Corn Mache, The Sustainable Green

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This is my favorite hardy green as it’s the first to pop up in the spring here in the Pacific Northwest. If you don’t know what corn mache (Valerianella locusta) is, Google it and you’ll find some people call it corn mache choux, mouse ears, or corn salad. It’s a super fancy French green, used in top restaurants, and yet it grows like crazy in my garden, self-seeding every year.

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I just love the stuff: as a substitute for baby spinach, in salads, in stir-fry, and as a bed of greens beneath any kind of organic meat we have for dinner. It has a creamy, nutty, slightly floral taste, but is very mild, so putting something flavorful on it works well as it compliments strong flavorings.

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Balsamic chicken thighs and asparagus on a bed of corn mache © Liesl Clark

We throw it in smoothies every morning this time of year. And I give it away to happy neighbors in the spring, who are hungry for anything green and fresh. Plant yourself a bed of corn mache, let a few go to seed, and next year you’ll thank yourself for the effort as this lovely little veggie, like arugula and jerusalem artichokes,  will be come a perennial springtime friend.

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It takes a little extra effort to wash as grit can get down inside. I just soak the little florets in a big bowl of water and submerge them before pulling them out. Seems to work just fine!

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Easy Scrappy Vegetable Broth

Our kitchen compost container is full most days because we eat a lot of vegetables. Even though we give carrots, lettuce, broccoli etc. to our guinea pig, and many other kitchen scraps to our hens, I’m still amazed at how many veggie and fruit scraps still go into the compost pile. But then a discussion in our BuyNothing7 group (a group that challenges people to buy nothing for 7 days, or longer) got me thinking: Before I send my most scrappy vegetables to the compost pile, I should turn them into veggie broth.

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I’m not talking about your big chunks of carrot (that go to the guinea pig) or whole cloves of garlic (which we use up ourselves.) I’m referring to the paper skin on the garlic (which has many uses), the ends of the carrots, the skins off my onions (which also have many uses) and the leaves and bitter hearts of my celery. Throw those scrappiest of scraps into a pot of boiling water, with a bay leaf, your favorite herbs, and a pinch of salt, let it simmer for an hour and you’ve rendered yourself some yummy broth to use as a base for a soup, in chili, or in any recipe that calls for broth.

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Then, you can take your over-cooked vegetables, once you’ve filtered out the broth, and send those to the compost. Scrappy veggie broth in zero waste style!

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Vegan Parsley Pesto

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© Liesl Clark

It was January 12th, the ground was frozen solid, and I harvested parsley from my garden! If this hardy herb can withstand 26 degree temps, then that’s a green I want in my body. Parsley provides so many nutritional benefits, including vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, choline, folates, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and copper, to name a few.

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A January harvest of deep greens. © Liesl Clark

Here’s a quick and easy recipe for parsley pesto that goes well with myriad dishes, and it’s perfect for a Whole30 diet. It’s quickly becoming my go-to sauce for most dishes. I’ve used it on Mexican food, Italian foods, and as my savory sauce to throw on eggs in the morning.

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Scrambled eggs and baby spinach with parsley pesto. Fried bananas, too! © Liesl Clark

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The dish, above, all mixed together. © Liesl Clark

Parsley Pesto

1 Large bunch of parsley

5 Cloves garlic

2 Serrano peppers, roasted. (I roast them right over the stove and then sweat them in a paper bag.) Remove the seeds.

Juice of half a lemon

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 Cup olive oil

Throw it all in your Vitamix, Cuisinart, or blender and blend until almost smooth.

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Green goodness. © Liesl Clark

I put it on poached salmon the other night and it was so delicious!

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Mango avocado salsa with fried green plantains and poached salmon. I used 3 sauces to try with this dish: parsley pesto, homemade ketchup, and homemade mayo. The pesto was the tastiest! © Liesl Clark

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.

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?!

50 Things To Never Buy

50 Things You Never Have to Buy

A few months ago, I posted 10 items we no longer buy and have had a resounding response. Well, they were actually 20 items, since the original list of 10 came from Suburban Pioneers. I’ve decided to up the ante and compile a list of 50 items you could cross off your shopping list. I’ll start at 50 and work my way down to the first 10 listed by Suburban Pioneers.

Here goes:

50) Bottled Water: Let’s just not ever buy bottled water unless we absolutely have to. Ok? With a little forethought, there’s no need to buy water packaged in plastic.

