DIY Dried Herbs

Recipes, Sustainability

Having a garden can be so fulfilling. From picking to preserving the process can be as long or as short as you want it to be and you can reap the benefits of your hard work for longer than your gardening season if you plan it. When I first started gardening, I started out small with herbs, but quickly realized that I couldn’t use enough fresh herbs to completely use up what I was growing. This became a problem year after year, and I’d feel so discouraged letting my herb plants die feeling like I didn’t get their full use. Jump forward to this year, when I finally took the time to preserve my own herbs so I could enjoy them for the months ahead.

Drying herbs is really quite easy with the bulk of time spent waiting for the herbs themselves to dry out. Other than that it’s just harvest, hang, and store. I’ll outline the steps briefly below. These steps can be followed with all herbs so that you can enjoy them before and after the season is over.

  1. Harvest Herbs – using shears or scissors, snip long stems of whatever herb you’re harvesting. Make sure the stems are long and even enough to put together in a bunch for hanging. The images that I took here show the process with my Oregano plant.
  2. Hang Herbs – pull your harvest into a bunch and secure at the ends. I used a rubber band, but you could also use string, a hair tie or ribbon to secure. Make sure whatever you use is nice and snug around the stems, because as the herbs dry out they will lose some of their girth and could slip and fall out of the band. Then use string or ribbon or whatever you have lying around to create a way to hang the herbs. I used a rubber band to secure and then slipped string through the rubber band to hang by a loop. Hang the herbs in a dry, cool place (I chose an armoire closet in my dining room). Some of the leaves may fall off during the drying process. If the mess concerns you, you can wrap a paper bag around the herbs to catch anything that falls. Leave in cool, dry place until herbs dry out – this will vary by location – just make sure not to remove the herbs until they are nice and crispy. Once dry the leaves should fall off super easily, sometimes with even just a slight touch.
  3. Harvest Dried Herbs – now this step may seem redundant, and I guess it sort of is, but now that your herbs are dry you need to pull the leaves from the stems for storage.

Easy Vegan Chili

Recipes

If you didn’t know by now, I am a huge fan of all Beyond Meat products. Their chicken-free strips are amazing as a chicken substitute in enchiladas and “chicken” noodle soup. The new Beyond Famous Star at Carl’s Jr. is my first ever fast food obsession, and their Beyond Beef crumbles are great in just about anything that calls for ground beef. I particularly love using them in spaghetti and pasta recipes and this chili recipe. I suppose I should also mention that this post is not sponsored, nor am I sponsored in any way by Beyond Meat (hello! that’d be awesome though!). I sincerely very much appreciate their products and the versatility of them and love how easy they’ve made the transition to vegetarian for me (well, mostly – will do another post on that entirely at some point).

It seems like most of the United States lately has been cold, cold, cold. And not just a little cold, but like polar vortex cold. Luckily, I live in California where cold to me is not the same as cold to most people; however, that doesn’t stop me from thinking it’s as cold as it’s ever been here. In order to counteract that on a gloomy Superbowl Sunday, I made this vegan chili with some super hot, hot, hot baked potatoes. My plan was to make a big baked potato bar with all the fixings, but once I tasted this chili I sort of forgot about the rest of the things that were supposed to be options (sorry, guests). This chili was the perfect amount of spicy kick and cuddly warmth to battle not only the cold outside but also the terribly lackluster football game inside.

It’s a fairly simple recipe to make, and for those of us who aren’t completely vegan, it’s surprisingly no-fuss and tasty too. Most of the ingredients are items I typically have in my pantry as well which makes it an easy weeknight dinner that doesn’t usually require a trip to the store, because who likes that. Also keep in mind, that if your local grocery store doesn’t offer Beyond Meat products, you can always substitute with your favorite ground beef alternative or leave that part out entirely. Serve with your favorite chili accoutrements, we like cornbread (who doesn’t), sour cream, cheddar cheese, mustard (yes, I’m a weirdo), or throw it on top of a baked potato for an extra filling meal. Also, I don’t have photos for this, because, life, but will try to get some once I make this again.

