Breakfast Nut Bars

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We were hungry for something new at breakfast-time, and my mostly-vegetarian family just loves nuts. Inspired by Our Paleo Life, we were able to come up with a recipe that is better than any Kind Bar we’ve bought. These nut bars are perfection, and have become a family breakfast or snack-time staple. This recipe, like all my recipes, is meant to be played with, to suit your palate and what’s in your cupboards:

Use any combination of the following nuts, to reach a total of about 6 cups:

Almonds

Walnuts

Pecans

Pumpkin Seeds

Hazelnuts

Chop nuts into smaller sizes, so you have pieces of nuts that’ll stick together well in a bar.

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Add:

3/4 Cup Flax Seeds

1/2 Cup Toasted Coconut

1/2 Cup Rolled Oats

1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt (I use a Fleur de Sel)

1/4 Cup Cacao

1/2 – 1 Cup Agave

1/2 Cut Raisins

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter

3-4 Tablespoons Molasses

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

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Mix everything together in a bowl and place the mixture into a glass baking dish lined with parchment paper that comes up the sides.

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Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Press the mixture down with your overlapped parchment when you pull it out of the oven, to compress the bar mixture. Pull out the square mixture with the parchment paper sides and place on a wire rack to let it cool for 30 minutes. Press your large square again when your mixture has cooled and then turn the whole thing over and place on another square of parchment so the bottom is facing up.

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Cut your nut mixture into bars and wrap individually for snacks!

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Family Holiday Activity Calendar

Each December, we have a family tradition of creating an advent-style “advent-ure” calendar filled with special activities we can do each day in the run-up to the holidays. No matter what your faith, this idea is centered on togetherness and creating traditions of giving, gratitude, receiving, hope, and help. We intersperse giving with days of gratitude and creative outlets for each of us, whether we like to take pictures, draw, cook, or be outdoors.

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I found a little pagan-like Santa humanoid figure being thrown away by a neighbor one year and rescued him, his pockets perfect for our family holiday adventure calendar. Before I found him, I had made a calendar with pockets that we hung each year on the back of a closet door. Every morning in December, the kids still run downstairs to see what’s in the pocket with the day’s date on it.

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I’ve included a sample list of activities below, as a guide, if you’re interested in creating an advent-ure calendar for your family. Each year, we tailor our activities to special interests the kids might have. Enjoy your time together, and remember, you can do this any time of year!

  1. String popcorn for the birds and place outside on trees.
  2. Pick someone to be a secret Santa or secret gift-giver for, and give them a gift anonymously.
  3. Make a Holiday Wish List, with at least 2 things on it that don’t benefit you directly, and put it inside your stocking or on the mantle or kitchen counter.
  4. Search for a Christmas Tree in the National Forest as part of their fire-prevention Christmas tree cutting program. Oh, and get a permit for taking 3 trees so you can cut down 2 more to give to local families. Or, do something similar, like forcing an amaryllis bulb for later enjoyment in the spring.
  5. Trim the tree, and sip eggnog, or decorate your home with any natural holiday decor collected outside.
  6. Make holiday cards and mail them, today.
  7. Make Candles for your teachers, to light their new year.
  8. Make presents like bath salts, vinegars, hot chocolate mixes.
  9. Holiday party with friends and neighbors!
  10. Drive to nearest ski area, have a yummy dinner out, and snuggle down at a B&B.
  11. Ski, or sled, or make a snow man.
  12. Make ornaments, make hand-made gifts, have a Red and Green Dinner tonight, share holiday stories.
  13. Make a Wreath.
  14. Do a shoe drive and pack the shoes into duffel bags to take to Nepal.
  15. Choose a dish, or a dinner, that you will make for everyone over the holidays.
  16. Walk around the neighborhood together tonight with hot cocoa and see the lights.
  17. Sleep by the fire under the tree, or sit outside for an hour and watch the stars together.
  18. Write out 10 things you’re grateful for and tuck your list into the tree or on the mantle.
  19. Give $20 of allowance money to a charity of your choice.
  20. Deliver homemade gifts to the neighbors.
  21. Family Movie Night!
  22. Post something hand-made as a gift on your local Buy Nothing group.
  23. Make Gingerbread Houses and be sure to give them to the chickens, or a Buy Nothing neighbor who has chickens when you’re done with them.
  24. Bake Gingerbread cookies to put out for Santa, or place them on a neighbor’s doorstep.
  25. It’s Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever the holiday, so go for a family hike and be sure to hold hands and do a race, skipping.bt0c3749What would you add to this list for your family and community to enjoy? I’d love to compile more ideas for a bigger list for all families to enjoy!

