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Productive Living Tips from Erica Strauss of NW Edible Life

Erica Strauss - Hands On Home -

This week’s post is a summary of my podcast interview with my good friend Erica Strauss.

Erica is a blogger over at NW Edible Life where she has fun, punchy perspective on garden-to-table eating and living a DIY lifestyle.

And…She just wrote her first book:

The Hands on Home:* A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving and Natural Homekeeping.

It’s about keeping a more productive home, kitchen and lifestyle through DIY projects. You save money, time and end up feeling good about what you do.

Good stuff!

How Erica Became Hooked on “Grow Your Own”


Erica is a trained professional chef. And after starting her family, Erica transitioned from professional restaurant cooking to very intimate and small scale catering events to create a more flexible lifestyle.

She quickly discovered that high quality, local, organic ingredients are very expensive!

So about 10 years ago, she decided to start growing her own to provide the very best flavor and quality for her family and her clients. And Erica became totally hooked!

Chef Tips for Less Food Waste:

Today, Erica is all about being productive and not wasteful – which totally makes sense.

She understands that we want to savor every bit of it.

So, I asked Erica to share a few of the chef tips she had in the book that related to being thrifty with our food choices.

Here are a few…

Waste Not, Get Fired Not

This tip is inspired by Erica’s time as a professional chef.  In the restaurant industry, the profit margins are very thin – you cannot waste food. It’s not just a moral issue, it can literally be the difference between profits or no profits.

Well the same thing applies to our own kitchens.

The average American household throws out $2000 worth of food per year – it’s about $500 per person. Imagine where you could invest that money instead – vacation, paying off debt, etc. 

So the solution is to only buy what you need and use what you have. 

And use the next tip which is…

Ingredients Do Double or Triple Duty

What might seem like “scraps” can be creatively used for another purpose.

For example, when working in a pub, Erica and her co-workers would slice tomatoes for hamburgers. The end pieces weren’t going to be large enough for the hamburgers so instead they were directed to chop up the end bits for salads or in bruschetta. That way the entire tomato is used and nothing goes to waste.

Erica also suggests using fruit peels in homemade vinegar or cooked down with applesauce to make fruit leather. There are so many creative uses for what might initially seem like “scraps.” 

The next time you go to toss scraps in the compost ask yourself if there’s another way you can use them first!

Those are Not Leftovers, They’re Prep

Another thing that you do not want to waste is…TIME.

Instead of looking at leftovers as eating the same meal multiple nights in a row, look at leftovers as prep materials…for something new.

It saves you time because you don’t have to start from scratch all the time. For example, left-over roast chicken can be made into a pasta dish.

It may feel intimidating to combine ingredients without a specific recipe, but Erica emphasizes that it’s really about techniques, not recipes. Once you figure out how to sear a piece of meat or braise something or high heat roast vegetables, you can apply those techniques and skills to almost anything.

Using leftovers allows you to quickly create a new meal which is a big plus for busy lifestyles.

Hands On Home Book Review -

Argggh, Ye Recipes Be More Like Guidelines

(Note: The above must be read with a pirate accent)

Erica pulls that tip title from the move “Pirates of the Caribbean” where they say that the pirate code is more like a “guideline”.

Recipes are the same way.

Feel free to adjust a recipe anyway you wish. Use basic cooking skills and techniques and then consider the rest a “guideline”.

It lets your creative juices flow and lets you use what you have already in your refrigerator.

Feeling Overwhelmed About DIY?

Erica recommends that whatever your passion is in the DIY lifestyle, throw yourself into it and enjoy it.

Don’t worry about doing everything all at once.

It’s okay to explore your skills sequentially. And it’s okay to decide where your passion lies and throw yourself into that. There’s no need for guilt or feeling like you’re not doing enough.

 What to Read Every Detail of the Interview?

You can download the entire transcript of the podcast episode here.

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.