Organic Tightwad

Hot Off the Skillet - Food News Links for Your Consumption

It's still the New Year, folks, so it feels like a good time to do a round-up of tips, ideas, and info for your eating life.

First up, what's expected to be hot, hot, hot in 2016? The National Restaurant Association has come up with this handy graphic:

Courtesy of the NRA What’s Hot 2016 Culinary Forecast

Absolutely, fascinating, if you ask me. First off, just because  an item is waning doesn't mean it's going to go away anytime soon. It just means your restaurant (or trendy kitchen) won't be cutting edge if you say things like, "You've got to try my new recipe for Agave-Sweetened Quinoa-Kale Porridge Coated in Bottom-Feeder Weirdfish Flakes." But people will ooh and aah if you brew your own alcohol and pair it with African Curried Egg Gelato in your backyard pop-up restaurant. (Eggs from your own hens, of course.) Oh, and insects are out, so put down the freeze-dried crickets.

If "hyper-local sourcing" is in, that's all the more reason to grown your own, pickle your own, brew your own. Sure, you say, but even if I had time to garden, who has the space? We live in Bellevue, not on our own three acres! In 2016, that excuse won't serve any longer because this Mental Floss article claims we can all grow fruit-bearing bonsai trees.

My Science Academy pic. Photoshopped? I hope not.

Of course, it looks like one awesome apple is about all that little tree can bear at a time, lest it suffer the fate of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, so I'm guessing you would need a grove of the little bonsais to keep a family going. Another possible use for the family dining room, that nobody dines in?

The Paleo diet receives another body blow, this time from a Stanford dissertation. The author argues (you probably will not find it necessary to sit down to read this) that all that hankering after a caveman diet is actually our longing for a simpler, utopian world, unplagued by the plagues of civilization. Never mind that your average caveman had a pretty short lifespan, and what life there was was often rough stuff. Good old Otzi the Iceman, for example, the 5300-year-old corpse discovered in the Alps, suffered multiple bone fractures, Lyme disease, food between his teeth, and even an inflamed stomach from that troublesome Helicobacter pylori microbe, which still gives us literal ulcers today.

Otzi, Paleo spokesman.
A reconstruction of what we hope was one of his good days.

Well, fine, you say. Any advice on what we should be eating this year, apart from African spices and our bonsai apple?

Just the usual: more home-cooked, less processed. More produce, organic where necessary and possible. Robyn O'Brien gives some tips on affording organic in this article, and I would just add that you don't need to buy organic if the fruit/veg is on the Clean Fifteen (or if you grew it in your grove of bonsai trees).

That'll do it for this week. Happy, healthful eating in 2016!

Organic Tightwad Homemade Options Update

If you've been following the blog, you know I've been experimenting with homemade, healthier, thriftier options to storebought products this summer, and I thought it was time for a results round-up.

HOMEMADE ARTISAN BREAD. Experimenting with ArtisanBreadinFive.com's books and recipes, I whipped up white artisan bread, a mixed-grain, and a mostly whole-wheat version. The white version comes out the most beautiful, but it's hard to justify white bread nowadays, so I stick with the mostly whole-wheat recipe. The recipe calls for sprinkling it with mixed seeds--now I just use one kind of seed and it mostly falls off when you slice the bread.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Delicious
Tightwad Rating: Highly Recommended

HOMEMADE SANDWICH BREAD. I used the recipe for mostly whole-wheat bread, which is enough to make two sandwich loaves like you might buy at the store. (The nine-year-old did not like the bread made from their "Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread" recipe because she said it was too crumbly. Therefore I used their basic healthy bread boule recipe.) Bake, cool and slice. Excellent crumb and flavor. None of the sugar and additives and preservatives found in even the best storebought sandwich breads. Tip: after slicing, slip a piece of waxed paper between each slice, then reassemble loaf and freeze. Whenever someone wants a sandwich or toast, they can easily pull off as many slices as he needs.
 Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Delicious
Tightwad Rating: Highly Recommended

Sliced, papered, and frozen!

