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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Thanksgiving Recipes

The holidays are my favorite time to eat homemade foods made from sweet local and seasonal ingredients.  I’ve posted several recipes here, and thought I’d share them with you now so you have some exciting recipes to try this year!


Homemade Hot Buttered Rum


Homemade Hot Buttered Rum


Easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce


Homemade Cranberry Sauce


Delicious Winter Squash Souffle


Winter Squash Souffle


Fresh Pumpkin Pie

(Includes Homemade Pie Shell and Filling)


Fresh Pumpkin Pie


As I went through my recipes I realized we have several more in our holiday repertoire, so I will upload some more holiday recipes in the coming weeks.


Please Share Your Own Favorite Recipes!


You are more than welcome to post your recipes in the comments here.  Or if you have posted a favorite recipe on your blog, please feel free to link to it here.


Staying True To Your Values Through The Holidays

Winter Greens


During the holidays, I generally eat too much.  I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy.  I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.


It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.


But do you ever NOT regret it later?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another?  After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year?  And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?


Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate.  I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside!  I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.


And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy.  Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world.  Is it?  Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?


Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you.  You deserve it.  And we all deserve it.


If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:


1.  Eat Local for Thanksgiving

Eat Local For Thanksgiving


2.  Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

It’s not nearly as hard as you think, once you get started.  Try it out!

Dark Days Challenge


3.  Buy Nothing New For the Holidays

If you’re going to give gifts this year, instead of buying brand new things:

  • Give used or antique;
  • Make, bake, or grow a gift; or
  • Give non-material gifts

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!


4.  Buy Nothing Day

If you can’t do it for a whole month, at least try it for a day! Crowded malls, buying frenzy – are you sure you want to go out there?  Stay home and make something or nurture yourself instead.

Buy Nothing Day

 

5.  Freeze Your Buns Challenge

Challenge yourself to keep the thermostat low this winter.

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge


I encourage you to take on at least one or two of these challenges.  We are taking on all 5!


Will You Do It?


Come on, give it a shot!  And please feel free to recommend other good challenges out there as well!


Matt’s Rosemary Olive Bread Recipe

by TomSchaefges on Flickr


The following recipe was written by my brilliant baker of a husband, Matt.  Enjoy!


This is my favorite olive bread.  I got the recipe from my instructor in the professional baking class I took at the New School of Cooking in Los Angeles.  I’ve never found another olive loaf that is nearly as good, and I’ve tried the olive bread at every single bakery we’ve ever set foot in.


Do you know why it’s so good?  Fat.  Well, sugar and salt, too, but fat is the real hero of the day.  We’ve got fat in the form of olive oil, olives, and egg.  And we’ve got a whole tablespoon each of salt and sugar!  I wouldn’t recommend skimping on any of the ingredients, but I wouldn’t suggest eating it every day, either.  This is a great special occasion bread, perfect for the upcoming holidays.


Rosemary Olive Bread


Ingredients


  • 3 cups bread flour (13.5oz)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 6 oz warm water (100F)
  • 2 oz olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup pitted olives


Slashing the Loaf


Directions


  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
  2. Combine beaten egg, olive oil, sugar, rosemary and olives and add the yeast/water mixture.
  3. Add flour and knead for 5 minutes.
  4. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Add salt and knead for another 5 minutes.
  6. Place dough in bowl greased with olive oil. Cover. Let rise for one hour in a warm spot (90F).
  7. Remove the dough.  Knead it a bit.  Form it into a ball and place on parchment paper.
  8. Loosely cover with a towel and place it in a warm spot (90F) for 30 min.
  9. Pre-heat the oven for one hour at 400F.
  10. Slash the top of the loaf before baking.  Bake for 45 minutes or so on a pizza stone or in a cloche until the loaf registers 180F in the center.
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for two hours or so before eating.


