The wonders of Salt in culinary creations

November 23, 2010

coarse grey salt I discovered how fantastic salt can really be –and how vital to flavor– when I first sprinkled coarse grey salt on a hubbard squash from my local Greensgrow Farm. Combined with a little rosemary, olive oil, and garlic, and roasted to perfection, I felt I had come across one of the most delicious foods *ever*, but the key to this roasted bliss was the salt! An absolutely critical ingredient, it shattered my previous snobbery about not “needing” salt to achieve flavor in favor of herbs and spices. Now, I wisely combine wonderful salts with herbs to great ends.

Fleur de Sel caramels by The Caramel Jar: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheCaramelJar

Fleur de Sel caramels by The Caramel Jar: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheCaramelJar

Usually thought of as a savory addition, salts are often fabulous additions to sweet foods as well.  Artisan-made caramels sprinkled with Fleur de Sel (the “caviar of salts”) abound, and with good reason, because they are absolute heaven on earth. In fact, just in writing this, I remembered some dark chocolate caramels I had recently received and quickly paired them with some Celtic grey salt for a special treat. Yum! But specialty salts are increasingly found used in baking recipes such as this rhubarb upside-down cake.

Fortunately, Herb Companion recently published a wonderful article on “Perfect Pairings: Marrying Herbs and Salts” that doesn’t need to be re-written by me! Not only does author Tabitha Alterman outline every kind of salt you may come across, but she tells you the herbs that make the best pairings for complex herb-salt blends. Creating a seasoning like this will not only ultimately reduce your total sodium intake by increasing flavor with herbs, but the taste of better quality salts will also encourage the use of less total salt. Herb Companion helpfully lists resources for such special finds as Hickory smoked salt and gourmet salt blocks. During a recent visit to Boulder, Colorado, I fortuitously came across Savory Spice Shop and found myriad herb-spice blends (as well as plenty of salt-free butcher’s rubs, etc), sold to my by the nicest sales person on the planet. One blend I am really excited about is their County Clare Seasoning Salt, which brings happy thoughts of my favorite Irish county, and lots of exciting possibilities for future culinary creations.


Green Living 101: Greening your office

November 22, 2010

Guest Post by: Sarah Outlaw

Many people are opting to change a room in their homes into a home office. It may be an entire room, part of a den, or a little nook in the kitchen. Wherever you decide to set up your home office you may want to consider some “greener” more Eco-friendly options.

Furniture:
Most of the office furniture on the market today is made of cheap particle board. This may seem like the economical choice due to affordability but it costs more in the long run. Particle board furniture tends to break, chip, and scratch very easily so it is less durable and needs to be replaced more frequently. Particle board, while seemingly a “green” choice because it is made up of recycled wood or wood waste, is not because of the formaldehyde resin used the bonding agent for the furniture. Formaldehyde will outgas and leach into the surrounding environment and may cause irritation to the eye, lungs, and bronchial passages. Some better options would be to go to your local Goodwill, antique or thrift stores and find real wood furniture that you can reclaim and refurbish to meet your needs. Be sure to use non-toxic finishing products if you are doing any staining or polishing. Another option would be to check yard sales, Craigslist, or even Freecycle.

Paint:
When choosing the paint for any room in your home, not just the office, always look for low VOC (volatile organic compounds), low odor paint. It is easier to find now at Lowe’s or Home Depot because there is a higher demand for it than there used to be. Using this paint will eliminate the headaches and nausea that can accompany a painting project. It is also much safer and healthier for you and your family.

macbook decal from Luckylabs.com

macbook decal from Luckylabs.com

Computers:
It is very frustrating that as soon as you buy any technology it is almost immediately out of date. Something bigger (or smaller) and better comes along just a few months down the road and you are left with a “substandard” device. While there is nothing we can do about the constant advancement of technology, which is not necessarily a bad thing, there is something you can do about making your technology a little more Eco-friendly. Laptops consume less energy than a PC and are portable so you can easily take your home office on the go. Dell has a sleek new Eco Bamboo computer that looks very promising! If a PC is a must, look for smaller computers with an Energy Star monitor. Computers also have ratings for the amount of toxic materials present or used to make them. EPEAT ratings are the EPA’s Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool to determine if a PC meets specific safety criteria. Buying an EPEAT certified PC is a crucial step in reducing hazardous and non-hazardous waste and energy during manufacturing.

