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.

Fastest Caesar Salad Dressing, Plastic-Free

Fresh Salad Dressings Made in Bulk in Glass Jars Will Get You to Eat Your Greens. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’re big on salads, growing greens for 12 months of the year. And often, the only thing hindering us from making a salad for lunch or dinner is…the dressing. If you don’t have one ready to just throw on your greens, chances are you’ll skip the salad on a busy day. Solution? Make a big batch of the most delicious dressing you can cobble together so it lasts several weeks in the fridge.

So, get out your favorite bottles or jars because we’ve got a fabulous dressing that’ll keep you and your loved ones wanting salad at all meals:

Liesl’s Faux Caesar Salad Dressing:

Plenty of Garlic. Photo © Liesl Clark

Crush about 4-6 cloves of garlic. We use a garlic crushing stone.

A Garlic-Crushing Stone is Fast and Easy. Photo © Liesl Clark

Place in your favorite jar and add 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil.

Olive Oil is Always at Hand. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add about a tablespoon of fish sauce. Fish sauce? Yes, fish sauce, as found in Thailand, Vietnam, and in the Philippines is a savory seasoning staple in our household. It serves as an easy alternative to anchovies in this recipe. Be sure to buy it in a glass bottle.

No Need For Anchovies! Get Fish Sauce in a Glass Jar. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add about 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Fresh Salad Dressings Made in Bulk in Glass Jars Will Get You to Eat Your Greens. Photo © Liesl Clark

Add a tablespoon or 2 of red wine vinegar or homemade vinegar from your fruit scraps.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

Done! Every time you use the dressing, you can add a little more parmesan cheese for added flavor. Also, it’s easy to adjust the amount of vinegar and fish sauce to taste. Every fish sauce tastes a little different from the next brand and vinegars, too, can be stronger than others. We use anything from our homemade red wine, cider, and blackberry vinegars to malt vinegar. Our children just love this dressing. Enjoy!

Stone Garlic “Press”

If you’re a lover of kitchen gizmos like garlic presses but just haven’t enjoyed the clean-up factor, get yourself a big stone to use in your kitchen. Skip that gizmo that’s a pain to clean up, is going to eventually break, doesn’t give you all the garlic from that clove since it gets stuck in weird places, and simply use a pestle-shaped stone instead.  I’ve used one in my kitchen for 10 years now and I couldn’t live without it. In Nepal, my friends use stones in their kitchens: One flat one and one cylindrical one for crushing, mashing, and grinding either garlic, chili peppers, whole grains or whole spices. I brought a stone home with me and would recommend you look for one, too. Maybe there’s a pestle-shaped on out in the woods, in your garden, or on the bank of the nearest river or stream. Think cave man, not Pottery Barn. One hit on the garlic and it’s peeled. Another smash and it’s crushed. Easy.

Force Winter Twigs For Indoor Spring Color


Yesterday, while the birds were gossiping with spring chatter on one of our first days above 50 degrees in weeks, I noticed some pruned wisteria sticks were still in our perennial garden, left over from when my husband had pruned the flowering wisteria last fall. It’s been an extremely wet winter, and I was surprised to find that the wisteria sticks had buds on them. The moisture of the winter rains sustained the cuttings, so they were still alive!

Inspired by Cathy’s “In a Vase on Monday” series, where she puts whatever might be green, even in the dead of winter, into a vase and writes about it, I looked at those wisteria sticks and thought perhaps I could force them for early blooms. And then this post, at Frogend Dweller’s Blog, rocked my Monday, with the reminder that we can collect many different flowering twigs, place them in a vase filled with water, and watch them open over the course of late winter and early spring. I promptly walked around our property and found that there were plenty of twigs barely hanging onto some of our flowering shrubs and trees, having been blown down by winter winds. I grabbed my sharpest pruning shears and gathered what I could:


The varying colors of the stems are stunning in the mid-winter light. From left to right my budding twig offerings are as follows:


Asian Plum

A Rose of Some Sort (Oh gosh! I just don’t know what kind it is!)


Alder (yes?)

And…um…well….er…I just don’t know what the last one is on the right. Another variety of alder?

