Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Machek Family Smoked Salmon By Dan Machek

Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese, Sriracha, and Cilantro on a wheat cracker.

Sacramento River Chinook Salmon.
 My dad and I usually go salmon fishing in the Sacramento River every fall. This fall we caught three salmon. We ate all of the good quality meat, and the meat that didn’t look as dark we saved for smoking. There are many different ways to smoke salmon. Some people like varying levels of saltiness and moisture. Our recipe is not as salty as most, and is very moist. I’ve traveled all over Alaska and lived on the Pacific Coast, and I’ve tried many different recipes for smoked salmon. I still think that our family recipe is the best (but maybe I’m just slightly biased).

Here are a couple basics to smoking salmon: Plan your time out. Smoking requires a chunk of time at home to carry out all the processes and tend to the smoker. You want to make your brine the evening before you plan on smoking so you can soak the meat overnight and have plenty of time the next day to do the smoking. You also want to soak your wood for at least one hour, if not soak them overnight. To achieve the particular moistness of this recipe you will want to smoke your salmon for approximately two and a half to three hours. Some people do it longer to achieve a drier, more jerky like consistency. 

Apple wood trimmings from the back yard.
So first you want to make your brine and allow it to cool. This is what you will soak the salmon in before you smoke it. Brine gives saltiness and flavor to the meat, and helps retain moisture. Then you smoke the salmon. The smoking process is generally a slow one, and is done over low heat (the proverbial “low and slow”). You want to be around 150 degrees for the first two hours of smoking and then around 200 degrees for the last hour or so to make sure it is cooked through. For smoking fish, alder and apple wood are generally the preferred types of wood. Brining and smoking salmon is a way to preserve the meat while lending wonderful flavors. 
It took me a little while to get it to hold at 150 degrees.

Items you will need:

- Salmon meat- as much as you’d like to smoke
- Smoker or barbeque
- Metal tongs
- Charcoal
- Charcoal tower
- Paper for starting charcoal
- Alder or apple wood chips (soak minimum of one hour)
- Bucket of water to soak chips in
Brine ingredients, the crunchy granola version.
- Cooling racks
- Paper towels
- Four trays worth of ice cubes
- An approximately 8-quart pot
- Oil for greasing grill
- Thermometer

Brine ingredients:

- 4 quarts water
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tsp garlic powder + extra for topping after brining
- 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper + extra for topping after brining
- 1 ½ tsp hickory liquid smoke
- Four trays worth of ice cubes
-Optional other spices: onion powder, ginger,

Brining directions:

  1. First off, you want to start making your brine in the evening so that you can brine your salmon overnight. Once you are ready, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in an approximately 8 quart pot. Take off the heat as soon as it boils. Add all ingredients except ice cubes and stir until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved.
  2. Add ice cubes to pot to begin bringing down the temperature. The goal is to get the liquid down to room temperature so you can put the meat in without cooking it at all. I then put my pot outside because it is really cold out and it makes your refrigerator work overtime to bring down the temp and that’s no good on the wallet or for the environment.
  3. Once your liquid has come down to room temperature you may place the meat in the brining solution. Brine overnight.
  4. You can either soak your wood overnight, or for a minimum of one hour the morning of the smoking.
  5. The next morning take your meat out of the brine, place it on drying racks, and pat all sides dry with paper towels. Let air dry for one hour.

Smoking directions:
Brined Salmon with garlic powder and black pepper.
  1. If you are using a smoker with a charcoal heat source, start your coals approximately twenty minutes before your salmon is done air drying. If you are using a smoker with an electrical heat source, start the heat right when your salmon is done air drying.
  2. Once your salmon is done air drying liberally coat each piece of salmon with garlic powder and large cracked black pepper. Now your salmon is ready to go on the smoker. Oil the grill so your salmon doesn’t stick and place salmon on the grill.
  3. Put your coals to one side so you have an indirect heat source and spread them so they are barely touching. You can put a handful or two of wood chips on the coals, then put the grill with the salmon on the smoker.
  4. Adjust the air intake and output down. Closing down the intake and output cuts off the oxygen and hinders the coals from burning too hot, thus lowering the temperature. Opening up the intake and output allows more oxygen in and makes the coals burn with more intensity, raising the temperature. makes the temperature. This is where an internal thermometer really helps. Smoking salmon is different every time with different outside environmental conditions and with each smoker. You need to pay close attention to the temperature and preemptively start a new batch of coals so they are ready when the first batch burns down. The rule of thumb is you will need a new batch of coals for every 45 minutes of cook time. After about the initial 15 minutes of cook time, start your second batch of coals if it takes approximately 30 minutes for the coals to be ready. I am using natural charcoal chunks which burn way faster than your average compressed charcoal briquettes you get at the store. You basically need to play this step by ear, keeping a vigilant eye on your thermometer.
  5. I was cramped for space so I was extra sure to place the thicker fillets toward the heat source and the thinner fillets farther away. 
  6. You want to be around 150 degrees for the first two hours of smoking and then around 200 degrees for the last hour or so to make sure the meat  is cooked through. If you are concerned, the internal temp should be 165 degrees. In total it should take approximately 2 ½ - 3 hours to finish smoking. Be sure to poke the fillets to check the firmness if you think they are getting towards being done. Over cooking will lend a very dry product. If you think they are done, check the largest piece, and then pull them all off if it is done. You are looking for a flaky but still moist consistency. Allow to cool on racks to room temperature before packaging and storing. I store my smoked salmon in zip-lock bags in the refrigerator.
Finished Smoked Salmon

Monday, January 28, 2013

Airing Out Some Dirty Laundry By Katie Machek

As promised, I’ve decided to compile a section dedicated solely to laundry. As much as I want to write about more philosophical, substantial matters, I’ve decided another practical blog post is in order. It has also been on my mind since I posted the “Top 5 Natural Cleaning Ingredients” spiel, so I thought I’d get it out to you all while it was still fresh in my memory. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it! Between the two-year-old, the dog, the husband who works out in the muddy snow, and our family’s insatiable desire to play outside (rain or shine), you could imagine that we do a lot of laundry in this house. Naturally, it’s something that we deal with on a daily basis.
When we adopted the sustainable lifestyle, we started looking at our piles of clothes a little differently. We realized that buying carton after carton of laundry detergent was really taking a toll on our wallets- and the environment. After all, how many laundry detergent cartons can you really reuse? We also started to question exactly what was in these store-bought laundry detergents that made them so special, anyway. Remember the “Dirty Secrets Test” commissioned by the Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE)? After reading this study, we were disappointed (albeit not surprised) to find out that we were paying for ingredients like 1,4-dioxane (a known carcinogen) in our supposedly “gentle” laundry detergent. Bummer!

