30.4.12

how to make labna, & whey (with which you can ferment your vegies)

Labna is amazing stuff. For those who don't know, labna are creamy balls of drained yoghurt that when tossed through a roast beetroot and walnut salad, or spread on a good piece of sourdough, provide an other-worldly experience. Seriously, everyone should have labna in their cooking repertoire. It's a neat party trick.

My homemade labna spread on a slice of authentic sourdough bread, topped with home grown tomatoes and basil.

I got this recipe from my (one of many) foodie idols Matthew Evans, who features it in his cookbook The Real Food Companion. It's dead easy. And the beautiful thing about it is the 'waste product' from the draining process, the 'whey', can be used as a starter culture to ferment vegetables. If you haven't been fermenting your vegies, it is well worth learning how to do so, because the health benefits are invaluable.

23.4.12

detox your kitchen - a guide to green housekeeping part II (and why you should avoid antibacterial wipes)

Hooked on antibacterial wipes? I know people who are. These are people who eat only organic food, but then wipe down their kitchen benches with antibacterial chemicals. Their kids' hands, too. 

via kitchenbuilding.com

We are obsessed with germ fighting more so in the kitchen than in any other room in the house (with the toilet as the possible exception). Here, in the space that forms the heart of most people's homes, where we prepare, cook and share food with the people we love, we smother surfaces with harsh chemicals most of us know nothing about.

It's wrong. Plain and simple. Here's why:

Antibacterial wipes, soaps, gels and sprays sold as effective kitchen cleaners contain (amongst other petroleum-derived nasties) triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal chemical that is added to almost all cleaning products and soaps, as well as many deodorants and shaving creams. It's also in your toothpaste and mouthwash.

Unfortunately for you and me, triclosan is suspected of causing long-term health issues such as learning disabilities, infertility and other hormonal health problems because of its ability to interfere with hormones critical for normal development and function of the brain and reproductive system.

But here's the real flincher:

In 2010, the FDA announced that triclosan is no more effective at preventing infections than pure soap and water. AND that long-term use of triclosan may promote antibiotic resistance as well as cause long-term health problems. YET it is still on the ingredients list of most commercial cleaning products.

Assuming you posses common sense (which we all do, granted to varying degrees), you can keep harmful bacteria at bay in the kitchen without the use of antibacterial products. They simply are not necessary.

This applies even if you have children (because so many people I know with children insist antibacterial wipes are necessary). In fact, considering FDA's little announcement, and the known harmful effects of triclosan on development in animal models, children would be a reason NOT to use antibacterial products. No?

The fact is that most bacteria found floating around the home are completely harmless.  In fact, less than 1% of bacteria can cause disease.

That being said, there are some bacteria that can cause harm, as well all know, and should be avoided, particularly in the kitchen. These include:

e. coli (some strains) - most strains of E. coli exist naturally in our gut and are actually beneficial (they contribute to vitamin K2 production), but some can cause severe illness. Generally, the presence of pathogenic E. coli in food indicates the food or prep area is contaminated with faeces. Yep.

salmonella - found in raw meat, eggs and dairy.

listeria - found in soft cheeses, dairy and raw food.

But, it's not necessary to apply harsh cleaning products, or antibacterial wipes or gels, in order to keep these bad boys at bay. You just need five basic and completely natural ingredients, which I listed in my previous post, here. Yes you can probably go out and spend a decent buck on ready-made 'organic' cleaning products, but by making your own with these 5 readily available ingredients, you save money and you avoid going through plastic bottles and other resource-intensive packaging.

So, how to keep your kitchen clean & healthy, naturally...

Chopping boards
Despite what we've been told, wooden chopping boards are actually safer and cleaner than plastic ones. As Christina Strutt explains in her book A Guide to Green Housekeeping, microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin's Food Research Institute have found that whilst germs placed on wooden chopping boards die within three minutes, bacteria placed on plastic chopping boards not only remains alive, but multiplies overnight.

Why this happens is simple - wood has natural antibacterial properties, and plastic does not. In fact, plastic that is sold as possessing antibacterial properties is treated with, you guessed it, triclosan.

Wood is naturally antibacterial because of its capillary action - germs are drawn beneath the porous surface of the wood where they die within minutes due to lack of moisture. This leaves the exposed surface of the wood germ-free. In contrast, germs on plastic have nowhere to go. They sit on the surface, or sink into the cuts and marks, and fester and grow, fester and grow.

I now only use wooden chopping boards. I have three: one for vegetables and bread, one for chicken, and one for other meat. I wash them with a bristle brush, hot water and soap, and disinfect them using my home-made spray of white vinegar and water (if I have excess lemons I add lemon juice too). You can also rub with a cut half of lemon.

To treat the wood and prolong its life, I rub with olive oil, leave it to soak in for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess with a cloth. Regular wood oil is petroleum based and should not be used on food prep surfaces.

