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.

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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!

The Happiest Place on Earth

It’s not Disneyland.  I’ve never been there, but it sounds loud, crowded, and full of cartoon animals.  I don’t like any of those things, unless it’s the crazy chef from “The Little Mermaid.”  The happiest place on earth is my local garden centre.  You see, I have discovered in recent years that I love to garden.

As a kid I was always more of the “Ignore it and see what sprouts” school of growing things.  My Mom would patiently assign me a corner of the garden every year, and don’t get me wrong, I loved the idea of gardening, but just couldn’t seem to find the tenacity to stick with it.  In retrospect I think part of the problem was that I always filled my plot with flowers, which look nice, but don’t really give much back.  Of course, at the time growing vegetables wouldn’t have been as rewarding as it would just have gone in with all the grub my Mom was growing.  Now, it’s a whole other ballgame.  I put in the effort and I get a payout of cheap, delicious food.

...dirty freeloaders.

When I finally moved into a townhouse with a small backyard I decided right away that the barren edge of the lawn would become a garden.  I didn’t do much more than dig out the weeds and add some potting soil to it before I threw in my seeds.  I had a bumper crop of tomatoes that fall, but little else.  My peas died off after one picking and I got two hard, seedy zucchinis.  The soil was dense and rock-filled, and my carrots mostly broke off in the ground.  Still, I was hooked.  The veggies I did harvest were mind-blowingly delicious.  The first bite of carrot immediately convinced me to grow as much food as possible.  It’s easy to forget that veggies are actually very tasty, especially when we mostly buy grocery store versions.

The next year I did a little research and took a little more care in my planting.  My husband killed my peas and spearmint,  but the rest of the veggies came up nicely, and we ate tomatoes and zucchini, topped with fresh herbs, for quite some time.

This year, our apartment is on the second floor of our building and I am gearing up for a container farm.  The deck is sheltered nicely, and if I work around the bikes I think I can get a good selection going.  So a few weeks ago now I was off to a nearby greenhouse to stock up on plants. It’s a magical place, full of green things and damp smells.  And I mean that in the “damp foresty” and not the “damp gym socks” way.

Now, several weeks later, I have success on all but the lettuce front.  Apparently those seeds were duds.  Otherwise though, things are coming along nicely!

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In order of appearance:  An Oxalis my grandmother gave me (and I was worried I’d killed), Oregano sprouts, a Pea plant, Zucchinis, and a Strawberry blossom.

The Vinegar Files

So, my life has been a little wild lately.  This isn’t my personal blog, so I will keep the whining brief:  I am out of a job, and have sent my husband up north for work.   As you may infer, I now have quite a bit of free time, so I am trying to keep busy and productive. And is it ok that I am kind of enjoying it?

Today I finally feel like I’ve accomplished something in getting my house clean.  Up until now this has been a fruitless effort largely because I have been living with four males.  However, with Husband up north and Brothers 1 & 2 out of town for summer jobs, it just leaves me and the fairly tidy Roommate.  We’ve both done some organizing, purging, and tidying, and I’m proud to say the house looks kind of like adults live here.  Adults with a lot of secondhand furniture and swords, but nonetheless.

I am sure you’ve heard that most things can be cleaned with Baking Soda and Vinegar.  I just finally bought some Baking Soda (I don’t bake) and have been using Washing Soda instead, but here’s the Lazy Hippie’s top ten uses of Vinegar.

Yes, the stuff on the restaurant table that no one uses. It's good on fries though!

1. To clean the coffee maker.  I just bought a French Press, so I decided to give our drip machine a good cleaning.  Fill it up with water and a good splash of Vinegar, run it through once or twice, and follow with a plain water cycle.  Give the carafe a scrub and let the whole thing air dry.

2. To clean the rack from my toaster oven.  I soaked it in hot water and Vinegar and the majority of baked on ickies came off with a light scrubbing.

3. To deal with the unspeakable horrors at the back of the toilet seat.  Enough said.

4. To kill the moss on the deck.  Actually my Grandmother told me about this one:  half Vinegar and half water was apparently more effective than any of the commercial moss-killers she bought.

