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Thursday, December 12, 2013

"flu shot" antiviral essential oil blend

Flu Shot in a Bottle

The top brands of essential oils all sell some blend of essential oils, either pure or diluted in a carrier oil, for use as an antiviral agent. "Immune Strength", which you see above, is by Native American Nutritionals (Rocky Mountain Oils -- for some reason, the company seems to have two names but sells the same products -- anyone who knows why, please share below), and is a reliable pure antiviral blend. However, if you wish to make your own blend, perhaps because you might be intolerant to one of the oils in a premix, or because you wish to try your own, here is a reliable recipe I got from a friend that will get you started. You can adjust this as you need. Please also do your own research on the use and properties of essential oils.

10 lemon
10 melaleuca (tea tree)
15 oregano
15 combined orange, cinnamon or cinnamon cassia, clove, eucalyptus, and rosemary

Lemon and oregano essential oils alone will give you a good strong punch of antiviral, antibacterial cleansing power. All these oils combined together produce a very powerful, very effective antiviral pop of neat oils which you can use in various ways.

One. Add 50 drops of the combined neat blend to a 10 ml roller ball, top up with fractionated coconut oil, and apply to soles of feet daily as an antiviral immune boost during cold and flu season. (This is a 10% dilution, for your information.)

Two. Add 5 drops of the combined neat blend to 1 oz bottle of water, or water and white vinegar, for a sanitizing spray. We use this spray on hands, car seats, grocery carts, in the air, on plane trays and restaurant high chairs and tables. I will even spray this on the outside of my son's sippy cups, wiping it off with a baby wipe or clean paper tissue before giving it to him to drink.

I don't personally recommend the use of essential oils internally, and bear in mind that eucalyptus and tea tree are both considered unsafe for consumption by most sources, but I do use this blend with confidence on little hands that I know end up going in mouths. Educate yourself and decide whether you want to simply leave out those two oils in favor of safer edibles for your family's security.

Three. Add 3 to 5 drops to an essential oil burner or diffuser, or even a humidifier, as an antiviral aid in the air.

We take off at the end of this month to spend Christmas and the New Year with my family in England. The "flu shot" roller ball dilution will be coming with me on the plane, as will a hand san spray. The neat blend will be coming with me in my checked baggage, for use at my parents' house. Even just getting a mild tummy bug or the sniffles is worse than no fun while traveling, and our bodies can sometimes be more susceptible to foreign viruses that we have not developed some natural immunity to while living in our regular communities. This provides a very easy, inexpensive, low-liquid and travel-friendly option for helping to keep us well and happy without becoming obsessively anti-germ while we enjoy the company of family overseas. It also smells fabulous and even masks the strong scent of white vinegar, which is worth considering! Since using this blend in hand san sprays, I have been complimented at restaurants, parks, grocery stores, churches, and some people even ask to try a spray on their own hands. I'm always happy to oblige.

homemade deodorant roller balls

If you are a regular reader here, or a good friend of mine, you probably already know I make my own deodorant these days. It's been pretty reliable for me. I also quite like the scent of raw coconut oil, the scent-untouched kind, and I feel it wears well on the skin. It lends a little sweetness without making me smell of coconut all day. However, not everyone likes that. And sometimes, a little extra punch of fragrance can be lovely. So, make your own deodorant scent.

You can mix in essential oils to your deodorant base when you make the stuff. That works. But sometimes I like no fragrance, and sometimes I want to mix it up. I don't like to be chained to one thing all the time. Depending on the essential oils you use, too, you can achieve a yummy body odor with their antibacterial and antifungal properties, not just masking but helping to further neutralize the inevitable sweat that happens. It's like adding a jet pack to your original deodorant.

Basically, I just mix up roller ball bottles with essential oils. To a 10 ml glass roller, add 40-50 drops of pure essential oils and then top up the bottle with fractionated coconut oil. This makes about a 20-25% dilution. You can use another oil as a carrier, too, but f.c.o. absorbs quickly into the skin with minimal residue, which I prefer. Let the oils sit and synergize for at least a couple of hours, preferably a day. To apply, sweep the roller in your armpits before rubbing in a little homemade deodorant. Slip a roller ball in your purse before going out in case you need any freshening up.

There are many essential oils that are great. As you can see, I am not a strict loyalist. The three brands below -- Wyndmere, Native American Nutritionals, and Now -- I have found all to be reliable, with NAN being of a very high quality. To learn more on blending essential oils into your own fragrance, if you don't want to mix up just a single essence in a roller ball, this should get you started.
Also, this article at Essential Health Magazine provides some helpful deodorant blend recipes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

eat your medicine

My husband has a varicose vein running down one leg that concerns me. So, he now has a couple of pairs of men's compression leggings to wear under his work trousers, and I am also trying a couple of new herbs on him, hoping they help at least prevent the problem from growing worse.

I bought powdered herbs from The Bulk Herb Store, eleuthero root and butcher's broom and ginkgo. I also already had flax seed, chia seed and powdered psyllium seed from BHS, which I like to buzz up in my Magic Bullet into a fiber mix. Chia is left whole in this one, to scrape the gut and colon for a good cleanse as it passes through, and flax and psyllium are best ground or powdered for use as fiber.

