Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grilled Mahi-Mahi NACHOS

Here's a little something to get you out of your Wednesday slump-- hopefully. All I know is it worked pretty well for us on a Tuesday....

I fell in love with fish tacos a long, long time ago. When my husband and I had been dating less than a year, one of the first opportunities I had to spend time with his family was on a fishing vacation. Now, I had plenty of camping experience under my belt and hours of fishing, too. The problem was his family were ocean fishers and my family were freshwater fishers. I was used to going after small game-- blue gill, trout and the like. However, I was willing to be a good sport and try something new.

That late summer day, we got up at the crack of dark and putted out to sea on their boat-- and I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, the guys were more than happy to get me up to speed. The end result of that day had me landing more fish than either my husband or his father. While this might have been a problem in some families, I believe that this actually won me the official stamp of approval by my future father-in-law.

Later that afternoon, after we had returned to the docks, the fish had all been cleaned and packaged. My FIL took some of this fresh caught fish (practically still twitching) and threw it onto a skillet on the barbeque on the back of the boat. He sauteed it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. We ate piles of fish that way, hot off the grill. My (then future) husband and I loved the flavors of that fish so much, most of our pounds and pounds of frozen catch from that outing were cooked the same way. Somewhere along the way of experimenting on how to get this result at home, we stumbled upon the idea of serving this fish in a taco.

Our favorite way of making fish tacos is to give the fish that quick little grill or saute with simple seasonings like my FIL did on that long ago day. Then we toss the cooked fish into a bed of cabbage (or lettuce- whatever we have on hand). We spread a little guacamole and sour cream down the side, toss a few tomatoes over top and then wrap the whole thing up in a lightly warmed corn tortilla. If we have it on hand, a great topping is Trader Joe's Pineapple salsa- it has a perfect balance between spicy and sweet and it doesn't over power the fish.

So yesterday, as I was rooting through the cupboards, I saw an unopened, completely full bag of tortilla chips. We also had this bag of frozen mahi mahi pieces/chunks I'd bought at Trader Joe's a few weeks ago, intending to make fish tacos with it. This started me thinking and next thing you know I had this idea-- take the fish tacos and turn them into NACHOS!! I had to check with my hubby first, just to see if the idea was a little too wacky. He loved it and we went for it!

The results came out even better than I expected. If you want to go low carb, you can drop the chips and go more of a salad route-- perhaps adding grilled corn? Although honestly, the chips were really the only "naughty" component of this dish and since we only used a small pile of them on the bottom, it really wasn't that unhealthy-- especially with all the nice veggies we threw on top of it all!

Recipe: Grilled Mahi Mahi Nachos

8-16 oz Mahi Mahi or other mild fish (we used 8 oz for 3- 2 adults, 1 child)
1 head cabbage or lettuce (I ended up using romaine)
2-3 large tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
1-2 avocados, diced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 lb bag of tortilla chips (I prefer Mission brand)
1-2 Tbs olive oil
salt, pepper
hot sauce
sour cream

1) Drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a medium saute pan. Season fish with salt and pepper.
2) Saute fish (don't even bother trying to keep whole, its unimportant) on a medium/high heat until cooked through and browned slightly. Put to the side.
3) Assembly: On a plate, lay a bed of tortilla chips. Over top, place lettuce or cabbage strips. Add in fish, black beans, tomatoes and avocado pieces. Top with sour cream, salsa and/or hot sauce. ENJOY!

Monday, August 27, 2012

For the Love of Zucchini- Part 3: Zucchini & Potato AuGratin

Yes, we're still on zucchini. Those of you stuck with bushels full of 'em will hopefully thank me. Those who don't-- hopefully you're getting some ideas to take advantage of this underappreciated veggie! Paired up with a nice piece of grilled salmon, this dish makes for a simple entertaining supper or a great way to perk up a boring Wednesday.

This recipe is pretty simple. Even simpler if you have a mandoline or other slicing machine. The thinner the slices, the faster it will cook and the more attractive the presentation will be. You can, however, pull this off without a specialized piece of equipment. A little bit of time and a sharp knife will net you equally lovely results.