5. As half of the bathroom crime fighting duo.  I use Washing Soda and a damp sponge to scrub out the tub and sink, rinse with water, then spray down with Vinegar.  The ensuing chemical reaction dissolves off any Soda residue as it converts to water.  I don’t rinse off the Vinegar so it works thoroughly, as my baby blue 70’s tub shows pretty much every streak left.  Yes the place smells nasty, so follow it all up with your favourite scented candles.

6. To leave my dishes sparkling. I am blessed with a dishwasher, however, it’s one that leaves my dishes cloudy and dull.  I dump Vinegar and maybe a splash of lemon juice in the bottom of the dishwasher before I run it, and end up with clear, residue-free dishes.

7. As an ingredient in my homemade glass cleaner.

8. In hair rinses.  Except for this I use Apple Cider Vinegar instead of plain white.

9. As a fabric softener alongside this detergent.

10. As….um,  OH!  I used it as a weed killer on the patio at my last house!

Seriously, a massive jug of Vinegar is kind of the holy grail of homemade/green home solutions.  I keep a spray bottle filled with the stuff at all times.  It’s cheap and effective, just make sure you have your scented candles ready afterwards!

Grocery Shopping and Other Things that Suck

It happens pretty much every time I’m at the grocery store.  I get to the checkout and suddenly remember my re-usable bags.  They’re safely put away in my kitchen, nowhere to be seen.  So when the cashier asks if I need bags today, I bite back my shame and tell her that yes, yes I do.

I don’t know what it is.  I’m usually pretty adept at picking up new habits but occasionally there’s one that just refuses to budge.  Thank God I’d never taken up drugs as a wild teenager.  Still, every time I finish unloading my groceries and look around my kitchen, strewn with plastic like a large, planet-hating parade just blew through, I cringe.  Following procedure, I then vow to myself that it won’t happen again.

Sometimes, they make it to the trunk of my car.  And there they, along with the football and picnic blanket, await better days.

Actually, this is exactly how Grocery Stores make me feel.

I think the problem is scheduling.  Half of my grocery trips occur under a “Oh hey, while we’re out let’s get milk” pretense.  We are not planners in my house.  I’ve made chili only to have all my meat browned and cans open only to discover that I’m out of chili pepper.  I wish I was more organized.  I’ve tried meal plans only to run out of steam after a couple weeks.  I’m dreading the inevitable day when some teacher will tell me my children are malnourished because I’ve fed them nothing but noodles for weeks.  I have no idea how my Mother fed us balanced meals consistently throughout my childhood.  There were six of us total, and somehow we all got our veggies.

But it’s crunch time now:  The school year is ending, my husband’s savings are starting to dry up and we’re down to just my meager income.  Groceries are something I have to get under control.

So I am going to give it another shot.  The other day I sat down and created a new meal plan, adapting my earlier version to be lighter on the meat.  Don’t get me wrong, we love meat in this house… but it’s expensive.  And besides it’s becoming common knowledge that we need to cut back on meat, especially beef, for both health and environmental reasons.

So here’s my grocery-management tips.  These things all work, but only if you can stick to them.  As the title of this blog suggests, I am lazy.

1) Create a meal plan.
Try to write down 14 meals you can make.  Or just as many as you can.  I use 14 because it gives me a two week rotation I can cycle through and only eat the same meal roughly twice a month.  If you can’t do this, start smaller and work your way up as you accumulate recipes.

2) Create a master shopping list.
Go through the meals you just wrote down, and write out everything you need to make them.  I like to make a note of how many meals I need each item for so I know how much to buy…for example, Tomato Sauce: 3 days.

3) Keep track of what you have.
I have a small whiteboard on my fridge: when something runs out or is getting low, it gets written on the board.  Once my two week meal plan is up, I copy this list and hit the store!  In a perfect world of course.  My house is full of brothers who find this system a little too complex.

As far as rationing our meat goes, I am limiting red meat to once a week, chicken to three times a week, and including three vegetarian meals a week.  At first I thought this was going to be a pain, but when I sat down to look at it, I realized that it’s actually really easy to just make a spaghetti sauce with chopped veggies and ax the ground beef.  Chili and stir-fries are easily done with chicken, if not just veggies, instead.  I’m also experimenting with chickpeas.

My husband and I did the first shop of this new plan yesterday.  I am proud to say that we remembered two bags!  We needed more, but it’s a start.  We also needed a loonie for the cart, but hey, what are biceps for if not hauling baskets around the grocery store?

Anyways, it’s a step in the right direction.

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!