Plastic Container Greenhouses

From time to time I end up with those plastic containers that once housed strawberries or spinach. According to my curbside recycling guide they are not recyclable (differs by refuse company). So, I like to reuse them when I have them. Besides using them to organize my pantry or the kids markers, we make them into little seed starting greenhouses. You can buy a fancy seed starter system, but I find these work just as well and are easy to transplant.

Simply fill the bottom with soil and sprinkle in the seeds planting to required depth, water, close the lid and wait. I have successfully started onions, herbs, gourds, chard, and numerous other plants this way.

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Happy Little Sprouts

Happy Little Sprouts

Once seedlings have reached a level of growth where they will tolerate transplant, usually when they have developed roots and true leaves, I use a chopstick or spoon to separate out these tiny plants which then go into either 4 inch pots, or in the case of onions and squashes right into the garden.

Plastic containers need to be thoroughly cleaned in between plantings to discourage disease.

What other uses have you come up with for plastic containers? Happy planting!

Non Stick Pan Nonsense

Non-stick coated “Teflon” pans make me nervous. We are told to throw them away if the surface becomes scratched to avoid getting the non-stick substance in our food (this seems wasteful to me).   Toxins may be leached out of non-stick surfaces into our food and into the air whether they are scratched or not. That is part of the reason I do not use Teflon non-stick frying pans. There is an interesting history of Teflon, etc. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytetrafluoroethylene. The other reason is that if you have a quality frying pan that is well seasoned not only will you have a naturally non-sticking pan, but you will either keep it your whole life or it can be recycled.

The oldest non-stick frying pan (without teflon) would be the cast iron pan. Cast iron was so valuable and durable historically in the kitchen that old time homemakers often passed them on to their children. Cast iron pans have excellent heat retention, can add iron to your food (great if you are anemic) and when well seasoned are non-stick.

Though I have some cast iron I primarily use Calphalon frying pans in my home. My pans are about 9 years old. I am unsure whether they are the same as what is on the market today, and I am not advertising Calphalon necessarily. What I enjoy about my pans is that they are receptive to seasoning.

Large Seasoned Frying Pan

Large Seasoned Frying Pan

This large pan I use to make quesadillas and grilled cheese and items of that nature. I no longer need to add any oil to this pan when cooking low-protein foods. It has darkened into a perfectly smooth surface. I never run this pan or the little pan I use for eggs through the dishwasher. I hand wash these and scrub sparingly. Though I seasoned them when I bought them, time has seasoned them better.  Seasoning can be reached through applying shortening or lard to a pan and heating it. It may take a few seasonings to reach non-stick.   For me it took carefully cooking in the pan for awhile. Then I baby the pans, only lightly scrubbing so as to not remove that precious layer. For more detailed instructions for seasoning various kinds of pans click here: http://www.webstaurantstore.com/guide/562/pan-seasoning.html

Take note: that if you do burn something in your seasoned pan, you will have to scrub it thoroughly and then reseason.

Lastly, how you cook in your pan also determines how well your seasoned pans work. Overheating or burning something in your pan will cause problems on the slickest surface. When cooking protein’s like fish, meat or eggs it is best to heat your pan first, add a little cooking fat like olive oil or coconut oil and make sure that it is hot, usually on a medium heat before adding eggs or meat.  Cold dry pans cause sticking. In other words, you’re best friend in keeping your pans in prime condition and your food at it’s yummiest is patience.

Tips for Hard Boiling Farm Fresh Eggs

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Have you ever tried to hard boil an egg from your very own chicken and had it turn out nearly impossible to peel?  Bits of egg came away with the peel and the thing ended up looking mutilated.

Method 1.  Wait:  The reason farm eggs are hard to boil and peel is because they are so fresh!  If you keep your eggs in the refrigerator for 2 weeks and then boil for 10 minutes, they should peel easily.  This is a great solution for those eggs of questionable age in mid-summer when the girls are laying so quickly that it’s hard to keep up your egg consumption.  If a batch of eggs starts to seem a little older, then boil them for snacking. 

This leads to the question… why are grocery store eggs usually so easy to boil and peel?   The logical answer is that they are already older.  Hmmmmmmm.