I know it seems like a lot of work. It does take a little time to assemble but you can do this in advance. The day I cooked this,  I knew was going to be super busy. So I prepped the whole thing in the morning, covered it in foil and popped it in the fridge. Later in the day, I pulled it out to let the glass dish warm a bit before throwing it into the oven. You could probably even prep this the night before, so long as you really wrapped it tightly and kept it refrigerated!

Recipe: Zucchini & Potato Au Gratin

2-3 zucchini
4-5 peeled potatoes (russets or yukon golds work great here)
2 Tbs butter + more for pan
2-3 Tbs flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
salt/pepper to taste

1)Melt 2 Tbs butter in the bottom of a medium sauce pan on med/low heat. Add flour until a thick paste (roux) is formed. Cook paste for 1-2 minutes. Add milk all at once and WHISK to remove lumps. Cook, stirring continuously until sauce starts to just thicken slightly-- you will start to feel a resistance against the spoon and the sauce should coat the spoon. Don't over thicken! Remove from heat and set aside.

2) Generously butter bottom and sides of casserole. For a small family dinner, I used a glass 9x9 brownie pan.
3)Thinly (between 1/16 & 1/8th of an inch) slice 1 potato. Arrange slices in a single layer across the bottom of the dish.
4) Thinly slice one zucchini. Arrange slices in a single layer over the potato slices.
5) Lightly sprinkle zucchini layer with salt and pepper.
6) Repeat slicing, layering & seasoning until you reach about 1/2 -3/4 of an inch from the top -- this ended up being 8 layers for me (4 each of zucchini & potato)
7) Carefully pour prepared white sauce over layers.
8) Sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

9) Bake in a 375 F oven for 30 minutes. Check for doneness. A knife should slide in pretty easily. If there is a lot of resistance, continue baking, checking every 5 minutes. Times will vary depending heavily on thickness of slices and number of layers. The thinner the slices and shorter the stack, the faster the whole thing will cook. (Mine took about 45 minutes) If the top starts to get over browned, simply cover with foil and continue baking until done! (If you want a more elegant presentation, let the whole thing cool for 10-15 minutes so it sets up a bit instead of plopping it on a plate and eating it hot out of the oven, like I did)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

For the Love of Zucchini, Part 2: Zucchini Cheeseburger Boats

So its definitely zucchini season around here! Lots of lovely squash are popping up at the market, in the garden and in our biweekly farm box. As I mentioned previously in part I: zucchini pancakes, with a (semi) picky 5 year old and a hubby who will eat pretty much anything-- except zucchini--, its a challenge to find ways of hiding, covering, or otherwise disguising this perfectly nice veggie!

Of all the different ways I've prepared zucchini, the pancakes have been hubby's favorite. I think, for him, it is the application that best disguises the zucchini. However, as many people are aware, sometimes the best camouflage involves hiding something in plain sight! If you would ask the fellas if they'd be willing to eat 1 or 2 whole zucchini, I can tell you for a fact that the answer would be "No, thank you!" (perhaps not so politely worded). And yet, each of the several times I've made this dish, the little dude has had one complete serving (1/2 of a whole zucchini) and the hubs has had at least 2, sometimes 3 boats (which is 1 to 1 1/2 whole zucchini). Each has eaten their portions WITHOUT grumbling, complaining or face making. Yay!!!

Now I'm not going to claim originality on this dish. If you do a simple search for zucchini boats on something like or the like, you will find tons of choices. This is a great base recipe that can be easily adjusted for your family's preferences or interests. Consider adding taco seasoning to the browned beef, topping with sour cream, chopped tomato & diced green peppers for "Taco boats". Swap out the ground beef for sausage, stir in tomato sauce, top with mozzarella for "Pizza boats". The only limit is your creativity!

