Reusable “Paper” Towels

Paper towels are wasteful. They’re made of paper, not entirely absorbent and you seem to always have them on your shopping list. In an effort to be more green I’ve made reusable “paper” towels from older towels that were past their prime. I’ve been using them in the kitchen for a week now and it makes me feel much better. The main concern from the boyfriend was that we could no longer use a paper towel to grease our cast iron pan and that the towels would leave lint. However, I’ve been using these towels to grease the pan and since they’re older they have virtually no fuzz to leave behind.

You may be thinking, what’s the difference between these and normal kitchen towels? Well these are on the counter and easy to grab just one, they are intended for messes and other things you would use a paper towel for instead of a kitchen towel, and they are smaller – intended to be used once.

Supplies:

  • two old towels
  • a few fabric squares or fabric left overs
  • typical sewing supplies

Step 1: Cut off the edges of the towel.

Step 2: Cut the towel into roughly 10-12 inch squares. They absolutely do not have to be uniform.

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Step 3: Using the scraps or fabric squares, cut 2-1/2 inch wide strips.

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Step 4: Iron the strips in half.

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Step 5: Fold in both edges of the strip so that you are folding each half in half, right sides out. Iron.

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You will need a lot of strips of fabric.

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Step 6: Sew the strips around the edge of the towels, folding corners when needed and adding new strips when you run out.

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Here is a nice pile of finished towels. I originally was going to attach snaps to each towel so that you can roll the towels onto a paper towel holder and pull off a single sheet as you need it. My super smart boyfriend pointed out that the snaps might scratch our pots. I was head strong and started to sew on a few snaps. I then realized how tedious snaps could be and how many I’d need to create a whole roll. So I then pretended like his concerns were valid so that I wouldn’t have to sew on snaps. To be fair, the snaps were metal and I’m sure would have messed up a few pans (if used on pans.)

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I then rolled up the towels and stuck them on our paper towel roll, the towels stay just fine.

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Another view of the roll.

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We pile the “paper” towels in the corner of the kitchen as we use them along with our hand towels and other kitchen fabric to be washed when we do laundry. The impact for using reusable towels is minimal on our lives. Having an easy to “tear off” paper towel substitute definitely makes the difference over using the typical kitchen towel for ease in the kitchen.

Cabbage Harvest and Cabbage Rolls

Time to harvest the winter cabbage and make room for spring vegetables.

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I first pulled the cabbage out from the root. Then I cut off the bottom half (the stem portion without leaves and roots) to place it in the compost. It’s a good idea to give the cabbage a squirt with a hose while outside to get some of the critters off safely, no need to kill all the bugs while in the kitchen.

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Cabbage Rolls:

  • 2 heads of cabbage
  • 1-1/2 cups of rice
  • 1/2 lb meat (Your choice, I used some smoked corned beef leftovers)
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic
  • 2 onions
  • 6 average tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • spices: salt, pepper, paprika

(Makes approximately two casserole dishes)

Step 1. Put the rice on to cook and a pot of water on to boil. Later you will be blanching your vegetables.

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Step 2. Prep the cabbage. Cut the cabbage leaves from the stem, give it a quick wash and then put it through a salad spinner. You will have bugs crawling out of the cabbage as you go, so keep a paper towel nearby to squish them.

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Cabbage in spinner and clean cabbage on a plate:

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Step 3. Blanch the cabbage. Put the cabbage in the pot laying flat for about a minute. The desired result is to have bendable cabbage that is not cooked through. The cabbage will turn a more vibrant shade of green, it makes for great photos.

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Step 4. Blanch the tomatoes. I left the tomatoes in for 2-3 minutes or until you see the skin split. No need to change the water in between. If you’re trying for low waste or live in California you can blanche the vegetables first then use the same water to cook your rice. Once the water is cooled it can also be used to water your garden.

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Step 5. Tomato sauce prep. Peel the skin from the tomatoes, cut in half, and place in a blending apparatus. I used the magic bullet. Add the sugar, salt, pepper and paprika. The sugar is used to balance the tart tomatoes. It is completely optional based on your tastes and tomato variety used. Blend and set aside.

