Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Instant Oatmeal

Photo of a pint canning jar full of instant oatmeal, a yellow custard cup with instant oats, and a clear silicon Stasher bag with red hash marks on it full of instant oatmeal.

Alan travels a lot for work, which can present challenges for eating plant-based and healthy. When he's at home, he eats old-fashioned oats, which he loves. For years, he's traveled with packets of instant oatmeal to have for breakfasts and meals in a pinch. They are convenient, but not all instant oatmeal packets are vegan, a lot have milk powder, and artificial colorings and flavors, not to mention a lot of added sugar. In addition, we're picky about our oats, preferring non-GMO, organic oats to reduce our exposure to glyphosphate (the herbicide Roundup). The Environmental Working Group has found levels of glyphopate in the majority non-organic oatmeal products they tested to be higher than what they consider safe, posing an increased cancer risk. You can check their studies out at and And, instant oatmeal packets generate a lot of trash, which we are actively working to reduce. One would think they are just a paper bag and therefore would be recyclable, but no, they are lined with some sort of plastic (check out this hack about cooking your oatmeal right in the baggie, which we certainly don't to expose to our food. So, given all of these things, coming up with a better alternative for Alan's instant oats was high on the list to find a solution for.

Photo of a Red Talley Stasher snack bag on black background.
Red Talley Stasher Snack Bag
The hardest part of change was not in making the instant oatmeal mix, which I'll share in a moment, but in the packaging. Alan needs something durable but lightweight and small, something that will easily fit in his computer bag or carry-on for the airplane. A glass jar is too bulky and we aren't using plastic storage bags anymore. I'd considered sewing up one of my vegan wax wraps, but we didn't want wax inside of his computer bag or carry-on in case it got warm on the airplane or in the trunk of a rental car. I finally discovered the silicone resealable Stasher bags and decided to give them a try. They come in different sizes and the snack bag size seemed perfect! And it wasit fit perfectly in Alan's carry-on with no spillage.

Photo of stainless steel bowl full of ingredients for Trimazing! Instant Oatmeal, including quick oats, raisins, powdered coconut milk, ground flax meal, coconut sugar, and cinnamon.
Ingredients for Trimazing! Instant Oatmeal
For the oatmeal, here's a little info on what ingredients I use. I use organic quick oats because Alan usually only has a little coffee pot available in his hotel room, no microwave. Quick oats cook up great in a coffee cup with hot water from a coffee maker (truth be told, he often uses hot coffee to cook his oats half the time!). Use whatever dried fruit you want, or omit. I'd rather use fruit than adding sugar. Flax adds healthy omega fatty acids, which we should eat every day. Adding it to morning oatmeal gets your daily dose of omega fatty acids done first thing so you don't have to worry about it later. You could exchange ground chia seeds or hemp. For milk, I use Wilderness Family Naturals powdered coconut milk, but you can use other powdered plant-based milks, such as soy. I bought the powdered coconut milk a while ago for our trip to Iceland because Wilderness Family Naturals had small labeled resealable sample bags that I thought would go through security better than unmarked baggies of white powder! Finally, I put in a little coconut sugar, but you can use other dry sweetener of choice or omit, and cinnamon.

Trimazing! Instant Oatmeal

2 cups organic quick oats
1/4 cup organic raisins (or dried cranberries, dates, apples, other fruit)
3 Tablespoons ground flax
2 Tablespoons coconut or soy milk powder (you can find online or in bulk section)
1 Tablespoons coconut sugar (or other dry sweetener, add more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix all together and store in a sealed container. To use, add 1/3 cup of oatmeal mix to a cup or bowl and add 3/4 cup of boiling water. Stir and let stand 2 minutes before eating.

Alan loves this instant oatmeal, in fact, he likes it better than the packaged stuff we used to get at the store. It's fresher and tastier than what we used to buy. We hope you love it too!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Growing Garlic

Photo of a pile of purple-streaked garlic bulbs.

Garlic is a great vegetable to grow, especially if you're a beginning gardener, and now is the time to plant it.

