Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Nature Scavenger Hunt For Any Age

A Life Unprocessed

This is an idea I've been wanting to try all summer. We finally made it to the beach with our egg cartons, and this simple scavenger hunt ended up being a really engaging activity. It went so well that my son immediately asked if we could do it again!

All you need is one empty egg carton for each participant, and a patch of nature where you can safely explore. The goal is to fill each egg compartment with something different. Since we were on the beach where there is always plenty of garbage, I asked my kids to avoid getting a bunch of trash, and just focus on nature.

In the past, we've done nature scavenger hunts where we had a list of different types of things (a seed, a deciduous leaf, a Y-shaped twig, etc) that everybody needs to find, but it was actually more interesting to just see what each of us came up with on our own. Also, this way takes less advance planning!

A Life Unprocessed

Once we each got our egg cartons, and everyone understood what we were meant to do, we all went off exploring to see what we could find. When my youngest eventually called out that he was done, and everyone else agreed, we all reconvened to share what we found.

We sat together and took turns showing each item in our cartons, and explaining why we chose it, what stood out about it or made it interesting to us.

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My youngest found pieces of discarded crab shell, what we think are tube worm husks, and lots of feathers, as well as some nut shells.

My older son went for more wet items, with a few types of seaweed, one of which I know to be excellent cuisine, and some mystery material that turned out to be weathered foam insulation.

My partner found sea glass, as well as a piece of plastic that made rainbows when the sun shone through it.

I found several types of "wishing rocks" which showed stripes for each ancient sediment layer, various sizes and life stages of barnacle, and a beautiful wavy piece of wood.

A Life Unprocessed

We did end up with some garbage, which we decided to take home and throw away after we were done, leaving the beach a tiny bit nicer than we found it.

For me, this was a relaxing way to spend time in nature with my family. It could easily be done in larger groups as well.

I think it will be interesting to come back and do this again in future weeks, and see how much the things we find change over the seasons.
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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Grain Free Easy Paleo Biscuits

These are the easiest biscuits- It just takes minutes to whip them up.
With recipes like this, I really never miss bread! They go great with any soup, and we also like them with butter & jam. Plus, it's a great use for coconut flour, which was a complete mystery to me for many years :)

They pretty much turn out perfect every time, and my kids love them.
This recipe makes about a dozen medium sized biscuits, and is easily doubled if you like. Here you go!

Preheat oven to 350.
In a blender or mixing bowl, combine:
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tb apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 c coconut oil, butter, or other fat, softened

    Stir together, then add to blender:
    • 3/4 c coconut flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda

    Mix in blender briefly, until thick dough forms, like this photo:

    Drop heaping spoonfuls onto lightly oiled baking sheet.
    Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.

    Serve warm with soup, or with butter & jam. Enjoy!

    Store cooled biscuits in a sealed container in fridge for up to a week.

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    Monday, April 3, 2017

    How To Make Lacto Fermented Ginger Carrots

    A Life Unprocessed

    Buying raw lacto-fermented condiments gets crazy expensive. Ginger carrots are not only delicious and easy to make yourself, they will cost you the low price of some carrots and a nub of ginger.

    • 1 lb carrots
    • 3" section of ginger
    • 2 tsp sea salt

    A Life Unprocessed

    First, wash your carrots and cut the ends off. Likewise, make sure your ginger is clean and free of bad spots. As you may know from my previous article, I never peel my veggies. It's a waste of time and you lose precious nutrients.

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    Run the carrots and ginger through a food processor with a shredder attachment. The carrots help push the ginger through, so run the ginger through first, and then the carrots. If you don't have a food processor, a low-tech cheese grater works fine too.

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    Transfer the shredded veggies to a mixing bowl, and add the salt. I usually mix my sauerkraut by hand and really squeeze the salt into the cabbage, but for the carrots it works fine to use a stand mixer and just thoroughly mix everything. Let sit, so the salt can start to dissolve and break up the cell walls of the veggies, and then mix again. The carrots should release a bit of juice. This is our brine.

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    Stuff the mix into a wide-mouth quart jar, or two pint jars if you prefer. I have a wide funnel that helps fill the jars with less mess, but it's not necessary. Pack it down so there's no air mixed in with the carrots, and the liquid rises to the top. I discovered that the small ladle, shown below, helps me to pack the veggies in. But if you don't have something like that, your clean fingers will work fine. Just try to remove the air pockets, and get all the shredded veggies pushed below the level of the brine. It's OK if the brine sinks back down and some of the carrots aren't fully covered by the juice. They will be fine during the short fermentation time.

    A Life Unprocessed

    I like to cap mine loosely with a plastic lid, since metal will corrode over time, with exposure to the acids in fermented veggies. Store them at room temp, in a dark spot, with the caps loose. I put mine on the counter near my stove, covered by a tea towel.