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Tomato sauce will look like this:

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Step 6. Make the filling. Cut meat into small chunks or shred. Chop onions to your liking. Mix onions and meat with rice, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic (we used jar garlic so no prep needed). Below the mix is shown before the rice is added.

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Step 7. Grease two casserole dishes. Olive oil is a great choice and if you’re not worried about calories try bacon grease.

Step 8. Stuff those cabbages! Put about 1/4 cup of the mix or less into each leaf depending on it’s size, roll the cabbage together like a burrito, and place it into the first dish.  Not all cabbage leaves will be big enough to roll, this is especially true if it’s garden cabbage. I set aside all of the small cabbage leaves for the second casserole where I made a lasagna type dish: there is a layer of cabbage, layer of filling and then another layer of cabbage.

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Step 9. Spread the tomato sauce on top. The rolled cabbage is pictured left and lasagna cabbage is on the right.

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Step 10. Bake covered at 350F for 1-1/2 hours or cover and freeze. I froze the second dish for later this month when I’m too busy to cook.

Step 11. Serve and eat! The cabbage rolls turned out so well that I ate until I was stuffed. Please don’t mind the Styrofoam, plastic, and terrible photo quality, we ate the dish at a friend’s house.

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Regrow Green Onions at Home

Green Onions!!!!! are one of my favorite foods. Did you know that you can grow the grocery store green onions in your own home? Simply buy a bunch or two, cut from 1-1/2 inch from the roots, and plant.

First option is to grow in a glass (or wine glass for aesthetic reasons) with less than 1/2 inch of water. If you do not add any plant food, you will get 1-2 sets of new growth before it wilts. I have used indoor plant food (just a tiny bit) or coffee grounds (a pinch) to feed my onions and results are better.  I’ve also used left over flower food that they attach to bouquets.  It is easy to flood the onions and cause mold. If you’re just trying it out, I’d go with minimal water and monitor closely to refill. If you are lazy and will forget, just make sure only the roots are covered with water. The image shown below is the first growth after the initial cut.

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Another option is to plant the green onions into a pot. I used a mix of potting soil left over from the summer and some of our compost, with a few extra coffee grounds on top. I then punched a hole with my finger, put in the onion with the top exposed and pushed dirt around the plant so that the onion was tucked in nicely. Shown below are the onions after first new growth from the original cut. Half of the onions were harvested for last night’s burritos.

I have also planted the onions outside with GREAT success in cooler weather; they last a few weeks past first frost. Green onions do not do so well in the humidity of summer though, and will wilt quickly. Over time the base of the onion will form into a bulb and these are easy to replant anywhere needed.

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More information on the green onion: http://www.food.com/library/green-onion-363

I’ve also had mediocre success with replanting romaine lettuce.  Cut the bottom 1-inch up and plant in a glass until new growth is 3-4 inches, then plant outside. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as the green onions because results are slower.

Also check out this post on growing your own garlic from store bought: http://aquaberrybliss.com/2015/01/10/sprouting-garlic/

Cast Iron Handle Cover

If you cook with cast irons, as all people should, you know that the handle will get hot hot hot!  You don’t need a pot holder just to rotate the cast iron every time if you have a handle cover!  I wouldn’t recommend using just the handle cover to pick up the cast iron pan, but it is perfect for moving it around on the cooking surface. Below is my main skillet.

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Supplies needed:

  1. Main fabric: strips 22 x 3 inch. for this I used a fabric square.
  2. Border fabric strip of 22 x 2 inch. The below picture shows 22 x 1.5 inches but I found a wider piece was better when I made my second one.
  3.  Batting
  4. Normal quilting supplies

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Step 1: Cut batting to the same size as your main fabric. I used two layers of batting.

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Step 2.  Fold in half and quilt the fabric using the crisscross method. Note: I did not do this step for my first attempt, so some of the pictures will show the fabric unquilted. Also, The second piece was made with 3 layers of batting.