20 Wine Cork Uses

25 Reuses For Natural Wine Corks. Photo © Liesl Clark

Wine corks have a natural mystique. There’s something attractive about those stoppers of cork once they’re released from a bottle of fine wine. And when you’ve accumulated a few, cork projects come to mind. One of the first DIY projects I made for my first home was a cork board out of a frame of recycled old painted wood found at the dump in Aspen, Colorado. It was such a thing of beauty, I made several of them, collecting corks from local restaurants, and I sold them to a shabby chic antique barn.

Before I start in with this list, I feel compelled to bring attention to the fact that cork is a renewable recyclable material. Recycling your cork through Recork or Cork Forest will keep your cork out of the landfill and result in cork flooring and other cool products made of cork like shoes. Each organization can point you to your nearest recycler or you can take corks to a bin at Whole Foods Markets since they have a partnership with Cork ReHarvest.

The cork forests of Portugal are one of the oldest forms of sustainable agroforestry in the world. They’ve been in production since the 13th century and harvesting of the cork does not require cutting down the tree. Buying wines that use natural instead of plastic corks helps sustain these forests and their biodiverse habitats that need continued protection. But how do you know which wines have natural corks? There’s now a web app for that!  Put out by Recork, I love this app called CorkWatch. I did a search for my favorite local winery, Eleven Winery, and found that all of their wines are corked with natural cork. Kendall-Jackson by contrast has a Reserve chardonnay in natural cork and their less expensive everyday chardonnay in plastic.

Although there’s risk of getting a wine with cork taint if you sample a natural cork wine, I still prefer purchasing a plastic-free wine. We know plastics leach BPA into liquids and there is good evidence showing that the plastic corks are not allowing wines to mature properly. Recork’s CorkWatch is helping me reduce my plastic footprint. Furthermore, Cork Forest Conservation Alliance has a method of identification on the bottles themselves which some wineries are using: If you see an acorn on the bottle it means the cork is natural.

If you have accumulated some plastic corks, apparently the industry says you can recycle them. Of course our recycler won’t take them. I couldn’t find any information whether Seattle takes them and Earth911 had zero results for a recycler in our region. Hmmm. I think I’ll stick with traditional cork.

Ok, so you want to do something cool with your saved natural corks rather than recycle them? Here are a few ideas.

1) Wine Cork Cork Board: It’s as simple as gluing the corks against particle board with a frame around it. I use wood glue.

2) Wine Cork Pot Grippers: I squeeze them inside the handles of my cookware so I can pick up the pot tops when they’re hot without the need of a pot holder. Corks don’t conduct heat so these cork handles have become a staple in our kitchen.

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3) Cork Stamps: If you’re good with an exacto knife, try carving some stamps.

4) Bulletin Bar: Line up your corks and glue them to a yardstick. This makes a yard-long bar for pinning things like your children’s art.

5) Cork Placemat: With 50 corks, a utility knife, and a hot glue gun you’ll have a cork placemat in no time (Okay, it’ll take some time.)

6) Cork Plant Labels: Cork looks natural in the garden labelled with the names of your veggies and herbs you’ve planted.

7) Furniture Leg & Floor Protector: Little cork disks make great furniture leg pads to protect your wood floors from scratches.

8) Wine Cork Key Chains: They might keep your keys afloat!

9) Cork Centerpiece: If you have a large glass bowl and a tea light you can make a pretty cork centerpiece.

10) Cork Trivet: Cork is a great material for making a trivet.

11) Cork Backsplash: If you have a wet bar, a cork backsplash would look great.

12) Cork Ornaments: Corks and beads make pretty Christmas ornaments.

13) Wine Cork Wine Coasters: They might be a bit wobbly for your wine glass but the do look cool.

14) Cork Wreath: Even wreaths can be made from wine corks. Next thing you know, you’ll be able to make a planter out of wine corks.

15) Wine Cork Bird House: This video shows you how to do it. Doesn’t look tough.

16) Wine Cork Place Card Holder: These aren’t difficult to make and they leave a great impression.

17) Wine Cork Curtain: Alas, I can’t find a decent tutorial, but imagine stringing corks and beads together to create a 60’s-ish curtain of cork-strings in your doorway.

18) Wine Cork Base Board: This Old House shows you how to make a base board runner made of wine corks.

19) Wine Cork Dog Leash: Really! And it’s not hard to make.