Admittedly, what really got us on the crunchy granola laundry train was the birth of our son. Long before he was born, we decided we were going to use cloth diapers instead of the conventional disposables. This would reduce our environmental impact and save us hundreds (seriously, hundreds) of dollars. The caveat, aside from the fact that we would now have to deal hands-on with poop, was that these diapers would not absorb liquid as effectively if they were washed with detergents that contained fillers and oils. These fillers and oils would clog-up the fabric of the cloth, and liquid would wick out of the diapers and onto who ever was cradling our little one. “Now what?” we thought.

After some research (and some help from my older sister, who pioneered the whole cloth diaper movement for our family) we came across the amazing soap nuts that I’ve mentioned before. Just as a refresher, soap nuts are the fruit of a tropical plant. They contain saponins, which act as surfactants that will help wash away dirt and grime. As a laundry cleaner they are especially gentle and mild, making them perfect for newborn baby clothes and cloth diapers or for anyone with sensitivities to detergents. These amazing little nuts can be bought by the bag online or at your natural health food store. Most are sold in a nifty cloth bag, along with one or two small muslin bags. They are incredibly versatile and easy to use. As an application to laundry, there are a couple ways we use them in our home. First, you can just put a few nuts in one of those little muslin cloths they give you and toss them in the laundry. You can remove them before the rinse cycle if you wish, but we usually leave them in the entire laundry cycle and have not noticed a difference yet. I suppose that removing them before the rinse cycle would make them last a little longer. Do try to make sure you remove them from the laundry load before you switch over to the dryer. This will allow you to reuse one bag of soap nuts over and over- usually 3-5 times, depending on the size and soil level of the laundry load.

Another way we harness the cleaning power of these little nuts is by making a decoction of the nuts and using it as a liquid laundry detergent. This liquid can be used in top loader and front loader machines, although you may want to use a little less liquid in front loader washing machines. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for how much liquid detergent to use per load. For time’s sake, I’m going to copy and paste the recipe I provided previously for this liquid soap nuts solution:

Multi-Purpose Soap Nuts Liquid

4 cups Water
8-10 Soap Nuts

Place water and soap nuts into a medium pot and cook over medium high heat, until the mixture reaches a rolling boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until the mixture has reduced by half. Let cool. Mash the soap nuts with a potato masher, and strain the liquid into a container. Store this solution in the refrigerator, as the liquid is perishable. The liquid can also be frozen into ice cube trays, if you want to make a few batches at a time. I also like this method of preserving the liquid because it eliminates the need to measure out the liquid- just pop in a couple of these cubes to your laundry and you’re good to go. You can see here that we are using a 2:1 soap nut to water ratio. Feel free to up the ante (i.e. 3:1 or 4:1) if you feel as though you’d like a more concentrated cleaning solution. 

This liquid laundry detergent worked perfectly for us for over a year, with no problems. That is, until we started introducing solid food to our son’s diet. It was at that point that we had, well, let’s just say a bit more substance to deal with. I noticed that his diapers were coming out of the wash dirty and smelly, and it didn’t seem to matter if we were meticulously rinsing them out before we put them in the wash. I had a feeling that the soap nuts weren’t really cutting it anymore, but I didn’t’ really have a solution besides the store bought diaper-friendly detergents that cost an arm and a leg. Granted these detergents are very safe to use and effective at cleaning, they are incredibly expensive- often costing over $10 for a 50oz carton. That may seem like a lot, but one of those cartons is enough for about 30 loads of laundry. Considering how much laundry we do, we would be using over a carton a month. After doing some research I noticed that many people have come up with a basic laundry detergent powder recipe that I have found cleans just as well as the store bought laundry detergents I’ve used in the past. And the best part about it is that it is safe and cost-effective. Look around online and you’ll find many variations of the same basic recipe. Here’s my favorite:

You will need: a cheese grater, baking soda, borax, a small bar of soap, a measuring cup, a food processor (optional) and a cookie sheet

Powder Laundry Detergent

2 Cups finely grated bar of soap
1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Baking Soda
1 Cup Washing Soda

Grated soap
Powdered soap
Chose any bar of soap you’d like, although I’ve noticed that most folks prefer a soap that is free of dyes and fillers. I use an all-natural coconut soap made locally, but I’ve seen others like fels-naptha, ivory, or Dr. Bronner’s. What ever soap you chose, grate it with a cheese grater and run it through a food processor until it is finely powdered (note that I use a natural coconut soap that doesn’t leave a residue or fragrance in our food processor). Then simply add all ingredients into a large container and shake well. Use 2 Tbsp per normal size load, 3 Tbsp if the laundry is especially soiled or you are doing a large load. If you want to make a bulk amount of this detergent, just follow the ratios of all the ingredients. I find that this is the best way to do it, since I don’t like to deal with cleaning my food processor very often.

