Archive for the ‘SCIENCE!’ Category

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!

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.

Better than Pledge

We have an old wooden coffee table that is subject to constant abuse.  For starters, it doubles as an ottoman.

The footstool version.

We also don’t use coasters.

So once in a while I get it into my head to give this thing a little attention and polish it up.  Having lost my can of Pledge, I decided this was a good time to find a homemade version and share it with you all.

If this is your first time at Lazy Hippie, you should know that my criteria for DIY versions is that

a) it be better than the commercial version (preferably in price but if not that, then at least in effectiveness) and
b) I have the ingredients in my house already.

So I felt pretty happy to find this recipe, which is simple and effective.  I cut down on it because I really only polish the coffee table, so here’s my adaptation. You will need:

*1 teaspoons Olive Oil
*2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
*2 teaspoons Distilled Water

Mix together in a small bowl.  The lemon juice will break up the olive oil and help it all combine.  Then dip a paper towel into it and start polishing.  Once you’ve covered the whole thing, rub it over with a dry paper towel and let sit.

I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but this amount actually did the whole coffee table with a bit left over.  And the thing looks amazing now, and better than it ever did using commercial polishes.  I’m getting this weird feeling in my guts like I might actually want to be nice to it in the future.

On the Making of my Own Yogurt

I am really struggling for yogurt puns.  All I can think of is the dude from Spaceballs.  Moichandising!

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive right to it:  Making your own yogurt is super easy, and here’s how.

You will need:

*Plain Yogurt
*Milk
*A Pot
*A Container that is neither metal or plastic (this and the pot should be capable of holding 1 quart of liquid)
*A Kitchen Thermometer

1) Go pick up a little thing of plain probiotic yogurt.  What you want here is something for which the ingredients read “Milk, bacterial cultures,”  period.  No flavours, added sugars or preservatives.  You don’t need a lot, so go ahead and get an expensive brand.  You will also need just over a quart of milk from whatever animal and in whatever fat percentage you want.  Full fat, skim… it’s all good!

2) Mix two tablespoons of yogurt and two tablespoons of milk in a small dish.  Set aside.

3) Heat 1 quart (32 ounces) of milk to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius).  Do this slowly to avoid burning.

...like so!

4) Carefully pour the hot milk into your Container.  I use a Pyrex mixing bowl, but Corningware would work too.  I just don’t want plastic particles to melt into my yogurt and the conductivity of metal would make handling hot liquids difficult.

5) Cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).  You can let it sit or put it in a partially filled sink of ice water if you want to speed things up.

Note the happy frog scrubby holder. This is critical to making good yogurt.

6) Once cooled, pour the yogurt and milk mixture from earlier down the side of the container, so as not to disturb any skin that may have formed on top.  Do not stir.

7) Cover your container with a clean dish cloth (don’t seal it!) and place it somewhere warm and dry where it won’t be disturbed.  I like to hedge my bets by placing it on an electric blanket on medium-low heat.

8 ) Come back in 8-12 hours!  The longer you wait the more tangy the yogurt will be.  Wait much longer than 12 hours and you may find it too sour.

9) Carefully drain any excess liquid off the top.  This, by the way, is called whey (there’s my pun!) and you can add it to smoothies for extra protein if you like.

10) Refrigerate until cold, and enjoy!

Really what we’re doing is “extending” the yogurt.  The initial heating breaks down the proteins, and the continued low heat allows the bacterial cultures to replicate and convert the milk into yogurt.  Putting it in the fridge causes the cultures to cease and desist.  It may sound a little gross, but it’s the basic principle of making all sorts of dairy products, and these cultures are beneficial!

You may find homemade yogurt to be runnier than storebought, simply because many of those brands have thickening agents added.   You can thicken it at home through the following steps:

1) Place a colander in a larger bowl or the sink and line it with cheesecloth

2) Pour the yogurt into it.

3) Bring together the corners of the cloth and twist them to squeeze extra whey out.  Tie it up tight and let it drain for a couple hours.

4) Give it one last squeeze.

You should get a thick, greek-style yogurt!  Unfortunately this will come at the cost of about half your total weight…sadface.

Now just remember save a couple tablespoons for the next batch!  You can keep this going indefinitely if you’re careful.  I have heard that you can freeze samples in an ice cube tray for later, which may be helpful if you’re the kind of person who regularly finds furry blue creatures nesting in your leftovers…like me…

I’ll let you do your own research on the health benefits of yogurt,  but here’s a start with the Globe and Mail’s recent headline: A Yogurt a Day may keep Heart Disease Away.   Enjoy!

Granola Tales

The other day I took a massive leap forward in my hippie transformation: I made my own granola.

Now personally I can’t think of anything more thoroughly hippie, but my friend contends that it’s only about 65% of the nougat filling that is the heart of a hippie.  According to her, the remaining content is homemade fruit leather.

I can’t confirm these allegations, but anyways, granola.

I needed a recipe that wasn’t entirely comprised of nuts, as these send my husband to the emergency room.  After some searching, I found Healthy Green Kitchen, an awesome blog, and in particular, a granola recipe that’s nut-free.

Now, I will admit that I had to go to two different natural foods stores before I could find all these ingredients, but it was totally worth it.  I’m copying over the recipe as is, and you’ll find my modifications underneath.

