Thursday, January 31, 2013

BS Shampoo

Did that title get your attention?   Apparently, in homesteading circles baking soda and other frequently used items go by their initials.  As in, I've been washing my hair with BS and ACV.  Yep, baking soda and apple cider vinegar. 

You've probably heard of this increasingly popular "No Poo" concept.  The idea is that traditional shampoos strip our hair of their natural oils, requiring heavy-duty conditioners to try to restore needed moisture.  The idea here, is that you don't really wash your hair.  The baking soda absorbs and removes excess oil from the scalp without stripping the hair shaft of its natural oils.  Supposedly, you can go much longer between washes once your hair adjusts to this new process.

According to my research, you should expect a 2-week adjustment period while your hair figures out how much oil it needs to be producing with this new system.  Most users cite frequent ponytails during this period (not an option for this short-haired chica).  Nevertheless, I pressed on for 3 and a half weeks before throwing in the towel. Yep. That's right -- I gave up.

Last night, I washed my hair with actual shampoo and conditioner and now I just can't stop touching it.  It actually feels like hair again instead of the straw I've been wearing around on my head for the better part of a month.

I'm sure that it's a great option for some people, and I may even give it a go again sometime.  But, for now, it's just not worth it.  The good news is that I tried it (at least I didn't just dismiss it without giving it a go) and, in the process, I learned about a great,all-natural deep conditioning techinique (you'll have to check back tomorrow!).

I attribute my BS failure to the following:
1. My hair is color-treated and thus tends to be drier than the average hair.
2.  I run (and sweat) at least every other day.  The sweat adds increased oil and requires me to wash after every run.  Therefore, I was never able to enjoy the supposed prolonged period between washes that so many BS users enjoy and was having to make use of the drying baking soda more frequently than is recommended.
3.  My hair is short.  Perhaps if my hair were longer and I could have swept it up into and out-of-sight-is-out-of-mind ponytail, I might've eventually found a balance and made it out of the weird straw-hair phase.  I don't know.
If the No Poo method sounds intriguing to you, despite reading about my failure with it, check out this blogger that I read to see how she went about it. 

As for me, I plan to take a stroll through the all-natural hair care section of Whole Foods on my next trek to the big city and see if I can't find a better option.  Does anyone else use an all-natural shampoo/conditioner that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's Springtime in the Guest Room

Let me first say, that if any of you are considering a visit to our little homestead, you are very welcome, as always.  And, the coming weeks and months ought to be pretty exciting around here with the promise of goat kids soon.  But, be warned, you may just find yourself bunking in the kids' rooms.  The guest room is currently occupied.

Friday, (the same day Copper died -- see, the circle of life!) the seeds for our new spring garden arrived!  This may very well be the highlight of my winter!  The process of mapping out the garden (deciding how many of each plant we need and where they will be located in our garden grid system) and planning planting dates based on predicted last frost dates presents an organizational challenge that provides me hours of delight!
Here's my mid-process mess.  It basically took over the living room!

The process revealed the need for 3 additional garden beds, so construction will begin on those soon. 
Also, among other things, we plan to add Eggplant to the garden this year.  At 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost date, these seeds start sooner than any other we will grow.  Counting backward, I soon realized that I should have started the Eggplant seeds . . . last week or earlier!

I then dedicated no small amount of the weekend to cleaning up the guest room and turning it into the grow room.

Here are the basics needed for starting seeds indoors.
1.  The brown tub is filled with our homegrown compost mix (brown gold!).
2. The basket holds our newspaper pots (man, can Girl 2 churn these out fast!).  For directions on how to make your own using only a soup can and old newspaper, check out this link
3.  Sphagnum moss, added to the top of the soil in each pot, helps keep moisture in check.
4.  A water-filled spray bottle helps water the young seedlings without knocking them over.


Rather than the popsicle stick markers I used last year, I opted to just write in red Sharpie directly on the pots.

To create a grow space, I cover the queen-sized bed with a tarp.  I use an under-the-bed box to hold the pots.  (Though not pictured here, I will actually leave the lid on most of the time to help retain moisture until the seeds have sprouted.)  Then, I hang my fluorescent shop light from the hooks I keep in the ceiling for this purpose.  Because our lights are suspended by chains, I can easily raise them as plants grow to maintain the recommended 2 inches or so from the plants.