Notes


  • The baker’s best friends are the scale, the thermometer, and the timer.  I really don’t know how to bake without them anymore.  For example, everyone’s “cup” of flour is very different.  The only way to maintain consistency is to do almost everything (but especially flour and water) by weight.
  • I use kosher salt.  Specifically, Diamond Crystal kosher salt.  It’s the industry standard in the restaurant world.  Personally, I think there is no other salt that makes food taste better.  However, if you are using table salt, use a little less than a tablespoon (the grains are smaller) and if you are using sea salt, use a little more than a tablespoon (the grains are bigger).
  • The period of rest between the two kneadings is called autolyse.  It allows the gluten to begin to form before the dough has to deal with the stress of further mixing.  Try it, it really works!  And the best part is that it requires no effort!
  • I always add the salt in after the autolyse and allow to to incorporate into the dough during the second mixing.  Salt tends to tighten the gluten (making it  hard to knead) and can kill yeast, so it’s best to give things a little time to get started.
  • The first rise for this dough is a higher temperature than normally given in recipes.  This is due to the fact that it is a very heavy dough.  The yeast needs to be very warm so they can be very active and make a lot of gas to raise the loaf. It’s not a problem, but you have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t over-proof.
  • The slash on the top of the bread allows the bread to expand during baking without ripping (which destroys the form).  Even worse, if there is no slash, sometimes the surface tension on the dough is too great, the bread doesn’t spring in the oven, and you get a brick.  Good for the birds, not so much for people.  Even dogs don’t really like it.  We use a razor blade, but you can use a sharp knife or whatever is handy. 
  • My favorite thing in the world is the cloche.  It replicates a real baker’s oven at a fraction of the cost.  Not only does it provide radiant heat all around the bread from the stone, but it allows a high level of humidity around the baking loaf for the first few minutes. This is important because it keeps the surface of the loaf supple and allows it to spring to it’s final size during the first few minutes of baking.  Below, you’ll see our cloche on top of the baking stone in the oven.  The jagged nubs on the top are from me breaking the handle off the very first time I put it in the oven!


The Cloche in the Oven


Recipe: Delicious (& Mild) Red Tomato Salsa

Salsa!


I’ve been getting loads of questions about what to do with all those tomatoes this time of year – so I thought you might enjoy reading this quick and easy salsa recipe from our archives. (Originally published 25 October, 2008)


When I was a child, my grandmother lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the land of amazing red and green chiles and wonderful New Mexican salsas. We went to Albuquerque at least once a year, and I always felt it was my second home, with the red desert, its people, and its cuisine deep in my blood.


I miss it. So sometimes I like to recreate it in the kitchen. The following is a salsa recipe that I made with tomatoes from our garden, chiles preserved from last year’s garden, and the rest of the ingredients from local farmers. Matt says it’s the best salsa he’s ever had. I hope you enjoy it, too!


Tomato From The Garden


Melinda’s Delicious (& Mild) Tomato Salsa


Ingredients.


Note: this is a great recipe to use up some tomatoes that have been sitting on your counter for a little too long at the end of the season! I use several types of tomatoes, whatever we have at the time – orange, canning, beefsteak, whatever you have will work!


  • 2.5 lbs. tomatoes
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves (de-stemmed)
  • 1-2 dried cayenne peppers (or whatever hot peppers you have in your garden – optional)
  • 1 medium to large onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • salt to taste (3-4 teaspoons?)


Steps.


1. Dice the onions and cook them in a large frying pan, with a bit of vegetable oil, until almost translucent.


2. Slice the tomatoes into fairly large chunks.


3. Remove the pepper seeds (unless you want a very hot salsa). Chop the peppers into tiny pieces, or grind into small pieces with a mortar and pestle.


4. Dice the garlic and add the garlic and peppers to the onions, stirring constantly, just until garlic begins to cook (about 2 minutes).


5. Add the tomatoes and salt and stir well. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, until tomatoes just start to cook but still hold most of their shape.


1/2-Cooked Salsa


6. Remove from heat and scoop the mixture into the blender. Pour remaining juice from the pan into the blender as well.


7. Add 1/2 cilantro to the blender.


8. Make sure you have the lid on the blender tight – you may want to also cover the lid with a towel if your lid isn’t very tight. Then pulse the blender quickly, just 3-5 times for one second each, until tomatoes are mixed but still chunky.


9. Pour mixture into a bowl that can be covered. Add the rest of the cilantro and mix. Taste and add more salt if necessary.


10. Loosely cover the bowl, and put it into the fridge to cool and to allow the flavors to set. Once the salsa is cool, you can either eat it, or cover it completely for later use. It will taste even better if left overnight.


Makes 5 cups of salsa. You can freeze some for later use… though in our house it never lasts that long! Served here with local beans, greens, cheese, tortillas, and homemade tomatillo salsa for Taco Night.