UPDATE!!! PHOTOS ADDED – I really do make this pretty often and FINALLY remembered to take a pic. Doesn’t it look delish!?

Easy Vegan Chili

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes

1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 15.5 oz can sweet corn, drained

1/2 large yellow onion, diced

1 10 oz bag of Beyond beef crumbles, the unseasoned kind

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup water, or depending on desired consistency

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil, or vegetable oil for cooking onions and garlic

  1. Add olive oil to the bottom of a large sauce pan along with onion and garlic. Cook on medium-high heat until onion starts to brown on the edges.
  2. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil.
  3. Once chili comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for at least 1 hour. This allows all the ingredients to really cook in together and give you a good depth of flavor.
  4. If chili is too thick after simmering, you can add more water to reach desired consistency.
  5. Add desired toppings or use on top of a big baked potato.
  6. Enjoy!

Easy French Bread

Recipes

Going into 2019, I knew I wanted to make some changes to my everyday life. Some of these changes included more physical activity, a period of detox and some food changes, but overall I think my main focus is becoming more self-sustainable. This is fairly broad but to me it means making more of my own food, or growing it, and depending less on the idea that I have to spend money to take care of myself. This also ties in with the idea of sustainability, such as reusing items, buying less, and contributing less to our growing garbage problem. Basically, I want to buck societal norms and get back to a simpler way of life. Maybe I’ll do another post on my reasoning and inspiration behind this entirely, but for now let’s just stick to one point specifically.

One of my main resolutions for 2019 is to become more self-sustainable with my food. This includes making more of my own items from scratch, such as breads, sauces, jellies etc., as well as growing a larger garden than I did last year. Obviously with it being January, starting the garden is a couple months away, so to keep myself busy until then, I’ve been learning how to make things that I can do inside away from the blustery weather. My favorite of these so far is bread. Bread is one of those things that I think makes a kitchen feel homey and inviting. The smell, the process and the feeling of being able to create something so simple and yet so widely consumed is very special to me. I remember my mom making bread and rolls and pastries and thinking that she must possess some kind of magic to be able to create things that were even better than store bought. As I got older, I seriously thought that I needed some kind of special training or voodoo to be able to accomplish the same thing. The whole process seemed so complicated. The yeast rising, the kneading, the rolling – it all felt so out of reach. What if I messed up? What if my bread didn’t rise? What if I fail? It seems very dramatic, I know, but I do feel like this is the stigma around bread (or dough in general)! Finally, I mustered the courage to give it a shot, and I’m happy to report that tasty baked goods aren’t just for those with fairy dust. With no tricks up my sleeve, and no magic bread-wand, I am able to confidently create warm loaves of bread that make my house smell as if a bakery exploded in my kitchen.

The most difficult part of making bread, I think, is the time consumed to create it. It’s not like making cookies where prep time takes 20 minutes and you bake each batch for 8 minutes and voila! – cookies for everyone! It’s at least a 2-3 hour process because of the rising times. Now, don’t get me wrong, waiting for dough to rise is not difficult in the slightest. You literally do nothing but wait (which for those of us without patience can be quite trying). With a stand mixer, your job is even easier. Pour contents into mixer, wait; pull contents out of mixer, wait; put contents into oven, wait. OK, so maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s close. This bread recipe is one of the first that I’ve tried that isn’t a “30 Minute Roll” or a quick bread recipe (like banana or pumpkin). The first time I attempted it, I doubled the recipe and was able to give one loaf away. The bread was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little more dense than I had hoped it would be. So, for my second try, I did only one loaf and I tweaked the recipe a bit to what I thought might provide a better outcome. And boy, was I pleased when my fragrant and golden brown loaf was ready to come out of the oven. Not only did it smell divine, it looked like one of the prettiest things I’ve ever been able to bake. As I pulled it out and checked it for done-ness (a fully baked loaf of bread should sound hollow when you tap on it) I think my eyes may have welled up a bit, like I was holding my very own baby for this first time. It was perfect. I slathered the baby in melted butter and waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in. OK, comparing the bread to a baby now sounds wrong… and quite gross. Anywho, I paired this perfect loaf with my Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup and could not have been happier with the results. It was light, it was buttery and filled with carby, bready goodness.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is if I can make bread, so can you. You’d be surprised at how much money it could save you versus buying bread at the store. We’ve used this bread now for french toast, dipping and just for snacking, but I think it could also be used for sandwiches, homemade croutons, bread pudding and pretty much anything else. And money isn’t the only thing you’re saving. Think of all the plastic wrapping and those little plastic bread clips and zip ties you aren’t throwing away. I like to keep my homemade bread in a small paper bag on the counter, but I’ve also heard you can wrap it in foil or make fabric bread bags (which I may do with some fabric scraps in the future). So cast your doubts aside and get your butt in the kitchen. You don’t need any special skills or bread fairy dust for this recipe, just a few hours to wait for the dough to rise and a bit of optimism.