Interesting, huh?  Well, Blossom seems to think so.  :)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chubby's New Home

For those of you who read the Tale of Chubby the Chicken,  you'll be happy to know that he's now moved on to a new home (and it's not my stock pot).

As Chubby continued to perfect his crow and practice it at all hours of the day (and night) in our backyard, we continued to ask around to see who might like to add him to their flock.  Several weeks in to this process, we finally found him a home!  Interestingly, he went to live on the farm where we got our very first laying hens.  There, he'll be free to range the wide open spaces and enjoy country life!
Here, Girls 1 and 2 say farewell to Chubby before delivering him to his new home.

Monday, January 28, 2013

DIY Almond Milk

I realize that there are lots of folks who are crazy for almond milk.  I, personally, had never tried it until I found yesterday's recipe for Banana Oatmeal Muffins.  And, I wanted to make them.  Right then.  Not after I'd been to the store to buy my first-ever carton of almond milk.  So, I looked up how to make it from fresh almonds and proceeded.  Maybe patience doesn't always win out.  If I'd been patient and just added almond milk to the grocery list, I'd have never known how easy it is to make!

Don't know about almond milk? (I know, I know, but they have some great healthy eating articles) says, "Almond milk . . . is an alternative to cow's milk. This fortified beverage, made from almonds, has a surprisingly rich and creamy taste. Lower in calories and fat than regular cow's milk, it is high in vitamins, such as vitamin E. Like cow's milk and fortified soy milk, almond milk boasts an impressive dose of bone-building calcium."

Yep, it has even fewer calories than skim milk!

Measure out 200 grams of raw almonds.  Soak them in 3 cups of filtered water for at least 8 hours ( or overnight).

Throw almonds and water into the blender and process until smooth (2-3 minutes).

Pour mixture into a bowl topped by a strainer.  Press the almond pulp around to get all the liquid to fall through to the bowl.  Save almond pulp to use in another healthy recipe (I wish I could help you out here, but I've tried 2 so far that have been AWFUL!). 

Strain your milk through a butter muslin or cheesecloth (or maybe coffee filter).

Store your milk in a mason jar in the fridge for use within 3 days. Shake well before pouring.

To make vanilla almond milk, add some sweetener (your choice -- I used agave nectar) and a splash of vanilla.

Follow-up Notes:
Now, you know I've recently gone through a major kitchen purge.  But, two items used here will have a home in my kitchen forever:  butter muslin and a kitchen scale. 
I got my scale for use in soapmaking, but since then I've come to wonder how I ever did without it.  If you're trying to do away with processed foods and canned goods, you need a good scale.  How else are you going to sub in your own tomatoes for the 12 oz. can the recipe calls for? 

I bought butter muslin (a tighter weave than cheesecloth) to use in cheesemaking.  But, I've also used it to strain chicken broth, yogurt, juice for making jelly, and now almond milk. 
These two simple tools can be added to your kitchen aresenal for less than $15. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mourning Our Beloved Copper

For those who were eagerly awaiting the Almond Milk recipe, I apologize.  You'll have to wait until Monday.  This news is just too big to put off.
This lovable fella is no longer with us.  Yep, it's Copper, our little buckling that you readers helped name so many months ago.  Yesterday morning, John found him lying dead in the goat pen. 
He was a scrawny little guy, and we'd actually had the vet out to take a look at him just a couple weeks ago.  He'd been spending most of the day in the goat shed and rarely eating.  Still, we don't know exactly what caused his death.  We're left with lots of questions . . . and lots of sadness.

Here he is in one of his favorite spots, playing king of the rock.

After breakfast, we broke the news to the kids and asked them if they'd like to go out and say goodbye.  They all wanted to, so we huddled together in the cold around our little goat's lifeless body and cried and prayed a prayer together.

As John explained to them, we are so blessed on our little farm to be surrounded by so much life.  But, with that comes death.

After they'd said their goodbyes, I rushed back inside with them to throw Girl 1's hair into a ponytail before carting the girls to school.  "My ponytail is all wrong!" she cried.  "It's bouncy, but I'm not."

I tried to encourage the girls before I dropped them at school by reminding them that we will still have some piece of Copper with us because he's the daddy to the goat kids we are expecting in a matter of weeks.  Who knows -- we may even have a kid that looks a bit like him.  Also, his death means that we'll be needing another buck for the farm, so we'll have the addition of yet another animal to look forward to. 