The final product
You keen observers out there may be wondering where that box of washing soda is on the photo above. Well, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a box of washing soda, that is if you have enough baking soda at home. The reason being is that you can make your own washing soda at home by baking baking soda- and no, that’s not a typo! You may be wondering how this all works. Anyone remember balancing chemical equations from chemistry class? Let’s get nerdy! The chemical formula for baking soda- or sodium bicarbonate- is NaHCO3. The chemical formula for washing soda- or sodium carbonate- is Na2CO3.  A balanced chemical equation representing the conversion of baking soda to washing soda looks something like this:

2 NaHCO3 (s)    →   Na2CO3 (s) + H2O (g)+ CO2 (g)

As you can see, when heat is applied to the sodium bicarbonate, water and carbon dioxide are released. The solid that remains is sodium carbonate, or washing soda. Pretty neat, huh? It’s pretty easy to accomplish this, too. Simply measure out how much baking soda you will be using, pour it onto a cookie sheet, and bake at 400º for about 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to stir around the powder every so often while it bakes, especially if you are baking a lot at once. You will notice that the washing soda is a much finer powder than the baking soda. 

Homemade washing soda

There you have it, a laundry soap that is fun to make, safe to use, effective at cleaning even dirty diapers, and costs less that 10¢ per load (as opposed to over 30¢ per load for store-bought detergents). As for my container and scooper of choice, you ask? I’ve recruited a reused animal cracker container, and a scooper that came with my husband’s protein powder. So, it is between the soap nuts and our homemade laundry detergent that we have all our laundry cleaning needs covered. But wait, not so fast! What about stains? What about weird odors? I’ve got a couple more tricks up my sleeve…

Vinegar- for removing funky smells and grass stains, or to rinse out any remaining soap from your laundry after the wash cycle, add about ¼ cup vinegar to a rinse cycle. Your clothes will come out fresh and clean.

Hydrogen peroxide- to remove blood and ketchup stains, or those stubborn armpit stains, dab some hydrogen peroxide onto the stain before the wash cycle and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Remember to spot test any fabric you will be applying hydrogen peroxide to as it can bleach certain fabrics

Bar of soap- to spot-treat stains when they happen, I keep the leftover nubbin of bars of soap handy. Just dip the soap in water and rub onto the stain. Throw into your dirty laundry and while the clothing sits in the hamper the soap works away at the stain. When you wash your clothes the stain will be removed. 


This is the “Dirty Secrets Test” commissioned by the Women’s 
Voices for the Earth.

A helpful blog post regarding soap nuts, along with a modified version of the powder detergent above, using soap nuts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fact or Fiction: Organic Is Always More Expensive Than Conventional

While shopping at one of our favorite grocery stores (Holiday Market), we noticed a price-comparison chart they had on display in the produce section. The produce being compared were conventional fruits and veggies from Ray's and Safeway and organic produce at Holiday Market. It would actually be cheaper to buy the organic items listed from Holiday than to buy their conventional equivalents at Ray's or Safeway. Just goes to show you that organic isn't always more expensive than conventional food- but it is always healthier! Special thanks to Holiday Market in Palo Cedro, California, for their ongoing support of local and organic farmers.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Homemade Thick Crust Pizza Dough Recipe

Here is my favorite homemade pizza dough recipe. This is for all of those folks that like the "Chicago" style thick crust. It takes about an hour and a half to complete this recipe. It makes two medium to large size pizzas. Say hello to my bubbly little friend. It always helps to have a pizza stone but you can do it on a cookie sheet if need be.


- 2 1/4 tsp. Yeast
- 1/2 tsp. Brown sugar
- 1/12 Cup ~110 degree water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. High heat oil
- 3 1/3 Cup All Purpose Flour


1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and brown sugar with the warm water. Sit 10 min.

2. Stir in salt and oil into water. Mix in 2 1/2 cups of flour. This will make a very wet and sticky dough.

3. Incorporate your remaining flour a bit at a time by flouring the surface you are kneading your dough on until your dough is no longer sticky.

4. Oil your large bowl, put in your kneaded dough, cover with a damp cloth, and put it in a warm spot. Let the dough double which takes approximately one hour. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

5. Take your dough out, punch the dough down in the center, separate it into two, and form them into balls. Let the dough relax before rolling them out.

6. Top your pizzas and bake for 15-20 min.


-If you are baking with a pizza stone and needing to transfer your prepared pizza dough to the stone, you will save yourself a lot of headache by using cornmeal to help the dough slide off whatever you are preparing your pizza on and onto your pizza stone intact. We prepare ours on the back of a cookie sheet and acts like a pizza peel (the big wooden paddle you see pizza makers use). Be sure to use organic cornmeal to avoid eating GMO corn that makes its own insecticide.

- We topped our pizza with a little spaghetti sauce, some mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan cheese. I added some shallots and garlic I caramelized with a little brown sugar and ACV, mushrooms, red bell pepper, and capers. Yum!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Food for thought Part II

---> Why I try to eat food and consume products that are organically grown as much as possibly and stay away from conventional and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are many reasons why to avoid conventional food, too many to go into here. So I will talk about my main concern, pesticides. Also, what you can do to avoid harmful chemicals and turn your food consumption into something that benefits your life and the environment around you and your family.


