Worm Food

I have not written anything in a while.  I really am sorry.  But I also have a very good reason for it.

As some of you know, I love growing food.  Garden-veg beat Store-veg pretty much 100% of the time, and I want to grow as much of it as possible.  This desire is hampered by living in a second-story apartment, but I forge on and crowd my deck with a container farm each summer.  Last years wasn’t a great success, but we live and learn right?

I think the biggest problem I had was that any soil in a container becomes a finite source of nutrients for your plants, and fertilizing is much more important than in a ground-garden.  Straight up, I did not fertilize enough.  But I am leery about pouring that bright blue stuff on my plants… it’s not really that I’m worried about evil toxins and the whole paranoid-about-chemicals schtick…but more just that I know that crap is bad for the environment.  Synthetic fertilizers are very strong and highly concentrated; Stronger than most plants really need.  The excess gets into our ecosystem and contributes to algae blooms in local ponds and lakes.  I realize that my deck-farm isn’t really near the local bird sanctuary, but I want to figure out how to do better anyways.  As a rule.

The best thing for your garden really just seems to be compost.  Obviously different plants have different needs, but compost is a winner all around.  But again, here we are on the second story.

So how do we do this?  With worms.  Vermicomposting is a fancy word that means you use worms to compost your food scraps instead of relying soley on time.  It’s really a great system:  They eat your scraps and poop out fertilizer.  They’re happy and taken care of, your scraps don’t go to waste, and you get to make your plants happy.  Everyone wins!

I started by buying a baggie of worms from Canadian Tire’s bait fridge.  Sure you could go collect them after a rain storm, but I started mine in winter.  The variety of worm most preferred by vermicomposters is called a Red Wriggler, and this is apparently because they tend to burrow shallower than other varieties, thus dropping the chances of losing them out the bottom of your bucket into the wild.   I bought normal Dew Worms because they were out of Reds, and I am conducting this experiment in buckets only.

Have at ’em gents!

I next took my biggest planter, filled it with potting soil, and dumped the little guys in.  They burrowed in pretty quickly, and  I started burying food scraps right away.  Occasionally I’ll water it, just to keep the soil damp and comfortable for them.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I did end up with a ton of fruit flies in there.  I did some research and found out that this happens with your carbon content gets low, so you also want to add paper and yard waste regularly.  Newspapers are a good addition, as they are printed with vegetable inks and are fully biodegradable.  Grass clippings and dead leaves are great too, but if you’re like me, you don’t mow or rake.  I chuck in leaves that blow onto my deck though.

I turn the soil once in while too.  Aeration is good for your compost, and encourages the worms to move about.  It’s also how I know that five months later, they’re still alive.  The apparent evaporation of orange peels and onion skins is a good indicator too.

Probably the biggest selling feature of this system for me is that there’s little to no stink.  Seriously, I stuck my nose right up to that dirt and all I smelled was…dirt.  When you bury your scraps, they don’t release their rot out into the world.  And besides, they’re being eaten down pretty quick.

So if you’re low on space, or even just tired of carrying buckets of moldy peels around, give worms a chance!  On the whole, I’d call this experiment a success!

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On Resolutions III: Activities Guide

Ok, last post on this stuff.  Promise.  There’s only really one more thing to talk about, and then we’re done.

Exercise.

This might be a dirty word to some of us, especially those of us who experienced phys. ed. as an utter misery, but it’s just the third component of a healthy lifestyle, and you need to do it.  Fortunately for those of us who’re now adults, being active isn’t at the discretion of some big dude in short shorts any more.  You get to choose what you do, how hard you do it, and how often.  Now get your mind out of the gutter and we’ll move on.

When people think about exercising, often the first thing in their mind is this:

How can you disagree with that hair?

I don’t know about you, but my Mom definitely had some tapes that involved a lot of neon spandex, frizzy hair, and baggy shirts tied up in a knot.  Sometimes, when I was little I’d use a scrunchy to tie up my shirt and try to do the routine alongside her.  Now, if you want to pick up an aerobics class, I am definitely not the person to judge you, but fear not!  Exercise has come a long way since then!

