Do Some Sprouting!

I love this time of year! If you were on the ball you might already be harvesting goodies from your garden! In our neck of the woods,   cherries are almost ready and we are on our second crop of yummy leafy greens like kale, lettuce and spinach. However, if you hate gardening or if you have a black thumb but still want to enjoy fresh, raw, nutrient dense greens in  your diet you should try sprouting. It’s so simple and you only need a couple days before you can enjoy the harvest!

Sprouts are a superfood for so many reasons. They are excellent sources of essential nutrients, high in protein,  great sources of enzymes, easy to digest and good for weight loss. I usually sprout lentils, beans and fenugreek, but broccoli, radish and clover are also  yummy options. Just be sure to avoid alfalfa as it is mildly toxic and also inhibits the immune system.

I usually get my sprouting seeds from Mumms. I love Mumms because they are a Canadian based business out of Saskatchewan and all their seeds are certified organic.

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Now to the good stuff….How to sprout.

There are several ways to sprout seeds, but I will tell you how I do it. All you need is a mason jar. Dump about 2 Tbsp of seeds into the jar, add water, swirl and drain. Refill the jar with about a cup of water and soak your seeds for about 2-6 hrs. Drain the water. Rinse your seeds twice a day by refilling your jar with water. Drain the water and lay your jar on its side so that your seeds don’t mold in water. You could also cover your jar with mesh and keep your jar inverted to prevent mold from growing, this also makes the rinsing easier!

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You can eat your sprouts whenever you want. I like eating them with longer tails, but some people enjoy them sprouted with no tail. They are perfect in sandwiches, tossed in salads or you can just grab a handful and enjoy!

So, who wants to add sprouts to their diet?

If you do, just comment here and we will send one lucky reader the “Get sprouting jar” from Mumms.

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Share this post and let us know you did for an extra entry. Winner will be chosen June 19th.

Strawberry Jam!!

I walked into the grocery store the other day and sitting there in all their glory were flats upon flats of fresh, beautiful strawberries! And of course, strategically placed right in front of the main entrance. How could I resist? 6lbs for $7? Pretty good. I thought to myself however, “Don’t bother… It’s just the beginning of the season. They WILL get cheaper!” Did I listen? Nope! I bought a flat. I wanted to make some jam!!! (And eat some of course!)

I’ve been itching to start some canning for awhile now. Last season I didn’t get much in. Between a kid under 1 and a husband who works out of town, there really wasn’t too much free time for canning. So, this is the perfect opportunity to get a little started! Strawberry jam, so delicious! So, here we go!

If you do a lot of canning already, you probably have the basic instruments needed to do the job. But, just in case you’re new to this here’s a short list of some stuff that’s good to have on hand:

-For jam specifically, you need just the basic Water Bath Canner, which can be found at pretty much any big box store for a very decent price.

-Jar lifter – this isn’t necessary, but your job will be so so much easier with it

-Canning funnel – again not necessary but makes the job much easier

-Mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, etc

For strawberry jam you will need (besides the strawberries!)

-some lemon juice

-sweetener of your choice (sugar, honey, some people use white grape juice, stevia, or a combo of sweeteners)

-pectin. I use liquid pectin, but you can also get it in crystallized form as well. This is just a preference thing.

