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!



Farm Fresh

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With a little bit more time on my hands than usual, I have been able to make it to the farmer’s market nearly every week since I have been home and was also lucky enough to spend the morning with my friends Alex and Zach on the farm they work on in Connecticut, Riverbank Farms.

At the farmer’s market in River Vale, though the selection is a bit small, the vendors are very friendly and engaging.  When we asked if it was possible to get a bushel of tomatoes for our canning adventures, they weren’t fazed at all and told us to give them a call the week we wanted the bushel and they would bring them along.  With our tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil (plus other fantastic purchases) we made homemade margherita pizza that might have been one of the most delicious pizzas I ever ate.  The freshness of the tomatoes makes a huge difference and makes me wish tomato season came more than once a year!  My heart sincerely goes out to all of the farmers whose summer and fall crop were damaged by Hurricane Irene; see how you can help here.  Through GrowNYC and Greenmarket, you can donate to help farmers restore their farms and/or choose to take the Locavore Challenge and eat locally for the month of September.. lucky you that I’m writing this on September 1st! (Technically for NY residents, but I’m a rule breaker.)

While I’ll always be a Jersey Fresh girl, I headed up to Connecticut last week to visit my friends Alex Gross and Zach Gross who have worked at Riverbank Farm for several years now.  Alex (visit her fab food blog here!) graduated from Fairfield in 2009 and is now one of the managers on the farm and Zach is starting his senior year at Fairfield and has just gotten back from a semester abroad in Nicaragua and a summer internship in Mexico.. talk about power siblings!  I joined them for a morning of tomato harvesting and had such a wonderful time learning the names of the different varieties and catching up with Alex and Zach.  Riverbank is located in northwestern Connecticut and between three greenhouses and over 12 acres, they grow wonderful organic produce and flowers to sell wholesale and at market.  I met some really wonderful people and got to spend some time chopping up tomatoes for sauce to be canned.. I looked like a hot mess after a few hours but was so glad to have been a part of the day.

The photos of the tomato sauce above was made with onion and tomatoes from Riverbank, basil from our own home garden and garlic from the farmer’s market.  A super simple summer sauce, lighter than most American tomato sauces.. this is definitely one to try!


  • 8 pounds tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In large saucepan, cook tomatoes and basil over medium-low heat until tomatoes are soft.
  2. Meanwhile, in medium skillet, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent.
  3. Add onion mixture to tomato mixture and add salt and pepper. Let simmer on low heat for 2 hours or until thick.

Walk with a spring in your step

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Well hello there, its been awhile.  Spring is here; the cherry blossoms are blooming all over Hillsboro and Portland and everywhere in between.  I am grateful for such everyday beauty in the midst of a lot of heartache in this world, especially in the light of the tragedies in Japan.

Christie and I went to a vigil for Japan and its people this past Friday called Vigil4JapanPDX, organized by four Japanese exchange students at PSU.  They organized this event in just one week; over 1,500 people were in attendance including Portland Mayor Sam Adams, the Consul General of Japan in Portland and the president of PSU.  The students gave testimonies of their experiences living so far away from their home and seeing images on TV that do not look to them like the home country that they know.  It was inspiring to hear their words and to stand with so many different people (in rain and hail, in true Portland style) in support of people so far away.  MercyCorps was present at the vigil; all donations throughout the evening go to support their crisis relief efforts in Japan.  (See some photos of the vigil here.)  It’s difficult to know how to support people so far from our reach in a time like this; prayers and good thoughts as well as financial support are so necessary.  We must remember that these people, like the people of Haiti, Sri Lanka, New Orleans, will be rebuilding from this devastation for years to come; we will not forget our brothers and sisters.  Check out how you can support artists and support the people of Japan at the same time; every little bit helps.

Elena and I spent the day in Portland yesterday at the spring opening of the Portland Farmer’s Market; yay for fresh fruit and veggie season!  We bought some delicious apples, Dave’s Killer Bread, carrots, and other great goodies.  A fantastic people-watching way to spend the afternoon and the sun was out!  We moseyed over to Portland Saturday Market, a large outdoor market (who knew?) that happens every Saturday from March to December; again, more great people watching.  Elena bought a ring made out of a fork; excellent.  We met up with Christie, Sean and some of his HomePlate friends to attend an interfaith peace service to bring awareness to the troops still abroad in war and conflict.  Song, reflection and poems made up the majority of the service with people from all faiths and backgrounds; very humbling.

How did it get to be mid-March, y’all?  Most schools are on spring break this week (I miss spring break!) so we’ll have a quiet week in the office at SOLV; lots to do for our community stewardship initiatives.  We are almost done with the planting season and our 27th annual Beach Cleanup is this weekend, hurrah for ridding the Oregon coast of little bits of plastic that threaten sea life!  We had a great tour of Reed College’s “canyon” last week with a restoration ecologist; so amazing to see a 28-acre watershed in the middle of a college campus!  Students can even work there as a work-study position; hello planting trees!  The space has been a 13 year project and is still going; native species are certainly coming back to the space and students upkeep and maintain the trails and monitor for invasive species and wildlife.  I might go back and chat with Zac, the canyon guru, about the importance of widespread campus sustainability; do I hear job offer?

And I haven’t yet blogged about Mardi Gras!  It was a success; JVC NW director Jeanne was over for dinner that evening and we had a fantastic time chatting and noshing before the fasting season of Lent.  I made vegetarian jambalya (super simple!) and a REAL king cake!  The king cake was a long process but so worth it.. I intend to make one every year as it was so delicious!  That week ended with SOLV’s Women in Science Day, which Miles and I coordinated; a great event.. read about it on the Green Team blog.

That’s all for now folks.  Embrace the blooming flowers, budding trees, walk with a spring in your step.  I’ll be toting my camera around more often; brace yourself for spring photos and more updates soon!