Once the girls were dropped at school, John, Little Boy, and I hauled Copper's body over to MeeMee's farm to deposit on the "bone pile" burial area where deer carcasses and such are placed. 

Here, Little Boy holds Copper's collar in his lap as we drive away.  He just kept wanting to know why.  "Why Copper is dead, Momma? Why?"  Copper was, after all, his goat.  Girl 2 promised to share her goat with him from now on.

We've been keeping the boys separate from the gals lately.  So, Copper's only companion has been this guy, Dallas.  Goats can't stand to be alone, though, so we had to turn Dallas out into the field with the girls this morning.

John and I both managed to hold it together pretty well in front of the kids.  But, when I saw Dallas wandering the field this morning by himself, as if he were looking for his buddy, I just lost it. 

He did eventually come back up to see me and eat some hay.  But, the loss of his friend will be an adjustment for him.

So, even as I go out daily and press on the Momma goat's swollen bellies in hopes of feeling a kick from inside and eagerly await the joy of birth, here we are -- mourning death. 
Such is farm life, I suppose -- an up-close and personal view of the cycle.   

So, yesterday was a hard day.  But, I don't wish away the sorrow.  I'll gladly bear it, as infrequently as it comes, in exchange for the extreme happiness this farm life brings us everyday.

Thank you, God, for the lessons that you teach us all through your beautiful creation.  We are humbled that you have entrusted it to our care.  With your help, may we ever be faithful to that calling. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Oatmeal Banana Muffins

This is a recipe I found on Pinterest.  My kids don't generally like oatmeal, so when I saw the ratio of oatmeal to everything else, I was skeptical about how it would be received at our house.  I turned out to be very pleasantly surprised!

These are super easy to whip up.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Then, mix together the following:

3 mashed bananas (the more ripe the better)
1 c. vanilla Almond milk
2 eggs
1 Tbs. baking powder
3 c. oats
1 tsp. vanilla

Let batter sit while you prepare the muffin pans with liners or by spraying the pan with non-stick spray.

Stir 3 Tbs. chocolate chips into the batter.

Divide between 15 muffin cups.  You can fill them pretty full; these won't rise much.

Bake 20-30 minutes, until the edges are starting to brown.  They may stick while hot but will be easily removed once cool.

Some follow-up notes:
1.  These are super-healthy and not artificially sweetened.  Remember that when you're taking a bite and have realistic expectations.  Also, warming them up a bit makes them yummier.
2..  I pretty much always have ripe bananas on hand.  Once they've gotten too mushy to enjoy fresh, I'll throw them into the freezer to use for recipes like this or banana bread.
3.  You could possibly sub in some skim milk for the vanilla almond milk, but you may want to add a little sweetener.  Making your own almond milk is surprisingly easy.  Check back in tomorrow to see how it's done!  ;)
4.  That said. . . I've already made these a second time (Little Boy LOVES them!).  I prepped the almond milk a day ahead of time and stored it in the fridge.  I made the muffins the next day.  I noticed that they were a bit drier than the last batch, but they were still good.  It wasn't until I opened the fridge this morning and saw the almond milk still sitting there, staring at me, and rolling it's eyes, that I realized I'd completely left it out!
Oh, well.  Little Boy's not complaining. 
5.  Yes, I realize that my muffin pan is terribly dirty.  If you're standing in judgment, then I'm glad I could make you feel better about yourself and your kitchen with it's sparkling pans.  If you're thinking "I'm so glad her pans look as bad as mine do,"  I LOVE you.  Listen, life happens.  Who has the time?  I'm using baking cups, after all.  And, if you're my Mom and thinking "I really need to go visit Ashley and clean her muffin pan for her,"  what are you waiting for?  Maybe that's why I put the pics on here in the first place.  ;)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Goat Kidding Prep

To prepare for our first-ever backyard goat kidding, we had a few items we needed to order.  Those items (along with things we'd need for kid care and milking) have arrived!

We are approximately one month from kidding now.  All supplies are in.  I've tested the baby monitor to be sure that it will reach from the house to the goat barn (apparently, they'll "thrash" around, making a bed of hay to use for kidding.  This should alert us that it's almost time).  We've purchased a separate tool box to hold all our kidding supplies, so that we'll have them at-the-ready.  We probably still need to clean the barn up a bit as it's been virtually unused during the last couple of months since we've not been milking.