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Step 1:
Before I made my jam, I washed the strawberries of course. I chose to soak them in a cool bath with castille soap first, to get any dirt, grime or pesticides off as best I could. I let them soak for about half and hour then, rinsed them off really well in cold water.
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Step 2:
This step may look a bit different for each person depending on how you like your jam. I don’t like chunkies in my jam so I chopped up my strawberries in a blender until there were no large chunks. It’s a good idea to add a little water to aid in the chopping process. You don’t have to puree them as they will dissolve more during the cooking process.
If you don’t care about chunks, you can go ahead and just mash them up with a potato masher by hand. This shouldn’t take you very long.
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Step 3:
Add your mushed up strawberries to a pot with the sugar. Most recipes will have a 4 cups strawberries (measured after crushing) to 7 cups sugar ratio. I used 6 cups of strawberries (measured after crushing) so that’s 10 cups of sugar. I know! So much sugar. Welcome to the jam world! Strawberries especially require a lot of sugar. You can reduce the amount of sugar but you won’t get the same consistency. Even when using no sugar needed pectin (which I personally don’t like as I never find it makes very good jam). If you reduce the sugar you will usually yield a runnier jam. It will still be as tasty though! I usually do reduce my sugar to about 8 cups. The jam turns out soft but still thick and spreadable. *If you are new to jam making I would stick to the recommended amount of sugar. It can be difficult to get the correct consistency when you are playing around with the sugar levels and so I recommend having an idea as to what you’re trying to achieve before changing it.
If you are using crystallized pectin, you need to reserve about 1/4 cup of the sugar to mix with it. I do recommend reading the instructions that came with your pectin, though. 
You will want to bring this mixture to a boil. Try doing it a little slower, this will generally result in a better jam. Once it is boiling, continue to let it boil for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
*I don’t recommend making batches bigger than this.
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Step 4:
Slowly add your pectin to the mixture. Return to a boil and keep there for about a minute or so. Remove from heat. Add about 1/4 cup lemon juice.
Because I didn’t use as much sugar, I added 2 packets of liquid pectin to my recipe. (It is technically a double recipe according to their instructions anyways). To figure out how much pectin you need is going to take a little experimentation on your part. It will really depend on how you like your jam. If you like it runnier, then you will need less pectin, thicker will need more pectin. I will tell you how to figure it out in the next step.
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Step 5:
Skim the foam off the top of the jam. This foam is nothing gross, don’t worry. It is pretty much just escaped air trapped in jam goo (great description!).
Now, this is where I like to test if my jam is ready. Take a glass of ice water and place a spoon in it. Once the spoon, is cold, scoop up a little jam and rest the spoon back on top of the ice. Once the jam has come down to room temperature, you can check it’s consistency. Touch it, tip the spoon around, etc. If it’s at a consistency you like, then perfect! You are ready for the next step. If not, return it to the stove and repeat step 4 but with about a quarter of a packet of pectin. Repeat the test. Continue doing this until you reach your desired consistency.
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Step 6:
Fill your jars with jam. Leave about a 1/4in headspace (unfilled area) at the top. Tighten caps to finger strength tight. You need them to be tight enough to not let water in, but to let air out.
Place them in your water bath canner and process for 5 minutes (or more depending on elevation. I recommend looking this up before you do any canning. It does make a difference.)
You should always wait until the water in your canner returns to a boil before starting the count.
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Step 7:
Remove jars from water bath and place in an area out of direct light. Let them seal and cool to room temperature before storing.
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You’re done! Yay! Jam can be enjoyed right away. No need to wait for this one! If any of your jars don’t seal, put them in the fridge and eat them immediately. They will keep in the fridge as long as jam does, but they will not keep stored with your other canning.

Written by Nicole

Natural Cleaning Around the Home

Well, Spring has sprung in most parts of the Country so the Ecohousewives are in Spring cleaning mode! We thought we would be nice and share  some of our tried and tested eco-friendly cleaner recipes. We’ve been able to rid our homes of the chemical and petroleum-based ingredients found in most household cleaners by using some very common household ingredients.

Here is a list of ingredients and what their role is in our recipes:

1. Baking Soda: cuts grease, deodorizes, lifts dirt and whitens

2. Borax: Disinfects, fights mould and mildew,whitens

3. Essential Oils (e.g. lemon, lime, grapefruit, tea tree, lemongrass, lavender and eucalyptus): antibacterial, anti-fungal and/or cuts grease:

4. Lemon juice: Disinfects, whitens

5. Liquid Castille soap: Cuts grease, lifts dirt

6. Salt: fights mould and mildew

7. Olive Oil: lifts dirt

8. White vinegar: cuts grease, deodorizes, disinfects

9. Washing Soda: cuts grease, softens water, whitens

NOTE: Borax and Washing Soda are less toxic than commercial products, but are not harmless, so should be used with caution and only for heavy duty jobs.

We will try to hit everyone area in the house, but a lot of our cleaning is done with a simple all-purpose cleaner!

Kitchen

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All Purpose Spray (use on tubs,tiles, counters, microwave, floors etc)

Andrea’s Recipe

1 gallon hot water

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup liquid castille soap

1 Tbsp borax

10 drops essential oil (optional)

Aubrey’s Recipe

1 part vinegar

2 parts warm water

A small squirt of eco-friendly dish soap

5-6 drops tea tree oil (could use lemon instead, but she likes tea tree).

Mix well in spray bottle. Mixture needs a light shake before each use. I have tried using Castile soap instead of dish soap, but it reacts to the vinegar and gets clumpy and oily.

Nicole’s Recipe

2 cups warm water (I use filtered water that I boil)

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp liquid castille soap (dr bronner’s is what I use)

15-20 drops essential oils as preferred (She uses lemon for it’s disinfectant properties

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Dish Soap

 

Liquid castille soap, and a vinegar rinse to sanitize.

Cutting Boards/Butcher Block

1 part vinegar

1 part water

Dishwasher Soap  

1/2 cup borax

1/2 cup washing soda

1/2 cup white vinegar

Add dry ingredients to soap dispenser and vinegar to rinse dispenser

OR an Eco-friendly product such as Bio-Vert

Stainless Steel Cleaner

Andrea’s recipe

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp white vinegar

Drip olive oil onto rag. Rub surface to get rid of smudges. Drip white vinegar on the other side of rag. Wipe and let dry.

