Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fuzzy Brain Findings

~Ok, first I want to acknowledge that the title there sounds more like it ought to be for a Halloween recipe than anything else. Just stick with me, I'll get around to making sense eventually~

I've been wondering why it was that, as much as I love to cook and, even more, as much as I love to bake ... why don't I make Christmas cookies? For the holidays I do make fudge, but that is usually only done a day or so before our Christmas Eve Open House Party and more for gifts than anything else. Shoot, I think this is the second year Santa has not gotten cookies from us. (Don't worry, we're pretty certain he just helped himself to some of the fudge instead!) I see friends posting about all the holiday goodies they're baking and wonder ... why am I not doing this?? The only things that become absolute must-haves this time of year for us are: 1)Chex-Mix & 2)Sausage Balls ~ the latter of which we reserve, again, for gatherings.

So, I keep wondering what is up with me, with us, not demanding more sweets. I was pondering this as I snacked on some Sugar Cookies that someone brought as a gift. I ate 4, maybe 5 of those. Then, it began to hit me. My tummy began rumbling ~ I always begin to think of that silly old Pooh Bear when that happens. I felt like I needed to go for a jog ... or into detox or something.

And then, something really magical happened. My fuzzy little brain began adding things up! If you know me, you know how fuzzy my brain gets when it comes to mathematical stuff, so wow ... a Christmas miracle of sorts.

I noticed that, when I'm not feeling well, when my tummy is rumbly, and especially if all of that is caused by a night of too much drinking, I reach to my one tried and true remedy: Dr. Pepper. We each have our things, Dr. Pepper is mine. Then, because I haven't been feeling too good, I start making bad decisions about what to eat. Sipping on soda, snacking on cookies, almost ready to give in and order take-out pizza for dinner. Yikes.

~I finally bought this book when I found it at Big Lots today or $3, down from the cover price of $24.95~

Now, if you know me at all, you know my love for Nina Planck and her book 'Real Food.' I had checked 'Deceptively Delicious' out from the library after hearing lots of raves about it. It was pretty intriguing, but I let it go without too much thought. When we left the house to run a few quick errands today, I was starting to feel the need to detox. So, when I spotted this book on the shelf for $3 I snatched up a copy for myself, then ended up going back and grabbing one for a friend as well.

I have to admit that right now I actually have that Activia commercial running through my head. Thanks Jamie Lee Curtis. You know, you feel like crud so you make bad decisions with your eating, which just makes you keep feeling like crud. Well, Activia isn't what I am needing, but veggies are!

'Deceptively Delicious' is, according to the cover anyway, "simple secrets to get your kids eating good food." Ok, I don't but into trying to sneak healthy food into my kids. We have a pretty darn lush garden, we don't give them lots of sweets (Santa brought always brings apples and oranges and, seriously, I probably have the only kids who would be delighted to be enrolled in the Fruit of the Month Club as a gift), they know about veggies and love them.

But I realized something today -- it isn't exactly OUR kids I'm worried about at the moment. It's my own damn inner child that needs to be tricked!! I was the picky eater growing up, and I am still really, embarrassingly horrible about eating veggies. I want to be better, I really do, but it's a long road ahead of me. I'm working on it.

This is where I would really recommend this book. That, or if your kids are picky eaters like I was. The basic idea she goes with here is using pureed foods (veggies and fruits) in places you really wouldn't expect them. There is a recipe for Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcakes that includes, among other things, yellow squash puree, blueberry puree, and spinach puree. A recipe for Mozzarella Sticks that uses: whole-wheat bread crumbs, flaxseed meal, & cauliflower puree, along with mozzarella. ~ Now here I will follow the advice of Nina Planck and try finding raw, whole milk mozzarella instead of the skim-milk advised in the recipe. This book has gotten a LOT of hype as well as some seriously rave reviews, so I'm hopeful about the sneaking of extra veggies into our daily routine. If any of these dishes can actually get me to eat cauliflower, something my own inner-kiddo immensely detests, then I'll know it's a real keeper! Here is a link to her website if you wanna check it out:

And, if by New Year's Eve you are starting to make a resolution of hitting the gym because you are feeling funky from all those sweets, I encourage you to pause for a moment. Take a deep, cleansing breathe in. Look at the food around you. Adding more exercise is almost always a fantastic idea, but look at what you're eating on a regular basis. Maybe the answer is right in front of you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Homemade Bisquick Mix

It's that time of year again: time for Sausage Balls!!! I used to have my grandmother's recipe (and still likely do ....... somewhere ..), but since it has gotten lost in the archives, I've been using other recipes. Not too bad, except they ALL call for the same ingredient, as did my grandmother's --- Bisquick!! UGH!!!! That crap will NOT enter my kitchen!!! Turns out Homemade Bisquick is cheap and easy to make. And a lot better than the stuff in the box. So, here we go.

~A pastry cutter really would've helped here. See my broken, wooden fork?~

Homemade Bisquick Mix
(recipe adapted from

*6 cups all-purpose flour
*3 Tablespoons baking powder
*1 Tablespoon salt
*1 cup lard

~ Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together well. Cut in the softened lard with a pastry cutter. I made two mistakes here: I used frozen lard thinking it would warm up quickly enough .. it didn't and it took me slowly, gently heating the mixture to get it to melt. Also, this is one of those times when you realize why you really ought to own a pastry cutter. I used my wooden fork, and ended up breaking off on of the tines. Don't worry, it was a clean break, no splinters in the food!
~Once it is all well-mixed together, store in air-tight containers in the fridge. This makes 7 cups of "mix" and will last up to 4 months in the fridge.