I've been reading up on the goat kidding process, but I had to stop doing it just before bed as it was causing me to have all kinds of dreams about baby goats (some of them rather disturbing).  Most of the time, goats can manage delivery okay without assistance, but it's still a good idea for us to be present in the event that we need to intervene (kid is in an abnormal position) or the delivery is not progressing as it should. 

For now, I keep going out and pressing my hand to the right side of their belly.  Any day now, I should be able to feel kicks!   Can't you just feel the excitement?!  Don't worry -- I'll keep you in the loop on how things are going -- wouldn't want you to miss a thing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

CrockPot Freezer Meal: Chicken Taco Soup

Remember this post when I put together tons of CrockPot Freezer meals all in one day?  Well, this week, our family pulled out and enjoyed one of them, so I thought I'd share. 

This recipe really was great!  It had enough spice to make it more flavorful than the store-bought canned version but wasn't too spicy for the kids to enjoy.

Combine all the following ingredients in a ziplock baggie (or CrockPot, if you're serving it today):

1 chopped onion
1 (16 oz.) can chili beans
1 (16 oz) can black beans (or prepared dry beans)
1 (15 oz.) can corn, drained (or frozen equivalent)
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (12 oz.) can or bottle beer (or broth)
2 (10 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies (undrained)
1 package taco seasoning
3 whole skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed

As you can probably tell by the ingredient photo, I doubled the recipe to freeze in two separate bags.

For dinner, thaw and cook in CrockPot on low for 6-8 hours.  Serve topped with shredded Cheddar cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips.

I love being able to serve a yummy dinner that took me only 5 minutes to get to the table!
Putting together those 12 meals all in one day was an ordeal.  It required time, effort, and planning.  But, those initial investments will pay off in saved time, effort, and planning every time we eat one!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Most Depressing Day of the Year

So, I read an article recently that said that, statistically speaking, today, January 22, is the most depressing day of the year.  The article didn't really explain, but I'm just guessing that this is because the high of the holidays has worn off, we're all back to the grind, and spring still seems SO very far away.

Little Boy would argue, though.  He seems just fine today, but January 3rd, when he watched me take down the Christmas tree and literally cried, "Momma!  We will never have Christmas again?!" I'd say that was his low.

How can we beat those winter blues?  Here are some tips from someone who's definitely no expert.

1.  Get outside (especially when it's sunny).  Seriously.  Vitamin D is a commonly recommended supplement for mild depression.  But, why add another bottle to the medicine cabinet when you can just bundle up and take a brisk walk.
2.  Get dressed up and go out.  I don't know about you, but I wear a lot of sweatshirts this time of year and really like my comfy spot by the heater in the evenings.  But, a sure plan for keeping the blues at bay is to get all dressed up (maybe in my sparkly tights!) and hit the town with my favorite date.  And, don't make it spontaneous.  The anticipation is half the fun.
3.  Plan your garden (or flower beds, if you're not the gardening type).  Just planning for spring will help put a little spring back in your step.
4.  Pamper yourself.  For some of you, just shaving your legs during this time of year would qualify as pampering (I'm not going to name names ;).  Maybe paint your nails.  Or, have a home spa day.  Take yourself out to lunch (if you go to Elizabeth's, please bring me back some chicken salad).
5.  Try something new.  Make a new recipe for dinner.  Get a new haircut (or color!).  Visit that shop that you've been eyeing but have never made time to check out.  Learn a new skill (I'd love to learn to crochet.)
6.  Get beyond yourself.  Do something kind for someone else.  And, I don't just mean donate money.  DO something.  Bake cookies for the lunch ladies at your kids' school.  Surprise a special person at work, just as he's about to take his lunch break and offer to take him to lunch.  Offer to haul your elderly neighbor's trash to the curb for her when you're hauling your own. You get the idea.

If you actually try any of these ideas for beating the blues, I'd love to hear about it!  Also, got any ideas you'd like to add?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Plum Jelly: Day 2

Okay.  This post is pretty lame.  I'll just admit that now.  I mean, for starters, this is the only pic I got of Plum Jelly Day 2.

And, I can't even seem to figure out how to rotate it.