Do you like to make your own bread? What are your favorite recipes? And what are some ways that you try to make your home more self-sustainable?

<b>Easy French Bread</b>

1 packet of active dry yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1 cup warm water (for yeast activation)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for coating large bowl

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Once sugar is mostly dissolved, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Once foamy, add the salt, vegetable oil and half of the flour. Stir to combine (I use my stand mixer with a dough hook throughout this whole process).
  3. Add the rest of the flour and mix until a dough ball forms. I let this knead in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes.
  4. Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough ball inside to rise. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel to keep any drafts out. Let sit for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Once doubled, remove dough and work with your hands for a few minutes. Stretch it out in a rectangular shape and roll into a loaf, folding the ends under to create the rounded edges.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet and let rise for another hour. At this point I like to slice little lines into the top of my loaf. Some people wait until the rising time is complete – to each their own, do what makes you happy. I like my lines to be smaller so that’s why I do it before.
  7. After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Enjoy the smell coming from your oven and prepare for goodness.
  9. Once the bread has finished baking (tap to ensure that it’s done), remove from the oven and brush melted butter over the top. Move to a cooling rack and let rest before slicing.
  10. Pat yourself on the back, because you just made your very own French bread! Well done!



Easy Homemade Granola Nut Bars

Recipes

This week has been a lazy one filled with late mornings, take-out dinners and lots of free time. Not having to work has been a blessing and a curse when it comes to sticking to my New Year’s resolutions. It’s a blessing because I don’t feel the need to take smoke breaks or have a drink after a long work day, but a curse in that I find myself with a lot of free time and the desire to go out instead of staying home. In an effort to spend less money eating out, I finally went grocery shopping today. I sat down and planned out meals for the week that I can prep on Sunday and set a guideline for dinners and extras that will be needed in between. Meal prepping is part of my New Year’s Resolution #4: Become more self-sustainable when it comes to food (you can read a full post about that particular resolution here).

Shopping went fairly smooth with list in hand, and I actually decided to wait to buy my vegetables and herbs until tomorrow when I can hopefully find everything I need at my local farmer’s market (rain and farmers willing). Things only went slightly awry when I realized I had forgotten to include any sort of snacks or in between foods for my husband and I to take to work – things like granola bars, nuts, crackers, etc. Thankfully, I remembered (because I cleaned out my pantry recently) that I had a bag of raw almonds and a bag of raw peanuts at home. This lead me to the idea of making homemade granola nut bars. I’d never done it before, but how difficult could it really be? All you need is some of your favorite healthy ingredients, some oats, and something to make it all stick together. I hit the bulk section of my local grocery store and picked up some more items to throw into the mix. I love this section of the grocery store because it feels like you can get the exact amount of everything you need without all the extra packaging. You could even bring your own bags to cut down on waste. The prices can look a little daunting – the cashews were marked at $11.99 a pound – but considering you only need about 1/2 cup of each ingredient for this recipe doesn’t make the cost too bad. What I ended up with was a bag of raw cashews and a bag of dried cranberries (I got about 3/4 lb of each and still had enough leftover to make this recipe a couple more times). I knew I had a pretty exciting thing going so I headed home to start on my creation.

