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Monday, December 24, 2012

bath salts and scrubs

Bath Salts
baking soda, Epsom salts, ground dried lavender buds, lavender and tea tree essential oils, olive oil
Recently, a conversation piqued my interest and I had to do some more reading to follow up on it. I'm not one to avidly follow the news, even while an election is taking place, so much of this passed me by at the time. It seems that stupid people can't find enough stupid ways to mess their stupid brains and bodies up with drugs that make them even more stupid. The latest craze? Bath salts. Different articles purport slightly different information about what these "bath salts" really are and where they may be found. Some sources imply that regular old bath salts one might find in the grocery store are dangerous, high classed drugs if used the right way. I'm not entirely sure I believe that claim.

At any rate, all this got me thinking. I make my own bath body scrubs, and although I generally tend to prefer clear water in my bath there are some times when a beautifully scented cup of salts added to the hot water is incredibly appealing. Would you like to give my recipes a try? They really are ridiculously easy ... and cheap, and healthy, and the results on the skin are decadence worthy of a fancy spa treatment.

Citrus Spice Bath Scrub
1 cup white or brown sugar 
olive oil 
vitamin E oil 
5 drops cinnamon essential oil 
15 drops orange essential oil 
5 drops chamomile essential oil 
fresh peeled rind of one orange
1 cinnamon stick 

Fill a pint jar part-way with desired sugar. White sugar tends to be the cheapest. Brown sugar feels a little silkier on the skin and is gentler on delicate facial skin.

Now, add your oil. I prefer extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of vitamin E oil, both to preserve the scrub for a good long shelf life in damp bathrooms and to really punch up the beautification on your skin. Poke things around in the jar with a knife a bit to fully saturate the sugar.

Add essential oils now. You can play around with them a bit, and you can very easily make your own combinations of scents. Essential oils, like the herbs they come from, bear huge healing properties that can be very beneficial to the body in the right combinations and uses. For this Citrus Spice blend, add 15 drops of orange, 5 drops of cinnamon, and 5 drops of chamomile. Orange helps brighten the skin and reduce varicose veins. Cinnamon increases circulation. Chamomile is very soothing to delicate skin areas and will calm redness. Once you have all the oils and sugar mixed up beautifully, push in some orange rind that you have peeled from a fresh, clean orange with a vegetable peeler -- only the colored part is beneficial here. The white pith is bitter and doesn't look pretty. I like to push orange rind in long strips down the sides of the glass. Add a cinnamon stick, as well. Fill up the jar to the top with more olive oil, and cap.

Use this scrub on face and body, all over, any time your skin needs a pick-me-up brightening, softening, and smoothing treatment. You can use this daily if you like. Rub in circular motions over damp skin, rinse off, and pat dry. There will be little need for extra lotion, and your skin will thank you for the kindness!

Bath Salts
6 cups epsom salts or rock sea salt, or a blend of both
1 cup baking soda
30-40 drops of essential oils
1 cup herbs

You need a large jar or tupperware for this recipe. It is worth making a lot! If you put the effort in this Christmas season and gift some homemade herbal bath salts to family and friends, you will know the bigger payout of your efforts in following weeks and months as you hear back from their improved bathing and pampering experiences. It is so simple to whip up a batch of something beautiful and healthy for a tired mom or lonely grandma, package it in something recyclable and pleasing, and if you are careful with your scents then a lot of men adore bath salts, too, for aching muscles and sore feet.

In a large bowl, mix up salts and baking soda. Epsom salts are readily available in large bags from most pharmacies. Baking soda is cheap almost everywhere, but I find that Cosco and other bulk buy stores sell extra big bags for a very reasonable price. Rock sea salt is more expensive, but again, still not much compared to bought bath salts and efforts in bulk buying will save you a lot of money.

Add essential oils and stir well with a wooden stick before tossing in herbs and transferring the mix to a beautiful jar.

Make a Citrus Spice blend to complement the scrub you made, using 20 drops orange, 10 drops cinnamon, 10 drops chamomile essential oils. Toss in a handful of cinnamon sticks lightly bashed in half with a hammer, 1/2 cup dried orange peel, 1/2 cup dried lemon peel, 1/2 cup chamomile flowers.

Make an uplifting mint blend to tingle tired nerves and clear the mind. This is especially great for tired feet, and for men. Use essential oils of peppermint or spearmint, eucalyptus, rosemary. Add 1 cup of mixed rosemary and sweet mint dried herbs.

Make a more womanly blend, using scents more often favored by girls and women, and herbs that heal delicate areas after childbirth or soothe an infant's tender skin. Use rose and jasmine essential oils, with rose petals, rose hips for vitamin C, and calendula flowers and chickweed herb for healing tears and skin abrasions. If preparing a bath salt for a postpartum mother, you may prefer to stick with sea salts and go heavy on the healing herbs.

You may, of course, leave out the herbs if you like, but where's the fun in that? Bath salts may be added directly under running water in the bath, and larger herbs are easily scooped out with a kitchen sieve before draining the tub. Alternatively, you may tie up bath salts with herbs as possets bound in cheesecloth and ribbon, like giant tea bags, which are then easily removed. The cloths may be reused many times once you shake out the old tea, rinse and let dry. 

knitted woven mug warmer

 A couple of days ago, I typed "mug cosy knitted pattern" into Google search and took a look at the images. I found one that I really liked, but all the links for the pattern were expired. Couldn't find it. Found where I could buy the pattern, but I thought to myself, "really, this is a simple pattern, I bet I could copy it easily myself!" And I did.

I prefer mine, but if you would like to buy the actual, proper, original pattern you can find it on this link.

If you would like to see how ridiculously simple it really is, read on!

Knitted woven mug warmer

Use heavy weight yarn that is easily washable. Sounds obvious but I still find it's worth saying, "easily washable", on the off-chance that you knit this up out of white angora and then spill mulled wine down the side of your mug and cry. It may be a quick, easy pattern but it's still not worth the frustration of stains.

Use straight needles in US size 3.

Cast on 15 stitches.

Row 1: k5, p5, k5
Row 2: p5, k5, p5
Rows 3-6: repeat rows 1 and 2 twice

Row 7: p5, k5, p5
Row 8: k5, p5, k5
Rows 9-12: repeats rows 7 and 8 twice

What you have knitted now forms 6 squares in two rows of 3. (I hope that makes sense to you!) Repeat what you have done 4 more times, until you have 10 rows of 3 squares each. It will be approximately 22 cm (or 9 inches) long by 8 cm (3 to 3 1/4 inches) wide.

(Let me try to explain this next as clearly as I can, for any knitting novices that might be reading, so I will go tiny step by tiny step now.)

You have 15 stitches on the needle. Numbering them from right to left, as you work them, I start with stitch number 1.
1 - k
2 - knit. Pull first stitch over the 2nd stitch and drop it off the needle to bind it, or cast it, off.
3 - k. Cast off again.
4 - k. Cast off again.
5 and 6 - k as normal
(You have now 3 stitches on your right needle.)
7 - k
8 - k, and cast off
9 - k, and cast off
10 - k, and cast off again
11 and 12 - k 
13 - k
14 - k, and cast off
15 - k, and cast off. Leaving a tail, break the yarn and thread it through this last stitch to cast it off.

You should now have 6 stitches remaining on your needle, in 2 groups of 3 with a gap between. Use a stitch holder to keep the 3 stitches on the right safe for you, while you work the left into an I-cord.

Transfer stitches to double pointed needles. Keep the work facing the same way throughout the I-cord knitting: do not flip front and back as you normally would work between knit and pearl sides.
Reattach yarn and K3
You are now holding your work on the needle in your right hand. Keeping it facing the same way towards you, slide the work from the left end of the needle to the right end of the needle, and K3 again. Keep doing this until you have about 10-12 rows of I-cord, or 6 cm (2 1/2 inches) length. Cast off as you usually would, knitting 2 and dropping the first stitch over the second and off the needle. Pull yarn tail through the final stitch.

Repeat the above with the final 3 stitches you had placed on the stitch holder, knitting I-cord, casting off and securing.