I said in my post on nutrition that what you eat has more impact on your waistline than exercise, but I don’t want that to make anyone say that exercise isn’t necessary:  far from it!  Being active regularly is one of the absolute best things you can do to improve your life.  It helps prevent injury and improves pretty much every system in your body, immune system included.  It’s easy to write off a lot of these benefits when we’re primarily focused on appearance, but a wise man once said that we put our health last until it’s gone… and then we’ll do absolutely anything to get it back.  If you don’t believe me, ask me about my back injury some time.

What really cemented my concern with health was actually overhearing something a cousin of mine said.  He was working at a bank, mostly dealing with the elderly and their retirement savings etc.  He said he had seen so many people in such bad shape after many long years of poor eating and avoiding exercise that he was driven to start taking care of himself now, before it was a crisis and while he was still young and had energy.  He figured that if you started now, such things would be good habits by the time he was in their shoes.  No, you can’t avoid growing old, and depending on genetics you may still have problems… but take care of yourself now and the odds start to stack in your favour.  Do you want to be the old guy running a half marathon, or the old guy struggling to walk down a hallway on his way to a diabetes care group?

There are a few important things to keep in mind when taking up some kind of physical activity.

Start small

I know I’ve absolutely beat this into the ground by now, but when it comes to exercise it’s more important than ever to build up intensity gradually.  The reason is simple:  You don’t want to get hurt.

When I started going to the gym, I began by pounding the treadmill until it hurt.  I figured that I just needed to push through the pain and I ended up with shin splints so bad I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs.  This was a problem, because at the time I was working in a coffee shop who’s storage room was on the second floor.

The point to taking up an exercise routine is to improve your quality of life and to accomplish this you need to make new and better habits.  If you hurt yourself you’ll need a couple weeks to heal and the odds of forming those habits drop.  So start small with some non-impact cardio and light weights.  Get used to going for brisk walks before you start running, or hit the elliptical before the treadmill.  Learn to listen to your body, and find out where your limits are: You want to expand those limits gently, or you will wreck yourself.

If you can, talk to a personal trainer, or at least get a demonstration of the equipment from gym staff.  I know that the YMCA offers free coaching and fitness planning to members.  Heck, youtube some exercises just so you can see the correct form first.

Get to know yourself

People are all different, and there’s no one right way to exercise.  Each will obviously have it’s proper and improper methods, but there are options out there to suit everyone.  Do you need to have a team relying on you and pushing you?  Do you need to be learning and improving a skill?  Do you like just shutting your brain off and doing something active?

Maybe you can’t answer all these questions right now.  But start something and see how you feel about it after a month or two.  Some people get bored in a gym but really enjoy a kickboxing class.  Pay attention to how you feel about your activities and adjust them accordingly.

Find something you enjoy and allow yourself to feel good about doing it!  I remember early on in my working-out days leaving the gym and beating myself up about not going often enough.  Then I caught myself:  Would it have been better if I hadn’t gone at all?  Of course not!  So I let myself feel good about it!  Even now, on my way home from the gym, I make myself thank myself for going, and give myself a little mental pat on the back.  I know it sounds corny, but feeling good about it drives me to go back.

Just like Wrestling-Mullet-Man here.

Think about setting yourself a rewards system.  If you keep up your habit for 6 weeks, maybe you buy yourself some new shoes.  Do what you need to do to make it work.

Do strength training

Most of the men reading this are thinking “well duh,” but a lot of women avoid strength training and weights because they’re worried about “bulking up.”  It actually takes a lot of very specific effort to bulk up, and women are far less prone to it than men.  Genetically we’re different creatures.  Strength training will help you build a lean and compact body, strengthen your bones as well as your muscles, and put your body in a calorie-burning state for the rest of the day.

Pick a weight you can do 10 reps with.  The tenth should be a struggle, but you should still be able to do it.  You’ll also want to pick exercises you can build in intensity: Once you’re comfortable doing 10 push-ups, how do you make it harder?  Now, for some of us, starting without any additional weight is fine!  Personally, my goal is to do 10 chin-ups, because right now there’s no way I can lift my own body weight.  Doing so will be a major accomplishment!

