Thursday, August 30, 2012

Building Healthy Credit

Even if you are not in the market to get a loan, having and building a healthy credit score in the United States can be beneficial and even fundamental for managing your bills. Your credit score is a complex algorithm designed by lending agencies to allow lenders to quickly and easily judge how likely you are to pay your bills and manage the amount of debt you request to borrow. Your credit score can earn you discounts and perks, even on basic utilities like electricity (or washer and dryer rentals!), or it could prevent you from being able to obtain loans in the future, all depending on how you spend your money over your lifetime. Though it takes years to build credit, don't feel intimidated! There are a few simple things you can keep in mind to build a good score.
Credit is based mainly on your borrowing history.
Even if you have a bank account and pay your apartment rent on time and have never had a credit card or been in debt, you may not have an established credit history. Having no credit can be just as detrimental as bad credit because lenders don't have any idea about how likely you are to pay your debts. The credit bureaus recommend that you have somewhere between 4 and 6 accounts that report to credit agencies to have a healthy score. A credit line could be a student loan, a car loan, or even as simple as a card that you buy groceries with and pay off at the end of each month.

You don't have to start off with no credit when you turn 18.
Parents can add their children's names to credit accounts when they are of age, usually around 16, to begin building credit. Your teenager does not have to use the card or even make payments, just having her name on the card will piggyback off of your credit score. However, keep in mind that if your credit is bad and you do this, your child will inherit bad credit too.

The amount of time you keep a credit line matters.
Having long-standing accounts that are paid on time for several years helps to build your credit. This is another great reason to start early when building your credit. Even if you pay off your debts, try to keep at least one card around that you have a long history with.

Keep a low balance on your cards and low overall debt.
Try to keep the amount of debt used on your credit line below 30%. A heavy determinant of your score is how much debt you have compared to how much you make each year. But just having a maxed out credit card can be damaging to your credit. Try spreading out your debt over a couple of cards and try to be as pragmatic and conservative as possible when judging how much you need to borrow. Just because you can borrow a lot doesn't mean that you should.

Hard inquiries to your credit do effect your score, but not by much.
Any time someone other than you checks your credit -- that is, any time you show interest in taking on more debt-- lenders see this as a potential risk factor in lending to you, which can potentially damage your score. However, the actual debt you have compared to your income and whether you pay your bills on time is far more weighty than an outside agency checking your credit. To limit the number of checks, check your own score regularly so that you have your rating in mind. Then whenever you are interested in dealing with a company who checks credit, be sure to ask what general score range they look for to get the best rate. This will help you judge how likely you are to be approved at the budget line you are looking for without adding unnecessary dings to your score.

Checking your credit score is free!

Though all of these factors are very important, the best way to keep on track is to check your score and your detailed report. Credit scores vary so much from person to person because everyone's financial needs are different. You can check your score as many times as you want, as well as obtain at least one annual detailed report from each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at no cost. Credit monitoring sites such as are a great free resource for gaining insight into your credit history. If at any time you see major changes in your score and you're unsure why, get a detailed report from each of the bureaus to make sure your affairs are in order. Big unexplained changes can point to errors in reporting or even identity theft.

Remember, knowledge is power! Keeping your credit rating in mind when you're budgeting can give you an edge in the future. Though credit scoring can seem scary and mysterious, it's just another factor in balancing your finances that you can use to your advantage. So keep an eye on it every month, just like your bills and your bank account. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Treating Colds and Allergies

Last week our household was struck with the dreaded summer cold. Nothing kills a warm summer day faster than wanting to go out in the sun but already feeling hot and clammy, or wanting to run around outside and feeling achy and stuffy and tired. Here are a few home remedies that can help you get back on track to feeling your best.

Gargling salt water helps to kill bacteria in your mouth and throat and loosens any phlegm that contributes to your throat feeling scratchy. It also helps dull the pain of a sore throat. Some people also gargle warm mouthwash with similar results.

Ginger root, when grated and steeped in warm water, makes a spicy tea that helps to calm your nausea from a runny nose. It's also anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and boosts your circulation, which helps to ease irritated noses, sore throats and headaches.

Turmeric tea is a lighter summer alternative to the healing turmeric milk recipe featured here a couple weeks ago. The bitter, sweet and sour flavors compliment each other interestingly and feel great on your nose and throat. Squeeze half a lemon, a teaspoon of honey and half a teaspoon turmeric into a mug and stir together to make a syrup. Slowly pour hot water until your mug is full, then let steep for 5 minutes for full healing effects. Fresh turmeric, like fresh ginger, is a knobbly root that can be found in the produce section of most stores and Asian grocers. However, powdered turmeric works just fine too.