20) Plant Pot Moisture Absorbers: This one is 2 ideas in 1. You can place corks in the bottom of your large pots to reduce the amount of potting soil you need to put in while providing drainage. But you can also grind up some corks in your vitamix and put the bits in your soil to help hold moisture on hot days.

How To Recycle Plastic Bags

Let’s talk polyethylene, or plastic bags. They’re stretchable plastic bags, or film, that are #2 or #4 plastics. Amazingly, most people don’t recycle them, but you can. These things just never go away, so doing your best to not acquire them in the first place is a tall order, but well worth it. And then, reusing them as much as you can until you have to recycle them is your best course of action.

Most supermarkets have a recycle bin where you can take your polyethylene or plastic bags. The most common polyethylene bags are plastic bags that you get at the grocery store, but there are many more items that you might otherwise throw away that can be recycled in polyethylene recycling. Let’s review them in a simple list, below.

When you take your bags to get recycled, simply stuff the rest of the polyethylene from your life into that bag to get recycled, too. But please remember: Recycling plastic bags is not a closed-loop system. Best to think about ways to avoid it altogether.

Ok, Here’s the List of Plastic Bags/Film That Can Go In Your Plastic Bag Recycling Bin

Grocery Bags: On our island, we’re lucky these things have been banned. So, they’re few and far between.

Bread Bags: Some bread comes in polyethylene. Be sure to recycle them when you’re done reusing them. And if you want to reduce this plastic altogether, try my fail-proof bread recipe. It’s a staple in our home.

Air Bags for Shipping and Bubblewrap: Definitely reuse these, or offer them up on your local Buy Nothing group. People and businesses who ship items often are always happy to take them off your hands.

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Ziploc Bags: If you use resealable bags that have those zipperlike locks on them, just rip that hard block off of your bag and recycle the bag. I’m proud to say I haven’t bought resealable bags in years because I clean, dry, and reuse what I have.

Garment Bags: Man, that’s a lot of polyethylene. Maybe your dry cleaner will take them back if you keep them clean.

Mail Order Clothing Bags: My husband works for a clothing company and we get samples from them every week. They all come in polyethylene bags. Bothers me.

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Beverage Shrink Wrap: These are usually clean and can just be thrown right into recycling. This excessive packaging is disturbing.

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Newspaper Bags: Digital subscriptions are looking a lot more eco-friendly these days.

Magazine Covers: Be sure to remove the paper address label and recycle that paper label, or throw it in your compost.

Frozen Food Bags: It’s super important that you wash and dry these bags so there’s no food residue inside.

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Cereal Box Liners: According to this website, you can recycle them.

Toilet Paper Roll Packaging: This is the one we can’t seem to avoid. I don’t like buying individually-paper-wrapped toilet paper rolls.

Paper Towel Packaging: Or, just skip them altogether.

Individual Kleenex Tissue Wrap: I found this in the woods on a hike. Using a handkerchief can go a long way toward reducing these kinds of plastics.

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Produce Bags: I reuse mine, taking them back to the store, and no one seems to care.

Plastic Shipping Envelopes: Just remove the sticky label. We reuse these, too.

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Trash Bags: These have to be clean and dry.

Wood Chip Plastic Baling: We used to use wood chips as bedding for our chickens (but now we use shredded paper.) This stuff is polyethylene! If you make sure it’s clean and dry, it can be recycled.

Little Hardware Bags For Nuts, Bolts, Screws, Etc: These little bags are what the hardware store provides for you when you buy bits of hardware in bulk.

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Furniture Wrap: This is film, and it should be recycled.

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What can’t be recycled? My rule of thumb is, if you can stretch your thumb through it, it’s polyethylene. But don’t include Saran Wrap/cling wrap. Apparently, that’s a different plastic (until recently, it was PVC.) If your plastic item crinkles, it’s not recyclable and you’ll have to throw it away. The risk of putting the wrong plastic into your recycling is that the recycler will reject the entire recycling container-full of bags. So, be sure you’re sending the right stuff to get recycled.

I’m a big believer in every office and classroom having a polyethylene bag recycling area, so long as a volunteer will take it to the supermarket for recycling every week or so. Imagine the impact you could have by doing this? It would reduce the waste-to-landfill by a lot, and save the school and office a bundle in solid waste pickup fees.

What can you add to my list?

 

A Trip To The Dentist And The Plastics Therein

Our Trip To The Dentist and the Plastics Therein. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Please don’t have him eat candy for a day.”