Consider Yoga

This is my personal plug.  I started seriously doing yoga after my back injury and I’m now a year and four months without relapsing.

A lot of people think yoga is “just stretching.”  If that’s the case, then why was my sister complaining about sore shoulders for a couple days after her first class?  It is stretching, but a better definition is “non-impact fluid movements to improve strength, balance, and flexibility.”  It’s kind of fantastic: you’ll build strong and lean muscles while getting bendy!  And you don’t really need any special equipment, though a non-slip mat helps.

Most gyms offer some kind of yoga class, so find an intro or beginner one to start.  Look for an instructor who demonstrates different “levels” of the poses and isn’t pushy:  You can hurt yourself at this just the same as any exercise, so start small.

Don’t go with a friend

This might seem counter-intuitive.  After all, most people think that having someone to hold you accountable and “force” you to go will help.  Maybe for some it will, but I know that for me it ended up more like “Oh they’re skipping out today?  Well, no reason for me to go then!  Did someone say bacon?”

This is your life and only you can change it.  You need to develop the willpower and drive to do it for yourself, not to satisfy an obligation or pact with a buddy.  You need to be able to rely on yourself.

By all means, round up a group for soccer in the park, or go for a hike with a friend.  I’m not saying that all physical activity needs to be done alone, but just that you need to commit all of yourself to a routine, not half-you-half-someone-else.  If those soccer friends aren’t available, plug in your headphones and go for a run anyways.

You need to be your own motivation.  Do it because you know you’re better and because you want more.  Do it because an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.  Do it for your future-self, the cranky bat with saggy tattoos sitting in a hover-rocking chair wishing they’d taken better care of themselves back when they had so much energy.  It doesn’t take nearly as much time and effort as you think it does, and as I’ve said before, investing in your health is the best investment you can make.  It pretty much always pays out.

On Resolutions II: Garbage in, Garbage Out

Alright, we’re now into February!  How is your resolution holding up?

Many health-related resolutions are directly or indirectly tied to our eating habits.  Many of us resolve to “eat better,” and how we fuel our bodies bears heavily on whether we “lose weight” or not.  When it comes to weight loss, the first thing out of many people’s mouths is “Calories!  Burn more than you consume!  It’s not that hard!”

But the thing is, it is hard.  For the 90% of us that have desk jobs,  burning off calories is kind of a chore, and it’s not always practical to abandon our work phones and slug boxes in the warehouse.  According to the elliptical machine I use at the gym, a good half-hour of moderate cardio burns me 200 calories.  That takes care of those carrot sticks I had at lunch!  Let’s be realistic: if you take this approach and try to burn more calories than you consume, you probably have to find a way to burn off 3000-4000 calories daily.  How many hours does each day come with again?

I’m not trying to say that exercise is useless…far from it!  But you have to use it as a supplement to your eating habits, which are phenomenally more important.

So what do good eating habits look like?

I have this theory.  Basically, I assume that our bodies are well-adapted to our environments… whether you want to believe that a God designed us that way, or we evolved that way, it doesn’t matter.  The point is that our bodies are amazing machines that require fuel to operate, and the world around us is filled with this fuel.  However, the more we get our sticky fingers in the process, the less valuable that fuel becomes.  Most of the diet advice out there agrees on one fundamental:  Less processed food, more fresh food.  Whether you’re looking at Paleo, Atkins, Dukan, or whatever diet of the week is popular, pretty much all of them assume that you’re going to start preparing your own food and cutting out factory-made snacks.

I realize that this view can get extreme, and I’m not trying to slam “cooking” as a process, or advocating a raw-food diet at all (though I’m sure that can be great).  I’m not even trying to pimp a 100-mile diet (though I’m actually curious to try that).  What I’m talking about is much more fundamental… for example, let’s take a tomato.  Snap it off the vine and it’s good for you!  Full of vitamins, fibre, and all sorts of wonderful things.  Some studies suggest that cooking it actually makes more of those good things available by breaking it down a bit.  But process it in a factory and pump it full of corn syrup, salt, and preservatives, and the nutritional value is negligible.  Any vitamins that remain will do very little good in the face of all the bad done by that added sugar.

