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10 Truly Multi-Purpose Kitchen Tools For A Clutter-Free Kitchen

If you're looking around and wondering how you wound up with 15 spatulas, 12 wooden spoons, eight or so ladles and six kitchen electronics (half of which you have no idea what they do), then it's time to break open some drawers, clear off some shelves and take your kitchen down to its useful and clutter-free basics.

In our kitchen, which is comfortable for one person but a tight squeeze for two, we've narrowed it down to tools -- outside of essentials like pots, pans and mixing bowls, of course -- that are not only used on a regular basis, but serve at least two purposes, if not more.

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Are sugar substitutes really that bad for you?

There has been considerable talk of how dangerous synthetic sugar substitutes may be for our health, but little evidence of harm has actually come forth and their environmental impacts may be more reason for concern.
Photo credit: abbyladybug, courtesy Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: I saw an article on sugar's effects on the environment. Has anyone compared different sweeteners (artificial or natural) for their environmental impacts?
-- Terri Oelrich, via e-mail

The production of sugar has indeed taken a huge environmental toll. "Sugar has arguably had as great an impact on the environment as any other agricultural commodity," reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), citing biodiversity loss as a result of the "wholesale conversion of habitat on tropical islands and on coastal areas" to grow sugar. WWF adds that the cultivation of sugar has also resulted in considerable soil erosion and degradation and the use of large amounts of chemicals across the tropics and beyond.

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Are Plastics a Good Idea for Food Preservation?

Freezing foods in plastic containers isn't as worrisome as heating them, but if you're leery of plastic, glass containers designed to withstand large temperature extremes, such as Ball Jars (aka Mason jars), like the one pictured here, or anything made by Pyrex, can be a sensible alternative. Just be sure not to load them to the brim as some foods expand when frozen.
Photo credit: Johnathunder, Wikipedia.

Dear EarthTalk: I love to cook and when I have the time I make soups, stews and pasta meals in large batches and freeze them. I use leftover plastic containers, but I know this is not good. What kinds of containers are safe for freezer food storage?
-- Kathy Roberto, via e-mail

Reusing leftover plastic food containers to store items in the freezer may be noble environmentally, but it might not be wise from the perspective of keeping food safely frozen and tasting its best when later heated up and served. Many such containers are designed for one-time use and then recycling, so it’s not worth risking using them over and over. Likewise, wax paper, bread wrappers and cardboard cartons should not be used to store frozen foods; these types of containers don’t provide enough of a barrier to moisture and odors and also may not keep food fresh when frozen.

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Be-bop-a-re-bop Rhubarb Jam!

t’s that time of year again --- the mornings are golden, the nights still chilly, the blue jays are calling in the trees out back and the rhubarb has broken through the earth like it has for ten thousand years. Actually, I wonder how old some of these rhubarb plants are. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were the same ones transplanted from the Garden of Eden.

On Saturday a friend gave me a huge bundle of rhubarb, on Sunday I cooked it up into the jam that my mother made every year and every morning since I have been eating it on toast with my coffee for breakfast.

Click through for recipes and ideas from Kathleen Valentine

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Fun Food Activities for You and Your Kids

There are lots of ways to spend time with kids which do not break the budget. But coming up with ways to spend time with our kids is not always as easy as it sounds. It is easy to grab a movie and pop it in the player to pass a few hours in the afternoon. However, there are other options as well.

Many of these ideas involve the use of the kitchen. Most kids enjoy spending time in the kitchen, because for them food is exciting and something new. Here are five food activities which are fun not only for the child, but also for the adult.

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The New Homemaker EBook of Crockpot Cookery

Fast, economical, healthy and flavor-packed, crockpot meals can save you money, time and hassle--and your family will love them! You'll get 250 crockpot recipes for every meal:

  • Breakfast
  • Drinks
  • Appetizers and dips
  • Hearty soups and stews
  • Roasts and chops
  • ...Even dessert--you can bake a cake in a crockpot with your favorite recipe!

SAVE TIME: These recipes are easy to plan ahead, and the crockpot does the work--you're free to do other things instead of standing over the stove tapping your toes.

SAVE MONEY: The cheap cuts of meat in these recipes are better for crockpot cooking, and are more flavorful than expensive ones. Once you taste these dishes, you may find out you prefer brisket to steak!

SAVE DINNER! With a crockpot and this book, you can make tasty, nutritious and inexpensive meals while you work, play or sleep.