Keep exercising. This may seem counter-intuitive, but studies have shown that aside from preventing sickness, exercising actually helps you to feel better during sickness. Exercising at the same intensity as you normally would when you have a cold surprisingly doesn't inhibit your performance in any area. It doesn't seem to cure colds faster, but participants who exercised found that they felt better and more energetic sooner than participants who didn't. Studies haven't been done yet with sickness beyond colds. However, use caution if your cold involves fever or chest congestion as intense activity may exacerbate more serious ailments.

Drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. This goes without saying, but don't oversleep either. Sleeping too much can be just as detrimental as sleeping too little. Get in a solid 8 hours and always have a glass of water nearby.

If you are struck with the same misfortune I was, hopefully these tips will help you get back on your feet again. Until next time, keep it clean! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oven-Baked Zucchini Fries

If you are like me, you struggle between eating your favorite foods and maintaining your ideal weight, and the struggle seems to be endless. Trying to stick to my healthy eating habits, I was hunting for healthy snack ideas, when I stumbled upon this lovely Zucchini Fries recipe in Kraft Recipes magazine. I am not a fan of Zucchini, but this looked interesting, and I thought I’ll give it a try. And it is indeed something you should try too! 

Zucchini has a hard texture, which works to its advantage here – the fries do not become soft and soggy, they maintain a firm shell, while the coating on the top gives it a crispy covering. Cheese gives it a warm gooey coating, and seasoning adds an element of flavor. Quick, easy, healthy and delicious – you don’t find such foods easily, so hang on to this recipe!

Oven-Baked Zucchini Fries
makes approximately 8 servings
3 zucchini (1 lb.)
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 packet Shake & Bake Coating Mix
1 small egg

Heat oven to 450ºF.

Trim the zucchini - cut crosswise in half, then cut each piece into 1/4-inch sticks. Add cheese to coating mix in shaker bag; shake gently to combine.
Whisk egg in medium bowl. Add zucchini; toss to coat. Use tongs to place 1/4 of the zucchini in shaker bag; close bag and shake to evenly coat. Spread onto baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat with remaining zucchini.
Bake for 12 to 13 min. or until golden brown, turning the baking tray 180 degrees after 7 min to facilitate even baking. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients.
Remove the baked fries from the oven, and serve them with your favorite dipping sauce!

This is a great way to enjoy some healthy greens in a fun and tasty way. It also serves to be a great snack for kids – they’ll love the taste, and you’ll love feeding them something healthy! Until next time, keep it clean (and healthy)! :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

5 Uses for Baking Soda In Your Bathroom!

Have you ever been up watching some late night TV and you hear something about a miracle cleaner that you can only get for a "limited time"! Although, look no further! There is no need to spend $19.99/mo for 3 months to find a product for all of your cleaning needs. It's also nontoxic, meaning it won't introduce any potentially hazardous substances to the home, water supply or hands of curious children. In fact, you've probably eaten this stuff, although mixed with other ingredients. It might be in your kitchen even now.
If you haven't guessed, we're talking about baking soda. This product that raises cakes and calms heartburn also has a number of cleaning applications. Although it's mild enough to use on most household surfaces, this article focuses on uses in the bathroom -- which covers a lot of ground, metaphorically speaking. Today I will talk about the magic power of a product you can get at any grocery store for under $5.00.

How does baking soda clean?
Baking soda's cleaning power is mostly physical. A mild abrasive, it gently wears away stains.  But chemistry is involved, too. Baking soda reacts with the grease in stains to form glycerol, a common cleansing ingredient in soaps. Mixing it with vinegar creates carbonic acid, a weak acid that boosts the corrosive action of vinegar. It also releases carbon dioxide, the gas that makes soft drinks bubbly, which may enhance the scrubbing effect. Also, as a weak alkali, baking soda neutralized acids in order molecules to eliminate strong smells. 

Although some toilets are made with a stain-resistant finish, the bowl is still at risk of staining. The minerals in standing water can discolor the porcelain. Brown- and rust-colored rings can be a particular problem in areas that have mineral-rich water, also known as hard water. If allowed to build, such stains require strong acidic cleansers to remove. These products can slowly erode the porcelain, not to mention the immediate damage they can do to the skin, eyes, nose and throat. It's worthwhile, then, to practice preventive maintenance. First, make "flush" a family rule. Also, make a simple routine part of your weekly cleaning: Sprinkle the toilet with cup of baking soda. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then spray or squirt with vinegar (a mild acid) to moisten. Scrub with a bowl brush and flush away!