Many of the recipes I looked up online had way too much sugar for my taste, others used vanilla and that’s not really my thing either. I wanted these to be as natural and close to the flavor of the ingredients as possible. Eventually, I was able to come up with my own mixture, which I think worked out pretty well and was easy to do. My husband enjoys the dark chocolate drizzle over the top (which took me a thousand tries to get just right) and I love the tart snap of the cranberries mixed with the assortment of raw nuts. It should also be mentioned that this recipe could work with any multitude of ingredients. I would just be aware with chocolate or marshmallows (if you’re more into sugar) to add them when the mixture is closer to room temperature so your ingredients don’t melt all over the place. Let me know what I should try as my next combination and if you’re taking any steps to live life more frugally or sustainably when it comes to food!


Easy Granola Nut Bars

2 1/2 c. Oats, old-fashioned

1/2 c. Almonds, chopped

1/2 c. Cashews chopped

1/4 c. Pumpkin seeds, sprouted

1/4 c. Peanuts

1/4 c. Dried cranberries

1/4 c. Honey

1/4 c. Brown sugar

1/4 c. Butter, unsalted

1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

1/2 c. Dark chocolate bar, broken into pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and place oats, almonds and cashews on a baking sheet. Once oven is preheated, bake them for 9 minutes or until lightly toasted.
  2. Line a 9” square (or round if you don’t have square) baking pan with parchment or foil.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar and butter. Stir over medium-low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add the oat/nut mixture, honey/sugar mixture and the rest of the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and stir until well combined.
  5. Once the ingredients are combined, press the mixture into the prepared 9” pan with a spatula making sure there are no large air bubbles in the mixture. This was the most challenging part for me – I thought I pressed enough, but will press twice as much next time to really make sure the ingredients are firmly stuck together.
  6. Place the pan with the mixture in the freezer to set – about 20 minutes or so depending on how thick your mixture is and how well you pressed.
  7. To make the drizzle, melt the dark chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between until melted. Be very careful not to overheat, if you have tiny pieces of chocolate left I suggest heating at 10 second intervals and stirring until completely melted.
  8. Remove 9” pan from freezer and cut granola/nut mixture into desired shapes/sizes.
  9. Drizzle melted chocolate over the top of your pieces and let rest until chocolate sets/hardens.
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Dried Orange Garland

Sustainability

A dried orange garland is the perfect bohemian accessory for your home around the holidays. It is cheap, easy to create and has an interesting history. To keep the story short, before Christianity the Romans would celebrate winter solstice. To decorate they would hang wreaths, garlands and other natural elements to honor their gods. This is where the idea for the Christmas tree came from. So in a sense, the dried orange garland is simply a blast from the past – a little piece of nature in honor of nature. Anyway, this garland is a charming and unique addition that I enjoyed making and hanging in my home. Here’s what you need:

2 navel oranges

A knife

Rope, string or twine of some kind for the actual garland

Scissors

Lint free cloth (basically something that isn’t going to leave fuzzies on your oranges)

Parchment or a silicone baking mat

Baking sheet

  1. Preheat oven to 250ºF.
  2. Slice the oranges into 1/4” slices and press with a lint free cloth to dry.
  3. Use your slices and your top to determine how long you want your garland by laying them out as far apart as you want them to be. I made my oranges very close together, almost overlapping one another, but you could also leave space between them as well if you like that look better. Once you have your length determined, cut the rope to size.
  4. Place orange slices on your parchment lined baking sheet (or silicone baking mat) and bake oranges for 1 1/2 hours. Once complete, flip over and bake for additional 1 1/2 hours. After 3 1/2 hours if oranges have started to brown, remove them from the oven and continue baking the rest until they have dried. This took me about 4 hours overall for every slice, but will depend based on varying oven temperatures.
  5. Once all the oranges are dry, thread them onto the rope. You can poke two holes in the oranges about 1/4” apart, or you can do what I did and thread through the center and then through any opening in the fruit. I thought this gave it a more natural look, but both ways work.
  6. Once all slices are on the rope, tie off the ends and hang to enjoy!
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