Ok, so I don’t know all of my trees and shrubs, but 50% isn’t bad. And then Willa caught wind of the spring fever and wanted to pretend she was one of the sticks, too.


I love how the plum branches have a little moss on them. Did I mention how wet our winters are here?


The twigs were arranged in the nearest watering pot and placed in one of our favorite windows, under the grape pergola with the twists of vine shadows playing with the mid-day light that floods our dining area.


The children and I can’t wait to see what blooms we’ll get from our forced twigs. Be sure to get outside, in the upcoming days, to clip a few flowering twigs of your own to bring some spring leaves and blossoms indoors while you wait out the chills of winter to come.


Special thanks to Frogend Dwellers Blog and Rambling in the Garden for your inspiration. You’ve taken the bite out of winter. I’ve been enjoying your writings immensely.

Oh, and if anyone can help me identify the 3 varietals of twigs I missed, please comment below!

Backyard 7 Summits Project: Kitsap County’s Highest Peak

By Cleo Clark-Athans, Grade 4


Climbing Gold Mountain © Liesl Clark

We did it!

We reached the highest point in our county today. It’s called Gold Mountain and is only 1,687 feet high. It took about an hour and 10 minutes to get to the top. Two miles to the summit, but it was straight up through a thick forest, until we hit a logging road with extraordinary views.


We could see across many lakes and Hood Canal to the Olympic Mountains out on the Peninsula. My brother was happy to get to the top, with sweeping views and high winds.


Million Dollar View, 50 Miles Wide © Liesl Clark

Although our county doesn’t have extremely high peaks, I’m planning to climb all 7 of the highest mountains as part of my Backyard Seven Summits Project, an attempt to get kids outdoors to explore the high points in their own counties.


Gold Mountain Lets You See From Sea to Summit © Liesl Clark

We’ve done 2 out of 7 summits and they’re all beautiful hikes, in the Blue Hills of Kitsap County. Most people don’t even know about these peaks. They’re hilltops for all of us to get on top of for great expansive views of a luscious green landscape from the sea to the glaciers on the highest points of the Olympic Peninsula.


Sibling Time Together © Liesl Clark

The journey down is like a dream, easy, and it goes by fast, with so much to see on the horizon miles and miles away. But if you watch your feet there are semi-precious stones to be found on these trails, like agates. We learned this from a man we met on the trail. He also said he saw fresh puma tracks. Hiking gets people outside but it also gets people to talk to each other.


PNW Whimsey © Liesl Clark

There’s plenty to marvel at when you just get outside. Our dog, Sailor, knows this.

Have you climbed your own seven summits in your neighborhood? If so, please write in the comments below so we can hear about your adventures.


The Backyard Seven Summits Project © Liesl Clark

Zero Waste Shipping: Padded Envelopes & Mailers

Refuse & Reduce: We never buy anything for shipping, like envelopes, bubble-pack mailers, Tyvek pouches, padded envelopes and boxes because we receive so many of them. As a small production company, why buy new ones when plenty come in the door?

“Because they’ll look used and that won’t be professional if you reuse them,” you might say.

Since we’re all about reuse, there’s no problem gussying up a used envelope to resend to a client or partner, especially if we bring attention to the fact that we’ve given it a second life and ask them to reuse it, too. We have no problem reusing boxes for shipping, why not reuse padded envelopes? When I see a corporation reuse an envelope, I try to let them know how cool I think that is. A few weeks ago I received some of my hard drives back from WGBH/NOVA and it came in a box that was reused. It was probably the box I sent it in.

Simply sticking a new address label over the old one doesn’t take much thought. We often use a little piece of scrap paper and some glue or tape to cover over the old address and make a new label. Staples or tape can be used to reseal the mailer.

Share Your Excess Mailers: I save up my mailers so I can share them on my local Buy Nothing group. Neighbors are happy to come and get them, for reuse. Just before Christmas, I was able to offload a pile of padded envelopes to a neighbor who needed them for a company mailing. Using my old mailers definitely saved him some money. I included some blank mailing labels so he could cover up my address, but I often use a Sharpie to black-out the addresses and bar codes on previous mailers.

Don't Buy New! Reuse Your Padded Envelopes.

You can add a small heart to the envelope with the words “Reuse Me” in it to encourage the recipient of your envelope to reuse it, too.

