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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.)


I love granola. But I'm picky. Dad kind of spoiled us a bit by baking homemade granola through most of my growing up. He gave me a taste for granola that has both soft and crunchy, varied texture and sizes of chunks. My recipe is rather different than his, but we still love it. My husband will eat this stuff by the handful for a snack, with yogurt or milk, pretty much any time of day.

Mix dry together in large bowl:
3 1/2 c raw oats
1/2 c baker's bran or wheat germ
2 Tb whole grain wheat flour
1 c semi-crushed nuts
1 Tb cinnamon
1 tsp ground orange peel
1/4 c sesame or flax seeds
1/2 tsp salt

In saucepan, bring to a soft, frothing boil:
1/4 c brown sugar or honey
1/2 c honey
1/3 c olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir wet into dry. Spread evenly on one baking tray, and pop into a 325F oven for 20 minutes. Once baked, add 1 1/2 cups of dried fruit and stir into the hot granola. Let cool. Store airtight for several weeks. Yields approximately 2 1/2 lbs.

Use a mortar and pestle to bash up whole nuts into irregular sizes for interesting texture.

Granola breakfast topped with natural live yogurt and plum sauce.

Pictured here is a flourless batch, half sized (yes, you can half the recipe), made with chia and sesame seeds, coconut flakes, papaya, cranberries and raisins.

Friday, June 1, 2012

bread tutorial and recipe

I've adapted this bread recipe and thought I might share, now that my adaptation has been tried and tested for a few years with success. This particular recipe started with my English granny, and then my dad has been making it for most of my life (possibly with a few tweaks himself), and now I've changed it slightly to produce a darker, denser, hard-to-flop sandwich loaf that kids love as well as adults. I had used the original recipe with brilliant success almost every week by hand during university...but then moved to Arizona, and the climate plus oven change was so drastic I seemed to lose my touch for about a year, especially during summer! Every loaf had a slight dip in the top and a slightly-too-crumbly center. I was not happy. So I did a fair bit of research, trial and error, not wanting to give up on my favorite bread recipe, and have finally found a method that works every time beautifully for me again. I am confident that it will still work just as well in damper climates, despite my tweaks for Arizona.

The method I detail here, with my improved recipe, can be done by hand just as well or better with good technique. I personally do all my own kneading totally by hand now, never with a mixer or (gasp!) bread machine -- even the words 'bread machine' leave an ugly taste in my mouth -- and I teach kneading by hand in my bread lessons. But since proper dough kneading is a dying art form, I am hedging the bet that most of my readers will not know, but will have a KitchenAid with bread hook, or the equivalent. The recipe will still work with a bread hook. Just be aware that you may still have to knead by hand a little before setting to rise. Try it and enjoy.

This shows what we call "the crumb". A fine crumb is evidence of a loaf well made, evenly shaped, that doesn't crumble too much when sliced and the texture inside the loaf is regular and without holes. A dense crumb is evidence of too little gluten binding. Correct the next batch by kneading longer and more steadily, and ensuring enough moisture is present in the dough. If it feels dry as you knead, wet your hands, not the dough, and knead the dampness in. A holey or uneven crumb is evidence of too much yeast, or of unabsorbed fats. Don't add extra fats after the first rise, not even to grease the bowl. Instead, dampen the bowl with water, if necessary. Holes only near the top third of the loaf are evidence of too long a rise after shaping the loaves. Reduce rise time in the next batch.
Makes 1 loaf.
20 min prep
60 ish min rise x2
10 mins 400 F, then 25 mins 340 F
Freezes well, in halves for small families if need be. Defrost on counter or in microwave.

Combine in mixer bowl -
3 c whole wheat or granary flour
(or blend white and wheat to total 3 c flours -- be aware that less whole wheat may require slightly less water)
You may use home milled 100% whole wheat. This still makes a beautiful loaf! I prefer to use 1/3rd hard white wheat and 2/3rds hard red wheat, for a sweet, nutty flavor, and plenty of natural gluten present in these grains. I have not required any of the additives, stabilizers or extra gluten I have read about in other blogs. I do not recommend using soft white wheat for bread baking as it contains significantly less natural gluten and does not proof as well. You may find with home milled whole grain flours that you require one Tbs more or less than a cup of water, due to the higher fiber content, but it seems to depend on the particular grain whether more or less is needed. Work patiently and slowly, adding little amounts of extra water as you need it rather than all at once. 