The average American buys a new computer every three years. This means one person can go through approximately 60 computers in a lifetime! That is a lot of waste! When you are replacing your PC, please consider recycling it by sending it back to the manufacturer or donating it. It is imperative that electronics stay out of the landfills because the leach mercury, lead, and cadmium into the groundwater and contaminate the air.

Printers:
A printer is a must for every office unless you are able to go completely paper-free. Choose Energy Star printers and purchase recycled printer paper. Companies like HP are boasting new Eco-Friendly printers that are said to have energy and paper-saving features. It pays to do the research to find the best options for you and the environment.

If you own a small business and are in need of Eco-friendly products and services, I have found Eco-Office Gals to be a great resource.Utilizing the above tips and resources should be of help when designing your ideal Eco-friendly home office. Every “green” choice matters in the health of your family and of our planet.

Sarah Outlaw is a work-at-home wife and mother of 3 who is passionate about natural living, natural medicine, and real food. She is the owner of 90210 Organics, an Eco-boutique, and is a Certified Health Coach & Natural Living Consultant.


The Healing Power of Herbs: Liniments

November 17, 2010

Oil with herbs Liniments. Hm. Sounds vaguely medicinal, right? I remember once going to a bar that was ‘inspired’, I take it, by herbal formulas. Some drinks (shall I say ‘concoctions’?) boasted the inclusion of herbal tinctures of elderflower, ginger, or lavender. Not a bad thought at all, as we often use more familiar alcohol extracts of vanilla or orange peel in herby libations. However, there was a drink that supposedly included the use of an herbal liniment…..HA HA HA HA. Well, that’s the herb snob in me, I’m a little ashamed to admit. Why? Because liniments are for external treatment, not for cocktails. In fact, many liniments use rubbing alcohol as a base which sounds downright raunchy as an addition to an evening beverage. In truth, a liniment could essentially be made the same way as an extract meant to be taken internally, despite the fact that the definition implies that it is used externally. It can also be made as an infused oil, which, if made with the right kind of oil, can be a fabulous culinary addition! Still, I feel some “nameology” needs to be in order.

Moving on.  A liniment is most often made as an alcohol extract. The purpose is to provide a vehicle for the important chemical compounds in herbs that would be used for external application. I have included a DIY recipe below for a ginger liniment that is made with a neutral oil, and some additional possibilities are olive oil, safflower oil, or sunflower seed oil. Essentially an infused oil, this ginger liniment works great as a massage oil post-exercise to relieve aches & pains. It is also a great treatment to increase circulation. Try on arthritic joints, on sore muscles, and troublesome joint pain. Best used twice a day at least!

gingerDIY RECIPE : Ginger Liniment

3″ piece fresh ginger
1/4 cup almond oil

Grate ginger and combine with oil in a non-reactive (non-aluminum) saucepan. Cover and heat on low heat for one hour. Make sure you have this at the lowest possible temperature to avoid the oil overheating or ‘burning’. Remove from heat and steep for another hour. Strain out ginger. Pour oil into a 4 oz colored glass bottle with a tight-fitting screwtop.

Alternative: Use 1/4 cup grain alcohol instead of oil. Infuse for a minimum of 6 weeks (without heat) in a dark place. Apply externally with a cotton pad to relieve aches and pains. Do not apply on broken skin.

NOTE: whenever applying an external remedy, do a test patch first to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Apply a small amount on the inside of your arm and wait 24 hours to make sure you won’t have any reaction. Some minor redness can be a natural side effect of a ginger liniment, as increased blood circulation may bring blood flow to the surface of the skin.


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