Here's the deal.  Jessica and I were having so much fun chatting, we were doing good to get the jelly done.  Timers were going off left and right, and we were just chatting away, completely disregarding directions like boil for exactly 1 minute.  It wasn't until we were finished that I remembereed that I should've been taking pics along the way.  Amazingly, the finished product was great despite our lack of attention to the project at hand. ;)

Since the juice was ready for us, the process was really pretty simple.

Bring 4 c. juice and 6.5 c. sugar (yes, you read that right) to a rolling boil.  Then, add one pouch of fruit pectin.  Bring back to a boil and boil rapidly "for exactly one minute."  Fill your pre-warmed jars and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Done!

It really is delicious.  Sometimes, jelly just tastes like sugar to me (which is understandable considering how much sugar it contains).  But, this one is really tasty because you can still taste the tartness of the plums through the sugar. 

Thanks, Jessica for hosting Little Boy and I for our Plum Jelly Playdate!  We had such a good time with you guys. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plum Jelly: Day 1

Thanks to my friend Jenny, I've had these plums frozen in my freezer since this summer.  I'd been waiting for life to slow down a bit (winter to arrive) then I'd turn them into some plum jelly.   So, this week, my friend Jessica and I made it happen.
After my pear jelly flop (it was runny liquid), I was afraid to try again "the old fashioned way" (without Pectin).  I did lots of research -- I searched online, questioned my fellow canning club members, and called my Mamaw.  I finally decided that we'd use pectin this time and picked up a few pointers on exactly how to make it happen.

Step 1 (and Day 1) was to extract the juice from the plums.

First, I thawed them.  The directions I had said to pit them but leave the skins on, then roughly chop.  Twenty minutes into the pitting process, I decided that it was entirely too tedious.  (I am willing to work hard, but tedious work really grates on me sometimes.)  I decided there had to be a faster way.  After all, I was planning to strain the juice once the plums had cooked.  Why not leave the pits in?  So, I threw whole plums into the food processor to "roughly chop" them. . . . and I broke my food processor.  Yep, this smart gal pushed the pulse button once and a piece of plastic flew dangerously across the kitchen.  Lesson learned.  Plum pits have no place in the food processor.  (Maybe I can order a replacement part online -- it's hard to imagine life can go on long without a food processor.)

Still not willing to pit the plums, I threw them whole (not even roughly chopped) into the saucepan (4 lbs. of plums to 1 c. of water) and began to mash them with my potato masher, splattering plum juice ALL. OVER. MY. KITCHEN.

Still, I proceeded.  I brought the mashed plums to a rolling boil and, stirring pretty much constantly, kept them at a boil for 10 minutes. 
The plums magically turned to juice!  Stirring, I could feel the pits and skins, but otherwise it was liquified.

My Mamaw had advised me that I could strain through pretty much anything, depending on how much pulp I wanted in the finished product.  This first go round, I was hoping for a nice, clear, clean-looking jelly, so I strained it through  my butter muslin (which is a tighter weave than cheesecloth).  I allowed it to strain for several hours.  And, of course, in my impatience, I would come in and squish and squeeze it a bit every hour or so.

Once complete, I had approximately 15 cups of pure plum juice.  It only takes 4 c. of juice to make a batch of jelly.  That's plenty for Jessica and I to use to make 2 batches on Day 2 of this process.  John and I had some juice with our breakfast this week, too.  (It was so thick and tart, though, that we watered it down and added some Agave nectar to counter the tart taste a bit.)

So, despite my ridiculous antics, I did end up with beautiful juice.  My food processor and splattered walls may not agree that it was a full-on success, but there's at least some value in lessons learned, right?

More on how we turned this yummy juice into jelly Monday (Sunday is my day of rest, remember)!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Crazy Lady with All That Apple Cider Vinegar

At the store recently, I noticed a quizzical look on a fellow shopper's face as I piled multiple gallons of vinegar into my shopping cart.  What in the world could I be using ALL this apple cider vinegar for? 
Well, just today I used it to clean and disinfect eggs brought in from outside.  I also used it as a hair conditioner (the smell is gone by the time you're finished with the hair dryer).  I've also been adding a shot of it to my grapefruit juice in the mornings (it's said to have multiple health benefits, including helping to rid the body of toxins and lowering blood pressure).  And, we add it to the chickens' water periodically to keep them healthy.
Then, of course, there are the more traditional uses, such as pickling.