Recipe: Cheeseburger Zucchini Boats

3 small/medium sized zucchini (if yours are too big, cut to fit your baking pan, save extras for later use)
1/2 lb. ground beef (I used 85%, grass fed)
garlic salt, pepper, worcheshire sauce
cheddar cheese, shredded (I used an organic white sharp cheddar)
diced tomato (mine were from MIL's garden!)
mustard (I used honey mustard but even yellow would be fine)

1) Rinse, dry and cut stem ends off zucchini. Cut lengthwise in half.
2) Using a metal spoon or melon baller, scoop out zucchini innards (SAVE THESE) and hollow out the interior of the zucchini. It doesn't have to be perfect but try not to get the sides too thin or the cooked boats will be too floppy!

3) Lay your prepared boats in a glass baking dish. Microwave on high 2 minutes at a time, rotating and checking for doneness. Depending on the size of your zucchini, this can be as little as 4 minutes and as much as 10. Don't overcook as these will continue cooking slightly in the oven.
4) Chop up your zucchini innards and add to a skillet with your ground beef. Add your normal burger seasonings--- I like a good hearty sprinkle of garlic salt, a smaller pass with the pepper shaker and a good couple of splashes of the worcheshire sauce.

5) Brown beef/zucchini mixture. Make sure meat is fully cooked and zucchini has softened.

6) Use a slotted spoon to transfer mixture into pre-cooked boats.(this will keep down the extra liquid from the meat & zucchini guts)
7) Top with shredded cheddar (or cheese of your choosing!)

8) Pop into a 400 F oven for about 5 minutes (just until cheese gets melty)
9) Top boats with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, chopped pickles or any other favorite burger toppings.

10) Zigzag across the whole thing with mustard (or ketchup or both!).

11) Grab a fork and knife and DIG IN!

I've found that 2 boats are an appropriate adult-sized serving. One boat for the little guy. Hubby can sometimes eat 3. So these 3 zucchini (6 boats) feed us perfectly. You could also add a side dish here of some fries and/or fruit to fill it out. When the toddler starts eating more table foods, we'll definitely need to add on here. If you have tons of zucchini, double the batch & save for later. Left overs freeze BEAUTIFULLY!!

Feel free to comment below and let me know how this worked out for you!

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Savings Tip: DIY Lunchables

Who doesn't love lunchables? They're small, cute & fun to assemble and eat. I freely admit the little dude ate plenty of these in his toddler years. Especially when getting anything into him was a big battle! As he's grown, his sense of food adventure has expanded (thank goodness!). He's much more willing to try new foods and recipes. However, he still has a soft spot for those little packaged lunches.

Now, there are two really great reasons NOT to feed these to him. One, they are expensive for what you get. Store brands cost $1.29 for 6 crackers, 6 pieces of american cheese and 6 squares of bologna. If purchased in bulk, its about .25 worth of food. Secondly, they have little to no actual nutrition, just calories. Its hard to spend the time I do shopping, prepping and cooking healthy meals at home for the family and then send junk with him to school.

Thankfully the idea behind lunchables is easily translated into real food.

For a meat/cheese lunchable: These are my favorites. I often get tired of making sandwiches (for myself and everyone else) This is a quick throw together lunch that covers the same bases but in a different way. For the base of your stack, choose a whole wheat "triscuit" style or similar cracker. If you get them baked, they often have only whole wheat & salt as ingredients. For the cheese, replace the american with a nice organic cheese you like-- mozzarella, cheddar, jack. It's pretty convenient that a basic slice of cheese will fold and break into 4 perfect squares. So 2 slices of cheese will set you up for 8 cracker stackers. For the bologna, replace with sliced lunchmeat w/o nitrates, sugar or added preservatives (try the deli counter if you can't find it prepackaged). When assembling, be sure to pack the crackers separately from the cheese/meat or they'll get soggy.

