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Sounds strange, I know, but I had 1.5 lbs. of honey that had started to crystallize and needed to do something with it, so I decided to brew some cough syrup. I scooped the honey out into an enamel pot, added one chopped, strong white onion, and two cold care tea bags from my ample tea supply. It’s been cooking over low heat for the past four hours. I’ll check it again before bed to see if enough of the juice from the onions has reduced for it to be strained and ready for bottling. Once it’s cooled, I’ll add some echinacea/goldenseal extract to it. I find the syrup to be handy for coughs and that under-the-weather feeling during cold season. You can make it with just onion and honey or even garlic and honey for a soothing simple syrup, or you can add more herbal ingredients for whatever cold symptoms plague you most. If you cook it down to a very thick syrup, you can either pour it into candy molds or pour it out on a silicone mat, let it cool, score it into pieces after half an hour, and have your own homemade lozenges. I may go down and add some fennel fronds to mine just for flavor here in a bit.
There was a local produce sale at my neighborhood store, so I went over to check it out and came home with some nice hot and sweet peppers, onions, and corn. I made some salsa with the peppers and onions and some tomatoes I had on hand from the CSA delivery. Tomorrow I’m taking some to share with a friend when I go to visit her. I might make and can some fennel onion relish in the morning before I leave. I haven’t done nearly as much canning as I’d have liked this summer and I’m feeling inspired after my parents brought several jars of home-canned salmon to me when they came to pick up my daughter for the week.
I plan to do a lot of cooking and preserving while she’s away. Mostly to keep myself from missing her so much, but also to have a head-start on easy meals for when she goes back to school. I’m going to prepare muffin batter and freeze it in the paper liners so that I can bake them the night before for an easy homemade breakfast when served with sliced fruit and a glass of milk. I also want to stuff potatoes to freeze for quick and easy dinners, as well as freezing plenty of soups, stocks, and pesto. I’ve also had more apples drying so that we have plenty for school snacks. I might do some pears as well for variety.
I’ve spent much of today pondering my attraction to the slow lifestyle. What makes a woman with ready access to all manner of urban conveniences go out of her way to make as much of her own stuff as possible? A large part of it is quality. I can be a quality snob and yet I’m still a pennypincher, so it’s always made the most sense to me to do as many things as I was capable of myself so that I would be pleased with both quality and price. I’m also a perpetual student. I love to learn new things and, since science and history are two of my favorite subjects, learning how to do things the old-fashioned way or knowing why it is that a certain process works is very satisfying. I’m also not someone who has an easy time sitting still, so the handicrafts give me a way to sit a spell and still get something done. Do a granny square a day on the bus and pretty soon you have a blanket. I prefer to use my time doing things that are either very useful or make me very happy, even better when I can combine the two. Last, and one that has become so important to me since becoming a mother, the projects that I do relax me and give me a creative outlet. Sure, it can be a pain to have to come home after a long day to make a loaf of bread for the next day’s lunches, but once I start working the dough and get into that rhythm, it seems like so many of my cares just fall away and, by the time I’m pulling the loaf out of the oven, I’m calm and happy again.
I like this slower pace. Americans spend so much time dashing around that we forget about the small pleasures of life, the little things that make a big impact and bring us happiness and contentment – that’s why so many of us are sick and stressed out. An hour in my little garden or in my kitchen is worth a dozen psychiatrists and personal trainers. And now that I’ve done some research on various DIY topics and put them into practice, I’m more conscious of my impact on the world around me, how the choices I make affect others not only in my immediate neighborhood, but around the world. Sometimes I make it a game to see how I can reduce my impact even more. What else can I make or do differently?
Believe it or not, for all of my ambitious tendencies, I’ve spent much of today relaxing with a crochet project and a selection of documentaries, getting up to stir a pot or move dishes and clothes around, then back to my yarn. I love days like these. I made a big, delicious glass of apple/carrot/beet/spinach juice about midday with some yogurt on the side, then had a delicious dinner of soft polenta with fresh tomatoes, mixed mushrooms, fresh basil, and roasted garlic while I listened to Haydn on the radio. It’s like a vacation without leaving home.
The other day I got an email from Sara Star over at Spirits Craft telling me that I’d been selected as a winner of the Domestic Witch Blog Award. I’m touched to have my writing so honored.