~Ta-Da!! The finished product, just waiting to be called upon for use in Sausage Balls~

Ok, now I know some of you have probably just cringed at one of the ingredients in my list .. but before I address that I'm going to go in order as there is something to be said about almost all the ingredients.

*The flour - I used about a 1/2 & 1/2 mixture of unbleached white flour and whole wheat flour that I get from a local mill. Justin doesn't care for all whole wheat flour, so we've found blending the two works quite well for us.
*The baking powder - I used Rumford's Baking Powder as it is aluminum free. There has been research done that links Alzheimer's disease and aluminum. Aluminum builds up in your body, mostly in your brain. It is damage that is done over time. It also can give things a metallic, "tin" taste to them. Enuf' said for me.
*The salt - We've switched to Real Salt. To quote their homepage: Real Salt is an all-natural, kosher-certified sea salt extracted from deep within the earth, crushed, screened, and packaged. Real Salt's unique flecks of color are the result of more than 50 natural trace minerals essential to human health (including natural iodine!). For more info -

And this brings me to the last ingredient, the one ingredient that I simply HAD to change from the original recipe. The original recipe called for vegetable shortening. I used lard. Not store-bought lard. This is lard that I rendered myself. The fat came from the farm where we get our meat, and was pasture-raised and organic. This is real lard.
Most people still have a hard time getting over using lard. I'll admit, it even took me a bit. Then I read Real Food; What to eat & why by Nina Plack. Get this book & change your life. To quote Nina about lard: The thing about lard is that it is mostly unsaturated fat, which nobody knows, and the monounsaturated in it is the same one in olive oil. (this was from this Q&A with her -
Vegetable shortening also contains hydrogenated oils. Something really not good for you. Again, read her book, and you'll know why you won't ever look back.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A spoonful of sugar

Have you got Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins going through your head yet?? I know I do. So now we have before us the days when the sunlight is limited, the winds whip through us, and the cold chills to our very bones. Now are the days, especially mornings, when coffee beckons us more than ever. You might think you need that java to get you going in the morning all year long, but when your feet leave the warmth of the covers on your bed and land on cold, wooden floors .... well, then you really want the coffee!!
And, of course, you want to make sure you're drinking some organic, fair-trade coffee. Not only is "regular" coffee grown with an INSANE amount of chemicals and pesticides (on the list of things grown most saturated, coffee ranks high up there), but also, the farming business isn't kind to small farmers or the region that is good for coffee. So, if you love your coffee, then love where it comes from and how it got from plant to your cup.
But the main reason I am writing this isn't so much about the coffee itself. It's about the sugar you use. Or, more accurately, how much sugar you're using.
Personally, when I started drinking coffee I was one of those "would you like some coffee with your sugar?" kinda drinkers. Pour it on! Now, I'm trying to cut back. And one of those ways I've found is a pretty damn obvious one. Use a smaller spoon.

~Sometimes, size really DOES matter .... sorry guys, but it's the truth!~

For me, I "need" two spoonfuls of sugar. I've managed to wean myself down to that, but I just can't seem to be content without two spoonfuls. Still, I wanted to use less sugar. That's when I noticed my old baby spoon gathering dust. *TA DA*
Just like the wise advice of using smaller plates for meals to make you feel like you've gotten just as much food, this tiny little spoon still allows me to have two spoonfuls, heaping spoonfuls at that, but with obviously much less sugar! I wasn't even fully aware at how much sugar I was able to keep out of my coffee until I took this picture, but it is a darn significant amount.

~My new favorite mug for coffee and my two new favorite spoons~

I also usually drink out of one of those mega-mugs. You know the bad boys I'm talking about. But, I've noticed that when I drink coffee out of it I tend to get the coffee jitters, as well as the fact that I'm more likely to have a headache get triggered. So, my "new" favorite mug for coffee is one that was my Mom's and that I grew up seeing in the cabinet. Just the right size.
Another thing that is really cool is that I get to use my baby spoon again. I mean, where is the logic in giving an infant or toddler a silver spoon??? Not like they can fully appreciate it! You might be able to just barely make it out in the photo, but my spoon has my initials on it. I'm pretty certain it was, many years ago, a gift from my grandmother. So, 1) proves the well-known logic that grandparents have no clue what a good gift is when you're a kid (JUST KIDDING!) and 2) it reminds me of her. Sweet nostalgia and familial ties.
The other spoon is one of those super-hip spoons that I'm sure have some proper use, but I just don't know what it is. It came to me as many things do, passed down through the generations. Don't tell Miss Manners or Emily Post on me please, but I just don't know my formal table settings that well. All I know is that it makes a really cool, kinda Art Deco-ish sugar spoon for me. I feel hip, and that isn't something that happens that often.

If you don't have your baby spoon, or you don't have the random little spoon that only very proper ladies know what to do with (and I have my doubts there too), head to your local antique store. Hell, look on ETSY. Either way, you can probably very easily find a spoon for you for less than a cup o' joe (do they still make those) at Starbucks. You'll be using less sugar and you'll be recycling! Makes that morning cup or three of coffee suddenly a lot sweeter, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Leftover Turkey Ideas

My apologies for the lack of snazzy photos to accompany this post. What can I say? When you get cooking in the kitchen a lot of time the camera is the last thing on your mind. And, besides that, my kitchen is often such a clutter that I am not really sure I would WANT a photo of it up! hahaha

Every year we order our turkeys from Bright Farm in Floyd, Va. They're pasture-raised, we pick them fresh out of the cold water, and there just is NOT any going back to the store for some wanna-be sad turkey. Last year we had a good 25lb bird, this year we managed to pick out a smaller bird ~ 17lbs. For five adults and two kids! Everyone took home leftovers and still we were left with a LOT of leftover turkey to eat.