Nicole’s Recipe

1 part water

1 part vinegar

Ceramic Stovetop Cleaner

Wipe first with a General-Purpose Cleaner to remove loose dust and food particles. Sprinkle with baking soda. Mist with warm water. Let sit, then scrub in circular motions with a damp (use HOT water) dish cloth. If any burnt residue remains, scrape carefully with straight razor blade, then repeat cleaning.

Garburator

Sprinkle with baking soda, allow to sit and then pour some vinegar down there, let it sit longer then add boiling water to finish. Finally sprinkle some essential oils down there.

Bathroom

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All-purpose Scour (for tile, grout, tubs, sinks etc)

1 2/3 cups baking soda

1/2 cup  liquid castille soap

1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp white vinegar

Toilet Scrub

Andrea’s Recipe

1/2 cup borax

1/2 cup washing soda

1/2 cup white vinegar

(sprinkle dry ingredients onto surface, scrub, and chase with vinegar)

Aubrey’s Recipe

Sprinkle baking soda, pour in 1/4 cup vinegar. Let sit 10 minutes, scrub .

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Glass and Mirror Cleaner

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup water

*Before switching to this cleaner, I had to clean up the waxy residue traditional brands leave behind with a 5% rubbing alcohol-to water-solution.

Dusting

The three of us use microfibre cloths or the Norwex dusting mitt

OR

1 Tbp Apple Cider vinegar

2 cups water

1 dust rag

 

Jetted Tub

 

2 cups of white distilled vinegar

1 cup of salt

Fill tub with warm water about an inch about your highest jet. Add vinegar and salt to the warm water and run the jets for about 15 minutes.  Drain the tub, then rinse the surface and jets.  Wipe dry with a clean, microfiber cloth

Liquid Laundry Soap (use 1/2 cup per load)

7L hot water

1 cup baking soda

1 cup castille soap

1/3 cup coarse salt

or an eco-friendly brand such as Eco Max orange laundry detergent or Eos

Carpets and Upholstery

Deodorize using baking soda mixed with a little essential oil. Sprinkle it over the carpet, let it sit for at least half an hour then vacuum up.

Floors

Use a one part vinegar, one part water solution (with essential oils is desired). If extremely dirty use water with some dissolved baking soda first. Once a month wash with a hydrogen peroxide and water mixture.

Well that about covers it. Happy Spring Cleaning everyone! Oh, and if you have a favourite eco-friendly recipe, we would love it if you shared it with us!

– Collaborative post, written by Andrea

My Chemical Romance – Getting your Spouse to Go Green

They say opposites attract. That is true for my husband and I in many ways. I say “ta-may-to,” he says “to-mah-to” type of thing.
This could not prove to be truer when it comes to my green approach to our home and health. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be healthy, but he has spent so many years buying into the norm that he has a tough time switching over. When we were first married, he thought the bathroom wasn’t clean unless someone had burning lungs from scrubbing the tub. And that person was usually me.
Some of you might be able to relate – you want a crunchy, green household and your spouse wants Fantastik and Scrub-Free.
So here is my advice – baby steps. I wish I could tell you the solution was replacing their bottle of moisturizer’s contents with almond oil, but they will likely figure that out.
Start with the parts of your household that you”control,” for lack of a better term. I do the majority of the cleaning in our house, so I made my own surface cleanser, and purchased cleaning products that were minimalist and friendly to the environment. He was happy as long as the house looked and smelled clean. The other day, when I pulled a powdered dishwasher detergent out of the shopping bag, he commented that he thought I needed that to be phosphate free. So I showed him the label. New brand, still friendly!
Personal care products are more “trial and error.” My trial, my errors – haha! I am my own personal Guinea pig. I make toothpaste and try it out until it is just right before passing him the tube. I tried out no shampoo, castile soap, oil cleansing, etc and he will give it a go if he sees it working out for me – usually.

We don’t even have kids yet and I am already working on him to buy into cloth diapers. He isn’t there yet but hey, we’ve got time!

It is an ongoing process. You can’t change someone overnight. Maybe he isn’t using almond oil as a moisturizer, but he passes me his products so I can read the labels and point out SLS, parabens, etc.

Marriages are give and take in every situation. While you might be ready to live off the grid, he might be ready to switch from canola to coconut oil. So embrace those small victories! Before you know it, he’ll be singing the praises of apple cider vinegar and baking soda right along with you!

The Eco Housewives Steps to Switching to be Chemical Free:

1. Household cleaners – surface, toilet, tub and floor (many times this can all be conquered with 1 or 2 homemade products)

2. Laundry and dish soap

3. Personal care – hair and body wash (or even no poo!)

4. Skin care – face wash and moisturizer

5. Dental care – toothpaste and mouthwash

6. The Bigger Picture (cut down on waste, grow and can your own veggies, your imagination is your guide!)

* Don’t worry, we’re not selfish – we will share our recipes with you soon!