Garlic is an allium, part of the onion family, along with leeks, chives, shallots, scallions, etc. They've been an important part of our diets for millennia, as stamina boosters during Egyptian times, performance enhancers for athletes in the first Olympic games, a way to ward off the plague during the Middle Ages, and in antibiotic poultices during the Civil War and World War I. Garlic's antibiotic qualities were just not imaginary. According to Jo Robinson of Eating on the Wild Side, three cloves of garlic contain 21-39 grams of allicin, the main active antibiotic ingredient in garlic, which is the same amount of antibiotic activity as a single dose of penicillin! So garlic is more than just a flavor enhancerit is good and good for you. Garlic has also been shown to have chemopreventative (cancer preventative) properties, reported to have great effects preventing breast, brain, lunch, pancreatic, prostate, stomach, and kidney cancers (leeks edge out garlic in the case of kidney cancer), according to Michael Greger, MD (check out his great book, How Not to Die).

Interestingly enough, however, how you prepare and use your garlic, and any other allium, for that matter, has a great impact on how much allicin you get from it. Allicin is only produced when two substances in alliums come together: a protein, alliin, and an enzyme, alliinase. Alliin and alliinase don't connect until the barriers between them are broken, which occurs when alliums are cut, smashed, pressed, or chewed. But it takes more than an instantaneous connection for allicin to form, so a good rule of thumb when using garlic, onions, and any member of the allium family, is to cut or press your alliums first and let them rest for 10 minutes before using. Cooking before alliin and alliinase fully connect wipes out the ability for allicin to form. So simply chop your onions and garlic first, prepare your other ingredients, and then start cooking. If you're using your garlic or onions raw, no worries, allicin will form just fine, no need to waitit's the early cooking process that can interrupt the allicin from forming.

There are two types of garlic, hardneck and softneck.

Photo of hardneck garlic bulbs in a bowl.
Hardneck Garlic
Hardneck garlic grows its cloves in a single row around a center stalk that gets hard as it grows, thus the name hardneck. It is most akin to wild garlic. They are best for growing in colder climates, produce less numbers of cloves per bulb, and are often milder (not as hot) than softneck types. This type of garlic has a shorter shelf life.

Photo of curled garlic scapes growing out of leaves of garlic.
Curled Garlic Scapes
What's great about hardneck garlic is that it produces edible scapes in the summer, a flowering body that should be removed to allow more energy to go into the growth of the bulb. Don't throw the removed scapes out, they are a delicacy! You'll often see garlic scapes at summertime farmers markets and farm stands when farmers have removed them to enhance the growth of the garlic bulbs. Pick these up when you see them! Or, simply grow some hardneck garlic for yourself and enjoy your own fresh scapes, pinching them off at the leaf tips just when they begin to curl. I'll have more information at the end about making Garlic Scape Pesto!

While I love the scapes, I prefer to grow softneck garlic. Softneck garlic does not produce scapes. It grows with the cloves bunched together and is the type of garlic you typically find at grocery stores. Softneck has more cloves, about 16 per bulb, with large cloves on the outside and smaller ones as you move in toward the center. This type of garlic has the typical papery skin we are all familiar with and long, flexible stems that can be braided. Softneck garlic stores longer, which is why I prefer to grow this variety. There are two types of softneck garlic, silverskin and artichoke, the difference being that artichoke varieties are larger than silverskin.

Photo comparison between softneck and hardneck garlic bulbs. On the left, bulbs are whole. On the right, bulbs are cut in half horizontally.
Softneck Garlic with Rows of Cloves and Hardneck with Cloves in a Single Row Around a Solid Center

Planting Garlic

Either use garlic you have grown or buy seed garlic from a nursery or supplier to grow garlic in your garden. Garlic you buy at your grocery store may have been treated with growth inhibiting chemicals or have diseases that interfere with good growth. Seed garlic comes in familiar looking bulbs, like you would buy at the grocer.

Photo of a bag containing three bulbs of seed garlic and one outside the bag on dirt of a garden bed.
Bag of Seed Garlic for Garden Planting

Prepare your soil so that it is loose and amended with compost for good drainage and nutrients. You can grow a spring/summer cover crop in your bed to help boost the nutrient content of your soil and then chop that into the soil before planting. Choose a location that is sunny, with about 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.