Method 2.  Steam:  Let’s say you don’t have time to age your eggs.  You need boiled eggs now!!  Instead of boiling, put them in a steamer.  When you get a good steam going turn the timer to 20 minutes.  You’re eggs should peel beautifully.

Method 3:  Baking Soda:   Sprinkle baking soda in your cold water and add eggs.  Bring to a boil for ten minutes.  Bon appetit!

Woodland Terrariums

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Are you looking for a Free fun nature activity for the kids that can be done with a few items from around the house?  Or are you looking for an artistic centerpiece for your table?  Or are you dying to plant your garden but the last frost hasn’t come yet?  Try a terrarium!

I live in the Pacific Northwest which is a green and verdant place. It is the sort that vegetation will reclaim quickly if man neglects their taming of it. It is called the Evergreen State for our beautiful conifers, but the greens of the rich things that grow here would rival emerald Ireland when the clouds part and the blue skies shine. There is nothing like a NW sky when it clears on those first spring days for the rain can seem ceaseless in the wintertime. It rains here enough that nearby we have our very own Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is a soft dripping place with mosses a plenty, and alluring scents of dank rich earth. The rainforest has led me to a strange moss obsession. I gather these things up in terrariums and foster them and create tiny rain forests in my living room.

When I can’t be out of doors… I keep it nearby in a terrarium.  This is  a fun and free form of indoor art and it has the added bonus of helping to keep your indoor air filtered naturally, and when you tire of it you can return it to the forest from whence it came.  I make my terrariums with things dug up around the property like mosses, lichen encrusted limbs, licorice ferns, and perennial sedums and ground covers from my garden.  I try to only dig up mosses where they are plentiful and won’t be missed or if they are growing in what should be a moss free zone (like the roof).  I like to use outdoor plants that I can keep indoors for a season but will be just as happy out in a shaded patio.

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All you really need for this project is Sand (I use old sand from the sandbox), potting soil, a glass vase, bowl, or jar and a variety of mossy covered things found in the woods.  You may use small figurines or toys, pretty rocks or shells to add to the effect of a little world.

First, put a little sand at the bottom for drainage, but also for visual interest.  Sometimes I will just put the sand on one side of a vase and soil on the other to create a little beach. If you have activated charcoal it is also beneficial in a terrarium to retain moisture while keeping the roots from rotting, but a terrarium can be happy without it.  After soil is added, place a plant of interest like a little fern or sedum or a small mossy branch.  Then cover the remaining soil with mosses.  It is fun to find more than one kind of moss.  Add your figurines or rocks if desired.  Then give it a thorough watering.  Mist your terrarium with water as needed to keep the moss happy.

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If you have grown tired of your terrarium or it is looking unhappy, just take it out in the woods and set the native plants free.    Warning, if you do add little branches or rotten wood to your terrarium it may sprout mushrooms, which may be poisonous.  Unless you are an expert in mushrooms it is not advisable to handle them.  If you are doing this project with small children who could be tempted by mushrooms you may want to steer clear of old branches in your project, and to be safe check your terrarium routinely and discard it’s inhabitants if mushrooms should appear.

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The Joy of Old Time “Receipts”

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In the greater scheme of history, cookbooks have not always been readily available for the common household, nor have the books (or blogs) with housekeeping advice that is now so plentiful for the modern household.  More often, a girl learned from her mother how to cook and keep house.  Diets were simpler and regional.  If you grew up in Norway for example, you learned from your family and neighbors how to cook Norwegian food.  For those who could write, some recipes were written down, but often learned by heart as well.  The first American cookbook, according to The Pioneer Village Cookbook” by Ann Chandonnet (2010) was called American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons and wasn’t published until 1796.   Here is her recipe for Simmons’ Pompkin Pie,

“One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.”  (hmmm)

During the 19th century, cookbooks and books on housekeeping started to come into use more regularly, but were still rare.  Another interesting book in this area is The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child first published in 1829.  It contains interesting bits of advice like this:

“Barley Straw is the best for beds; dry corn husks, slit into shreds are far better than straw” (who knew?)