Bathtubs and Sinks!
That chalky ring around the tub isn't a sign that the last person who took a bath was particularly dirty. Even in the most hygienic households, soap scum can strike. Soap scum is the residue that results from body oils and the fats in soap reacting with the mineral salts in water. Bathtubs, showers and sinks are prone to soap scum. Again, hard water aggravates the problem. Wipe down tubs and sinks after using them to prevent soap scum from forming. If soap scum does show up, sponge it off with a paste of baking soda and dishwashing detergent. Unlike soaps, detergents don't react with salts, so they don't contribute to the build up. To treat stubborn cases, add 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup ammonia to 1 gallon warm water. Douse the area and rinse it well. Wear rubber gloves and make sure the room is well ventilated when mixing and using this solution: Ammonia is a caustic. It burns tissue on contact and the fumes can damage your lungs, so be careful!

Shower Doors!
Glass shower doors add an elegant touch in a bathroom. But soapy water spots and stray flecks of toothpaste or shaving cream add an unattractive touch to glass doors. Most professionals discourage using common scouring powders to clean shower doors. The tiny, gritty granules that scrub off strains can also leave tiny scratches. Baking soda, in contrast, is a salt that dissolves in water. Sprinkle a little on a damp sponge and wipe down the glass. Rinse well and dry. For a really sharp finish, use a squeegee to avoid leaving lint and to minimize streaks.

Drains and Faucets!
As with toilets, standing water can mar the shine of chrome. The result isn't a stain, but mineral build up. As water pools around faucets and drains, the minerals settle to the bottom and eventually landscape the sink or tub with a rocky little ridge of calcium carbonate, also known as limescale. Commercial cleansers that are formulated specifically to dissolve lime and other mineral deposits have a drawback, besides toxicity concerns. They can discolor and damage chrome and stainless steel, as well as brass, bronze and nickel finishes. Vinegar, on the other hand, dissolves lime without harming metal. It works more slowly, however, and must be applied continuously. To keep vinegar from drying up or running off before it can do its work, mix it with baking soda to form a paste. Thoroughly coat the lime. Let it sit for a few hours, then rinse off.  Heavy deposits may take several applications to get rid of.

Baking soda has as many cleaning uses for vinyl as there are types of vinyl surfaces. Start with the floor. A sprinkle of baking soda lightly scrubbed with a wet sponge will take many stains off of a vinyl floor. Be careful to avoid soaking the floor, however, and dry it thoroughly afterward. Water can seep into seams and under edges, loosening the glue and curling the corners. The same process works for vinyl shower curtains, bath mats and appliqués, which are prone to mildew as well as soapy residue. Curtains can additionally be machine-washed with baking soda. Add 1/2 cup with the detergent and choose the gentle cycle. (Toss in a few towels to keep the curtain from sticking to itself and clumping.) For added disinfection, pour in 1/2 cup vinegar during the rinse cycle. Let the curtain air dry; it will melt in the dryer. Let the rubbed-in paste stand  for 20 minutes or so to remove darker stains.

 Hopefully today we have all learned how to clean our bathrooms more effectively, without spending gobs of money! Until next time, keep it clean! :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Easy Appetizer: Southwestern Eggrolls

   I love a quick appetizer for dinner when I'm not hungry enough nor have the stamina to cook a full meal. I'm also a sucker for super simple recipes with few ingredients that come out tasting fantastic! These Southwestern Eggrolls are exactly that! Easy, filling, and so delicious! The best part is, you can mix up the ingredients to your liking and they will still come out perfectly delectable.
   I used to love the Southwestern Eggrolls at chain restaurants like Chili's and Applebee's. When I became a vegetarian I had to give them up, however, because at the restaurant they contain shredded chicken. This recipe excludes any type of meat product, but feel free to add chicken, ground beef or turkey, crumbled seitan or tempeh, or anything else you desire. The recipe also calls for black beans but I'm sure it would be great with pinto or even red kidney beans. Veggies and cheeses are also adaptable to your palate's liking. Not a fan of cheddar or Mexican Chihuahua cheese? Try it with Monterrey Jack, Havarti, or Muenster. The options really are limitless here! I just can't believe it took me 6 years to figure out I could make these on my own sans the meat..! :)

   Here's what you'll need:

  • Ready made eggroll wrappers (you can usually find them near the tofu in the produce section)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 can mixed tomatoes and chiles (like Rotel), drained
  • 1 cup shredded Chihuahua/cheddar cheeses
  •  3/4 cup frozen corn
  • cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder
  • grapeseed oil for frying (or whatever you have on hand) 
  • mixing bowl, frying pan, metal tongs or spatula, and a spoon
  • glass with water and a pastry brush if you have one (if not you can use your fingers)
   *Side note: I love onions, so I normally add some chopped red onion in addition to the green. If you have any avocados on hand, including a few slices will make these heavenly. Trust me. I also find this dish an excellent way to sneak greens like collards and kale (finely shredded) into a "green-haters" belly. No complaints so far. ;)

   What to do:

  • First mix all ingredients (minus oil and wrapper) in a large bowl.
  • Lay out your eggroll wrapper so that it looks like a diamond facing towards you.
  • Spoon about 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture onto the wrapper and wet the top two sides of the diamond with either your fingers or pastry brush dipped in water.
  • Fold the bottom up, wrap a little ways, tuck the sides in, and then finish rolling. (There will be directions on the back of the package on how to fold the wrappers as well.)
  • Continue until you run out of the bean/veggie mixture. (or just make a few and save the rest!)
  • In a preheated frying pan with oil, place the eggrolls and fry until lightly brown and cripsy on all sides. If you have a deep fryer, feel free to bust it out! They will be worth it! 
  • Once they are cooked, drain the oil by placing them on a few paper towels or a wire rack. 
  • Allow to cool, serve with hot sauce or buttermilk dressing, and ENJOY! 
   This is one of my current favorite recipes and I hope you try it out soon! Until next time, stay clean Azuma readers! :) 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Terrific and Talented Turmeric!

   Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice with uses dating back to 2500 years ago. It was believed to be first utilized for it's dying properties and then later was incorporated as a spice and also used for cosmetic purposes. In many Indian cultures, turmeric was used as a substitute for the much more expensive saffron, due to it's amazingly similar deep yellow color. Today, turmeric still has many valuable qualities and benefits.
   As stated above, turmeric has a bright yellow color that is gorgeous when used as a natural dye for cloth. All you have to do is add a few shakes of dried turmeric to some hot water and let the item sit for a few hours. For deeper color, you can rinse, dry, and re-dye the cloth. I added a cap full of vinegar to my turmeric bath as well to help the color stick. The color will fade over time, especially when exposed to the sunlight, but you can always re-dye it to suit your liking. It's much better than using commercial dyes that contain questionable chemicals, in my own opinion. :)
   Turmeric also has many medicinal purposes. It is known for it's anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial purposes. This makes it great at combating acne, psoriasis, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. I like to mix a little turmeric with some honey and avocado for a hydrating, acne-fighting face mask! Turmeric is a natural pain killer and can help detoxify your liver. It is used to help aid weight management and even helps fat metabolize! It is useful in disinfecting cuts and burns, and also helps to heal and remodel damaged skin. There is even great promise in using turmeric to help prevent and treat cancer!
   How do you obtain these benefits? Some people take supplements of turmeric but that's not always necessary. It could be as easy as sprinkling some turmeric into an egg salad or incorporating it into a traditional Indian curry. You can also make a tea using the root itself or a powdered form. A popular way to drink turmeric in India is making a warm turmeric milk. To make this you add 2 cups organic milk (dairy or non-dairy), 1 tsp. turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp. ginger powder, 4 crushed black peppercorns, a dash of cinnamon, and a dollop of honey or other sweetener (if you chose). It is a delicious and warming "health drink" that has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic practices.
   As you can see, there are many uses and benefits of this miracle root. If you've never tried it before, I definitely suggest giving it a shot in any of the above ways! Have fun and stay clean for now!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Does this meal make me look healthy?

Lately I've been using an iPhone app called The Eatery. Every day you're supposed to take a picture of what you eat throughout the day, share it, and then strangers rate it on a scale from 1 to 100 on its healthfulness. The idea behind the app is that through peer pressure and unbiased outside opinion (you can have your friends rate your food too), you will begin to rethink things about each meal you make for yourself. When multiple people are rating your food, even if there are varying opinions, the average score you receive supposedly is often very close to the meal's actual overall health.

Taking pictures of your food at every meal is pretty quick and easy, but being on your phone regularly can sometimes be stressful and distracting. Also, not everyone has an iPhone! This was a fun experiment, though I don't know if I'm going to stick with the app in the long term. It might be useful to track my food during weeks where I am especially stressed out or tired so that I am forced to think about what I'm putting in my body. However, I do feel like I have learned a few things about what makes a meal feel healthy, look healthy, and on how I personally judge other people's food differently from how I judge my own choices. Here are a few things I've started doing regularly after using the app.

