Out of the Mason Jar

Hi, I'm Allison, a working mama from Northern California interested in cultured foods, holistic health, and finding the beauty in everyday life. When I'm not blogging, you can find me singing in the car, practicing yoga, dreaming of traveling, playing Scrabble, drawing flowers, or experimenting in the kitchen. Come share the journey!

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06 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Whipped Coconut Oil Facial Cleanser

I won’t tell you how often I go to bed with makeup on, but I must admit, I am a bit lazy about washing my face properly outside of the shower. I know, I know… next to forgoing sunscreen, it’s the cardinal sin of skin care. A Mary Kay lady once told me that every night you go to bed without washing your face, you add an extra day to the aging of your skin. I don’t know if this is true, but in my twenties, fear tactics were apparently not enough of a match against my late-night laziness. In my thirties, however, the tide is starting to turn as I contend with the issues of more mature skin. Adding to the struggle is that fact that skin care products are so expensive and I’m constantly torn between the use of natural ingredients vs. chemical products. I’m telling you, skincare is a battlefield.

Then, my friend, Katy, turned me on to the idea of oil cleansing. As in washing your face, not with soap, but with oil. This might sound a little crazy, but it works within the concept of “like dissolves like” and is said to clean out your pores without clogging them. It’s supposed to work well for all skin types, even acne-prone skin because it helps maintain the proper balance of oil whereas soaps strip the skin and the body reacts by producing too much oil, a circular battle that never ends.

Oil cleansing sounded like a win, win, win, win (cheap, natural, effective, and I already had all the ingredients at home). So, I finally whipped up a batch and tried it for myself‒and I have to say‒I loved it! It removed my makeup like a champ and felt more like a spa treatment than a chore. My skin felt incredibly clean and moisturized afterwards. It wasn’t dry and tight, nor was it greasy, plus it smelled great! Here is the recipe shared with me that I now share with you:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups organic coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Essential oils of your choice (I used 5 drops of lavender oil and 5 drops of lemon oil, both Young Living brand which is extremely high quality)

Combine the ingredients with a mixer until it is well blended and creamy. (I say whip it! Whip it good!) If your coconut oil is hard, you can warm it up slightly by placing it in a glass bowl on top of a pot of warm water (be careful not to heat up your essential oils). Store mixture in a mason jar or container of your choice.

Cleansing Directions:

  • Apply a teaspoon or so of the oil mixture to your face/neck and massage deeply into your pores for at least 1 minute
  • Wet a washcloth with hot water and apply to your face allowing the steam to work its way in until the cloth has cooled. Repeat 2-3 more times, gently wiping off any excess oil the last time.

Detox Reaction:

Some people may experience a period of adjustment where their skin actually gets worse during the first week. This is usually due to the impurities being pulled from your pores and your body adjusting, so if this happens, try to stick it out until it passes. Some people do not tolerate coconut oil and may need to try another oil or oil blend. Check out this blog for advise on alternate oils.

Bonus Uses: 

  • This whipped coconut oil mixture makes a great body moisturizer as well. Rub it onto your legs after you shave or onto your feet before you go to bed.
  • As long as your essential oils are food grade (Young Living’s oils are) and edible (lavender and lemon oils are), you can use this mixture for oil pulling. I found it gave a much-improved texture and a nice flavor. (If you’ve never heard of oil pulling, it’s basically swishing with coconut oil for dental health‒but more on that in a future post!)

04 April 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Tropical Sunset Salad

My mom sometimes buys food from the True North Health Center here in Sonoma County (CA) because they prepare only whole, natural, vegetarian foods and avoid added oil, salt, sugar, wheat, rye, peanuts, and all added chemical preservatives, coloring, msg, etc. When you’re trying to eat healthy, it can feel very limiting, so a little creativity goes a long way to make your food more enjoyable. The following salad is one of her favorites from their kitchen because it’s packed full of vibrant flavors and is oh, so satisfying. When she shared some with me, I loved it too and knew I could easily recreate it in my own kitchen. I believe the TNHC makes their simple dressing out of ginger, apple juice, and sesame seeds. My version just uses the juice of an orange as the “dressing” and it turned out wonderfully.

Ingredients:

  • Green cabbage, shredded
  • Grapefruit segments
  • Mango, cubed
  • Jicama, cubed
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • The juice of an orange

Toss the ingredients in a bowl with the juice of an orange and enjoy the taste of summer!

28 February 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Lemony Coleslaw and Fish Sandwiches

My other half and I love lemon everything, and this coleslaw has a super addictive lemony-zing that has made it a long-standing favorite. It’s delicious on its own, but we enjoy it best on fish sandwiches. Most any kind of fish or preparation will do. Bake, grill, pan fry, or broil your choice of fish (even fishsticks taste great) and serve on a tasty bun with ketchup and generous spoonfuls of lemony-coleslaw. Soooo good!