(Or)

 “Keep a course broom for the cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things”  (I remember this one every time I take my good broom outside).   But the volume has all sorts of advice ranging from keeping an immaculate apartment, preparing the cheapest cuts of meat, raising children (play is not encouraged, children should learn to enjoy being productive so that life is more pleasant in the long run), cheap dyes, and of course recipes like this:

“Cider Cake is very good, to be baked in small loaves.  One pound and a half of sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider, one teaspoon full of pearlash; spice to your taste. Bake until it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.”  Notice the lack of precision in this recipe.   These sorts of recipes also assume that the cook already has plenty of baking experience.  While these old cookbooks are fun to read some of the recipes are not advisable to try… health codes have changed.

What we would now call a recipe was known pre-20th Century as a “receipt”.  A receipt could even be used to describe any set of how-to instructions including this wonderful excerpt from a fundraising “Kokebok” I found.  This book was pulished by the Ladies of the Sons of Norway Lodge #44 Poulsbo, WA in 1966, but the excerpt is attributed to being much older.

For your enjoyment I will print it in full:

“A “RECEIPT” FOR WASHING CLOTHES BEFORE THE 20TH CENTURY”  provided by Mrs. Paulmer Slind

This is the original spelling.

1. Bild a fire in the back yard to heet kettle of rain water.

2. Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.

3. Shave on hole cake soap in bilin water.

4. Sort things, make three piles. 1 pile white. 1 pile cullord, 1 pile work britches and rags.

5. Stur flour in cold water to smooth then thin down with biling water.

6. Rub dirty spots on board, then bile – rub cullord but don’t bile –

7. Take white things out of kettle with broom stick handle then rench, blew and starch.

8. Spree tee towels on grass.

9. Hang old rags on fence.

10. Pore rench water in flour bed.

11. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.

12. Turn tubs upside down.

13. Go put on clean dress– smooth hair with side combs–brew cup of tee– set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.

I so enjoy reading these bits out of the lives of our predecessors.  I can see right into the day of an American family as close and fresh as any American novel, bringing history more fully to life.  They tell a story of love and care, principles and economy, of the joy of a hard earned rest at the end of the day and a slower pace of world.

The Clean Regime…it doesn’t have to be complicated.

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I thought today I would share my simply kitchen and bath cleaning regimen.  For bathroom and kitchen cleaning I use primarily two ingredients: Baking Soda and White Distilled Vinegar.

Baking Soda is great for toilets, sinks, bathtubs and anything that needs a good scrub.  I buy most things in bulk and consequently a bag of Baking Soda may be used for both cleaning and cooking.  I didn’t want to always be dipping into the same bag for grossly different tasks.  So I “decant” into jars.  I keep a jar in the baking cupboard and another jar in my cleaning kit.  The cleaning jar is a regular canning jar that has holes punched in the top (with a nail and hammer)  to make my own shaker.  As a side not I like Classico jars for this, in fact if I have to buy a can of pasta sauce I usually buy Classico because they use real Atlas jars that can be reused to can your own pasta sauce.  Now you can simply pour your Soda and scrub.

For a simple spray I find an old spray bottle.  Be sure that your bottle is clean and fully rinsed.  It is not advisable to mix vinegar and bleach as it creates noxious fumes.  My cleaner is one part water and one part vinegar.  I also add to this a few dashes of lemon juice and occasionally some scented oil to make it more pleasant.  But remember the vinegar smell evaporates quickly when used.  I use this mixture for countertops, fixtures, appliances, toilet seats, linoleum floors… just about anywhere.  Vinegar is a natural antibacterial agent and it’s cheap!

Another use for this mighty duo is a good sink cleanse.  According to my roto-rooter guy it is a good idea to flush your sink drains once a month to prevent build up.  Go ahead and pour some baking soda down the drain, then chase it with a cup of vinegar.  It will make a satisfying fizzing noise.  Then after your solution has sat for a bit boil a kettle of water and pour it down your drains.  That should keep things running smoothly.

Don’t forget to use baking soda and vinegar in your laundry.  Baking soda in the wash cycle will freshen clothes and vinegar in the rinse will do the same as well as soften fabrics….this is a great safe option for cloth diapers, but NOT if you use Bleach.

I could go on, because the uses seem endless, but just these little ideas will make a big difference on the pocket book.