Add and stir in -
1/4 c (4 Tb) butter
1 tsp sea salt

You will also need 1 tsp good quality dried active yeast, and 1 c (8 oz) baby bath temperature water.

Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients+butter, and add yeast and water. You may add a few tablespoonfuls of raw honey as well. Let sit a few minutes until the yeast activates and starts to froth at the surface of the liquids. With a dough hook on your mixer, mix on a low speed (not going above medium, as this alters the temperature of the dough and can break forming gluten strands) for about 10 minutes, scraping flour from the sides of the bowl. Dough should form a smooth, even, almost honey-color lump around the dough hook.

If you prefer, you may use part orange juice in place of some of the water. Make sure it is not fridge cold, though! Orange juice can provide a few more natural sugars for yeast to latch onto and eat quickly, and so it can smooth the process for those just beginning the learning-curve of baking bread. The honey and blackstrap molasses do the same. I often make our regular bread without either juice or sweeteners. The trick is in knowing dough texture well, having good quality yeast, and having seen many loaves both succeed and fail and adapting my dough handling accordingly. The more you bake bread, the more you will gain an intuition in your fingertips for how each batch of dough will prove.

If dough is sticking a lot to the sides of the bowl, add a little more wholewheat flour by 1 tsp increments to the sides of the bowl if using a mixer, or to the board by hand, being careful not to add too much flour or dough will toughen.

To shape dough for rising, both in first and second stages (2nd rise is in loaves), you need to understand the importance of gluten. If you gently stretch a section of dough between your fingers, you will see spaghetti-like strands in the dough. This is the gluten binding. When you handle dough, it is important to leave as many of these strands intact as possible. Use your palms, the heel of the hand, and if you must use your fingers keep them tight and flat together in a paddle shape. Never poke the dough! To shape your desired lump of dough for each stage of rising, gently roll and knead against a faintly flour-dusted counter, using the hand heel, while pulling sides underneath. It should be smooth and unbroken on top once shaped, and may have several pleats or creases, a little like a wrapped gift, on the underside where it rests.

Carefully collect dough into a lump on the counter. Lightly rinse the inside of the bowl with hot water. It need not be clean of flour debris, just warmed and wet. Shape dough for rising, place in bowl, cover top of bowl with very damp cloth (I prefer a washcloth in dry AZ), and set in warm area to rise for 1hr. This rising step is called "proving" the dough. Do not grease the bowl as unblended fats may add holes to your finished bread. If your house or kitchen runs cool, or in the winter, you may place the rising bowl/tins over a heating pad on lowest setting. Yeast needs warmth. 80F is perfect. Liberally grease and flour one 8x4 bread tin per loaf. Crisco or bacon grease is better than butter for greasing, especially cheap butter which might still allow sticking.

Update! I've finally added, almost 2 years after the original tutorial, a quick video so you can see bread dough kneading in action.

Once dough is at least doubled in size, or has been rising undisturbed the bowl for not more than 60 minutes, uncover and deflate. "Punching down" dough is not a helpful term, as it implies a hard, swift action that breaks the gluten strands you have been so careful to encourage! Deflate the dough by pulling it gently but firmly away from the sides of the bowl and into one smooth lump again. Using the hand heel once more, knead your dough 5-10 minutes, until air is fully gone. Push dough away from the body with the hand heel of left hand, pull back with paddled fingers, repeat with the other hand. Kneading is a smooth, rhythmic action. Keep strokes steady. A key trick to kneading with ease is to put the weight of the push into your body, not your arm. Having an appropriate height on which to knead makes a big difference with this. Shorter women may find that a dining table is a better height than the kitchen counter. Good kneading is a light workout but should not feel strenuous. My  student who fastest learned good technique for kneading is a professional masseuse. Not surprisingly.