I also tend to pile the baking soda into the cart.  We make baking soda available to the goats (it eases stomach bloat).  Of course, I use it as a soft scrub for cleaning.  The other night as I got ready for bed, I noticed that I'd used it three times in the span of 10 minutes:  to exfoliate my face, wash my hair, and brush my teeth.  Oh, and I use it for baking occasionally, too.  ;)

If I you're thinking about taking on a more natural approach to household products, I'd definitely suggest building a stockpile of these two plus probably some white vinegar, olive oil, washing soda, and Borax.  I've found it's amazing how many cleaning/toiletries bottles I can toss because they've been replaced by different mixtures of these simple ingredients. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Spring" Cleaning: Kitchen Edition

Yes, I realize it's not spring yet.  But, here's the deal:  spring is going to be full of gardening and seed starting and goat kidding and maybe bottle feeding (goats, not children -- thankfully, we're beyond all that around here! In fact, this past week was a monumental one in terms of our kids growing up -- we are a Pull-up-free house.  That's right my friends, for 8.5 years, we have purchased either disposable diapers or Pull-ups.  But, no more!!!)

Sorry.  I digress.  Anyway, it occurred to me that I really ought to be doing winter cleaning.  Who wants to be outside right now anyway?  It's CRAZY cold out there, people! 
And, since the guest room closet looks like this, with canning supplies stacked about 5 feet high, I decided to start by cleaning/organizing the kitchen.  My goal was to clear enough cabinet space that I could move all my canning supplies to the kitchen.

My basic plan of attack is . . .
1. empty cabinets/drawers
2.  clean and re-line cabinets/drawers
3.  decide what to keep/what to donate
4.  re-stock in the most organized/logical way I can come up with (based on where in the kitchen I use the items and how frequently they get used)

I use posterboard to line my cabinets.  So that is doesn't peel up during the year, I hot glue it to the cabinet in the front and at corners.  Each year, I remove the old liner and use it to measure and cut the new piece.  I've never used a lid organizer before for my pan lids, so I'm pretty excited about this addition (it's the little things sometimes ;).

If I didn't use an item in the past year, it went to the donate pile.  No exceptions.  Okay, fine --one exception.   And I deliberated on it for awhile.  By scavenging second-hand shops, I've managed to amass 20 of these antique snack trays.  On the right side, they have a raised ring to hold the matching adorable punch cups.  I've used a few through the course of the year (when I want my lunch to feel fancy ;). But, I've definitely not hosted the ladies for brunch to put all 20 to use.  Still, I love them.  And, I just couldn't part with them.  I compromised.  Since the cups look very similar to the ones that came with my punch bowl, I got rid of the punch bowl cups.  Now, I've got just 20 glass cups that can be used with my punch bowl and/or snack trays.  Now, I just have to be sure that I use all 20 before next year's clean out, so that I can justify keeping them again! 

I added these little cup hooks (8 pack for less than a dollar) to hold my measuring cups and spoons inside my spice cabinet door.  This door is directly over the cannisters I use to store my flours and sugar, so it seemed like a handy solution.

Speaking of countertops, my January issue of Real Simple suggests that only appliances that get used at least once a month get to take up countertop real estate.  All others should be stored and pulled out for use.  Ummm.  There's no way I could fit all the appliances I use every month on my countertops!  There'd be nowhere to work! 

So, my rule is if it's super heavy (stand mixer) or gets the most frequent use (juicer) or would make a mess to move (toaster), it gets a home on the countertop.  This relegates the blender and food processor to the cabinet, but they're stored right below where I plug them in, so I don't have to move them far.

Another suggestion:  if you can't figure out a good way to organize the chaos, just settle for corraling it.  See the red bin?  It holds all the weird tupperware-type containers that I send to school in the girls' lunches.  I just toss the containers and lids in to the basket, so it's not exactly organized, but at least it's not visual clutter when I open up the cabinets.

Speaking of Tupperware, I probably have less to corral than the average gal because last year, I splurged and bought us these Pyrex containers instead.  And this girl LOVES her Pyrex!  What's so great about them?
1.  I can see all my leftovers without having to pop the lid and peek in.
2.  Their rectangular design makes them easily stackable in the fridge.
3.  They're glass, so I can pop them in the microwave to reheat things.  (I know a lot of people still reheat their food in plastic containers and live to tell about it, but my husband WOULD NOT have it at this house!  He's not super particular about many things, but microwaving in plastic is a big no-no with him.)

