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.

The Farming Game

I’m currently sitting in a beautiful little coffee shop, wishing I was outside in the sunshine.  Instead, I am chained to the ol’ MacBook, writing cover letters and resumes because in case ya didn’t know.. I’m in need of a job. (Anyone out there looking for a fun and sassy girl to hire for gardening/environmental education/comedic purposes?) I digress..

There’s a board game here called The Farming Game; anybody ever heard of it?  I hadn’t and when I did a little research, I found its a 30+ year old brainchild of a Washington state rancher named George Rohrbacker.  After several difficult years of harvest, Rohrbacker was the owner of an ailing farm and created this board game to educate folks about the economics and unknowns of running a small farm.  Similar to Monopoly, the game’s objective is to raise money by harvesting crops and selling livestock as you move around the board.

As in 1979, it is still very difficult, if not more so, to be the owner of a small farm.  The Prince of Wales spoke at Georgetown University today at a conference about the future of food and sustainable agriculture; from the New York Times:

In China and India, soil is being washed away at 40 times the rate at which it can be replenished. And he said that while two billion people were hungry or malnourished, one billion others were overweight or obese.

“It is an increasingly insane picture,” the Prince of Wales said.

He said that organic, locally grown food accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of sales in the United States and Europe because it remains more expensive than food produced by industrial methods. One of the reasons for the huge price discrepancy, he said, is that governments encouraged large-scale corporate farming through a variety of subsidies.

These include direct support like payments to farmers and tariffs on imported agricultural goods and indirect subsidies by not charging for the external costs of such farming methods, like air and water pollution and emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

Food writer Eric Schlosser and environmental legend Wendell Berry also spoke at the conference.. talk about a dream team.  Another group of dedicated people that I am so UNBELIEVABLY PSYCHED about is the team over at Fresh & Fancy Farms in New Milford, NJ.

Meg Low is a fantastic gal (and fellow Holy Angels alum, holla) who, with family and friends, has purchased Klinger Farms and is in the process of refurbishing and kickstarting a great new farm:

What we are looking to do is encourage the community to buy local produce, but also inspire them to get together, eat healthy and cook healthy. Moving forward we would like to bring together the community and local businesses to create events, workshops, etc… teaching kids about eating green, how to cook with fresh local herbs, how to plant the prettiest flower boxes on the block. The idea is to create a space for people to be inspired, learn, create, get outside and teach their peers.

Sounds like a WIN to me, Fresh & Fancy!  Look for Meg’s guest blog post later this week about the farm and their opening day for Mother’s Day weekend.. get out there and meet your neighbors, get some fresh flowers and love living local, New Jersey!

You Oughta Know…

My wonderful blogging guru/buddy Jen and I have been chatting about blogs, themes, fonts, posts and all other wonderful blog related things this week.. (I’ve had a lot of in-office time this week.. go figure) I am newly inspired to blog more often about more than just trees.

Fairfield University's 2010 installation for

Here are some folks that you should know, doing great things for our world:

  1. Jen Clinton: Blogger extraordinaire Jen lives in Massachusetts and is the newest blogger for her home state on Mother Nature Network; check out her first post!  Jen helped to move me along on my environmental path, keeps me informed and generally just kicks ass.  She’s going to grad school at UConn in the fall and I know her coworkers at SFS are going to miss her.. but I know she’ll keep us all updated with her Greener State of Mind.
  2. Stiv Wilson: Another environmental badass, but this one is based in Portland, OR.  Wilson is a huge proponent and major player in banning those annoying plastic bags state-wide in Oregon, which is a big deal because it would make Oregon the first state to do so.  He has sailed over 14,000 nautical miles in the last year to document the plastic plaguing our oceans AND he’s best friends with Decemberists frontman, Colin Meloy.  Can we say triple threat?
  3. Vandana Shiva: Philosopher, environmental activist and eco-feminist are just a few of the many hats that this wonderful lady wears.  Founder of Navdanya International, which aims to defend and protect the rights of people and their access to food, water, dignified jobs and livelihoods, Dr. Shiva is a pillar in the world of activism, food rights and human welfare.
  4. Students at Pacific Grove Elementary School: Students at this Northern California school decided to take action to help their friends in Japan by launching a campaign called One Million Cranes.  Students hope to enlist 1,000 other schools across the nation in folding 1,000 cranes each. They’re hoping the public will donate $1 for each crane, thus raising $1 million for Japan.
  5. Van Jones: Another fantastic environmental and civil rights activist, who I first became aware of at Powershift 2009. Jones has founded three great non-profits including Green For All, dedicated to building an inclusive green economy to lift people out of poverty.  They do this by working in partnership with public and private investors to create quality green jobs and supporting projects and people all over the U.S. like Albert and his career with Clean Energy Works Portland.
  6. Tom Philpott: One of the snarkiest people I follow on Twitter, Philpott is Grist‘s senior food and agriculture writer.  His work on food politics shows up everywhere and he is a great advocate for sustainable food education and a co-founder of Maverick Farms. Check out his latest piece on the need for an alliance of all people against CAFOs, or confined animal feeding operations; I’m all for vegan/omnivore alliances!
  7. Bill McKibben: One of the nation’s most prominent environmentalists and authors on all things related to climate change, activism and alternative energies.  McKibben is the founder of, one of the largest global movements for climate change awareness in the world with over 5,000 actions in over 180 countries.  (Fairfield has participated the past two years.. heck yeah!)
  8. Chris Jordan: Visual artist and awareness raiser, Jordan runs the numbers of our consumerist American culture with large format artwork paired with amazing statistics.  Check out his photos of the plastics plaguing Midway albatross.

(Credit: Chris Jordan)