Obviously, we are not the only people with this "dilemma" as websites abound with ideas on ways to serve leftover turkey. But, something leaves me very disappointed with most of these sites and the things I've seen. I STILL feel like I'm eating turkey!

I know "DUH!! You ARE eating turkey!" But, who wants to feel like they're still eating turkey? BBQ'd turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey with cheese, turkey casserole, turkey with mayonnaise ... I'm beginning to feel like Bubba talking about shrimp.

~You know you love this scene!~

Anyway, so here are a couple new ideas. Pardon me for only having two, but seriously, you gotta meet some serious criteria to make this worthy albeit tiny little list: pretty much, you gotta make me feel HAPPY to be eating this and NOT feel like I am trying to finish off something in the fridge before it goes bad!

Idea #1: White Turkey Chili ~ here is the link for the recipe we use: ~ substitute turkey for chicken (duh!) and before you know it you're actually hoping you have leftovers!! This is a really rocking dish for football season too, so bring on the game!

Idea #2: Jambalaya ~ this was a first for us this year. Seriously, I've never made jambalaya before today, but I gotta say this was a kickin' dish! Here is the link for the recipe we used: ~ Again, switch out turkey for chicken. In this dish I gotta tell you, it REALLY isn't noticeable! Another recipe that makes me look forward to eating more turkey the week after Thanksgiving.

And, of course, the really big reminder of things to do with leftover turkey .... MAKE STOCK!!! Turkey stock is awesome and works magic just like chicken stock does! If you are tossing out those bones from the carcass without making stock you are tossing out some liquid gold folks.

So ... what do you do with your leftover turkey?? Got any worthy recipes? I wanna hear them!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Garlic & Honey

My apologies, I know I've neglected this page for a while. Cold weather makes me want to be in the kitchen more, so I'm trying to pay more attention. Here we go!
Cold Season is upon us. It used to be a time for stocking up on some kitchen essentials, warm blankets, tissues, and maybe some silly magazines to get you through those "day-in-bed" spells. Or maybe I'm the only one who somehow feels the need to indulge in magazines like Cosmo when I'm not feeling good?? Cheap promises of Utopia if only you buy this $1000 outfit makes me laugh and feel a little bit better. Don't ask, I've probably said too much.
I'm blessed to be part of a really amazing online group of Herbal Healers. We've come together thanks to the teachings of Susun Weed (a friend introduced me to her books years ago ~ thank you Tree!), and the wisdom that flows within this group really makes you more appreciative and grateful for "wise women."
Here is one of those recipes. It is a very powerful cold remedy. ***Ok, time to admit here, I haven't actually tried this one yet, but I've heard LOTS of good things!! I promise to post as soon as I try it for myself!!***

To Start:
Get yourself some local, preferably organic honey. Local honey is really good for you because it contains local pollen .. meaning ingesting it will help build your immune system. Works wonders with allergies. Organic & local garlic is always the best, but supermarket stuff will do ok here too.

~the garlic in the jar~

First, don't peel the garlic. If you can't tell from the photo, this is just a wide-mouth jelly jar (maybe 6 oz). Then fill it full of garlic. To fill this jar it took over an entire bulb of garlic. Next, pour honey over it. Sometimes you may need to poke & mash the garlic a bit to make sure the honey gets all the way down. Since this was a wide mouth jar, no worries there. However, make sure that the garlic is completely covered in honey. (It isn't in the photo)

Seal a lid on tightly, and place the jar of honey in a bowl. The honey can seep out a little bit, so the bowl is a good catch-all.
While some say you can keep the garlic in there all the time, it is also ok to take it out after 2-3 days. Our plan is to take some out and leave some. You can use the galic you took out for cooking.
Keep this in the pantry, as honey doesn't spoil and will preserve the garlic.

To Use: take 2 teaspoons 4 times a day for colds.

Let me know what you think, and how it works for you. I'm grateful for the Wise Women who shared this with me and eager to hear how it works for you!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Camping & Cooking - Hamburger Stew

One really simple way to have some yummy, healthy food is to freeze leftovers at home, take them with you (use the frozen food in your cooler to save on ice and keep other things cool), and heat it back up when you're ready for it. We did that this time with Hamburger Stew.

~Cooking on the campfire~

HAMBURGER STEW - recipe from

1 1/2 lbs hamburger meat - I used two pounds of local, pasture-raised hamburger
1/2 tablespoon instant minced garlic - I minced up at least 5 cloves myself
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
4 potatoes, cubed
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 (14 ounce) can carrots, undrained - I used fresh, organic carrots here (NOT canned!)
1 (14 ounce) can green beans, undrained - I drained mine
1 (14 ounce) can corn, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can peas, undrained
1 (4 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained -- For these last two ingredients, I didn't have them on hand. Instead I used up a couple cups worth of homemade ketchup (it is NOT like store-bought!!). It was a wonderful substitution.

~Since I was lacking all things fresh on hand, I did use canned goods when making this. If you wanted to use all fresh veggies from your garden or farmer's market I would say "go for it!". Just make yourself up some nice beef stock, and add some of that in to substitute for the lack of water from the cans.