Divide dough into equal lumps, one for each loaf. (If you are new to this lesson and are making one loaf of bread, there is no need to divide. I usually double the above given recipe to make two loaves at a time.) Divide by pulling, not with a knife, so that the gluten breaks where it is naturally weakest and you do not sever stronger strands by force. Shape each loaf portion for rising into a smooth oblong loaf and place in your bread tin. To do this, smooth and fold edges of the dough to the underside, creating a round ball with an even top and crumpled underside in the same way as you shaped the dough for the first proof, and then roll or pat gently into an oblong shape to match the length of the bread tin before dropping it quickly in place. Rise until desired height, about 45 minutes, not exceeding 60 minutes. Well-shaped dough will form a smooth, even height over the top of the loaf. If it does not, do not deflate and reshape as yeast has a limited life, but take a little more care in shaping next time.

Bake loaves at 400F for 10 minutes, then turn down oven to 340F for 25 minutes. (If you are using an electric oven instead of gas or cast iron, bake at 400F for 8 minutes and turn down oven to 340 for 27 minutes.) Cool loaves on wire racks.

To tell if the loaf is cooked, do not poke as you would do a cake. It should appear golden brown on top. You may have been lucky or smooth-handed enough to achieve a second rise in the oven, with more loaf height than when you put it in. Tip out the hot loaf to cradle it in your cloth- or mitt-covered hand. Tap the underside of the loaf with your nail. It should be firm with a slight spring, and should have a dull ring to it as if you were tapping a wooden table the same way.

*please note: I buy my yeast as dried active, but not shelf stable, from Mount Hope local health food store. It keeps for months but in the fridge, not the cupboard. You can use shelf-stable yeast from the grocery store but remember it takes longer to activate (froth). When I was at college, there was no affordable health food store nearby but I did not prefer shelf-stable yeast, so I would buy a cheap block of fridge yeast from the supermarket baker. Many places offer this. It is worth checking.

**please note: It is NOT worth using cheap, bleached, low-grade flour. Never ever. You don't have to purchase the most expensive flour out there, but two things are worth noting. One, bleached white flour and many brands unbleached white flour are not exclusively wheat, which alters the gluten content (and therefore binding ability) of the dough. For this reason, do NOT make this bread from white flour alone unless you know for sure it is bread standard 9-13% protein and 100% wheat. However, this bread absolutely can be made with 100% wholewheat alone. Two, whole wheat flour is best when bought at the correct protein content, which is usually labelled on the shelf for bread baking. It is well worth the dollar or two more per 5lb bag than cheap wholewheat. Once again, if the protein is not sufficient in the flour, your dough will not bind and will then have trouble rising evenly. If you mill your own flours at home from whole grain wheat, your proteins will be ideal for bread, so don't worry!

chai latte

(I had originally posted this on my other blog, but it makes more sense now on this one, so adding it.)

My version of a homemade chai latte, in the absence of milk steamer, etc.

First, make a very strong, no-milk spiced chai. To 6 cups of simmering water add:
3 level Tbs loose leaf darjeeling
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 cinnamon stick
Simmer on low, with a lid, for about 5 minutes to make a very strong brew.

Fill a mug half full of no-milk chai. Add 1 tsp sugar, or sweetener as desired.

Put the other half a mug's worth of hot milk in a French coffee press, and use the plunger to froth your milk! Pour over the top of your chai, sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, and there you have it. Chai latte. My husband says my chai latte's rival those Starbucks and of Jerona's in town, which is exactly what I was aiming for because he loves them so.

By the way, soy milk froths quite easily! Don't put as much effort into it as with cow's milk. You can also vary this recipe by changing up the spices, such as making a pumpkin pie or caramel latte. Let me bust some AZ myths right now, though -- some weirdos are under the impression that it is English to drink things like peppermint tisane (it is not tea if it is herbal and not made with tea leaves) with cream or milk added. NOT so. And I personally wouldn't advise brewing a tisane latte... You might be in for some disappointment! ;)