Taco Night


Recipe: Mom’s Homemade Chiles Rellenos


Ingredients


  • 6 Ancho, Pasilla, or Anaheim Chiles
  • ¼ C Flour
  • 6 Eggs
  • ½ pound Monterrey Jack Cheese or Mexican Queso Blanco
  • Salt
  • Shredded cooked Chicken, Beef, or Pork if desired
  • 1 C  Canola oil (if you are using the frying method)
  • Your favorite Salsa 


Roasted Green Chiles by QueenieVonSugarpants on Flickr


Preparing the Chiles


  1. Rinse chiles and dry.
  2. Place chiles on baking sheet and broil until the skins turn brown (charred).  Turn and char the other side.
  3. Place the chiles in a plastic zip bag immediately after removing from oven.  Wrap the bag in a towel to keep heat in.  Allow the chiles to steam in the bag for 10-15 minutes or until skin start to loosen.
  4. Peel chiles under cold water.  If you have sensitive skin  where gloves for this step and for step 5.
  5. Remove stem end of chiles and make a slit down the sides.  Open chiles and remove seeds and membranes (this is where most of the heat is in chiles.  If you like things extra hot, you can leave the seeds in.
  6. Put a strip on cheese inside each chile.  Add some shredded meat to each if you are using meat.


Egg whites are beaten to soft peaks by QueenieVonSugarpants on Flickr


Making the Batter


  1. Separate the eggs.
  2. Beat whites into medium peaks.
  3. Mix yolks with 1T flour and about ¼t salt.
  4. Gently fold the yolks into the whites.


Cooking


There are two methods for cooking the chiles: 


Coating the Stuffed Chiles with flour by QueenieVonSugarpants on Flickr


Frying


  1. Put half the remaining flour on a plate.  Put the prepared chiles on the flour and sprinkle the remaining flour over the top.  Coating the chiles with flour will help the egg batter to stick.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan.  It is hot enough when a drop of water doesn’t sink to the bottom, but dances on top of the oil.
  3. Dip each chile in the egg mixture and coat thoroughly.
  4. When coated, place in hot oil and fry until golden brown.  Turn and cook other side until golden and cheese is completely melted.

 

Baking


If you don’t want to fry them, they can also be made as a casserole:


  1. Put half the egg batter in a greased baking pan.
  2. Add the stuffed chiles in a single layer.
  3. Then add the remainder of the batter.
  4. Bake at probably 375F for +/- 20 minutes or until it is golden brown and eggs are completely set.


In either case, serve covered in your favorite salsa:  Red Tomato Salsa or Roasted Tomatillo Salsa.  Quick and easy sides for this dish are black or pinto beans and rice.


Eating Sustainably When You Need Quick Meals

“Why No Recipe Postings Lately?”

 

Ah, this is a question I’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks. The tasty soups, the yummy squash recipes, the pancrack… they were popular posts! Why have the recipes been lagging?

 

It boils down to my living a more active, busy lifestyle. The truth is: I have not had much time to experiment in the kitchen. In fact, I have not had much time to make much of anything!

 

There was a while there where I even fell off the wagon, and ate out several days a week. I admit it: when I work ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to cook. And I’ll admit also that I ate out for lunch several times a week. Gasp! Generally I ate sustainably-sourced foods, but still – not so sustainable for the bank account, nor my figure.

 

Now I am coming back into equilibrium. I’ve come to terms with my new lifestyle, and I’m finding ways to reconcile it with my own beliefs of simplicity and sustainability.  Several readers have expressed similar needs to live sustainably while living actively as well, so I’ve compiled some of my favorite quick and easy local meals.

 

5 Quick Lunches

 

1. Grill some veggies the night before, and then boil some pasta or rice while you’re eating breakfast in the morning. Then throw it in a reusable container, and you’re off.

 

Quick Seasonal Salad


2.  Quick salad. Rip up some lettuce and/or mixed greens into a reusable container, pour in several beans (I like garbanzos or favas), add some seasonal raw veggies (carrots, tomatoes, snow peas, etc), and top with a quickly made salad dressing. You can bring a couple slices of whole wheat bread for some added protein and grains if you like. For the dressing, I make it with 2-3 parts olive oil, 2/3 parts balsamic vinegar, 1/3 parts lemon juice, and a bit of salt and pepper. Alternatively, you can add a mustard instead of the lemon juice, or soy sauce instead of the vinegar.

 

Quick Tacos

 

3.  Eggs, salsa, and veggies with corn tortillas. This is one of my favorites. I scramble some eggs with zucchini, asparagus, onions, or greens. Then put them in a reusable container with a dollop of salsa on top, and some fresh cilantro if I have it. Then wrap up some tortillas that I can quickly throw in the microwave later at work. Viola, yummy tacos. You can also substitute beans for the eggs, and tortilla chips for the tortillas if you like.