A calorie is not a calorie: it’s either a good or a bad one.  In theory, if you limit your calories to 2000 a day you’ll lose weight, but if those 2000 calories are comprised solely of coca-cola, slim jims, and doritos… I mean, come on, we know better than that.

So what do we do about it?

As I’ve said before, a sudden and exhaustive overhaul of your life will be hard to maintain.  Start with small changes.

I highly recommend taking up the habit of reading labels, and paying attention to the recommended serving size.  I recently read on the side of one can of pop that the serving size was about a third of the can.  Who drinks a third of a can of pop a day?  Nobody, that’s who!  Do you put it in the fridge for later?  All the nutritional information on the label, including calories, had to be tripled, which made that can of pop into more of a snack than a drink!

Not to name names, but...yo.

Check the ingredients list too.  You’d be surprised to see how many storebought sauces list “sugar” as the second ingredient, sometimes even before what you would expect to be the main ingredient!   How does that even happen?

Start looking for alternatives.  What do you like to eat?  Ok, now what’s a better way of making that food?  Instead of buying frozen chicken strips, can you make your own?  That’s a personal example for me…I found a great recipe, and my husband regularly tells me that mine are way better than storebought.  As I mentioned in my previous post, we switched from using pre-made spaghetti sauces to spicing up crushed tomatoes.  I couldn’t believe how much sugar was in a sauce that is supposed to be savoury, and maybe spicy…certainly not sweet!

Moving on to my next point, here’s a quick story.  Over Christmas I had some store-bought yogurt and when I read the ingredients I was amazed by how much sodium was in it!  This is plain, low-fat yogurt…it shouldn’t have salt in it, it should have milk and cultures.  If there’s anything else in there, it should be berries added by me.  Why would you add salt to yogurt in the first place?

Seriously?

Well, because it’s low-fat.  We’ve all been pretty well programmed to recognize fat as the enemy.  After all, it’s the same word we use to talk about our bellies, so it only makes sense.  The problem is that when you strip the fats out of a naturally fatty food, it seldom tastes good anymore.  So we pump it up with things that do taste good….sugar and salt.  See what I mean about people interfering with our foods?

There are a lot of fats that are very good for you!

You’ll hear a lot about “heart-healthy fats.”  But what does this mean, and how do they differ from the fats we were all raised to believe are evil?  The more I read, the more I’m convinced that the only fats we really need to worry about are in red meat.

Vegetable fats like Olive Oil and Avocado are packed with health benefits.  Poultry and Dairy are ok, but I’d still recommend limiting your dairy.  Having a little yogurt a day is amazingly good for you, but a glass of milk with every meal might not be the best choice.  Red meat, on the other hand, is largely over-consumed.  I won’t go as far to say we all need to become vegetarians, but cutting beef down to once or twice a week will be easier on your body, the environment (cattle farming!) and your wallet all at the same time.  You’d be surprised at how good chicken is in your chili or on your nachos!

Bonus points for artful arrangement of leaves around your bottle.

And on the point of meat-eating, I need to plug wild meat.  What I said about people interfering with our foods applies here too:  A wild animal that has eaten what it wants and lived an active “happy” life will be better for you than an animal that spends all it’s life in a barn being force-fed corn.  Seriously, give wild meat a shot (pun!).  If your deer is gamey, soak it in milk.  I remember the last time we ran out of deer and I had to buy some beef from the store.  I couldn’t believe how bad it tasted!  Store-beef was tasteless and just kind of gross: the deer was flavourful and delicious.  Maybe shooting and cleaning your own meat is too much for you, so make friends with a hunter.  Half a deer kept us in red meat for over a year.  Let that sink in for a second… How much money do you drop on beef monthly?

But back on topic.  Some have even suggested that a low-fat diet causes your body to hold on tightly to every scrap of fat it gets.  I can’t vouch for the science of this, but the point remains:  You need healthy fats in your diet.

But what about calories?