 The plan is to make nut butter bites with the powdered herbs mixed in, so that my husband can easily grab one each morning from the fridge and eat his medicine. This is far from an original or new idea. Several sources and books on herbalism I know detail some variation of making herbal medicine balls, pills or candy, which are basically all some form of doughy base with ground herbs mixed in for ready consumption. Rosemary Gladstar has published several variations of this recipe, all a nut or seed butter base with herbs mixed in, in her book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. These bites are a really great way to eat your medicine, along with a good dose of healthy gut fiber and fatty acids, and the recipe is so easy and so adjustable. Maybe all you want is a yummy nut butter snack that you can hand to a toddler without mess instantly going everywhere. I like to make non-medicinal peanut butter fiber bites with my two year old son, and he usually eats one or two a day.

Here is what I do.

2 Tbs fiber mix in the bottom of Kitchen Aid mixer bowl
approximately 1/2 c peanut butter on top
approximately 2 Tbs raw honey on top of that
2 Tbs mixed powdered herbs

Turn on the mixer with the flat wand (not the whisk) and mix on low until it forms a dough. Adjust texture as needed, by adding more nut butter or honey if it is too dry, or adding more ground matter. If you don't want to add more herbs or fiber, you can use milk powder or coconut flour.

Once you have a dough that sticks together well enough to form a ball without sticking to your hands, much like kids' playdough, divide up into balls of your desired size. I went with bite size balls. More particularly, I want my husband to consume 1/2 tsp of herbs each day, so I know I needed 12 balls: 2 Tbs = 6 tsp = 12 half tsp. Do your math as needed for your medicine quantity and frequency of dose.


Nut butters:
  • peanut 
  • almond 
  • cashew
  • tahini (sesame seed paste) with another nut butter
  • chickpea 
  • sunbutter (sunflower seeds) 
 Sweeteners, or nut alternatives:
  • honey
  • maple syrup (will need more powder to absorb)
  • date sugar (dried whole dates ground into a paste in the blender)
  • apricot sugar 
  • sticky banana sugar 
  • cinnamon
  • allspice
  • nutmeg
  • powdered citrus peel
  • raisins or chopped dried fruits
  • chocolate chips
  • cocoa powder 
  • carob powder
  • coconut manna 
  • ground dried coconut flesh
  • cocoa powder
  • carob powder
  • dried milk powder
  • melted chocolate
  • finely chopped dates or apricots
  • ground dried coconut flesh

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

essential oils for hair care

All info here taken from Rosemary Gladstar's book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.

"Have you ever noticed how few people over 50 have shiny, healthy hair -- hair that you'd die for? There aren't very many of them. Though it may be part of the natural aging process to lose some of your crowning glory, it's not a natural process for it to lose its gleam and glow. What we often see is hair that hasn't weathered well. This lack of life is almost always due not to aging but to the unhealthy practices of overwashing, blowdrying, and using chemical products such as sprays, perms, and gels."
(p. 147 of 2008 publication)

Essential Oils for Hair Care

Essential oil -- basil
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- promotes growth

Essential oil -- chamomile
Hair type -- fine to normal
Effect or treatment -- gives golden highlights

Essential oil -- clary sage
Hair type -- all types
Effect or treatment  -- dandruff treatment

Essential oil -- lavender
Hair type -- normal
Effect or treatment -- scalp treatment for itchiness, dandruff, and even lice!

Essential oil -- lemon
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- gives golden highlights; treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands 

Essential oil -- myrrh
Hair type -- dry
Effect or treatment  -- treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands 

Essential oil -- patchouli
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- dandruff treatment 

Essential oil -- peppermint
Hair type -- dry
Effect or treatment -- promotes hair growth

Essential oil -- rose
Hair type -- fine
Effect or treatment -- soothes scalp 

Essential oil -- rosemary
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- dandruff treatment; promotes hair growth

Essential oil -- tea tree
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands   

Essential oil -- ylang-ylang
Hair type -- oily
Effect or treatment -- dandruff treatment

homemade wen

I have tried dozens of shampoos, regular and sulfate free, tried the baking soda and apple cider vinegar "no poo" method, made my own shampoo with glycerine liquid soap and herbals added. I have naturally wavy hair which frizzes with an overabundance of body in damp weather and lies lank in drought, splits and breaks easily, and a sensitive scalp that gets an irritable, itchy, stinging patch on the back of my head above the nape of the the neck if I use sulfate-containing shampoos for too long.

The BS/ACV works pretty well. It's not the easiest or most convenient method of cleansing, however, especially for those with long hair or while traveling. I didn't like the homemade shampoo. It left my hair too squeaky clean, which really isn't the point of cleansing. Hair of all types needs to be treated like a cashmere sweater -- cool water, gentle squeezing rather than wringing dry, not abused until it stretches out of shape and breaks to pieces, and above all kept moisturized. I'm not the greatest at sticking to those rules, as I get bored from time to time and play around with bottled color, but the need for moisture is a big one I can't ignore, especially with processed hair.

Once upon a time, I tried WEN cleansing conditioner. Loved the stuff. It's amazing. What is less cool is the price tag. Dunno about you, but I find it really hard to justify that price, no matter how fabulous my hair looks. So I faffed around with other products and methods, had a baby, faffed around some more, and have finally got around to making a homemade, cheaper version of WEN.

1 1/2 c conditioner
30-40 drops essential oils 

You see how simple? It can be very cost effective, too, by comparison. Basically, the essential oils change the pH of your scalp so excess oil rinses off more easily, stimulate nerves for renewed hair growth, balance sebum (oil) production, and when suspended in conditioner keeps your scalp as well as hair protected against dryness. If you've never tried cleansing your hair with anything but conventional shampoos, you'll have to trust me on this. It works. But you may experience some adjustment to the new regime, as your scalp is accustomed to producing way too much sebum as it tries to counter the shampoos you've been overdrying your head with for so long. It only takes a week or two. This is also okay to use on a daily basis, unlike shampoos, for that very reason that sulfate based soaps dry out the cells too much. You wouldn't cleanse your face with dishwashing detergent, would you? I hope not! It would dry things out way too much. Do you also know the benefit of finding the right balance of moisture for your face skin type? T-zone, combination, dry, oily. Your scalp bears similar qualities to your face in terms of dryness and needs to be cleansed and moisturized almost as regularly and gently as you would do your face. Clogged pores and drought in the scalp can lead to problems, such as hair loss, dullness, itching. Homemade WEN might just improve your life a bit more, because honestly, would there be so many successful hair product lines out there if we didn't care so greatly about how our hair looks? And the classic catches are moisture, softness, shine, strength, and thickness.

Many essential oils are good for the scalp and hair. You might want to do some further research on your own. Ones I like to play with include:
  • rosemary
  • lemon
  • orange
  • tea tree (melaleuca)
  • peppermint
  • eucalyptus
  • lavender
  • Roman chamomile   
  • lemongrass 
I'll give you a few combinations that you might enjoy trying. To use, apply several Tbs to the scalp and then through the length. If you have very long hair, you can use plain conditioner on the ends to save on essential oils that are not needed there. Massage into the scalp for several minutes. Rinse well with cool to warm water, not hot. You can use cleansing conditioner daily, several times a week, or alternate with regular shampooing if you can't quite kick the habit yet.

Bear in mind that you are going to pay more for high quality oils. And it's worth doing so. One of the simplest ways to test if an essential oil is of good quality is to smear a drop on your palm. It should absorb quickly and pretty much completely. If your essential oil leaves residue on your skin, even if it smells good it's not as pure as you want. DoTERRA and Young Living are both reliable sources for essential oils, and Mountain Rose Herbs has a pretty decent selection, too. However, for high quality oils paired with sustainable sourcing, I have found Native American Nutritionals to offer the best price tag. They come in at about 1/3rd less than the previous name brand oils that claim CPTG (certified pure theraputic grade) only belongs to them, but which title is not an officially bestowed or monitored one and is really just a very clever marketing scheme. If you love DoTERRA, great. Be loyal. They produce fab oils. But if you are open to a possible alternative route, a bit of research and hunting might save you a pretty sum of money.

Sebum Balancing Homemade WEN
1 1/2 c conditioner
10 drops lemon
8 drops rosemary
5 drops orange 
5 drops lavender
5 drops tea tree
5 drops eucalyptus

Growth Stimulating Homemade WEN
1 1/2 c conditioner
15 drops eucalyptus
10 drops tea tree
10 drops rosemary
5 drops peppermint

Dry Scalp Soother Homemade WEN
1 1/2 c conditioner
10 drops Roman chamomile
10 drops lavender
10 drops lemongrass

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

coconut manna

 I am newly in love with coconut manna. Basically, it's just whole coconut, finely ground into a paste. It tastes naturally sweet as coconut does. I've been slowly adding it into my cooking because of the healthy proteins and fats, and especially for the flavor. Thus far, we love it in muffins, banana nut bread, Indian curries, smoothies. I'm sure I'll continue to find uses. Have you tried coconut manna before? What do you like to use it in?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

mama's weight loss tea

Some women deliver their babies, nurse, and watch the pounds just be sucked out of them along with the milk. It's amazing. Fabulous for them.

I had hoped such would be the same for me. Turns out that even with regular exercise and healthy nutrition the weight doesn't just drop off me like that. It seems that my body is perhaps even more stubbornly holding on to every extra pound it can while putting so much out for my baby.

Well, toddler. He is now 25 months old. We had a tricky time getting him to take to food, so he had a brief spell of tasting around 12 months before reverting back to the old favorite, Mama's milk, which means he was basically EBF (exclusively breast fed) for a little over 15 months. Thank God, my body produces well and I generally didn't have trouble keeping up. In times when I was extra tired due to his increased demand during a growth spurt, a tea blend of galactagogue herbs helped me to keep up. Mostly, though, I have stuck to nutritional herbs while nursing as many herbs are not considered safe in the trace amounts they pass to baby via milk.

This blend is something I've more recently come to enjoy. I'm sure it's similar to many tea blends available for purchase, but you can give this one a go with the recipe for making the blend yourself. Make your own tweaks. See what suits your needs and your body.

I put together this tea not for helping me to sustain or increase my milk supply, as though I am still at this point nursing my son regularly each day I don't feel I need to keep it going for him. If it dries up, that's a timely part of his maturing. But there are a few galactagogue herbs in here -- fennel and fenugreek seeds, and dandelion roots and tops. They do more than work with the milk supply.

Fennel: Aromatic, antispasmodic, carminiative, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial. Affects the digestive, urinary, and respiratory systems.
This means fennel brings an aroma to teas, helps smooth muscles in spasm, helps to depress the appetite, increases the flow of urine, increases mucus production and expulsion in the body, soothes inflamed cells.
Fenugreek: Mucilaginous, expectorant, tonic, astringent, demulcent, emollient. Affects the digestive, urinary, and respiratory systems.
Expectorant, increasing production of mucous in the bowel, which stimulates a sympathetic response in the respiratory and urinary systems. Absorbs toxins in the digestive tract. Hypoglycemic, uterine stimulant, as well as highly nutritional.

Dandelion root: Bitter, hepatonic, diuretic, stomachic, lithotriptic, astringent, cholagogue, galactogogue. Affects the digestive, glandular, and circulatory systems.
"The root is used as a laxative, tonic and diuretic and also to treat various liver and spleen ailments. It is also used to treat heartburn, rheumatism, gout and eczema. Dandelion is the principle herb of blood purifier, kidney and pancreas formulas." Dandelion is particularly beneficial in that it helps to neutralize and expel toxins, which may have been excited by weight loss or by the use of other mucilaginous herbs, from organs and blood in the body. Basically, it protects while it cleanses. Dandelion as a whole plant is also extremely dense in nutrients, especially electrolytes sodium and potassium, which help keep the body in balance despite increase urine output. The high vitamin A contained in dandelion root help replenish the liver and restore vitamin A to other parts of the body.

(Info and quotes taken from book, Nutritional Herbology, A Reference Guide to Herbs, by Mark Pedersen edition 2012 by Whitman Publications)

The other herbs I have included in this tea also have purpose, whether for flavor or nutrition, or for increased circulation, and are all currently considered safe for use while nursing. (Please use your own discretion. I am not a doctor or certified herbalist.) But back to fennel and fenugreek, briefly. I found out recently that they are supposed to contain high levels of tryptophan. Tryptophan increases serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for treating depression, which many people know, but is also important for healthy sleep. I don't know about you, but I haven't had an unbroken night of sleep in almost three years. So when I do sleep, I want to sleep soundly and get enough REM!

Try this out and see how it might work for you. You don't have to be a nursing mother. This might make a helpful, mild addition to your daily diet just on a nutritional level, or while losing weight, or if you are also interested in getting more sound sleep. I'd love to read your feedback.

Recipe formulated with the Simpler's Method, by volume not weight. Made with a Tablespoon measure, one recipe yields about a cup of blended herbs. Decoct by simmering, covered, in glass, stainless steel or unchipped enamel for 20 minutes.

Mama's Weight Loss Tea

1 part dandelion root, cut
1 part fenugreek seeds
1 part fennel seeds
1 part oatstraw, cut
1 part orange peel, cut
1 part shavegrass, cut
2 parts dandelion tops, cut
2 parts nettle leaf, cut
2 parts peppermint leaf, cut
1/2 part stevia herb, cut

Thursday, October 31, 2013

white bean lemon spread

To give credit where it's due, this recipe is not mine but is inspired by book, 100 Great Tapas, by Pippa Cuthbert. I do things just a little differently, but this recipe is really such a basic one, yielding several similar recipes on the internet, that I thought it would be fine to share my version here. Do check out the book, though. It's fabulous.
White Bean and Lemon Spread

yields about 1 1/2 cups

14 oz cooked butter beans or mild white beans, rinsed and well drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
zest and juice of 1 lg lemon, or a few Tbs bottled juice
1/2 tsp Celtic sea salt, and black pepper to taste
several Tbs olive oil

Pop everything into a blender or food processor and whiz. So easy. I like to use my Magic Bullet because I can shake it up to make sure it's fully blended as I go. Add more or less olive oil, lemon, and garlic to suit your taste. Bear in mind, though, that raw garlic will get stronger in flavor after a few hours of letting the flavors melt together in the fridge, so don't make it too strongly garlic at first. I love the lightness of just two garlic cloves with a tangy bite of lemon to cut through the oil.

Easiest way to peel raw garlic cloves? Use the flat of a large chopping knife to semi-crush each clove. Papers fall right off. I seldom do any more crushing than this in my recipes and will just chop up the garlic thinly from one side to the other. Done. For this bean dip, though, just pop them in the blender like this.

Ingredients all dumped in Magic Bullet cup, ready to whiz.

My boy helping me.

Serve white bean lemon dip on bread or crackers. Top bite sizes with a thin slice of tomato and a light drizzle of chili oil for a plate of delicious appetizers. Use as a veggie dip. Spread on bread as a yummy addition to sandwiches in place of mayonnaise.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


 Quiche. Sounds fancy. Isn't difficult. Total man food. Want to please your husband on date night, make him a quiche. Want to get in grandpa's good book, make him a quiche. Pleases grandma, too, since he will be perfectly contented for several meals. Want to bribe your brother, make him a quiche. Want to impress your new boyfriend with the first home cooked meal you serve, make him a quiche. Really. It's that good. Well, not so great a choice for those who won't or can't eat eggs, but for anyone else this is like all the best parts of breakfast in a slice of pie, minus the coffee. (Serve that on the side. *wink*)

So, you will need to start with my flaky pastry recipe lining a regular or deep dish pie pan. You will also need eggs, and your choice of cooked veg, bacon, sausage, chopped herbs, shredded cheese.

Eggs, cheddar, and defrosted broccoli florets.

Poor photo, sorry, but this is chopped bacon and sausage cooked up and the extra grease drained off -- tip your pan at a slight angle, doesn't have to be much, and let the grease run to the opposite side of the meat.

Okay. Now you have all your stuff, you are ready to fill your quiches. First, though preheat your oven to 375 F! Today, you can see I am baking two deep dish quiches and one regular in a tin foil pan to give away.

Add broccoli and meats to about 1/3 rd depth of pie. This is where you also add cheese on top if you want. You will probably only need about 2 oz of shredded cheddar per large quiche. We find that is enough to add good flavor without being overpowering.

Whisk up your eggs. Add a small dash of milk or cream to make them fluffy, but just a dash. You will need approximately 5 eggs for one regular pie dish, and 8 eggs for one deep dish. So here, I have...oh, almost two dozen eggs to whisk up to light and frothy!

Now, pour in your eggs. Pour them right over the top of everything. Immediately now put the quiche into the oven. 375 F, remember?

This is the finished regular depth quiche. Golden brown, about 40 mins of bake time. The deep dish ones are still baking and will take about an hour, maybe 5 minutes more. If you are not sure the quiche is done, poke a sharp knife into the center and make sure it is solid without juice filling up the cut.  
Serve quiche hot, with a tossed salad and a bottle of dry chardonnay, or let cool and serve chilled as finger food. My husband loves leftovers for breakfast with Salsa Brava.


My examples here are with medium cheddar, broccoli, sausage and bacon. Many types of veg will work. If you use sliced tomatoes, increase bake time by about 10 minutes to counter for the extra moisture. We have enjoyed leftover cooked leeks, caramelized onions, steamed carrot, spinach, chard, mushroom... Be creative. Use your leftovers in a way you never thought you could.

flaky pastry

Flaky Pastry
2 c flour -- white, whole wheat, or a combination of the two
1/2 tsp Celtic sea salt
2/3 c cold butter
10 Tbs iced water
chilled metal or glass bowl
cold or cool hands, or a less-than-hot kitchen, if at all possible
no distractions
rolling pin -- if using marble, chill it for 15 minutes in the freezer along with your bowl
butter cutter -- some call this a pastry cutter. you may use two table knives instead.

1. Combine flours and salt in cold metal bowl.
2. Add cold butter, taken directly from the fridge, in chopped tablespoon amounts to the flour. Chop or cut in, avoiding using fingers to do so, until butter looks crumbed. See this picture? The butter is not in fine crumbs! I actually want some larger lumps so that the pastry is flaky and good and does not ball up with the water into one smooth dough. It needs to have texture or it won't be flaky once cooked.

3. Add iced water, 2 Tbs at a time, into the flour and toss in with spoon or spatula. You may find you only need 8 or 9 Tbs water. In Arizona I find I need 10 Tbs, but in England I only need 8. It should stick together somewhat, with lots of crumble, but it will not resemble a ball of dough at this point. Work quickly, still avoiding using your fingers, to keep things cold.

 4. Tip out "dough" onto a clean, floured space. Be sure to have enough room to work unhampered. With quick, light motions and flat hands, start bringing in the floury mess to form a ball of dough. Again, it will look a little crumbly and definitely not smooth. This is good!

5. Divide dough into two parts. Smooth each into a nice roundness and set one aside. If your kitchen is warm, set it in the bowl in the fridge.

6. Start to roll out dough. Place rolling pin in the center of the lump. Roll away from you. Place it back in the center. Roll towards you. Flip and flour dough. Keep doing this pattern, working from the center of the dough towards the edge, to keep dough an even depth. Work as quickly and steadily as you can. This process will become faster and easier the more often you make pastry.

Be generous with your flour -- do not let dough stick to the rolling pin or the surface! Use flour as much as needed, both sides of the pastry, to keep things rolling out smoothly. Ignore lumps of butter and just keep working the dough.

To size the pastry, hover your pie dish (mine is deep dish here) over it. You want the edges of the rolled out pastry to come an inch beyond the widest edge of the circle.

Once you are ready and rolled, carefully fold pastry in half, and then half again. Place the point in the center of the dish and unfold. Or, if you have a good and long rolling pin, you can simply roll the dough onto the pin and then unroll it from one edge to the other of the pie dish. It should not need much adjustment to wiggle into the correct place in the dish. Simply lift and drop into place. Use a sharp knife or kitchen scissors to trim edges.

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, chicken savory, quiche, strawberry rhubarb, even mini turnover style personal pies or sausage rolls to pack as picnic finger food. For recipes using this pastry, look under the "pastry" tab.

Monday, October 28, 2013

bara brith welsh tea loaf

Americans hear "fruit cake" and think, "diet", "dry", "boring".

This is not an American fruit cake. Being extremely low fat and with an option of being sugar-free, too (and still tasting good), it could pass as a diet cake, I suppose. But this is not a cake in the way of American thought, and the purpose is not to be some dry, plain, diet, excuse for a cake because I need to lose weight and yet can't handle the thought of not eating cake.

Really. Try this.

Bara Brith means mottled cake, or speckled bread. It is a dark brown cake, sweet but not overly so, moist and dense, that beautifully compliments the flavor of a good cup of British blend black tea with milk at four o'clock in the afternoon. Tea time, of course. Toast a slice and spread it with just a tiny dab of butter. It needs nothing more. Best of all, it's so easy. Okay, you need a small amount of forethought to soak the fruit overnight, or first thing in the morning for a fresh tea time loaf, as I often do, but it is simple enough you can give the kitchen to a child and let them put it all together. Make it one of the first recipes they learn to prepare, along with scrambled eggs or a ham sandwich.


Bara Brith -- Welsh tea loaf 

Soak overnight:
12 oz of any dried fruit
8 oz cold leftover black tea

Add, and stir smooth by hand:
1 large egg
3 oz brown sugar or raw honey (optional)

Spoon into the wet mixture and mix slowly by hand:
8 oz flour mixed with 2 1/2 tsp baking powder and a shallow 1/2 tsp salt

Grease and flour one regular loaf tin or two half size loaf tins.
Bake 325 F for up to one hour (5 or so minutes less for half size loaves). The loaf will be done when a toothpick or sharp knife comes out cleanly. Tip out and let cool on a wire rack.


The dried fruit you use can be any kind. That said, some combinations taste better than others! My favorite is raisins, cranberries, pitted dates and apricots. Pineapple, papaya and apple work well. You can get creative with this. Chopped or whole dried fruits are up to you. Once soaked and then baked, it should all slice cleanly with a sharp knife.

Nuts make for a pleasant change on occasion. Make sure they are mixed in when you add the flour, rather than studding the top of the loaf with them, as the long bake time may crisp them up a little more than you desired.

Another variety is to add spices. Again, this is totally optional and the loaf is delightful made normally. However, spices such as cinnamon, ground orange peel, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, can add a lovely touch of warmth in winter or just change up the loaf for a bit of interest.

Yes, this works beautifully with freshly milled whole grain flours. I have used single and combined soft white, hard white, and hard red wheat flours and all are delicious. I keep reading on various sources about how difficult it is to make the switch from processed, shelf stable flours to whole grain home milled flours. I have not had this problem...but still, worth saying that this loaf is rather hard to make flop. Give it a try!


Per 1/12th of a regular loaf, made without sugar or honey, and with raisins and cranberries and dates, or with just raisins and a small amount of candied ginger, this will only cost you 92 calories. Other fruits will cost you more if they are not fruit sweet, such as sugared pineapple, but still one slice won't set you back too far.

Bara brith half size, with peanut butter bites, blackberries, and sliced pear

Friday, October 25, 2013

butterbeer and buttered beer -- say that five times, fast

A dear friend inspired this post. She recently made "butterbeer" for her younger siblings whilst they took a break in the middle of a Harry Potter movie marathon. I had to give her applause for the HP fervor. Not so much the concoction of caramelized brown sugar and butter stirred into heavy cream and cream soda. This particular lady is a health nut. My brain had a mini blip while I wondered what she, of all people, was doing with cream soda in her house. She forgives me, but I had to comment on the insanity of such a farce, and promised her immediately that I would start looking up and testing alternatives with real, healthier, possibly herbal ingredients.

I began by throwing out a quick internet search. Disgusting results. Recipes call for fizzy soda drinks of all types fortified with yet more sugars, high fructose corn syrup caramel sauces or fake chips, marshmallows, ice creams, sweetened whipping creams, artificial flavoring concentrates... As if soda is not sickly sweet and unhealthy enough already, Harry Potter fanaticism is evidently a good excuse for American readers to load up on enough sugar to cause a heart attack with one gulp. Don't get me wrong, I love a good slice of calories from time to time. But such fakeness really doesn't seem worth the effort of swallowing, certainly not the puking that may well ensue shortly after consumption of these diabetes-inducing drinks. I mean, why not just pop a couple of caffeine pills while you're at it and let your heart really go nuts? Legal equals safe and healthy, right?

I also had a check for actual J.K. Rowling literary descriptions for butterbeer, to see if I could come up with something that clarified what I remembered the imaginary taste of butterbeer to be.
  • J.K. Rowling described butterbeer in an interview as meant "to taste a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch."
  • It got house elves drunk. 
  • It could apparently lower inhibitions in wizards, too, as indicated by Harry's concern for his friends, Ron and Hermione, while "under the influence of butterbeer" at Professor Slughorn's Christmas party. 
  • Butterbeer is served cold in bottles but hot in steaming tankards at the Leaky Cauldron pub. 
  • It has a warming effect in the body whether consumed hot or cold, which causes a comfortable lethargy.  
So , then, HP butterbeer is a mildly alcoholic drink that contains little enough alcohol for teenage wizards to buy and consume it publicly. (American readers will please bear in mind that the drinking culture in the UK and Europe is significantly different than in the USA, with the legal drinking age being currently 18 years of age in the UK and 18 or 16 years in much of Europe with even some countries, such as Russia, currently not holding any age limits over alcohol. Anyway, the justices of Harry Potter books "endorsing" or "encouraging" underage drinking is entirely beside the point to my mind. Beer is alcoholic.) Butterbeer seems to contain enough alcohol to prove effectual over small bodies, such as the house elves which are basically the size of a human toddler, as well as over young men and women not of full growth, providing they drink enough and have a low tolerance from not consuming alcohol on a regular basis. Butterbeer is also supposed to have a buttery flavor, with a warming, drowsy-making effect probably produced by complimentary herbs and spices, but is not supposed to be as sweet as candy or a dessert.

I then did some more internet scouting, and discovered this. Buttered beer was not Rowling's invention, but was an actual beverage served in the 16th century. As evident from many links then produced by Google upon my specific request, book The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin (1588) was a real cookbook, really published, and buttered beer really was a beer alcohol, mulled (warmed and spiced) with a custard base of egg yolks to suspend the butter and sweetener, and served as a specialty.
"Take three pintes of Beere, put five yolkes of Egges to it, straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloves beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other."

I will provide you with the recipe below in common American household measures, since the links I found with modern measurements have used metric, but a few points first will explain my other adaptations from the above link's recipe. 
  • One: eggs and butter. Medieval eggs were much smaller in size than modern day eggs. Heck, even 19th century eggs were much smaller in size than modern day eggs. So, five modern size egg yolks to three pints of beer might prove a bit more custard-like than you prefer to slurp down. I have used less. I also disagree that a "dish of sweet butter" was the size of our 10 inch dinner plates. Most likely, a dish of butter was the amount one would get from a one-cow daily milking, which would be in the realm of 12 Tbs as indicated by 12bottlebar. But even that seems rather much, really, when you look at it, and I would still bet that the original "dish" amounted to even less than our modern day stick and a half. (Realize that sweet butter is the freshest, whereas cultured butter would be preserved by natural fermentation for longer life, so only think about what would keep sweet without a fridge.) Also bear in mind that the eggs are only in this drink as a vehicle for distributing butter, so if you use fewer yolks you must also reduce the butter or you will end up with unabsorbed fat floating unappealingly on the top of your beer. Eew. So, we reduced the butter.
  • Two: ales. Again with the 16th C traditions, the ale or beer used would likely not have been brewed with hops, but with the more traditional method of fermenting grains. That rules out a fair amount of beers available to me in Arizona. I would have a much better selection from which to choose if I still lived in the south of England. Merely thinking about butter beer gets me pining for a particularly good honey mead I first had at an Easter celebration village festival when I was 16. My tests have been performed with hop-free ales, despite my limited local selection, so be it on your own head if you try the recipe with the wrong alcohol base and it just doesn't taste right. That said, I believe that a hop-based ale or beer will work, too, being mindful that I have reduced the sweetener with hop-free sweeter ales and the greater bitterness of a hops beer may require more sweetness again. Taste your beer before buttering it. What you will need to look for is a light ale, not a dark one, but on the dark end of the light beer spectrum. No USA "horse piss", as my husband so delicately described typical American beers. The ale should be golden colored, faintly reminiscent of honey, and not dependent on fizz for flavor as a good portion of that fizz will cook out in the making of buttered beer. Of the four types of ale we buttered, a dark golden Samuel Adams was the glowing success.
  • Three: spices. Ginger was my first thought as to herbs used, not only because it is a Chi activator and warms the body, but because it has also been available for a few hundred years in England via trade route, although it prefers to grow in more heat than English soil provides. Rowling's world does not overlook the far-reaching history of the country in which the books are set so it seemed logical to me that spices used would be ones not too uncommon for a middling-class household, especially during winter celebration months. Nutmeg and cloves are also sensible; however, a few more herbs I have thought would contribute to the Chi restoring effect of Rowling's magical butterbeer. They are optional for you. I also found that powdered spices contributed to thickening the drink a little more than desired. This is why I have specified whole spices, either left whole or bruised ("beaten") with a mortar and pestle but not powdered. 

The four ales we buttered -- Samuel Adams was the best, with Dogfish Head coming in second. Elder Brett was too pale and bland. Wootstout was a fabulous ale by itself but was too strong in flavor and competed with the additional ingredients.

AJ decoction in my right hand above, whisked yolks plus butter plus honey below.

Whisking together.

Custard and spice base added to ale in a large pot, warming through. This is what properly suspended butter in beer should look like.


Beautiful scant pint of warm buttered beer to share. Buttery, smooth, spiced not too heavily but enough to coat and soothe the back of the throat and tongue, makes you want to savor it in your mouth a moment before swallowing but is not so thick or sweet that you are drinking your dessert. The ale has a very slight sparkle left if served freshly warm, just enough to lighten the drink. Chilled, as we discovered later, tastes slightly richer but is not too thick or spiced as to be cloying or heavy in the mouth. It's like homemade caramel but not. It's like sweetened beer but not. It's buttery but not. It's delicious and satisfying.

Buttered Beer

4 oz apple juice (or 4 oz ale, if desired)
5 whole cloves 
1/2 stick (about 2 inches) cinnamon, broken into chips 
2 Tbs fresh peeled and chopped ginger root 
(1/2 tsp dried licorice root chips, optional) 
(1 'tongue depressor' dried astragalus root, optional)
(1 tsp dried chopped eleuthero root, optional)

 2 egg yolks 
1/3 c raw honey (or brown sugar, if desired)
3 Tbs sweet cream butter, room temperature soft

8 oz golden ale, room temperature

Makes one scant pint glass, or enough for two adults to share on a date night.

Decoct the apple juice with the spices: in a separate pot with a lid, heat the juice and spices until simmering evenly, then reduce the heat to barely bubbling and let flavor for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a cold, large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, honey and softened but not melted butter.

Pour plain ale into a second, large pot to go on the stove, but do not place over heat just yet.

strained and decocted juice into the bowl over the egg mixture, whisking steadily.

Pour it all back into the large pot into the waiting ale and place over a low to medium heat, whisking steadily to avoid egg curdling, until the buttered beer thickens and is warmed through.

Serve warm right away, or rebottle, let cool, and chill to serve cold. Should keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

an ode to bread

Be gentle 
when you touch bread. 
Let it not lie
uncared for, unwanted. 
So often bread 
is taken for granted. 
There is so much beauty in bread -- 
Beauty of sun and soil, 
Beauty of patient toil. 
Winds and rain have caressed it, 
Christ often blessed it. 
Be gentle 
when you touch bread. 

(Author unknown)

I love bread.

I love grinding the wheat berries, sifting them through my hands and smelling them as I pour them into the grain mill. They smell sweetly nutty. I wouldn't mind if the same description was made of me.

I love measuring out the flour, bringing it into a soft ball and kneading with the steady rhythm of my hands that works out the knots I carry in my neck and shoulders. I love that rhythm, out in, out in, out in, push and pull, feeling the exquisite pillowy softness of the dough, smelling the yeasted rich wheat, and letting my thoughts absorb into the action and away from everything else.

I love the satisfaction of tipping out beautifully golden baked hot loaves into my cloth-covered palm. I love the smell the house takes on in the baking of bread. I love the shaping of yeast-free flat breads, the bubbling rise on the hot pan and the pliable rounds wafting warm scent through everywhere. And then I love eating my bread. Finely crumbed center, formed crust not too tough to toast and still eat. Put it under scrambled eggs with Marmite spread on it. Dip it into lentil soup. Sandwich egg salad and lettuce together, or cheese and pickle, or ham and mustard, or nut butter and homemade jam. It's amazing stuff, bread. 

It is sad to me to watch the growing gluten-free hype. More and more health nuts I know purport that bread is evil, fattening, unhealthy. Gluten-free fake breads, which are more like savory cakes than actual bread are becoming more popular. I understand there are those with genuine gluten allergies or intolerances. I am sad for them. They miss the joy of wheat. Bread is not to blame for obesity. Just as eating too much salad will give you the runs, or consuming too much flesh proteins will clog up the works and make you tired, binging on bread will make you unhealthy. But gluttony is not the same as gluten. Processed flours that lack the rich goodness and natural fibers, substituting high fructose corn syrup for whole grains, do not truly make bread. Bread is earthy, whole, real grains. Bread is sustenance in a form worth moderation. Bread bears a history of thousands of years of nourishment to most cultures of the world.

Eat bread. Love bread. Be thankful for bread.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

hardware-free curtain hanging

For three years I have loved my curtains and hated the way they hung. You see the pocket where my finger is pointing? Not even an occasional sewer at that time, we had simply threaded our beautiful, new, flat panel curtains onto the curtain rod through this pocket. It was bunchy, didn't hang well, not remotely flattering to the gorgeous stripes in the flat panel design, and worst of all wouldn't budge. There was no drawing of the drapes. I tied them back to reach light and air but they wouldn't draw open at the top.

Three years. I have been embarrassed about my curtains and irritated with myself for three years! But I had no skills with which to fix the matter, and I'm kinda stingy so even once I was gifted my sewing machine (my beautiful husband man loves me greatly) I still was too much of a scrooge to fork out for the hardware. You know, the curtain rings and hooks and shirring tape.

I finally fixed the problem. And didn't pay a cent.

This article is what I used, plus two spools of 1/2 inch wide grosgrain ribbon I got for 50 c each on sale a few months ago, and my sewing machine. Okay, so I paid maybe a couple of dollars all told. But still, nothing I didn't already have, and still an inexpensive fix regardless. Also worth a quick look before you get dug in is a "right and wrong" explanation for hanging drapes, and a photo cheat sheet, in case you don't actually know about the hardware I so stubbornly refused to buy.

I figured out the length of ribbon needed by pinning it uncut against the curtain and testing it on the rod. Then I cut up all my ribbon.

I wanted to space the ribbon loops evenly on the back of each curtain panel. The easiest way to do this doesn't use a ruler at all. Simply fold in half, then again, then again, until the width looks about right for the spacing of each loop.

Mark each fold with a pin.

The ribbon goes here, where my two fingers are pointing in the above photo. Sew along the existing seam with a sensible color thread so that it doesn't show obviously on the front of the curtain once finished. The rough ends of the ribbon fold under and are sewn over, forming a flat loop.

Sew one side along the seam...

...and then the other. Do this the whole way along the top of the curtain at the marked spacings. Make sure to sew back and forth a few times to ensure seams are secure.

The front panel already has those two seams, so it's hard to see where I've sewn over the top.

Finished loops.

And there you have it. Four panels over the large window in my living room and two panels over the French doors in the dining area. Please excuse the mess.

As you can see, the curtains now pull aside easily and beautifully straight on the new hanging loops. Much better.

felt autumn leaf garland

I wanted to add a bit of autumn color to my home, now that it is October but still warm enough here in the middle of Arizona that I'm still in sleeveless t-shirts. My trees are still vividly green. Well, I love autumn! One of the things I miss about England is the swish of wellie boots through mounds of falling leaves in all shades of brown, red, yellow, orange, even purple from September through November. So...I added my own color. Really simple. All I did was cut out leaf shapes from a few A4 sheets of felt and string them together with a running dart stitch onto yarn with an embroidery needle. I considered running them together with my sewing machine but something about the childlike nature of this garland appealed to me with the yarn and big hand sewn stitches. Once again, a project idea very flexible to many seasons. Flowers, leaves in spring greens, little snowflakes. I like that this is so easy, simple, cheap, something my son can do once he is a couple of years older and can manage a needle, and yet doesn't have to be tossed after only one season like paper chains and paper snowflakes do. Folded neatly, this will store well in my Christmas box for next year.

What projects does this inspire in your mind?