 

4.  Raw fruits and veggies, with some cheese or meat. Now is the perfect season to cut up (or throw in whole) some raw veggies and fruit. Slice a bit of cheese or meat for protein, and you have a wonderfully balanced and tasty meal.

 

Pasta with Red Sauce


5.  Pasta with red sauce and grated parmesan cheese. You can make the sauce in large batches and freeze it. You can make extra sauce the night before. Or you can do what we often do, which is to buy locally-made sauce. Then boil the pasta while you’re eating breakfast in the morning, throw it in a reusable container, top it with cold sauce (you’re going to refrigerate it until lunch time anyway), grate a bit of cheese on top, and you’re off.

 

 

5 Quick Dinners

 

Aside from the same five meals above, which are equally good as dinners, here are some of my favorites:

 

Whole Wheat Pasta with Sauteed Tomatoes, Garlic, and Basil

 

1.  Sauteed veggies with whole wheat pasta. Boil the pasta as you saute the veggies (our favorites are asparagus and onions, or beans and garlic). Preserve a cup (or two if you’re making it for 4 people) of the pasta water before you strain the pasta. Then add the pasta water to the veggies, add extra salt and pepper to taste, and mix with the pasta. This gives it a nice pasta sauce flavor without having to make a sauce too. When tomatoes are in season, you can saute tomatoes, basil, and garlic for a quick sauce.

 

Grilled Eggplant and Mozzarella Sandwiches

 

2.  Grilled sandwiches. Roast veggies using this easy recipe, but slice them length-wise and fairly thinly. Roasted vegetables will keep for several days in the fridge. When you’re in need of a quick dinner, pull them out, put them on top of sliced whole wheat bread (you can spread the bread with mustard, mayo, pesto, or tomato sauce), top them with some mozzarella or other local cheese, and stick in the toaster oven for several minutes (on 400F or so) until the veggies are warm and the cheese is melted. Yum!

 

Raviolis

 

3.  Raviolis. We buy locally-made raviolis, usually filled with squash or mushrooms. While the raviolis are boiling, saute some mushrooms, garlic, and sage. When you strain the raviolis, reserve a bit of the pasta water and stir it into the mushrooms. Then mix the ingredients together and top with a bit of parmesan cheese. When tomato season starts, we saute tomatoes and basil with it. We usually eat raviolis with a simple salad (see #2 under lunches).

 

Grilled Veggies with Couscous

 

4.  Grilled vegetables with couscous. Roasting takes VERY little time, but you do have to put the veggies in the oven about an hour ahead of meal time – that is the only catch. Roast the veggies using this easy recipe adding some thyme or other fresh spices if you have them, and five minutes before they’re done, make a pot of couscous (follow the recipe on the package or bulk bin). Fluff the couscous, mix the veggies in, and voila.

 

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, and Bread


5.  Fresh Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and fresh bread. YUM. You can make your own mozzarella, but we usually buy locally-made mozzarella (from the farmer’s market, local deli, or spud.com). You can drizzle it with a bit of olive oil if you like. This only works when tomatoes and basil are fresh and in season, either from the garden or from the market.

 

All of these quick meals can be made easily with local, seasonal ingredients. Enjoy!


In addition to these homecooked meals, we often eat simple pre-made foods from local companies that source their ingredients locally and/or organically. Our favorites include frozen pizza, red pepper and tomato soup, and hummus and pita bread. Check around your local grocery store or market – you may be surprised at how easy it is to find quick pre-made meals from local, sustainable companies.


What Else Would You Add?

Belated Holidays

Mother's Day 2009

 

As I get older, I realize more and more that holidays and birthdays aren’t about the day itself, they are about the celebration, the traditions, and the company.  Do you feel this way as well?  It became particularly clear for me on Christmas 2008, when the snows made traveling particularly dicey, and many people chose to celebrate Christmas a couple of days after the official day.


On Mother’s Day this year, my parents went to a soccer match.  The following weekend, I had a lovely work weekend retreat of sorts.  So two weeks later, we celebrated Mother’s Day.  And it was lovely.


One of the traditions we started last year was to have Matt’s currant scones, yogurt, and fresh fruit.  Yum.


Mother's Day Breakfast 2009


I hope you’re having a lovely weekend.