get to this temperature, make sure it's not too hot or you'll kill the yeast. Too cool and it won't activate)
  • 1 cup warm water (same temperature as above)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3.5 - 4 cups of all-purpose flour
7:30 AM: Make the Sponge
Thoroughly combine with warm milk, warm water, flour, brown sugar and yeast in the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer. Cover the bowl and let the sponge develop at room temperature for 5 to 7 hours.

2:00 PM: Mix the Dough
Add the salt, butter, and 3.5 cups of flour to the sponge. Mix with the paddle attachment until the dough in uniform - it should leave the sides of the bowl. If the dough is still very soft and sticky, add another cup of flour. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough at low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer and turning the dough over once or twice to ensure even kneading. Dumb the dough onto the counter. Grease the inside of your mixing bowl with butter. Put the dough back in, cover it and let it sit at room temperature until it has doubled in size, a little over an hour.

3:30 PM: Shape the Loaves
Grease 2 loaf pans or dust 2 flat baking sheets with cornmeal. Punch the dough down and divide in half. Shape the dough into loaves and either put int he loaf pans or on the baking sheets. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size again, a little over an hour. Make sure the oven will be at 400 degrees by the end of this rise.

5:00 PM: Bake the Bread
Have the oven at 400 degrees. For a crispy crust spray the loaves with a water mister before putting in the oven. Bake the bread in the hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until deep golden brown all over. Remove from the pans and put to cool on a rack. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Plastic-Free Inventory

Things that I used to buy at the store, wrapped in plastic, that I no longer do.

