The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss

The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss, found on

I've really enjoyed the trend in the DIY book space away from single-subject and into integrative lifestyle. Kate Payne's delightful duo of The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking and The Hip Girl's Guide to the Kitchen offer simple practices for a natural home. Cathy Barrow's Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry steps outside the basic preserving bible, with recipes in and out of the jar spanning the entire year. All have a permanent place on my bookshelf. 

But there's always room for one more. Blogger (and longtime Punk Domestics contributor) Erica Strauss of Northwest Edible Life enters the arena with a tour de force. Her debut book, The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping, serves up a wealth of ideas for maintaining a wholesome, healthy lifestyle year round. 

The book kicks off with 100 pages of foundational techniques and practices that equip you with the skills you need, then subsequent sections are orgainzed by projects that can be done throughout the year, and then by specific season. Within each, Strauss has recipes and projects for preserving, cooking, and home and body care. 

All the projects are accessible, and indeed enticing. By arming you with some basic knowledge around the mechanics of which natural cleaning agents are good for what, she enables you to have fun with your DIY soaps and cleansers. She brings her chef's sensibility to thinking of recipes as guidelines, offering charts of variations on basic salad dressings, or a "choose-your-own-adventure granola." 

Best of all, Strauss' voice is engaging and witty, never haughty. Take, for example, her chipper top tips for food preservation, which helpfully frame the mindset and make preserving easy, practical, and most of all fun. What could be a daunting stack of projects comes off a fun to-do list. For anyone interested in getting more hands-on with their home life, and introducing more natural ingredients and products into the process, this is a fantastic resource indeed. 

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Many Ways to Preserve Cranberries

No other fruit embodies the flavor of fall like cranberries. With their bracing acidity, they form the backbone of all manner of preserved foods, and have applications well beyond the Thanksgiving table. Here's a bunch of ways to use these lovely ruby orbs.

Cranberry Sauce, found on
Cranberry Sauce
The homemade stuff is invariably better than what you buy on the shelf. But if you must have the ridges from the can, then make yours in an empty can to complete the effect. (Image via Food in Jars)
Cranberry Conserve, found on
Cranberry Conserve
Leave it chunky, plus maybe add the hearrty crunch of nuts, for a conserve that adds tooth to the classic sauce. (Image via Stephanie the Recipe Renovator)

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Jerky Everything: Review and Giveaway

Jerky Everything, found on

I'm a late comer to jerky. It's not something I ate growing up, and the 16 or so years I spent as a vegetarian were not conducive to jerky consumption. Lately, though, I've become fascinated with it, so when my friend Pamela Braun told me she was working on a book that was all about jerky, my interest was piqued. 

While it may seem like a narrow topic, actually jerky has many faces and flavors, and Jerky Everything lays out quite a lot of them. Beef is the gold standard, of course, and the book has dozens of variations on it drawing from a panoply of global flavors. Mexican, Thai, Korean, Cajun and other influences pepper the recipes. But there's also plenty of pork, poultry, seafood, and even a bunch of pretty out-there game options like alligator, boar, and even yak. She's thrown in some fruits and veggies for good measure as well. 

Braun's tone is informal yet informative. In the opening section, she lays out an erudite explanation of why jerky is safe to make at home, provided you take certain precautions. While the material is very technical and could come off as wonky, she makes it approachable and understandable. So bust out your dehydrator (or just turn on the oven), and make some delicious dried meat with Pamela Braun's deft guidance. 

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Several Things to Do With Green Tomatoes

As the days shorten, those last tomatoes on the vine may stubbornly stay green. But that doesn't mean they're not good eating. Here's seven ways to preserve those green tomatoes.

Pickled Green Tomatoes, found on
Pickled Green Tomatoes
Keep 'em crisp and make 'em zingy and tangy. Pickled green tomatoes make the most of the unripe fruit. (Image via Garden of Eating.)
Green Tomato Salsa, found on
Green Tomato Salsa
Spicy and tangy, green tomato salsa brings a dose of summer in the colder months. (Image via Jane's Adventures in Dinner.)
Green Tomato Chutney, found on
Green Tomato Chutney
Chunky, spicy, sweet-tart chutney elevates your greenies to new dimensions. Great with meats, or alongside spicy foods. (Image via Married ...With Dinner.)

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Conquering the Quixotic Quince

Knobby, hard and fuzzy, quince won't win any beauty contests, but their intoxicating perfume lures you in. Once you know how to conquer these rugged beasts, their heady flavor -- and substantial pectin structure -- make them a preserver's dream.

Canned Quinces, found on
Cutting a Quince
Quince are tough customers. Before you lop off a finger trying to chop into one, be sure to check out this video from What Julia Ate. Your digits will thank you.
Canned Quince in  Syrup, found on
Canned Quince in Syrup
Canned slices of aromatic quince made all the more exotic with white wine or rose syrup will find their way into your holiday baking regimen.

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Eleven Ways to Put Up Pears

Cooler, crisp days and oblique light. Autumn is upon us, and with it the first fall fruit that comes to mind. Juicy, sweet pears are delicious and versatile. Here's almost a dozen ways to preserve the bounty of the season.

Canned Pears
Canned pears
Can those pears in syrup, infused with booze, spiked with ginger or redolent of aromatic tea. (Image via Snowflake Kitchen)
Pear Jam
Pear Jam
Naturally soft and succulent pears cook down to a beautifully delicate jam, especially nice with autumnal spices.

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Eight Ways to Preserve Grapes

Veraison is upon us, which means the grapes are coming into season. Here's eight ways to preserve grapes, from the traditional jelly to chutney, raisins and more. 

Grape Jelly
Grape Jelly
The ultimate taste of childhood, grape jelly captures the essence of the fruit. Stick it to Smucker's and make your own. (While you're at it, make your own peanut butter, too.)
Grape Jam
Grape Jam
Less fussy than jelly, grape jam burst with the juicy flavor of grapes, especially if you have access to wild fruit.

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Eighteen Ways to Preserve Apples

Biting into a fresh, crisp apple is the quintessential taste of autumn itself. But when you are faced with more apples than you can eat out of hand, try some of these tempting ways to put them by for later use.

Applesauce, found on
Easy as can be, you can make applesauce on the stovetop or in the slow cooker, and you don't even have to peel or core them. (Image via Southern Fried Curry)
Apple Jam, found on
Apple Butter
Keep cooking that applesauce down until it takes on a dense, rich texture and deeper color, and you've got apple butter. Again, the slow cooker is great for this. (Image via Eating Rules)

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DIY Condiments for Grilling and Entertaining

Summer grilling is great, but burgers and dogs are only as good as the condiments that dress them up. Step away from the packaged varieties and try your hand at DIY condiments to make haute dogs and hamburgers.

Ketchup, found on
Heinz, schmeinz. Homemade ketchup is easy and delicious, and is open to a world of interpretation. Why stop at tomato? We've got recipes for ketchups made from cranberries, rose hips, figs and more.

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12 Ways to Put Up Tomatoes

Got tomatoes? Here's a rundown of ways to put up your maters, from basic canned tomatoes to salsa, ketchup and more. 

Canning Tomatoes, found on
Canning Tomatoes
Canning your own tomatoes is a great way to economize, but first you need to know a few things to do it safely. Learn how to put up your 'maters.
Tomato Paste, found on
Tomato Paste
Cook down your puree until thick and rich, and can or freeze to use in sauces. Paste on, friend.

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