Bottled Water for Sale

49) Air:  Who buys air? Apparently the air is so bad in Beijing, the Chinese do.

48) Note paper: Notes can be written down on any scrap paper. We write notes on the backside of letters with only one side printed, that come in the mail: envelopes, anything with room for a few paragraphs, a list, or some doodles.

47) Wrapping Paper: There are so many wonderful alternatives to wrapping paper, including cloth, paper bags, your children’s artwork, and chip bags. We have a stash of reusable cloth bags that I make each year to use as gift bags. We save wrapping paper, too, and reuse it and reuse it and…

Chip Bag Gift Bag

Chip bag turned gift bag.

46) Fly Paper: We’ve started making our own sweet fly paper and it works most of the time..

Hanging out to dry. Photo © Liesl Clark

45) Pot Scrubbers: Crumpled up aluminum foil works. Really. Don’t laugh. It totally works.

44) Planters: Almost anything can be converted into a planter — you just have to use your imagination. If it can hold anything, it can be a planter. I’ve seen bras and toilets as planters, bike helmets, and baby shoes. Here are 5 planters that I photographed while in Nepal.

43) Trellises: As above, trellises are a garden feature that can include whimsical reuse. Here are 25 beautiful trellises you can make from your trash.

42) Chicken Bedding: We use cut grass, dried leaves, roadside grass and — our favorite — shredded paper.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

41) Yogurt Maker: Skip the yogurt maker and make your own in glass jars. It’s easy.

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Off-The-Grid Yogurt Over The Pilot Light ©Liesl Clark

40) Window Washing Liquid: Vinegar and water works perfectly, along with newspaper instead of microfiber rags or paper towels.

No-Smudge Newspaper Method. Photo © Liesl Clark

39) Laundry Detergent: Try this DIY recipe and save some money.

38) Dish soap: Here’s a DIY Dish Soap recipe that’ll surprise you.

37) Salad Dressings: Remember simple balsamic and olive oil dressings? Just make your own delicious dressings in a jar. They get better with age and will give you no excuse for not eating your greens. Try our favorite recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

36) Fire Starters: These are so easy to make and they make excellent gifts.

35) Balloons: If you visit Balloons Blow on the Web, you’ll understand why you never want to buy them again. And as an alternative, try a pretty no-sew bunting.

34) Saran Wrap: We never use plastic food wrap any more, now that there’s the ultimate reusable alternative.

33) Gift Tags: We’ve been known, come Christmas, to repurpose last year’s cards as gift tags. You can do the same with all the pretty cards you receive throughout the year — turn them into tags to add to your gifts.

32) Padded Envelopes: We receive so many of these throughout the year, and reuse them of course, that we even give away in our local Buy Nothing group a box or 2 to other local businesses that can reuse them.

Don't Buy New! Reuse Your Padded Envelopes.

31) Christmas Ornaments: Ornaments are one of the sweetest items to make, as they’re treasured year after year. It’s a family tradition.

Click Through For Trash Backwards Trash to Treasure Ornament Roundup in our app!

30) All-Purpose Cleaner: Orange peels and vinegar will style you with an all-purpose cleaner you’ll love.

DIY All-Purpose Household Cleaner

29) Fruit Vinegar: Fruit scrap vinegar is one of the DIY recipes that’s really changed my buying habits. I make a better apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and blackberry vinegar than I can buy in the store.

Vinegars Photo © Liesl Clark

28) Potatoes, Arugula: If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand this. When you inadvertently leave a potato or two in your garden, you end up with more next year. Same goes for arugula which always goes to seed in our garden. We never have to replant it. So we simply don’t buy it.

27) Garlic Crusher: In a pinch, use a wide knife to whack at your garlic cloves. Or, go caveman-style as I do and find a great stone for crushing.

Garlic Crushing Pestle.jpg Photo © Liesl Clark

26) Furniture/Floor protectors: So many items can be used to protect your floors from the scratching legs of your furniture. Flip flops are one among many.

25) Silica Gel: We get a lot of silica gel through products that are sent to my husband for his work and then give it away. Silica gel has so many uses! If you need it, just ask on your Buy Nothing group and you’ll likely find plenty.

Silica Gel, Photo by Liesl Clark

24) Beach Toys: So many beach toys are washed up on our beaches, obviously left behind by others, I’d love to see people simply stop buying them. There are great alternatives to buying these redundant plastic items.

