Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I know it's been awhile, but I have been so busy with yard and house work.  We have company staying right now, so for a couple weeks I was crazily cleaning.  I'm not terribly fond of house cleaning.  I'm much happier cooking or crocheting, but I love the end result.  It's amazing how much a clean organized house can affect everyone's mood.  Everybody just seems calmer and more relaxed and the day runs more smoothly.  So, cleaning rags- check, cleaners- check, mop- check, loud music- check, and away we go.

As with everything, I am always looking for cheaper, safer alternatives to commercial products.  So naturally I have been looking into in learning about homemade cleaning products.  I find it very interesting how complicated companies make their products.  They have a million different products with a million different chemical ingredients for every different cleaning job you can imagine.   Of course they want you to think that you need all these bottles- your house won't possibly be clean enough without them.  And now on top of that they are making everything disposable!  Instead of using a cleaning rag, there are tubs of pre-moistened wipes for the kitchen and bath.  Instead of a toilet brush, you can use a toilet wand with disposable scrubbie pads.  It just amazes me how many ways the corporations can come up with for us to throw away our money while at the same time consuming even more resources and overflowing the landfills.  However, in researching the topic, I was pleased to discover how simple, safe and effective natural homemade cleaners are.  Vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and good old-fashioned soap and water are a few of the things I came across.  Here are a few links to some good sites with cleaning recipes.  Experiment, have fun.  Find what you like and what works for you.  And be happy that you've taken one more step towards self-sufficiency and natural living :)





Friday, June 3, 2011


I've been neglecting my garden a bit lately, I must admit.  We have had rain almost every day so I've not had to water for a while.  But I went out today and was pleasantly surprised to see all the radishes popping their bright red heads out of the ground.  I'm not a huge fan of eating radishes by themselves (they are too spicy for me!) but I do love growing them because they grow so darn fast and with minimal effort on my part.  And they are so pretty, all shiny and red.  I will put some in our salads for a nice crunch and a little zing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Homemade Toothpaste

So by now you've realized I am a huge DIY-er.  It's not just about saving money, which is great, but a lot of the choices I make have to do with health.  If I can make something myself and the result is healthier AND saves me money, then I'm a happy camper for sure.  So when it came time to buy toothpaste a while back, I stopped and thought, "There's got to be a cheaper AND healthier way to clean teeth."  So, as always, Google was my friend.  After reading several different articles and trying a few different recipes, I came up with this one.

Homemade Toothpaste

What You Need:

3 Tbls. Baking Soda (a natural antiseptic, mildly abrasive to remove build-up)
2 Tbls. Coconut Oil (anti-bacterial, makes it paste-like)
1 Tbl. Xylitol (a natural sweetener, prevents cavities)
1 tsp. Hydrogen Peroxide (kills those bad breath germs)
20 drops Essential Oil (for flavor, Peppermint and Mint are good, I use Tangerine for the kids)

What You Do:

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork until a paste forms.  (It takes a minute for the coconut oil to soften)
Store in an airtight container.
Use a pea-size amount for teeth-brushing for a super clean mouth!

I have been using this for several months and have been very pleased with it.  The baking soda taste was a little off-putting at first, but you get used to it after a while.  The Xylitol you can find sold in bulk in most health food stores.  I haven't priced this out yet, but I'm sure it is MUCH cheaper than commercial toothpaste.

Why make your own toothpaste?

Well, besides cost, the more I learn about the chemicals that are in almost every cleaning product like laundry soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, etc., the more concerned I become.  Especially when you start to see the connection to the astounding rise in cancers and diseases like Alzheimer's.  We are putting this stuff on and in our bodies every day.  I know we can't protect ourselves from every single toxin out there, and yes, we are ALL going to die eventually, but there are some simple things that everyone can do to lessen the exposure and live a happier healthier life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pumpkin-Cranberry-Pecan Granola Bars

These granola bars actually started over a year ago.  Really, they did.  With a little seed, to be exact.  Last year we grew our first sugar-pie pumpkins.  They were so delicious!  It was awesome to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner from our own little pumpkins.  Most of the pumpkin puree got used up in making pies and muffins and cookies, but one jar was tucked away in the freezer for a day such as this.  I was digging around in there and saw the frosty dark-orange jar and decided some pumpkin-y, spicy, chewy goodness was in order.  Aha! Granola bars.  I really like making homemade granola bars.  They are very simple to make and so much healthier than store-bought.  They are also incredibly versatile.   I’ve made all sorts of combos like Chocolate-Cranberry, Apricot-Almond-Coconut, and Apple Cinnamon.  But today was all about the pumpkin.