    A Life Unprocessed

    Ferment for 2-4 days, testing it out each day to see how you like it best. Ginger carrots take much less fermentation time than traditional sauerkraut. The high sugar content of the carrots makes it kind of a different animal, with a much shorter shelf life. It's best to make small batches, only what you will use in the next two weeks. You will know when it goes bad if you see white spots on the carrots at the top, or if the consistency turns slimy. Just don't forget about it in the back of your fridge, and it will be fine, since it is so delicious you will want to use it up long before it has a chance to go bad! My partner and I just ate half a batch in one meal, with our curry and rice. Fortunately, it's easy and quick to make a new batch!

    A Life Unprocessed

    For more on making your own fermented vegetables, check out my other articles: Easily Make Sauerkraut Right in the Jar, and Making Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut.

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    Saturday, April 1, 2017

    Miner's Lettuce: Growing and Harvesting the Most Delectable Wild Greens

    A Life Unprocessed

    Each morning for the past few weeks I've been harvesting a giant bowl of this tender wild green vegetable, right from my backyard. We use it in our green smoothies instead of spinach or kale (click here for my green smoothie recipe) and in salads instead of buying the mix of salad greens that I would normally get. It has a really mild flavor, which makes it suitable in anything you'd use raw spinach or lettuce for. I've never tried cooking it, but it would probably cook up like spinach as well.

    A Life Unprocessed

    Nearly two years ago, when we bought our house, the only thing I was sad about was losing my rich abundant garden full of wild edible weeds and plants, which I had cultivated over the years that we'd been at our first house. I had to trade all that flora and fauna for a yard that consisted of evergreen trees, shade, landscape fabric, and woodchips. I knew not much would grow in the new, dark yard, but I brought a tub with some miner's lettuce that I dug from my old place, and just laid it down over the wood chips and pine needles that covered my new yard. I watered it pretty regularly that first summer. Here we are two years later and it's taken off like wildfire.

    A Life Unprocessed

    This perfect edible weed now thrives deliciously on my poor, unamended soil, with no watering beyond what the clouds provide, and only an hour or two of sunlight at the end of each day. I haven't really managed to grow much else in the deep shade of my yard, but fortunately the miner's lettuce loves it! 

    A Life Unprocessed

    Besides that first summer of watering it in, it took absolutely no work (or expense!) to grow this healthy and abundant food crop. I love it! Whenever I want some greens, I simply go outside with a big bowl and a large pair of scissors. Holding the tops of a handful of greens with one hand, I clip them off near the base with the scissors. They will quickly grow back. The entire plant is edible, though the leaves get a bit tougher once they start flowering in summer. 

    After cutting all I need, I bring the bowl inside and fill it with cool water and a dollop of white vinegar. We have pets, and washing our miner's lettuce with a bit of dilute vinegar makes me feel better about food safety, since who can say where the pets are doing their business. The taste or smell of vinegar does not linger on the greens. I drain the greens and refrigerate any portion that I'm not using right away. They last a few days in the fridge, but I tend to use what I pick each day. Fresh greens are such a delicious and healthy luxury!

    For more of my articles on edible foraging, check out Wild Foraging in April, Identifying and Harvesting Edible Weeds in the Garden, and How to Find Edible Weeds.
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    Monday, January 16, 2017

    Keep Your Shower Squeaky Clean With This Simple Trick

    We've lived in our house for nearly two years, and I've never scrubbed our tiles. There are SO many things I'd rather do! But dirty, funky grout looks nasty, so obviously we want to prevent it. This one very low cost shower tool will do it for you (along with the commitment to spend 30 seconds using it after every shower). Best part is, it doesn't require any cleaning products. Ever.

    The simple shower squeegee. Probably costs a few dollars? I don't know; I got mine for free from my local Buy Nothing group. In our second shower, we use an old window squeegee that I bought at the Dollar Store years ago. For a dollar. We unscrewed the wooden handle that came on it, and just never use the spongy side. You can probably buy one that is actually attractive if you are willing to spend a couple dollars.

    They both conveniently reside in their respective hanging shower caddies, so they're easy to grab right after we bathe. In our tiled shower, using the squeegee is totally straightforward: just swipe in long strokes from the top of the wetness (it's about shoulder height for us) to the tub rim, then swipe the water off the rim of the tub. It should all roll right into the tub where it will go down the drain instead of turning your grout black with mold. Work from one side of the shower to the other; the squeegee should leave it pretty much dry as you go. It's very satisfying when you think about never having to scrub your shower again.

    In our vinyl shower, it's a little trickier because there are rounded corners that need to be squeegeed side-to-side, rather than vertically. If you have this kind, just start at the top and work your way down. Then sit back, enjoy your clean showers and all that sweet free time.