Use smaller portion sizes for denser meals.
There are some things I do not feel ashamed to share that I snack on mindlessly or stuff into my face while watching an explosion-filled action movie, like big bowls of salad or a bag of baby carrots. There are other meals that often come in standard large sizes that I might mindlessly eat when I shouldn't, especially when it's take out. If your evening burrito doesn't fit on your plate, you should cut it in half and repurpose it later for a nice breakfast or lunch. I find myself using smaller plates, around 8" in diameter, and make sure my food only fits on that. If after 30 minutes I'm still starving (though I'm usually not), I feel like it's OK to eat again. If it's a snack, like almonds, I grab a handful and put the container away.

There's always room for more greens!
Leafy greens are extremely healthy and filling, and they look beautiful on a plate. Pairing a meal with a salad or even mixing a salad in with your bowl adds a delicious and refreshing snap to your dish. Why not throw in some extra broccoli? Add some sauteed kale as a side dish. The more green the better.

Think differently about how you fill up the space on your plate.
I love pairing opposing flavors, and I've found that I get better ratings when there's more fresh fruits and veggies on my plate. At least half my plate will be fruits and vegetables. I've tried to use both of these things to my advantage. Grapes pair great with sour foods, bitter greens like collards pair great with salty foods. Mango, cherries, peaches and other super sweet stone fruits pair well with spicy foods. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a zucchini into thin noodle-like strips and eat it raw where you would normally have pasta. Instead of dipping chips in your guacamole, why not use cucumber slices or celery stalks?

Always use whole grains.
These days there is a plethora of choices for breads and grains. The closer to the whole original grain you can find, the easier it is to digest and the more protein- and nutrient-packed it is. Sprouted grain breads like Ezekiel are great for sandwiches and toast. Wasa flatbread crackers for snacks and dipping, buckwheat (soba) noodles instead of pasta, quinoa and brown rice instead of white rice. Gluten-free fare also often uses whole grains that you may never have tried before or heard of, like spelt and teff, that are protein-packed and super good for you. Gluten free bagels, crackers and biscuits are usually easily found at your regular grocer.

How often you do really treat yourself? And what do you call a "treat"?
I'm not saying never to eat ice cream or pizza again, but when you start tracking your food you have to face facts. Are you really only eating pizza on Friday nights? How many times a week do you grab a giant mocha latte from your favorite coffee shop? Completely withholding treats from yourself can make you feel like you're depriving yourself, which makes lots of people give up or derail on an all-or-nothing train of thought. However, sometimes we kid ourselves about what we say or think or know we should do versus what we are actually doing. Try counting your treats for a week and see if reality matches your mind. If you can't give it up, there are healthier substitutes for our old habits. If you love cream in your coffee, have cream! But use a good fat like coconut milk or coconut oil instead. If you find yourself eating ice cream all the time, try one of the many non-dairy and fruit-sweetened varieties available. Save the real cream for Sunday morning if you have to.

Life's a bowl full of cherries! Enjoy rethinking your meals and experimenting with how you put them together. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Make Your Own Healthy Milk

Milk is a staple food for many people. It's great for pouring over cereal, cooling tea and coffee, enriching and thickening soups and gravies, making rich baked goods and even just for enjoying a cool glass by itself. However, cow's milk can come with its own issues. Affordable, non-organic milks (and even organic milks) contain cow hormones, upset digestion, increase mucus production in the body, cause allergic reactions and make you feel overall more tired. Organic milks can help you eschew some of the hormones and chemicals found in conventional milk, but since the US has little regulation on organics, the price tag is bigger but there's no guarantee that it's that much different than the conventional.

There is a nutritious and cheap alternative! You can make tasty and affordable milk at home that has all the nutrition of milk and more. You can purchase non-dairy milks at the store, but making it fresh is far more rewarding and delicious. It takes relatively little preparation and forethought, and all you need is a blender, a cloth for straining and a container for your milk when you're done. Best of all, any time you need milk you can skip going to the store if you have a handful of nuts in the pantry.

Nut milks can be made with almost any nut you choose, however the nuts you use must be raw (not toasted or roasted). Raw nuts can be found in most groceries, but the cheapest are at natural foods stores in the bulk bins where you would find rice, granola and trail mix. The most popular choices for nut milks are almonds, cashews and walnuts. Almonds are very mild in flavor, while cashews create a slightly sweet milk. Walnuts have an earthier flavor, but have the added benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for overall health, memory retention and brain function.