To Cook -- Starting at Home!:
Brown your beef in a skillet, along with the the other first four ingredients. When it's browned, combine it along with the remaining ingredients in a nice stock-pot. Over a medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occaisionally.
Obviously, you could make this while camping. If you were going to do so, I would definitely use fresh ingredients (picked up at the Farmer's Market on your way out!), and take along some pre-made frozen beef stock to add to the mix. If you're going to do it this way, you already know what you need to bring, so I don't feel a need to go through the steps.

We ate this for dinner one night at home, then I froze the leftovers. I find old yogurt containers really wonderful for freezing stuff for camping. Not the tiny ones mind you, no I'm talking about the 32oz (2 lb) containers. Freeze and label!
We take a small saucepan with us camping. This is one reason I like the yogurt containers - they're round and taller than they are wide. This allows the food to slide out fairly easily, and you don't have to worry about frozen, square edges that don't fit in your saucepan. If it's taller than your saucepan, it'll "melt" down as it cooks without making a mess.

To reheat for camping:
Get your coals going nice and hot. If you will notice in the photo above, we didn't use a grill over our fire for this. We often don't. We were able to balance this nicely on the logs, over the flames. Since this was a dinner meal, we had the bigger logs in there for to start building the fire for the night. Morning times you don't want as big a fire, it would be a waste of wood. Here it is all good.
You'll need to let this cook for about 15 minutes or so. I didn't have a watch (I was camping and relaxing, give me a break!), so I can't be precise. It will boil and sizzle, so stir it. It will take a little longer than you think to reheat this nicely. Do taste tests every time you stir it up. You don't want the bottom to burn before everything has had a chance to thaw.

This was definitely a nice dinner to have. Lots of veggies, great hamburger flavor too. I really liked the use of the homemade ketchup, but wouldn't dare substitute store-bought!! You can add extra veggies to this as you would like. To be honest, I wasn't too sure about the addition of green beans, but really liked them.
Try it and see what you think.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Camping & Cooking ~ Bacon Hash

For a lot of people, cooking while you're camping in the woods is a no-brainer but, for a lot of other people it seems you're limited to hotdogs, chips, and soda. Not necessarily bad things when you're camping, but not really GOOD things either.
I didn't grow up camping, and to my knowledge, never tent camped till I was in high-school or college (probably the latter). You can imagine my cooking skills DEFINITELY fell into the latter of the two sets mentioned above. So, here is my attempt to, very honestly, share some "Cooking While Camping" knowledge.
This is, hopefully, the start of a new special segment here. For this, I'm going to assume you're camping like we do. We usually camp fairly near our car, though without electricity or water hook-ups. We go to tent-camping sites, usually in local National Forests (we love Arcadia in VA). We're able to bring coolers and therefore prepare some things ahead of time. We ALWAYS strive to be as eco-minded as possible when camping, leaving the site the same or better than we we found it!!! You won't find paper plates here!
Now that we've got that cleared up, down to cooking. Let's start with the morning, because it is a good place to start. I found this recipe thanks to the ever-wise & inspiring Nick from Macheesmo. Here is the link for cooking this in the kitchen: This recipe was a perfect one for camping since Nick describes it as "There are some meals that were made to be eaten after a night out. This is most definitely one of them." I take Nick's word on things, and we definitely were going to be drinking the night before we would eat this.


For the recipe itself, I'm going to advise you to check out Nick's (see above link). Honestly, I forgot to take "prep photos" but his really kick-ass, so do yourself a BIG OLE favor and check it out.
We began prepping the ingredients Tuesday night. We cut up several small potatoes and let them sit in a bowl of water in the fridge over night. Wednesday (the day before we left for camping), I zapped them in the microwave (still in the water) for a couple minutes before draining them. Then I quickly chopped up the bacon, onions, and garlic to mix in with the potatoes. I poured a little roasted garlic olive oil over it all, to ensure cooking, and wrapped the whole shebang tightly in aluminum foil, labeled it, and tossed it into the freezer.

Some things I've found: 1)Cooking in foil is VERY convenient when camping, resulting in easy cooking and clean-up. 2)If you freeze your foil pack well enough, it will "hold it's shape" in your cooler as well as keep other items cool in there.

Here is the foil-pack of Bacon Hash, put on a small grill over the fire first thing Friday morning.

Here it is, flipped once and still cooking. It will hiss and sizzle and you will be sure you've burned it. You may blacken the edges, but fear not. Always flip your food if you can when cooking in a foil pack, and never assume it's cooked just because it sounds like it is boiling or sizzling.

Off the fire and opened up. You can see where the edges did get blackened a little, but that was the utterly delicious crispy parts. This is SO much better than Pop-Tarts in the morning!!!

The finished result. Justin had already eaten half his bowl by the time I could take this photo.

As you can see in the photo, we use some old enamel-ware bowls that were once my grandmother's, and we also bring our own utensils. It makes camping more pleasureable and clean-up really isn't that much more of a hassle. This dish came out wonderfully! The bacon didn't get dark and crispy like it would cooked in a skillet (which IS an option when camping!), but it was still yummy. It definitely hit the spot for first thing in the morning and made us very, very happy. Even if you aren't drinking the night before, this is still a yummy breakfast when camping.