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Step 3. Iron the border fabric in half, and then each side in half again (folded inwards) to achieve your border piece without exposed edges.

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Step 4. Pin your border onto each skinny end of the fabric piece and cut.

Step 5. Sew along each border piece and then trim the ends.

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Step 6. Here is where it got hard. This is the reason that I did wider borders on my second piece. Fold the main fabric piece in half so both skinny ends meet evenly. Then, pin the remaining border around the three free edges.

Use your quilting skills to do the corners! For the free ends, I cut a triangle with the pointed end opposite the fold and then fold under to hide the edges. For the corners I wrapped the fabric around and came back to fold the ends down. Each person has their own technique and this part is hard to describe without showing you. Maybe one day I’ll add videos.

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Step 7. Is equally difficult. Sew along the three free edges.

Step 8. Trim all of the thread and dab the ends with seam sealer.

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The finished product. I made these covers two weeks ago and have been using them ever since, they’re wonderful! Do NOT place the covers in the oven with the skillet, I don’t think they will burn, but I haven’t tested it and I’m not using heat proof batting.

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Here is another close up of the quilting process. And the second picture is of the finished second handle cover using a wider border strip and not putting a border around the fold. The ends of the border are a bit under par as far as image goes; but these were made for me, so I take shortcuts and care less about how the finished product looks, I care about how it works.

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All Natural Sugar Free Granola-Oatmeal Bars

All natural, mostly* sugar free, granola-oatmeal bars.

Ingredients:

2 apples (or approx. 1 c unsweetened apple sauce)

1c oatmeal (I used instant, but experts will tell you to use steel cut rolled oats)

1c plain granola (*the plainest I could find is shown below, there is some sugar in it, but minimal amounts)

approx.:

1/3c pecans

1/3c walnuts (I’m allergic to almonds, but they would make a great substitution if you want more protein)

1/3c dried bananas

1/2c honey

Full disclosure, this is the second time I’ve made these. I’ll go over what I did differently the first time and you can decide how you really want to do this, because both times the bars were AMAZING.  It’s the matter of achieving the “form” of a granola bar rather than a semi-gooey clump.

Step 1. Make apple sauce because you have a juicer/similar device. (If you don’t have a juicer, you should use the unsweetened apple sauce). I peel my apples because the skin gives me a mild allergic irritation but you don’t have to, then cut and core the apples and put through the juicer. My juicer has an insert just for this sort of thing, the apples turn into mush instead of being separated into juice and ‘left overs’ like normal. However if you don’t have this sort of juicer, just use yours like normal but then remix the juice and the separated parts at the end.

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Step 2. Chop the nuts and bananas. Any ‘slap chop’ device will work best. Obviously this can be done with just a knife, but it takes more time and is less uniform.

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Step 3. Mix it all together. Shown in the pot is my chopped mixture. I had to buy store honey this time because the local honey guy stopped coming to the Saturday Market. Also shown: plain instant oatmeal, you can see why I didn’t use ‘special oatmeal’ because I already had so much of the instant stuff (I use it in my morning smoothie).  In addition I have the “classic” oats, but if you can find some without added sugar that’s healthier.

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An aside: Shown below was my first batch, it was essentially the same except I also had pomegranates and coffee beans and I used water in place of apple sauce.  What I attempted to do was mix everything (save the fruit) together in a pot a cook down the mixture so that it would be sticky. It worked to an extent, but I didn’t have enough free sugar to create a syrup.  After I cooked it down, I added the fruit and laid it on a sheet to set in the freezer. It worked really well!

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Step 4. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes.  I also attempted to cook down this mixture, but I’m impatient and my stove sucks so instead I baked it. The main reason I switched from water to apple sauce was to cook down the sugar in the apples to create a sticky substance that would stand up (unlike the honey which stays pretty fluid). However baking works just fine!