Have Fun and Encourage Others to Reuse

If you are a company that regularly uses padded envelopes for shipping, ask for them in your Buy Nothing group and get the good word out to others that stockpiling them, for sharing, is a good idea, rather then throwing them away.

What about Tyvek plastic envelopes that have logos on them or come from FedEx, yet you want to use the USPS instead? I simply turn them inside out!

A plastic padded envelope can be used both inside and out.

Turn Your Padded Envelope Into Something Cool! Creme de la Craft has a great tutorial for transforming your padded envelope into an ipad case. Simple. Smart.

Recycle Tyvek Plastic Envelopes & Mailers: If you ever have too many to use and can’t offload them, did you know you can recycle Tyvek envelopes through Dupont? For small quantities (less than 25 envelopes/month), turn any Tyvek® envelope inside out, so the unprinted white surface shows on the outside. Stuff the inside-out Tyvek®envelope with other used Tyvek® envelopes for recycling. Address and mail the envelope to: Tyvek® Recycle Attn. Shirley B. Wright 8401 Fort Darling Road Richmond, VA 23237. Easy!

Make Your Own Mailers: If you’ve run out of mailers and no one has them for you on your Buy Nothing Group, make your own using cereal or cracker boxes. Adventures in Fluff has simple instructions on how to make your own paperboard envelope. You’ll wonder why you ever bought them in the first place after making one or 2. And they’re very cool because they send a message of reuse to your mail recipient.

Now your shipping is getting closer to zero waste!

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to make envelopes or reuse those you receive in the mail, please visit our Trash Backwards app where all items in your home and office can be reused, recycled and rethought.

How To Wash Clothes In A Bathtub

If you ever have a power outage and need to do an important load of laundry, consider the bathtub! We’ve done bathtub laundry all over the world, mostly because you can do it in any location that has a tub, and this simple practice saves a bundle of money if you’re traveling.

Bathtub Laundry!

How do you do it and get your clothes dry in time?

There are 2 ways to tub-clean your dirty togs. If you’re taking a shower, you can always conserve water and throw your dirty clothes in the bottom of the tub to benefit from your shower water. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but it works if you just need to get your clothes clean quickly. Otherwise, here are a few steps involved in the bathtub method:

1) Run the water and plug the drain. Be sure to put enough water in the tub to just cover your clothing. I simply use the hotel soap, but you can always bring your own biodegradable laundry powder or laundry bar soap if you think ahead. On expeditions, we always have a little bio-soap on hand to hand-wash clothes in rivers.

Bar Soap Works Just Fine For Bathtub Laundry

2) My friends in Nepal let the clothes soak for a few minutes. Then you can rub it all over the clothing, and scrub around the really dirty areas.

3) Next, get your children in the tub and let them walk all over your clothing. It’s a fun game for them and massages their feet. If you have no children around, do it yourself or you can “agitate” your clothes by hand, too. One reader told me she does bathtub laundry at home and uses a spare toilet plunger for her “agitation cycle.” Be sure to hand scrub your dirty areas by hand with your soap.

Let the kids do your wash and scrub cycle.

4) Drain the dirty water and run more water over your clothes to fully rinse them out. You might need to rinse twice if you’ve used a lot of soap.

5) Wring each piece of clothing out and then hang them to dry over the tub. Depending on your climate, you should have dry clothes in a few hours, almost as long as it would’ve taken you to take your clothing to a laundry service to do it for you.

The drying cycle.

And the price is right.

I’m no fan of doing laundry, mostly because I know in developed countries we do way too much of it and our microplastic-laden clothes are contributing to our toxic shorelines. Hand-washing means you’ll really only wash those clothes if you absolutely have to, not just because you wore them once.

We like this system because it’s cheap, it didn’t require any plastic, we get a little exercise doing the laundry, and it conserves water when we use our own shower water for the first part of your washing cycle, to just get the clothes wet. For a family of 4 traveling in the Himalaya, hand-washing is a regular part of our routine. Try it for a week, and you’ll start thinking about the water, the soap, where it goes, and how often it actually needs to be done. Do you hand-wash when you travel? What tips can you share?