Break up your garlic bulbs into individual cloves the same day you are going to plant. Gently pull the cloves apart, leaving the papery skin intact as much as possible--don't peel the cloves!

Photo seed garlic bulb broken into cloves for planting.
Breaking up Garlic Bulbs into Cloves for Planting

Select the biggest cloves for planting for bigger bulb growth. Use the small cloves for cooking!

Photo of a garlic clove showing top and bottom orientation for planting.
Orientation of Garlic Clove for Planting

Dig a little hole and put your clove in with the flat side down, pointed end headed up. It is important to position them this way so they grow straight. Have 2-inches of soil above the top of the clove. 

Photo showing planting garlic clove using a small hand spade.
Planting Clove, Depth 2-inches Above Top of Clove

Apparently I missed a few cloves when harvesting the bulbs earlier this fall! I do recall having sliced a few with my hand spade when digging them up. There were bunches of garlic sprouts popping up when I was cleaning up my beds, so I dug them, divided the cloves, and replanted them in the new location.

Photo of garlic sprouts showing spacing of clove planting.
Garlic Sprouts Showing Spacing of Clove Planting

I plant my cloves 6-inches apart on all sides. You'll see varying guidelines on this, but my bulbs grow beautifully with this spacing and I get a lot of garlic, nice big bulbs, out of my raised bed with this spacing. I've never had issues with small bulbs this way.

After sowing the cloves, I cover the bed with a mulch of fallen leaves to help keep weeds down and to keep nutrients from leeching away from the soil during our winter rains. It's a great way to use autumn leaves. This can be removed in the spring to help the soil warm up.

Photo of raised garden bed with garlic illustrated stake mulched with autumn leaves.
Mulching Garlic Bed with Autumn Leaves. Pretty and Useful!

Pull weeds as they appear in your garlic bedgarlic hate competition and won't grow as large if there are other things pulling nutrients out of their bed. Don't worry if your soil freezes during the winter, the cloves go dormant during the winter and start growing again when things warm back up. Water them during spring and early summer, about an inch per week, but stop watering when the leaves start turning yellow and falling over in late summer. You'll harvest about two to four weeks after this, when the foliage is dry and yellow.

WSU Growing Garlic is a great guide for growing garlic. You can also contact the Garden Hotline for more specific questions you might have about growing garlic in the Pacific Northwest.

I hope you give it a tryit really is an easy thing to grow!

Garlic Scape Pesto

Photo of a fork with garlic scape pesto pasta twisted around the tines.
Garlic Scape Pesto PastaYum!
This is soooo good!

10 garlic scapes
1/4 cup pine nuts or other nut you like
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
pepper to taste
1/3 cup vegetable stock, or olive oil

I prefer to make my pestos with vegetable stock rather than oil. Cut the scapes into 1-2 inch pieces, including the stem and flower pod, and place in a food processor along with the nuts, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Start the processor, stop and scrape down sides as needed, until finely chopped. While running, start pouring in the vegetable stock in a slow stream until the pesto is your desired consistency. Adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Serve with crusty bread or mix with cooked pasta. Wonderful on sandwiches, on grilled vegetables, or as a sauce on pizza! Freezes beautifully. Put into ice cube trays and freeze. Store frozen cubes in containers and thaw when desired.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tomato Paste

Photo of home-cooked tomato paste in a large pot.

Please note, this post is meant as an overview of canning tomato paste and does not replace or represent itself to be an official guide for proper canning at home. It is important to consult safe canning resources, which are listed at the end of this post.

It's gotten to the end of the tomato season in my Pacific Northwest garden. The vines are getting dark and the tomatoes are slow to ripen and spotty. I've brought many inside the garage to finish ripening, but I don't completely trust their condition, as some of them grow mold inside, so I cut them open before using to make sure they're okay. Not really great tomatoes for canning whole, but perfect for making tomato paste.