For a pizza lunchable: These are the little dude's favorite! He loves pizza and the whole "make it yourself" aspect really gets him excited! For the crust, try a whole wheat tortilla or pita cut into quarters. For the sauce, I just use an organic canned tomato sauce. I've taken the extras, divided it up into portions and frozen them in my silicon muffin liners. After its solid, I'll pop them out and toss in a baggie in the freezer. On days when he wants this for lunch, I'll just put one disk into a sealed container or baggie and it'll defrost by lunch. For the cheese, I just shredded up some organic mozzarella. Couldn't be any easier! He's happy, I'm happy, its a win/win for everyone!
Whole wheat tortilla from Trader Joe's, quartered

Sauce art

Finished slice w/shredded mozzarella
Extra sauce for the freezer/future lunches!

To complete this easy lunch, just add a piece of fruit and/or some veggie sticks and a bottle of water!

If you really want to get cute, get one of those divided plastic bins and it will look just like the ones from the store!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Back to School Treat: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bar

So the day has finally come---yesterday the eldest had his first day of kindergarten! He has been attending preschool a few mornings each week for the last 2 years, but this was a sharp transition to a full day kindergarten at the local elementary with staff & students that neither of us were familiar with.

Of course one of the (many) stresses for me was food. What to pack? How much to pack? How much time will he really have to eat? Will he eat the food I send?

Yesterday I dramatically overpacked his lunch. It was probably like 2 days worth of food. As expected, he didn't finish. Of course when the teacher said he could bring one item out at recess for snack and he chose his water bottle, that didn't really help!

Today's snack time went better but at lunch he decided to start with his apple slices (a notorious time waster) and never even got to his main dish (quesadilla on whole wheat tortilla) or water or anything else. Needless to say the little boy who trudged in the door at 2 pm was tired, overheated and CRANKY!!

I had thought he might need something special today after finishing his first "week" at school and whipped up a batch of these chewy granola bars while Daddy was walking around the corner to pick him up (I love that we live 3 blocks away from school!). While the bars were finishing cooling, first thing up was to get some fluids into him. Then I had him work on eating the rest of his lunch that he hadn't "had time" for. By the time he was finished with all that, his special treat was cooled off and ready to be eaten. By 2:30, I had a completely different son. No longer teary and cranky from hunger and low blood sugar, he was ready to sit down and tell me all about his day!

I will probably be sending these bars most of next week because I know he can eat them fairly quickly. They also pack a great energy punch-- a little high in added sugars than ideal but completely necessary for a little guy who spends his whole recess and lunch running at top speed! Plus the sugar is nicely balanced with the whole grains from the oats and a healthy amount of fat from the coconut oil.

This recipe is a super quick variation of my plain granola recipe and can be adapted for your family's favorites. Just substitute any dried fruit (raisins, chopped apricots, etc) for the craisins. You can omit the chocolate chips altogether or swap them out for peanut butter chips, carob chips, butterscotch, white chocolate, etc. These bars have the look and chewy texture of the store bought ones but without the additives & high fructose corn syrup! Its a win/win for everyone! Plus the whole thing only takes about 15 minutes to do!

Recipe: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars 
(yield ~10 bars)

3 Tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries (craisins)
1/4 cup chocolate chips

1) In a large sauce pan, combine vanilla extract, honey, brown sugar and oil (I used refined but virgin would work well here, just be prepared for a little bit more tropical flavor). Heat until sugar and honey are dissolved completely.
2) Stir in oats until well coated. Turn burner to medium/high. Continue cooking while stirring CONTINUOUSLY for 3-5 minutes-- basically until oats start to emit a nice cookie type of smell and begin to have a slight amount of browning.
3) Turn off heat and stir in craisins. Let mixture cool in pan for 10 minutes.
4) Pour mixture into buttered 8x8 square pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. LIGHTLY mix with spatula (if you get too vigorous, all you'll get is a melted chocolatey gooey mess!)
5) Use your spatula to gently press down the mixture into the pan until its tightly packed and of even depth.

6) Put into refrigerator to cool for 15-20 minutes.
7) Slice down middle of pan. Cut each large rectangle into 5 bars approximately 1 1/2 in x 4 in.
8) Store in air tight container inside fridge for up to 2 weeks.