Watching your portion-sizes is also important.  Some experts have said that in many cases, cutting out 300-400 calories a day is the tipping point between losing weight or not.  This can be as easy as drinking water instead of juice and pop with every meal, and nixing your daily bag of skittles.  Start to improve your meals on top of that, and I think you’ll be happy with the results.

As mentioned earlier, burning more calories than you consume is hard…so it’s better to focus on consuming less than you burn.  You may feel a little hungry at first, but start to really listen to your body.  Are you really hungry, or are you just craving the tastes?  Can this hunger be sated by a snack, or do we really need a whole other meal?  Sometimes it can be psychological:  You feel like you have to clean your plate.  Take a smaller serving on a smaller plate!

Was that so bad?

Cutting down on quantity and improving the quality of your calories is key to so many health-related goals.  I can’t encourage you more to start evaluating your eating habits and making changes for the better.  You’ll start to feel better, even if you didn’t necessarily feel “bad” before.  I know personally that when I’m eating well, I wake up with more energy…and I am the polar opposite of a morning person.  My mood improves, and I’m more motivated to exercise and get projects done.

The benefits are numerous, and the drawbacks are negligible.  You may have to take a little more time in food prep, but can you cut back an hour of TV or video games?  It’s time invested into your health, which is a very safe investment. And don’t for one second believe that you have to sacrifice taste for health!  There are a ton of healthy and delicious recipes and foods out there, and with this new-fangled internet-thing, they’re easy to find.

It will take time to see results, but be patient and don’t rush yourself.  Your goals are within your power to accomplish: you control what you put into your mouth, and you can absolutely break bad habits.  You can form better habits.  This is completely doable.

On Resolutions: How we Think and What to Do About It.

So here we are in 2012!  May I personally state that I think this is going to be a great year, impending apocalypse notwithstanding.  And how could I write a blog post in January and not address Resolutions, the majority of which involve becoming healthy and/or losing weight.

While I don’t think you necessarily need to purchase a new calendar to make changes in your life, most of us do decide to get back at that “health thing” in January.  We may not say it out loud or even really articulate the thought, but somewhere in our brains we look back at what we’ve been eating over the Holidays and think “Oh dear…enough of that now!”   It’s just kind of a reflex to follow a period of overindulgence with a period of restraint.   The problem is that this restraint only lasts until March at best.

So I’m going to write a couple posts on that “health thing.”  Whether you want to lose pounds or inches, run farther or lift more, or just simply feel better about yourself, there are three basic areas you’ll need to make changes in.  I will talk mostly specifically about weight loss, but I do think that these things can be applied to any goals.

So here’s my first topic: How we Think.

I don’t know how intense this can be for men, but I know personally as a woman that it can be terribly hard to break out of the vicious cycle of self-loathing and guilt.  It’s a well-crafted trap:  You don’t like how you look/feel, which makes you feel guilty, so you shrink back from taking action because it’s easier to deny there’s a problem than to admit that you’ve made a mess of yourself.  Then you still don’t like how you look and also know that you’ve done nothing but exacerbate the problem by shrinking back, so you feel guilty and try to tell yourself it’s not so bad, and the whole thing starts again. And usually there’s a lot of deep-frying involved.

This has to stop.

..and gnawing a leg off won't help

So let’s start by taking an honest look at ourselves, and I do mean that.  Constructive criticism means taking an appraisal of both the negative and positive and finding solutions to the negatives.  Don’t stand in front of a mirror and bash yourself, but also don’t stand there and make excuses:  we’re aiming for somewhere in the middle.  Make yourself add compliments in there if you have to.

Part of being honest is simply being realistic.  You may never be a size zero, but you also may never be an astronaut (something that I am still in denial about).  Let’s start with a realistic look at our expectations.

Really, what do you need to achieve?  I will always tell you to start small, and once you’ve achieved that, re-assess.  I cannot emphasize enough how personal this decision is: Everyone’s body is different, and 50 pounds looks different on a 5 foot person than a 6 foot person, never mind what their body is shaped like!  Don’t feel like there’s some universal standard you need to meet: you set your own standards. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else, and you know when you’ve done your best and when you’ve dropped the ball.