HOMEMADE WHOLE-WHEAT BAGELS. Another use for the mostly whole-wheat recipe. ArtisanBreadinFive.com's recipe was for cinnamon-raisin bagels using the basic boule dough, but I couldn't be bothered to add those in, and besides, no one in the house but me likes raisins in baked goods. Real bagels require both boiling and baking, and these were real bagels.
Effort Rating: Considerable but not difficult, because of the shaping and multiple steps. 
Taste Rating: Delicious (My kids have requested I make another batch, but I haven't yet.)
Tightwad Rating: Recommended

HOMEMADE SOUR CREAM. In my zeal to get rid of plastic containers, I gave homemade sour cream a whirl. Same recipe, two attempts. The first was pretty good and actually thickened up nicely after a week(!). The second tasted okay but never thickened at all. In neither case did I like it as well as storebought, with all its thickening agents. Might try a different recipe in the future.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Fine
Tightwad Rating: Storebought is actually cheaper

HOMEMADE POWDERED LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Tried this here. Ingredients are found at Fred Meyer.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Not a whole lot cheaper than storebought, when storebought is on super sale.

HOMEMADE LIQUID LAUNDRY DETERGENT. A little more work than powdered detergent, but a whole lot cheaper! Pretty easy to cook up. The concoction thickens on cooling and setting, so it takes some squeezing to get it out of the container, but then I just hold it under the pouring water as the machine fills, and that breaks it up.
Effort Rating: Involves the stovetop, but pretty straightforward.
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Highly recommended. Much cheaper than storebought.

The consistency of phlegm, but it works.

HOMEMADE GENERAL HOUSEHOLD CLEANSER. Tried recipes from a couple different books (scroll down). Nothing kills like harsh chemicals, but if your house isn't a pit like mine, these will probably do the trick.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Effectiveness Rating: Mild, general-purpose cleanser.
Tightwad Rating: Recommended

CHLORINE BLEACH ALTERNATIVE. Substitute 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide per load. Not homemade but still pretty cheap and easy on the environment.
Effort Rating: Uh, you buy it.
Effectiveness Rating: Not as blinding as chlorine bleach but just fine and no stink.
Tightwad Rating: About the same as chlorine bleach.

HOMEMADE DRAIN CLEANER. Tried this here. Totally effective and environmentally harmless!
Effort Rating: Involves the stovetop, but pretty straightforward.
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Highly recommended. Much cheaper than storebought.

Feed the Dirt Pennies a Load

As I reported in my Laundry post a couple weeks ago, making my own powdered detergent was a piece of cake, once I located the ingredients, but it didn't actually save mucho dinero over finding planet-friendly laundry detergent on super-de-duper sale. Nevertheless, the powdered batch took care of two weeks' worth of laundry for a family of five, and I still have enough for one more load.

However, the authors of The Country Almanac of Housekeeping Techniques That Save You Money promised their concoction of liquid laundry detergent cost only "pennies a load," so I had to try that next. No, I wasn't going to make my own fireplace bellows or build the kids a "simple solar cooker" or "Make Recycled Sandals from Rubber Tires" (other projects in the book), but this I could manage.

It took a little planning ahead because I needed two one-gallon containers. At our family's milk-drinking rate, that required a four-day lead time. But otherwise the main ingredients were the same: soap flakes, Borax, and washing soda. In particular they said you could grate 1/3 to 1/2 a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap or solid Co-Co Castile soap, but in my laziness I bought pre-flaked soap off Amazon. Fred Meyer carries the Fels-Naptha, the Borax, and the washing soda, all right next to each other.

Ingredients:
1/3 to 1/2 bar of Fels-Naptha or Kirk's CoCo Castile soap
4 cups water
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
1 Tbsp essential oil (I skipped this)

Since 1/2 of a Fels-Naptha laundry soap bar would weigh 2.25 ozs, I weighed an equivalent amount of soap flakes:

Next, I added the soap flakes to the water and heated over medium until the flakes dissolved.

(The froth is from stirring. It isn't boiling.)
Then I added the remaining ingredients and stirred until dissolved.

Once dissolved, the mixture sat for five minutes over the heat. It said "stir occasionally," but I got distracted and didn't stir at all until the end, and no harm seemed to come of it.

Remove from heat and allow to cool five minutes.

I filled each milk jug halfway with hot tap water. Then I poured half the soap mixture in each jug, shook it, and filled it the rest of the way with warm water. I shook it again and then stored it in the utility room cabinet to await laundry day. (The book recommends letting the mixture sit for 24 hours.)

Voila!

Just in case, I wrote the directions right on the jug. In fact I wrote several labels on the jugs, not out of fear my children would drink it, but more because my absent-minded husband might. I don't imagine he'd go looking for milk in the utility room, but if I happened to leave it on the washer, I wouldn't put it past him.

Considering the liquid recipe used less soap, Borax, and washing soda, and that it promises up to 50 loads (instead of just 12), this indeed qualifies as an #OrganicTightwad post. But I'll definitely let you know how it cleans. The powdered detergent was great, so I have high hopes.