1) Either put the aluminum foil in the trash, or save it for recycling when you get home. We often have two "trash" containers just for this purpose.
2) Fill up an old two-liter bottle (or something of the like) with water and a good squirt of eco-friendly dish detergent. If you want, fill up a second with just water.
3) Bring a good wash-rag from home. Put a little soapy water on it, and use it to clean off your plates, bowls, and utensils. If you brought clean water, feel free to rinse and repeat, but honestly, we skipped that the last couple of times with no ill side-effects.
4) Put your dishes away. We bring a "kitchen box" along, stocked with plates, bowls, utensils, etc. After we're done, they go back in there. If we're near the car we keep them in the car to keep any bugs out. This may evolve over time.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Inside & Outside Cheeseburgers

My mother claims to not be a cook at all, but this is one of my earliest memories of her cooking. The earliest is cookies cooling on the chopping block in our kitchen - but what kid doesn't remember that first?? I think she made these about the time I was in first grade. They were awesome then, and they're just as awesome now.

the burger, ready for cheese

"Inside & Outside" Cheeseburgers:

We started with 1/4 lb (roughly) of hamburger per burger. Our meat comes from a local farm and is organically, pasture-raised. This is real meat.
For these burgers, I first mixed in some spices with the meat. For the kids and myself, I used some organic garlic powder (although some freshly roasted garlic, or just garlic cloves would've rocked even more). For Justin, I made one burger with chili powder, garlic powder, and chipotle pepper; and then the second one with garlic powder and some HOT! HOT!! Pepper Flakes.
The Inside: make a well in the center of the burger, and fill it with cheese. I used just some general marble, shredded cheese here. You could go fancy and use blue cheese, feta cheese, or grate yourself up some homemade raw milk cheese. But the general shredded stuff works well too. ~ For extra flavors: add some spices to the center with the cheese. I also added a little bit of ketchup to the boys' burgers.

filled with cheese, ready to be closed-up

Next: close-up the burger around the cheese. This really isn't that difficult at all. If you do have trouble at first, don't fret. By the second or third burger, you should easily have the hang of it.
Cook Em: We grilled ours on a nice hot grill outside. It's the essence of summer cooking isn't it?? No grill, don't worry, you can pan-cook these babies and still get delicious results. ~ Here's the trick to making sure they don't shrink up on you: before you put them on the grill, indent the center with your thumb a little bit. This is a little tricky because the cheese is inside, so make sure not to mess that up. Just a nice, small indention will do.
A second or two before you're ready to pull them off the grill, add a slice or two of cheese on top. American cheese is perfect because of how well it melts, but again, you can make it personal and use another type. Just beware that some cheeses don't melt so well.
Have your buns, extra toppings, and a big appetite ready. These are destined to be crowd pleasers, and are sure to be remembered!!

PS ~ thanks Mom!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Homemade Conditioner for Your Hair

I've been making our own conditioner for over a year now. While I played around with the "recipe" for a bit, I've finally figured out a good base recipe. I decided to post this here, as it is something you make in your kitchen; kitchens and cooking aren't just for food!
So here is my recipe for Homemade Conditioner:

I use a 1/2 gallon glass milk jug to hold the conditioner. The first thing I add is some apple cider.

As you can see, I fill it up to that base line. If you're using a different type of glass jar, you can guess-timate, or add about a cup worth of apple cider vinegar (err on the less side).
Depending on the season, I will also add up to a 1/2 cup of lemon juice to help lighten up my hair some. I didn't do it this time as I am currently plenty blonde. This would be where you could add other herbs or juices to help infuse your hair with extra color if you wished.

This next step is optional. As you can see in the above photo, I add one tea bag each of Chamomile & Lavender tea and Nettle tea. Chamomile tea is a good herbal conditioner in and of itself ~ I chose the blend just because I liked the scent. I use Nettle tea as nettles are also very good for your hair and scalp. You don't have to use any tea, you can just use plain water if you'd like - it's your choice. However, if you DO use tea, heed this: "warm up" your glass jar first by swirling some hot water inside it and also on the outside (it will feel warm to the touch, just as a nice mug would) -- if not, you run the risk of the glass breaking when you pour boiling water in! I put my tea bags directly in the glass jar and get some water boiling. I will pour the water in after the next step.

Yes, that is beer. Preferably, you want the beer flat. Mainly because then you don't have to worry about waiting for the head to die down. Drink half the beer, pour the other half into the jar. Although you don't have to use beer, this is the ingredient I consider the *key* ingredient. Beer is wonderful at conditioning your hair and I've noticed a great change in my hair since I started adding the beer. Any beer will do. We homebrew, so I use beer I like (you might as well). This was a brown ale, and it has worked quite well. Last time I made conditioner I used some of our Stout beer. It was pure heaven!! The scent was stronger (though it does NOT stay in your hair - you can just smell it while you're in the shower, then it is gone) and this was something I really liked, but that was more thanks to the stout beer than anything else. I wouldn't use miller lite or budweiser, but then again I wouldn't drink that stuff either - I'm a beer snob. But you can use any type of beer. I have a feeling that the heavier beers condition your hair better, but no proof yet to back that up.
After I add the beer, I add the hot/boiling water. I do this over the sink, somewhere where I don't have to have my hands on the jar. I tend to burn myself otherwise. Fill up the jar with the water. You're pretty much done now.

