Paper Bag Cast Iron Skillet Cleaner

We stopped buying paper towels years ago. Never really needed them.

And since we were eating mostly vegetarian meals, we rarely had the dilemma of what to do with a greasy cast iron skillet. Now that we eat bacon occasionally, because we’ve reintroduced a little locally-produced organic meat now and then, we have to contend with the leftover grease. We’ve used a few rags on the grease and just wash the rags, but that isn’t the best use for the rag.

And then, one day a week or so ago, I posted a dozen lunch-bag size bags to give away in my local Buy Nothing group. (I save these little bags whenever they somehow make their way into our house, and the kids use them when they go on school field trips.) A member immediately posted a comment explaining that he uses those thin lunch bags to sop up his bacon grease. It was an “aha” moment for me.

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Here’s what he wrote:

“If you have a new, or not-so-well-seasoned pan, a thicker bag will leave little micro fragments of paper. So generally, the smoother the pan and the finer quality of the bag, the better it works. Newspaper is completely unworkable because it’s such lo’grade.”

I decided to keep the bags, and now I have a small stash of little brown bags I can use to clean out my cast iron skillet when it gets a little too greasy. The thin bag is pretty darn absorbent.

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I throw in a little Celtic sea salt to scrub the bottom of the pan with the crumpled up bag, and the salt acts as a perfect scrubbing agent.

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No need to run soap and water over the well-seasoned skillet. And the pan is ready for its next job.

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The greasy bag goes into our next fire as fire-starter or we just toss it in our compost.

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Save those little bags for jobs like this!

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

20 Nettle Uses: A Forest Superfood

There’s likely no other wild plant that marks the beginning of spring growth than the wild nettle, urtica. Urtica is a forest superfood, full of vitamins and health benefits that can alleviate allergies, dry scalps and skin, and a long list of diseases that I’ll simply link you to here since Mother Earth News has it covered.

We all know that nettles come with an unpleasant sting if you brush up against the leaves. But with some care, a.k.a gloves and tongs, you can harvest wild nettles, steam them (this removes the sting in about 6 seconds), and have the foundation for one of the most nutritious greens you’ll ever have in your kitchen. Go forth and harvest these stingers, dry them or steam them up, puree them, bake them, or just put them in jars in your freezer for future use in the recipes I’ve collected below.

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1) Drying Nettles and the Basics: For starters, I want to link you to this great article on how to safely forage for nettles and also dry and store them. I’m a big believer in using all the naturally-edible natively-growing greens around you, rather than going to the store and buying greens grown elsewhere.

2) Nettle Beer: From what I’ve read, this is more like a wine. Easy to make, and quite tasty.

3) Nettle Chips: Move over kale! It’s time for us to embrace stinging nettle chips. These. Are. To. Die. For. (And I promise, you won’t die, you’ll just want more.)

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4) Stinging Nettle Fritters: These look incredibly delicious. I don’t have to say much more.

5) Stinging Nettle Mayonnaise: Want to add a bit of zing to your mayo? This is a recipe worth trying.

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6) Fermented Nettle Kimchi: We’re big kimchi makers and eaters. I just can’t wait to try this recipe this weekend. It’s right up our alley.

7) Black Strap Nettle Syrup: This ought to cure what ails you, yet another recipe that I know will come in handy for my family as we grow ever-closer to living off our land.

8) Wild Nettle Mini-Cakes With Strawberry Lemon Icing: If the name of this recipe doesn’t have your mouth watering, just check out the photos from this beautiful blog.

9) Nettle Recipes For Hair, Skin, & Nails: If you’re looking for a deep infusion of green to help bring you back into balance while providing nutrients for your hair, skin, and nails? This article is for you.

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10) Portable Allergy Tonic: Have troubles with seasonal allergies? This tonic promises relief.

11) Nettle Vinegar: This one caught my attention because we make all our own vinegars. Adding nettles makes a lot of sense, given their health benefits.

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12) Nettle and Lemon Cake with Blackberries and Lemon Icing: If you’re planning a birthday party for a child, this might be a great way to sneak in some greens! The lemon icing adds just the right zing to match the nettle color.

13) Wild Onion and Nettle Soup: We make this every spring and freeze as much as we can. This soup is just about as close as you’ll ever come to “drinking spring.”

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14) Fermented Nettle Tea: If you’re into all things fermented, why not nettles? Kombucha, move over!

15) Lentil and Nettle Curry: Seeing as Nepal is covered with nettles in spring, this dhal curry with nettles didn’t surprise me.