And a closing note from my other tightwad front: artisan breadmaking. (See this post and this one and this one.) My quest to replace storebought sandwich bread was half-successful. Meaning, my husband and son were just fine with homemade (hub even preferred it strongly), but my youngest thought it was too crumbly in a school lunch, and the oldest didn't want it for toast. Sigh. I'm going to try the recipe again, to get my ingredients more uniformly mixed and the loaves closer to storebought size. They looked great, though, didn't they?

Easy to slice, too.

Sour Cream Investigations

I wish I could quit you.

So I mentioned earlier that, after reading The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, I thought I might try to cut down on the number of plastic containers I bring into the house. Sour cream containers were at the top of the hit-list, so I checked out a recipe for homemade online.

First off, let's compare ingredients. In the Darigold corner we have:

Ingredients Statement

Cultured Pasteurized Cream and Milk, Whey, Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Calcium Sulfate, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid, Carob Bean Gum, Potassium Sorbate (as preservative).
These are my best guesses for why those ingredients are found within, but corrections are welcome!
  • Culturized Pasteurized Cream and Milk speaks for itself.
  • Whey is a by-product of the cheese-making industry. Because it still has nutrients in it, it's often used as a dough conditioner in baked products or a stretcher in dairy ones, such as here.
  • Modified Corn Starch is a thickener.
  • Sodium Phosphate: texturizer and prevents separation.
  • Guar Gum: another emulsifier, thickener and stabilizer
  • Carrageenan: another gum made from seaweed extract to stabilize, texturize, emulsify.
  • Calcium sulfate is a firming agent with preservative qualities.
  • Maltodextrin, a carbohydrate derived from rice, corn, or potatoes, fills and thickens.
  • Citric Acid enhances tart flavors and preserves food.
  • Carob Bean Gum is another thickener.
  • Potassium sorbate functions as a preservative, inhibiting the growth of yeast and mold.

As you can see, not bad for a processed food. Most of the ingredients are pretty harmless, and the preservatives and stabilizers wouldn't be so necessary if I were at the Darigold plant, spooning the sour cream right on to my enchiladas. But processed foods have to brave the passage of time and the ups and downs of transportation--hence all the stabilizers and preservatives.

I did guess that homemade sour cream would be a much thinner affair, since I wouldn't have four thickeners added to it. Check out the TWO ingredients of my homemade sour cream:

 Whipping cream and buttermilk. Which I then mixed together in the above proportions and let sit on the counter all day, loosely covered, until I went to bed.

Things looked rather grim at first, like lumpy cream in a jar--oh, wait, that's actually what it was! But it did finally set up by the end, and I covered it more tightly and stored it in the refrigerator.

Today I'm serving up the black-bean-and-cheese enchiladas, and we'll see how it goes. When I stirred it this morning I found it just a little thicker than a Mexican crema and less tangy than a storebought. Next time I might try heating the cream, as the recipe suggests, to get it to set up thicker. Another suggestion was to add dry milk powder, but I'm not a fan of that, since the whole idea was to get away from processed foods.

I'll definitely play around with this more, but processors have the advantage on me: homemade sour cream is more expensive than storebought because whipping cream is pricey, especially if you use an organic or local, smaller-farm brand. For this reason, I can't give this the #OrganicTightwad label, but you may want to give it a try as a special treat.

Next up: homemade laundry detergent!

    Meet the Organic Tightwad

    Has anyone else noticed their grocery bill going up in the last few months? I sure have. If I typically spent $80-110/week six months ago, now I'm hitting $100-130. Yes, I know the rest of the country has been suffering from drought, and it's not like fuel costs have gotten any lower, but something has got to be done! An average increase of $25/week = an extra $1300/year, for Pete's sake.

    Is it possible to keep everyone fed and the home running on less money, while still trying to eat healthy and not poison us or the environment? I'm thinking YES, and I'll be passing my findings on to you, with the "Organic Tightwad" label. Not that everything will be organic--I'm just using that as a catch-all for general goodness. Much like the food industry likes to throw around "all-natural" and "wholesome," except that I'm not trying to fool you or make money off you. But I digress.

    Figuring out how to make easy, homemade artisan bread was one step in cutting costs. (Read about it here, here and here.) And I'm thrilled to report that another reader has gotten hooked herself and is now whipping up those tasty, easy, cost-cutting loaves. As I mentioned, if you don't wash out the dough container between batches, the cookbook says it gives you a jump on a sourdough tang. Lovely for artisan bread, but not ideal for my next project: homemade sandwich bread. My nine-year-old was less than thrilled with a sourdough-haunted PBJ, but I'm starting to balk at the $4-5 charge per loaf of decent whole wheat sandwich bread. I pay a little more because I don't want soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup or even lots of sugar. In Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day the authors include a recipe for "Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread" (sorry, no link), perfect, they say, for the school lunch box. That's next up on my experimental agenda, and I'll report back. Reducing the weekly grocery bill by $4.50/week = $234. There's a cost associated with baking your own bread, of course, but I'd put it at under $0.50/loaf.