Pumpkin-Cranberry-Pecan Granola Bars

What You Need:

3 cups regular rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves (I use 1 tsp. because I’m a clove freak)
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1 beaten egg
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree (homegrown is best!)

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Spoon into a well-buttered 9x13 baking dish.
Press evenly and firmly with buttered hands (because this stuff is sticky!)
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until all golden brown and puffy.

Now the hard part- Wait! You must wait until they are cool to cut them. Otherwise they will crumble to pieces.  I learned that by experience, lol.  Of course the crumbs taste just as fabulous.  So now that you’ve resisted the urge to mess with them, you can cut them up into bars or squares or whatever shape you like, and store them in the pantry in an airtight container.  I can’t tell you how long they will keep because homemade granola bars are gone pretty fast around here!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Autumn Throw

Yes, I know it's spring, but I actually started this blanket last fall!  It just took me a few seasons to finish it.  I have this fabulous crochet book and it had the directions for this popcorn motif.  I thought it would be really cute to make a bunch and sew them together and make a blanket.  I have made baby blankets before, so I thought this wouldn't be that much more difficult.  Well, it was actually pretty tricky.  Part of the reason it took me so long to finish was that I gave up on it for a while.  But I hate not finishing projects, so I pulled myself together and got through it.  The yarn is Vanna's Choice in lovely fall colors of Cranberry, Olive, Mustard, Chocolate, and Rust, all sewn together in a random pattern with Beige.  The final effect is pretty, and the popcorn motif is really fun, but I don't know that I would go through it all again.  You never know though, maybe there will be a spring blanket finished by Christmas!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hamburger Buns

I tried my hand at homemade hamburger buns the other day using this recipe.  They came out surprisingly well.  They were very tasty with a nice texture that held up to the burger's juiciness.  Plus they were super easy since the dough was made in the bread machine.  I increased the yeast to 2 tsp. and decreased the sugar to 2 T.  I also substituted one cup of the white flour with whole wheat.  I will definitely make these again!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Strawberry Heaven

Can you see a theme of strawberries developing? Lol.  They were on sale for 1.33/lb.  That is a rockin' deal, especially when they were actually ripe and sweet.  So hence the pie, syrup, and of course jam!  I LOVE strawberry jam.  It is my "favoritist" rivaled only by blueberry.  But since I doubt I'll ever live to see a day when blueberries are 1.33/lb., (why are they so darned expensive anyway?)  I mostly make strawberry jam in spring/summer and blackberry in fall.  There is something so very fundamentally comforting about making jam. It's something people have done for generations, preserving all the goodness of summer to enjoy throughout the rest of the year.  It is especially nice to be able to pop open a jar of strawberry heaven in the dead of winter and feel like you're eating a bit of sunshine.  If you've never made jam before, you've got to try it.  If you don't think you can manage it on your own, find an older women and ask her to teach you.  Or get a group of friends together and have a "jam session".  It may seem daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy.  The taste is phenomenally better than store-bought and you will be "preserving" a tradition that you can pass down to your children :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Let Them Eat Pie!

As promised, here is the recipe for the Strawberry Pie I made for Easter.  We had so many strawberries I actually made another one.  It turned much out prettier because I remembered the egg wash!

Strawberry-Balsamic Pie

What You Need:

double pie crust (I like this recipe from Simply Recipes)
2 lbs. of fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and thickly sliced
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup cornstarch
egg wash ( 1 egg + 1 T. water, beaten together)

What You Do:

In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar.
Mix until well coated.
Let sit for 1 hour.
Get your oven going at 350 degrees.
Strain the strawberries, reserving the liquid.
Return the berries to the bowl and sprinkle in the cornstarch, mixing thoroughly.
Line the pie plate with half of the pie crust.
Pour in the strawberries and top with the other half of the crust.
Crimp edges, then brush the top with egg wash.
Prick holes in the crust with a fork to allow steam to escape.
Bake on a sheet pan (to catch drips) in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes
Allow to cool for AT LEAST 2 hours before cutting, 4 is better.
I'm sure this would be delicious a la mode!

