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.”

The (Food) Love of my Life

Hummus.  How did I live 20 years without you?  Your versatility, deliciousness and general sassiness make you a fantastic complement to sandwiches, crackers, pita.. Let’s be honest here.. I eat hummus on its own.  It wasn’t until this year that I attempted (along with my JVC housemates) to make my own hummus and let me tell you.. its a grand time.  Lots of tweaking it involved but its been a beautiful friendship since the very beginning.  Here’s my super simple go-to recipe:

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From The Moosewood Cookbook:

  • 2 to 3 medium cloves garlic, sliced
  • large handful of parsley (super easy to grow yourself!)
  • 2 healthy scallions, in 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 15 1/2 oz. cans, rinsed and well drained or soak dried beans)
  • 6 tbs. tahini (found in specialty aisle, ground sesame seeds)
  • 6 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 to 1 tsp. salt, to taste
  • optional: cayenne and cumin, to taste

Place garlic, parsley and scallions in a food processor or blender and mince

Add chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and salt, and puree to a thick paste.  (You can also do the mincing and mashing by hand.  The hummus will have a coarser texture, but that can be nice, too.  My note: We did not have a blender that worked in my house last year so all mashing was done by hand.. it was coarse for sure but made for a nice arm workout!)

Season to taste, if desired, with cayenne and cumin and correct salt if necessary.  Tansfer to a tightly lidded container and chill, not before lots of taste tests of course.

My favorite pairings are carrots, pita chips, crackers and red wine.  The red wine is a necessity.