Now, all you need to do it weave in the yarn tails in your work, using the I-cord tails to secure the cords to each other forming a loop. Sew on a button.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

pineapple fruit cake

I received this recipe from a lovely lady by the name of Rosie, from my mother's "Monkey Group" of prayer warriors in England, to use for my wedding cake. It turned out amazingly well.

Pineapple Fruit Cake

Mix together:
4 oz glace cherries, cut in half
14 oz self-raising flour

(To make self-raising flour, add 1 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/8 tsp salt per measured cup of plain flour.)

Add and mix in:
24 oz dried fruit
You may vary the types and quantities of dried fruit, and nuts if you like, according to your preferences. Some dried fruits that work well include raisins, sultanas, currents, blueberries, cranberries, cherries.

Beat together in a separate bowl:
10 oz butter
9 oz dark brown sugar

Add and beat again:
4 eggs, whisked

Slowly stir together into the butter/eggs mixture:
large can of crushed pineapple (420 grams)

Slowly stir the fruit and flour mix into the pineapple mixture.
Spread into a well-greased tin that is lined on the bottom with greased parchment paper. I like to grease the whole tin, place the paper down, and it sticks in place as I grease the top of it again lightly. Spread the mix towards the edges, leaving a dip in the center, so that it comes out flat once cooked.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven at 325F/160C/gas mark 3 for approximately 2 hours. Times will vary according to the size of the cake -- you may double or triple this cake and spread in various sizes of tins, as I did for my wedding cake, and you then just need to keep an eye on the cake. It will be done when a toothpick comes out cleanly from the center of the cake.

The quantity of this recipe is large. You will want one deep, large spring form pan, the type you would make cheesecake in, or another cake tin with 3 inch high sides. I tripled the above recipe and had 3 sizes of cake.

To repeat what I did for my wedding cake, continue on with these instructions. To ice more simply, a sugar and lemon glaze poured on thickly is lovely.

I made my cakes 9 weeks ahead of my wedding day date. It sat in the cool (in March in England, all I had to do was keep them covered in boxes in the porch outside my mother's kitchen, but you may use the fridge) for a week. Then, each weekend, I turned the cakes over, poked holes all over the top with a toothpick, and poured over approximately 1/2 c good quality brandy. 3 weeks before the wedding, I brushed warmed apricot jam over the top and sides of each cake and spread a layer of marzipan smoothly over it. 1 and half weeks before the wedding, I covered each cake with a ready-roll white royal icing. The marzipan layer underneath protects the royal icing from discoloration. The apricot jam glues the marzipan to the cake. This week, I also shaped butterfly cutouts and roses from marzipan to place on top of cake a few days before the wedding. They only needed a light dip of water on the bottoms to properly stick to the royal icing top.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

chicken savory pie

 Chicken Savory Pie. One of the best meals in my stash of memory recipes. I warn you now, though, that this chicken "pot" pie is completely from scratch! No additives, no cans, no packaged pastry, only the good stuff.

The first secret is in the pastry. I would really prefer to teach you this in person, but I find that is rather tricky to accomplish via internet so you'll have to suffer along with my instructions. I have done my best to explain with sufficient detail, here.

Now, you start thinking about fillings. You can use the above flaky pastry recipe for other savory pies, or for sweet pies. It is delightful with apple. But as we are doing chicken savory today, here is my recommended filling: cooked chicken, rough chopped onion, chopped mushrooms, frozen peas, steamed carrots. Toss all up together, and then fill the pie.

Now, you need a cream gravy. Really simple.

For 2 cups worth of gravy, set aside 2 cups milk and whisk in 2 Tbs flour. In a hot pan, melt but do not burn 4 Tbs butter. Add 3-4 Tbs flour and stir in to form a rue. Add milk, all at once, and whisk in to blend smoothly. As this comes back up to heat, it will suddenly thicken so keep stirring. Add 1/2 tsp nutmeg, black pepper, salt. Taste and season more as required.

Pour gravy all over inside the filled pie. Roll out the other portion of pastry as you did the first. Fold and place it over the top of the pie. Either pre-cut a steam vent, as I did, with a cookie cutter or a steady hand, or simply slit a few steam vents into the top of the pie once lid is in place. Don't worry about trimming edges this time. Fold them under the lower edges of pastry, and then use two knuckles from one hand and one knuckle from the other hand to crimp and seal edges together.

You are ready to bake! Place pie, or pies, into the oven at 375F for 30-40 minutes, until bubbling hot inside and gently browned on the outside. Serve hot, with steamed vegetables and a tossed green salad.

  • Chicken pie with clear gravy
  • Steak and ale pie -- use beef and onion (kidney with the beef is lovely), a clear beef gravy with a dab of strawberry jam stirred in, and serve with mash of potato, parsnip and turnip, Colman's English mustard and horseradish on the side
  • For lower carb meals, or stretching butter rations, use one recipe of flaky pastry to form two lids on two bottomless pies, casserole style. It is easier to serve pie for large groups of people, 15 count and more, when making up large casseroles this way. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

kick butt banana nut muffins

Kick Butt Banana Nut Muffins

It's how my husband describes them. Seriously delicious.

Preheat oven to 400F.
Generously grease the insides of a large (6 cup) muffin tin with lard.
Yields 6 large muffins, or 12 regular sized muffins.

1 1/2 c wheat flour
1/2 c old fashioned oats
1 Tb baking powder
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c pecan halves
1/2 c slivered almonds
1/3 c dark chocolate chips

Mix together:
1/3 c coconut oil
1 beaten egg
1 c (2 large) mostly mashed bananas - be sure not to smooth out all the chunks! texture is good!
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 c milk, or 1/2 c plain yogurt and 1/2 c milk or rice milk

Fold wet ingredients into dry. Be sure not to overmix. Pour into large muffin tin and bake at 400F for 21-22 minutes. If using a regular 12 piece muffin tin, bake 15 minutes and check.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

rice or almond milk

There are a ton of recipes out there for making rice milk at home. Basically, they all come down to the same thing: cooked rice, and water. Add vanilla or whatever else you like, but blended rice and water is basically all that goes into rice milk. Here's what I did. Give it a try!

3 c water
1 c cooked rice -- basmati or brown work best for me

For almond milk, soak 1/2 c raw almonds overnight in 3 c water, and then follow the same blending instructions as for rice. 

Put into a drinks blender. Blend on high for two or three minutes. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla if you wish. I didn't bother adding any sweetener.

Now, pour and strain the rice milk. You can leave it unstrained, but I found that it was a bit sludgy at the bottom and I figured I wouldn't likely use that part anyway. So I used a little tea strainer to strain out, and squeeze and discard the extra mush.

If you do this process with almonds, to make almond milk, use 3 c water and soak 1/2 c raw almonds in it overnight before blending, and then keep the almond sludge to use in something yummy, like banana nut muffins or an Indian chicken korma. You can use other nuts, too, such as cashews, hazelnuts, or pecans, but I don't recommend just any type of nut. Peanuts and Brazil nuts I can't see working too well due to their higher oil content, for example.

And there you have it. Rice milk. As you can see, the end results yield not much more than the 3 cups of liquid you began with. Use your rice milk as a dairy replacement, or for Thai iced tea. It works just fine in breakfast muffins. I'm sure you can come up with more ways to use it!