The bottle beside the glass jug is what actually stays in the shower. It isn't anything special, but the top works great for dispensing the conditioner. You could use an old shampoo or conditioner bottle, or even an old sport drink/water bottle. That little pull-up top is what I like, it keeps it all from coming out too fast (this isn't cream rinse!) for me. The bottle is a different color in the photo only because I didn't need to actually fill it up, but took it out of the shower so I could have it in the photo - I had used a different beer last time, hence the different color. You can fill up your bottle right then, or wait till it cools down some. I store the glass jug in the fridge and just fill the bottle up as needed. It has never "gone bad" and is extremely economical!! This is some really good stuff here, we have great hair and no complaints. The only difference I've noticed is that my hair doesn't feel as "instantly" silky as it did with the store-bought stuff, but after my hair dries that goes away. I think I can live with that.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Crock-Pot Sloppy Joe's

Above is a photo I snapped of the finish product, after we had already eaten it down quite a bit (two sandwiches per person if I remember correctly!). I can't remember the last time I made homemade sloppy joes, but I do know it will be a summer staple now. And, as usual, there is NO GOING BACK to store-bought cans of sloppy joe stuff. blech.
If you aren't completely in love with your Crock-Pot (aka - slow cooker) yet, you're really missing out on a wonderful and lifelong relationship opportunity! I made this dish up on March 7th. Even though we had snow on the 2nd, by the 7th the temperatures were up in the upper 70's here and so that Saturday we were busy bees out in the yard. Cooking dinner wasn't high on my list. Viola - my Crock-Pot to the rescue!!
This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook: Crock-Pot ~ Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes. It was given to me as a gift and is definitely one of my staples now!

Suzie's Sloppy Joes

*3 pounds 95% lean ground beef (I used 1 lb. ground beef, 1 lb. sausage, and 1 lb. ground deer meat - all pasture raised - wonderful results!!)*1 cup chopped onion
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1 1/4 cups ketchup (I used 1/4 cup organic store-bought ketchup, then switched to some homemade ketchup for the remainder cup)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper (I omitted this only because I was out)
*1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
*1/4 cup dark brown sugar
*3 tablespoons prepared mustard
*3 tablespoons vinegar (I left this out only because the homemade ketchup I used has a lot of vinegar in it already)*2 teaspoons chili powder

~Cook and stir the meat (really, using the blend was awesome!), onion, and garlic in a large, nonstick skillet (I used my good ole cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain fat if needed -- since I was using pasture-raised organic meat there is never much fat to drain off, so I skipped this step (not to mention, the extra fat melded the flavors of the 3 meats like a champ). I also added several tablespoons of ketchup & a couple of the Worcestershire sauce directly to the meat, onion, and garlic mixture while it cooked.
Combine ketchup, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, mustard, vinegar and chili powder in Crock-Pot slow cooker. Stir in meat mixture. Cover; cook on LOW 6-8 hours. To serve, spoon mixture onto hamburger buns. ~~ Freeze leftovers for later!! YUMMY!!

For a side, I cooked up some fresh green beans, as you can clearly see. We did add some cheese to the boys' sloppy joes, but we are a cheese-addicted family!! :) This was definitely a nice dinner to come in to after working out in the yard all day. The best part was the kitchen wasn't all heated up from cooking too! YAY!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Pancakes

Not your most Irish of dishes, I know. But, our kids LOVE pancakes!!! If you ask Shannon what he wants for dinner there is a pretty certain chance you will get that as an answer. And, like so often happens, I had promised to make them Monday night .. and then forgot .. so, St. Patrick's Day pancakes we had!
First, if you've never made pancakes from scratch you're missing out. Now that we've been making them from scratch, I can't even begin to fathom eating them any other way!! IHOP and Denny's commercials make me sick & angry .. their pancakes (and eggs, and bacon, and so on) look plastic and fake .. not the least bit appetizing! Making them from scratch is so easy!

Here is the recipe. Like so many of my favorite recipes, it comes from my Grandmother's Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. If you don't have one, go to a yard sale, the Goodwill, or wherever and find yourself a copy from about 1963.

Favorite Pancakes:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

~ Mix all ingredients well & bake on a hot griddle.

I'm not too fancy here. I don't sift my dry ingredients in one bowl, mix my wet ingredients in another and then blend .. I mix 'em all at one together in the same bowl. The batter will be lumpy, and this is ok. I use butter in lieu of oil, although I have been known to use a little bacon fat if I happen to have it. Of course, my butter is my homemade butter, my bacon fat comes from pasture-raised bacon. Our milk is raw milk, the flour usually locally grown and at least 1/2 whole wheat, the sugar is turbinado, and the salt is Real Salt (
I DO cook them (as you can see in the photo) in a cast-iron skillet, and I HIGHLY recommend this!! I pre-heat my skillet on medium or medium-high, but as I am cooking I can usually turn it down to medium-low. I LOVE being able to cook on such a low heat without sacrificing anything!! Check out the bottom of my blog for more info about cast-iron cooking and cookware.
For the green coloring I will admit to using green food coloring. I've been reading some about making your own, all-natural food coloring and am VERY interested in this, but it was dinner time, the boys were hungry, I had it on hand.
And there you go, our St. Patrick's Day dinner for 2009. We even had company (Uncle Matt), and everyone left the table happy & with a full belly.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jewish Penicillin

Ahh, life here in South Western Virginia. Here we are in February and the weather outside is truly frightful: one day it is in the 60's and less than a week later we're back to in the 30's, along with insane wind and flurries. It really isn't a huge mystery why we're all getting sick, is it?
Justin and I were feeling pretty beat-up last night, and I still had dinner looming ahead of me. At times, cooking is less of a pleasure and more of a chore, but when you're not feeling too good it can appear downright like torture!! But, aha, it would be food to the rescue, via some homemade chicken noodle soup.
Ok, first, some confessions. One, it wasn't chicken noodle soup. It was turkey noodle soup! When we buy turkeys from the farm (pasture raised as they ought to be), we always get at least two. I, of course, make stock with the cooked carcasses, and store that away for future uses. That second turkey though we tend to have a lot of left-overs with that get safely stored away in the freezer. Second Confession: I've NEVER made homemade chicken (or turkey) noodle soup before!! YIKES!! I was raised on Campbell's and until now that had always been good enough. Third Confession: if there had been Campbell's in the cupboard, I probably would've made it last night. I am SO glad we didn't have any!!
Here is the basic recipe:

Chicken or Turkey Noodle Soup:
I chose a regular sized stock-pan, one I would use for making chili in. Into this went frozen and canned (I canned this year!) homemade turkey stock. Don't use water!! I did this, not wanting the flavor to be too strong and I ended up adding some bouillon to it because it tasted to watery ~ bleh! But, if yours comes out watery, know to just add some bouillon to fix it. Pretty much fill up the pot with stock.
Into this I added (all organic stuff): 3 chopped up carrots, 2 diced up onions, 3 cloves of garlic (minced), and some nice amounts (tablespoon or so) of dill, tarragon, and parsley, along with salt & pepper to taste. Bring it all to a boil, reduce heat to a rolling simmer, and let cook about 20 minutes or so ~ I knew it was good to go when the carrots were soft.
We took already-cooked turkey out of the freezer, and heated it up. We then chopped up a good amount of it (small chopping board full .. let's say somewhere between 4 & 6 cups worth), and tossed it into the pot.
Finally, after we knew the veggies were cooked to where we were happy with them, we added a bag of Egg Noodles, brought it all back to a boil, reduced the heat again, and let it cook for a good 10 minutes or so. You'll know it is ready when the aroma is so intoxicating that you're ready to dunk your head in the pot!!
I have to tell you, Campbell's has NOTHING on this homemade soup! I can't wait to try this again and actually make the noodles myself. Making the soup was really nice and easy too. Just taking already put-by food out and tossing it into the pot, cutting up some veggies and tossing them in, and then resting until it was done. This is the type of cooking that, when you're sick, is DEFINITELY NOT a chore or torture!!!! We had a lot more than we could eat ~ some leftovers went into the fridge for today's lunch, the rest went into the freezer for future meals. Some we shared with relatives who are also battling the cold. If you're not already an old hand at canning, I would recommend freezing the soup.
There is a reason chicken noodle soup is affectionately known as "the Jewish penicillin." When made with pasture-raised poultry (this is KEY and I can't stress the importance of that enough!!), the fat in the skin of the chicken is chock-full of CLA. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. This is some serious sick-germ-butt-kickin' stuff!!! This is NOT a time to be scared of some fat in the soup ~ you're sick and you want it!! For more info on CLA, scroll down to the post on making stock .. or also read "Real Food; what to eat and why" by Nina Planck.
If you haven't made this before, try it. You won't regret it and you won't give a second look at canned soup in the grocery aisle. When you get a little more of an appetite, pair it with some fresh-baked, homemade bread to help fill you up some more.
~And, just for the record: yes, we have a cold, no we haven't taken any OTC, chemically-filled, medicine. We did take some homeopathic cold-care medicine from Hyland's (check out my main blog to learn more there), but we only had 3 pills left, and we'll have to order more online. So, really, no meds at all. I've been sucking on some "herbal supplement" lozenges from Hall's (yes, yes, I know - but they were in the medicine closet & I am frugal!!), trying to get this dry hack down, but they don't seem to be helping. Other than that, lots of fluids (especially some raw milk!!! Vitamin C galore there!!), warm teas, and even some hot cocoa with whiskey in it!!
A close relative has the same cold, and loaded up on the meds. She seemed to really struggle with it, but after a long weekend, seems to be back on her feet. I think it is the meds that were making her struggle so hard with the cold, meds always seem to make you feel more awful while they're supposedly making you feel better.
Colds need time. Give your body time. Rest, get fluids, make up a big batch of homemade chicken (or turkey) noodle soup. Eat, drink, rest, repeat. Feel better soon and know that you haven't added anything other than goodness (and maybe some whiskey ... we can argue the merits of that another time) to your body.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are You Eating Well?