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    Friday, January 13, 2017

    How to Cook Beets in an Instant Pot

    If you have an Instant Pot, or any other brand of electric pressure cooker, you should definitely start cooking root vegetables with it. Not only is it extremely easy, but everything made in a pressure cooker somehow tastes better. Using broth as the cooking liquid, as I do here, takes it to a whole new level.

    I often cook beets, sweet potatoes, and red potatoes at the same time. They can be cooked whole, if you want them intact, or halved, for a bit of a quicker cook time. Today I'm cooking only a pound of beets, but these simple instructions will work just as well with a full load of mixed root veggies, say, a pound of each type.

    To start, wash your beets, and cut off anything you wouldn't want to bite into. I never peel vegetables, since it seems like a waste of both time and nutrients. Slice in half if desired. Very large beets should be cut down so that everything going into the pot is relatively the same size.

    Into your pot, pour 1 cup of broth. Any broth you like; I use homemade bone broth. Steaming veggies over broth gives them such amazing flavor and richness, and you can use the remaining liquid for whatever recipe you want after the beets are cooked (though it will be red!) It would not be criminal to drink it like it was hot tea.

    Place cut beets on a steamer tray over the broth, or if using them whole, they can be cooked on the trivet that comes with the Instant Pot. Cook on manual for 12 minutes if halved, 16 if left whole (times can vary depending on size and how soft you want them, but it's safe to experiment! You can always pop them in for another minute if they're not as tender as you want them). I generally prefer to use NPR (natural pressure release) rather than QR (quick release). This way it's hot and ready whenever I feel like opening the pressure cooker. But if you need your food more quickly, QR works, just add another minute to the cook time and release the steam right when it beeps.

    They taste amazing, no additional seasoning needed. But of course flavor them however you like! They make a great side dish on their own, or can be sliced and added to salads or other dishes. Or, you can just eat them one after another like candy, which is what I did while writing this article ;)

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    Thursday, August 18, 2016

    Four Ways To Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

    Staying cool without AC: I know, it's unthinkable for a lot of people. I grew up in Seattle, where thanks to our mild summers, no one really needed air conditioning for most of my life. However, in recent years air conditioners are selling like hotcakes every summer, as each year gets hotter than the one before. We've considered getting an expensive home AC unit installed, as our house has full western exposure and can really cook during hot afternoons.

    Here's what we've done instead:

    We had blackout blinds installed. It was an investment, but much cheaper than an AC unit. Not only do they keep out heat when the sun is blazing, they do an amazing job of blocking light while we sleep, and they also keep our home cozy on cold winter nights. At our first house, we just had lined curtains with homemade curtain rods, which absolutely worked as well. It just depends on the aesthetic you want, and your budget.

    It's counter-intuitive to close up the house on hot days, when you just want some lovely wind to cool you off. But, if it's hotter outside than inside, and you don't want your house to heat up, it's extremely effective to shut every window and close all your curtains and blinds. We keep our windows open all night for the glorious cool, fresh air. On very hot days, I close all the windows and blinds in the morning while the house is still cool. The heat stays outside, our home stays comfortable, and the only energy used is what it takes to walk around and close up all the windows.

    Also, notice the standing fan. We have fans in a few rooms of our house. They do an amazing job of keeping the air feeling cool while using very little electricity. They are only really effective if someone is in the room to enjoy the cooling effect of moving air, so there's no point having them running when no one's around.

    Speaking of fans, if you have central heating, then you probably have one of these, which can be set so the fan is just on, without heat or AC. This whole house fan moves air all around your home, and I really notice the effect in our two-story house since it brings cool air from the basement up into the top floor. Along with the closed windows and blinds, this really effectively keeps our house comfortable- as long as we don't use the stove...

    I never cook inside on hot days, except first thing in the morning while all the windows are still open. For lunch, we'll often reheat leftovers in the microwave, which does a good job of heating the food without heating up the kitchen. But when it comes to really making a meal, I just take it outside! Many people use an outdoor grill for this, but honestly on the hottest days I would hardly want to be stuck cooking over a hot grill. I have a small table set up on the deck outside our dining room, and it's here that I run our electric pressure cooker. Before I had a pressure cooker, I would do the same thing with a crock pot, letting the food cook for hours outside where it would not heat the house. It sure beats going to a restaurant every time it's too hot to cook! For more info about what an electric pressure cooker does and is, check out the article I wrote about my Instant Pot.

    If these ideas were helpful, please share my article. Thank you :D Stay cool!

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    Monday, August 15, 2016

    How to Make 10 Minute Applesauce in the Instant Pot

    This time of year, our little apple tree produces a ton of apples. They're tasty enough, but sadly all are a little buggy by the time they're ready to eat, which makes them perfect for cooking. I often make things like crisps with the apple windfall, but the past couple of years my family has been more into using them for applesauce. Here's how we do it.