**P.S. My son is now older than when I first made this post, and although he is over a year old he is still nursing a lot, and we are not comfortable with his consuming much dairy until he is two. We recently introduced "Daddy milk" -- warm vanilla rice milk -- as a way of giving him fluids and comfort snuggle time while gently cutting out an afternoon nursing session. It has worked really well! Boy loves his rice milk, and with a tiny bit of stevia added for sweetening it doesn't taste so different as cow or goat milk do from human milk. I hope that doesn't put any of you adults off trying rice milk for yourself! I simply mean that this rice milk doesn't have the same strong gamey flavor that even processed cow milk has in comparison to the very mild sweetness of mama milk. Plus, animal substitutes are often chock full of hormones and toxins (milk is where cows dump toxin waste from their bodies) that are very harmful to both developing and mature humans alike. At any rate, at least for the cheap cost of making your own rice milk, I suggest that it is worth a try! You and your kids may just love it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

pumpkin puree

Here's another way of avoiding buying costly cans that are also wasteful on energy resources. Most people love pumpkin pie. I love pretty much pumpkin anything -- that is, anything except coffee. Starbucks has a weird and deformed thing going on with that pumpkin spice chai latte, if you ask me. I do have a gorgeous recipe for pumpkin pound cake that is moist and delectable as can be, and I plan to try out pumpkin muffins soon, so watch for an upcoming post. Buy why buy cans of pumpkin puree when you can make the stuff at home for less than 1/3rd of the cost? Cheaper on your wallet, not to mention it tastes about 5 times as good when it is from scratch. And it really is easy, I promise. I started doing this as a university student in England, where every penny counted a lot, canned pumpkin for pies (or anything else) was just about unheard of, and I had an American friend who was feeling desperately homesick and couldn't return home for Thanksgiving. I found myself making things up as I went along that first time, but it worked! And it was delicious.

First, buy a pumpkin. I am not overly picky about where I get mine. This year, I bought two pumpkins each about the size of a basketball through my Bountiful Basket order at the beginning of October. Make sure the outside is intact and there are no questionable parts on the gourd, but other than that any old pumpkin should do.

Next, cut it in half. Use some elbow grease and a big, sharp knife. (Please, please, use sharp knives. Either get your man to keep them sharp for you, as mine so sweetly does, or take the time once a week to check through your knives and sharpen any dull ones. Believe me, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, not to mention less irritating.)

Cleaning the inside of the pumpkin doesn't take much. Get rid of the seeds and as much of the loose fibers as you can using a large spoon. Don't worry about scraping it hard, though. It all cooks up and will puree down quite easily.

Place the pumpkin halves cut side down onto non-stick baking sheets, and then into the oven at 400F. Roast for approximately one hour, or until the skin is partially blackened.

Remove trays. Let cool. Peel the skin and discard, leaving behind soft cooked pumpkin flesh.
At this point, I usually cut the pumpkin into large chunks and toss them directly into ziplock bags for freezing. If you would like to continue the puree process, go for it!

Use a food processor, or an immersion wand blender, or just some muscle and a potato masher or butter cutter to mash and break down the pumpkin into mush. You can leave it chunky or make it perfectly smooth. Add spices to taste. I suggest 1 Tb cinnamon, 2 tsp allspice and 1 tsp nutmeg per 3 cups of plain puree. At this point, if you want to bake pies, add your sugar or honey, evaporated milk and eggs to the spiced pumpkin puree and bake. One deep dish pie requires roughly 3 cups of puree. Or, ladle puree into labelled containers in portion sizes for freezing.

See how simple that was? As you can see in my photo, you can do the same for butternut squash, or many other types of squash, as you can for pumpkin. Butternut makes a delicious alternative to pumpkin in the same types of recipes, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

chocolate cherry chunk cookies

Generally, my posts are related to saving money, cutting corners, healthier options... Not this one! Oh, my goodness, you must try these cookies. My mum sent me the recipe from who-knows-where a few years ago and I never made them until recently. She was absolutely right. Delicious!

I must confess that I tweaked the recipe oh so slightly. As I type, I can hear my husband's voice echo in my head saying, "surprise, surprise..." He teases that I just can't stick to a recipe as given. It's a long story that goes back to the first time I baked him brownies, and I added "bark" (nutmeg) without warning him before he took a bite. Ha! That was quite a shock to his system, poor love! Anyway, I did change a few things. Firstly, my honey isn't overly thrilled with white chocolate. I think he would actually have preferred I left it out altogether, but instead I reduced the white chocolate to 6 oz and added 4 oz of dark chocolate chunks, to make 10 oz of chocolate instead of 16 oz at the end of the recipe. I also replaced dried cherries with dried cranberries, for a little extra tartness.

Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

Melt together 1/2 c butter and 4 oz dark chocolate.
Put it in a large bowl.
Beat in 1 1/2 c sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla.

Blend dry ingredients separately.
1 1/2 c flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt.
Add the dry to the wet, to form a stiff, fudge-like dough.

Stir in 16 oz white chocolate chunks and 1 c dried cherries.
(Please note chunks, not chips! Use baking chocolate squares and chop them roughly into large chunks with a knife. Chips are too small for this cookie.)

Bake in cookie size, 1 Tb dropped onto a sheet, for 10 minutes at 350F until they are glossy and cracked. They will not be fully set at the end of this time, but don't bake further. Instead, allow cookies to cool on the baking sheets until they are stable enough to transfer to a rack. (Any remaining dough can be left on the counter. The fridge will set it up too hard, so don't bother chilling the dough while you wait.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

why tinctures?

"Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts made with fresh or dried herbs. Herbal material is macerated (soaked) in a natural solvent called a menstruum. The menstruum -- usually a mixture of distilled spirits and water -- dissolves and carries the active constituents out of the fibrous plant material...

"The key advantages to tinctures are that they are concentrated and convenient to use, easy to mix into combinations, dosages are easier to control, and they have an excellent shelf life. They may be taken internally, applied directly to the skin, or used in external applications like fomentations."

(excerpt taken from book, Practical Herbalism, by Philip Fritchey, Whitman Productions 2004)

Tinctures are most commonly made with alcohol as a preservative. At the time of writing this, I have a red raspberry leaf, nettles, and peppermint tincture in vodka sitting in my kitchen cupboard, half-made. Vodka is cheap and tastes mild, which is why I prefer it. Other alcohols may be just as easily used. Rum, wine, brandy. Remember that Christ Jesus on the cross was offered bitter herbs in wine and initially refused them? Herbal infused wine was a common medicine at the time, and he was very likely being offered pain relief, sedative, dulled awareness, even perhaps something to help him die faster, which may not have been desirable to him while he was bearing the full weight of our sins. I can also think of many historical stories in books I read as a child of Medieval castles under siege, wounded knights biting down on herbal-wine-soaked rags whilst having their shining armor removed to reveal ugly battle wounds, or stories of Viking warriors pulling out a flask of herbs and wine to give to their dying, skull-cracked friends or pouring it over their own wounds, or of Irish witches lacing herbs into cups of grogg, which is spiced or "mulled" wine, in order to gain control over the tribal kings... Herbs have long been preserved in alcohol for potent use and convenient shelf life. Herbology was for the longest portion of history the only form of medicine known or applied. It is only in the last century that we have the become enraptured with synthetic medicines and have forgotten the vast store of cures present in natural sources.

Some people dislike tinctures because of the alcohol base. Let me point out that there are reasons for using alcohol, and also ways around it if alcohol is still undesirable in the circumstances. Pregnant or nursing women, for example, typically don't want to regularly consume a tincture containing alcohol. They could add their tincture to a hot drink, instead, and allow the alcohol to evaporate off with the steam for a few minutes before drinking. That's a pretty easy fix. The residual taste of vodka in the drink is hardly noticeable. Or, they could make their tincture using 5% or more acidity apple cider vinegar. The acidity is important for shelf stability of the final product. I recently came across a brilliant solution for giving children an immuno-stimulant tincture, of echinacea preserved in honey. The honey is not then useful in dropper form, as most tinctures would be measured, but a teaspoonful of herbal infused honey directly in the mouth is really not that bad! Honey would be a solution better for hard herbs than for soft, and only for consumable tinctures rather than ones that are made for external application. Vegetable glycerine may also be used as a shelf-stable, preserving tincture base, and is the most commonly used in children's tincture products. Like honey, it often goes down easily due to the sweet taste, but is still easily measured by standard droppers.  