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Boxed Wine: A Green Option for the Holidays

There are no bottles in these boxes of wine -- just wine and the plastic pouch that holds it. It's a great "green" option for holiday parties. Boxing instead of bottling wine saves half the shipping weight (and associated carbon emissions) and keeps the product fresher longer. Photo: BotaBox.

Dear EarthTalk: Apparently boxed wine (instead of bottled) is becoming all the rage for environmental reasons. What are the eco-benefits of boxed wine over bottled?
--Justin J., Los Angeles, CA

With more and more wineries offering organic varieties to lower their eco-footprint, it’s no surprise that they’re looking at the environmental impacts of their packaging as well. The making of conventional glass bottles (and the corks that cap them) uses significant quantities of natural resources and generates considerable pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the process of manufacturing glass not only contributes its share of greenhouse gas emissions but also generates nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and tiny particulates that can damage lung tissue when breathed in.

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Life of the Party

Considering cancelling your annual holiday shindig because of cost? No need. "With planning and a little creativity, it's easy to throw a great party without spending a lot of money," says former caterer Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It for Less! Parties: Tricks of the Trade from Professional Caterers' Kitchens and Do It For Less! Wedding: How to Create Your Dream Wedding Without Breaking the Bank. Try some of her favorite themes for successful celebrations on a shoestring. Your guests will never guess that you didn't spend a bundle on them.

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How Antioxidants Can Save Your Life

W"ant to cut your risk of cancer in half? Want to substantially reduce your chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke? Want to live a longer, healthier life? The answer is simple: Eat more fruits and vegetables. At this point, you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking “Been there! Done that!” But before you do, ask yourself how many servings of fruits and vegetables you ate yesterday. Multiple studies show that -- despite a mountain of scientific evidence supporting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and despite years of listening to top experts (not to mention moms) telling us to eat more fruits and vegetables -- the typical American still eats a measly three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And if you rule out french fries, which are so high in fat they hardly count, most people are down to two servings. This falls far short of the five servings a day experts keep harping about. To make matters worse, five is actually a minimum recommendation. For optimal health, experts say we should be striving for seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day!

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Earth-Friendly Chocolate

Dear EarthTalk: I heard a reference to “Earth-friendly chocolate” and was wondering about what goes into chocolate that would raise environmental concerns.
--Ben Moran, Providence, RI

Like coffee beans, the cacao seeds from which we derive chocolate can only be grown successfully in equatorial regions--right where the world's few remaining tropical rainforests thrive. As worldwide demand for chocolate grows, so does the temptation among growers to clear more and more rainforest to accommodate high-yield monocultural (single-crop) cacao tree plantations. What are left are open, sunny fields with dramatically lower levels of plant and animal diversity. Adding environmental insult to injury, most cacao plantations use copious amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides that further degrade the land that once teemed with a wide variety of rare birds, mammals and plants.

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The Art of Presentation

Cooking is an art. It may not always feel like it, when you're turning out three meals a day every single day like a lot of home cooks! But the more you treat it as a creative endeavor, the easier it gets to face that kitchen. At some point, though, even folks who have a great time cooking realize that their plates lack a certain something, but they aren't sure exactly what--no matter how great the food tastes.

That something is what the pros call presentation. You don't have to go to cooking school to turn out great dishes and to be able to make food that people enjoy, both in taste and appearance. It doesn't take a lot of effort or training to garnish your everyday meals in a way that will make your family sit up and take notice, and take a chore into the realm of creativity.

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Make Your Own Baby Food

What's in that jarred baby food in the cupboard? Chances are there's a ton of sugar and preservatives in it, that's what. The majority of baby foods on the market add sugar to everything, even chicken and peas. And that's not counting the extra salt!

Why should you go homemade? For starters, you'll know exactly what's going into it that way. You'll be able to tailor the ingredients to what your baby needs and likes. The food will be fresh, free of extra sugar and salt, and prepared with good ingredients, as opposed to jarred ones which are often made from bruised fruits and vegetables with chemicals added to even out the taste. The killer reason for me? Homemade baby food isn't only better for baby, it's not only easy to make--but it's incredibly cheap!

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Organic Baby Food

Giving babies nutritious food is not only good for their health, but it will also help establish positive eating habits, unlike our spokesbaby here. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: I want to give my baby fresh, organic food but I don't have the time to make her special meals. What options are out there?
--Marie L., via e-mail

Babies deserve the best possible start in life, so giving them nutritious food is a must, not only for good health but also to establish positive eating habits as early as possible.