You will need:

*1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
*1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
*1/3 cup raw sesame seeds
*2 cups organic rolled oats
*1-2 teaspoons organic ground cinnamon
*3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
*3 tablespoons organic coconut oil, liquified in a pan of hot water, if necessary
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*1/2 cup organic raisins
*1/2 cup organic dried cranberries, unsulphured dried apricots, or other dried fruit (chopped, if necessary)
*1/4 cup raw cacao nibs- optional, but highly recommended (70% dark chocolate chips could be substituted, if desired)

And then:

1. Preheat oven to 250°F.

2. Pour all ingredients except cacao nibs in a large bowl and stir well.

3. Spread the mixture evenly onto a baking sheet in a thin layer.

4. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

5. Remove pan from oven, toss granola around, rotate the pan, and bake for another 15 minutes. Repeat until granola is completely dry and light golden brown (about 1 hour total).

6. Allow to cool and then stir in cacao nibs. Store in an air-tight container.

All that was left by the time I got around to taking a picture.

So, feedback time.  First off, I used roasted seeds instead of raw, simply because that’s all I could find.  For the record, I would have preferred raw.  Second, I don’t like raisins, so I used a cup of a dried berries mix.  For the next batch, I used dried blueberries and cranberries.  Third, my granola was still kind of greasy after one hour, so on the next batch, I baked it longer and at 300, which had much better results. Fourth, I added flax seeds to the next batch, because why not.

I was fortunate enough to find the recommended cacao nibs…right next to the dried berries turns out.  And can I say that they are phenomenal?  I thought they’d be super bitter, but these are chocolately and delicious, and the packaging calls them a superfood… so I am just going to roll with the idea that they are good for you despite tasting so heavenly.

Initially I was a little concerned about coconut oil, as it’s a saturated fat.  However as far as I can tell from my research, the truly harmful fats are animal in origin, and therefore if you are going to have a saturated fat, coconut is the one to use.  In small quantities it appears to have some health benefits, and is pretty much tasteless, making it a good substitute for many things.  If you are still concerned you could try substituting grapeseed oil.

What can I say? It's delicious! I tripled the recipe on the next batch.

Bottom line, I give this recipe an A.  It’s not complicated, provided you can get the ingredients, and even then it’s easy to modify.  You could easily add nuts if you wish.  The cinnamon and vanilla are a great combination of flavours, and I actually have to be careful not to stuff myself with it.  It’s that good!

EDIT:  So turns out you can get almost all of this in bulk at Coopers, and some of it in bulk at Superstore.  Nice to know that more chains are broadening their selection of health foods!

Oil: The good and the beautiful

Some time ago, my hippie coworker Alanna and I were researching something known as “The Oil Cleansing Method.”

It sounds contradictory doesn’t it?  We all know that oil is that sheen on your face and the dullness in your hair and has something to do with your skin overproducing sebum (a word that has had us giggling since middle school).  Oiliness is bad, and we fight it down with the harshest cleansers we can get!  In fact, we’re not sure why BP didn’t just dump a ton of Noxema in the ocean after things went so terribly wrong down there.

But we’re getting smarter about skin too.  It’s starting to become common knowledge that over-cleansing your skin is just as bad as never washing it.  We know that stripping out those natural oils causes your skin to overcompensate, resulting in more oil than is needed.  And this gums up the works pretty well. As in so many things we’re learning that balance is the key, using gentle methods to assist the skin instead of carpet bombing it with harsh synthetics.

This is where the Oil Cleansing method can be exceptionally useful.  It uses natural plant oils to loosen dirt and dead skin cells and deliver a solid punch of health to your dermis.

The method is detailed fairly clearly here. And while I don’t recommend shaving your head, I think this ladies skin does look great.

...and pretty bottles make it work better.

Which oils you use will depend on what your skin is like.  Dry skinned folk will want a richer, heavier oil than those of us with skin that tends to “self-moisturize” already.  I will always recommend doing your own research, but personally, I have been using the following mixture with great success:

1/4 cup olive oil

1/8 cup hempseed oil

3-4 drops tea tree oil

Both olive and hempseed oils are rich in Vitamin E as well as those important fatty acids we keep hearing about. Olive oil is an old beauty secret, and there’s a lot of exciting research coming out about Hempseed oil: to start, it’s one of the only plant oils containing Vitamin D, as well as being a very complete source of Omega 3 and 6. Actually I could do a whole post on this stuff, but lets settle for saying it’s a great lightweight oil that has a pleasant nutty taste and smell as well as being bright green. It’s expensive though, so I cut it with olive oil, which I buy in large quantities for cooking.

Lately I try to do the full routine about twice a week and just rub a little into my face, legs and elbows after a shower.  I tend to follow with facial toner before I leave the house just to take care of any oil that hasn’t soaked in.  Honestly though, this has been super effective.  The worst of the eczema on my elbows is gone, and the patch on my leg has cleared considerably. The skin on my face is smoother and happier, feeling softer with less redness and fewer breakouts. I still use a mild soap to cleanse in the morning, but I will probably talk about soap on it’s own at some point.

I will warn you, switching to natural methods can take an adjustment period of a couple days to a week. How severe this is will depend on how many and how harsh of synthetics you’ve been using and probably on what your diet is like. This is your skin clearing out the crap and adjusting back to normal! It’s a good thing! Be patient, but maybe don’t start this right before your wedding. You may also want to ease into it, cutting back on your commercial products slowly. I started by cutting down my cleanser use to once a day instead of twice for a while before I switched to natural soap completely.

But seriously, if you’re skeptical just try rubbing a little olive oil into your newly shaven legs or dry elbows. You will be a believer in no time!