So as you see, there are alternatives. However, alcohol does retain one particular benefit that honey or vinegars cannot offer. Alcohol is very quickly assimilated into the blood stream and taken into the liver, whereas water or vinegar tend to "roll off" the liver. In general, this fast absorption means that stomach acid is a lesser hazard to consumable alcoholic tinctures, and herbal qualities desired by the user are more rapidly taken to the point of complaint or need in the body. We tend to abuse our livers. We feed them full of toxins, as they cleanse our blood and bodies from waste we cannot otherwise rid ourselves of very quickly. This isn't just the big stuff, the alcoholism, smoke abuse, or the person who requires a lot of different medications for controlling severe health problems, but the small stuff that we use daily or frequently without thinking. Non-organic produce with insecticide residues, the metals contained in your antiperspirant deodorant, the paracetemol you keep on hand for all the little headaches, the ibuprofen you use every month during period pains. Some herbs are especially beneficial for ridding the body of the damages these goods leave in their wake, and cleansing the liver from clogging toxins often helps the rest of the body to work more efficiently as the blood is cleaner and happier.

Here is a wonderful video, made by the delightfully cheerful Shoshanna of Bulk Herb Store, that provides not only instruction for general tincture making but also information about a liver cleansing tincture.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

immune boost and germ protection

Okay, I know you already are looking at these lists below and wondering why I don't simplify things a bit further. Why blog long lists of herbs? I wanted first to provide you with a source of reference to understand the reasons I have suggested the use of certain herbs together in the recipes at the end of this blog.

It is October, and once again the cold and flu season is upon us. For the last month or two, I have been having various conversations that touch again and again on this topic. How do we keep ourselves, and our families, well? How can we recover faster and better from these common viruses? Well, start by actually having a look at these lists. Antibiotics and antiseptics help fight germs, in the body and out. Anticatarrals help rid the body of mucus, so when you get a snotty, disgusting sinus infection you probably should consider some of the herbs and foods from this list. Antispasmodics? Well, when you're coughing like mad, it hurts, and you will want something to help suppress those coughing spasms. And lastly, flu usually brings fevering along with its other joys, so refrigerants are greatly beneficial in that respect. All five of these lists are taken from the book, Practical Herbalism, by Philip Fritchey. He includes even more than these herbs in each list. I have included these herbs because they are either quite commonly known and available, or they are especially beneficial as ingredients in my recipes below. Herbs in italics are found in more than one list and are especially worth noting.

Antibiotics (Anti-bacterial)
Black Walnut
Colloidal Silver
Honey (raw)

Anticatarrhals (decrease mucus in respiratory and digestive systems)
Black Walnut
Capsicum (chili pepper)
Fennel seeds
Flax seeds
Milk Thistle
Vinegar and honey

Black Walnut (hull and leaves)

Anise seed (infants)
Capsicum (chili pepper)
Lemon Balm
Passion Flower
Red Clover
Red Raspberry

Refrigerants (to cool the body's temperature and reduce thirst)
Lemon Balm
Lemons, limes, oranges

Are you starting to see the common threads? Notice that of the herbs listed here, garlic is the most useful, being indicated to use for all our purposes except as a refrigerant. Let's start with garlic, then.

Garlic: anti-microbial, antibiotic, anti-fungal, immuno-stimulant (boosts the immune system), anti-oxidant, anti-spasmodic, expectorant (removes mucus from throat and lungs), to name a few. Garlic is even valuable as an aid to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels for diabetics.

Shortly before my 15th birthday, my family upped and moved to Northern India, up in the Himalayas. One of the most common problems where we lived was, mercifully, not mosquitos and malaria traveling with them, but something we called "Delhi Belly". Nasty bouts of giardia, caused by drinking impure water, producing major disruption in the gut, diarrhea, vomiting. You could live uneasily with a mild case of Delhi Belly for days or weeks, if you were lucky enough that it did not increase and take over, but the simplest way to handle it was usually a quick trip to the school nurse and a course of some kind of medication. Our protection against this ugly bum-chafing illness was garlic. Raw garlic. Most Indian food typically has garlic in it, so we were already getting some garlic in our daily diets. But this was a step beyond the culinary arts, and besides, cooked garlic has reduced healing properties due to the breakdown caused by heat. Breakfast included personalized combinations of homemade granola, oven toast, scrambled eggs, homemade yogurt, but always, always, a peeled clove of raw garlic, swallowed either whole or in two or three large chunks with a glass of milk. I remember being able to bring myself faithfully to the daily challenge much better than did my younger brothers, who I would hear trying to wriggle out of their garlic with excuses of forgetting or having just brushed teeth, but I also had fewer battles of tummy trouble than they did in that first year.

My sister-in-law loves to travel. She also loves Jesus, and loves mission work, and she is a medic. Inevitably, the combination has taken her to some interesting places in the world, places where mosquitos are not merely irritating but can be harmful or deadly due to borne diseases. Anyone who knows the long list of common side effects from malaria tablets will understand the desire to avoid taking them unless absolutely necessary. However, even when a body is protected against malaria, other diseases, such as malaria-related Dengue fever, do not yet have protective inoculations either by needle jab or pill packet. My sister did some research and discovered a simpler way to keep herself well and protected from the nasty insects: garlic tablets and tincture of black walnut, daily. So simple. I have since heard more reports, particularly from mission families, of the same prevention from mozzies.

I could go on and on about the benefits of raw garlic! It is wonderful stuff. Let me make a few suggestions, though, for those of you who are not yet accustomed to the thought. Odorless garlic tablets are available. I still suggest raw, fresh cloves, as they are not only the cheapest and most readily available form of garlic anywhere in the world, but the natural, organic form is untreated by chemicals or processing. If you are brave enough to try the real stuff, start by taking it with a meal. Garlic burps are by far less likely to occur if you have some food in your stomach, even just a bit of toast or half a banana. Then, there is the taste on the tongue. I can and have swallowed many cloves simply with water. Milk does a great job of hiding the flavor as the garlic goes down, though, and is a good option for older children. Younger children might want a small teaspoon of honey with just a few tiny bits of fresh crushed garlic folded into the center. You might be surprised how willingly a child will eat garlic if they get something sweet as well! So, there is my first tip for immune-boost and germ protection this season. Consume raw garlic. 

A few other things are helpful to keep around the house, too. As I hope you noticed, herbs are great at multi-tasking. Here are a few recipes to try, and why.

Immune-Boost Tea
Echinacea root and herb, elderberries, and rosehips 2 parts each by weight
Nettle and peppermint 1 part each by weight

Mix together and store sealed, dry, dark, as you would with all herbs. To use, make a decoction by simmering for 20 to 30 minutes in a non-aluminum pot with a lid on before straining and drinking a cup at a time. Echinacea has a very long list of uses, both inside and outside the body, due to it's remarkable effect of increasing white blood cells. This tea is for emergency use, however, such as after exposure to illness or when you start seeing symptoms of cold and flu. The reason for this is that echinacea bears huge and wonderful immune properties when not used as a regular cure, but overuse or regular use of echinacea reduces the stimulant in the body and eventually will stop working. So, this common Native American tribal herb is best used internally at the time of need, or externally at the point of injury. Elderberries help reduce a fever.

Honey Tincture for Kids
Pack a glass canning jar 2/3rds full with echinacea root and elderberries. Fill up with honey, and cap. Either in a crock pot on low or on the stove top, keep the jar hot by sitting it in a hot water bath not quite bubbling for a full 3 days. Once strained of the herbs, this herbal infused honey "tincture" can be given to children for immune boosting properties simply on a spoon. This is great for children who are not so thrilled about drinking tea.

As you can see in the lists above, the mint family is wonderful for combating illnesses that are already contracted but also helpful as prevention. Unlike the echinacea-based tea, this next recipe is one you may drink far more regularly without fear of dulling your body's response. This is a light, refreshing drink, lovely both hot and cold, and in my experience goes down very well with grumpy men with sore throats as well as children who are under-the-weather or trying not to be ill.

Lemony Throat-soother Tea
Blend equal parts (by weight) of lemon balm and catnip along with a slightly lesser portion of thyme. Add fresh or dried lemon peel (use a vegetable peeler to get the colored part only) as desired.
Do not simmer to brew, as you did for the Immune-Boost! Catnip is a delicate herb that requires careful attention more than most, or you might accidentally compromise it's marvelous qualities with too much heat. Infuse this tea: place dried herbs in a pot with a lid, pour boiling water directly over them and cover immediately. Allow the herbs to infuse the water for 10 minutes or so, covered the whole time, and drink hot or allow to cool completely as you desire, and sweeten with honey. But please remember not to simmer, and to keep covered. For children, give up to 2 ounces every hour while cold and flu symptoms persist.