I'd love to hear what you think-- feel free to comment below!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What is Real Food??

I started this year by trying to find a diet. Like many of us, I have (more than) a few pounds to lose. I also have a lousy family health history--  a dad that died young due to a sudden heart attack, a mom who had rampant high blood pressure and other relatives with cancers of every imaginable type. My hubby's health history doesn't look much better. We needed something that would not only help us lose weight but also provide us with the best possible protection against our genetic predispositions.

In my investigations, I found only 1 nutritional approach that can do that--and that is real food. Real food isn't a fad. It isn't some program made up by a celebrity doctor to get people to fit into their bikinis. Real food is what sustained the human race for THOUSANDS of years. Anyone who looks at the historical data can see that the last 100 years has seen a radical transformation of the American diet (thank you industrial revolution). With the urbanization of our country, people have forgotten where food comes from and why we eat it (not just to assuage our hunger, you know!)

Doctors and researchers have long recognized that the health of the modern American is in jeopardy. Although they meant well, their suggestions for dietetic changes (food pyramid, anyone?) have done nothing but make the problem worse. Implementing a high carbohydrate/low fat diet to combat heart disease has led us to the highest rate of type 2 diabetes-- EVER! And, it completely and totally failed to reduce the rate of cardiovascular disease--even though the average fat consumption by Americans has DROPPED dramatically in the last 25-30 years! As a nation, we've actually done what the doctors have suggested and it hasn't worked!! Its time to recognize that in some instances, the modern way isn't the better way and that our ancestors actually did something right!

This return to a traditional, unprocessed approach to food is what real food is all about.  Some call it "whole food" eating, I've also seen "clean" eating. And others call it "primal" or "paleo" (referring to our ancient ancestors). There isn't really a single defining plan, program or regime. This means that each person has to decide what approach works best for them and their family.  However, in my investigations, I've noticed that there are certain key elements in common to each of these programs.

Here's what I see as the core "beliefs" of someone who has a real food approach to diet and nutrition:

1) Primary nutrition comes from natural foods-- whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, meats, dairy. Most prepackaged foods are avoided. Only those containing very few and exclusively natural ingredients (not sugar or salt, though!) are usually considered acceptable.

2) Emphasis on whole grains (when consumed). This may or may not include whole wheat/whole wheat flour. Generally approved grains include things like oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice.

3) Dairy (when consumed) is full fat. Removing the fat from dairy shifts the balance towards carbohydrates/sugars and also generally requires the addition of extra ingredients to replace the missing fat.

4) Meats (when consumed) are as close to natural as possible-- wild caught, grass fed, or pastured.

5) GMO products are avoided. These can include: non-organic dairy or non-organically fed meat animals, soy products, corn products, and most vegetable oils.

6) Avoid added sugars-- generally in any form-- but especially as high fructose corn syrup, table sugar and other processed or artificial sweetners. There is some debate about whether any added sugars are acceptable but most people concede that-- in small amounts-- natural honey and natural maple syrup are appropriate.

7) There is no need to measure portions, count calories, carbohydrates, or fat grams. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Natural foods are more nutrient dense. They will fill you up, for longer, with less calories, than similar processed foods. Also, most people find that as they eat less sugary, processed foods, their cravings for those types of foods (in general) are greatly reduced.

Making these changes can seem daunting. But there is no need to do everything at once. To get started, try swapping out "bad" products for "good" as each item runs out. For example, instead of buying sliced american cheese, try an organic cheddar. Buy pastured butter instead of margarine. Replace chicken nuggets with pieces of grilled chicken breasts. This lets your family slowly acclimatize and get used to the changes you are making instead of doing everything at once. To get our fridge and pantry swapped out probably took close to 3 months. I'll admit there are still a few "bad" items lurking at the back of the cupboard or bottom of the freezer but I'm not too worried about them because I know that, by and large, the bulk of what we eat are wholesome, natural foods.