    Before I got my Instant Pot, I'd toss my apples in the slow cooker with some cinnamon and water, and cook them down for 8 hours. You can totally do that. It's just slow, and can really heat up your kitchen if you don't have anywhere else to plug in the crock pot. This year though? Making applesauce is crazy easy and quick in the electric pressure cooker, which I now use for nearly everything.

    First, chop your apples down to about 1" chunks, removing the core and any bad spots. I would never peel my apples, as that takes work and all you're doing is removing most of the nutrition from the apple. I promise you, with the magic of an electric pressure cooker you can make very smooth applesauce without the bother of peeling. This recipe works for as many apples as you want to use.

    Don't overfill the pot, since the sauce will bubble up as it cooks and you don't want to clog the vent. The pot should have a max fill line. Mine is at about 5 quarts. This process goes quickly enough that you can do several batches if you have a lot of apples to make into sauce.

    Add cinnamon. This is optional; if you don't like cinnamon or don't have it, leave it out. But I love the taste and aroma of cinnamon, and it's super good for you, so I use a ton. For a full batch, 5 qts of chopped apples, I use two teaspoons of cinnamon.

    Add 1 cup of water. This is not optional; the Instant Pot needs fluid in order to build up pressure. Plus that water will help blend the apples into a creamy sauce. I use one cup of water no matter how many apples I have in the pot.

    If your pot is nearly full, you can cover the apples with a circle of parchment paper. This helps contain the sauce and keeps the bubbling juices from clogging the vent in the lid. I did not bother with this when I had a smaller batch of apples, but it is probably a good idea if the pot is quite full. When the pot was only half full, my lid remained perfectly clean after cooking.

    Cook on the Manual setting for 10 minutes. You can let it do Natural Pressure Release (NPR) for softer sauce, or Quick Release (QR) if you like chunkier applesauce. For comparison, the jar of applesauce in the first photo is very smooth from NPR, while the sauce below is chunkier from QR.

    Blend away. I use a stainless steel hand blender, so I feel comfortable blending it while it's still hot. With a plastic blender, I would wait for it to cool a bit.

    Jar it up! I like to let it cool down on the counter, then refrigerate the applesauce overnight. Once it's thoroughly chilled, I pop extra jars in the freezer to use throughout the year. Do not fill the jars that are going in the freezer. Liquids need room to expand so they don't crack the glass.

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    Friday, August 12, 2016

    How To Peel A Mango

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    It's the saddest thing to me, when someone doesn't like mangoes because they seem like too much of a hassle to eat, since there's no obvious way to peel them, and they have that big pit. I think mangoes are the most glorious fruit on earth. I have a couple of techniques for peeling them and removing the pit; one that I grew up with, and one that I learned as an adult and now prefer. I'm going to show you my favorite way, which takes me no more than a minute to execute, and hopefully eating mangoes won't seem like such a chore. As some readers have pointed out, this is the method that gets your hands messier. But it's fun! I'll show the other method soon!

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    First, be prepared for some juice. Depending on the ripeness and variety of mango, there can be a lot of liquid released while you work. I like to use a plate to catch the delicious juices that are released during the peeling process, rather than having liquid running all over my cutting board.

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    With a sharp knife, slice just a couple millimeters deep all the way around the mango, from the stem end back around until the slice comes full circle. Then turn the mango 90 degrees, and cut again in a full circle, just through the skin, until you have four separate sections of peel.

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    Starting from the bottom of the mango, take a corner of the sliced peel and lift it up and away from the fruit. It can be as easy as peeling a banana. Sometimes the peel will cling more to the fruit, and sometimes it tears a bit as you work, but just do the best you can, repeating the process with all four segments of the peel. You can always flip the mango over and work from the other end if that seems easier.

    How To Peel A Mango - LifeUnprocessed.comHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed
    How To Peel A Mango - A Life UnprocessedHow To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    Once all the segments of skin are removed, you can use a knife to cut away the stem and any peel clinging to the mango anywhere. Peeling the entire thing takes under a minute, and then you are left with a gorgeous golden orb... Now, to get the pit out:

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    Holding the mango on it's end, slice down each side of the pit. The pit is long and flat, like a disc in the center of each fruit.

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed
    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

     Once the pit is separated, you can cut more fruit off of it easily.

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    Eventually you will have two large mango sections, plus several smaller pieces from the ends of the pit. It gets super easy with practice. 

    How To Peel A Mango - A Life Unprocessed

    Fresh mango is great on its own, in fruit salads, with yogurt and granola, or as a topping for pancakes or waffles. Enjoy!

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