This is a question I would usually answer with a very emphatic YES! However, I've recently discovered I haven't been eating as well as I thought. How in the hell is that even possible I keep wondering?? I'm a pretty observant person and I'm particularly observant when it comes to my own body, so the revelation of not knowing what I had been eating was a big one for me. Let's go back a minute though.
I'm a pretty amazonian type of mama. I'm nearly 6' tall, my bones are huge, and I look like I can kick your butt. (Just for the record, I like to think I can too!! That's what is fun about us Mama Bears) So, I've never been someone who would EVER be considered petite or delicate. Then I got pregnant with my first son. As so happens to many first-time moms I gained a LOT of weight! Wow, being pregnant in fall ~ how could you not?? Mashed potatoes, god I love those, rolls, turkey, sweet potatoes, fried chicken, and then all the sweets that go along with that time of year. Yummy! There is a reason we gain weight! Then, I found out the harsh reality like new moms: just because the baby needs all that extra food and nutrition doesn't mean the little bugger will take it with him when he leaves you!! Apparently, so I've been told by much wiser moms, this will be a theme for later in life when they go to college and get a place of their own. I lost most of the weight I had gained and when I got pregnant with our second son I only gained 18 pounds which came off quickly.
Now we're up to Justin having a full-time job and me staying home with the boys. I have time, usually, to cook, and time to shop for good ingredients. We also have our home and our gardens, along with the Farmer's Market in walking distance. Life is good, but still our budget is short and tight. This is something I've managed quite well, I must admit, but I was very saddened when it wasn't really helping my waist-line. Which brings us back to the beginning of: but I eat healthy!!
Yes, I eat do eat healthy. I have a good knowledge of what foods are good and truly healthy for you, and try to eat as organically as possible. And, I don't eat very much. So I talked with my acupuncturist and he recommended that I keep a daily food journal. He told me how some foods, EVEN IF they're healthy foods in and of themselves can be inappropriate foods for an individual. He ALSO told me how a food "reaction" can take up to 72 hours to show up ~ as someone who has to deal with migraines, any connection between food and reactions in an important one!!
I began on New Year's Eve ~ might as well start when we're still in full celebrating mode and be honest about it! Here is what I found out: I don't eat appropriately! I don't eat breakfast and I often don't each lunch, unless I have a bowl of leftovers or a handful of cheese-crackers (our packaged food indulgence ~ the kids do love them as snacks!). I eat dinner which is often a casserole or one dish that is easy to prepare when the kids are around. I drink tea, both iced and warm, during the day ~ the iced is unsweetened.
It is really amazing when you begin to take the time to honestly document the food you eat. You can begin to see patterns form. You can realize the food groups you might be missing altogether. You can also find out about portions. Having grown up in the hey-day of "Super Size It!" I can admit that the notion of eating only a 1/2 cup of something is almost impossible for me to accept ~ probably as impossible as it would be for our grandparents and great-grandparents to imagine trying to eat a "large" or "Super Sized" fry!!
So now I have a new mission: to make sure that I get to eat some of these yummy and healthy foods I buy for my kids. To be able to say "this is Mommy's to eat, you eat yours" when my kids try to eat something I'm eating ~ this has always been the reason I don't fix myself food early in the day, we don't eat the same thing! To make sure I actually DO eat during the day, not just grab a quick handful of cheese crackers in between making bread, doing laundry, and the variety of other chores that make up my day.
If you're wondering about your waistline, or just your over-all health ~ go buy a little notebook and begin writing down what you eat. Don't judge yourself and don't lie! This was a little hard as I was finishing up my Christmas candy of Andes Mints and I hated having to acknowledge each time I snuck a couple. I don't feel guilty about them. Treating yourself is good from time to time. So be honest. When I say don't judge yourself I mean don't turn to self-hate, -shame and -blame, which is so easy for women to do. Acknowledge what your eating patterns are. Acknowledge that sometimes you just really need __X__ as a treat. Then, once a good month has gone past, you will start to see patterns, the more time goes by the more you'll really see it. You'll be able to see what is ok and what isn't. Remember, just because something is healthy doesn't mean it is appropriate for YOU. If you still want some help figuring out which way to go, take your journal to your doctor, your acupuncturist (Dancing Crane in Salem is my place and I love them!!! I highly recommend checking them out if you're ever wanting some acupuncture in Salem, VA!!!), or a nutritionist. They can see patterns and will know more about how foods can interact with bodies.
Whatever you do though: try and keep a positive attitude and try to focus on being healthy and eating appropriately for you. This will make all the difference

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mother Earth News is Eggselent!!!

From the nest box to the carton! Above is a photo of our first full dozen eggs. The photos were taken on January 3rd of this year. We mark how many eggs we get a day, as well as what colors they are (to know who is laying), on the calendar. At the end of 2008 we had 72 eggs. We should easily surpass this by the end of February this year, but still it is a number we were proud to get to!
I wanted to share with you the latest egg-news from Mother Earth News. For those who aren't familiar with Mother Earth News, they rock!! I was lucky to be given a collection of their older magazines, and we both liked them so much we got a subscription (our only magazine subscription too!). I highly recommend this magazine to anyone interested in becoming a little more connected with the world around them.
As you will know by the link in the right-hand column on this page, Mother Earth News did a research study on free-range/pasture-raised eggs vs. general supermarket eggs. The results of it blew me out of the water! Now, they've found out more!! Here is the link for the new results:
Here is a quick glimpse at their findings:
In the past, we’ve found that eggs from hens raised on pasture, as compared to those commercially raised factory farm eggs, contain:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Now we’re looking at vitamin D, which many of us do not get enough of because we don’t spend any time outdoors, and even when we do we use sunscreen that blocks vitamin D production. Eggs are one of the few food sources of naturally occurring vitamin D, and we wondered if true free-range eggs might be higher in this important vitamin, too. Our latest tests show that pastured eggs have anywhere between 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.

WOW!!!!!! To say I am blown away is an understatement!! I'm not surprised, as I fully believe in the difference between "real food" and "industrialized food" - you simply can't mess with things so much and not expect it to have an impact!
If you don't raise chickens - look into it! They're fun to raise and keep, and aren't as difficult as you might think. In fact, most all of our initial concerns have proven to be baseless. Check your local city ordinances and zoning, you'll be pleasantly surprised that you may be allowed to have some! If you still can't raise your own, find someone locally who does. Don't be scared to ask them questions about how they raise their chickens ~ most people will appreciate the interest you're showing in something they've devoted time and energy into! Whatever you do, don't EVER buy standard grocery store eggs again!!!! Unless otherwise noted, they're raised in very tiny cages and treated horribly. Bad for the bird, bad for the Earth, and bad for your health!!
Thank you to Mother Earth News and their wonderful team for continuing to provide such helpful information!! Y'all are truly Eggs-elent!!