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16) Pizza with Garlic Cream and Nettles: OMG, you guys! This is so delectable, you have to try it. Just replace your hankering for basil with nettles here and you’ll want to repeat this recipe every week. I now freeze our excess-harvested nettles so we can have this all year round.

17) Nettle Crisps: Ok, so these are the same as the nettle chips, but it doesn’t hurt to try a slightly different recipe.

18) Nettlekopita: My friend, Rebecca, who is an amazing cook, makes this every spring and so I know it’s delicious. I just need to get over my sense that it’s time-consuming to make, because it doesn’t look like it from this recipe. My husband is Greek and I’d love to try this out on him.

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19) Wild Nettle Beer: I couldn’t resist linking you to another great recipe for a nettle home brew. This one was so well thought-out, I think a novice could make it.

20) Nettle Wine: I’m calling this one wine because, reportedly, it tastes more like wine. I love this article as it really spells things out clearly.

On a final note, I wanted to link you to a fascinating article, now that you’ve immersed yourself in mouth-watering nettlemania. It appears nettles have been used for millennia. Around 800 BC, nettles were used to make a silk-like fabric. Like flax, nettles were employed for their strong fibers for use in cloth-making. What uses have you come up with for this underdog wild stinging plant? We’re in awe of its properties and many uses, and excited to learn more about this superfood’s talents. Share what you know, and we’ll add it to the list.

In Praise of Simple Machines in the Kitchen

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Simple machines in the kitchen and household are one of our secrets to living the pleasures of the simple life, decreasing our dependence upon electricity or fancy gadgets with many parts. The simple machine simply works. They’re the hand tools of old that we fall back on when modern conveniences break down, which they often do. Take the lever, for example. Pull a lever for mechanical advantage and you have the strength of Hercules.

When we arrived at Grammy’s Florida home with a 10-gallon bucket filled to overflowing with valencia oranges we had picked, I looked in her cupboard to find an electric citrus juicer.

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Great!” I thought, until I plugged the plastic thing in and found it didn’t work. Taking it apart to see if it needed a new fuse, etc. wasn’t something we had time for. So Grammy pulled out another juicer, the hand lever kind you pull down that squishes your halved oranges in seconds, and I knew she had found the better machine.

This beautiful, all stainless, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

In minutes, we had lovely glasses of hand-lever-squeezed orange juice, all from the effort of a 10-year-old who wouldn’t relinquish the lever. I’m ready to invest in one now that I’ve discovered the joys of fresh squeezed, self-picked liquid gold. We currently use a ceramic citrus juicer at home which works really well, but the simple machine could cut our hand-rotating out completely, which makes sense for 4 cups of o.j. in the a.m.

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’ve been on a mission, lately, to seek out these ingenious machines that provide mechanical advantage, putting force on an object like an orange with little effort. One-by-one, they’re replacing our small appliances.

Take the electric coffee grinder, for example. Nothing wakes up our household more abruptly than the sound of someone whirring coffee beans in an electric grinder. And when the electricity goes out, which it often does in winter on our Northwest island, we can’t have fresh ground coffee. Could we find an adequate coffee grinder that wouldn’t tap resources like electricity or fuel? I searched for months throughout the web and in antique shops for old-fashioned grinders and found some beautiful ones. But none got great reviews that I could trust and most wouldn’t grind the beans to espresso grade. I bought a camp-style one for my husband to take on his mountaineering expeditions. But it wouldn’t grind enough for a house full of groggy adults.

We then purchased a beautiful Persian grinder that also took ages to grind beans. We imagined in the warmth of some semi-arid desert, this grinder would fit nicely on the back of a camel but you’d need an hour or so each morning to get enough ground stuff for a decent cup of joe. It was promptly retired to pepper grinding.

Finally, we found a grinder that was the most simple design (by Stumptown) and can take a mason jar as its reservoir. This simple machine utilizes larger gears than the 2 grinders we had previously bought and it produces a fresh ground coffee perfect for my hubby’s stove-top espresso maker.

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

Contrary to what Stumptown says on their website, my husband husband claims “it’s effortless” to grind the coffee. No workout, truly. And I can attest to the fact that it’s not too hard to grind your beans and it doesn’t take very long to produce the perfect grind for several cups of coffee and gives us peace-of-mind for power-free days at home. We use hand-grinder daily, in fact, power or no power.

Two minutes of grinding and you've got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our toaster, too, is a simple camp stove version of placing your bread over your burner, because we’re on a mission to reduce our electric appliances so we can sustainably live off the grid. We haven’t owned a toaster for 5 years now and haven’t missed it one bit.