We all have that inner critic, whether if it’s a muted voice in the back of your brain or an obnoxious voice spewing venom.  You need to make peace with this guy: make him be reasonable and kind.  This voice is a valuable tool, and like all tools, it can be abused.  It should be pushing you to do well, not beating you down about not doing well enough.

Like this, but with less drugs.

Allow yourself to feel good about going to the gym or sticking to your diet today.  Don’t devalue what you accomplish.  Trust me, if you hit the gym and mentally beat yourself up afterwards for not “doing enough”, you won’t be likely to go back…after all, you’re associating it with feelings of guilt!  Instead, be proud of yourself for going!   Hell, look at yourself in the mirror and tell your reflection that “you done good!”  if you have to.

And keep track of your progress! Record your weight and take your measurements, time yourself or whatever you need. Take a “before picture” if you like.  Never, ever, for any reason, use an image of someone else as a “goal!”  This is setting yourself up for failure: You cannot become someone else, you can only become the best you.  Remember to check your progress often, and don’t let early days frustrate you. It’s normal to gain a little and plateau for a while before starting to lose weight. You will have to learn to be patient with yourself:  the sad fact is that establishing new habits just takes time.

Losing weight and keeping it off is a long term endeavor.  The longer you keep your body at a certain weight, the more it believes this weight is “normal” and the harder it fights to keep you there.  Silly meat machine, it only wants what’s best for you!  Honestly I didn’t start losing weight until I’d kept at my eating and exercising resolutions for at least four months.  It will be a slow process, and we sure like instant results in our society.  You can look at this negatively…like it’s going to take slaving away forever to get anywhere….or you can look at it like you aren’t rushed, and can take your time with this.

And do you really need one more thing in your life to hurry at?

If you really want these changes to stick, you will have to change the way you do things….  And yes, change is hard.  If habits were easy to break, New Years Resolutions wouldn’t be a thing in the first place.  But it’s easier to move a mountain one stone at a time than all at once.  So start small.  Pick one or two doable things and get that down before you move on to larger issues.

If losing weight is your goal, a diet plan may help but definitely watch out for a couple things.  Any plan that says you can lose weight without any changes and just add supplements is suspect in my eyes.  The “no changes” approach is unlikely to work.   Same goes for any plan that says you have to eat only their foods.  Extreme change is hard to sustain, and the odds are that after you finish your plan, you’ll go right back to eating like you did before:  If you lost 50 pounds but stop what you’re doing and go back to eating for a body 50 pounds heavier, guess what happens?  Pick a plan carefully: find something with lessons you can apply long term, whether that’s about portion control or creating well-balanced meals.

Above all, changes need to be sustainable.  Overhauling your entire life at once is just too drastic: you need to adapt into changes slowly and they have to be incremental.  You can start by cutting out pop and juice, and then move into adding more fruits and veggies into your diet.  Start trying to get your recommended daily glasses of water!  Switch from sugary, salty pasta sauces to plain crushed tomatoes and add your own seasonings.

But one step at a time.  Nutrition is a whole other topic, and we’ll get there!

Pickling: And How!

I love pickles. I can easily sit down and eat a whole jar of pickled asparagus (provided it’s a small jar) much to my husband’s dismay.

A couple weeks ago I was searching for applesauce recipes when completely by accident I started to find DIY pickle recipes. It was kind of random, but I was intrigued. You’ll get the applesauce story later, but for now let’s talk about pickling.

From what I can understand there are two ways to pickle veggies: Lacto-fermentation and Cheating.  I tried both…FOR SCIENCE.

Lacto-fermentation:

This is the pro-biotic way, and as such appealed to that part of my brain that keeps nagging me to eat healthy. Essentially, as with making yogurt, you want to create an environment were good bacteria can thrive, and as break down your foodstuffs in a controlled way that has many health benefits. Instead of letting harmful buggies rot your food, you let the good ones go nuts!

You will need:

*A jar with a lid
*Sea Salt (iodized will make your brine a little cloudy, but is otherwise fine)
*Your favorite herbs and spices
*Filtered Water
*Veggies

And how:

1) Wash your jar in hot soapy water.  I re-used a salsa jar the first time, so don’t feel like you need to go buy anything special.  This canning jar was bought at Value Village.