    Another step in cost-cutting comes with a fringe benefit of do-less-harm to the environment: I'm talking about whipping up my own home cleaners. Skipping the chlorine bleach, the Drain-O, the glass cleaner--even the laundry detergent! In addition to the other very helpful, handy books I listed earlier, I read this one this past week:

     

    Recommended, and I've got the full review below and on Goodreads. One of the first things I tried was Korst's advice for clogged drains. My kids' sink was a notorious slow drainer, thanks to ten years of hair and--I kid you not--the boy barfing in it some years ago. First I fished around with the Zip-It drain cleaning gizmo given me at the Market by the City of Bellevue in their Green Cleaning Kit.
    Then I dumped 1/2 cup of baking soda in the sink and tried to shove it down the drain. I followed this with 1/2 cup white vinegar, mixing and stuffing till I got the fizzy mess to go down (mostly). After 15 minutes, I poured down 2 qts of hot, hot water from the teakettle. At first nothing happened. Then I saw the tiny swirl of a whirlpool. And voila! The dang thing drained! And continues to drain beautifully! No plumber, no harsh chemicals. I'm a believer.

    All the books recommended replacing toxic chlorine bleach, and I've done two loads of whites now with 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide as the bleach. Works just fine. I also squirted hydrogen peroxide on the nasty grout in the bathroom and admired its bleaching effects. While this substitute costs about the same as bleach, at least you're not poisoning the water supply.

    That's it for this week, except for the promised full book review! Have a cheap, green week!
    This quick read dovetailed nicely with other books I've been reading about running a more natural, non-harmful household. I admire Korst and her husband for their utter devotion to producing as little trash as possible and knew immediately I was never going to have a zero-waste home. Tooth powder instead of toothpaste? Handkerchiefs over Kleenex (she hasn't seen the amount of snot my family can produce!)? Finding a place to buy liquids in bulk, so I wouldn't have to use container after container?

    However, I did find the book realistic about just trying to encourage every household to kick it up a notch. She offered Easy, Moderate and Advanced changes, so anyone can make a difference. Use less. Avoid packaging. Avoid plastics.

    According to Korst, "the average American produces three pounds of landfill-bound garbage each day." This amounted to 250 million pounds of trash in 2010, all dumped in lined pits in the ground, 82% of which leach crud into our groundwater. Not only that, but there's so much in there, piled so fast, that the Garbage Project discovered even biodegradable things weren't biodegrading. They found recognizable food that was 20 years old, as well as newsprint about the moon landing! Yikes.

    And trash that doesn't end up in the ground too often ends up in our oceans, where it floats around in a mass 2x the size of Texas and kills 100,000 marine mammals annually.

    Fortunately my city has excellent recycling and yard waste programs, so we're not a super-trashy family, but I was inspired to make some changes based on Johnson's book:

    1. I bought reusable mesh produce bags. Plastic produce bags, like all plastic, come at a heavy environmental price, and those suckers never degrade or go away. And plastic, unlike glass or metal, can never be recycled into what it was--it always goes down the scale of products until it's tiny microplastics--great for absorbing pollutants and killing sea creatures.

    2. I put empty plastic storage containers in the car to use in place of take-out containers or doggie bags, or even for bulk-buying of small or powdery goods. (Whole Foods will pre-weigh your container.)

    3. I'm going to try making my own sour cream and yogurt--the two main grocery store purchases that fill my house with plastic containers. Besides gallon milk jugs, that is, but I'm not getting a dairy cow. Korst also includes a recipe for homemade ricotta!

    4. I'm making homemade cleaners from vinegar, baking soda, and other environmentally harmless ingredients. Check back on my UrbanFarmJunkie blog for my forays into grout cleaner, bleach, and homemade laundry detergent.

    5. Under the TMI header, Korst makes suggestions for feminine products, and I've ordered mine.

    And, 6. If I must have it, and there's a choice between recyclable packaging and non (think clamshell containers), I'll choose the brand in the recyclable packaging.

    For those families still with young children, Korst has a whole discussion of diapers which I--thank God--could skip over.

    An easy read that could change your household habits! Recommend.