More lid storage -- I think I'm gonna love this!

I've winnowed down my long-handled utensils to just these.  I can't think of any good reason I should have 5 spatulas and 4 slotted spoons that are exactly the same.  For that matter, how in the world did I amass 5 9x13 glass baking dishes? 

This drawer isn't even full.  In fact, lots of drawers and cabinets have extra space now that I'm finished -- even with all my canning supplies moved in.

And, this is the pile (yes, it's in the guest room) of stuff to donate.  Keep in mind, I got rid of just as much stuff during last year's kitchen clean out.  If I'm not careful, there'll be nothing left in a few years!
But, my kitchen is a workhorse.  It's where it all goes down around here.  The last thing I need is extra stuff just taking up space in there.  I can take or leave the cleaning part of this process, but the organizing I LOVE!

Have you got any suggestions for cabinet or closet cleanouts?  I think the pantry is next for me -- it could get ugly!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Answers Revealed

Okay.  I'm sure you all lost sleep over this last night, so I hate to keep you waiting any longer.  Here are the answers for the three canning club quiz questions that I missed:

1.  The spores of Clostridium botulinum can be destroyed by canning the food at a temperature of ___ or above for a specified period of time. 
a. 230 F
b. 240 F
c. 225 F
d. none of the above

I put "none of the above."  Since I had no idea whatsoever, it seemed like a decent guess.  The actual answer is (b.) 240 F.  Who knew?

2.  Of the food preservation methods we use today, which is the oldest used by man?
a. pickling
b. drying
c. canning
d. fermentation

I guessed (d.) fermentation.  When I quizzed John (yes, I know I'm a dork), he guessed fermentation, too, saying he just figured folks had been figuring out ways to get drunk for all of time.  Anyway, we were both wrong.  The correct answer is (b.) drying.  I guess this should go right along with tanning hides and such for clothing.

3.  Why should cream style corn only be canned in pint jars?
a.  the denseness of the canned product
b. This is the size most commonly used.
c. It is difficult to properly cook a larger amount.
d. Air bubbles are more difficult to remove from larger jars.

I guessed (d.) about the air bubbles, thinking that maybe the thickness made it difficult to remove all the air.  The actual answer was supposed to be (a.) the denseness of the canned product.  Maybe the denseness leads to the air bubble problem, though.  What do you think?  Could I get half credit?

For the record, none of you got them right, either!   Somehow, that makes me feel better.  :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Canning Club Pop Quiz!

So, at this month's canning club meeting, I had to take a pop quiz!   Heaven, help me! 
There were 30 questions in all.  A quick look around the room, and I was quickly intimidated.  The other test takers had lots more, um, experience than I did.  I felt my palms getting sweaty.

As we checked our work (thankfully, we didn't trade-n-grade!), I was pleased to discover that I'd scored a 27/30.  Hey, that's an A!  Of course, the teacher in me couldn't resist the temptation to tally my score and record it at the top of the page.  :)

Here are 5 things I was pretty proud of myself for knowing:
1.  The plastic lids now available for home canning have not been approved by the USDA.
2.  Foods having a pH value of 4.6 or higher must be canned in a pressure canner.
3.  Zinc lids and bail-type jars are not recommended for home canning.
4.  Using the "hot pack" method when filling jars should prevent fruit from floating to the top of the jar.
5.  Soak jars in a solution of 1 c. vinegar/1 gallon water to remove scale and hard water build-up.

Here are the three questions that I missed:

1.  The spores of Clostridium botulinum can be destroyed by canning the food at a temperature of ___ or above for a specified period of time. 
a. 230 F
b. 240 F
c. 225 F
d. none of the above

2.  Of the food preservation methods we use today, which is the oldest used by man?
a. pickling
b. drying
c. canning
d. fermentation

3.  Why should cream style corn only be canned in pint jars?
a.  the denseness of the canned product
b. This is the size most commonly used.
c. It is difficult to properly cook a larger amount.
d. Air bubbles are more difficult to remove from larger jars.

Think you know the answers (without Googling them -- come on, why cheat on something like this?)?  I'll post the answers tomorrow, so comment now with your guesses if you'd like bragging rights!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Links Worth Brooding On 3.0

Ready to Link it up?  Here we go!