Photo of a bowl of frozen cubes of tomato paste that had been frozen in ice cube trays.
Frozen tomato paste cubes

Because I wanted to can the tomato paste, I used a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, but you can certainly freeze tomato paste. In fact, most of the time I only need a tablespoon or so of tomato paste, not a whole can or jar, and freeze the leftover paste in ice cube trays and store the frozen cubes in jars in my freezer. You can do the same with marinara sauce, pesto, guacamole, etc. If you want to just simply freeze your paste, follow the directions up until the point of canning, then put the paste into freezer-safe jars or ice cube trays and freeze.

Photo of a pot of cut up tomatoes to be made into tomato paste.
Cut up tomatoes for paste

The first step is to cut up washed tomatoes and simmer them into a sauce. You don't even have to peel them, which makes prep fast and easy! No water is necessary as the tomatoes will release their own liquid as they cook. Just stir often at the beginning so they don't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Once they've come to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, put the lid on, and let them cook down an hour.

I used mostly paste tomatoes, which don't have a lot of excess liquid in them to cook off. There were some unknown non-paste heirlooms in there that I got as freebies from a market vendor.

Photo of pot of cooked down tomatoes to be pressed into juice.
Cooked down tomatoes

Your tomatoes will look like this after they've cooked down.

See how juicy and soft they got? You want them really cooked down so you can get all the pulpy and juicy goodness out of the skins.

Note, I prefer to use stainless steel or lined pots when cooking down tomatoes. The acid in the tomatoes will react with aluminum or cast iron and give the finished product a metallic taste and often discolors it. I use a Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot for making tomato paste.

Photo of tomato skins and seeds leftover from pressing through a cone sieve.
Pressing through cone sieve

Now you'll run the cooked tomatoes through a food mill or press them through a sieve to separate the skins and seeds from the juice and pulp.

You can add the leftover skins and seeds to other vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock. There will be a lot of tomato essence still left. Or you can cool and give to composting worms! At the very least, add them to your compost pile or municipal compost collection bin.

Photo tomato juice obtained by pressing cooked tomatoes through cone sieve.
Resulting tomato juice

The juice is returned to the pot and simmered until it reduces by more than half and becomes a paste. It took about an hour for me, but I was doing a half recipe with paste tomatoes, so time will vary based upon the amount of tomatoes and type of tomatoes you use.

You can add bay leaf and garlic at this point, if you'd like, and also add citric acid. You'll need citric acid if you are canning your paste so the mixture is acidified enough for safe canning. If you are not canning, just freezing, you can omit the citric acid.

Run your ventilation fan while this is cooking down to help pull off the moisture and help it cook down.

The paste will get thicker and denser little by little as the liquid cooks off:

Three photos of the progression of tomato juice cooking into paste.
From juice (left) to sauce (middle) to paste (right)

You want to cook it down until it is reduced into a thick paste and holds its own. Here's a little video of what it looks like when you run a spatula through it (I have my vent fan turned all the way up, so its a little loud!). See how slow it is to fill the space back in? This is where you want to take the paste to:

Now you can remove the garlic and bay leaf, if you used, and fill into hot half-pint or quarter-pint jars. I use quarter-pint (4-ounce jars) because I don't use a lot of tomato paste at a time.

Photo of 8 4-oz. jars of tomato paste on a granite countertop.
8 4-oz. jars of tomato paste
This is the amount of paste I got from 7 pounds of tomatoes. It is really concentrated tomato, each little jar is the flavor of about 1 pound of tomatoes! A lot of folks won't find it worth it to make tomato paste, but I think it tastes better in glass than an aluminum can and I know it's not lined with BPA or BPS plastic. Furthermore, it's way easier to store after opening. I can scoop out what I want, replace the lid, and either refrigerate if I'm using again soon, or pop in the freezer.

Process these in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes for half- or quarter-pint jars, if at sea level. Check the recipe for other altitudes.

Photo of 8 4-oz. jars of canned tomato paste out of the water bath canner, cooling on a towel.
Canned jars of tomato paste cooling from water canner


There are some great resources available for home canning. Internet resources are fantastic as they are generally most up to date. There are some standby books, but remember to get new ones every few years to be current with updated guidelines.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Junk Mail

Photo of two catalogs, a post card, and two envelopes of junk mail.