There are a myriad of pesticides registered and used on croplands. Glyphosate is one I take issue with due to its widespread use. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Round-up ™, is the number one used herbicide by volume in the world [i],[ii]. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil-dwelling bacteria that possesses a protein which acts as an insecticide. For this reason, scientists have isolated this protein and inserted it into the DNA of many different food plants, including potatoes, cotton, and most notably corn.  Both glyphosate and Bt are widely used in creating and maintaining genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are used as agricultural crops, such as GM corn and GM soy. Agricultural crops are being modified to be Round-up resistant and to produce the Bt toxin. Since these plants are producing the Bt toxin and being sprayed with Round-up, there is surely an interaction between the two chemicals. In a study printed in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, the Laboratory of Biochemistry of the University of Caen examined the toxicological effects of glyphosate and (Bt) toxin on human cells. In particular they looked at the singular effect of various Bt toxins on human cells and the synergistic effects of the interactions between Round-up residue and the Bt toxin. They found that one of the two Bt toxins studied, at concentrations of 100 parts per million, caused cell death. Also, that Round-up tested alone in concentrations of 1 to 20,000 parts per million (ppm) killed human embryonic kidney cells, and Round-up at concentrations as low as 50 ppm, levels far below agricultural dilutions, induced cell death. The combined effect of the two substances delayed apoptosis, or programmed cell death [iii]. Programmed cell death sounds bad, but in fact it is one of many mechanisms that cells possess to exterminate problematic cells (i.e., cells that are dividing uncontrollably, one of the defining characteristics of cancerous cells.) The Oxford journal of Carcinogenisis states that:

it is now clear that some oncogenic [tumor causing] mutations disrupt apoptosis, leading to tumor initiation, progression, or metastasis. Conversely, compelling evidence indicates that other oncogenic changes promote apoptosis, thereby producing selective pressure to override apoptosis during multistage carcinogenesis. Finally, it is now well documented that most cytotoxic anticancer agents induce apoptosis, raising the intriguing possibility that defects in apoptotic programs contribute to treatment failure.” [iv]

The study about the toxicity of Round-up and Bt toxin comes five days after a study that describes how Round-up is many orders of magnitude more toxic to human DNA than we previously thought. Their study reported that Round-up diluted to concentrations 450 times below what is used in commercial agriculture is toxic to human DNA cells [ii]. This is most likely due to the presence of the surfactant polyoxyethyleneamine that is used in the Roundup formula. This surfactant may dramatically enhance the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue [v]. Here are some of the other issues surrounding Glyphosate and Bt toxin that I don’t really have the space to go into now. Some are articles with links to multiple studies and official documents and some are the scientific studies themselves. Keep in mind that it is not easy to support the hypothesis that these pesticides have certain effects on humans because no one wants to be tested on and you can’t exactly inject a baby with this stuff and watch what happens. 

Some of the issues that come to mind:

1. Bt toxins are killing our intestinal flora and possibly causing obesity and mental health problems:

2. Monsanto Products such as Glyphosate, Bt toxins, DDT (still used around the world), Endosulfans,  HCH are causing human infertility and birth defects.

a. Birth Defects Caused by World’s Top-Selling Weedkiller, Scientists Say. Look for the links to four separate studies conducted on this issue in this article:  

 b. Persistent Organic Pollutants Could Lead to Birth Defects in Half of All Newborns:

Here is the study linked with the previous article:  

c. Exposure to this chemical is linked to birth Defects:

Here is the Report linked with the previous article:

3. Bt toxins may be responsible for honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD)

4. Bt toxins may be responsible for Monarch butterfly disappearance:

5. Bt toxins reduce soil fertility:

  Survival of the fittest comes to mind when thinking about Round-up resistant plants and the creation of super-weeds. Farmers spray their fields with Round-up to get rid of pesky weeds that would other wise crowd out their crops if not otherwise dealt with. In the process of spraying, a minute portion of the weeds survive the spraying. The weeds that survive are able to procreate and pass on their genes that were able to survive to the next generation and so on. Superweeds resistant to Round-up pose a real threat to farmers. Instead of heading natures warning that this whole deal may be bad news, Monsanto and other companies like Dow and Dupont are proposing to introduce GM plants that are 2, 4-d resistant to the world. If you are not familiar with 2, 4-d it is half the chemical make up of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by the US government in the Vietnam war. Vietnamese and US veterans are still suffering today from the effects of Agent Orange. 2, 4-d has been linked to Non-hodkin's lymphoma in humans, birth defects, miscariages. Just ask the folks in Denny, CA how that went down when the Forest Service decided to spray 2, 4-d on clear cuts adjacent to the creek that gives Denny its water. I learned about that one in my political science class.

      Atrazine used to be the number one used herbicide in the world, that is until glyphosate came onto the market. Now it is number two, but arguably the most widely used in the United States. The endocrine disrupting capabilities of this chemical is staggering. I look to the in-depth work of one of Cal Berkely’s finest, Tyrone Hayes, for further explanation on the subject of Atrazine. Hayes is near and dear to my heart because he came and spoke on this subject of the endocrine disrupting effect of atrazine on frogs and at Humboldt State while I was attending college.  

The current findings of his study and others before him suggest that atrazine inhibits testosterone and induces estrogen secretion in frogs, producing hermaphroditic frogs. This is essentially what an endocrine disruptor does, if you are not familiar with the term. Endocrine disruptors are substances, not already found in the body, that interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, or other actions of hormones in the body. They can have devastating effects such as cause cancer, fetal abnormalities, miscarriages, etc. They can also have more subversive effects that may go unnoticed such as causing learning disabilities, decreased fertility, low sperm count, and hermaphroditism. Here is an excerpt from one of his studies

“the effects on the gonads in the current study were produced at 0.1 ppb, which was more than 600 times lower than the dose required to induce aromatase in human adrenocortical carcinoma and placental choriocarcinoma studies and 30,000,000 times lower than the dose required to produce reproductive effects in rats. The current data raise new concerns for amphibians with regards to atrazine. Effective doses (0.1 ppb for the production of hermaphrodites and 1 ppb for reduction in laryngeal size) are ecologically relevant. The recommended application level of atrazine ranges from 2,500,000–29,300,000 ppb, the allowable contaminant level for atrazine in drinking water is 3 ppb, and short-term exposures of 200 ppb are not considered a health risk. Atrazine can be as high as 21 ppb in ground water, 42 ppb in surface waters, 102 ppb in river basins in agricultural areas. This common contaminant could be a contributing factor in amphibian declines due to reproductive failure.” [vi]

This is where the precautionary principle kicks in for me. You have got to be thinking that if it can happen to frogs and rats, why not to humans? Well it can, my friends. Atrazine’s endocrine-disrupting effects have been shown in fish, amphibians, and reptiles; the induction of mammary and prostate cancer in laboratory rodents; and correlations between atrazine and similar reproductive cancers in humans [vii]. Unfortunately, I have just mentioned three of the most widely used pesticides. There are many more out there used, along with all of the other nasty industrialized chemicals that are allowed to be introduced into the environment. The best thing to do is inform yourself about these chemicals and learn how you can reduce your exposure.