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Step 5. Partition and wrap. Since there are apples in it, keep it refrigerated! Putting it in your unrefrigerated lunch in the morning and waiting a few hours to eat is fine though. I should know, I do it every day!  The mixture keeps its form unlike the first time I tried it, so it’s mission success! (I’m eating one now)

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Pie Day!

No, its not March 14th.  Every fall, I have a pie day.  I wait until pumpkins, sweet potatoes and apples are in season and then make all my pies for the winter months. I usually do banana, pumpkin and zucchini bread too, but I did not have enough time.  I definitely learned a new lesson – do not do pie day after work, dedicate a whole day.

Step 1 – Cut the pumpkins in half and scrape out the insides.  Coat pan with oil, place pumpkins face down.   Bake pumpkins in 380 for like 40 minutes? I dunno, I just wait until I can smell them and then periodically check with a knife to see if I can easily poke through the shell.

The pumpkins take a good amount of time, so I started them before i even set the rest of the kitchen up. Another note – I buy the pumpkins about a week before I need them so that they can ripen a bit more and are easier to cut.  This time I also got Kyle to cut the pumpkins so that I didn’t have to face the struggle.  I probably need new knives.

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The supplies. What you don’t see in the picture is the wine (really important for the process) and the bowls/utensils.

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Step 2: The second longest process is the sweet potatoes. Peel, cut and then boil until soft.

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Step 3: The apples are easily the most awful part of the day unless you have a combo peel-core-cut machine. Kyle was done in the garage and was back to help me with the apples.

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We improvised by using an egg slicer for the apples. It was perfect! However it was also not designed for apples and broke after maybe 20 uses.

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Step 4: The zucchini was cut (NOT peeled) and then placed into a food processor. In the end we got too tired to attempt bread so the zucchini will be frozen until bread day.

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Shown below is the zucchini, two large zucchini makes 4 cups. The pumpkin after it was removed from the oven and scraped from the shell is in the food processor. Three pie pumpkins made about 8 cups.   Four large sweet potatoes made 6 cups.  The apples are still being cut; two bags of apples made about18 heaping cups. For the apples we went with the apple core and cut utensil then cut each slice twice long ways and once across to achieve the desired thin slices.  The process wasn’t too bad.

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Squash and apples are super safe for dogs. Just make sure to remove the seeds from the apple cores. Also, Blue LOVES zucchini ends so he stays by and cleans the floor as I go! I am a very messy cook.

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Step 5: Make the crust! My recipe is 2-2/3c of all purpose flour, mix in 1/2t of salt and  approx 1/3c of finely chopped nuts (I use a slap chop). Then cut in one stick (1/2c) of real unsalted butter. Mix in 1/3c of water as you stir and then get your hands in to mix up the rest of the flour.  It is not necessary to kneed the dough, but I do so to achieve consistency and because the spoon just doesn’t do it for me.

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Step 6 – Roll out the dough and place into pie tins. The mix above gives approx three and a third pies. Note: I do not use a matt to roll the dough. I just clean my counter REALLY well a few times before I start the dough process.

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I use walnuts for sweet potatoes and pumpkins, then pecans for apple pies.

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As I was doing the crust, Kyle made the batter and we baked! The pumpkin and sweet potato go in at about 375-400 for 45 minutes and the apple pies are at 425 for 25 minutes.  We used store bought spices for everything except the ginger which I used fresh and ground myself.

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Pies in the oven. It was always full! Note: the apple pies have a lattice crust and before going in the oven get three dollops of butter.

Blue is tired from the floor monitoring.  Kyle was also done with the process. I really shouldn’t have crammed what would be a days experience into an evening.  I wouldn’t have been so crabby at the end, I would have had time to make the bread and I would have been able to drink more wine!

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The pies are cooling! Note: each of the pies will be frozen. I wrap mine in saran wrap then put in a gallon ziplock. When you want to use one, let it defrost in a fridge or bake at 375 until ready. For the apple pies, brush milk over the crust before baking and maybe add another dollop of butter before baking/defrosting.

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Watching some futurama with the rest of my wine while the pies cool.

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Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the bread day post.