The only other suggestion I'd have is to start reading labels. Ignore the package fronts. You're going to be surprised at what they'll have on the ingredient list for so-called healthy foods. Just because it says "all natural" or "organic" doesn't make it a real food! Read. Read. Read. Do your best to find foods that don't have any added colors, flavors, preservatives, salt, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers, hydrogenated oils, genetically modified soy products or the like.

Even if you aren't perfect (and I assure you, we here are FAR from it!) know that every little thing you do is a GOOD thing. Every little step counts and adds up! Don't get discouraged when you have a bad meal, or day or week or month! Just focus on the big picture - a lifetime of good health for you AND your family!

Please feel free to add your thoughts below!

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things to do with Tomatoes, Part II: Tomato & Basil Bruschetta

Whenever we have a surplus of tomatoes, I love doing bruschetta. There is something magical about the crisp bread, fresh tomatoes, earthy basil and the tang of garlic and vinegar. Yum.

The trick to getting consistently great bruschetta is to get the tomato mix as DRY as possible. You want to get out all the juice and seeds you can. Otherwise your topping will look more like soup and your breads will just get all soggy!

Recipe: Tomato & Basil Bruschetta


Tomatoes (about a dozen golf ball/plum sized, 6-8 romas, 4-6 big guys)
12 or so fresh basil leaves.
3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic or about 1 Tbs jarred, crushed garlic
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

1) Wash and cut the stem end off of the tomato. Gently squeeze the juice and seeds out. Coarsely chop tomato flesh & drop pieces into a medium sized collander.

2) After all tomatoes and chopped and well drained, transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl.
3) Stack basil leaves on top of each other, roll and chop finely. Add to tomatoes.
4) Add in garlic and vinegar. Stir to combine.
5) Add a lightly sprinkling of salt, stir and taste. You are looking for the sweet/meaty flavor of the tomatoes to be the primary flavor and second is a mild basil and garlic flavor (as that will intensify over time)and finally a light tang from the vinegar. Adjust seasonings as needed.
6) Cover and refrigerate for at least ONE hour.


1 baguette (french or sourdough is fine)
olive oil
garlic salt

1) Slice baguette crossways about every 1/2 inch. Place slices on baking sheet.
2) Drizzle or brush olive oil over each slice.
3) Sprinkle with garlic salt (or rub with fresh cloves of garlic & sprinkle sea salt)
4) Broil in oven for just a few minutes until crispy and browned. If you don't want to heat up the oven (who does in the summer heat?) you can also grill these (oil side DOWN) for a few minutes on high on your gas or charcoal grill. This adds a really nice smoky flavor as well.

Other Serving Suggestions:
This lovely tomato topping isn't just great on bread. If you happen (ha ha) to find yourself with extra, try spooning it on grilled chicken or fish. It is also FANTASTIC as a pasta topping/sauce.

Feel free to share your thoughts/experiences in the comments below!

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Things to do with Tomatoes- Part I: Salsa Fresca

Its tomato time!! Tomatoes are a big favorite in this house-- even the 5 year old has been popping cherry tomatoes in his mouth practically from the time he learned how to chew. (usually spraying juice and seeds everywhere-- but that's another story). Our old house had a great spot in the backyard where any tomato plant was guaranteed to turn into a gargantuan, jungle-like growth with more tomatoes than would ever be possible to eat.

I made the mistake the first year I set up the garden at the old house and put something like 6 tomato plants in the planter (10' x 5') that we'd built. They quickly overwhelmed the bamboo supports I had given them and formed a wild riot of tomato vines. I particularly remember spending a few hot summer days hacking away at those things desperately trying to get at the crop underneath (with a baby strapped to my back no less).

I wisely resolved to plant only 2-- just 2-- tomato plants the following year. These were primarily small cherry/pear type tomatoes. The larger slicer/beefsteaks we discovered did very poorly-- growing so fast they split their skins and exposed the inside of the fruits to a lot of insect activity. The new plants each still exploded with growth and provided all the tomatoes we cared to eat. Our top favorites were 'Sweet 100' a sweet red cherry tomato and a meaty savory yellow pear tomato.