Strawberry-Balsamic Syrup

Now you're asking, "What am I supposed to do with all this strawberry liquid?"  Well, I certainly didn't want to throw it away, so I made pancake syrup out of it.  Simply bring the liquid to boiling in a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes.  Then reduce heat and allow to reduce until it is nice and thick.  Bottle it up and you have a yummy new syrup to try.  We had this on our pancakes on Saturday and it was really, really good. The Balsamic gives it a nice twist.

So there it is!  If any of you make it I would love to get feedback or suggestions as this is a recipe I just made up as I went along.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap

I really don't mind doing laundry.  I'm lucky to have a good washer and dryer that do all the work for me.  What I do mind, however, is the ridiculous price of commercial laundry detergent.  Yes, I know it works well and smells nice, but I just can't stomach paying $16 for chemical filled blue goo in an orange plastic bottle that will most likely end up in the landfill.  Fortunately, I learned how to make my own laundry soap.  I know you're thinking, "Isn't making soap all complicated and don't you have to use lye?"  Nope, not laundry soap.  It really is pretty simple, I promise.  So let's get started!

Homemade Laundry Soap

What You Need:

1 gallon water
1 ounce Fels Naptha Soap
1/4 cup Borax
1/4 cup Washing Soda
(I find the soap, Borax and washing soda all side by side in the laundry aisle at our Fred Meyer.)
20 drops Essential Oils (I use Lavender and Rosemary)
1 gallon container ( I saved an old laundry soap bottle)

What You Do:

In a large pot, heat 2 cups of the water.
Grate 1 ounce of the soap.  (I know, it looks just like cheese!)
Add the soap to the water and stir until the soap is completely melted.
Add the borax...
 then the washing soda, and stir until well disolved.

Remove from heat and add the rest of the water.

Using a stick blender, blend until well combined.
Add essential oils and blend again.
Pour into your container and let it cool.  It will form into a sort of gel. 
 Now put a cute label on it and your done!
Use 1 cup per load. Shake well before each use. 

That's it!  It's that simple.  And it only takes about 15 minutes to make.  Still nervous?  If I tell you that it only costs about 75 cents to make will it sway you a bit?  Really.  75 cents.  And it works pretty good.  Granted, it's not as powerful as the store stuff.  You might have to scrub out a few stubborn stains by hand, but that is a trade off I am happy to make for that kind of savings and peace of mind knowing what's on my clothes and therefore on my skin.  Happy washing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gorgeous New Yarn

I went to a neat little yarn shop the other day, you know, the kind with amazing yarn in every color, thickness, and material in the world.  Ah, if I had a million dollars...  I did splurge and buy one skein I decided I couldn't live without.  It's a brand called Mini Mochi made of 80% Merino and 20% Nylon.   It was the color that stole my heart though.  A beautiful varigation of greens, purples and blues, all my favorites.  I'm not sure what this gorgeous new yarn will become, but I'm excited to find out :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Dinner

Roasted Rosemary-Dijon Leg of Lamb
Roasted Rosemary-Garlic Red Potatoes
Creamed Peas
Strawberry Balsamic Pie

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

I have been having a lot of fun lately experimenting with homemade syrups.  Syrups from the store are usually loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the ones that aren't can cost a pretty penny.  Making your own syrup is healthier, cheaper, and honestly it's just fun :)  The basics of making syrups are super simple, in fact, the basic recipe is called "Simple Syrup".  This is just equal parts sugar and water.  This type of syrup is good for flavoring tea, or homemade soda.  For thicker or "Heavy Syrup" the ratio is two parts sugar to one part water.  This is what you would use as a base for fruit syrups for pancakes, or, as in this this recipe, for Chocolate Syrup. The first time I made this, I was hooked.  It's so simple and so good. You will never want to buy the stuff in the brown plastic bottle again, trust me ;)

Chocolate Syrup

What You Need:

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

What You Do:

In medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
Add water and stir until combined.
Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Boil for 3 minutes stirring constantly.  (Be careful not to let it boil over.)
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
Pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator.