Today has been a difficult one. Last night I tried taking an L-tryptophan capsule to help with my ongoing insomnia and it worked too well, I’ve been exhausted all day and my stomach has also felt very off. So, of course, what do I do but come home and find myself in the middle of a whirlwind of projects before I can rest? But they were necessary, so I gritted my teeth and hurried through as best I could so that I could get to right here and right now, relaxing in bed with my feet elevated and a big bowl of rice dressed with garlic, Bragg’s, and butter (my palliative for every ailment) cooling so that I can eat.
When I picked my daughter up from summer camp today, her face wobbled when she saw me and she got teary. I asked what was wrong and she sobbed that they had been promised popsicles later that afternoon. She can’t take a popsicle on the bus, so I picked her up and carried her inside, thinking, thinking, thinking. Then I said, “I bet we can make a better popsicle at home.” Her tears stopped, then she looked at me, and said, “Really, mama?” Of course, now that I’ve made this suggestion, I must deliver on it if at all possible, so I started thinking of what we might have to make popsicles with at home. She was very specific that she wanted “fancy” popsicles, meaning she wanted something analogous to store-bought pops, not our usual juice or applesauce popsicles. I started digging through her snack cupboard and found a box of strawberry gelatin and a packet of unsweetened grape soft drink mix. I poured half of each packet into a big pyrex measure along with a half-cup of sugar and a cup of boiling water, stirred it until all of the powders dissolved, added a cup of cold water, then poured the liquid through a small funnel into our popsicle mold (it makes eight; if you have two molds, you could easily double this recipe for delighting many, many kids). They’re now chilling in the freezer, so she’ll have popsicles tomorrow and, given how good the solution smelled while I was mixing it up, I’m betting that they’ll be a winner with my daughter.
She also reminded me that we’d used up the last of the bread this morning, so I put the ingredients for a small loaf of honey oatmeal bread into the bread machine. I usually only use the machine for mixing dough while I’m busy with other things but since I’m not feeling 100% today, I decided to sacrifice quality for convenience this time. I’m having a craving for a loaf of jalapeno bread, something with a nice corn and pepper flavor that will make great, savory toast or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato. I’m going to tinker with a recipe for cubano bread that I really enjoy, and maybe I’ll roast the peppers to bring out their sweetness and spice.
My lower back continues to bother me as well after straining it awhile ago, tonight I’m thinking of making a castor oil pack to break up any adhesions in the muscles. To make a castor oil pack, you wet a flannel cloth with enough castor oil to soak the cloth but not be a drippy mess, then you place it over the affected area, bind it with some plastic wrap or a strip of old sheet, then lay a heating pad or hot water bottle over the wrap and rest awhile. Once you remove the compress, wash the skin that was covered and do some gentle massage to further relax the area. The flannel can be saved in a container in the fridge and reused many times.
I should make some rice packs for myself, too, mine are about at the end of their useful lives. Using cotton or cotton flannel, sew a square, rectangle, or roll and fill it with rice or rice and herbs – lavender is really nice – then you can heat the packs in the microwave for 30-60 seconds and place them on sprains, strains, or aching tummies. Sometimes when it’s very cold out, I’ll warm them up and put them in bed so we can slip between pre-warmed sheets that feel so cozy.
In a few more minutes, my pick-me-up tea should be ready: kombu (a seaweed easily found in Asian groceries), adzuki beans, and a shiitake mushroom steeped together, tightly covered, for 30 minutes; then you drink the broth and, if you like, eat the kombu and the mushroom – the beans can be composted. I discovered the kombu and adzuki tea in a whole foods cookbook awhile back. The mushroom was my own addition and I think it really adds to the overall nutritional value of the brew. I’m not sure exactly why it works, but it always make me feel better when I’m under the weather. A bit of an acquired taste, though, sometimes I toss in a bit of ginger or tamari for flavor.
My daughter is going away for a week to visit her grandparents before school starts. While she’s gone, I’m planning to split my time between work, projects, and relaxation, probably with plenty of spa treatments thrown in. One of my projects will be making a schultute (literally, school horn) for her first day of first grade. It’s a German tradition. You make a big cone out of posterboard and tissue paper, fill it with their school supplies and some treats or small gifts, then, when class starts on their first day, they get to open them, then display them on the classroom wall for the rest of the year. I think it’s a very sweet tradition and one that my daughter is very excited about. She wants me to make her a red schultute with sharks on it, so I need red posterboard, a bunch of shark stickers or gray paper to make cut-out sharks, then some tissue paper. I have all of her school supplies for next year, so I just need to come up with some treats, preferably homemade.