  • Bread - my bread maker is an amazing asset to our house. I started doing it when the price of good whole wheat bread went through the roof (in my opinion). I was not about to spend $6 for a loaf of bread, when I could make it for pennies at home. Then when Max was diagnosed with an egg allergy, making my own bread allowed me to mix egg into it, which helped him to get over his allergy faster and felt better to me than making him cookies and muffins all the time.
  • Dishwashing detergent - I started mixing up my own. 1 cup borax, 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup citric acid granules, 30 drops of lemon EO. As I've written about before it is not perfect, but it is good enough for me.
  • Hummus - it takes me about 5 minutes to make hummus at home. I use a recipe I got from my Common Sense Kitchen cookbook. Very simple, I make it in the food processor while I'm making dinner usually. The key to good homemade hummus, in my opinion, is to let it process for a long time. Like several minutes. It still isn't quite as smooth as store bought hummus, but it is close.
  • Napkins - we have pretty much switched to 100% cloth napkins. Even for parties. I just get out a big stack and don't worry much about whether or not they match. I'm going to work on making more smaller napkins (like cocktail napkin size) out of some of the old fabric scraps I have.
  • Paper towels - I bought a few packs of flour sack towels to use when we have spills in the kitchen. Old cloth diapers work well if you need something really absorbent. I wash them with the diapers a few times a week so we always have them.
  • Sponges and brushes for dishes - I switched to this wooden dish brush. It has held up really well, and it has a replaceable head that is 100% compostable. I also use dishcloths to wipe down counters now. To scrub pots, I've switched to a copper scrubber for my cast iron. It works awesome, and you can recycle it when you're done. 
  • Toilet paper and tissues - I bought in bulk from Who Gives a Crap. They send it in completely recyclable packaging, and it's wrapped in paper, which you can obviously recycle. It's a bit more expensive than what I buy at the store, but not too bad.
  • Maxi pads and tampons - After Teddy was born I switched to a Diva Cup, and I won't ever go back. It is a silicone cup that you insert. It stays in place all day. You rinse and reuse. It's not as gross as it sounds, I promise. And almost no chance of TSS like you have with tampons. I usually wear my Diva Cup with a pair of THINX underwear. I wash them with my diapers and hang to dry, and they work awesome. And they are much more comfortable than the plastic maxi pads and panty liners I was using before.
  • Face lotion - I switched to using pure argan oil with some various and assorted EO mixed in awhile ago. My face is no worse for the wear, and I know exactly what I'm putting on it.
  • Cling wrap - I invested in some Bee's Wrap awhile ago, and I've been using exclusively that, or putting things into a reusable container ever since. I still have some on hand, because sometimes nothing else will do, but I've cut back on it quite a bit. Good news is, when your Bee's Wrap wears out, you can use it as tinder to start a fire. I've seen some tutorials online about making it yourself, though I haven't tried that yet.
  • Aluminum foil - I use parchment paper (which is compostable) or silicone baking mats instead
  • Shampoo and conditioner - I'm still using up the last huge bottle of shampoo that I bought at Costco, but I switched to conditioner from Plaine Products awhile ago and I really love it. They come in reusable aluminum containers. When you are running low, you order another one. They send it to you in plastic free packaging and you send back your empties. They clean, sterilize, and refill them. I've also used solid shampoo bars from Lush, which I really like for traveling. They lather amazingly well and you can pack into a carry on without any issue at all.
  • Body wash - I've been using bar soap for awhile now. So much cheaper, and you can get it to suds up with a washcloth or natural sponge just as well as body wash. I like castille soap, but I have a variety of different soaps I use.
  • Razors and razor blades - I switched to a safety razor last summer and really like it. I get a close shave, I almost never get razor burn or cut myself, and the blades are recyclable. They also last a lot longer and are dirt cheap. I just went to Walgreens and got what they have there. I shave with castille soap and have no complaints. But shaving with conditioner also works.
  • Plasticware from take-out restaurants - I bought a titanium spork on Amazon and  bring that with me in my purse wherever I go. When we have parties, I just get out the good old fashioned flatware. 
  • Yogurt - making your own yogurt is so incredibly easy. When you find out how easy it is, you will never want to buy yogurt in plastic containers ever again. The stuff I make at home I make with whole milk, and I think you really need to. The milk fat helps it to thicken. I don't know where the obsession with low and no fat dairy came from, but I think it's a racket. My kids need the full fat dairy for brain development, and full fat milk is only 4% milk fat. It's not that bad for you, the calorie difference is negligible (in my opinion). So I go full fat dairy the whole way and don't worry about it. But, I put a gallon of milk in a stock pot. Put my meat thermometer in there with a timer to alert me when it gets to 180 degrees. Then I let it get up to about 185 degrees. I turn it off. Then let it cool to about 110 or 115 degrees. Turn the oven on low. Then take a cup or so, and mix it with about 1/2 cup of plain yogurt that you bought at the store (with live and active cultures, of course). Mix it together until smooth. Pour into the larger pot, mix well. Pour the milk/yogurt combo into four quart size mason jars. Seal them up. Wrap the jars up in old bath towels (I wrap two jars in one towel). Turn off the oven. Put the jars in. Close the door. Go look at them again in 8 hours and, voila! Yogurt! You can eat it just like that, or you can strain it to make it thicker. The kids have an easier time eating it if its thicker, so I put two muslin cheese cloths over my colander. Pour the yogurt in there. After an hour or two, put it back into jars (you'll have 2-3 jars now). Put it in the fridge. It will stay good for quite awhile, several weeks in my house (if it isn't eaten up first). Remember to keep some back to start your next batch. I rinse the muslin cloths and wash them with the laundry. Reuse many, many times.
  • Straws - drinking straws seem to me to be something that was invented to eliminate a problem we didn't really have. You can just pick up the cup and drink from it. But some people have issues with sensitive teeth, or like to drink their soda through a straw. I generally just ask for a drink at a restaurant and tell them to hold the straw. I do have a collection of stainless steel straws that I'll use from time to time, but generally, I just skip the straw all together. 30 billion plastic straws end up in our landfills every year. That is a lot of straws!
  • Ziplock bags - I still have a bunch that I purchased before I started trying to cut as much plastic as possible out of my life. Even back then I would wash them out and reuse them. So I still use the ones that I had from before, and I continue to use and wash and reuse. And throw them away when their life is spent. But I don't use nearly as many as I used to. I've been putting more and more stuff in mason jars, in addition to other reusable containers. But mason jars work great for the freezer and are much easier to organize in there than ziplock backs anyways. 
I think that's a pretty exhaustive list. If I think of anymore, I'll add them on the end. It's a constant struggle to cut plastic out of our lives, when it is so prevalent in every aspect of what we do. And we have become a society that is OK with just throwing things out after one use. That is seen as a selling point. "Yeah! I just use it once and then throw it out! How convenient is that?!" So sad. A generation ago, people would have been appalled at that. 

If anyone else has any hacks of suggestions, I'm open to them!