Add 1 tablespoon of syrup to a glass of cold milk for the best chocolate milk in the world!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Best Biscuits Ever

As delicious as yeast breads are, sometimes you just want something bread-like quickly.  Hence, the biscuit, that golden, soft, flaky, buttery disc of goodness.  As with most of my recipes, this was a work in progress for many years.  I made batch after batch of biscuits using various ingredients and amounts.  Luckily I had very willing taste testers :)  As with most things, the simplest turned out the best.  Here is my simple biscuit recipe.  Warning: They are really yummy and you can NOT eat just one!

Stephanie's Biscuits

What You Need:

2 cups unbleached white flour plus extra for rolling
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard (yes, folks, I said lard!)
3/4 cups milk

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in butter and lard with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly.
Add milk all at once and mix until combined.
Turn out onto floured surface and roll to about 1/2 inch thick.
Cut into biscuits using 3 inch biscuit cutter.
Re-roll leftover dough and cut again, repeating until all dough is used up.
Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes until puffy and golden brown.
Makes about 10 biscuits.

Serve with butter and jam for a yummy breakfast or afternoon snack.  If it's Saturday, whip up this easy country gravy and have biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

Country Gravy with Sausage

What You Need:

1/2 pound ground sausage
2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

What You Do:
In medium skillet, cook ground sausage until brown and crumbly.
Remove sausage, reserving drippings in pan.
In measuring cup, whisk flour into milk.  
Pour into pan with reserved drippings.
Add salt and pepper.
Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly, stirring often.
Serve over those yummy biscuits :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Menu Planning

"What's for dinner?"  I honestly don't like that question.  Especially when I'm asking myself at 5:00 pm.  I've found that the best way to keep our family on budget and non-stressed at dinner time is to make out a menu plan every week.  First I look through all of our local store ads online and write down the things that are on sale.  Then I take into account the things I have in the cupboard.  Then I come up with our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week on a cute little chart I print out and put up on the fridge.  The kids love this, and I love them NOT asking me what's for dinner every night!  I also know that I'm making the most of the grocery money because I am planning meals around what is on sale whenever possible.  It takes a little bit of time every week, but it is totally worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Keeping Birthdays Simple

Tonight we are celebrating my middle son's 8th birthday.  This got me to thinking about the modern standards for kid's birthdays.  I think in today's society, children's birthdays have really gotten out of hand.  It's seems to be the expected thing now to throw these huge parties, invite everyone in the class, and spend hundreds of dollars on cake, decorations and gifts.  After all, how much you love your child is measured by how much money you spend on them, right?  Sadly, much of our culture seems to think this way.  Of course you want your son or daughter to feel loved and valued, but isn't there a better way than buying them cheap plastic toys, (that they will break in a month) and sugaring them up with store bought cake loaded with chemicals and dyes, not to mention using the mountains of wrapping paper, balloons, streamers, plastic cup and plates that will end up in the landfill?  I think there is. 

Here are some thoughts/tips for keeping birthdays simple.

  • You don't have to throw a party every year-  Of course we always celebrate our birthdays as a family, and there will always be a cake and presents, but you don't have to have a full blown party every time.  Every few years is fine.  We try to rotate with our 3 boys so that each year one of them gets a "real" party.
  •  Keep the party small-  You don't need to invite every child in the classroom.  Really, you don't.  Keep the guest list to a few of your child's closest friends.  We usually aim for around 4 friends.
  • Limit gifts to one from each person-  I know this is a hard one, and we are not 100% strict on this, but it is the goal.  The reason for this is that I really want to impress upon my children to value giving more than receiving.  Instead of making the focus be "What do you want to get for your birthday?" we try to bring it back to giving by asking the rest of the family "What do you want to give?"  When each member of the family purposefully and thoughtfully chooses one gift for the recipient, it is a lot more meaningful than having a mountain of gifts that your child tears through, not even really knowing/caring who they are from.
  • Give homemade/non-plastic gifts-  After years of watching the piles of plastic toys amass in our kids rooms, most of them broken within weeks of being bought, I've gotten to the point where I've finally had enough.  Our kids do not need all this junk.  Simple, thoughtful gifts will mean so much more in the long run, especially when they are hand made.  Blankets, stuffed animals, hats and such, are some of the things I have made my boys that they still treasure.  For toys, choose traditional toys you know will last.  Books are highly valued in our household.  Puzzles and old-fashioned games are good options too.  My oldest son loves to draw, so for his last birthday I made him this with cute airplane fabric.
  • Make homemade cake-  Instead of store-bought cake, take a little extra time to make one.  And let the birthday boy/girl help you make it!  Kids love to be a part of making and decorating their own cake.  You can have some one-on-one time with your kiddo and create sweet family memories.  Plus, homemade cake tastes so much better and you know exactly what is in it.  I always let my kids choose the cake flavor, fruit filling, and frosting.  Sometimes the combos they come up with are interesting, but it is their cake, so I make it to order, lol.
  • Use homemade/reusable wrapping paper-  It always amazing me how much money people spend on wrapping paper and ribbons and bows only to have them ripped apart and thrown in the garbage.  I'm all for making things pretty, trust me, I love pretty things.  But when it's not something that lasts, I just can't justify the waste of money and resources.  Something as simple as using brown paper grocery bags with a nice ribbon is a really frugal, recyclable option. There are also some great ideas for making reusable fabric wrapping here and here.
Now these are not hard and fast rules, but they are goals I am trying to reach little by little.   It's not always easy.  Sometimes I struggle with guilt when I see the small, but thoughtfully chosen pile of gifts.  I wonder, will my child grow up and be resentfully that he didn't get a big birthday party every year?  But I know that teaching our children the value of simplicity and to be a generous giver and a grateful receiver, these are the things I want my children to hold on to.  I want them to remember the day of their birth being celebrated, not by the amount of money spent on them, or how many presents they got, but by the thoughtfulness and care taken to create lasting family memories of love and simple joy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Hat