What you can do.
-Remember that you vote on these issues three times a day. That is, the money you are spending on food in effect is a vote of what you want present and available on the market. If you and others start buying more organic food, the market responds to provide that need. If people continue to buy conventional/gmo foods, then that choice is what will be represented and available on the market.
-As of now eating organic is not enough. According to an article in the German Ithaka Journal, a German university study found “significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers. The analysis of the urine samples apparently found that all had concentrations of glyphosate at 5 to 20-fold the limit for drinking water” [viii]. We need a moratorium, no a ban, on the use of inorganic pesticides such a glyphosate. Tell your State and Federal congressman to at least label if not ban GMOs and their associated pesticide use. For more information on how you can get involved check out these websites:
- The Just Label it Campaign that lets the FDA know that you want your food labeled.
-The Label GMOs website is a place to get information and get involved in direct action.
-The Occupy Monsanto website where you can get involved in direct action, or donate to the cause.
-Grow your own food when possible and use organic gardening techniques, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Like most of life’s endeavors, start with prevention. Then monitor your plants. When you notice a pest in your garden, try to identify it as specifically as possible. Read up on the lifecycle and habits of the organism to better understand how to control it. For example, it is very helpful to know that Spider mites have a seven day life cycle. Your final stage is to begin controlling the pests. Start from the most safe and effective alternative and increase in intensity if need be. If I encounter Spider mites, knowing their life cycle I know to spray with a solution of diluted Neem oil every seven days until I don’t see them pop up any more. Neem oil is extracted from a plant and is very safe to use. Indians use neem leaves (also know as curry leaves) in many types of curries and is one of the best substances to use for skin care. Stay tuned for more on the many applications of neem in our herbal medicine section to come. Understand that whether or not you use harsh chemicals or natural pesticides, you will still lose about the same amount of your crop to pests. Plant accordingly. According to a thirty year study conducted by the Rhodale institute, there was no significant difference in the crop yield between conventional and organic agricultural practices

 - Prevention:
-Crop rotation helps reduce the accumulation of pests i.e.  
“keeps pests guessing.”
-Select pest-resistant varieties and native plants. Native plants 
have evolved to deal with the stressors of your particular
climate and also are beneficial to native wildlife.
-Planting pest free rootstock. Check the starts and rootstock 
you get from your local nursery, they often have pests.
-Mulching reduces weed growth and gives plants room so 
pests can’t easily be transferred to your crop.
-Companion Planting: planting certain plants with others can 
help keep pests away and or encourage beneficial insects that 
can prey on pests. For example, planting marigolds with 
tomatoes. Here is a companion planting chart: 

-Encouraging beneficial insects that will prey on pests such as 
praying mantis, lacewings, and lady bugs. Grow composite 
and umbel type flowers that have nectar for beneficials to 
feed on. Learn to identify egg sacs and transport beneficials to 
garden space.
-Row covers and physical barriers are the garden’s body 
-Trapping: we have a problem with earwigs so we take old 
cottage cheese containers, poke holes in the lids big enough 
for them to fit in and put a mixture of oil and soy sauce in the 
container. They are attracted to the saltiness of the soy
sauce and get trapped in the oil.
-Neem and other non-specific (and hopefully organic) 

Look forward to more topics on the associated practices of organic and conventional agriculture and why it should influence the food you buy.

Works Cited:


[ii] Verena J Koller, M. Fürhacker, A. Nersesyan, M. Mišík, M. Eisenbauer, S. Knasmueller 2012. Archives of Toxicology. Cytotoxic and DNA-damaging properties of glyphosate and Roundup in human-derived buccal epithelial cells.

[iii]R Mesnage, E Clair, S Gress, C Then, A Székács, G-E Séralini 2012. Journal of Applied Toxicology. Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide.

[iv] Scott W. Lowel, A. Lin 2000. Oxford Journal of Carcinogenisis. Apoptosis in Cancer.

[v] H. de Ruiter, M. Verbeek, A. Uffing 1988. Pesticide Formulations Chapter 5, pp 44-45. Mode of Action of a Nonionic and a Cationic Surfactant in Relation to Glyphosate.

[vi] Tyrone Hayes, A. Collins, M. Lee, M. Mendoza, N. Noriega, A. Stuart, A. Vonk 2002. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after the exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses.

[vii] WuQiang Fan, T. Yanase, H. Morinaga, S. Gondo, T. Okabe, M. Nomura, T. Komatsu, K. Morohashi, T. Hayes, R. Takayanagi, H. Nawata 2007. Environmental Health Perspectives. Atrazine-Induced Aromatase Expression Is SF-1 Dependent: Implications for Endocrine Disruption in Wildlife and Reproductive Cancers in Humans.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Food for Thought by Dan Machek

It was a particular lecture by one of my wildlife professors at Humboldt State University, that spurred me to take a hard look at what food I decided to eat and how it affected wildlife, ecosystems, and ultimately our world as a whole. He mentioned an interesting point that in terms of protein, it takes more land to produce the equivalent amount of animal protein than it does to grow the same amount of vegetable protein. Bottom line: there would be less land consumption and healthier ecosystems if America backed off of their overly-consumptive portions of meat and relied more heavily on vegetable proteins and smaller portions of meat. This fact really hit home for me. As a kid growing up in Elk Grove, California, I watched field after field of wide open land converted to shopping malls and subdivisions. At one point in the early 2000’s Elk Grove was the fastest growing city in the nation. The concept of land consumption was and is very real to me. Those expansive fields represented freedom, learning, and imagination. I quickly realized that at the rate humans were consuming resources, there wouldn’t be much land left for my children to experience the deep connection with nature I was able to develop. It was very apparent that land consumption had the potential to be a very negative, destructive thing.  