What? I was standing in a dentist’s office, and these were the first words out of the dental assistant’s mouth after my child had some ‘routine’ protective sealant put on his molars. No candy for a day? How about a month or 6? We don’t do candy all that regularly, so to hear her put the limit at 24 hours felt like a license, to my child, for everyday candy in the house, perhaps even a piece or 2 every 4-6 hours. Thank goodness that happy gas was still in effect, for he had a look of mirth on his face while he questioned me about it.

But what I want to know is this: Why is a dental office for children the purveyor of so much cheap plastic crap? This trip to the dentist was truly enlightening for us all — and has served to alter our trust in dental-care in general. I can give you 4 reasons why:

1) That little bin with the plastic junk in it, meant as “prizes” for even showing up at the dentist, was an early highlight. My kids both chose the same toy so they wouldn’t be jealous over the other’s better choice. Their choice x 2!?  A squeezable caterpillar that off-gases more toxic fumes than a PVC shower curtain.

2) Both children complained at how sick they felt from the sweetness of the stuff the dentist used to clean their teeth.

3) Quite disturbing for me was the amount of plastic we left with, each child carrying a little plastic bag filled with free stuff (see the photo above.) Here’s the short list of their freebies x 2:

— A new sample-size tube of Colgate toothpaste.

— A single-use plastic applicator flosser packaged in a plastic bag.

— A new plastic toothbrush complete with plastic packaging.

— A plastic baggy filled with those cool pink pills that show you how well you’re brushing, or not.

— A bigger plastic bag to hold all the plastic crap held in smaller plastic bags.

— A carton of dental floss (okay this one’s an acceptable freebie in my book as there are no plastic-free alternatives that I know of, yet.)

Well, the kids’ teeth got high marks for cavity-prevention from the dentist, yet I didn’t dare tell the dentist we use bamboo toothbrushes and make our own toothpaste mostly in an effort to reduce our plastic footprint. How is a family to keep up their standards of low-impact sustainable dental care after a visit like that? And we have to do this every 6 months?

On the drive home, as we sniffed our new PVC caterpillar toys now flung in the back of the car, I started wondering if my child truly needed those protective molar sealants in the first place? The molars looked good on the X-rays. “It’s optional, but we highly recommend it,” were the words of encouragement from our dental professional.

4) I looked up the sealant as soon as we got home to see what it was made of and, surprise of all surprises, it’s a plastic resin akin to those found in baby bottles, complete with the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA and pthalates. What have we done?! 

Now that I’m well-versed in the the debate over whether dental sealants are safe for kids, I’m kicking myself for not having had a clue. I, the mom who has spent the past 6 years divesting our home and bodies from plastics, opted to seal them into my child’s mouth. Anyone know if sealants can be unsealed without the use of toxic chemicals? Likely not.

33 Eggshell Reuses

33 Eggselent uses for your eggshells. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the heart of the summer, our chickens lay a dozen eggs for us a day. For a family of 4 with 14 hens, we go through a lot of eggs. Here are a few reuses for those hardy shells.

1) Garden Fertilizer/Compost: Throw your shells in your compost or yard waste bin if your municipal recyclers allow kitchen scraps in there. Try to crumble them as they’ll decompose more easily if you do. They add calcium and other minerals to your garden soil. I use a stone mortar and pestle by the composter to crush them. Some people even put them in the blender.

2) Worm Food: Our worm bin worms love egg shells. Truly. I find their eggs inside eggshell clusters.

3) Garden Pest Deterrent: Crush and spread them around your favorite plants. Some slugs, snails and cutworms just don’t like them so they won’t “cross the line.”

4) Pot Drainage: Crumble them up and add them to the bottom of potted plants that need drainage. Tomatoes and eggplants will love the added calcium to deter end rot.

5) Chicken Egg Hardener: If your chickens are laying eggs with soft shells feed them some…..eggshells. I know that sounds gross, but it helps give them a dose of calcium and the girls love it. Be sure to crush the shells. Chickens go on the shape of things for foraging so if they get used to eating egg-shaped goodies they’ll start eating their (gasp) own eggs.

6) Eggshell Candles: Yes! They’re beautiful and easy to make.

7) Homemade Space Geodes: These are really cool to make with the kids and they even glow in the dark.

8) Spring Flower Vase: These look quite beautiful with hyacinths held in an egg cup. I only have one chicken that lays white eggs, but seeing these makes me want to save all those white shells.