Listerine mouthwash contains thymol, taken from thyme herb, as one of the main ingredients, and Listerine Antiseptic still adheres to almost the same formula that Joseph Lister produced in 1874. Thyme has a remarkable quality for killing germs and made one of the first official surgical theater sterilizing cleaning fluids by Lister, twinned with the use of eucalyptus. Lemon Balm is most commonly used by herbalists to ease all symptoms considered to "proceed from a disordered state of the nervous system." It retains similar properties and benefits to catnip but I include it in this recipe especially for it's anti-depressive quality, as I find illness so easily lowers the spirits. Catnip, though, is the one that I want to particularly make a fuss over. It is, among other things, antispasmodic (cough suppressant), refrigerant (reduces fever), emmenagogue (aids flow in menstrual cycle, thereby reducing pain), sedative and nervine (soothes nervous system), antacid (soothes tummy), and astringent (shrinks mucus membranes). The flowering tops of catnip is one of tradition's most often used remedies for cold and flu, aids sleep without causing sweating, and is especially wonderful for use in the treatment of children since it covers such a broad range of complaints and yet is mild in flavor.

I hope this provides you with an abundance more information, and some helpful ways to keep your family healthy during these cold months. The lists at the top of this blog include many more foods and herbs than I have listed in my recipes so that you not only have avenue for more ideas but can look through your pantry and pull out oatmeal with raisins, and cranberry juice, for example, as a breakfast well-suited to further reducing cold virus symptoms. Check out my posts, also from October 2012, on herbal hand sanitizer and cleaning spray, for more ideas on combating nasty germs while avoiding high costs and damaging chemicals.

My family and I wish you Healthy Holidays!

rice milk

Anyone who has had to go dairy-free for any length of time will know the frustrations such dietary restrictions can have on a person's grocery budget. For me, going without dairy altogether for a while is fine. And then I hit the wall. I want tea! My resolve weakens significantly when I can't have my proper cup of PG Tips, brewed in my Brown Betty teapot with a hand knitted cozy, with milk. Black tea just isn't the same. Herbal tea tides me over for a good long while, as half of my enjoyment of tea is the process. The ritual of boiling and brewing. (Appropriate phrasing for October, don't you think?) But even then, some of my herbal brews are simply delightful with something a little milky, a little creamy, added in. So, being wary of sacrificing other items for the sake of boxed and processed goods, I started researching some options for homemade dairy-free solutions. I found the recipe for homemade rice milk here:

But in case this link ever gets removed (as happens sometimes with older links), here is the recipe again.

1 c cooked basmati rice
3 c water
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsp sweetener of choice

Put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on high for 2 minutes. Strain. Refrigerate. Use within a week. Yields a little over 3 cups.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

carrot ginger soup

Carrot Ginger Soup
2 lbs carrots, chopped
1/2 (1 c) lg sweet onion, chopped
4 TB fresh ginger root, minced
4 TB olive oil

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
4 c chicken stock
salt and pepper and a swirl of cream to serve, as desired 

In large, lidded pot, simmer onion in olive oil to partially clear.
Add and combine all the rest of the ingredients. Cover. Once cooked, blend to perfectly smooth. Serve with or without a dab of cream swirled in the center. Yields 2 quarts.

How ridiculously easy is that?! I love making this soup in bulk, 2 batches at once, and freezing 3 of the 4 quarts for future meals. It is just as good thawed and reheated, which not all soups are. Just ensure you freeze this soup dairy-free when you freeze, as cream doesn't defrost brilliantly in soups. This is one of my very favorite soups for company, as a small bowl of warmed, warming carrot and ginger is delightful to the palate and pairs well with quite a few different styles of cuisine.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

herbal cleaning spray

This is related to my post on herbal hand sanitizer, so if you are interested in more information about the ingredients then go squint at the other post.

Herbal Cleaning Spray
1 quart glass canning jar with lid and ring
the colored rind of one orange or lemon (use a veg peeler to avoid the white pith which isn't useful) 
1-2 ounces of eucalyptus herb and lavender flowers
white vinegar

Pack herbs and rind into the jar. Fill up to the top with white vinegar. Cap, store dark and cool for 6 weeks. Strain. Use in a spray bottle diluted 50%. Store unused solution in the jar in the fridge or a cool, dark cabinet, clearly labeled and dated. I keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker in a drawer in my kitchen for easy labeling that doesn't run in case of a spill. 

Use this as a spritz for anything you need sanitized. Follow up with a damp cloth and wipe clean. Kitchen counters, sinks, toilets. I don't recommend using anything with a vinegar base on mirrors or you will result in a prematurely antique-styled mirror face, which might look a little odd if that is not the look you had planned for in your decor. But this works on pretty much everything else that can be wiped clean. You may add a drop or two of biodegradable Original Blue Dawn liquid dish soap to the bottle if you wish to combat oils and residue a little harder, but I find that this spray is usually sufficient alone.

The hand sanitizer does not contain lavender. The reason these lovely flowers are used here is not only the fragrance that will gently cleanse funky odors from your house as you work, but also because lavender is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. You can use rosemary instead, if you wish, for the same reasons but with a different fragrance. I prefer lavender's softer finish to the smell. Lavender is also extremely gentle on the skin, which is comforting to me as I am terrible about remembering to buy or use rubber gloves when I clean.

There are so many variations on herbal cleaning sprays you can make! Many herbs bear properties which are antiviral, antiseptic, antibiotic, or two or all three together in one herb. Consider those properties according to your intended use -- for example, you probably want as many anti-germ properties as possible in a toilet cleaning spray -- and then think about the scents you like. Here are some other combinations you might like to try. Perhaps you like a certain odor to linger in the bathroom and a different one in the kitchen, or you might want to change up the scent according to the season. Perhaps you want to use herbs growing in your garden and so harvest fresh (to use twice the volume as you would have for dried herbs). I like to rotate my scents just to keep things interesting, and often have two different blends going at a time.
  • orange peel, peppermint
  • lemon peel, thyme, oregano
  • lemon peel, eucalyptus 
  • orange peel, cinnamon essential oil or freshly chipped sticks, cloves
  • Vinegar of the Four Thieves mix (equal parts of lavender, sage, rosemary, peppermint, and wormwood)
  • lavender, lemongrass
  • simply citrus -- peels of orange, lemon, grapefruit

hand sanitizer

I love killing bad germs. What I'm not so fond of is killing good germs. Or drying out my skin. Or paying lots of money! Herbal hand sanitizer is so easy to make, I'm wondering why I didn't discover it sooner. I only started making it after my son was born. With a tiny baby in the house, I admit I get a little germophobic. Hands must be washed a zillion times a day, and sanitized between times. If you use anything with an alcoholic base, such a routine wreaks havoc on tender skin. It got so bad within the first few weeks that the skin underneath my wedding ring was chapped raw, flaking, red, and sore so that I had to remove my ring until my finger healed. That's when I figured there had to be a better way. And no way was that better going to involve not washing and cleaning my hands.

Herbal Hand Sanitizer
1 pint glass canning jar, with lid and ring
1/2 c eucalyptus herb
the colored rind of one orange
the colored rind of one lemon
apple cider vinegar

To get the colored rind from the fruit, use a vegetable peeler. The colored part is where all the good essential oils lie, and those oils are what is not only fragrant and slightly moisturizing, but where all the good anti-germ super power lies. I suppose you could use a few drops of distilled essential oil of orange and lemon, but then you have to keep shaking your finished solution to keep it all mixed up. This way, not only is it cheaper but you never have to worry about it separating. Orange has been cited in the use of cellular regeneration. Lemon is widely known to be astringent and antiseptic. Each has many other good qualities but I am sure you can go find more information if these wonderful points are not convincing enough for you.