Colter at Hunter Orchards Organic Farm in Grenada, CA.

My professor had also mentioned that as folks in the field of wildlife, if we are espousing to the world that we need to care about the well-being of wildlife and ecosystems, then our life decisions (such as our choice in food) ought to reflect the moral axioms of our career. Practice what you preach, basically. Listening to that lecture inspired me to do my own research into how my choices in food affected the well-being of the planet, and I quickly realized how industrialized agriculture is compromising ecosystems and our health. Through my research, I have come to realize that one of the largest ways we can help reduce our negative impact on the planet and positively impact our personal health is through our choice in food. The reason being, there are massive amounts of energy required to grow, maintain, and transport food to our tables, especially when we are talking about large-scale industrialized agriculture. Full disclosure, this extensive research into the practices of this type of agriculture led me to be a full on vegetarian for six years; however, I am on occasion eating organic or otherwise environmentally conscious raised meat. That is what I try to talk to people about, not stressing out about being a vegetarian, but rather practicing moderation and being aware that our choice in food has profound personal and environmental impacts. I wanted to talk about the impact of our choice in food first because I personally believe this is the most available way for people to reduce our negative impacts on the local and global scale. One of the goals of intentional living is to eventually turn food production and consumption into a process that benefits the planet and our personal health. 

Colter next to the Mini-bell peppers and rosemary.
I’ve laid out some subject matters that I think are of dire importance and that we will most surely talk about again. In writing this, I realized I am taking on a little more at one time than is appropriate for a post. So here is the outline of what you can expect from future blog posts. We will definitely cover the importance of eating organic foods, since all foods fall under the umbrella of either organically produced or conventionally produced. In our following posts we will talk about the choice of eating meat and other animal products. We will also talk about some of the positive things our family is doing to help reduce our consumptive footprint and benefit the ecosystems around us through food production and consumption. So here is the trailhead to the path we have chosen to living with ever increasing positive intention. Come and join in on the journey!

Organic vs. Conventional and GMO foods-
-Integrated pest management vs. pesticides
-Organic vs. inorganic fertilizer
-Biodynamic vs. monoculture
-Energy input
-GMOs and associated agricultural practices
-Our ultimate ideal: eating local and growing our own food. 
I will outline some of the organic gardening projects we have in the works for this next season.

Colter in front of the Hugelkulture garden bed in process.

Animal Products-
-USDA beef: is it really raised in the U.S?
-Rasputin chicken: a daily dose of arsenic with your breakfast, you say?
-Raising meat uses more land for equivalent amount of vegetable protein.
-Water use and impact on watersheds
-Hormones and antibiotics
-Our ultimate ideal: raising, hunting/catching, and processing our own meat. I will show you the Machek family secret on how to brine and smoke your own Salmon! We are also going to be raising our own chickens for eggs coming up in the spring.

Sacramento River 33lb Chinook Salmon

 Growing, raising, and processing your own food -
-It is possible to turn food production and consumption into a process that benefits the planet and our personal health.
-You are what you eat: having a connection with your food, knowing what it ate, what you are eating, and what you are becoming.
 -These are good eating habits for your own personal health, the health of our communities, and the health of our planet. 

Too bad our gov't isn't putting out this kind of propaganda anymore.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cleaning Your Home with Natural Ingredients By Katie Machek

You may have noticed in recent years that more and more people are turning away from store-bought household cleaners and opting for cheaper and more natural cleaning methods to clean their homes. They are tossing out their Windex, 409, and Pledge and replacing them with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. Although this method may seem “new,” it’s actually the way that people have been cleaning their homes and living spaces for centuries. So why the trend toward these natural products, and why have store-bought cleaning products become so popular? The answer, of course, is money.
These companies use fear-based tactics to swindle homeowners into believing that the household environment is inherently unsafe. They air commercials that depict hoards of evil, nasty germs covering each and every square inch of the home, and then bring in the “hero”, a concoction of chemicals and toxins that will kill viruses and bacteria and restore sterile order to the living space. It is true that viruses and bacteria are all over your home. It is also true that most of these products do a great job of sterilizing and cleaning surfaces, and I certainly think that these products should be used in hospitals and patient care facilities. But it begs the question: do our homes really need to be as sterile as a hospital? A study conducted by the Department of Child Health at the University of Bristol observed that increased hygiene was associated with increased wheezing and atopic eczema in 30 to 42-month-olds. The scientists note that “the creation of a sterile environment through excessive cleanliness may potentially be harmful to the immune system (1).” By creating this unnaturally sterile environment, our bodies are not able to build up a natural defense to pathogens. Over the years this would mean that the body’s natural ability to defend itself from viruses and bacteria is diminished. But it’s not just the body’s unchallenged immune system that is the problem. Another European study found that an increased use of household cleaners was associated with a persistent wheeze in their child subjects (2).
You may wonder what these cleaning products contain. Reading the labels might not help, because most of the ingredients listed are scientific names for the chemicals. Furthermore, some of the ingredients in these cleaners are not even listed on the bottle. Case in point, check out the hidden (literally hidden, meaning unlabeled!) harmful and toxic chemicals found in household cleaners in an independent study commissioned by the Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) via the link below. Carcinogens such as chloroform and hormone disrupters such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP) were found in some of these products, and these ingredients were not even listed on the bottle. The real shocker for me was that they detected 1,4-dioxane, a cancer-causing agent, in Simple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care Lemon Verbena. Doesn’t sound so green and natural, does it?
The plot thickens, too, as one study I came across in Environmental Science & Technology found that some household cleaning products and air fresheners, when combined with ozone, formed secondary pollutants like formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. When you put all the pieces together, you start to see that these cleaners are probably doing more harm than good in our home. Now, I don’t mean to get all doom and gloom on you, I just want to share my findings with you. As an environmental advocate and concerned parent, I want to know that I’m keeping the earth clean and my child safe. So what are we to do, you ask? Why, natural cleaning, of course! We’d like to share with you some alternative cleaning recipes you can make in your kitchen- using affordable and available ingredients found in your home. We’ve switched to this method of cleaning two years ago, and never looked back. Here are our top 5 natural cleaning ingredients, along with recipes, helpful websites, and links to the scientific studies we’ve mentioned here. So, without further adieu, let me introduce to you…