Dressing Ingredients:

  • Mayo (a few large spoonfuls)
  • Apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar (a couple good splashes)
  • Brown sugar (start with 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Juice and zest of 1-2 lemons
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Plus the Main Ingredient:

  • 1 head of cabbage, shredded

And if you want to mix things up and make it your own, here are some optional addition ideas:

  • Shredded carrots, broccoli, or bell pepper; sliced green onion, regular onion, or radish; diced apple, mango, pineapple, or orange; chopped parsley or cilantro; freshly-grated ginger; slivered almonds, cashews, peanuts, or other nuts; dried cranberries or raisins; dried seaweed flakes; sesame, poppy, or sunflower seeds

In a large bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. TASTE and decide if it needs adjusting. If it’s not tangy enough, add some more lemon. If it’s really sour, add more sugar. If it’s bland, add more salt & pepper and maybe another splash of vinegar. We like it super-duper-lemony, but do whatever suits your palate. Once the dressing is to your liking, add the shredded cabbage (and any optional ingredients you want) and toss well. A whole head of cabbage may seem like a lot, but it will decrease in volume once the dressing has a chance to soak in and wilt the cabbage down. You can eat it right away if you prefer a fresh, crunchy coleslaw or let it sit for an hour or longer if you prefer it softer.

Make Ahead: If you want to prepare this for the next day, place the shredded cabbage in the bowl on top of the dressing, but don’t mix it together. Store it in the fridge and toss when you’re ready.

10 January 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Getting Cozy with our Microbiome

Below is a fun, educational video by NPR that explains the importance of bacteria. Many years ago, I remember watching a video in science class that explained how every part of our bodies, and pretty much everything around us, is covered in microscopic bacteria. We all got the heebie-jeebies and starting washing our hands obsessively until the mental images of “bugs” crawling all over us left our minds! Well, the girls did anyway… The boys were more like, “Ewww, gross!!” And then they went back to eating their lunches with grubby fingers and trying to wipe boogers on each other.

What wasn’t explained very well is that the majority of these little guys are actually our friends and there are good reasons not to wage all out war on them. Microbiology is a science in which we are making discoveries in leaps and bounds, however, much like exploring the depths of the ocean or the expanse of the universe, we have only just scratched the surface! This video sheds light on why more and more people are ditching their hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial products… why the movement towards probiotic, fermented foods is spreading so quickly… why we should be choosy about saying “yes” to antibiotics and avoiding them in our food sources… and even why vaginal birth and breast feeding set us up for better health all the way into adulthood. Enjoy the video!

“Exploring The Invisible Universe That Lives On Us — And In Us”

29 November 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

The last bite which barely made it into the photo before being eaten!

This is a tasty make-ahead dish for the holidays or any time. Since it is served cool or at room temperature, it doesn’t battle for space in the oven at the last minute before dinner which is something to appreciate, and it’s a wonderful way to combine the traditional sweet potato dish with a salad for a refreshing balance to all the hot dishes. It tastes just as delicious, if not better, the second day. This was the Thanksgiving leftover I couldn’t stop snacking on today until it was all gone!

  • 1 bag of sweet potatoes
  • A few large handfuls of fresh spinach
  • 1 small log of goat cheese
  • A handful or two of dried cranberries
  • A handful or two of broken or roughly chopped pecans
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel sweet potatoes and chop into ¾” to 1″ cubes. On a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, drizzle sweet potato cubes and diced garlic lightly with olive oil and toss with a spatula until all surfaces are coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven until toasty golden brown, but still soft inside (not dried out). Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Transfer sweet potatoes to a medium bowl and toss with a couple handfuls of dried cranberries and pecans, the log of goat cheese broken up into small chunks, and a few large handfuls of spinach torn into bite-sized pieces. You can serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator to be served later.

The goat cheese and sweet potatoes are creamy enough and all the ingredients flavorful enough that it really requires no dressing—though if you wanted to guild the lily, I’m sure a drizzle of balsamic or other vinaigrette would be complimentary. I imagine it might also be tasty with the addition of orange or mandarin segments or pomegranate seeds.

22 October 2013 ~ 0 Comments

The Apple Core: To Be or Not to Be

Have you seen the post going around the internet that suggests we’ve been eating apples the “wrong way” our whole lives and the only reason apples have cores has to do with the way we eat them? I’m sure you’re thinking, “What possible other way could there be to bite through an apple??”

The premise is that if you eat an apple by starting at the bottom or top instead of eating around the middle as we traditionally do, that the entire flesh of the apple is edible with no core left over. I was somewhat skeptical and of course, had to try this for myself! I happened to have an apple in my car on the same day I heard about this, so as I ate it I took a photo every bite or two to document the process.

First, you need to twist off the stem, and if you like, you can also pinch off that little whiskery nub (dried up remains of the stamen) protruding from the blossom end of the apple (the “calyx”). The main concern left is what about the tough bit (the “endocarp”) that surrounds the seeds? When you get to the center, you’ll see the star-shaped area you’re probably wondering how to contend with. As the seeds become accessible, you can just pick them out. There is a firm sort of pod that encases each one of the seeds, but it turns out that if you chew this up with a bite of apple pulp, it’s quite edible and actually not unpleasant to eat.