2) Prepare your veggies: Wash produce in cold water and cut to fit in your jar. You should be able to leave about 1 to 1.5 inches between veggies and the top of your jar.

Prep!

3) Put all your seasonings and veg in your jar. For this batch I used about 1 tbsp each of dill, peppercorns and coriander seeds, about half a clove of garlic, and a pinch of chili pepper flakes.  You can adjust this to taste or just add your favourite spices.  I’ve seen recipes that call for everything from fennel to cinnamon!

Just to be on the safe side, I trimmed off the ends of my cukes. Apparently bits of stem can contribute to mushiness.

4) Create your brine by dissolving about 1.5 teaspoons of sea salt to every cup of filtered water. Some recipes recommend adding a bit of whey to jumpstart things:  just take some of that liquid off the top of your yogurt (plain! Always plain!). It’s not going bad, it’s just the whey separating out, and it’s full of the good bacteria we want in here.

Science Notes: Coriander floats!

5) Add enough brine to cover the top of your veggies. If your veggies float up to the surface..well, I just added some extra seasoning on top to coat them.

6) Close up the jar and store it in a warm, dark place.  As with my yogurt, I hedged my bets with an electric blanket on low.

Every day we're bubbling bubbling!

You should see bubbles forming and pressure building in your jar after a couple days.  That means it’s working and the buggies are doing their job!  If your jar seals well, open it once in a while to let off the pressure.  Once it’s stopped making bubbles, you should be done!  Recipes vary on how long you should leave them, but I found that 5-7 days usually does the trick.  The longer they sit, the more flavour will develop!

...and we're pickled. It's ok, it's Friday.

Apparently adding a grape or oak leaf to your jar will help keep your pickles crunchy.  I can’t vouch for this but the internet seems to think it works pretty well.  Something about tannins.  Mine worked out fine!

Cheating:

Mostly, pickles are fermented as above then stored in a vinegar solution.  But you can do quickie “Refrigerator Pickles” where you skip right to the vinegar stage.  They won’t have all the probiotic goodness, but they’re also ready overnight, which appeals to my sense of impatience.

You will need:

*2 and 1/4 cups of Vinegar
*3/4 cup of Sea or Kosher Salt
*Veggies
*Jar with lid
*Seasonings

And how:

1) Dissolve salt into vinegar by stirring over low heat.

2) Cut your veggies to fit your jars.  Wash in cold water.

3) Pack veggies into jars and add your seasonings.  I used the same mix as the first recipe, but feel free to personalize it!

4) Pour vinegar mixture over your veg so that it covers the ends.

5) Close up your jar and refrigerate for 12 hours.

If you prefer sweet pickles, replace the salt with sugar.  Personally I hate sweet pickles, but I tried making a batch and they went over well with Brother and Roommate.  You can also replace a 3/4 cup of the White Vinegar with Apple Cider Vinegar for a milder taste.

And that's how it's done!

Make Your Own Shampoo

When I was little, we used to go to the beach with my cousins.  It was a lot of fun, and sometimes we’d write or draw things in the wet sand.  One time, my cousin wrote that another cousin of ours makes his own shampoo.  For some reason my brothers and I found this hilarious.  Pro-tip: it’s because the word shampoo ends in poo.

Anyways, now that I’m making my own shampoo, I think about this story pretty regularly.

So, here are my two favourite shampoo recipes.  I’ll share them exactly as I make them, but bear in mind that I have very thick, brittle hair and a scalp prone to dandruff and itchiness.  I encourage you to tinker with them and find something that works for YOUR hair.  The measurements here make pretty small amounts so you can try them out and see what you think first.

1)   Peppermint Pick-me-up

This is my favourite.  The essential oils in this one are great for dandruffy scalps, but may be a little harsh for the rest of you.  It’s a wonderful scent to wake you up in the morning though!

You Will Need:

*1/4 cup of unscented liquid Castile Soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild)
*1/4 cup of filtered water
*1 tsp of Grapeseed Oil
*2 tsp of vegetable glycerin
*4 drops tea tree oil
*4 drops peppermint oil

Water not Pictured. You've seen it.

