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Sunday, August 25, 2013

canned pears

 I love canning! You can see by my canning cupboard that I have a fair variety now of things which I make successfully. It's handy to keep certain things in food-safe storage not in the freezer, so that I can grab and use right away and also so I have more room in my freezer for other things. Like meat! I love my meat. (Sorry, veggie friends.)

As of this time of writing, I have in my canned goods larder: mango chutney, strawberry jam regular and 1/3rd sugar, chili jelly mild and hot, peaches, apricot jam, applesauce spiced and plain, tomato sauce of a few spiced flavors, and as of yesterday also minted pears and Christmas pears. I have plans for even more goods, but first I want to share these pear recipes with you!

These two recipes are pretty straightforward. The time is mainly consumed in peeling the pears, so be warned. One batch may take as long as a couple of hours, depending on the skill of your fingers. Both are a hot pack method -- meaning, instead of putting in the raw produce cold and pouring hot syrup over it before water bathing, you cook the produce in the hot syrup and then pack it all hot into the jars before water bathing. So, one extra step added than cold pack canning. But still pretty simple.

Minted pears are light, crisp, and taste of summer. Use fresh mint for the best flavor, but dried mint seems to work as well. I will give you quantities for each. One canned pear comes to about 150 calories, without juice.

Christmas pears are made with cranberry juice, honey, brandy, and spices. They are quite unlike most things you might serve for dessert, but boy will they wow your holiday guests! One canned pear comes to about 250 calories, without juice.

Both recipes yield a delicious syrup that taste divine iced with a splash of rum or brandy. So save the juice for date night!

Minted Pears -- yields roughly 7-9 pints

A: heat in small saucepan until reaches boiling, immediately then taking off the heat and covering for 15 minutes to yield a strong mint tea:
1 c lightly packed fresh mint leaves or 1/3 c dried mint leaves
1 c water

B: in a 6 quart pot combine:
5 2/3 c water
3/4 c sugar
Heat until sugar dissolves. Add the well-strained mint tea. Keep hot but do not boil.

C: wash, peel, core, and halve or quarter pears. I found quartering to be the easiest. Place in a bowl of color keeper solution (read the box directions).
7 lbs pears
ascorbic acid color keeper

D: once A, B and C are ready, add drained pears to the combined liquid solutions. Heat to boiling and simmer for 5 minutes. Pears should be soft but not mushy. Keep covered.

E: use a slotted spoon to "pack" pears into hot, sterilized pint jars. Cover with syrup leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and secure lids. Process pints in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes from the time the water returns to a low boil. (Quarts process 25 minutes.) Cool on a wire rack, or as I prefer, on a wooden board covered with several tea towels. (Cooling directly on the counter can cool jars unevenly and cause cracks in the glass. Not worth it after all that work!)

Christmas Pears -- yields roughly 6-7 pints

A: wash, peel, core, and halve or quarter pears. I found quartering to be the easiest. Place in a bowl of color keeper solution (read the box directions).
7 lbs pears
ascorbic acid color keeper

B: in a 6-8 quart pot combine:
4 c cranberry juice (may use apple juice/cider)
1 1/2 c honey
1/2 c lemon juice
3 Tbs chopped fresh ginger or 2 Tbs dried chopped ginger
8 inches stick cinnamon, broken into 2 inch pieces
1/2 tsp (about 6) whole cloves
Heat to boiling, creating your spiced syrup.

C: add drained pears to B, plus 1/3 c brandy. Return to boiling, and then simmer on low for 5 minutes or so, until pears are cooked tender but not mushy. Stir as needed to keep froth down.

D: use a slotted spoon to "pack" pears into hot, sterilized pint jars. Cover with syrup leaving 1/2 inch head space, using a tea strainer to catch the herbs as you pour. Wipe jar rims and secure lids. Process pints in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes from the time the water returns to a low boil. (Quarts process 25 minutes.) Cool on a wire rack, or as I prefer, on a wooden board covered with several tea towels. (Cooling directly on the counter can cool jars unevenly and cause cracks in the glass. Not worth it after all that work!)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

toad in the hole

Toad in the hole. Not egg in a hole. This is yummier! The English don't really have a genre of culinary genius to boast, but there are most definitely a few cultural classics that are worth keeping around. This is one.

So easy. So delicious. Child pleaser. Man pleaser. This is man food all the way. You can keep it simple and serve with a tossed green salad, or whip up gravy and steamed and roasted veggies as well. A few extra Yorkies always goes far when there is gravy to mop up, so for an impressive meal or to stretch things a bit further for last minute guests it's a good idea to make an extra batch of Yorkshire puddings in a muffin tin and serve with gravy as a meal filler -- the way Yorkies were originally used anyway. This is pretty low-carb, but delicious. Use a good homemade bone broth thickened with a knob of butter and some flour into a rue as your gravy for the biggest nutritional bang.

First step. Cut up a 5-6 piece package of good thick sausages -- Italian sausages or bratwurst will pass fine -- into pieces. I like to cut into thirds or quarters. Don't try bite size, the sausage will get tough.

Cover with a drizzled coating of olive oil in a casserole dish, and roast until looking browned and properly cooked at 425 F. Time will vary as to the sausage and chunk size you choose, so use your own noggin.

Second step. Before the sausages are fully cooked, about 12 mins ahead, whip up Yorkshire Pudding batter.

1 c milk
4 oz flour (by weight -- it's not a half cup, more like 3/4 cup, but will vary per your flour type)
pinch Celtic sea salt
3 eggs
Beat smooth and set aside untouched for 10 mins.
Turn up the oven heat to 450 F.

At the end of this time, your sausages should be looking beautiful, the casserole dish should be well greased, and the oven should be hot. Pour batter all over the sausages into the hot dish.

Pop into the oven and leave for 20 minutes. Do not open the door during this time! The batter will puff up high and pretty. Best to serve this right out of the oven for maximum wow effect, as it will sink a little as it cools. 

For making individual Yorkies, make the same batter. One batch is the perfect amount for a 12 piece regular muffin tin, or 6 piece large size as you see in my pic. Preheat the tin in the oven, then spray grease each cup before filling about halfway with batter and popping right into the oven. Again, 20 mins at 450 F with the door closed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

activated charcoal

Want to whiten your teeth without using chemicals? Want a fun experiment to try with your kids, or simply looking for a motivational tool to help them brush their teeth more willingly?

Activated charcoal-powder

Try using activated charcoal! All you need is a toothbrush dipped in water and then in the activated charcoal. But Crunchy Betty explains the procedure with photos for those of you that need a bit more convincing.

My only amendment is to suggest buying a 1/2 lb bag of activated charcoal from the Bulk Herb store instead of using capsules. It's really inexpensive. And then you don't have to worry about a giant mess spilling everywhere as you try to open the capsules neatly.

Oh, and one more thing! If you do not have stainless steel sinks, pop a stainless steel bowl in there to protect against staining. When diluted, what you spit out is not likely to stain your white sinks. But a clump dropped from the toothbrush might. So the care ahead of time is good.

So now you have a 1/2 lb bag of activate charcoal. Want to know what else you can use this stuff for?

  • ingestion of poisons (although a trip to the ER would probably still be in order, this is what they will use if your child drinks bleach) -- add some to a glass of water and drink 
  • hangover recovery (you idiot), and food poisoning relief 
  • insect bites and painful stings -- make a paste with water and apply
  • allergic reactions to stings 
  • snake bite 
  • gas bubbles and colic cramps (this is the effective ingredient used in brand Colic Calm, known for it's notorious staining and ability to make baby's poop black)
  • taken internally for short periods of detox
  • small amount of paste applied to acne spots to draw out infection
See this article for more info on how activated charcoal works. And let me know how you like the black mouth experiment!

Monday, August 12, 2013

essential oil properties

Here are some of the top essential oils I like to keep handy due to their basic breakdown for cleaning purposes. These have many more beneficial properties than just these, but since I tend to use essential oils more for natural cleaning agents than for internal or skin use these are the qualities in which I am interested most.

 antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial

tea tree (melaleuca)

antibiotic, antiviral



mint (peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen)

antibacterial, antifungal


cleaning cheat sheet

Essential Tools and Products 

  • white vinegar 
  • apple cider vinegar
  • clear rubbing alcohol
  • baking soda 
  • biodegradable dish soap (original blue Dawn) or vegetable glycerine natural soap
  • cheap salt
  • vegetable glycerine
  • borax
  • white cotton washcloths 
  • kitchen scrubby sponges, chopped in half -- this way, you can toss them after only a week as they get scummy, without fear of spreading germs nor of spending more than necessary on sponges 
  •  old toothbrush or two -- just repurpose the ones that are too worn for your mouth into cleaning scrubbers for all those hard-to-reach detail areas
  • cheap hand scrubbing brush -- dollar store quality is quite sufficient
  • toilet brush 
  • pumice stone -- the one you've been using on your feet, but is now worn to half it's size and you want a new, larger one for your feet
  • essential oils such as tea tree, peppermint, lavender and lemon
    (Many more are useful, but for the sake of simplicity to get you started I have only given uses for these four.)
  • dried or fresh herbs of thyme or oregano and eucalyptus 
  • fresh lemons and oranges

Toilet Bowl

Regular cleaning needs only a quick scrub down. Shake 6 parts baking soda + 2 parts eucalyptus ground herb or dried ground citrus peels into the basin, drop a tsp liquid soap onto the toilet brush, and scrub away.

Use a pumice stone to manually scrub hard water rings from the inside of clean ceramic toilet bowl once a month.

Bad staining can be treated overnight. Mix 1 c borax + 1 c white vinegar + 10 drops lavender essential oil + 5 drops lemon essential oil, and pour all over the inside bowl. Leave overnight. In the morning, flush.


Old newspapers work really well for absorbing grime without leaving behind streaks. I like to spray outside windows with the hose, scrub with a hand brush and a few drops of liquid soap, mist the entire window with a homemade vinegar and herbs cleaning spray, and then rinse with the hose. Often, I don't care about a few drops on the outdoor panes. But you can rub those gone with a rag or newspapers. Indoors, use the vinegar spray with 1 tsp of borax dissolved into the mixture to remove sticky fingerprints and nose marks.


Plain old white vinegar and a cotton rag will do it. Be careful to spray in the very center of the mirror, though, or to spray onto the cloth first and then rub the mirror, or you run the risk of prematurely aging your mirror as vinegar vapors can get behind the glass and erode the reflective panel behind it.

Chrome Fixtures

White vinegar and a dry cloth should do the trick most days. If someone leaves behind junky sugary soda pop, like Coca-Cola, pour it slowly over chrome fixtures and scrub with a brush to remove hard water deposits. Or, if all your friends are healthy and don't leave such things in your house, simply use a baking soda + water paste on the area, scrub with a brush, and then chase with white vinegar and a clean water rinse. Rub dry for shine.

Garbage Disposal

Toss half a lemon or orange into the disposal and turn on with fresh water running.
Save the citrus peels and herbs from homemade herbal vinegar cleaning sprays and toss down the disposal for a blast of freshness as needed.

A cup of baking soda, 2 Tbs borax, followed with a cup of white or apple cider vinegar (with or without 3-5 drops of essential oils as desired) poured slowly into the powders will help fizz away gunk. Finish by running the disposal clear with clean water.

Carpet Freshener

1 c baking soda + 20 drops of peppermint or lavender essential oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon or popsicle stick to break up clumps. Sprinkle onto dry carpets. Leave at least 30 minutes, or overnight, and then vacuum up. Deodorizes, helps refluff pile, and the oils act as insect and dust mite deterrent.

Carpet Stains

Clean spills as soon as humanly possible. Press or blot liquid spills with dry cloths rather than rubbing.

Blot blood stains with cold water. Not hot! Club soda fizziness can help lift blood out of carpeting.

When cleaning up toddler accidents that didn't make it in the potty, after removing all solid waste and blotting up any liquids, use a sponge to apply 1/4 cup vinegar + 1 tsp liquid soap + 10 drops peppermint essential oil, to both sanitize and deodorize, and leave for 20 minutes before again blotting as dry as possible. Dark carpets may sometimes be lightened by white vinegar, so apple cider vinegar may be a better option there. It is a good idea to spot test vinegars in an inconspicuous corner ahead of time, so you know what to reach for in emergency.

To help avoid staining on carpets and sofas while potty training young children or babies, buy a roll of cheap microfiber fleece fabric and lay it down over areas that tend to be troublesome. Microfiber does not instantly absorb and liquids tend to bead on the surface, which allows a few more precious moments of time to blot up the oops before it absorbs into the not-so-machine-washable item.


1 c water + 2-5 drops lemon essential oil in a heat safe bowl or glass dish. Place in microwave and heat for 2 mins. (Don't boil it.) Let sit for a few minutes, and then simply wipe away the dampened grime with a damp cloth, followed by a dry one.

Kitchen Sink

Combine 6 parts baking soda + 2 parts ground lavender or ground dried citrus peels + 1 part borax. Store in an empty parmesan shaker or large spice shaker. Sprinkle onto damp surface of sink. Scrub, rinse. Stubborn stains in ceramic sinks can be treated by letting a paste of the mixture + water sit for an hour on the spot before rinsing well.

Oven and Stovetop

Start by removing all knobs and accessories that come off the stove top. Soak small parts in 1 c baking soda + 1/2 c vinegar + 5 drops any essential oil. Use an old toothbrush to clean out details. Let this sit and soak while you work on the rest.

Cleanse stovetop by sprinkling baking soda and pouring or spraying on a little herbal vinegar. It will fizz. Let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing up and wiping clean. Be sure to give everything a final rub dry, for a longer clean appearance.

If you're like me, you don't clean your oven except maybe twice a year, regardless of all the cooking and baking you do with it. So when it needs cleaning, it needs a good, hard scrub! Make a paste with a little water + 1/2 c cheap salt + 1/4 c borax + 2 c baking soda. Turn the oven on to warm and let it heat up the inside for 5 minutes or so. Spread paste on oven walls and floor, and leave it for 20 mins with the door open. Spray the oven down with 1 c herbal vinegar + 10 drops lemon essential oil added. Wipe clean and rinse well.

Tarnished Jewelry

Toothbrush and baking soda or a little regular toothpaste. Rub lightly, rinse clean, dry well. Safe for most stone settings and precious metals.
Store jewelry with a piece of plain chalk in the box, to absorb moisture that causes tarnishing.
Or, simply wear jewelry more often and let your natural body oils keep the metal polished.

Microfiber Sofa

A cotton rag dipped lightly in clear rubbing alcohol will freshen up microfiber sofa fabrics while removing most spots. Use a clean, old toothbrush as needed. If you wish, follow up with a light misting of your favorite air freshener all over the sofa, and leave to let dry.

Descaling Kettle

For electric kettles, fill with equal parts of water and white vinegar. Let sit several hours. Flush with hot water.

Stovetop kettles are a little easier to thoroughly descale than electric. Equal parts of water and white vinegar. Let sit several hours. Add the dried, crumbled shells of one or two eggs and boil the kettle. Pour out, and flush with hot water.

Candle Wax Spill

This works for most fabrics and surfaces. Place a clean dry cotton rag that you don't mind throwing away, or several folded paper towels, over the spill. Iron over the top.


Hard toys which are washable can be immersed in a sink full of water + a few drops liquid soap + 1 c herbal vinegar full strength. Air dry or sun dry.

Hard toys which are not washable can be misted with herbal vinegar half strength + 5 drops tea tree or lemon essential oil added, and wiped dry with a cotton rag.

Soft toys can be misted down with the same spray before tumbling up to 15 minutes on low heat in the tumble dryer.

Fluff Pillows and Duvet

Toss in the tumble dryer on low for 15 minutes. Add a damp cloth with 2-5 drops of peppermint or lavender essential oil for light scent if desired. Tumbling heat helps to fluff feathers and synthetic fibers, plus kills dust mites.

Freshen Towels and Sheets

Add 10 drops of any essential oil to your dose of liquid soap and let synergize for at least an hour before adding to the machine and washing as usual.

Banish Shoe Odor

Pop 1/2 a raw potato into each shoe for a day or two.

Ensure that shoes are opened up properly and allowed to dry after workouts or playing in damp outdoors.

Add one or two drops of tea tree essential oil to the inside sole of work boots or workout training shoes and leave overnight, tongue opened wide to allow plenty of air flow.

Whiten and Sanitize Chopping Boards

Rub down with the flesh of half a lemon, using a little cheap salt if needed on stubborn stains. Let sit 10 minutes. Rinse well.

Polish Wooden Furniture 

1/2 c lemon juice + 1/2 to 1 tsp liquid soap. Spray on, wipe off, to remove gunge and sticky prints.

1/4 c linseed oil + 3 drops lavender essential oil. Polish wood with a soft, dry cloth.

Air Fresheners

5-10 drops of essential oils suspended in a little water in an oil burner will freshen and scent the air as you desire. Peppermint is a fab choice for most people. I like to use peppermint and orange together when I have guests, to sweeten air, lift moods, and gently purify the air from airborne viruses that may have traveled in.

Sprays are easy to make. 1/2 c water, 1/2 c vodka, and 40 drops of essential oils of choice. Let sit in a dark, cool cabinet for 24 hours to synergize oils before using. Lightly shake before spraying, and simply mist into the air. Lemon and lavender make a lovely deodorizer.

Clogged Drains

Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain, quickly followed by 2 cups vinegar. Immediately follow with a kettle of boiling water.

Mold and Mildew 

I don't have to deal with this much in Arizona, but in England it was important to wipe down windows frequently to avoid molding on the seals on the inside of the panes. Keep problem areas as dry as possible with as much air flow as can be managed. Open window curtains. Partially close and shake out shower curtains after bathing, to let them dry. Spray cleaned areas with 1 c vodka + 50 drops tea tree essential oil and let air dry or wipe with a dry cloth.


*This is an update from March 2014 -- I can't believe I haven't done this before! Super easy.
Clean walls of dust with a damp cloth on the end of a floor swiffer. You know, the type that is designed for damp "mopping" wood laminate floors and other surfaces that can't be conventionally wet mopped. This will only work on semi gloss or gloss paints, not flat, but is a quick sweat builder (workout points) while only taking a few minutes per room. I swiffed every wall in my 3 bed 2 bath house this morning in under 25 minutes. No special cleaning supplies needed, just a damp cloth which you can rinse and wring out frequently as it collects the dust. Fabulous method for spring cleaning once a year, to rid your house of all that extra dust which collects on walls as well as horizonal surfaces, particularly in the desert where I currently live.

Bucket Blasting (tidying)

I'm a clutter bug. I leave things everywhere. And now I have toddler. He spreads things everywhere, too. Books, cars, dinosaurs, sippy cups, shoes, socks, you name it. So you get a phonecall from a friend who needs to chat and is on her way over. No panicking. You can get a lot done in 10 minutes.

ONE. Grab a bucket or basket and set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Large laundry baskets are sometimes the solution.
TWO. Everything that is in the wrong place in your room of focus, put in the bucket or put away if it belongs in that room.
THREE. Keep going for as long as the timer is on, or until the clutter is put away, whichever comes first.
FOUR. Put the bucket elsewhere. When you blast the next room, put away everything from that bucket that belongs in that room.
FIVE. If you did a 5 min blast and have 5 mins left, grab two cotton rags and your bottle of herbal vinegar spray. Spray down the toilet and sink in the guest bathroom all at once. Wipe down the toilet, top to bottom (or outside in, if you like to think of it that way) with one cloth. Use the other cloth to wipe the mirror, taps, countertop, and then the sink bowl. Put out a fresh hand towel and make sure there is enough paper on the toilet roll, and you're done. It may not be perfect, or deep cleaned, but all the germs that are of greatest concern in bathrooms are now effectively killed and the air is deodorized.

More natural recipes can be found in book, The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Seigel-Maier.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

how to have young skin

I'm 28. Well, 29 next month. I look my age. More importantly, I look my age without makeup on, because most days I don't wear a stitch of coverup on my face. Okay, sometimes lipgloss. About once a week I wear Bare Minerals foundation and doll up my eyes a bit. It's fun. Why not? But without makeup, I don't look older than I am.

Not that I have the perfect face. Heck, no. I've had years' worth of acne treatments by prescription, including several types of oral medication and topical creams and ointments, and then was finally put on birth control for two years. It didn't cure it. I'm not entirely sure what did. You see, I didn't have acne as a teenager. I didn't really even get PMS pimples until suddenly I was approaching 20 years old and I had a thin, rash-like smattering of small red spots all over my face and decolletage.

It was miserable. I didn't know how to deal with it. So I applied foundation. I could not longer dream of going out in public, barely out of my dorm room, without something on my face. This wasn't about enhancement. This was about coverup. I even used a weird green cream that L'oreal (I think) had on the market for a time, to tone down the redness, with thick liquid foundation and setting powder carefully applied over the top. I hated that even through three layers of gunk I could still see spots.

I didn't have it as bad as some. Oh, no. One girl on my course at university suffered an awful case of acne. She was a pale redhead, too, which just made the discoloring appear worse. I've known other people who have had to deal with oozing pustules on their skin. Painful, infection-prone, confidence-defeating. Before you even walk into a room full of people, you already feel defeated on some level because they might not see you, just the sores. They might even judge you for not caring for yourself properly, "or it wouldn't be that bad". Humph. They have no clue.

Well, I've had the wringer of ups and downs with hormones since then. I'm not sure if that's what eventually got rid of the acne, or age, or that I purified my skin regime. I don't know. I do know that the pills did a number on my body. I had to come off that particular brand after two years -- a heart health caution with that particular med -- and was put on something else. I spent six months on two other brands of birth control pills, breakthrough bleeding at all the wrong times of the month until I had a twenty-eight day period and put my foot down. It was gross. The next month I got pregnant. Surprise! My skin flared up all over again, plus on my upper back, but I was pregnant and couldn't use any treatments. Three months later I had my first miscarriage. Less than four months after that I miscarried again. By this time, I was already reviewing lifestyle and habits, trying to find the cause of my baby-loss, and very deliberately not using any prescription medications or even over the counter cures, such as the salicylic acid that is common in many OTC anti-acne face washes these days. My hormones were a bit mad for a while, and I spent twelve months not pregnant, not miscarrying, and moving more and more to natural body and house cleaning products. My skin settled down. Amazing. I got pregnant with my son, Asher, in the thirteenth month after losing Baby Number Two and somehow did not have any recurrence of acne as I'd had before. No skin problems while pregnant. Huh. So it can't have been hormonal only, nor that the prescriptions had worked all by themselves because they'd been out of the picture over a year and a half by that time.

What worked?

There is a book I would like to recommend to you. Two, actually. The first is Organic Body Care Recipes, by Stephanie Tourles. If you want to have healthier, clearer, more beautiful skin, there are ways to achieve it.

In the first chapter, Stephanie opens with these words:
"In order to care properly for your skin, hair, and nails, it's important that you understand something about their structure and purpose. Knowing how, why, and when to care for them and identifying the best formulas for their needs will help them remain healthy and beautiful regardless of the climate you live in or your chronological age.

Think of your skin as a beautiful, satin robe that you wear night and day. It presents your external beauty and health to the world and at the same time protects your inner being. The skin, or integumentary system, is an actual living system that also comprises the hair and nails, various glands, and several specialized receptors..."
 She continues on to concisely explain this how, why, and when of proper caring for beautiful results. Her 175 recipes are all made using natural products: butters, oils, essential oils, herbs, raw foods, and natural soaps, and most of these in quite affordable if not even cheaper formulas than ready-made commercial products which are filled with undesirable chemicals.

There are really only two big rules to remember when caring for skin naturally. One, increase toxins out. Two, limit toxins in. 

The skin, as the largest organ of the body plus one of the ways we excrete toxins, is susceptible to overload which appears as dullness, acneic appearance, sebum imbalances causing drought or oiliness, and inability to heal when we clog it up with toxins. So, toxins out is very important. Make sure that lots of clean water and fiber taken in helps to flush toxins out in the most regular form we know -- bladder and bowels. The more yuck that is expelled via kidneys and then urine, liver and then stool, the less problem-causing yuck will appear on the face.

Limiting toxins in is just as important. However, this job is a bit bigger. For some, it may require a lifestyle change. Every chemical product with which your skin comes into contact, whether directly or by airborne vapors, increases the toxin in count. Cosmetics, deodorants, fragrances, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, detergents. Mani-pedi products. Your window cleaner, your toilet bleach. Your car exhaust. Food colorings like red lot 40, chemicals in non-organic produce. Some things we cannot avoid in this day and age. Some things we can.

Here is where my second book recommendation comes in handy. The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Siegel-Maier, is an inexpensive, quite small book, but totally jam packed with 150 recipes for cleaning and revitalizing the entire house, in and out, plus the car, along with full information on the natural ingredients used, the properties of each herb and essential oil (whether antiviral, antibiotic, antifungal or antibacterial, or a combination thereof), and a list of resources for reliable purchase of high quality natural products and ingredients. Do you know the number of chemicals to which you expose yourself and your family just in using bleach, glass cleaner, and Soft Scrub to clean your bathroom? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to properly and thoroughly disinfect your bathroom while still having the assurance that nothing you have used is detrimental to your health or the vitality of your complexion?

These two books are ones I believe every household should own and use often. The recipes are invaluable. To get you started while you wait for your books order to arrive in the mail, have a look at the links and recipes below. Exchanging just one yucky product for one clean product will reduce the toxin load that your skin has to handle, and increase your overall health and therefore appearance.

Herbal Cleaning Spray
Hand Sanitizer
Medication Alternative Headache Relief
Homemade Deodorant
Bath Salts and Scrubs
Milk Wash
The Oil Cleansing Method
Whipped Body Butter
Shampoo Alternative -- "no poo" ACV and baking soda
Blender Cream Cleanser
Homemade Wen
Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening

Bulk Herb Store -- reliable and affordable resource for bulk herbs, bentonite clay powder, beeswax pastilles, and various other items

Mountain Rose Herbs

Native American Nutritionals -- good quality essential oils

Bramble Berry Supplies -- for soap making, plus the most gorgeous natural butters

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

chai or ginger spice cookies: two recipes in one

Delicious. Almost as yummy as that child.

He loves the batter. It's soooo good.

These cookies are based on classic ginger cookies. A little tweaking and I came up with a recipe that is pretty similar to a lot of cookie recipes already out there, but extra fun in that it's basically two in one. Just choose the spice blend you would like.

The ginger cookies taste of ginger, as they should, but they have a warmth that I find lacking in some ginger cookie recipes I've tried. They don't snap. These are not ginger snaps. They have a crispness to the outside rim, and a soft, chewiness in the center that makes it hard to stop munching.

The chai blend is very similar. The addition of cardamon is the biggest difference, but boy, does it ever change the cookie! Chai spice cookies are subtly warming and pair really well with a hot, black tea.

Two-In-One Spice Cookies
Cream together:
  • 1/2 c soft butter
  • 1 1/2 c raw sugar
    Option here is to make the cookies sugar free by replacing granulated sugar with 1 c date sugar -- pop 1 1/2 cups whole pitted dates into the blender and whiz to a paste
  • 1/8 c (2 Tbs) black strap molasses

Add 3 whole eggs and fluff.

Blend separately:
  • 2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • spices of choice

Add dry to wet and mix hard until smooth.

Chill for an hour if needed -- the dough should be just a little cool. If your butter wasn't fully room temperature soft, and if you worked quickly, you may not need to chill anything. But if you have a warm kitchen in the dead of winter or heat of summer, as I do, and as my mum does with her Aga running year round in England, it may be prudent to chill. At the right temperature, the dough isn't cold but doesn't stick to fingers. It becomes messy sticky when it gets too warm. 

Drop in rounded Tbs and bake 15 minutes at 350 F.

Yields approximately 3 1/2 dozen cookies. I typically drop the dough onto my baking sheets with a cookie scooper, like a mini ice cream scooper, and I usually get 4 trays of 8 per batch.

Ginger Spice:

1 tsp nutmeg 
1 tsp allspice 
4 tsp ginger (or 3 tsp powdered ginger and 1 tsp finely minced fresh ginger root)
3 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground orange peel
1/2 tsp Celtic sea salt

Chai Spice:

1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1 tsp cardamon
3 tsp ginger
3 tsp cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground orange peel
1/2 tsp Celtic sea salt

Saturday, August 3, 2013

all-natural fruit leather

Homemade fruit leather.

Really not as hard as one might think. It's really just fruit, and a few tools help matters. Start with either ripe fruit, or defrosted previously frozen fruit.

You will then need parchment paper. Not waxed paper! Parchment is the way to go. I've learned this the hard way so just take my word for it. Cut out your sheet of parchment to fit the dehydrator tray. 

 You will need about 4 cups of blended fruit. This looks more like 5 cups of chopped fruit. If using previously frozen, keep all the juices. Don't drain them off.

Use anything you like to blend fruit into a lovely, thick puree. Adding parts at a time rather than the whole lot is more effective for most appliances. This image is about 50-50 ripe mango and peach blend. The dark bits are peach skin. Nope, I don't bother peeling them. Just remove the stone. :)

Add ground spices to taste, such as cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, even essences of vanilla or a citrus if you wish. Keep sticking a finger in the puree and make sure you like the taste of your concoction. You may add a sweetener if you like, honey or sugar or date sugar or powdered stevia, but most fruit blends are fine on their own. It will most likely be as sweet or tart once dried as it is now in the puree. I like to use cooked diced apple for sweetness with more bitter or sharp tasting fruits or berries. (Applesauce is a bit thin. You want it thick. The easy way is to cook diced apple in a few Tbs water, covered, and then strain off the water.)

I had extra puree after pouring my first sheet of peach-mango leather, so I added defrosted berries to the blender and made up just enough for a second flavor.

When you pour the puree onto your sheet of parchment, on the dehydrator rack, don't spread it out! Leave it good and thick. This is almost the most important step. Just pour, pour pour, and let it settle where it will. You can see I have three racks stacked up here. The middle is empty. I find that this helps keep good airflow so the leathers dry at the same rate.

Set dehydrator heat to 135 F, pop the lid on, and leave about 18 to 24 hours. Your finished leather will not be sticky to touch. Cut up with scissors, pop into a tupperware or ziplock bag, and it will keep for months at room temperature. No need to refrigerate. Use a marker to label flavors on the parchment edge if you wish.

mango chutney

 Mango Chutney

Really easy stuff. Don't know what chutney is? Basically, a chutney is a sort of sweet jam made with fruit, plus vinegar for a tangy taste, and no pectin so it doesn't set in the same way as normal jam. Chutneys may be sweet but are really intended to complement savory foods. Cheeses, roast meats, cold cuts, Indian curries, all sorts.

Mango chutney is a particular favorite of mine. But once again, I currently live in Arizona, and if I want chutney at all, especially the mango kind, I have to make it myself. Well, I had a good look at various recipes, online and in a couple of books, and I took the basic idea from them and decided to formulate my own recipe. Most recipes are very spiced, and are for a short shelf life. I wanted this not only to be shelf stable to last me all year until next mango season, which requires water bath canning to properly seal, but also to complement Indian curries that I so often make. We love curry! Thing is, though, curries are typically already pretty heavily spiced. So I didn't really want a chutney that was heavily spiced as well. I just wanted something sweet, sticky, tangy, flavorful, but not overpowering. Here's what I came up with. 

1 Tb butter
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander 
1/4 tsp ground cardamon 
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp salt 

5 large mangoes, peeled and diced (or 4 mangoes and 1-2 apples)
1 1/2 cups sugar, or honey, or sucanat 
1 c apple cider vinegar 
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (optional)

In a large pot, melt butter and saute spices for a minute or two to bring out the flavors, over a medium heat.
Add fruit and sugar and ACV and vanilla.
Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered, until moisture is reduced almost by half. Your house will smell amazing during this time, but you may want to turn on an extractor fan anyway!

Water bath filled 8 oz canning jars, filled with the hot chutney, for 10 minutes at simmer. Label and store. This should be shelf stable for at least a year, providing proper canning and sealing has been successful.
Store opened or unsealed jars in the fridge for up to two months.
Yields approximately 5 cups.