The best part is, you can easily drop the stem and seeds out a crack in your car window without drawing attention to yourself. A great improvement on the usual core disposal process in which you look for a roadside field, roll your window all the way down, scan for cops, and then fling that sucker as far as you can… Am I right?! Plus, you get more apple for your money with no waste which is quite satisfying.

TA-DA!!

P.S. I’d always heard apple seeds (aka: “pips”) contain cyanide so you shouldn’t consume them, however I recently learned that 1) they actually contain cyanogen which does generates cyanide, but it’s in negligible amounts that your body can handle because of a detoxifying enzyme in our cells called rhodanese, and 2) scientific studies show that cyanogen actually has anti-cancer properties. Cancer cells don’t have rhodanese enzymes, therefore cyanides kill them. Just another reason to eat an apple a day–seeds and all. Pip, pip, horray!

P.P.S. Is it just me, or did you ever notice how sexual apple anatomy is? Just look at the “fleshy fruit” photo up top and the appley birds and bees discussion here.

13 August 2013 ~ 0 Comments

REAL Dill Pickles

Who doesn’t love pickles?!!! I scream, you scream, we all scream for pickles, and here’s how to make your own at home. Not only will they taste great, but these are the REAL THING. As in brined, like-they-did-it-back-in-the-olden-days, sold-out-of-a-barrel-at-the-general-store kind of pickles. Real pickles gain their vinegar-like flavor, not from vinegar (as with most store-bought pickles), but from culturing in a bath of brine (salt water). This fermentation process combined with the familiar flavors of dill, pepper, and garlic, not only creates that mouth-watering, vinegary, dill pickle flavor we all know and love, but it also makes your pickles pro-biotic and super good for you. Not only will the pickles do your body good, but the pickle juice can become your secret weapon to fighting off colds and illness. Next time you feel that tickle in the back of your throat, drink a little of this pickle juice and your immune system will thank you. So how do you make these magical pickles? It’s pretty much as simple as throwing cukes, water, and salt into a jar and waiting for the goodness. Is your mouth watering yet?

Ingredients:

  • 2 quart mason jar or ceramic crock
  • A handful of clean oak leaves, grape leaves, horseradish leaves, cherry leaves, blackberry leaves, or raspberry leaves (optional)
  • Pickling cucumbers (Persian cucumbers like you find at Trader Joe’s also work and are available year-round)
  • Garlic, roughly chopped
  • Whole peppercorns and any other spices you’d like (mustard seeds, coriander seeds, dill seeds, juniper berries, red pepper flakes, cinnamon sticks, etc.)
  • Fresh dill (you can use the whole thing, stems and all; it’s ok if it has gone to seed)
  • Chlorine-free water
  • 1/2 packet Caldwell’s Vegetable Starter Culture and 1 tsp. sugar to activate it (these are optional)
  • 3 TB Salt
  • Glass or stone weight (recommended)

1. Grape leaves, oak leaves, or any of the other leaves listed above contain tannins that are the secret to crunchy homemade pickles. Rob a local tree or vine, wash them off, and line the bottom of your jar with them. Layer on some cucumbers, dill, garlic, and spices, and another leaf or two. Continue this process until your container is full.

2. Next, add half a packet of Caldwell’s Vegetable Starter Culture to a couple cups of chlorine-free water; add a teaspoon of sugar to “wake up” the culture, and mix well (the sugar will be consumed by the culture very quickly). If you don’t have starter culture, don’t worry, you can still make pickles without it.* Either way, add your salt to the water and stir to dissolve as much as you can.

3. Pour this liquid over your pickles and then add water until the contents are completely submerged. We are anaerobically fermenting, which refers to the absence of oxygen. Anything that rises above the water line and comes into contact with the air is subject to mold. If you do get mold on top, DO NOT throw out your whole batch; simply scrape the mold off the top, and everything below will be just fine (think of it like cutting the mold off cheese; the rest is still perfectly edible). As the contents will have the tendency to float up, it helps to place a weight on top. A well-washed river rock will do the trick. I am using a glass votive holder from the dollar store—it fits perfectly! Screw a lid on and wait anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Cloudiness and bubbles are both good signs your pickles are happily fermenting. Once you are happy with the sourness of your pickles, move them to the fridge and enjoy!!

*The process of fermentation relies on bacteria. Your produce will naturally provide bacteria, but sometimes it can use some help. The Caldwell brand has spent over 15 years developing a broad spectrum starter culture full of active lactic bacteria specific to anaerobic, raw vegetable fermentation and is the only brand that works with, not against, the natural, indigenous microbes of your produce. You can absolutely make pickles without it (obviously they didn’t have these little packets back in your grandmother’s pickling days), but they do provide a consistency to pickling by ensuring your cultures are exposed to all necessary bacterial strains. What are the risks of not having all the right bacteria present? Much of the time you will be fine, but occasionally it could take longer to ferment, not ferment at all, it could end up slimy, or it could mold. None of these conditions are dangerous, so don’t be afraid of tasting your work if this happens. You should know that botulism is a nonexistent risk; this only happens in canning, but never in fermentation (you can watch the video in my previous post for a detailed explanation about this).