Mix all ingredients together.  These  recipes are much thinner than commercial shampoos, so I highly recommend using a spray bottle to apply them.  You’ll be impressed and surprised by how much just a misting lathers up though!

This is a great basic recipe, and easy to modify.  Try different combinations of essential oils!  I’m currently test-driving lavender instead of peppermint with nice results.  I also recommend citrus-y oils like lemon and orange if you’re looking for another peppy scent.

You can also replace the Grapeseed oil with Jojoba, Avocado, Sweet Almond, or whatever you like…each has it’s benefits!  Grapeseed is cheap though…thus it’s appeal in my house.  Try adding more oil and less glycerin if you need more intense moisturizing.  The Soap breaks it up enough to keep your head from feeling too greasy, but as I’ve mentioned, you should experiment to fit your needs.

UPDATE:  there’s a nice summary on Carrier (Base) Oils here.

2) Chamomile Calm

This is great for irritated, sensitive scalps.  Chamomile is soothing and has lightening properties, so don’t use it if you have something against radiant highlights.  This recipe is much easier on the moisturizing than the first one, so better for light cleansing.

*1/2 cup filtered water
*1/2 cup liquid Castile Soap
*3 Chamomile tea bags  (or about 3 tbsp of loose dried chamomile in a tea ball)
*2 tsp vegetable glycerin

Steep the tea bags in the water for 15-20 minutes on low heat.  Remove the tea bags and squeeze them out.  Allow to cool before adding the other ingredients.  Apply with a spray bottle as before.

This recipe is fairly easily modified by substituting other herbs for Chamomile.  Rosemary and Sage have restorative qualities, and are good for dandruff.  They’re better for enhancing dark colours though, so don’t go this route if your goal is platinum blonde.

Follow each shampooing with a hair rinse, or you may not like the results.  Real soap tends to leave hair dull looking and heavy.  I make the following simple recipe:

-1 cup of filtered water
-2-3 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar
-4 drops Essential Oil (something to mask the Vinegar scent a bit…it’s pungent)

Mix it in a spray bottle and apply thoroughly.  The acidity will help restore your hair’s proper pH after shampooing, rinse out any residue, and leave your hair shiny!  You may want to use more of the Vinegar if your have thick, coarse hair, just to make sure you get through it all, but don’t overdo it…it can be harsh!

There you have it!  Simple, homemade shampoos.  Don’t forget to let me know how it goes if you try them out!

Recipes adapted from this Instructable.

Avocado: a Love Story

Avocados are one of my favourite things ever.  Almost to the point where I would use an expletive to emphasize the depth of my love, except that my Mom reads this.

avocado

Little known fact: they stand up on their own.

Why you ask?  Well…

They are damn good for you. Sorry Mom. But avocados are full of the good monounsaturated fats, fibre (soluble and insoluble), folate, potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals. Heck, I even read somewhere that they might actually help fight belly fat accumulation (and I will get you that citation shortly). More concrete is the evidence that monounsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol.

Like all diet choices, you need to decrease bad choices while increasing good choices. For example I’ll recommend mashing avocado onto a piece of bread instead of using butter, and then making your sandwich like normal. You just replaced artery clogging saturated fats with a vitamin rich and heart healthy alternative! Go you!

Guacamole is delicious. Smash up avocados with yogurt and lemon juice, and find some low sodium seasoning to top it all off. Then just try not to eat it all in one go… like I do.

It’s good for your skin. No I said that. Those oils and vitamins I mentioned earlier make this a great ingredient in homemade masks. My favourite goes as so:

*Grind oatmeal into a powder.
*Blend it with avocado
*Add milk or yogurt and blend until you get a smooth, thick paste
*Maybe also cucumber, if your skin is irritated
*Smear on your face and hide around a corner
*Scare the next person who walks by.

I hear you can also use avocado as a conditioning mask for dry hair, so if you try that, let me know how it goes!

The word avocado means testicle. Maybe you don’t see that as a good thing, but apparently I am still five and find these things funny. I was going to quit while I was ahead, but so much for that I guess!