"mason jars"

Headline Harvest: 2012 wrap-ups; fiscal cliff reviews; fish, fruit and climate change

Ah yes - a new year, a new bounty of food and farm news just for you! Time to settle in, drink a hot beverage and peruse the latest headlines:

2012: A review...
In fiscal cliff/farm policy news...
In climate news...
In GMO news...
In hopeful news...
And, because I can...

Headline Harvest: History of our sugar addiction; Monstano stands its ground; real food back on lunch trays; Mason jar non-news

It's that time again to climb the mountain of RSS feeds in my inbox and provide you with the latest in food news headlines...

In sweet tooth news:
In policy news:
In genetic engineering news:
In natural gas, exploding water news:
In school lunch news:
In mason jar accessory non-news:

#DIYDecember: Stress-free + fancy (last-minute) food gifts

This is a post that I wrote for my insanely creative and crafty friend Alex as part of her month-long project, #DIYDecember, on her blog and Twitter. The initiative includes tips, suggestions and overall good reads about how to be that much more creative and self-sufficient during this festive month. 

Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Kwanzaa/whatever-holiday-you-celebrate is just around the corner...and, you don't have any gifts ready. No worries - here are a few no-fuss ideas for those special people in your life:
Chocolate bark
  • Chocolate bark: This is my go-to candy for impromtu get-togethers. It's so easy: Melt some chocolate, add some seeds and dried fruit, a pinch of sea salt and/or your favorite spices, let it set, break into pieces and put in a bag, tin or good ol' mason jar. Check out more details from my blog here. Bark doesn't excite you? Try some of these other healthful candy recipes from The Nourishing Gourmet.
  • Tea/tisane blends: There may be a pill for every ill, but the same can be said for tea AND you can make your own blends for a fraction of the cost! Since people seem to be unnecessarily stressed-out during this time of year - often leading to colds - why not try a blend of dried calendula (medicinal marigolds), nettle, spearmint, hibiscus, red clover and lemon balm? Simply mix in your preferred proportions based on your own tastes or those of the recipient, and store in a tin or glass jar. Gift with a tea infuser and make it pretty with some fabric for the lid and a nice label describing the blend. Your local health food store should carry dried herbs and flowers in its bulk section, with descriptions of each, and there's usually an expert on hand if you have any questions.  If you're a little fearful of the herb world, check out Mountain Rose Herbs for some blend ideas before you make your own.
  • Hot cocoa mix: All you need: cocoa powder, sugar and/or a pinch of sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cayenne pepper. The proportions are 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of cocoa. (Sounds like a lot, but think about all the packaging you save by making it in such a big batch.) If using sea salt and/or spices, add sparingly and to taste. If you want to be fancy, put a vanilla bean directly into the mix to enhance the cocoa flavor. Place in a mason jar - pretty much always the appropriate vessel for any gift. Local milk, homemade almond milk, marshmallows and/or a (thrift store) mug offer the perfect accompaniments!
  • Cookies, cookies, cookies: No slice-and-bake here. Make them from scratch**. My favorites: Teff Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe from the amazing Clean Food cookbook), chocolate crinkles, granola bars/raspberry oat bars and, the standard, sugar cookies. Bust out the family recipes and get baking!
  • Dog biscuits: Can't leave out our better halves. Avoid the creepy processed treats from the store and make these. It's also an excuse to get out the cookie cutters. My friend gave me this recipe a few years ago and I've made them ever since. Here's the recipe:
Homemade dog biscuits
1 c. of whole wheat, all-purpose or spelt flour
1/2 Tbl. baking powder
1/2 c. peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower butter
1/2 c. milk (cow or non-dairy) 
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. In a medium to large bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined.
3. Pour the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a ball and roll out until dough is a 1/4"  thick. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or free-hand.
4. Put cookies onto a lined baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes.
**A note on ingredients: Use fair trade, locally grown and/or organic ingredients when possible. Now is not the time to skimp on quality. Feel good about the gifts you give, not only because you made them but also for the ingredients you've used, which were harvested and produced in an ethically and socially responsible manner.**
  • Make your own recipe book! When all else fails, remind yourself of the adage that it's the thought that counts. Make your own recipe book out of an old notebook or a few pieces of blank paper, a cardboard box for the front and back covers and some yarn, twine or hemp to use as the binding. Include a few of your favorite recipes to inspire a friend or loved one to get in the kitchen.
Alright, time's a-wastin'; get cooking and crafting. Happy holidays!

Getting on the canning bandwagon

Blueberry jam
I finally had a day off to do, well, nothing on Sunday, but for people who know me, "nothing" doesn't exist in my world. So, I canned for a few hours in the morning instead. What I made: Herbed pickles, blueberry jam and more caramelized onion jam (more on this recipe later). Not as enthused as I am? I've written about canning (and my little problem with mason jars) before. Canning, pickling and overall preserving of food is such an important skill to learn. And, I only started putting food up a few years ago, by just watching my friends and reading...a lot. If you put the time aside now by freezing, drying and preserving, you can save lots of money, unnecessary trips to the store later on and make some magical gifts for friends. Also, produce is amazing right now, so why not make the most of it?

And, there's no better way to read up on canning than on a rainy afternoon. Food preserving seemed to have skipped our parents' generations and is now cool again with us youngsters...and a lot of hipsters. There have been countless articles, blogs and books written specifically about the canning revival, but here's some of my favorite resources to help you on your canning quest:
  • Put 'Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton: See my book review from February.
  • Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissof: I was a little suspect about this book at first. It was a little too kitschy for me and, on first glance, thought it was trying a little to hard. But, it's now one of my go-to preserving guides. Krissof has organized recipes by season, with beautiful photos, helpful commentary and concise instructions. Even if you're not planning to can, this book provides many alternatives to get the most out of your ingredients and stretch food life, including homemade yogurt. 
  • Canvolution + Canning Across America**
  • Preserved and Pickled
  • Food in JarsNow I can get my daily fix of mason jars. Drool...
A pretty array of fresh fruit and preserves from Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen.
(via Food in Jars)
**And, if you're really inspired/are a super nerd, participate in Ball and Canning Across America's National Can-It-Forward Day! Throughout the day, there will be canning parties throughout the country (you can also start your own, if you're so inclined), demos and streaming of canning demonstrations and preserving instructions. Consider also being a part of Can-a-Rama:

Next Sunday marks the kick-off to Canning Across America’s third Can-a-Rama, a week of home canning parties and seasonal preserving nationwide. With the growing season underway in most parts of the country, we hope you’ll join us at the canning kettle once again for a simultaneous show of cans around the country from August 14th - 20th.
My last attempt to persuade you to can: It's really not difficult or scary! Follow directions on existing recipes, talk to friends about what you want to make, and get preserving. Really ripe, delicious and plentiful right now: Peaches, blueberries, watermelon, onions, early tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini...I could go on. Just can!