9) Organic Seedling Starter Pots: Just plant your seeds inside the shell (with potting soil too, of course you dummy), put the shell inside your cardboard egg carton, fill all the other egg carton cups up and you can plant the whole thing in your garden.

10) Egg Shell Succulent Planters: Make a lovely mini succulent garden using your egg shells and the carton, too.

11) Sidewalk Chalk: Big sticks of sidewalk chalk are easy to make and you can use a toilet paper tube roll as your mold and just peel it off.

12) Science Eggsperiments: Here are 10 cool science-y experiments for your child to try with eggs. Fun!

13) Calcium Supplement: Skip the pills and simply bake your shells at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind them to a fine powder. Add your supplement (a teaspoon or less) to your favorite smoothie or juice once a day.

14) Pet Calcium Supplement: Do the same as above but just add the powder to their food.

15) Egg Shell Mosaics: You can make beautiful mosaics with Easter egg shells or from ones you dye just for this project.

16) Drain Cleaner: Occasionally send a few crushed-up egg shells down the drain. They can help keep it unclogged by their abrasive action.

17) Egg Shell Decor: Getting in the Easter spirit? Try this idea of hanging your egg shells from a tree as a pretty accent.

18) Instant Bandaid: This one’s my favorite. Technically, you’re using the inner membrane of the shell. Tear a bandaid-size piece of it from your egg shell and place it over your ow-ie. By overlapping the 2 ends together, they stick and will stop the bleeding, too. Love it.

19) Vanilla Custard Pots: Serve up your vanilla custard in natural egg shells.

20) Egg Shell Frame: Make a cool modpodge picture frame with egg shells.

21) Christmas Ornaments: If you blow your eggs out you can turn the shells into pretty ornaments.

22) Abrasive Cleaner: Crush them to a coarse texture and use them to scrub down your pots.

23) De-Bitter Your Coffee: If your coffee is too bitter, add finely crushed egg shell powder to your coffee filter and your joe will taste smoother and sweeter.

24) Bird Food: Add some crushed shells to your bird seed mix. The birds need calcium, too.

25) Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner: Feed some to your garbage disposal. They are an eggsellent cleaner and sharpener for it.

26) Soup Stock Booster: Add egg shells to your soup stock when boiling it. The nutrients can’t hurt.

27) Garden Walkway Addition: I add crushed shells to a garden path made of white gravel and sea shells. The egg shells just blend right in and hopefully deter the slugs, feed the birds, amend the soil, etc, etc. I guess I like walking on egg shells.

28) Stain Remover: According to Apartment Therapy crushed egg shells can help remove stains in your sink, on your tea pot and from other kitchen or household items.

29) Laundry Whitener: Some say that if you toss some shells in a mesh bag in your laundry, the gray tint to your whites will disappear.

30) Sensory Play: Egg shells make great sensory play items for your toddler.

31) Eggshell Toothpaste: That just about says it all — follow the directions in the link. My daughter and I are going to make some this weekend.

32) Cute Halloween Ghost Decoration: They hang like wind chimes but look like little ghosts on the breeze.

33) Try the Walking on Eggs Experiment: Want to make eggs into eggshells fast? Try this! No, seriously, this experiment conducted by a 6-year-old is a pictorial essay worth checking out.

Now that you’ve reused your egg shells so nicely, what to do with those egg cartons?!

How to Catch Fruit Flies

Fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans, so scientists love studying fruit fly genetics to learn more about scenarios  of  human resistance to disease. But let’s face it, other than in the lab, we really don’t like having these 3mm-long flies in our midst. Females can lay up to 50 eggs per day in your worn-out fruit and in drains and sponges. This time of the year, a kitchen with any overnight wine glasses left unattended will bring about a few hundred fruit flies in no time.

Relief is here, in the form of advice from by big brother. This trick is so simple, and it works. Bryn demonstrated it, and my kitchen has been thanking him ever since.

Make yourself a fruit fly funnel with paper. I just used some scrap paper from an art project my daughter left on the counter.

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Place the funnel in a glass jar with a few tablespoons of wine or vinegar inside. Leftover red wine has worked really well for me. And, that’s it! Just leave the funnel jar on the counter and it will attract the unwanted flies quickly and thoroughly. It’s a bit like Hotel California: The fruit flies can check in any time they want, but they can never leave.

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See the little fly there? Proof! I even poured the wine through the funnel and some of it stained the paper and, frankly, I think that helps to attract more flies. I don’t see any fruit flies flying around my kitchen anymore and this jar is sitting right next to some very ripe fruit.

What are your fruit fly trap ideas?