For Your Viewing Pleasure (and Education):
The Story of Stuff – Graphically illustrates the hidden costs of our consumerism .  You may not buy into all of this, but it’s still totally worth your time.  She compresses about a book’s worth of info into this well-put-together 20-minute video.
The Unplugged Home – much less drastic than an off-the-grid home, this concept is an interesting one.  Love the pics!

Shopping with a Purpose:
Family Pastimes – There’s enough competition in the world.  Why are we teaching our kids to win at the expense of others’ loss, even in our board games?  This small company is seeking to transform family game night by creating games that encourage cooperation rather than competition.  Love it!

Required Reading:
“Best Articles 2012:  The 25 Pieces That Should Be Required Reading for Women”  by The Huffington Post.    I haven’t yet read them all, but I definitely intend to.
“The Most Important Mission Trip You’ll Ever Take” by John Pavlovitz – Hint:  You won’t have to go far.  This really resonates with me.  Why are we so hard on the ones who love us most?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Make Your Own Lotion!!

Remember this beautiful candle jar from yesterday's post? 
You could use it any number of ways. 

I decided to fill mine with some of my homemade, all-natural lotion (I've been going through it like crazy this winter!).

Believe it or not, this is really a very simple process. 

Here's what you need:

1/2 c. olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 Tbs. beeswax
(I use the little pearls because they melt well.  They can be purchased any number of places.  I order mine from Brambleberry, which is where I get all my soap/lotion supplies.)
1 c. tepid water, filtered or bottled
10 drops or so of essential oil
(I used Rose this time, but it's up to you.  Choosing your own scent is the fun part!)

This recipe will make about 1.5 cups of lotion.  Test your jar to be sure it'll easily hold that volume.

Also, to make it the way I do, you'll need an immersion blender.

Ready?  Here we go!

Combine your olive oil and beeswax in a double-boiler.  I used a makeshift one, a measuring cup balanced in water-filled pan.

Stir over medium heat until beeswax melts.

Meanwhile, fill your jar with VERY hot tap water.  We have our water heater set so that it doesn't get very hot, so I heated about 2 c. of water in the microwave then poured it into my jar.  This is not the water that'll be apart of your lotion; you'll actually pour this water out before filling the jar with the lotion ingredients. 

If you're one of those people who needs an explanation for everything, we're using the hot water to warm the jar.  If the jar is cool, the beeswax will reharden too quickly once it gets poured in. 

Once your beeswax has melted, act quickly. 
Dump out the hot water.
Pour in the oil/beeswax combo.
Add your essential oil.

As you blend, slowly pour the tepid water into the oils.

And blend.  And blend.  And blend.  And when you think, "Surely Ashley didn't mean that I should blend this long!" you might be half-way there.

You'll know you're finished when you give it a stir and can't see anymore unincorporated water.

Give the rim of your jar a good wipe down so that it looks pretty.

Allow it cool completely before putting the lid on.  If, as it cools, you notice some water on the surface, just pour it off and make a note-to-self that you probably should have blended longer.

Yum!!  This really is the most amazing moisturizer!

Now, some other good things to know.

1.  You do not have to make it in the storage container.  Another option is to make it in your blender then "pour" it into storage containers.  But, be warned:  the mixture is so thick that you'll have to do a lot of scraping down the sides as you work.  And, it may not pour well.  Also, the oil and wax combo is not easily cleaned up.  Making it in the container saves a lot of cleanup. 
That said, rubbing the oiled containers down with straight dishsoap before using water to wash them out seems to work pretty well to get tools clean.  Also, baking soda works to absorb the grease.

2.  This is an all-natural product made without artificial preservatives.  It should be stored at room temperature.  It should last a few months without going bad, but if you don't think you can possible use this much lotion in that amount of time, put some into another cute container and give it away to a lucky friend.  Signs that it may be past its prime include texture or color change.

3.  Making It, the amazing book this recipe comes from, suggests that this makes a good make-up remover/cold cream.  I personally have very touchy/oily skin, so the idea of slathering on an olive oil lotion makes me cringe, but if you have dry skin, this could be a good option for you.  I know that my sister has also used this lotion on the dry ends of her hair.

The first time you make this, it may take you awhile as you navigate the directions.  But, once you've made it a few times, you can turn out a batch in less than 15 minutes.

Please let me know if you decide to give this a try!