Junk mail...argh...bane of my existence! We work so hard to move toward zero waste in our house and then we go to the mailbox, and WHAMO! there's a bolus of junk!

New York University Law School posted some statistics they gathered on junk mail in the United States:

  • 5.6 million tons of catalogs and direct mailings end up in US landfills every year
  • 44% of junk mail is tossed unopened!
  • Only 22% of junk mail is recycled
  • The average US household receives 848 pieces of junk mail a year!
  • Junk mail destroys 150 million trees per yearthe equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months!
I think that's just disgusting! And of those statistics, I believe that the recycling rate of junk mail is actually lower than that, due to the China National Sword policy, which has left much of the US without a source to send paper to for recycling. Learn more about the impacts of the China National Sword policy in your state by going to the WasteDive webpage on What Chinese Import Policies Mean for All 50 States

We've been working hard to eliminate junk mail at our house. It takes work. I probably spend 30 minutes a week dealing with junk mail right now. I'm hoping that decreases as time goes on and I make an impact on our mailing address.

What I Do to Decrease Junk Mail

Free Services
  1. Catalog Choice sends opt-out requests to catalog and other merchants on your behalf
  2. OptOutPrescreen.Com Service by the major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian, and Innovus) to be removed from lists used to send credit and insurance offers
  3. National Do Not Mail List from, a national direct mailing company
  4. National Yellow Pages Consumer Choice & Opt-Out Site will stop delivery of phone books (yellow and white pages) for your area
  5. Sign up for electronic billing from services you use
  6. Contact businesses directly. I call and/or email businesses that send us junk mail to be removed from their mailing list. Unfortunately, a lot of times they have purchased a mailing list from places like, so it won't remove you from the master list, but it should prevent you from getting mail from this individual business again. Here's the saved email message I use:
Subject: Removal from Mailing List
We recently received an unsolicited mailing from you. We are a zero waste household and are working to eliminate unnecessary paper waste. Would you please remove us from your mailing list: 
 Name on mailing
Address on mailing
Thank you
Check the junk mail to get the email address or phone number for opting out. Many don't have contact information on them, so I do a web search for the information. Most companies have a Privacy Policy section at the bottom of the web page where you can find contact information:

Screenshot of a privacy policy link on the UnTuckIt website.
Privacy Policy Link on the UnTuckIt Website

I have been pleased to see many catalogs now coming with opt-out web addresses printed on them. This makes me happy, because I don't have to search websites and privacy policies for opt-out procedures:

Photo of OptOut web address from back of the Lumens catalog.
OptOut Web Address from Lumens Catalog

Photo of OptOut web address from back of the Smith and Noble catalog.
OptOut Web Address from Smith and Noble Catalog

Services for a Fee
  1. Paper Karma a smartphone app that allows you to submit photos to remove yourself from mailing lists for a subscription fee of $1.99 a month
  2. DMA Choice charges $2 fee for a 10 year period of opting out of junk mail lists.

The frustrating thing is that most catalogs and bulk mailings are printed months in advance. Before I retired from the fire service, one of the major businesses in my fire management area was a major printing company that printed phone books and catalogs, and they had warehouses with printed mailings strapped on pallets ready to go out in the mailit was shocking! You will probably get a few more catalogs or mailings over the next couple of months due to pre-printed material prior to your opt-out request.

Check with your county for services in your local area for opting out of junk mail. King County, Washington has a site devoted to reducing junk mail.

I've been working on this for the past several months and believe it is making an impact. 

There are a lot of folks that have great creative ways to use the junk mail they receive to make crafty items. Check out YouTube to find some awesome junk mail projects!

We tear out the clear plastic window of the envelopes and put them in the garbage and then shred the paper envelope and contents to use in our compost. Unfortunately, glossy or shiny paper, which most catalogs are comprised of, are not good for your compost, so those need to be put in the recycling bin or used for crafts. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Vegan Protein

One of the biggest sources of confusion for many of my clients is in regards to protein. Folks worry that they won't get enough protein eating whole food, plant-based (WFPB) vegan, and they've usually been warned by friends and family about this. It turns out, though, that there's a lot of misconceptions about protein, how much we really need, and what our bodies use protein for.