15 Reuses For Your Live Christmas Tree

Each year's Christmas tree is reused on our property. © Liesl Clark

Each year’s Christmas tree is reused on our property. © Liesl Clark

Before you send your live Christmas tree out on the curb for yard waste pickup or to the Boy Scouts for recycling, there may be another use that’s perfect for you and your tree.

  1. Kindling: Throw your live tree in your brush pile, let it cure, and then cut it up for kindling for next fall.
  2. Save Your Perennials from Freezing: Cover your perennial beds with your cut up pine boughs to either insulate them from future sub-zero weather, or for preserving the piled up snow that’s already on them. Repeated freeze-thaw cycles can kill your best perennials.
  3. Trivets and Coasters: Cut 1” disks from the trunk to make trivets or coasters. It’s a fun project for the kids
  4. Bird Feeder: Prop up your tree outside in the back yard and trim it with strings of popcorn and birdseed ornaments so your wild birds can have a winter feast.
  5. Do Something Really Cool With Your Tree: Fabien Cappello fashioned stools from abandoned Christmas trees on the streets of London.
  6. Plant Stakes: If you don’t have access to sticks in the woods near you, strip the branches of their needles and use them to stake your indoor plants that need some extra support.
  7. Pea Sticks: You can use the stripped branches as pea sticks later in the spring. Criss-cross them to make a trellis for your peas to grow up.
  8. Marshmallow Sticks: Those same pea sticks can then be used as marshmallow-roasting sticks in the summer.
  9. Garden Edging: Cut the trunk into disks to use as a garden border if you line them up on their sides and dig them 2” into the soil. These look really pretty on the garden’s edge.
  10. Fire Starter: We save some of our needles to use in our homemade fire starters.
  11. Potpourri: Use the needles for a homemade balsam potpourri.
  12. Garden Path: Use the disks cut from your tree trunk as flat stepping “stones” in your garden path. If you have a chipper, the wood chips from your tree can make nice garden path material, too.
  13. Erosion Barrier: We have used past trees along a slope on our property to help prevent a slope from slipping. This is our ongoing brush pile that is stabilizing the slope and holding up our lawn above it nicely.
  14. Habitat: If your tree ends up in your brush pile, or out in a spot on your property, it provides cover for birds and little rodents, making a safe habitat for plenty of critters. Some experts claim that throwing a tree into your pond can provide safe cover for your fish.
  15. Save the Blue Herons: In Illinois a special Christmas tree recycling program reuses the trees as nesting materials in a blue heron rookery.
    Our Elves © Liesl Clark

    Our Elves © Liesl Clark

    What do you do with your tree? Are there any other reuses that we didn’t include?

Handmade Candles, Sharing Economy Style

Handmade Marbled Wax Scrap Candle

Handmade Marbled Wax Scrap Candle

I love making something from nothing, or at least something that costs us nothing. Our friends are kind enough to endure our yearly candlemaking and candlegiving tradition, and we boast about the fact that these candles are all made from the wax scraps friends and neighbors share with us.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. We take old candles, or the lumps of wax left over after you’ve burned yours out, and turn them into new candles, recycling the wicks and all.
Scrap Wax From Gifted Scrap Candles © Liesl Clark

Scrap Wax From Gifted Scrap Candles © Liesl Clark

2) Using a hammer on a wooden board is our preferred method for chunking out candle wax, but we also create our own colors of melted wax, pour it into a brownie pan, let it dry and then hammer the 1-2 inch wax into pieces.

Hammering Out Wax Chunks From Used Candles © Liesl Clark

Hammering Out Wax Chunks From Used Candles © Liesl Clark

3) We have candle moulds in many shapes and fill them with chunks we create out of the used candles. Be sure to remove the wicks from the old candles and any burned parts.

Place your scrap wax inside your candle moulds.

Place your scrap wax inside your candle moulds.

4) We use wicks from old candles that we melt down and recycle them as wicks for our new candles and string the wicks into our moulds.

5) We then melt down a contrasting color of wax from saved old candles to pour into the moulds around the colored chunks. A drop or two of an essential oil can provide some aromatherapy for those in the room when your burn your new candle.