– Written by Aubrey

Pining for a Real Christmas Tree?

OK, aside from the fact that that was a really corny title (the other option was a sappy title…get it – sappy?), I really do love to have a real Christmas tree. Nothing says Christmas like a pine needle stuck in your toe.

OK, I’ll branch out a little…

I’ll bark out some facts at you…

I’ll focus on the trunk of the issue…that was a stretch – I admit it  – I’ll stop…

Can anyone out there make a pun out of the word “tannenbaum?”

This post isn’t really about my horrible jokes; it is about having a real Christmas tree, versus having an artificial one. I could go on and on about the smell and the tradition and all of that, but what I am really interested in, and what you may be too, is which is the better choice for the environment?

But first, the fun stuff!

We have bought real, farmed trees from local stores for the past few years, but a bout of nostalgia for chopping down trees with my Dad and my siblings made me want to go and trek through calf-deep snow for my own wild tree.

Starting to search!

A friend of mine picked us up a Christmas tree cutting permit for the hefty fee of $5 for three trees. Colin and I rounded up his sister and her fiancé and made an afternoon of it!

We took a half hour drive out to our permit area, eyes peeled along the road for “the spot.” The first “spot” was pretty dismal, so we shook off the snow and piled back in the truck for better luck. And then the sun started to drop.

At spot # 2, we noticed a couple of possible winners, but kept on trekking for that perfect tree.  And then, there she was – my tree! Colin’s sister’s was close by and that’s when we realized we had no saw…

HA! No, we totally had a saw; there was no way we were pulling a “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Moment.”

So my big strong man sawed down the trees, then we dragged them to the truck – but not before some obligatory photos! And all 15 minutes before the sun sank into the hills.

The perfect tree!

Note: If you are tree hunting, bring a sister-in-law who packs hot chocolate and sandwiches.

Also – trees in the wild aren’t perfect – so don’t expect that; just enjoy being out in nature with friends, family, and a hacksaw. Give yourselves lots of time – the hunt for your family’s tree is all part of the fun!

 

So without further ado – the facts:

The Fake Tree:

  1. The biggest issue with artificial Christmas trees is that they are typically made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a non-renewable oil-based plastic that emits many greenhouse gasses during production. It has been estimated that the energy used to make one fake tree would require that it be used for two decades before it could match the carbon footprint of a farmed (real) tree.
  2. To add to the PVC nightmare, fake trees can continue to release trace gasses into the air over time.
  3. Now you want pre-lit? Or that new brand that looks so…real…your tree will be added to a landfill, incapable of biodegrading, thanks to that PVC.
  4. Many artificial trees are produced overseas, adding travel emissions to their environmental impact.
  5. The money you spend on a fake tree goes to the large multinational company who made it.

The Real Tree:

  1. Real trees, as we know, absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. This actually helps prevent the “greenhouse effect” of global warming. One acre of live Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.
  2. Christmas tree farms and wilderness areas stabilize the soil, provide living areas for wildlife and create scenic greenbelts.
  3. Contrary to what has been argued before, Christmas tree farms do not need a lot of fertilizers or other chemicals to grow, and are often grown in soil that cannot support other crops. Wild trees don’t need any chemicals at all!
  4. When you buy from a local tree farm, you are supporting your local economy. When you purchase a tree permit, that money goes back into sustainable resource development for your region (check with your local forestry office, this may differ in other areas).

I think the winner is pretty clear, and there are a lot of articles out there that support this.

But maybe you already own a fake tree, or your landlord doesn’t allow real ones. I suggest you make sure your tree doesn’t contain lead (some older ones or really cheap ones do). This can actually flake off and sit on presents, carpet etc.

If you don’t want your fake tree anymore, donate it instead of throwing it out. Or hold onto your tree for a long time (that two decades?), instead of upgrading every 3-5 years.

If you chop down a tree in the wild like we did, make sure to get a permit from your local forestry office. This way you are cutting in an area that has been designated to have ample tree growth, and may even have re-planting practices in place.

And if you just can’t bear the thought of a fake tree, but don’t want to cut one, buy a nice potted evergreen, and plant it outside in the spring (or right away if your ground isn’t frozen). My Grandpa and Grandma used to do this every year and had a lovely collection of evergreens in their front yard. I had no idea Grandpa was such an eco-pioneer!

Merry Christmas from the Eco Housewives!

Merry Christmas from the Eco Housewives!

Sources:

http://www.christmas-tree.com/real/realchristmastrees.html

http://environment.about.com/od/greenchristmas/a/christmas_trees.htm

http://greatist.com/health/real-christmas-tree-healthier/

http://www.thewhig.com/2012/12/14/real-winner-in-christmas-tree-debate

This article was written by Aubrey