This year, in the new house, we've started allotting corners of the yard to various garden items. But, I don't think our tomato corner is doing very well. We have 3 small, lightly fruiting plants. Happy? yes. High producing? no. We're still getting to know the new house (and the assorted wildlife in the neighborhood-- don't get me started on squirrels right now!) and we're still discovering what works well and where. I *think* maybe they got too much water. I'll try cutting back a bit and doing less watering overall next year (drip mist maybe?) to see if I can get them to fruit more. I know alot of people have great success with dry farming but I don't know if it gets too hot out here for that (its averaging over 100 right now with near 0 humidity)

Thankfully my lovely mother-in-law also has a big love for tomatoes (and an even bigger yard and garden). She didn't mess around and planted well over 2 DOZEN of assorted varieties. As expected, huge crops are coming in and there is a bounty of tomatoes to be had! (Thanks Mom!) I brought home a big box (probably over 10 lbs) of several varieties of tomatoes last week and I've been enjoying pulling out all my favorite tomato recipes and trying out some new ones!

Here is the first big tomato user-upper project I did-- for the Hubby-- who LOVES salsa (more than anything except me and the kids --maybe). I kept things simple and fresh (cuz that's the way we like it). I made about a quart of that stuff on Saturday and its already gone. Yep. The whole thing. I guess I'll be making more of this soon!

Recipe: Salsa Fresca

Tomatoes (about 6 cups chopped, roughly)
Onion (1-2, peeled & chopped roughly)
1 bunch of cilantro
1 lemon
1-2 cans diced green chiles (can sub in fresh, we just didn't have any!)
splash of hot sauce (I like Crystal but any will do)

1) Wash, stem and roughly chop tomatoes and throw into work bowl of food processor.
2) Peel & roughly chop ONE onion and throw into work bowl of food processor.
3) Pull out about 8 stems of leafy cilantro. Rip it into chunks and throw it into the work bowl....
4) Dump in 1 can of diced green chiles (or 2 small/1 medium stemmed/seeded jalapeno)
5) Squeeze in juice of lemon.
6) Pulse until tomatoes and onions are chopped finely and well combined.
7) Taste. Add more chiles, cilantro, onion or hot sauce as needed. (I ended up with 1 1/2 medium brown onions, 1 can of chiles and a good 4 or 5 splashes of hot sauce.)
8) Let sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours for flavors to fully develop. Enjoy!

Feel free to comment below! I'd love to hear what you thought or if you tried the recipe!!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Savings Tip: Dryer Woolie Balls

I've enjoyed my time off the last week but its time to get back to work! I've got so many projects to finish up. And if I didn't have to post them to you fine (five) readers, I wouldn't have nearly so much incentive to get going! Let's talk about this week's topic:

      Dryer Woolie Balls!!

What's a woolie??
Several weeks ago, when I was researching recipes for dishwasher detergent, I saw a post from a green mama blogger ( about her green laundry routine. One of the things she talked about was dryer woolie balls. I was very intrigued. What is a woolie?? It is a simple ball of wool yarn (felted) and thrown in the dryer to help speed drying, fluff clothes and reduce static.

Why use woolies??

1) Less waste
       I have a love/hate relationship with my dryer sheets . I love the light scent and static reduction but I loathe chasing these things around the house. I fold laundry in our bedroom and it seems like everytime I go in there, I find another one of those suckers to throw away. And, as I always throw them out when I find them during folding, I'm not exactly sure where these "extra" ones are coming from. Perhaps they are reproducing under the bed?? All I know is that I'd be super happy to never have to pick up another one of those things off the carpet again!