Pour Your Melted Wax Over the Chunk-Stuffed Mould. © Liesl Clark

Pour Your Melted Wax Over the Chunk-Stuffed Mould. © Liesl Clark

6) Let your mould sit overnight to solidify and cool. In the morning, pull your candle free from the mould.

IMG_0676 copy 2


© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

How I Kicked the Plastic Food Container Habit

I have a thing about plastic. After picking up several hundred pounds of it off our beaches, and then returning home to find the same stuff in our everyday household items, especially in the kitchen cupboards holding our food, I decided to go cold turkey and threw all of our kitchen cupboard plastics out of the house.

Zero Waste Kitchen Tips photo © Liesl Clark

Zero Waste Kitchen Tips photo © Liesl Clark

I gave away our tupperware and all of our Teflon-coated pans and appliances on our local Buy Nothing group (I was really going deep with the anti-plastic thing). Plastic travel mugs, water bottles, our rice cooker, breadmaker, and food dehydrator were not welcome in our home. We took stock of the things that we typically bought in plastic packaging: Rice that came in plastic bags as well as various grains, pastas, nuts, and dried fruit. How was a family to switch completely to non-plastic-packaged staples?

Plastic-Free Bulk Options: Oils & Maple Syrup Stored in Glass. Our Own Honey, too is Stored in Glass. Photo © Liesl Clark

Plastic-Free Bulk Options: Oils & Maple Syrup Stored in Glass. Our Own Honey, too is Stored in Glass. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bulk Up: Our answer was in bulk foods. I can go to our local store with my own containers and buy most of what we need from our bulk department. I invested in some large glass jars and store almost everything in them (you can see brewer’s yeast in our last plastic containers in the upper left corner there — it’s mostly used for our pets).

Storage Jars for Sugar, Nuts, and Grains. Photo © Liesl Clark

Storage Jars for Sugar, Nuts, and Grains. Photo © Liesl Clark

An even cheaper solution is to join a local organic bulk food delivery service where I can get large amounts of staple foodstuffs on the cheap. For us, this option makes sense because we eat rice and dhal (red lentils) many times a week like most people do on the Indian subcontinent. Since we’ve raised our children to be accustomed to simple meals, we don’t want to start them on too many processed foods at this stage in their development. So, dhal bhat it is, along with Indian and Thai curries and lots of variations on rice and bean Mexican-style dishes. The kids love pasta, too, so we get all of it in bulk.

Bulk-Style Food Storage. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bulk-Style Food Storage. Photo © Liesl Clark

Rice comes in 25 and 50 lb bags, dhal in 25 lbs and I buy flour in 50 lb bags since we bake our own bread. Pastas comes in 10 lb increments as well as all of our nuts and dried fruits. The large bags of flour and grains are then stored inside galvanized metal bins in our pantry.

Flour Procured From the Organic White Flour Bin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Flour Procured From the Organic White Flour Bin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Loving the Bulk Bin Life. Photo © Liesl Clark

Loving the Bulk Bin Life. Photo © Liesl Clark

When we run out of power, we have enough staples of one sort or another to keep us going, with a veggie garden, plenty of berries and fruit trees to round out our produce needs. Even the chickens and bees contribute to our overall food production on this micro-farm.

Bright Lights Chard in the Garden. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bright Lights Chard in the Garden. Photo © Liesl Clark

Was it difficult to move away from plastics in the kitchen? Remarkably, no. As soon as we stopped buying single or even 1-week-lasting servings of things from the grocery store, we saw the plastics disappear. We do occasionally buy things like tortilla chips for the guacamole we make (avocados from CA of course.) They come in a crinkly chip bag, so we’re not completely devoid of plastics. Although, I’m considering getting them in bulk from our local Mexican restaurant. They make them by hand and I can just order them as takeout in my own container! We also see plastic rings around some of the glass store-bought items we get, like mayonaise. But our “trash” is truly minimal, now that the common grocery store plastic packaging has been greatly reduced.

If you want to give it a try, zero wasting your cupboards, feel free to ask questions here. Your cupboards will look beautiful and your whole foods diet will bring about healthy eating habits that your body will thank you for. Or if you live nearby, I’d be happy to help you do it in person, a sort of in-home plastic-free cupboard consultancy, if you’re interested. Feel free to connect in the comments below!