You will also need a fine cloth or fine mesh strainer. Cheese cloth, a thin well-worn old tee shirt or any thin rag works fine as long as it's clean. If you really want to get fancy, you can purchase a nut milk bag for fairly cheap. The bags last a long time and are tailored specifically to making milk.

Nut Milk
1 cup (heaping handful) of raw nuts
4 to 5 cups of water
Pinch of salt
Honey or stevia
Vanilla or almond extract

Put nuts in a bowl and fill with water, making sure they're completely submerged. Leave to soak for at least 4 hours. (You can throw them in the bowl before you leave for work or before you go to bed.) After soaking, drain soaking water and put nuts in blender. Add 4 to 5 cups of fresh filtered water and pinch of salt. For sweet milk, add honey or stevia and a few drops to a teaspoon of extract. If your blender isn't very fancy, I recommend putting the top on and wrapping a dishcloth around the top to prevent water from splashing out. Blend for at least 60 seconds or until thick, white and frothy.

Strain the milk into container of your choice with the cloth or strainer, making sure to squeeze all the water out of the pulp. That's it! It's ready to drink. Use the nut milk just like you would use regular milk. It will keep 7 to 10 days in the fridge. You can save the pulp by spreading it flat on a cookie sheet and putting on low heat in the oven to dry out and then store in a container in the fridge. Nut meal makes a nutritious substitute for flour in recipes.

Enjoy your fresh milk! Until next time, keep it clean! :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Easy Pickled Okra!

   Pickling is a process of preserving foods by utilizing anaerobic fermentation. The product is placed in a brine which is usually a mixture of salt, water, and vinegar. Marinating in the brine, over time the food will become pickled resulting in a typically sour or salty taste.
  Pickling can preserve foods for up to a year, so learning to make and can these creations is a basic life skill that will no doubt benefit you in the long run. Not to mention, by making your own pickles and pickled products you can save tons of money per year! Pickling is also one of the safer canning techniques because the acidity of the brine plus the fermentation help to keep harmful microorganism at bay. This process is virtually fool-proof and perfect for beginners!
  I did a lot of research from various websites before beginning my pickled endeavor. I decided upon pickled okra because it was a childhood favorite of mine. People literally would give me jars of the stuff for my birthday and Christmases growing up! I used this website for the base of my project, however, in my typical fashion I added my own twist and variations. Here's how you can make your own! :)

You will need:
  1. 1 pound okra, trimmed (or not, I am lazy and skipped this part)
  2. 4 small dried red chiles (I used fresh jalapeno, sweet peppers, and red pepper flakes)
  3. 2 bay leaves
  4. 2 garlic cloves, halved (or more depending on your taste!)
  5. 1 teaspoon dill seeds
  6. 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  7. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  8. 1 1/2 cups water
  9. 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  10. 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt 
  11. 2 pint sized Mason or other canning jars 
  12. Large pot, kitchen towel, tongs, and a funnel
   This recipe calls for only one teaspoon of the spices between two jars. I ended up adding a whole teaspoon PER jar because I like things on the spicier, more potent side! You can do whatever you feel would best suit your flavor needs. You can also add things like onion, paprika, cayenne, curry, or ginger... Any spice you like! 
   To start the process, first add the spices, garlic, bay leaves, and peppers to the clean jars. Then, evenly distribute the okra between the jars. Now you will heat the water, vinegar, and salt together just until it reaches a boil. Then use a funnel or very carefully pour the hot mixture over the okra, up to about 1/4 inch below the top of the jar. Screw the lids on both jars tightly. 
   The next step is processing the canned pickles. This was my first experience doing the hot water bath, but it was not as intimidating as you might think. You don't even need any fancy canning equipment! I just used a regular VERY large pot, filled with boiling water. Put a clean dishtowel into the pot and use tongs to place the jars into the water, making sure both are on the towel and not on the bottom of the pot. This could take some special maneuvering on your part! Patience is the key! Once they are set, let them boil for 10 minutes. When you remove them, carefully, from the pot of hot water the lids should be sealed! How easy is that? 
   The pickled okra will be ready immediately after the hot water bath, though it may take a few hours for the jar to cool down enough for you to crack it open. The longer they sit in the brine, the better the flavor will become! These will also last a full year in the pantry, if you can keep them around that long!!! Have fun pickling and stay clean! :)