Ah, vinegar. That lovely, pungent, fermented salad dresser we know and love. But did you know that it is also one of the safest and most effective household cleaners out there? In a study that compared the cleaning effectiveness of six different alternative household cleaners, vinegar was found to be an effective anti-microbial cleaner in the kitchen as well as the bathroom (4). Vinegar has all the great cleaning properties of the leading brands of “green” cleaners, without the nasty chemicals. In our home, we use a diluted vinegar solution to clean our counter tops and floors. Diluting the vinegar is the key to avoiding that “salad dressing” smell from permeating your home…although I admit I’ve come to associate that smell with a feeling of being clean. Which has in effect changed my feelings towards vinaigrette…but I digress. Just mix a one-to-one ratio of water to vinegar and put into a spray bottle. Use around the home as you would a multi-purpose cleaner on all your hard surfaces. For an added cleaning kick, as well as a nice fragrant smell, add a couple drops of rosemary or lavender essential oil into the mix. Not only will this make your house smell nice, but oils like rosemary and lavender also have anti-microbial properties. Win, win! It is also an excellent window cleaner. Spray the same one-to-one vinegar water solution (minus the essential oils) onto your windows, television screens, glass table tops, etc. and wipe dry with a terry cloth for a streak-free finish.

Hydrogen Peroxide
If the antimicrobial properties of vinegar are leaving you yearning for more of a cleaning punch, I would turn to that little brown bottle under your bathroom sink for an effective and safe sterilizing agent. Hydrogen peroxide is registered by the EPA as a sterilizer. Not only is it effective, but it is incredibly safe to use, as it breaks down into water and oxygen. It’s also incredibly available and affordable. What’s not to love? Most commercial hydrogen peroxide is sold at very low concentrations
(3% or 4%, in water) and thus is safe to use in the home around children and pets. Do be careful using it, however, as it has the potential to bleach certain surfaces and fabrics. For this reason, you should always spot test the area you are using it on. It also has the ability to remove the pigment in your skin if you use it for a sustained period of time without protection. If you think you’ll be using hydrogen peroxide for a large cleaning project, be advised that you may want to wear protective gloves to avoid this depigmentation. Because of its sterilizing properties, it is an excellent bathroom cleaner. During the cold and flu season, wipe-down the most frequently-used areas (like doorknobs, light switches, telephones etc.) to help cut down on the spread of infection. You can use it straight out of the bottle, or transfer it to a spray bottle. Be aware, though, that if you transfer it into a spray bottle that light can penetrate, the hydrogen peroxide will slowly decompose into water and oxygen. Which begs the question…could one simply attach a spray bottle head to a hydrogen peroxide bottle? Try it!

Baking Soda
Baking soda- or sodium bicarbonate if you’re nerdy- is truly a versatile and dynamic household ingredient. Who knew there were so many uses for baking soda? Just type into any search engine “uses for baking soda,” and you will find a plethora of applications and recipes. We use it in the home as an abrasive, a descaler, and a deodorizer. As an abrasive, just make a paste out of water and baking soda, and use a toothbrush to scrub the grout between kitchen and bathroom tiles. You could also use this paste on a terry cloth to clean brass and other metals. As a descaler, use the same paste in the bathroom to remove hard water stains. For really tough hard water stains, you can put a baking soda and vinegar mixture onto the stain and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. This combination of vinegar and baking soda makes an acidic solution (sodium acetate) that will effectively eat away at the scales. If the hard water stains are really built-up and set in, it may take a few applications and some hard scrubbing to remove all the scales. As for a deodorizer, we’ve learned first-hand that sprinkling a little baking soda onto vomit not only deodorizes the smell, but also makes it much easier to clean up. What’s your favorite baking soda recipe?

Soap Nuts
After receiving my first bag of soap nuts over a year ago, I was thrust into a world that had new meaning, a world whose lexicon included phrases like “wet nuts, nut sacks, and dry old nuts.” I’m talking, of course, about the amazing natural cleaning product known as “soap nuts,” a small drupaceous fruit that very much resembles a miniature coconut. This little fruit comes from shrubs in the Soapberry family (genus Sapindus) that grow in tropical and warm temperate climates. These little berries contain saponins, which provide the plant with a defense against predation by grazing animals, as well as protection from invasion by fungi or microbes. As it turns out, saponins are also a natural surfactant (“sapon-” in Latin means “soap”.) I have to say here that I’m using amazing restraint not to go into detail about how cool surfactant compounds really are. I won’t go into detail about surface tension, and I won’t draw diagrams explaining how micelles form, with their cute little hydrophilic heads and their productive little hydrophobic tail or any of that. I will just say that surfactants can act as detergents, removing oil and grease from clothing and household items. So, now that we’ve survived that science lesson, let me explain how we use soap nuts around the home. The best way that I’ve come across to harness the great cleaning power of soap nuts is to make the infamous soap nuts liquid (recipe below), which is so amazingly easy to do you won’t believe it. The household applications for this liquid are innumerable, but here are a few:

v     Replace the water in the all-purpose vinegar cleaner with this soap nuts liquid. You’d be amazed at how effective this cleaner can be at removing tough greasey build-up and caked-on food. Follow up with a water rinse on any surfaces you will be preparing food on or eating food off of.
v     Replace the water in the basic window and glass cleaner with soap nuts liquid to remove grease and oil from sliding glass doors and television screens
v     Replace the water in the baking soda abrasive cleaner to really scrub the heck out your kitchen and bathroom tiles/grout.