What is Protein and Why is it Important?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients our bodies need, along with carbohydrates and fat. Made up of long chains of amino acids, proteins are held together by peptide bonds into different structures. There are only 20 different amino acids which combine in different combinations to make up over 100,000 different proteins in our bodies. Of the 20 amino acids, there are nine that we only get from foodthese are called essential amino acids; the other 11 can be made by the body.

Once we consume proteins, the body works to break the peptide bonds holding the amino acids together so they can be absorbed and utilized to make new proteins your body needs. Note, if you eat collagen, you will not be necessarily depositing that collagen as collagen in your bodyyour body breaks down the collagen into its individual amino acids and then uses them to build whatever proteins your body needs, which may or may not be collagen! Thinking we need to eat a specific protein to deposit that exact protein in our body would be like eating an eyeball expecting to grow a new eyeballit just doesn't work that way.

Energy comes from carbohydrates and fats, not protein. The optimal diet, according to the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine (PCRM), is made up of high carbohydrate, low fat, and adequate protein.

How Much is Adequate Protein?

The formula for how much protein we need is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight). So a 150 pound person requires 54 gram of protein a day. The USDA's recommended daily allowance (optimal amount, not minimum) of protein is 56 grams for men and 46 gram for women, calculated right from this formula. Those populations with the highest longevity subsist on a diet made up of only 10% protein.

What if we Get Too Much Protein?

According to the PCRM, from evidence-based medical studies on humans, chronic overconsumption of protein contributes to osteoporosis, cancer, impaired kidney function, heart disease, and obesity.

Is Protein Deficiency an Issue?

Protein deficiency is extremely rare in the United States. The bigger issue is too much protein. If you are eating enough calories, you are getting the protein your body requires.

What about the Difference Between Animal- and Plant-based Protein?

Animal sources contain exceedingly high amounts of protein, more than our bodies need. For example, a small, 6-ounce steak has 70 grams of proteinimmediately exceeding the recommended daily allowance of protein for an adult. The Standard American Diet is far exceeding the amount of protein required in the daily diet. But beyond the high amounts of protein, animal products are laden with cholesterol and saturated fats we don't want, and completely lacking in antioxidants and fiber, dietary components necessary for human health.

Plants are full of proteins! Surprised? Where do you think plant-eating animals get their protein? Herbivores get their protein from the plants (grass, grains, etc.) they eat. The largest mammals, elephants, gorillas, cows, are all herbivores and do not suffer from protein deficiency. You will probably be surprised at the amount of protein in common plant foods:

Even apples and bananas contain protein! Apples have nearly 0.5 gram of protein for a cup of sliced apple, and there are 2.45 grams per cup of mashed banana. You can see how protein can quickly add up with plant foods. You can look up protein content of any food at the USDA Food Composition Database.

Not only do plants contain proteins, they are full of carbohydrates, our bodies' preferred energy source, along with antioxidants and fiber missing from meat, dairy, and eggs.

Complete Proteins Vs. Incomplete Proteins

Years ago when scientists were first studying protein, they observed that most plants do not contain all nine essential amino acids (soy, quinoa, chia seeds, buckwheat, hemp, and flax seed are all plant foods classified as complete proteins with all nine essential amino acids). However, this should not be a deterrent to eating a plant-based diet, as remember, a WFPB diet includes a variety of plant products. All plants contain a varying amount of essential amino acids. While one may be lacking in one essential protein, another will be bursting with it, therefore you are getting a diet rich in complete essential proteins by including a variety of plant foods in your meals.

Resources on Protein

There are a lot of great resources about protein available out there:

T. Collin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine Fact Sheets

Vegetarian Resource Group, Protein in the Vegan Diet

Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group, Protein in Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Mayo Clinic, High-Protein Diets: Are They Safe?

Harvard School of Public Health, Protein

The Exam Room Podcast, The Protein Myth