Eucalyptus is a tropical tree. Once upon a time, my husband traveled to Australia and swam in a natural pool surrounded by eucalyptus. The water was saturated with the stuff. He was warned not to swallow any of the water, as the oil from these trees makes them not only highly flammable but tainted that pool of water to be poisonous. So, don't drink your herbal hand sanitizer! The good news is that the oil from eucalyptus is deterrent to insects and especially germs. Distilled as an essential oil, it combats airborne viruses. In our hand sanitizer, it works magic action against all the bad germs that you really don't want making their way inside your body from hand to mouth or nose.

And apple cider vinegar? Good carrier. Gentle on the skin. I actually use it to clean my hair, as a diluted rinse following a baking soda "scrub" on my scalp, instead of shampoo.

Pack your herbs and rind into the jar. Fill up with vinegar to the top. Cap. Store in a dark, cool place, such as a kitchen cabinet or the fridge, for 3 weeks. Give it a good shake on occasion. At the end of this time, use a thin rag or cheesecloth to strain and squeeze out the solids from the liquid. The remaining liquid is your sanitizer. Store in the fridge. Use as is or diluted 50%. I have this in a dollar store spray bottle on my kitchen ledge, and a tiny spray bottle in my purse so that I don't have to use an alcoholic sanitizer when I'm on the go. My one year old son gets his hands sprayed with this stuff at least once a day. I'm not concerned about poisoning him, as I ensure his hands are either followed up with a quick wipe with a damp cloth or let to dry before he can put them into his mouth. He is still mostly crawling and his little hands go everywhere they can possibly reach. I like knowing I'm fighting germs where I can, and he is used to a quick spray and a "clap your hands dry" game after a visit to the grocery store.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

lemon poppy seed muffins

For the last three weeks I have been on a "diet" of sorts, eliminating dairy, wheat and sugar from my diet. Sugar includes honey and maple syrup and molasses, too, by the way, not only the white processed stuff. We do have cheats from time to time, on the weekend.

This morning, we really wanted muffins! We hadn't had muffins in quite a while. So, I compromised and they are not wheat-free or sugar-free, but they are dairy-free.

Here is the recipe I started with. They really are quite delicious. You can add berries, fresh or frozen, to the batter and fold in last, increasing bake time by 3 minutes, without altering the rest of the recipe. Very handy.

Joy of Cooking Basic Muffins

Whisk together:
2 c all-purpose flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Whisk together in another bowl:
2 lg eggs
1 c milk or cream
2/3 c sugar or packed light brown sugar
4-8 Tbs warm melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Use quick, light strokes to add wet to dry, mixing only until dry ingredients are barely moistened. Divide into 12 cups in muffin/cupcake tin. Bake 15 minutes at 400F.

Jeanie's Dairy-free Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Whisk together:
2 c whole wheat flour
1 Tb baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp poppy seeds
1/4 tsp ground orange peel
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Whisk together in another bowl:
2 lg eggs
1 c water plus 3 Tbs mango-orange juice concentrate
a scant 1/2 c sugar or warm honey
6 Tbs warm melted odorless coconut oil 
3 tsp lemon essence

Use quick, light strokes to add wet to dry, mixing only until dry ingredients are barely moistened. Divide into 12 cups in muffin/cupcake tin. Dust tops of muffins with a light sprinkle of poppy seeds. Bake 15 minutes at 400F.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

milkin' cookies

My friend, Lindsay B, is a doula -- a woman's advocate, especially in situations where women need extra encouragement from another woman, such as during labor. Such an amazing lady. She has all kinds of tricks and tips up her sleeve. When my son was born, she sweetly brought me and my husband dinner, along with a special new-mama bag of goodies for me. Boobie rice bags for heating or cooling the breasts (I used them all the time for a while!), honey sticks, a little book of helpful ideas for communicating with growing baby, and a tub of the most amazing lactation cookies I have tasted yet. I have tried a few recipes since then and just not found anything to match hers.

Lindsay gave me permission to post her "Milkin' Cookies" recipe here, to share with you all. I hope you try them and love them as much as I do! Also, go check out her blogspot. She has a lot to offer, and if you want to find out more about what a doula does, definitely stop by there!

Nursing Cookies Recipe
1 1/2 cups butter (or coconut oil if you are dairy free)
1 1/3 cups brown sugar (or 1 3/4 tsp stevia instead of the brown and white sugar, for sugar free)
2/3 cups white sugar (see above for sugar free)
2 eggs (or 3 tsp egg replacer mixed with 4 TB water for egg free)
2 tsp pure vanilla ~OR~ almond extract
3 cups flour (or 3 cups rice flour for gluten free)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups oats (for gluten free make sure it is certified GF)
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup of dried fruit
1 cup of chocolate chips (optional)
Melt butter and place in large mixing bowl. Stir in sugars, add eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Blend together wet and dry ingredients until moistened. Add oats, nuts, fruit and chocolate chips and stir. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 F for approximately for 15 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes and cooling rack for 20 minutes more. Makes 2 dozen large, 3 dozen smaller cookies.

I find that this recipe is more crumbly when both gluten-free and sugar-free, but still delicious! I also had better results when gently shaping and flattening the cookies on the sheets, rather than just dropping spoonfuls. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

root beef stew

Root Beef Stew
. Delicious in cool weather, warming and healthy, and uses ingredients which are easy to come by during the winter months.

Begin by marinating beef 4-12 hours. Combine, and refrigerate

2 lbs stew beef, or chopped roast
2 c red wine
1/8 c Worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
1 Tb black pepper

About 2 1/2 hours before you plan to eat (or store) your stew, start doing these steps. 

Dice evenly
2 medium potatoes, peeled or scrubbed
3 carrots
2 parsnips
1 small turnip
1 or 2 cups of mushrooms, if you prefer, or leave button mushrooms whole 

and slice 2 medium vine tomatoes into wedges. You can leave out the tomatoes or add whole peeled tomatoes from a can if the season is not offering you good quality fresh fruit.

Set all these aside in a bowl.

Dice 1 large onion, and crush 3-6 cloves of garlic.

Get out a large soup pot and put it on high heat. Add olive oil once the pan it hot and immediately add the garlic and onion. Once partially clarified, use a slotted spoon to drain beef chunks of their marinade and toss them in as well. Sear beef. Don't bother cooking all the way through, but the pan and oil should be just barely less than smoking hot so that the outside of the meat sears quickly and the flavor is trapped inside. It will be a noisy process. It's short, though, so just go for it.

Once the beef is seared, turn heat immediately down to low.
Add all the chopped veg and stir together.
Add the red wine marinade left over from marinating the beef.
Add beef or vegetable stock, alone or combined with water, enough to barely cover the solid ingredients.
Add 1 bay leaf, about 4 inches of rosemary and 3-4 large leaves of sage. Use the whole sprig of rosemary, don't bother taking off the leaves, as you will remove this before serving.
Add salt. Don't bother with more pepper just yet as you had one full tablespoon of the fresh ground good stuff in the marinade you added, remember? Wait and taste later.

Cover your pot. My stovetop and pot work well on the largest burner on gas mark 3. You may have to play a little. The goal is to keep the stew barely bubbling, not quite simmering but close. You are going to leave the stew cooking like this, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The veg will be long cooked by that time, as will the beef, but the whole mess will be lovely and fragrant, beautifully seasoned, and tender by the time you are done. Check it occasionally to ensure there is still enough liquid. Add water as needed.

Once cooked to perfection, there is still one final step to finishing this stew nicely.
Combine in a small bowl 1/4 c cold water and 4 heaped Tb cornstarch thickener.
Pour into stew. Stir in well.
Bring stew up to a simmer, still stirring, until you feel the juices suddenly thicken with the cornstarch.

Allow your stew to sit off the heat for 10 minutes or so before serving. I don't know exactly why, but this seems to make a difference with the flavor. Perhaps it allows the cornstarch to settle in? If you know, please share in the comments! Oh, and remove the sage, rosemary and bay. No need for them anymore. They've done their job.

Root Beef Stew is wonderful served with a crusty loaf of bread and butter, a tossed salad, and baked apples. Dig in!