According to Consumers Union (CU), publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, commercial baby foods, many of which are made up of condensed fruits and vegetables, can contain high concentrations of pesticide residues. “A lot of these pesticides are toxic to the brain,” says Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Citing studies that have linked smaller head circumference and reduced intelligence in babies to in utero exposure to pesticides consumed by their mothers, Landrigan says it is best not to gamble when it comes to baby food.

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Why You Need Molasses in Your Pantry

molassesNext to my stove is a clear squeeze bottle filled with dark brown stuff. People usually think it's soy sauce, but they get a shock if they put it on rice. It's not soy sauce, it's molasses.

"Why keep a squeeze bottle of molasses next to the stove?" you're thinking. "How often do you make gingerbread, anyway?" Because in modern American homes, that's about the only time molasses gets pulled out of the slightly gummy back recesses of the cupboard, if there's any in the cupboard at all--for gingerbread at Christmas.

That, friends, is a pity, because molasses is not just a sweetener, it's a flavor enhancer and it packs some serious nutrition.

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Herb Gardening for Beginners

Just outside my back door is a patch filled with happy buzzing bees. When I need a little rosemary for my chicken, or thyme for my fish, or lavender for a bouquet, I just pop out the door and cut a handful. You're thinking, wow, I'd like to do that too, but I don't know anything about growing herbs.

Good news! You don't need to! Herb gardening is about the simplest form of gardening there is.

An herb garden can be planted just about anywhere that you have space--a strip of dirt beside the front walk would even work. And if you have no outdoor space, herbs can be grown in large containers on a sunny porch or balcony.

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Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

The best resource for making Mead, Spruce Beer, or any kind of home-made hooch I've found. Exhaustively researched, it's chock full of interesting anecdotes, fascinating historical and literary references, and more recipes than you can well brew in a lifetime. I love this book.

My first batch of mead isnpired by this book did not prosper but that is soley my own fault as a beginner making stupid mistakes. I have high hopes for the next batch of Mead I've got cooling on the stove as I type.

Iced Tea Season Begins

June is National Iced Tea Month, so I thought I'd take a sec to share some iced tea ideas and links with all y'all--everything from traditional sweet tea, to crisp, refreshing green, to spicy Indian chai.

Click through for ideas!

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Oregon Chai

Usually I make my chai myself, but when I'm in the mood for a treat--especially when it's hot and I don't want to boil water--Oregon Chai concentrate is what I reach for. It's suuuper yummy!

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Maximizing Food, Minimizing Spoilage

With our income reduced, we're trying very hard not to let anything in the kitchen go to waste. This takes some organization, and I'm not famous for that. So I'm researching home kitchen management techniques.

I've always prided myself on stocking a pantry properly. I learned this from my mom. It makes pulling a meal together, especially an impromptu one, a lot easier when your shelves are well-stocked. The Reluctant Gourmet's list is a good one, though our shelves also always have coconut oil, coconut milk, good curry powder, and aseptic pack pureed soups. In the basement, we always have jasmine rice, short grain white rice, short grain brown rice and masa harina, which we use like some people use flour for dredging. We keep a variety of non-wheat flours for thickening and baking, since we really shouldn't eat wheat. And my two flavoring blends I always have on hand--my "cheaters"--are herbes de provence and pickling spice, which I keep in a pepper grinder.

My food storage is pretty well organized--I know what is where, and how much I have--except for what's in the refrigerators and freezer. That's where my system falls down. When I know what I have, I'm pretty handy with leftovers, and like my mom I'm famous for making tasty meals appear out of thin air (it's all in the pantry). But in the chill chests, I don't always know what I have.

So how to conquer the cold boxes?

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The American Frugal Housewife eBook

Written in 1832, "The American Frugal Housewife" is remarkably current. While you probably won't be needing to restore kid gloves to their former whiteness, there is still much to be gained from reading the advice Lydia Maria Francis Child gave her readers, including a great number of recipes that I intend to sift through and update in a later publication. Her ideas on thrift, "keeping up with the Joneses," and profiting from the misery of others are as necessary today as they were more than 150 years ago, and probably 150 years hence.

Also available in wirebound paperback.

Espresso Powder

There are times when recipes call for espresso powder and it doesn't get much better than Medaglio d'Oro.

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