DIY Ideas from a Domestic Diva

This guest post was written by my wonderful friend over at Speak with your Food, Alex.. she is a cooking goddess, a food know-it-all and my go-to guru when I have any crafty/foodie questions.. enjoy her post below on DIY foodie gifts!

#DIYDecember: Stress-free + fancy (last-minute) food gifts

Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Kwanzaa/whatever-holiday-you-celebrate is just around the corner…and, you don’t have any gifts ready. No worries – here are a few no-fuss ideas for those special people in your life:

Chocolate bark: This is my go-to candy for impromtu get-togethers. It’s so easy: Melt some chocolate, add some seeds and dried fruit, a pinch of sea salt and/or your favorite spices, let it set, break into pieces and put in a bag, tin or good ol’ mason jar. Check out more details from my blog here. Bark doesn’t excite you? Try some of these other healthful candy recipes from The Nourishing Gourmet.

Chocolate Bark

Tea/tisane blends: There may be a pill for every ill, but the same can be said for tea AND you can make your own blends for a fraction of the cost! Since people seem to be unnecessarily stressed-out during this time of year – often leading to colds – why not try a blend of dried calendula (medicinal marigolds), nettle, spearmint, hibiscus, red clover and lemon balm? Simply mix in your preferred proportions based on your own tastes or those of the recipient, and store in a tin or glass jar. Gift with a tea infuser and make it pretty with some fabric for the lid and a nice label describing the blend. Your local health food store should carry dried herbs and flowers in its bulk section, with descriptions of each, and there’s usually an expert on hand if you have any questions.  If you’re a little fearful of the herb world, check out Mountain Rose Herbs for some blend ideas before you make your own.

Hot cocoa mix: All you need: cocoa powder, sugar and/or a pinch of sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cayenne pepper. The proportions are 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of cocoa. (Sounds like a lot, but think about all the packaging you save by making it in such a big batch.) If using sea salt and/or spices, add sparingly and to taste. If you want to be fancy, put a vanilla bean directly into the mix to enhance the cocoa flavor. Place in a mason jar – pretty much always the appropriate vessel for any gift. Local milk, homemade almond milk, marshmallows and/or a (thrift store) mug offer the perfect accompaniments!

Cookies, cookies, cookies: No slice-and-bake here. Make them from scratch**. My favorites: Teff Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe from the amazing Clean Food cookbook), chocolate crinkles, granola bars/raspberry oat bars and, the standard, sugar cookies. Bust out the family recipes and get baking!

Dog biscuits: Can’t leave out our better halves. Avoid the creepy processed treats from the store and make these. It’s also an excuse to get out the cookie cutters. My friend gave me this recipe a few years ago and I’ve made them ever since. Here’s the recipe:

Homemade dog biscuits

1 c. of whole wheat, all-purpose or spelt flour

1/2 Tbl. baking powder

1/2 c. peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower butter

1/2 c. milk (cow or non-dairy)

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.

2. In a medium to large bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined.

3. Pour the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a ball and roll out until dough is a 1/4″ thick. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or free-hand.

4. Put cookies onto a lined baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes.

**A note on ingredients: Use fair trade, locally grown and/or organic ingredients when possible. Now is not the time to skimp on quality. Feel good about the gifts you give, not only because you made them but also for the ingredients you’ve used, which were harvested and produced in an ethically and socially responsible manner.**

Make your own recipe book! When all else fails, remind yourself of the adage that it’s the thought that counts. Make your own recipe book out of an old notebook or a few pieces of blank paper, a cardboard box for the front and back covers and some yarn, twine or hemp to use as the binding. Include a few of your favorite recipes to inspire a friend or loved one to get in the kitchen.

Alright, time’s a-wastin’; get cooking and crafting. Happy holidays!



Adventures in Pasta

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I met a woman last week who calls herself a food educator, though not a trained nutritionist or dietician.  She is spending her time at back to school nights and giving presentations at libraries about eating healthfully, reading labels and what things like “whole grains” really mean.  Much of what she talked about was an affirmation of information about the food industry I had already absorbed but I did pick up a few new things.  While Greek-style yogurt is great for me because of the high levels of protein, I really need to watch certain flavors and brands because they pack in the sugar.. not something I had been conscious of every time I ate it.

It was interesting to hear a room full of parents ask very detailed questions about certain food items and habits and take copious notes.  Because of my background, food decisions have very much been conscious decisions in the past few years especially.  But these parents were asking which flavor of Cheez-It was best.. hardly a question in my mind.  As Mark Bittman states in his recent op-ed article in the New York Times (Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?), we are in need of a culture change.  But we MUST understand that millions of people in our very own country don’t have access to grocery stores, let alone Whole Foods, local food co-ops or farmer’s markets.  Cooking is NOT the culture in every home, some don’t even have working kitchens or a home in which to cook.

I’m looking at a box of pasta right now and my eyes are drawn to the ingredient list.

Ingredients: Semolina (Wheat); Durum flour (Wheat); Niacin; Iron (Ferrous Sulfate); Thiamin Mononitrate; Riboflavin; Folic Acid

While this is not the worst ingredient list I have ever seen, I certainly have no idea what good or evil Thiamin Mononitrate* is doing in my body.  I do however know that eggs, flour, salt and olive oil are all whole ingredients that will fulfill my needs when paired with the right partners.  These four ingredients create pasta dough, made at home with family and friends.  This isn’t a paid advertisement by the pasta-machine company.  Its an ask by me to you to cook when you can, what you can, with what you have.