Monday, September 24, 2012

healthy apple butter

Do you love apple butter? Me, too! But I don't love the calories. Most apple butters contain almost as much butter as they do apple. For a lighter, healthier, but still delicious and delightfully easy alternative, try this.
  • 8 to 10 apples. Core, dice. Don't bother peeling. I assume your apples are washed, so why bother? You can use several different types of apple, or all one type. I don't suggest making it entirely out of Granny Smiths, however, as it might end up a little more tart than you are accustomed to!
  • One stick of butter. That's approximately 1 Tb for each apple. I have used coconut oil in place of butter with good success, for those who can't have dairy. Use your judgement and increase or decrease the amount of fat if your apples are extra large or very small. Cooking apples are the best for this sort of thing as they mush so beautifully and improve in flavor with cooking, but I can't get them where I live at this time in my life, so the regular eating apples I use are generally the right size per Tb of butter. Oh, and please use real butter! No margarine rubbish. Seriously.
  • 3-4 Tb water 
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c brown sugar -- or honey, or ideally none at all
  • 1 Tb cinnamon, ground 
  • 1 tsp ginger root, ground 
  • 1/2 tsp orange peel, ground 
  • 1 Tb vanilla essence 
Dump everything but the vanilla into a large pot with a lid. With lid on, heat on the stove at a low to medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until everything is beautifully mushy. Add the vanilla off the heat. Taste, and modify by increasing spices or sugar amount if you need to.

Now, blend perfectly smooth. I prefer an immersion wand blender for this step, as I don't have to wait for things to cool off. Blend until there are no chunks and no pieces of skin to be found.

Storage. You can refrigerate. Of course, use your judgement regarding the life of your apple butter in the fridge. You can freeze. You can also pack pint sized jars with the hot apple butter and can them in a water bath for 5 minutes, so that you can keep apples on the shelf for a much longer period of time. This apple butter is gorgeous all by itself as a dessert, or spread on toast, or with peanut butter in a sandwich. I've even enjoyed it on vanilla icecream. Yum.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

debunking a herbal myth

As my interest in and use of herbalism has increased, so also has my awareness that we have a lot of misunderstanding about herbs and their uses. In particular, one myth I would like to clarify has been brought to my attention since I began nursing.

My son is a few weeks shy of one year old. He is still nursing strong, many times a day. At one point, early in our nursing relationship, I wasn't sure it would last this long, nor be so good, as we had trouble establishing a latch and then I had to deal with a milk oversupply issue. It wasn't easy. I used herbs while pregnant, while postpartum, while nursing, and I use them still for issues like PMS and cyclic regularity, even natural cleaning, as well as the occasional thing that comes up like bug bites, headaches, spraying greenfly off the roses. Herbs are wonderful in their uses! God's gift to man -- explore the wilds of the earth that was newly formed, subdue and learn all about it, and find out all about nature's medicine cabinet. It is amazing how perfectly His design is formed in nature, where plants that complement each other grow together, and remedial herbs often grow near the plant that caused the complaint.

Since I've been nursing, I have experienced that my son goes through growth spurts from time to time, and requires more milk. This takes more from my body. I like to daily drink about 16 ounces of a blend I make at home which is strong in red raspberry leaf, the ultimate fertility herb, as it is not only safe for my son to try if he feels like sharing but supports and strengthens the workings and regularity of all my woman's parts. And not only that, but red raspberry leaf helps to increase milk ejection reflex, which I have noticed has diminished significantly over the last year as is normal for many women the longer they nurse, and I find that this helps my son stay happy for longer at the breast. He and I have no desires to wean just yet. I find as well that I am benefited by drinking a mother's milk herbal blend, containing galactagogue herbs like fenugreek and blessed thistle, and I will alternate my regular blend with my milk blend for a few weeks at a time as needed.

I have been told that science and modern medicine does not support the use of galatagogue herbs. I have been told that there is no medical evidence that herbs increase milk supply. One must consider, though, that there are many studies which prove that herbs do increase nutritional value for the mother, the quality of her milk, her ejection reflux, and the proportion of fat in her milk, even if the actual number of fluid ounces remains the same. Often, increased nutrition of the mother leads directly to increased milk output, too, although not in every case. I have been told that the success of herbs is purely placebic, and that the same results might be achieved by merely training the body to respond by drinking water at every nursing, and then the body will start producing more milk when water is drunk even not at nursing times. One must consider, then, that even if the success of herbs could be proven to be purely placebo in effect (which it so far has not been proven), the result is still worth achieving and as such is worth promoting as a means to longer success with breastfeeding by more mothers.

While the comments against herbology as an aid to breastfeeding have not been proven, there is still a point to be made. The quality of herbs play a huge factor in the misconceptions out there. The success of any herbal remedy is necessarily going to be due to a combination of appropriate growing for quality and maximum essential oils, correct harvesting, and the freshness of the herbs in the remedy used. Herbs may be used fresh cut for almost any remedy or recipe. Dried herbs are often the most convenient, however, as they last a lot longer on the shelf, requiring only cool, dry and dark. But when red raspberry leaf, for example, is purchased in teabags by a young woman wanting to help regulate her postpartum hormones, typically the product inside the bags was dried and shelved on average up to or even over two years previously. The quality of the herbs has been significantly reduced simply by this elapsed time, as volatile oils and medicinal properties in the dried herbs will decay and diminish as the herbs slowly turn further to dust. This young woman will not experience relief to the extent she had hoped for simply because the product she purchased was not up to scratch. Sadly, the vast majority of dried herbs sold on the market in the USA are over 18 months old before they reach the public. I have nothing here to prove this suspicion, but I greatly suspect the reason that modern medicine typically does not support the use of herbs as remedies is due to this low standard. Of course herbs won't work well, or at all, if they are so old their medicinal properties are chopped to half or less!

The solution is to find a reputable source for purchasing your herbs, and to ensure the quality of those herbs is high because of not only careful handling and packaging but also a very short shelf life before they reached you. Your herbs should be easily less than a year old by the time they reach your hands. Ideally, they should be less than 6 months old by the time you get them, and you would discard anything leftover that passed a year. There are a few sources that are reliable and reputable. I won't give out nasty names to those companies I am less than thrilled with, but I would like to give a shout out to one particular company that I am very favorably impressed with. is my go-to for herbs that I cannot grow and dry myself, as the freshness and quality of their products is beyond outstanding, delivery is fast, and prices are very reasonable. They offer a large selection of bulk herbs individually and blended for specific purposes. Second to BulkHerbStore, I like to visit the bulk herb section of my local health food store for odds and ends, such as bentonite clay and dried plantain for making an anti-acne face masque, and for culinary herbs and spices that I may find inconvenient to take care of at home. Wherever you find your mother's milk tea or any other herbal remedy, though, be aware that not all manufacturers are created equal, and seek out the ones that are going to honor your dollar. Put the best in your body not via price tag but by the quality of the herbs you receive.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Anybody suffer from a nasty headache periodically? I do. Here are my favorite cures.

1. Fill oil burner with water (not oil, as my grandfather mistakenly thought!) and float 10 drops each of orange and peppermint essential oils. I find the peppermint alone a bit piercing, but combined with orange it helps cut the fogginess with less pungency. (Also antibacterial in the air, by the way!)

2. Brew a large pan of tea. 1 tsp red raspberry leaf, 3 tsp peppermint, 2 tsp ginkgo biloba, 1 tsp alfalfa, and a cinnamon stick. Stevia or honey to sweeten. Brew strong, simmering covered on low for several minutes, and then let to cool naturally. Drink hot or cold, and drink lots. I store quart jars of brewed tea in the fridge. For nighttime sleeping, replace the ginkgo with passionflower herb. (They produce basically alternate reactions, so do not use together. Passionflower is also an NSAID and should not be used with cough syrups or other such medications.)

3. Give yourself a facial. Bentonite clay is the best, as it helps draw out heavy metals and toxins from the body, but in a pinch any face masque will do. Make the pack either very warm or chilled from the fridge, and use a steaming hot face cloth to remove it. This will help to not only calm you down, force you to relax a bit as the facial works it's magic, but it will help to stimulate flow and soothe irritated blood vessels in the face and forehead that are contributing to the pain.