Metal beach toys from the thrift shop, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

23) String: We rarely buy string anymore, because we aren’t ashamed to say we salvage it from all sorts of items, like our chicken feed sacks.

22) Doorstops: Get creative with your doorstops and you’ll find joy in refraining to buy one.

Boot Doorstop © Rebecca Rockefeller

21) Easter Egg Dye: We discovered a great reuse for an Easter egg dye that we’ll definitely use again — magic markers! Whether they’re used up or not, soaking them in water for a while doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Use your dried up Non-Toxic Markers for Easter Egg Dye

20) Paper towels: Um, use cloth ones.

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Hair ties: Look in every parking lot and on any sidewalk and you’re bound to find a hair tie or 2. I mean it, they’re everywhere. I find them on trails in the woods, too.

Hair Ties and Hair Clips Recovered From the Parking Lots and Sidewalks of the World. Just wash them. Photo © LIesl Clark

18) Pens: As above, look in every parking lot and on the side walks. Pens are everywhere.

Pens Recovered on Puget Sound Beaches

17) Ribbons: Simply look on every shoreline and ribbon can be found there.

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

16) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or bubble wrap:  (Just ask for it on your Buy Nothing group.)

15) Ziploc bags: Wash them.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

14) Plastic children’s toys: Just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3.

13) Books: Of course, I do support buying books from your favorite author, but for many of the books you’ll need throughout the year, use your library!

12) Plastic straws: Plastic straws are a scourge upon the land and water. Use your lips, or find a glass, bamboo, or metal alternative.

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

11) Cigarette Lighters: Plastic cigarette lighters replace matches way too often. We still collect cool looking matchbooks from bars and restaurants.

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

(For these last 10, be sure to visit Suburban Pioneers for their full post)

10) Post-Its

9) Plastic Funnels

8) Microwavable Neck Pillow

7) Pet Fur Remover (Brush or Stone)

6) Travel Toiletry Containers

5) Rubber Bands

4) Reusable Grocery Bags

3) Pet Poo Bags

2) Cleaning Rags

1) Plastic Leftovers Containers

What can you add to our list?  Enjoy your frugal living!

Eat Your Brassicas, Flowers And All

Kale florets are sweeter than broccoli raab. Photo © Liesl Clark

If you’re a gardener, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Can you eat the flower heads of your brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, arugula, mustard)? Yes! As my friend Rebecca says, “We just call it “raab.”” It’s like broccoli raab but much sweeter in the case of kale and collards which we’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks. And if you don’t believe me, visit the Mixed Greens Blog where you’ll learn more about the wonders of the brassica family.

Kale flowers pinched off to make the plant produce more! Photo © Liesl Clark

Brassica florets, leaves, stems are all good for you. Even the yellow flowers themselves can be added to salads for color. These versatile veggies house nutrients that help protect you against prostrate, bladder, colon, pancreatic and breast cancers. We simply consider them among our “deep greens” family, easy to grow in most climates and hence worth finding great recipes for.

Saute brassica florets and leaves in garlic and olive oil. Photo © Liesl Clark

I pinch off the flower heads before they actually flower and they’re just like broccoli flowerets which can go in salads, omelets, macaroni and cheese, quiches, you name it! Pinch right down to the leaves and new florets will resprout. As long as you don’t let your plant flower completely the florets don’t get too bitter.

Once your brassicas flower the leaves become more bitter. But the honey bees love the flowers and the flowers work nicely in a salad. Prolong the life of your brassicas! Photo © Liesl Clark

I guess it’s a sign of not being able to let go, but these brassica flower heads are too delicious not to harvest and they extend our food crops sometimes indefinitely. We do let a few plants flower just to keep the honey bees happy. One winter, I fed my family off of 4 brassicas the entire winter: the leaves, the stems, the florets, and then the flowers in salads. Seeds, too, are edible. We simply let the bees do their collecting of pollen and watch the flowers turn to seeds which drop to the ground and I never plant brassicas again. They resprout all over the garden. A perennial self-sustaining food forest that could feed many families for years to come.

Home made macaroni and cheese with sauteed kale florets. Photo © Liesl Clark

Enjoy your brassica florets and do share your favorite recipes with us so we can extend our brassica bravado into new culinary adventures.

IMG_4541 Photo © Liesl Clark