2) Reduce static
       The biggest hurdle to not using dryer sheets is that most of the laundry I have (especially for us adults) is what I call mixed media. Typically we have lots of different fabrics-- casual clothes are mainly cotton, my undies have a lot of elastic, nylon etc. and Hubby's work pants are a glorious 100% polyester. Drying up a load of darks without any static reducers pretty much insures one large ball of static cling.
       I had tried, in the past, a set of blue plastic dryer balls I got at some "as seen on TV" store many, many years ago. I found them to be fairly ineffective in reducing static and never really used them much for anything except cloth diaper laundry. I wanted to know why these woolies would be any different--- after investigating and reading around, I found that I was not using nearly enough. I had just two and the blogger above typically uses up to a dozen!

3) Personalize amount/type of fragrance
       One thing I also missed when using the blue plastic dryer balls was the scent. I love the soft "clean" scent of dryer sheets or detergent after laundry comes out of the dryer. Its a thing, I know. I don't like overpowering perfumes, just a light, simple, clean smell. In our traditional laundry routine, we like Tide detergent and Bounce dryer sheets which both impart a slight, pleasant, clean scent. In working to cut back on the chemicals, we've switched to a "free and clear" detergent. And if I give up dryer sheets, then there's no scents, nothing. That's just too much to give up! I found out though, that one of the advantages of using the woolie balls instead of plastic ones is that you can scent them! By adding a few drops of an essential oil, they will softly release the scent in the dryer, giving the clothes a slight fragrance (of your choosing) with no added knarly chemicals! Yay!

Getting woolies for yourself

 1) Buy
You can buy them online chiefly through homemade sites like Etsy. I saw them commonly as 4 for $20 (+ shipping). I thought that was a little expensive for my tastes, especially if I'm likely to need 2 (or more) sets.

2) Make them yourself!!
I followed the tutorial from the above referenced blog: homemade wool dryer balls. Here are the highlights:
  • Get some 100% wool yarn. (this was the hardest part of the project!) It cannot be a blend or acrylic (as most yarns are). I got 2 1/2 balls per 3.5 oz of yarn. I used 2 packages of yarn and made 5 balls total.

  • Wrap the yarn tightly in a round ball until its about tennis ball sized. Tie off/tuck under loose ends.

  • Put into a old nylon or stocking (I used an old pilly trouser sock) to keep them secured until fully felted.
  • Run through the washer & dryer a few times (I just ran it with the loads of laundry I was already doing....) until the wool is felted -- it will get kind of fuzzy and all the strands will be firmly adhered together.

  • Add 3 or 4 drops of an essential oil of your choosing. Many people like lavender or tea tree. I really wanted a "laundry" type of smell so I found a "downy april fresh" mixed essential oil on Etsy. Don't know if it really smells like downy since I never used that but it does have a nice light "clean laundry" type of smell.
  • Drop into dryer with wet laundry, proceed as usual!

How's it working??
       So far, so good!  I only made 5 yarn balls, so I threw in the 2 plastic ones to go with them, so 7 balls total. As far as usage, I'm finding its not any harder to sort out the balls from the laundry than it is to remove the used dryer sheets. The static reduction is pretty good-- about the same or slightly better than I had from dryer sheets. The scent is nice-- light but pleasant-- even the Hubby likes it. I'm not sure how often I'll need to refill the scent on the balls. I set them up last week and was having a hard time smelling the scent in the laundry in the garage (although for some reason I can smell it perfectly fine in the living room where I'm sorting...) so I refilled it. I expect that I may need to refresh the scent maybe every 2 or 3 weeks?

I really love projects like these. Once everything is all set up, you are DONE!! I don't have anything else to buy (unless I need new fragrance, although this is supposed to last me about a year). If I use these and don't buy any new dryer sheets, I'll probably recoup my basic costs (about $14 in yarn-- should have remembered my coupon, darn it!) in the next 4-6 months. I know if you are a savvy shopper and have time to search out sales or good prices AND remember use your coupons (still kicking myself here), you can definitely do better. Unfortunately, I was only kicked in the butt inspired to complete this project when I realized I only had about 5 dryer sheets left. So a bit of a time crunch!

Comment below and let me know if you've used these before, or are gonna give it a try!

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