Friday, July 27, 2012

red sauce

It seems to me that a lot of people buy ready made tomato sauces because they simply don't know how to make a delicious one from scratch. But they are expensive by comparison! Plus you have no control over ingredients. Here is my super easy, absolutely delicious recipe for homemade all-purpose red sauce. No peeling, no blanching, very little chopping. It makes a lot, so be prepared with extra containers for freezing or canning. I prefer to make my sauce from fresh tomatoes, but if you are not accustomed to that or are not bothered by using pre-canned fruits I have included the quantities for both.

In a large pot with lid, hot simmer until partially clear:
1 large sweet onion, quartered
3-4 cloves garlic, flattened with the back of a knife, optional
2 Tb olive oil

about 30 fresh tomatoes, halved
(OR 8 medium tomatoes, halved, 1 large can (12 oz) tomato paste, plus 1 large can (1 lb) whole tomatoes) 
4-6 large carrots, chopped
optional 2 sweet fresh or hot roasted pepper
the leaves from 5-6 stems of fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary
2 tsp crushed black pepper
1 tsp Celtic sea salt
1 tsp coriander  
(optional 1 Tb brown sugar or raw honey -- I often leave this out)
2 Tb red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar 
2 Tb red wine

Cover and simmer until fresh produce is soft and cooked, and then simmer on low uncovered for up to 2 hours. Once reduced and thickened to your desired consistency, blend smooth with an immersion wand blender. The smell of red sauce permeating the house all morning is delightful!

Ladle into freezer safe canning jars or containers, and freeze. Or, water bath can for easy use later. To can for shelf-stable jars of sauce, add 1 Tb lemon juice to each clean pint jar before filling with hot sauce, and then process for 25 minutes in water bath.

Yields roughly 12-14 cups, or 6-7 pints. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

gripper socks

My son is crawling now -- he went from sitting on his own to rocking forward onto his hands, to now crawling the distance of up to 10 feet, all within the space of about four days! -- and he is thoroughly enjoying his new freedoms. And so the next stage of development begins, where he is starting to want things up high and is pulling himself up on furniture to get them. We have mainly cement floors and a rug only in the living room in the main part of the house. In bare feet, in summer, that's fine. As I anticipated his further growth and development, I started pricing out Skidders, grippy socks, baby shoes... They're so expensive! And the majority of them kinda squish growing tubby feet. My boy still has lovely fat feet.

So... Homemade skidder socks! I got the idea from this lady -- Basically, you start with washed socks. iammomma didn't include this tip but I found it easier to create clean paintings when I stuffed them using other socks. Poof them up a bit so you can see kind of a foot shape, where to put the paint, and the sock doesn't fold over on itself while drying. Then paint! Smaller is better. Long lines tend to fracture more easily, so I avoided large painted designs. If you are lacking in imagination, or don't want a design to show up, use a matching paint color to the sock and stick to only dots. My first pair was white dots on white socks. They barely show, but they did provide a nice grip for my son's feet. Finally, let dry a reaalllllly long time. Twenty-four hours or more. The puffy paint says on the bottle not to wash again until after 72 hours.

I think I will be making a lot of these. There seems no point to me in having socks without grips so that you are constantly searching for the grippy ones, so I will probably go ahead and make all of the boy's socks into grippers. And then some of my own. They look fun!

Monday, June 4, 2012

naked granola bars

When pregnant, I absolutely had to have some kind of food on hand at all times. I quickly discovered that if I did not have a granola bar, piece of dried fruit, of something in my bag when I was out, that would be the time I got suddenly ravenous and faint. We burned through a lot of granola bars, and I discovered that I really don't like many brands out there. Besides flavor, there are the ingredients. Preservatives, and always, always high fructose corn syrup. What's the deal with HFC?! I was at the drug store this morning looking for infant acetaminophen drops for my 8 month old son and finally, after about 30 minutes of looking and 2 assistants helping me, found one, a CVS product, tucked way at the back of the baby section all by itself and nowhere near all the other infant pain relief products on aisle 13. I hate high fructose corn syrup. It's in everything, the filthy stuff. So, back to last year, I decided one day I'd had enough of buying granola bars. I would make my own. I already made my own granola, so how hard could it be?

What I have here is fairly similar to the recipe on Joyful Abode with which I began, but I have altered a few quantities and ingredients, just a bit, to produce what I think is a nicer bar. We call them "naked" because there is nothing but pure natural goodness with real ingredients in this.

Naked Granola Bars

Lightly toast in 400F oven for about 10 minutes:
2 c oats
1/2 c wheat germ / baker's bran/ oat flour
1/4 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c seeds
1 c nuts, bashed into pieces with mortar and pestle

Bring to a rolling boil in saucepan:
3/4 to 1 c honey, or part honey and part black strap molasses
4 Tb salted butter
3 tsp vanilla
no extra salt needed

Mix dry with wet in large bowl with 1 c mixed dried fruit as desired.

Press into a large casserole dish lined with wax paper. Press with paper on the top as well, and an oven mitt as it will be quite hot, and pack mixture down firmly, pushing to all sides and flattening evenly. Leave to cool. Cut into bars, and store individually wrapped in cling film and in an airtight container. Lasts weeks.

Pictured here is a batch of energy packed granola bars made for a tired pregnant mama. I used 50:50 honey and black strap molasses which give these bars their dark color, added 1/2 cup natural chunky peanut butter, raisins for fruit, flax seeds, and about 2/3rd cup of chocolate chips pressed into the top of the tray before cooling, chilling, and chopping up.

The calorie load for this basic recipe: Of course, variations will affect things somewhat, but at least this still provides a general idea for those who care. Make the basic recipe using all honey, no sugar, as prescribed, flax seeds, 1 c mixed nuts, and 1 c mixed dried fruit. Cut the cooled casserole dish shape bar into 28 pieces. I was typically getting 14 out of a batch already, sometimes 16, and breaking the bars in half when I needed a snack. Cutting them into that portion size that suits me is no more difficult than the extra wrapping and makes life just a little simpler as they are already in the size I need. So, one batch making 28 bars = 149 calories each! Or do the math for differently sized bars based on this number. It's also kinda fun to make granola bites instead of bars. 

 On the left are peanut butter and chocolate chewy bars, made with honey, ground flax seeds, and whole chia seeds. On the right, a tropical bar made with honey, chopped pecans, ground flax and whole chia seeds, finely flaked coconut, papaya, and cranberries. I mixed the (untoasted and raw) seeds with the glue before adding the rest of the dry mix in, as chia seeds are so small and tend to sneak off the bars more easily.

Naked Granola Bar Variations:

Peanut butter chewy bars:
  • use sesame seeds in dry mix, no added nuts, and no vanilla in the wet
  • reduce honey by 2 Tbs
  • once wet is cooked to 'glue', add 1/2 c peanut butter
  • use raisins for the fruit

Thanksgiving bars:
  • use almonds in the dry mix, and orange extract instead of vanilla in the wet
  • use dried fruit-sweet cranberries for the fruit, and while mixing add a very small amount (about 2-3 Tbs) of white chocolate chips

Mama's Milk (lactation) bars:
  • use flax seeds in dry mix
  • add to dry mix after it has been toasted -- 1 Tb each of crushed fennel seed and fenugreek seed, 2 Tb ground red raspberry leaf herb, and 1 c coconut flakes
  • replace 1/4 of honey with black strap molasses and proceed with 'glue' boiling as usual
  • as fruit, use a blend of raisins and chopped dates

If you want to add chocolate chips to any recipe, it is easiest to use frozen chocolate as these don't then turn into a sticky mess when pressing on to the top of the hot bar mixture in the pan. Or you could spread a thin layer of melted chocolate all over the top of the cooled bars, chill to set, and dip your knife in hot water to cut cleanly into bars. (If using homemade chocolate, be sure to temper it properly or the granola bars won't do well at room temperature.)