If you want to go caveman-style, you can even forgo your garlic press for a stone. Seriously, for us, the large pestle we brought back from Nepal is the best garlic crusher I’ve ever used.

So try your hand at using simple machines again. You’ll enjoy cutting back on your power dependence and feel like you truly earned that morning fix of java and o.j.

8 Uses For Garlic Skins

Garlic Skins Have Some Use Beyond the Compost Bin

In my ongoing fascination with the things I typically throw away, even in the compost pile, I thought I’d look up some of the most interesting ways to reuse garlic skins. Some, I already do, but there are a few new uses in this list I thought you might want to try.

Don’t toss those papery white skins!

1) Save them in your freezer and use for your vegetable or chicken stock. I also throw them in my slow-cooked beans to add more flavor.

2) Compost them.

3) Keep the skins on your garlic when you roast it and the protective skin layer keeps your garlic soft on the inside.

4) Eat it! According to the Daily Mail, the skin on fruits and veggies shouldn’t be discarded. As for garlic: “Peeling garlic cloves removes the ­phenylpropanoid antioxidants which help fight the ageing ­process and protect the heart.”

5) Make a paper rose out of your garlic skins.

6) Turns out garlic skin is a major antioxidant. Plan on seeing it in all sorts of health products in the near future.

7) Add them to your handmade paper recipe. They add a lovely texture.

8) Dye your hair with them using a natural ayurvedic technique.

Kick The Can (Habit) And Slow Cook Your Beans

By Mr. Everest

Cooked beans are a staple in our family. Whether they’re pinto or black beans, we cook up a pot of beans at least once a week. Today, the house smelled wonderful as the beans cooked in the slow cooker with garlic and onions.

Nothing smells better than a pot 'o beans in the kitchen. Photo © Liesl Clark

For the past 3 years, we’ve gone plastic-free in the culinary arts so that means no canned food. Most cans have bisphenol A (BPA) in them which is an epoxy resin-like substance that is an endocrine disruptor and a chemical linked to cancer. Beans in a can are among the top BPA-laden canned foods out there. When we converted our kitchen over to a plastic-free one, canned beans were a favorite staple we had to rethink. But the Greek ancestry in me knew it wouldn’t mean we’d go without beans for long. My Dad always had a pot of lentils on the stove, so why not do the same with pinto and black beans?

Crock Pot Beans. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every few days I pull out the slow cooker, throw some beans in (say 4 cups-worth) add quadruple the amount of water, throw in a bay leaf from our friends’ tree, several cloves of garlic from our garden (whole cloves are fine), a few extra garlic skins, chopped onion, and about a teaspoon of sea salt. Each time I do it the recipe changes but this is a basic one that works. Put the cover on the slow cooker and let ‘er cook for about 18 hours or until your beans have reached their desired tenderness. No stirring is required. Just leave the slow cooker alone and enjoy the rest of your day.

Red onion, chives and garlic with black beans. Photo © Liesl Clark

We buy our beans in bulk, 25 lbs at a time, so they come to us in a big paper feed sack. We then store them in glass jars for easy access.

Bean Storage in Large Glass Jars. Photo © Liesl Clark

I tend to turn half of the cooked beans into refried beans (just mash ’em down as you fry them with a little more garlic and onion and add some cumin and liquid aminos for salt) and then make burritos or enchiladas that we can freeze for easy school lunches to reheat for the kids. We also make black bean soup with them or just a simple bean dip.

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These beans are always better than anything I’ve eaten from a can, and they cost about a tenth of the price. But the real benefit of kicking canned food is the mindfulness of slow-cooking and making your staples from scratch. Cooked beans in a slow cooker are so simple, yet they require a few minutes of forethought and planning for the meals that your family will enjoy in the week ahead. Four cups of dried beans will result in about 8 cups of cooked beans, enough for a family of 4 to enjoy for a week in many different creations. As your home fills with the buttery and savory smell of cooking beans, enjoy the pleasure, as my Dad did, of slow-cooked food and the sweet time it takes for the flavors to blend together completely.

Wine Cork Pot Lid Grips

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No Need for Potholders © Liesl Clark

Wine Cork Pot Lid Grips: Lift off hot pot lids with your fingers! Simple wine cork-stuffed handles mean no need for pot holders around the stove. Cram the corks tightly into the handle of your pot lid and you’ll never need to remove them again.

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Those are my 10-year-old’s fingers, lifting a hot pot. © Liesl Clark

They’re dishwasher and sink-washing safe, too! Smart. Easy.

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