There are also many cosmetic and laundering applications for the soap nuts liquid, but I’m reserving those for future blogs. Don’t worry, I will divulge!

Essential Oils
As the name implies, these oils are the true essence of the plant they are derived from. If you are not familiar with using essential oils, there are some basic guidelines to follow when using them. First, these oils are very concentrated, and for this reason they must be diluted or used in very miniscule amounts. Second, you should not ingest essential oils before doing thorough research to assure that the oil you intend to ingest is safe for human consumption. Tea tree oil, for example, can cause major health problems if ingested in large amounts by a child, which brings me to my last guideline. Third and last, please keep essential oils, as well as all your other cleaning products out of reach of children. Even benign things like vinegar, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide in the hands of a child can cause some serious damage to sensitive eye membranes, and soap nuts liquid can cause the eyes to sting and upset the stomach if ingested. Bottom line: just keep this stuff up and away from the kiddos.
Now, you may be wondering how effective essential oils are at cleaning around the home, and why they are listed as one of our top 5 natural cleaners. There are many scientific studies that have studies the antimicrobial properties of various essential oils. One such study published in Letters in Applied Microbiology found that essential oils such as thyme, cinnamon, and clove were effective at killing food born pathogens such as Staph, Salmonella, and Listeria, among others (5). Another study found that essential oils such as ylang-ylang, basil, lemon, lemongrass, and rosemary (among others) were effective at inhibiting the growth and/or spread of twenty-five different bacteria and one species of fungus, all categorized as either pathogens or food-spoilers (6). The capabilities of these essential oils are great, when you consider also that their aromatic qualities can have a profound effect on our mood (more on aromatherapy later). You may also be wondering about how cost effective these oils are. Although they may seem pricey (running anywhere from $2-$10 or more per ounce,) consider that we have had a 0.5oz bottle of tea tree oil in the house for over a year that we just ran out of last week. The cost-effectiveness of these oils comes with the fact that you are only using 2-3 drops of oil at a time. Considering that the “drops per mL standard” in the essential oil world is 20-25 drops of essential oil per mL, and a 0.5oz bottle contains 15mL of oil…that’s 300-375 drops per tiny 0.5oz bottle. That’s a lot of drops!
The application of these oils is pretty simple. Following the basic guidelines listed, add 2-3 drops of any of the oils listed above in the basic all-purpose vinegar cleaner for added antimicrobial power. This is a good solution to use on your counter tops and cooking surfaces, as well as high use areas that see a lot of hand traffic (door knobs, phones, light switches etc.) Be advised that if you plan on mixing these oils, they can have a synergistic effect- meaning that two oils put together can behave dramatically different than two oils used on their own. For this reason I would do thorough research into essential oil mixing. For now, try out one oil at a time in your cleaning solution. Some good examples are lemon, basil, thyme, rosemary, or clove. As with the soap nuts, be sure to follow up with a water rinse on any surface that you plan to prepare food on or eat food off of.


Basic All-Purpose Vinegar Cleaner
1 ½ cups Water
1 ½ cups White Vinegar
2-3 Drops Essensial Oil (optional)
Combine in a spray bottle to clean surfaces and floors

Basic Vinegar Window and Glass Cleaner
1 ½ cups Water
1 ½ cups White Vinegar
Combine in a spray bottle to clean windows and any other smooth surface.

Baking Soda Abrasive and Descaler:
¼ cup Baking Soda
~2-3 Tbsp Water or
~2-3 Tbsp White Vinegar for tough hard-water stains
Combine in a bowl and apply to tile and grout, and scrub with a toothbrush. Or apply directly to hard-water stains and let sit, then scrub with a toothbrush.

Multi-Purpose Soap Nuts Liquid
4 cups Water
8-10 Soap Nuts
Place water and soap nuts into a medium pot and cook over medium high heat, until the mixture reaches a rolling boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until the mixture has reduced by half. Let cool. Mash the soap nuts with a potato masher, and strain the liquid into a container. Store this solution in the refrigerator, as the liquid is perishable. You can see here that we are using a 2:1 soap nut to water ratio. Feel free to up the ante (i.e. 3:1 or 4:1) if you feel as though you’d like a more concentrated cleaning solution.


(1) Sherriff, A., and J. Golding. "Hygiene levels in a contemporary population cohort are associated with wheezing and atopic eczema in preschool infants." Archives of disease in childhood 87.1 (2002): 26-29.

(2) Sherriff A, Farrow A, Golding J, et al. Frequent use of chemical household products is associated with persistent wheezing in pre-school age children. Thorax 2005;60:45-49.

(3) Destaillats, Hugo, et al. "Indoor secondary pollutants from household product emissions in the presence of ozone: a bench-scale chamber study." Environmental Science & Technology 40.14 (2006): 4421-4428.

(4) Olson, Wanda, Marilyn Bode, and Polly Dubbel. “Hard Surface Cleaning Performance of Six Alternative Household Cleaners Under Laboratory Conditions”. (1994).

(5) Smith-Palmer, A., J. Stewart, and L. Fyfe. "Antimicrobial properties of plant essential oils and essences against five important food-borne pathogens." Letters in Applied Microbiology 26.2 (1998): 118-122.

(6) Baratta, M. Tiziana, et al. "Antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of some commercial essential oils." Flavour and Fragrance Journal 13.4 (1998): 235-244.


The independent study commissioned by the Women's Voice for the Earth (WVE):

Some other great natural cleaning recipes, as well as DIY natural cosmetic recipes, from WVE:

A great resource for ideas and recipes using soap nuts:

Natural cleaning using essential oils:

Some creative and surprising cleaning ingredients found around the home: