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Monday, March 31, 2014

review: brain quest -- learning tools

My mother, my son's gran, recently sent us a new fun thing. She likes to send fun things and we've loved the toys and books she is so brilliant at selecting for his age and personality. This Brain Quest set is a fabulous new addition to our household, one that I had to praise publicly! I'm sure there are many other fabulous tools out there for toddlers, but there is always the hassle of finding them. Also, I quite deliberately am not schooling our 2 1/2 yr old and do not want to put him off learning as a delightful part of life. There are many years ahead for official schooling at school age that I don't see any benefit to scheduled learning while he is still preschool.

This Brain Quest is brilliant, though. We keep it just for discussion together, not for him to read alone as he sometimes does with books, so it is stored on a high ledge in the kitchen, ready for easy grabbing for me but out of his reach. We pull it out at least once a day and slide the cards open to any random picture. Questions are on each card, prompting parents with questions to get their kids chatting about what they see. Each card is double-sided, and the pack comes with two decks and a little carry bag for slipping a deck in your purse before heading to the doctor's waiting room.

The goal is discussion, not quizzing, not hoop jumping. I tell him answers a lot of the time. He packs them away in his little noggin and learns to provide me with his own object/activity recognition, as well as his thoughts on the matter, in his own time when we come across the card again or a similar life situation. Sometimes, he surprises me by correctly naming something I didn't think he knew. Other times, he makes me better aware of the holes in his learning that I didn't realize were there.

I am in no way paid or given outside incentive for this review, please be reassured. But if you are in need of a handy tool for use at home or to slip in your going-places bag, to help with learning and to build preliminary foundations for later scholastic confidence, I do recommend Brain Quest.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

sexy body honey and choc dipped strawberries

This is a very simple recipe for date night. Occasionally, a change is needed. Occasionally, veering away from the usual pattern of weekly date night infuses the comfort of routine with interest and excitement. Sexy Body Honey is really easy to make. This is a recipe from Organic Body Care Recipes by Stephanie Tourles. I've mentioned the book before. It's worth owning.

You need 1 tsp raw coconut oil. You need 1/2 tsp raw honey. You can add an optional essential oil, no more than 2 drops (and I find that one drop is plenty sufficient) of cinnamon bark or cinnamon cassia, or peppermint. No wintergreen or spearmint as they are too strong. The cinnamon produces a warming effect, peppermint is cooling. Both taste lovely. I mix it all up together in a shot glass. There you go! Ready right away.

Use your Sexy Body Honey as a slightly sticky, sweet kissing balm slash lubricant. A little goes a long way so this seemingly tiny batch will likely last longer than you first anticipate.

Although not latex safe, Body Honey is (mostly) safe when ingested. Yes, I have said that essential oils are not for consumption. I stand by that. 2 drops of essential oil is roughly equal to 150 cups of herbal tea, so I don't recommend sticking the whole thing in your mouth! But it is unlikely you will consume that much of body honey all at once. As to honey used on private parts, ladies in particular, put your mind at ease. This is why the recipe specifies raw honey. Processed honey just isn't as good, for reasons I will have to tell you in another post. Raw honey is highly antibacterial, and gentle on sensitive skin. This Body Honey is also not so sticky that it will cause any discomfort in that regard. But always check a new product on a different area of the body first, just to be sure against any unfavorable reactions. The inner elbow or wrist is usually a reliable place to test -- rub a little on and give it 30 minutes or so. If there is no reaction, it is usually a safe bet that the rest of your body will be fine, too.

Add chocolate covered strawberries to the evening and you are well away! These are classics for a reason -- they are good. You need about an hour of chilling time, so if you get these in the fridge before dinner you will be all ready. You need roughly 1 Tb of dark chocolate chips per strawberry. You need the strawberries, of course. Melt down the chocolate in a double boiler, careful not to overheat it or it will crumble, and then dip and swirl the melted chocolate around each berry. Place on a non-stick sheet and pop in the fridge until set, and serve in a gorgeous antique cut glass dish with glasses of sparkling something.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

love my breasts

Breasts are amazing.
They are. I mean, look at what they can DO! Feed babies. And they are nigh on irreplaceable at doing their job, too. Breasts have been nourishing the world since God made it, and I am personally skeptical that any of these sci-fi ideas of humans being grown and nourished successfully by machines will happen in anything closer to real life than the newest Superman movie. (Have you seen it, by the way? Man Of Steel. It was pretty good.)

Women tend to carry a lot of self-esteem in their breasts. In some parts of the world, boobs are just...well, there, and you don't cover them up, and you don't spend big bucks to make them perkier or larger or smaller, and you don't actually hold much sexual attraction in your breasts, either. That's predominantly a western culture thing. Not saying it's right or wrong, just different elsewhere. In some parts of the world, boobs are a sign of fertility, of womanhood, of worth. In some parts of the world, cancer resulting in a mastectomy (removal of one or both breasts) can cause some women to simply feel lopsided, or lighter, or affect them to such a severity they feel as if they have somehow lost their femininity and worth as women altogether. The point is, women carry a lot of self-esteem in their breasts.

Then why, oh why, don't we treat them better?!

Firstly, don't get mammograms.
Or if you already have done so in the past, stop now while you're ahead. I mean it. Don't get mammograms. They're awful things.

See this video. This explains for you -- scratch that, shows you, basically, what a mammogram is. It is an x-ray of the breast. But the machine that is used to perform the mammogram sandwiches the breast flat in order to get a good picture. They say it "may feel uncomfortable" but should not be painful... Well, there are frankly very mixed reports on that score. Size does make a difference when it comes to mammograms.

But I don't want to freak you out about the pain. There's worse. Discomfort versus pain aside, new evidences are showing that mammograms can actually prove to be more beneficial in causing cancer than in diagnosing it. One study actually found that women who went for annual mammograms developed breast cancer at 22% higher than women who relied just on self-examinations. Radiation seems partly to blame, in hand with the squishing action of the mammogram machine's design. Even without the radiation, it seems in some studies that the squeeze design is negative all by itself -- put an area of the body under severe stress and there is a chance that it could go overboard in replacing damaged cells and just not stop growing, and then you have a tumor. And who wants their breast squeezed flat like a pancake anyway? Really? Let's make a similar device for squeezing men's testicles flat in order to screen yearly against testicular cancer and see how long that one lasts! Really. But anyway.....anyway! Don't take my word for it. Please don't. Go read Tanya Harter Pierce. And the British Medical Journal. And Christie Aschwanden.  And the International Journal of Health Services. And more evidence is out there. Go seek it out and form your own educated opinion.

That is not to say we should just ignore our breasts. Every month, or thereabouts, I have a ritualistic poke around to make sure nothing new is going on in that part of my body. Like many women, I get sore boobs sometimes during PMS, so I usually wait until that part of life is through for the month and I'm feeling less sensitive. It's a good habit to make. It's a good habit to know the rest of your body, too. Check all over once in a while for new freckles, skin irritations, muscle tone, and so forth. I encourage mothers of daughters to teach your teenage girls how to perform self-exams on their own breasts, so that they get in the habit early and learn to be aware of their bodies in a healthy way. This link provides a good breakdown of the three basic moves for self-exams, although it really doesn't take as long to check a breast as any instructions seem to indicate. Just a few minutes. No biggie.

(Nope, I am not getting into some breast cancer awareness thingy, certainly not in affiliation with a certain American-founded society... I don't want to get into that. The phoniness makes me too mad. Besides, awareness never solved anything. Action is change, not awareness, not running marathons, not wearing pink, and not vowing off fast food the rest of your life -- although that wouldn't be such a bad thing, really. I am getting into my own breast cancer battle, hoping that more women will refuse mammograms and learn to care for their bodies without unnecessary invasive techniques.) 

This next recipe is based on one from Rosemary Gladstar's book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. You can use it as an oil, thicken it up with beeswax into a salve, whip that salve in the blender with aloe juice into a body cream, or make up a Green Goddess body butter. It smells absolutely lovely to me. Astringent without being sharply pungent.

You don't have to use this oil exclusively on your breasts, either. I used this oil on my legs, with pokeroot oil added, after a bout of rheumatic fever (a systemic infection of the strep virus that manifests with symptoms akin to rheumatoid arthritis) raised hard, sore lumps on my shins and calves, called erythema nodosum. Those lumps looked much like someone had shoved large dried beans under my skin, leaving bruises. Persistent body brushing and massage with LMB + poke oil all over my legs, as I finished my 10 day course of antibiotics, proved to soften and dissipate the lumps. Why? I was helping my lymphatic system to drain. The lymph system is an important network of the body that causes drainage of fluids. Without it, the body can quickly become congested and blocked, and ill, and it often reflects existing illness, such as a sore throat, with inflammation. The 6 large lymph nodes are located at the jaw, neck, armpits, creases of the elbow, the groin, and behind the knee.

This is the same problem that can happen with our breasts, ladies. You know that soreness, sensitivity, that happens at different points in our menstrual cycle, or in life? Sometimes the soreness can seem unrelated to anything usual, which is when women tend to be concerned. While you get in the habit of self-exams, add this massage oil to the process. I use it during my periods to reduce unnecessary tenderness, and I find it helps greatly. I have had reports from other women that the use of this oil has helped soothe those times of occasional inflammation while nursing. Since the skin of the breast is very delicate, and since many women pop on a bra quite quickly and neglect the breast while they lotion their legs, regular care with these healing, soothing herbs will at the very least help to keep your breasts in top condition. Massage lovingly, and be sure to extend a little into the armpits to work those lymph nodes before you apply deodorant.

Love My Breasts Massage Oil 

12 oz olive oil 
1/2 oz calendula flowers 
1/2 oz comfrey leaf 
15 drops lavender essential oil 
8 drops rosemary essential oil 
7 drops pine essential oil 
Begin by infusing olive oil with herbs of calendula flowers and comfrey leaves. Comfrey heals and restores flesh deep down, not just on the surface, and can prove wonderfully soothing to deep soreness. Calendula works with the lymph system for effective drainage, and also heals and strengthens surface skin. Calendula is my very favorite herb for any person and any skin condition, whether alone or paired with other herbs, because it is gentle enough for babies while being effective. The lovely yellow color of calendula oil makes me smile, too.

Follow these instructions for infusing your oil with heat. Use a pint jar, 1/2 oz comfrey, and 1/2 oz calendula, and enough oil to fill up to the neck of the jar over the packed herbs.

Once the oil has finished and cooled, add essential oils. You will need approximately 15 drops lavender, 8 drops rosemary, and 7 drops pine essential oil to your 11-12 ounces of calendula-comfrey oil. Add the essential oils to the cooled jar of infused oil, swirl gently, and leave to synergize overnight.

Rosemary Gladstar says, "Lavender increases circulation to the breast area and activates the immune system. Pine essential oil also increases blood flow to the breast area and contains compounds that have been proved to destroy cancerous cells. Rosemary is warming and decongesting and stimulates the lymph tissue." It seems to work for me! It all smells gorgeous, besides.

So go at it, ladies! Love your breasts. Whether you have nursed a baby or not, you only get one pair from God in this lifetime, and in whatever size or shape He made you they are a part of your body which deserve respect and care, just as the rest of beautiful you.

homemade gummy snacks

My son LOVES fruit snacks. I buy the Black Forest ones, because at least they are fruit sweet, but they still have food coloring added, and they're all individually packaged in portion sizes of 7 pieces per pouch which is a lot of needless trash, and they're really not that cheap, either.

Asher asked for jello yesterday. He dug in the cupboard and found the last box I had in there, and wanted jello. I suddenly thought, gelatin is the foundation of fruit snacks! I wonder if I could make my own?

Yes, I could, as it turns out. My inspiration came from two recipes I found online, both very similar. And there are many more besides. Who knows where the original idea started? The 1950s, possibly? Anyhow, here you go. Be inspired. It was surprisingly easy.

Recipe by "All Day I Dream About Food" -- requires some cooking
Recipe by Wellness Mama -- requires no cooking, but was not as simply written as it could be

My version of Homemade Gummy Snacks
Pictured is an apple juice, honey, fresh strawberry and frozen-defrosted blueberry batch of gummy snacks.

In a quart pyrex jug, whisk together:
  • 1 cup cold juice (apple, carrot or mango go with almost anything)
    or strong herbal tea (peppermint, red raspberry leaf, dandelion, elderberry, cal-mag)
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons/8 packets) gelatin powder
 Immediately add: 
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • optional 2-3 Tbs warm honey or maple syrup 
Whisk again and quickly add: 
  • 1 cup pureed fruit, from fresh or defrosted from frozen (citrus can interfere with gelatin setting, so I recommend berries, apples, peaches, pears, some tropical fruits such as mango, but not oranges, grapefruits, or pineapples, and bananas may be great in smoothies but would turn a bit weird in these snacks)
Pour into a 9x9 square or 8x11 rectangle glass casserole dish, the sides lightly greased with coconut oil and the bottom covered with a non-stick baking paper. Pop into the fridge, uncovered, and leave overnight or for at least 3 hours. It will begin to set right away. When set, tip gently out onto a chopping board and cut into cubes. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 100 pieces, which easily stomps Black Forest for quantity and quality with a cheaper price! Sure, these are not shelf stable, but they will be fine added to a cool container in a lunch box for school or taking to the park if not consumed at home within a mere few days this weekend!

Friday, March 28, 2014

whipped body butters

I first found this basic recipe for Whipped Body Butter on Wellness Mama. We fell in love with the stuff instantly. My husband, in classic form true to the reactions of all the other men in my life, doesn't like lotion. Doesn't lotion. Will put on sunscreen as needed. Doesn't lotion. And yet my husband likes this stuff! He even uses it on himself!! (Deserving of the sacrilegious double exclamation point, I think.) It's proven the easiest, fastest thing to smear all over a wiggling toddler. My favorite nightly eye cream. And if my house grows warm and it melts a bit, I can just whip it back up again. Fabulous.

Of course, I had to improve upon perfection! Here is the basic recipe and my photos, followed by some of my own variations on the theme for other scents and healing butters. Not everybody likes smelling of chocolate, after all.

  • 3 oz shea butter
  • 3 oz cocoa butter
  • 3 oz coconut oil

    Or, just equal weights of each... You can make as much as you like! My size of stand mixer bowl won't properly whip up too small a batch, though, so this is as small as I recommend making at one time. It does keep.

    Wellness Mama suggests using an additional part of liquid base oil, such as olive, grapeseed, apricot kernel, avocado, almond... You can simply double your coconut oil instead. You can add the extra oil for texture softness if you live in a cooler climate, but I find that central Arizona, despite our AC ia for nine months of the year warm enough that my butter doesn't actually require more liquid oil to the recipe. It stands up more stiffly whipped without the liquid oil. However, I took some of a basic batch of shea, cocoa and coconut oil butter, without anything else added, to England with us a couple of months ago. The temperature in Mum's house was consistently much cooler, especially in the bathrooms upstairs, and my usually silky butter became somewhat crumbly in the cold. It still melted on the skin, and when we returned home to AZ the texture righted itself, but crumbly butter just isn't as decadent to scoop up.
  • optional essential oils 20-30 drops

    I suggest essential oils such as peppermint, eucalyptus, geranium, rose, lavender, ylang ylang, rosemary, thyme, oregano, clary sage, tea tree, cinnamon, clove. Most things that would blend well with chocolate for eating will blend well with this basic whipped butter. It's not so strongly chocolatey, either, so while delightful plain, if you add more astringent oils such as rosemary and lavender, the edible scent wafting from you all day will be considerably more hidden than if you decide to smell like an exotic chocolate box. Personally, I like smelling edible! Kinda sexy. ;)

    I do not recommend adding any citrus oils, such as orange or lemon. They do smell fabulous. (Terry's Chocolate Orange, anyone?) However, citrus oils are photosensitive, and when used all over the skin and exposed to sunlight can make a body hypersensitive, itchy, more prone to sunburn, or at the very least just sunspot. I may think grey hair is cool, but I have no ambitions for more sunspots than I already got on the backs of my hands when I was pregnant. After all, I won't even be 30 for a few months yet!

Measure your equal weights of raw ingredients: cocoa butter (dark yellow on the left, the highest melting point), shea butter (the creamy lumps on the right), and coconut oil (the white shiny mound at the back, the lowest melting point).

Prepare your double boiler. A bowl over or in a pot of water does fine for me.

Melt sloooowwwwwllly. Really. This should take about 30 minutes, and the water never simmers. The coconut oil melts first. Just give the lumps of butters a poke around every so often as they melt down. It is really, really important not to rush this step. Raw butters, especially cocoa, need to be tempered when melted for the first time: they need to be very slowly melted down with not too great a heat. Otherwise, they will be unstable.

See this pic? The grainy stuff on my finger? That was a cocoa, shea and apricot kernel oil mix I melted down, in a very small batch just enough to fill two tubs of lipbalm/eye cream. I melted too quickly, in part because the batch was so small, and after the 2nd month the cocoa butter decided to clam up and form little grains through the texture. It still melts on the skin, but again, not desirable. This is what you do not want in your whipped body butter. So melt slooowly.

After everything has melted, set it somewhere to cool for an hour (or several, if you have other places to be) until room temperature. Just throw a cloth over the top in case of dust or bugs. Pour into the mixer bowl. Add your essential oils. The "Baby Skin" blend by Native American Nutritionals is really yummy, and fab for sensitive skin.

Start whipping. The liquid won't whip up properly in this step, but it will take on a yellow more akin to solid butter, instead of the melted butter it was before. (I'm talking about butter from cows.)

Now, transfer the bowl to the fridge. Let it set up for about an hour. Let me explain why.

You know when you make chocolate chip cookies and the butter shouldn't be melty, but it needs to be softer than it comes fully chilled from the fridge? Then in the bowl when you fluff it up before adding the sugar and eggs, the butter takes on a paler color, becomes smooth and almost frosting-like? You want that. But you are trying to get your melted body-butter butter back to a soft, whippable solid, like cookie-making butter that has come from the fridge and been softened for 12 seconds in the microwave. Hence, only chill for about an hour. It shouldn't be totally firm but a little indentable. 

When the butter is at a sensible softness (check with your finger), pop it back on the mixing stand and go at it full blast. Now you are whipping up the butter as if you were making buttercream frosting. It becomes soft, spreadable, light with air pumped into it. Coconut oil will do this all by itself most times of the year here, but since it is sensitive to temperature changes it makes for an unstable spread. The cocoa and shea provide stability in the way that icing sugar stiffens up buttercream frosting.

And there you have it! Whipped body butter! Looks edible, right? You probably would be fine having a lick, especially without essential oils added, but don't do it. Frost yourself, instead. This stuff is...divine. It must be. It smooths in like, well, like butter! And leaves your skin softer than silk, and stronger and healthier than before.

So now you have the basic method. Would you like some additional recipes? Same process, but changing up the ingredients for some fun varieties of body butters.

Avocado Butter:

  • Avocado butter 
  • Shea butter 
  • Coconut oil  

Green Goddess Butter: (my favorite one -- ultra healing, anti-acne, heals the mozzie bites that inevitably happen each summer, and the essential oils promote lymph drainage for smoother legs) 

  • Avocado butter
  • Shea butter  
  • Avocado oil infused with plantain for bug bite soothing, and add 1/2 oz beeswax pastilles per 4 oz oil  
  • Rosemary, lavender and pine essential oils 

After Eight Butter:

  • Cocoa butter
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut oil 
  • Peppermint essential oil

Tropical Touch Butter:

Cafe Latte Butter:

  • Coffee butter
  • Shea butter  
  • Grapeseed oil, and add 1/2 oz beeswax pastilles per 4 oz oil  

Coffee Truffle Butter:

  • Coffee butter 
  • Cocoa butter 
  • Apricot kernel oil, and add 1/2 oz beeswax pastilles per 4 oz oil 
  • Rose and geranium essential oils 

This Brambleberry Supplies list of butters can get you started with high quality and affordable raw butters for inclusion in your home beauty products.

making herbal heat-infused oils

Making Herbal Heat-Infused Oils is not as tricky as you might think. Really, it's not. Herbal oils are not the same as essential oils. E.o.s are highly concentrated essences of the plant. Dried herbs contain essential oils, but many herbs have so much more to offer than just essential oils, and herbal-infused oils are used in many homemade herbal remedies. Salves, homemade lotions in the blender, whipped body butters, hair treatments, cleansing creams and oils. Even cooking. Rosemary garlic infused oil is lovely drizzled over chicken pasta.

I want to show you how to make a heat-infused oil. I have been waiting, impatiently, for the last three days while I finished photographing each step, so that I could not only post this tutorial for you but then finish writing several other recipes that require a herbal infused oil! I couldn't give you those recipes without this first! I will also show you at a later date how to make infused oils without the heat. Fresh rose petals infused into apricot kernel oil, the heatless way, is amazing...  That post will come this summer once my roses bloom! For most herbs, though, this crock pot method is faster, and my go-to method for most herbal oils.

Today, I am making olive oil infused with calendula, and olive oil infused with jasmine green tea. Once the base oil is infused, stored correctly the herbal oil should last about three years. That's pretty cool.
  • wide mouth glass canning jar, pint or cup, with lids
  • base oil for infusing -- olive, coconut, apricot kernel, grapeseed, almond, jojoba, avocado... 
  • herbs for infusing into the oil -- 1 oz weight for a pint jar, 1/2 oz weight for a cup jar 
  • slow cooker / crock pot with "keep warm" setting
  • thermometer if needed 
  • clean cloth for straining 
  • clean glass jar for straining
  • masking tape and permanent marker for labeling 
  • optional Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) and vitamin E oil for preservatives 

 Begin by measuring out your herbs by weight. You will need 1 ounce of herbs for a pint jar, other size jars do the math accordingly. This basic rule of 1 oz per pint applies to infused oils, infused vinegars, alcoholic tinctures, glycerites and honeys.

 Pop the herb of choice into the jar. Get a toddler to carefully help.

 Fill up with base oil. Pictured is jasmine green tea with olive oil. Once the bubbles have finished rising and the herbs are soaked with oil, top up again, bringing the oil level to about 1/2 inch from the top of the jar, leaving the same approximate head space as for canning homemade jam. The oil will expand as it heats so it's a good idea to allow a little room to prevent bubbling over.

 This is calendula. Do you see the difference in volume between the 1 oz green tea and this 1 oz calendula flowers? The green tea oil will amount to more, as there is more room in the jar for the olive oil, but you will gain more consistent results in quality if you measure by weight than by volume.

 Both my calendula and green tea oils are ready for infusing. Measured, filled, lids and bands on, and then I like to stick a quick label with masking tape and permanent marker on the top of each jar, just in case I forget what is in each one. I don't like to waste energy so usually make more than one product at a time when I am using the crock pot. The marker and masking tape won't bleed when wet which makes them ideal for these sorts of labeling needs.

 Place jars in the crock pot. Fill up with water up to the neck, where you see my thumb indicating. Keep the crock topped up with hot water as it evaporates.

 Set the crock pot to "keep warm". Leave it for THREE DAYS to heat infuse the herbs into the oil.

Well, don't fully abandon it! If your crock pot tends to run hot, as mine does, it may get too warm for some herbs. You want to heat them consistently so they release all their goodness into the oil, but you don't want to actually fry them. Some herbs, such as arnica, do better on a low heat around 110-115 F, much like yogurt, and will lose a lot of goodness when overheated. Other herbs, like my jasmine green tea or echinacea purpurea root, can handle a bit more heat to bring out their goodness. Generally speaking, soft herbs require less heat and hard herbs require more -- just as in the difference between infusing (boiling water over the top and letting steep) soft herbs for tea and decocting (simmering 20 minutes) hard herbs for tea.

If your crock runs warm, place a rag on the bottom, underneath the jars, and stick a thermometer in as well. Keep an eye on the temperature. If you need, you can turn the "keep warm" setting on and off every hour throughout the day, turning the crock off at night, for the three days of heat infusing.

 Once the time is up, pull the jars of oil and let them cool a bit. You will be using your hands, so while the oils should still be warm, don't try it when they are too hot.

 Line a spotlessly clean and dry glass jug with your spotlessly clean and dry cloth. Do not allow any dampness to happen here! Oil and water don't mix, and if you get moisture into the oil, it will likely grow mold after only a few months, certainly not lasting years. If that happens, throw it out. All of it. Mold has already run the length of the entire product if you see a flower in one place, and you don't want that on your skin or in your body. This is not lacto-fermented cheese.

 Dump the contents of your jar, oil and all the herbs, into the center of the cloth. Pull up the sides, let drain, and squeeze thoroughly to get all the goodness, all the oil and the healing properties, out of the herbs as much as possible.

My honey took this photo for me as my hands were, clearly, both tied up!

 You may add one drop per ounce of infused oil of each of the GSE and vitamin E oil (not for cooking). They will help preserve your infused oil for longer at maximum potency. Store the oil in spotlessly clean and dry glass jars, with properly sealed lids, and label.

Labeling is important! Never rely on memory. Use the masking tape and permanent marker, again, since they peel off jars for easy cleaning later and won't bleed in case of spills, and note the full contents of the jar and the date.

Store your infused oils in the dark and cool. A cabinet is fine in most cases. Some like to store in the fridge. No higher than 75 F is a good idea, though. See the gorgeous colors in the finished herbal oils here? I don't keep them on the kitchen windowsill! I just wanted to show you the lovely buttery yellow that calendula lends, and the darker green that olive oil becomes with jasmine green tea. These will make beautiful, healing, skin nourishing beauty products, used just as they are or turned into lotions and potions!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

pressure cooker pulled pork

Pressure Cooker Pulled Pork is just about the fastest way to make pulled pork. Surprisingly, it tastes just as good as the 12 hour version -- at least, to me. I discovered this by accident today. Well, intentional accident. Mistake? I have been working on a new post for you all, a tutorial on making herbal infused oils in the crock pot, and I forgot that the 3 days of oil infusing overlapped with the day I am expected to bring pulled pork to bible study...which I usually make in the crock pot, slow cooking it all day. Well! Instant bother, to which my husband calmly commented, "just make it in the pressure cooker." Oh! Can I? I looked it up. Yes, there are many recipes online for pressure cooker pulled pork. It certainly won't dry out the meat, and it will cut down on cooking time quite dramatically. Try this and let me know what you think.

You need:
  • one medium white onion, diced
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tb brown sugar 
  • about 6 lbs pork shoulder roast or pork loin 
  • 24 oz can light (color not calorie) beer 
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger root 
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed 
  • 2 tsp ground paprika 
  • a good HFC-free BBQ sauce -- alternatively, this recipe is great if you don't have sauce handy
  • 2 1/2 hours before serving

Start by tossing the diced onion and the butter in the pressure cooker. Cook it up over medium heat until the onion starts to soften. Add the brown sugar, reduce heat to a very gentle simmer, and let caramelize for about 10 minutes.

While that is doing it's thing, have a look at your meat. Chop it up into three or four portions that fit into the pot. That large lump you see had a bone running through it so I couldn't lop it up any more.

Once onions are ready, add pork to the pot. Add ginger, coriander and paprika. Pour beer all over the top.

Pop on the lid and bring to 15 lbs of pressure -- when the knobbly thing on the top of the lid starts rocking violently and making a lot of noise, reduce heat just until it finds a steady, rhythmic rocking. That's approximately 15 lbs. My gas mark is usually between 4 and 5 on the hob for 15 lbs pressure.

Now, cooking time. You need to cook at 15 lbs pressure for about 15 minutes per pound of meat. So, a whole 4 lb roast will take approximately an hour. I didn't cook my 6 lb roast for 1 1/2 hours, though, because I had chopped it up a bit smaller, so I felt comfortable reducing the time just a bit and kept it at pressure for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Oh, and make sure you gap a window and turn on the extractor fan! The smell of beer will permeate your entire house otherwise.

Once the timer beeps, or dings, or whatever yours does, turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker release naturally. In other words, wait for it to cool and release the pressure enough to take off the lid, rather than cooling it under running water. This gives time for the pork to absorb as much delicious moisture back into it's fibers as possible before you shred it up. It will take about 30 minutes.

Okay, you've taken off the lid. Here's what it looks like. Pour off all that liquid. There is a fair amount of melted fat floating on the top that I like to get rid of, and not all that liquid is needed.

Get out two forks and start shredding. Set aside any fatty bits you don't want to eat. See how cleanly the meat fell off the bone?

It's all shredded up! Throw on your BBQ sauce. The liquid I poured off and reserved has let all the fat float to the top. Skim off the fat, and use about a cup of the beer juice to mix in the BBQ sauce and make a gorgeously sloppy, messy, flavorful covering over everything.


Monday, March 24, 2014

vegetarian curry and wholegrain buttered naan

Vegetarian Curry and Wholegrain Buttered Naan

I like my meat but occasionally we just have a vegetarian night. Curry is also a fabulous way to use up things that you otherwise don't know what to do with, or don't particularly care for on their own. Kale is one of those things for me. I don't mind it, and I love all the nutrients, but I wish it weren't so bitter! So I curried it for dinner this evening.

Start with preparing naan dough. I used this buttered naan recipe. I used entirely home ground whole grain flour, about 1/2 soft white wheat and 1/2 a blend of hard red and hard white wheat, and it turned out beautifully. So I say with confidence, it works no matter what type of flour you want! Home milled flour tends to be the least stable, for obvious reasons -- it has not been stripped of things to make it shelf stable. This recipe also works well if you halve it. It may be just me, but some recipes don't turn out as well if made in double or halved quantities to the original. Naan? Fab as a four piece batch.

(In case the embedded link ever flops, as has happened to pages I've linked before, here is a tidy copy-paste, photo-less, of the naan recipe and destructables for you. You're welcome.) 

Naan Ingredients:
4 cups all-purpose flour or 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup hot water (but not boiling, just hot tap water)
3/4 teaspoonactive dry yeast
3/4 cup warm milk
1 cup greek yogurt
melted butter for brushing (may use olive oil)
fresh cilantro or other herbs for topping

Naan Instructions:
  1. In a medium size bowl, or 4 cup glass measuring cup, dissolve the sugar in the warm water (about 105 degree F). Add the dry yeast to the warm water and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Let it sit for 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to froth and rise.
  2. Add the flour, baking soda and baking powder to a large mixing bowl.
  3. When the yeast is foamy and smells like bread add the warm milk and yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients right into the middle of the dry and begin mixing the wet with dry using a wooden spatula. When the dough is about to come together, use your hands to finish mixing. As soon as it comes together, stop kneading. It should be sticky, but should form a ball and be soft. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place 1 hour or if not using right away overnight in the fridge.
  4. When ready to cook divide the dough into 8 equal balls and using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough into an oval shape. It should be about 6-8 inches long and about 1/4-inch thick, but no thinner. Repeat this method with the rest of the dough.
  5. Warm a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (you want a hot pan). Brush both sides of the naan with melted butter and if desired sprinkle on any spices you like such as cumin and garlic. Place the naan on the hot skillet, cover with a lid and bake for 1 minute, until you see bubbles starting to form. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side, until large toasted spots appear on the underside. Brush with a bit more butter if desired, then sprinkle with a little kosher salt, fresh cilantro (I used cilantro) or other herbs. Place the naan in a tea towel-lined dish. Repeat with the rest of the naans and serve. These are best eaten fresh, but will keep in a ziplock bag for a few days or in the freezer.
Starting the curry:
Chop a large onion in half and then slice thinly into semicircles.
Mince 6 cloves garlic.
Throw it all into a hot pan with several Tbs coconut oil. Fry up until mostly clarified.

Add homemade tikka curry powder, about 3 rounded Tbs, and warm on medium heat into the oil and cooking alliums.

Add chopped veg and cooked beans.
1 head purple kale
1 head broccoli
1 fennel bulb and greens
2 cups cooked chick peas (garbanzo beans), or just open a can if you have some in the cupboard and rinse before adding.

Stir things up a bit, and add 4 cups (1 quart) homemade soup stock and a can of coconut milk. Pop a lid on, turn the heat to medium-low, and keep the curry ticking on a low simmer for the next 30 minutes or until the kale is quite soft.

While the curry is doing it's thing, get back to your naan. Use plenty of salted butter. I used dried thyme and oregano from my garden instead of fresh cilantro, and it was still delicious.

Everything should be finished cooking at roughly the same time, and if the curry is done first, just turn off the heat and leave the lid on. It will only love you for it. Curry always seems to improve with sitting, and leftovers are sometimes even better than the first go around! Do taste the curry 5 minutes before serving and decide whether or not it wants a pinch or two of salt. Give it time to flavor through before serving. I have a strong distaste for providing salt on the dining table and prefer to make sure things are as I think they should be before food is set on any dish.

We didn't eat the very saucy curry with rice, as I figured the naan provided carbs enough, and we greatly enjoyed dipping the warm bread in the gravy.

onion soup

This is a very simple soup, about as simple as you can get. Sometimes I just want a change. Sometimes I just want light and easy. Why pop open a can for light and easy when you can prepare something almost as simple and quite a bit more nourishing?

Onion Soup

You need 2 large white/yellow onions, or 3 to 4 bunches of green spring onions.
You need a quart of good homemade soup stock, either chicken or vegetable.
You need about a tablespoon of oil.
You need a large pot with a lid.
You need a spoon for stirring. 
You need a tantalizing, challenging and yet surprisingly lighthearted book to read. I suggest Mr. God, This Is Anna. Fabulous reading.

You probably need delicious homemade bread to go on the side, too. Let's say that is already baked and just begging to be buttered and dipped into this onion soup!

Roughly dice up the onions. Add the oil and onions to the soup pot. Cook on medium-high heat until opaque and tender. Add the soup stock and about 1/2 c to 1 c plain water. Add salt to taste if you need it. Pop on the lid and let it simmer for 30 minutes while you read.

You now need an immersion wand blender. Pulverize the soup to the smooth consistency you desire. Or leave it as is. Serve up in a deep bowl with a side of buttered bread, and add a drizzle of thick cream over the top of the soup if you like. I don't think this needs croutons or cheese or anything else. Why mess with perfection?

Friday, March 21, 2014

driving in neutral: skin pH restoring

What is pH?

pH is a sciencey chemisty shorthand for "potential of hydrogen", or the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen. Basically, a term we now use to define the acidity of something. Low pH has a lot of hydrogen. High pH has a lot of oxygen.

You see this useful little key I pinched from several places online? (Can't find the original source. Sorry. Not that it's amazingly unique anyway.) See the detergent a pH of 9, and everything higher than that being some sort of cleaning product? Yeah. Most of your personal cleansers and products fit into that high pH range, too. Your shampoo, your pore tightening scrub, your shower gel and shaving foam... Not just your dish soap.

Now see the vinegar listed with lemon juice at 2 pH? Apple cider vinegar is closer to between 4 and 5.

Your skin? If you're a woman, you fit between 4 and 6, and if you're a man, between 5 and 7. Approximately. Yes, women are slightly more acidic than men (ha, ha, get out your laughs now), in particular when it comes to private bits. But basically, on this little scale of 1 being pure acid to 14 being pure alkali, humans fit in the middle. Neutral.

Oh, boy. Did we just get personal?

Well, this is one of the causes for infections and skin irritations, not merely a result of them. Sometimes, when men and women get down under those sheets, especially if they are not sexually active or frequently active, yeast or urinary tract infections follow, more often for the women. Poor us, and not just the fault of our anatomy. It's not uncommon for a newly pregnant mama to experience some of the same discomforts as her body changes for a growing babe. Women who are not being slowly turned into balloons or rolling in the hay with some guy are also susceptible at times simply due to hormones, which fluctuate throughout the course of each month, not to mention over decades. Sometimes, hygiene habits just need a little tweak. Cotton knickers that breathe, maybe swapping out the disposable unsanitary "sanitary" feminine products for cotton reusables that really can be ensured safe and clean, the habit of urinating after intercourse. Those things can help. But sometimes, the main problem is that area's pH is off, leaving sensitive skin vulnerable. It needs to be balanced again.

Apple cider vinegar to the rescue.
  1. Skin toner -- check out my anti-acne plantain acv facial toner recipe.
  2. You can also use plain ACV, diluted to 50% strength with water, aloe juice, hydrosol, herbal infusion, or other skin-gentle liquid as a body rinse in the shower after soaping.
  3. One of the reasons a diluted ACV rinse helps soothe sunburns is -- you guessed it! PH balancing. I recommend going with an aloe juice instead of water, for extra soothing and healing power.
  4. Hair rinse. I like to clean my hair by rubbing my scalp with a paste of baking soda and water, sometimes a few drops of lemon or tea tree essential oils added. After rinsing clear, I then dilute several tablespoonfuls of ACV in a cup of plain water, dump it all over my head and let it soak in for a few minutes before rinsing again. This BS/ACV method is sometimes called, "no poo" cleansing, but I find that mildly disturbing so will stick with the abbreviations. The ACV helps to bring my scalp skin back to a neutral pH after the baking soda cleansing. We recently traveled to England and I used my mother's Pantene shampoo and conditioner. Big mistake. I came home with a nasty, prickly, flaky, sore, itchy patch of contact dermatitis on the back of my scalp above the nape of my neck. It healed with my return to BS/ACV cleansing, totally toxin-free, along with an extra rinse each shower of chickweed and plantain tea. I could have used plantain-infused ACV, too, but I was waiting on a new batch to finish at the time. 
  5. My Personal Australia rinsing, or vaginitis relief. (Are you getting the idea?) No need to douche unless you really want to, but a quick splash of straight up vinegar or 50:50 ACV and water any time needed after intercourse, or during menstruation, or during menopause, or pretty much any time your skin may be a little vulnerable, exposed, or off for any reason, can rapidly help restore your natural pH and halt discomfort in its tracks. To up the ante and really knock an incipient yeast infection flying, mix 1 part ACV with 1 part strong infusion of plantain and lavender, and wash the area using a little squeezy peri bottle each time you use the loo. You can also follow up with 1 drop each -- just one -- of castor oil and tea tree essential oil applied to any itching external areas. You probably won't need to do this even for one day.
  6. Bathing with vinegar. Yep. Once again, same benefits, plus sore muscles will enjoy soaking up the minerals for faster recovery from an injury or a workout. Drop anywhere from 1 cup to 1 gallon of ACV into a deep bath and soak in it. Lovely. I often added a little ACV to my son's baths when he was a baby. Heck, I do even now. But tiny infants have especially vulnerable skin, having been grown and protected in the perfect pH environment, and now they are out in the world and exposed their skin is open to all kinds of attack. Diaper rash is usually as simple as contact dermatitis. So I'm not a big fan of baby soap for babies. I do highly recommend several Tbs of ACV and aloe vera juice to a sink or large bowl of baby bath water, along with a small posset or teabag of skin-gentle herbs such as chickweed, calendula, rose petals, lavender, oatstraw, and using a rubdown of castor and apricot or coconut oils as a cleanse from any poop or dirt. No soap needed.
  7. Foot fungus, like athlete's foot, will take a needed kick in the bum with regular ACV rinsing. You can make a tincture of apple cider vinegar and antifungal herbs, like Four Thieves blend (peppermint, lavender, rosemary, sage, wormwood 1 part each by size, not weight) or eucalyptus leaf, and make a foot soak every evening as a curative, or after every workout as a preventative for those who are prone to flareups. 
  8.  I have not had this problem with my deodorant, possibly because it is not predominantly baking soda, or possibly because I use ACV in my hair so frequently that it rinses over most of the rest of me as well, but Crunchy Betty's post on troubleshooting homemade deodorant with a pH balancing act (namely ACV rinsing) explains much of the above, plus some useful embedded links for further reading.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

anti-acne plantain facial toner

Anti-acne facial toner. Just what you wanted to talk about, right? Well, without dwelling on it too much, acne ranges from inconvenient to painful to downright miserable. I don't claim that this toner will cure everything, but I have had very good success with it, along with a few other anti-acne home remedies that will come in later posts. Not only effective for most people, this toner is cheap, all natural, and pretty easy to do. Cha-ching.

First, you need to make a tincture. Use a cup jar (8 fluid ounces) or pint (16 oz), depending on how much you would like, of plantain in apple cider vinegar.

Plantain is a fabulous herb. Read more about it. You likely have seen it growing in the lawn, or perhaps your local park. I see broadleaf and buckthorn plantain growing all over the place in one of my local parks. Plantain will help take the itch and sting out of your disturbed acneic skin, and aid in healing more rapidly. You may find that it helps take the red discoloration out of your face, too.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an acid. Duh. But it is also a relatively low pH ("potential of hydrogen") acid, typically ranging between 4.5 and 5 pH. The optimal pH of human skin is considered to be about 5.5, healthy skin ranging between 4.5 and 7, men often being slightly less acidic than women. What often happens when we use a facial wash or a soap is that we mess up our skin's natural acidity. Many soaps are too alkaline, not acidic enough. When your skin is already hurting and broken, using cleansers, especially over the counter acne-curing products, that strip it further of it's protective acid-alkaline balance leaves it more vulnerable and less able to heal. ACV-based toner helps balance your skin's pH after cleansing.

For this toner, you need 2 parts (50%) plantain ACV.
You need 1 part (25%) witch hazel, or rosewater hydrosol, or aloe juice.
You need 1 part (25%) distilled water, or boiled and cooled water, or rosewater hydrosol.
You need a blue or amber glass bottle.

You can also use lavender and tea tree (melaleuca) essential oils, up to 1 drop per fluid oz of toner, but these are optional. If your face is very acneic, I suggest discluding the e.o.s until things heal just a little, to prevent undue irritation.

If you use aloe juice, the toner should be kept in the fridge or used within 4 weeks. If not, it should last up to 6 months in a bathroom cabinet, providing the bathroom is not kept warm.

In my 4 oz blue glass bottle, I mix 2 oz plantain ACV, 1 oz witch hazel (Thayers already has aloe in it), and 1 oz distilled water. I use no more than 4 drops of essentials, two each of lavender and tea tree. Shake lightly. Allow to synergize (let the various densities meld together) for at least an hour before using.

To use, apply toner onto a cotton ball and smooth over clean face after cleansing, avoiding eyes. It may sting deep sores, but only briefly and probably not worse than most other toners or prescriptions. I've tried a lot! And this toner feels good to my face, only faintly stinging the (now rare) deepest of open sores. Let dry and follow with your moisturizer of choice. Use up to three times a day and watch your skin heal! For acne on the back, and thus difficult to reach, you can use a spritz top bottle and spray it on the area after bathing.

making tinctures with vinegar or alcoholic menstruum

Making a tincture is pretty basic. I often get a slightly awed look from people who hear I make my own tinctures at home, but it's really not that difficult.

To start, you will need
  1. a glass US pint canning jar (16 fluid ounces), 
  2. and 1 oz by weight of the herb or herb mix you want to tincture. 
  3. You will also need a menstruum -- a liquid base. This can be an alcohol -- I prefer either brandy or grain vodka -- or vinegar -- I tend to choose apple cider vinegar more often than any other type.
  • Pop the 1 oz herbs into the bottom of your spotlessly clean and dry jar.
  • Fill up with menstruum. 
  • Stir to wet herbs as needed, and top up again. I bring it up not quite to the top of the jar, to about 1/4 inch from the top. 
  • Cap tightly with proper canning lid and ring.
  • Use a permanent marker to write on masking tape -- peels off easily for later cleaning, and doesn't bleed in case of oily or wet spills -- and label your jar with the menstruum, herb or herbs, and today's date, the day you started the tincture. Labels are very important!
  • Now, place your jar in a dark, cool area. A cabinet in the kitchen is likely fine. Just not consistently over about 75 F, please.

The tincture needs to sit for four weeks. You can base it on a lunar cycle, if you like, and measure from full moon to full moon. This isn't necessary and you should have a good tincture regardless, but the moon's gravity will aid in drawing out the properties from the herbs into the menstruum in a similar way that it pulls the tides of the ocean throughout the month. However you do it, four weeks is a standard length for most tinctures. Give the jar a good shake every few days as you remember it.

In the case of my photos, I have made a tincture for use in an anti-acne facial toner, so what you see here is my apple cider vinegar infused with plantain.

Welcome back! Your tincture should be properly infused by now.

You need 
  1. the jar of herby tincture that has been sitting for four weeks, 
  2. a cheesecloth or clean t-shirt fabric (I like to use woven cotton diaper prefolds I got cheaply at Walmart, as they have a fine mesh and are easy to clean), 
  3. a bowl or jug to catch the tincture liquid, 
  4. and a spatula.
  • Line the jug or bowl with the cloth.
  • Dump in the tincture, herbs and all. Get it all out of the jar. 
  • With clean hands, lift up the cloth catching the herbs, let the liquid drain out, and give it a good hard squeeze to get as much goodness out of the herbs as possible.
overexposed pic! sorry -- was holding the cloth with one hand and snapping quickly with the other

Now, clean your tincture jar or have a new one ready washed and dried.
Pour the tincture into the jar. Store in a dark, cool place, like that cabinet or even in the fridge, and your tincture ought to last for around 3 years. Yes, three years! Brilliant way to preserve herbs.

For my recipe for anti-acne facial toner, continue here.