I saw this adorable hat on fuoriborgo's blog and I just had to make it!  It took me a few tries to get the gauge right because I used thicker yarn.  Here is the free pattern.  I used Vanna's Choice yarn in Dusty Purple with a size H hook and did the "baby" size pattern.  I made the flowers up.  I think it turned out great!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Muffin Making

I love to cook.  I especially love to bake.  Some people get stressed about cooking, but for me it's how I de-stress.  When things are crazy you will find me in the kitchen making a batch of blueberry-lemon scones, peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies or some new creation.  I think that's what I love about it, the creation. Taking handfuls of totally unpalatable stuff like ground up wheat, baking soda, and raw eggs, and throwing it together with butter and sugar to make delicious melt-in-your-mouth cookies.  Or how something as basic as flour, yeast and salt can become fresh baked bread, crisp and golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, whose tantalizing aroma fills the house. Today it's the scent of banana wafting from the kitchen.  Our local market has great deals on bananas when they get too ripe.  They are only 25 cents a pound right now, so today became muffin making day.  Muffins freeze really well so I can make several batches and save them for easy breakfasts.  They come in very handy on Sunday mornings when we're busy getting ready for church.  Just pop them straight from the freezer into the oven  and reheat for about 10 minutes.  You will have a warm, simple (but yummy!) breakfast in no time!

Banana Nut Muffins

What You Need:

3/4 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup honey
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  
Grease muffin tin, set aside.  
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon. 
 Set aside. 
 In small mixing bowl, whisk two eggs.  
Add milk, melted butter, and honey.  
Whisk until well combined.  
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.  
Do not over mix.  
Gently fold in mashed banana and walnuts.  
Spoon evenly into greased muffin tin.  
Bake at 400 degrees  for 15 minutes.  
Makes 12 muffins.

This are especially delicious straight out of the oven slathered with butter!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Time to Dig

It finally feels like spring around here.  The sun is shining and daffodils are up in full force.  There are rumors of another frost (noooo!) but I'm hopeful things are warming up for good.  My garden last year did not turn out so well.  Between weeds and the deer, we lost a lot of produce.  This year we have a dog to hopefully keep the deer out of the yard, and I'm building some raised boxes with some free wood from our neighbors to help keep the weeds out.  But first we have a lot of digging to do to clear all the weeds and grass that have taken over my poor garden.  We spent a good part of yesterday out there and I'm heading back out again today to work on it a bit more.  Luckily the ground is so soft and the hula hoe is so awfully handy, that it is actually going pretty quickly.  My body is protesting from the unaccustomed exertion, but it is a good tired feeling.  You can crawl into bed after you've scrubbed the dirt out from under your fingernails and feel like you've earned a good night's sleep.  So I'm off to dig some more!

For breakfast this morning I made one of my favorites, quiche with spinach, bacon and onions.  So yummy!