Kitchen benches
Wipe down with hot water and disinfect with a home-made spray of 3/4 white vinegar, 1/4 water.

Tea towels
Soak tea towels in a strong solution of baking soda and water, or boil in a solution of water, white vinegar and a teaspoon of baking soda. This will disinfect them, and they'll come up whiter and cleaner than if you just throw them in the washing machine.

Food covers
The health dangers of combing food and plastic are becoming more and more apparent, and it's now crystal clear that the ingredients contained in plastics make their way in to our bodies. BPA isn't the only ingredient to avoid. I'm going through the process of eliminating plastic from my kitchen, but it is tricky, no doubt. I've always kept my fresh vegetables in plastic in the fridge. It's best to completely avoid combining plastic with food, whether hot food or cold. Use muslin cloth or bags to store fruit and veg, and cover plates of food with another plate. In fact, my mother never bought a single roll of glad wrap throughout my childhood - it was always an upturned plate that covered any leftovers in the fridge.

Oven, pots and pans
Dissolve baked-on grime with a thick paste made by mixing a little water into baking soda. Leave the paste on for at least 30 minutes, then scrub. Wash down with a solution of warm water and vinegar, which cuts through the grease.

Dishes
Avoid purchasing ready made dishwashing liquid and make your own that you can store in a reusable bottle by mixing liquid castille soap or grated pure soap with hot water. Add a few drops of essential oil if you want a fragrance. You can also add baking soda for added grease-cutting power.

Floors
Use a solution of hot water and white vinegar. Add a few drops of essential oil for some natural fragrance.

Porcelain stains & silver tarnish
To dissolve stains inside china cups, soak them in a solution of baking soda and water (or baking soda and white vinegar if stains are stubborn). To clean silver and remove tarnish, soak it in boiling water with baking soda and salt. Rubbing the tarnished spot with a bit of coconut oil and a soft cloth also does the job (I used this technique yesterday!).

Glass bottles & decanters
For a bit of old-school ingenuity, clean the inside of glass bottles and decanters by adding crushed egg shells, baking soda and water and sloshing around. Leave overnight and rinse first with white vinegar and then water.

Kitchen pests
Read my previous post on fighting pests naturally here.

My next post will step us into the laundry to clean clothes and remove stains naturally. In the meantime, do you have any other home-made remedies for common kitchen quandaries? I'd love a recipe for a tried and tested home-made dishwasher powder!

19.4.12

a guide to green housekeeping

I'm no authority on housekeeping. My dog and cat live on the lounge, and I don't believe in keeping a sterile home. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that I enjoy cleaning as much as I would a slap in the face with a wet mullet. Not much at all. Furthermore, the idea of covering all surfaces with potent petrochemicals in the process is not one I covet.

via ecosalon

So when I read Christina Strutt's handy Guide to Green Housekeeping (the book is my little bible), and discovered that keeping a healthy home requires as few as 5 basic ingredients (all completely natural and toxin-free) and a little common sense, I gave a little squeal and leapt with joy. The notion of keeping my coffee table suitably polished without investing in a bottle of Mr Sheen feeds my sense of triumph over the corporate giants as much as it pleases me to know I'm not contributing to environmental contamination - "Take that, Mr Sheen. Look at the sheen on this baby. What a sheen", I exclaim, as I polish my coffee table with olive oil.

6.4.12

This is real food.

When you live in an area with FOUR large supermarkets within a 2KM RADIUS, you can forget that there are people in this country doing some wonderful things with food, keeping food real. This video represents those people. It's not only beautifully filmed, but tantalisingly inspiring. Watch...




A few things to love about this...

  • There are people who care about the origin of food... and the taste, and the colour.
  • We eat only a teeny tiny percentage of the variety of fruits and vegetables available on this planet. Thanks to the big supermarkets, most of us think tomatoes only come in red, and carrots only in orange. But there are people (thank you Diggers Club) who are bringing back the old-school varieties that our great great grandparents would have taken for granted.
  • Mount Zero olive oil really is the bomb.
  • The Diggers Club is an amazing place for anyone wanting to just chill with some veg. They have the most capsicum plants per square metre on the planet. They also have a paddock-to-plate restaurant/cafe. And woodlands. And this incredible view over Port Phillip Bay...



For me, this video (which Sustainable Table first tweeted) really brought something home (apart from that I MUST get myself to the Royal Mail Hotel quick smart). The only way to nudge the restaurant industry towards a more sustainable future is by showing our support of those restaurants that are doing the right thing. And telling those that aren't, what we think. If we sit quietly over our grain-fed beef fillets and conventionally-grown vegetables at the latest hip restaurant - saying nothing to the staff, asking no questions about the origin of the food on our plate - we'll get nowhere.

I'd love to know if any of you have some favourite sustainable/organic restaurants to share?