I am blessed to have a fantastic working kitchen, a full pantry and adventurous family and friends.  But not everyone is so blessed.  Do some research.. see if there is a local community kitchen or workspace that teaches cooking classes.  Find out what they’re cooking (or not) at your child’s school; this will affect their food choices and preferences for a life time.  Instead of beans in a can, try soaking dry beans and cut out a great deal of sodium.  Small steps turn into big ones.

The photos above are of some friends making pasta with a pasta-maker at home.  Though time-intensive, we have come to plan for pasta nights every week. (This would be our third Tuesday pasta night!)  Maybe in your house, it can be ordering take-out or going out one less night a week and making a quiche or a whole wheat pasta dish.  Stay tuned for some more pasta and recipes!

*According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, thiamin(e) mononitrate is a B-1 vitamin that is “perfectly safe, despite adding minuscule amounts of nitrate to our food.”

Mum’s the Word at Fresh & Fancy

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What’s New Jersey’s best-kept secret?  How can I pick just one?  But I do know for a fact that one of them is Fresh & Fancy Farms in New Milford, run by the Low family of Oradell.  I was connected to Meg Low through a mutual friend from high school and we played email tag while I was finishing my year with Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Oregon.  I paid Fresh & Fancy my first visit last week and let me tell you, it was a little slice of heaven.

Meg, a fashionista/social media maven/crafty lady extraordinaire, greeted me at the farm like we’d been friends for years.  Indeed it feels like we’ve known each other forever, though the extent of our friendship had just been via email and texts to this point.. funny how the world works.  I’ve been following all of Meg’s tweets and Facebook posts about the farm and was just overjoyed to take a look around and see all of the beautiful nooks and crannies this extraordinary little farm had to offer..

Originally Klinger’s Farms, owned by Bill and Sharon Klinger, the Low family purchased the farm this year and opened it on Mother’s Day.  (You can find more of the backstory in the New Milford Patch article about the farm.)  Nearly 100 years old, the twinkle and the charm of days gone by still whisper to you as you walk through the farm.  Meg showed me the greenhouses, of which there are several, that she wants to get into working order and we talked for hours about the plans she and her family have for the farm.  I can feel her excitement and enthusiasm as she talks and I appreciate her suggestion of walking around the farm on my own to snap pictures and explore.

I am so excited to join the Fresh & Fancy team as a guest blogger, part-timer, friend.. whatever you want to call it.  Be sure to stay tuned to their blog ( and put Harvest Fest into your calendar!  Happening for the first time on Saturday, October 8th, there will be face-painting, wonderful deals on plants, games and so much more.  Will we see you there in your fresh and fancy gear?  Hope so!

I am stronger than bacon.

You’ve heard of Meatless Mondays (I hope) and you may have even tried a veggie burger once in your life.  I made the decision two (!) years ago to be a full-time, plantivore, locavore eater.  While this can be difficult sometimes given our nation’s love of meat-eating, I have found that I feel better about myself, my health, my carbon footprint and my food choices.  There is no better time than now to try a more conscious way of eating, to limit or cut out your meat consumption; whether you’re a full-on carnivore or a locavore vegan, we can always be a little more conscious of how our food affects us, our health and our planet.

From GOOD:

It’s fast becoming a well-known fact that eating less meat is good for the earth. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has said that “in terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, [people eating less meat] clearly is the most attractive” way to fight climate change. Authors from Upton Sinclair to Jonathan Safran Foer have detailed the horrific animal cruelty and human-rights abuses associated with factory farming and meat processing. And most doctors will tell you that eating fewer animal products is simply better for your health. As beloved food writer Michael Pollan has summed it up, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

With all of this in mind, our GOOD 30-Day Challenge for June is to go vegetarian.

Side note: Cheese does not count as a meat substitute.

“The Power is Yours!”

Remember Captain Planet?  How could you forget him? His awesome outfit, red boots, charisma and Planeteer friends made me wanna hang out with him for sure.  That was a show that defined childhood for me and while I might not remember what all of the episodes were about, I remember the important message was always to be responsible in caring for our shared Earth.

Sometimes we forget our impact, we think, “Everyone else is doing it, so it doesn’t matter if I do it too..”  But our actions do matter.. even Captain Planet says they do!  (Check out the Captain Planet Foundation, which supports hands-on environmental projects for youth.)  We need to make some noise, get in the way and make a fuss about the things that matter to us, the things that are too precious to lose.

Green Patriot Posters is a non-1990s group of folks who have taken inspiration from the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” posters of World War II and freshened it up to take on a new, empowering meaning in our discombobulated world.  Take up your rakes and reusable tote bags! Fight for your planet!

Will Etling "Sustain"

“Young farmers need to be politically organized and active. Growing up in rural California, I always had tremendous respect for the few remaining working farmers in our community. In this poster I tried to convey the power of farming and the respect I feel for it.” –W.E.

Diego Gutiérrez "Keep Buying Shit"

“To a graphic designer, there is no better reason to design than for a good cause. At the same time, popular media and kitsch design have exhausted a cause like global warming. I didn’t want to design for upper-middle-class mothers who hang out at Whole Foods. My vision was to crank out as many varieties of strong images, harsh statements, and loud colors as I could.” –D.G.

Xander Pollack "Shit Be Meltin'"

“Al Gore is right: Shit be meltin’. Would his melting face be more convincing than factual charts and graphs? How much proof do we need before we make a change?” –Dmitri Siegel and Edward Morris