But, for tonight, I’m going to take it easy in the hopes of feeling much better tomorrow.
The Thai basil that I put in a low oven to dry overnight was nice and crisp but still green when I took it out first thing this morning. Since the oven was already warm, I turned it up to 350 degrees and made some whole-grain oatmeal cookies. To make them, I mashed two bananas with 1/2 cup apple butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. In a second bowl, I combined 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, and 1/2 cup barley flour with 2-1/2 cups of rolled oats, a teaspoon of baking soda, and a bit more cinnamon. I stirred the wet ingredients into the dry with a spoon, then added shredded coconut and chocolate chips for my mix-ins (dried fruits and nuts are good, too). I spooned them out onto a cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat on it and baked them about 14 minutes in the oven, though I check them at 12 minutes. They’re good, very soft and chewy, a little dense as whole-grain baked goods are wont to be. I’ve been adding barley flour to a lot of my baked goods lately. I like the mildly sweet flavor it adds to things and it seems to help provide a nice, soft texture as well. Very tasty!
Once the cookies were cooling, I halved some fresh but slightly overripe figs onto a wire rack set on a baking sheet, turned the oven down to low, and set about drying the figs. I’m hoping I’ll get my hands on some more to dry, it would be nice to have a few containers full for holiday baking (homemade fig bars – yum!).
I didn’t get back out to the garden, my lower back pain made resting essential today, so I worked on the afghan instead. I had to pull it out and start over because I miscounted somewhere and it got uneven at the edges. I decided to use a slightly larger hook to make it go faster but I’m still thrilled with the way the colors are coming together and it’s going to be a nice, soft blanket.
Alright, sleep is essential tonight if I’m to have a chance of beating the back pain before another work week begins.
I was so excited after playing in the garden today that I went to the Nichols Nursery website to order some seeds. I got chives, borage, german chamomile, leaf lettuce, green onions, top-setting bulb onions, purple broccoli, and a compact basil for winter window box gardening.
Today I made a vegan, whole-grain vanilla cake from Christina Pirello’s excellent cookbook Cooking the Whole Foods Way: Your Complete, Everyday Guide to Healthy Eating and, to be extra eco-friendly, we baked it in our solar oven (pictures below).[caption id="attachment_300" align="aligncenter" width="289" caption="Whole-grain vanilla cake baking in the solar oven."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_301" align="aligncenter" width="289" caption="The sun-baked cake cooling before frosting."][/caption]
Once the cake has cooled, we’re going to make a peanut butter frosting for it, maybe even chocolate peanut butter, I’ll see how the Little Miss feels about that idea.
We’ve been indulging in other healthy luxuries today. I made my whole foods version of coleslaw by shredding a green cabbage and dressing it with the juice of one lemon and a few shots of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, which I then let marinate for three hours. It is so tasty, even my daughter loves it. And, to avoid waste, I took the squeezed lemon halves and dropped them into a big pitcher of filtered water and let that cold steep while the coleslaw was marinating. Now we’re sipping lemon water over ice with a garnish of basil sprigs for a nice summer cooler. I sometimes make this with limes and cucumber slices with basil or mint for garnish. It’s delicious and really refreshing.
I’m going to sit down and redesign my garden plan tonight. So exciting!
While walking home from the bus stop just now, I felt a sharp stinging sensation near my eye and grabbed the spot, effectively smashing the insect that had bitten me into unidentifiable oblivion (not a flea, too small for a mosquito – probably some kind of biting gnat or fly) but I now have a small but very itchy bite about half an inch from the corner of my right eye so I’m laying here with a cotton ball compress of witch hazel and tea tree oil on it. Already it’s helping. I make my tea tree witch hazel by pouring 1/3 – 1/2 of a small bottle of tea tree oil into a large bottle of witch hazel. It’s very handy for all sorts of skin complaints and makes a refreshing toner and cleanser that feels especially nice on warm days or after a hot bath. I have sensitive skin and I’ve not found it to be irritating but I’d definitely patch test it on your arm before putting it somewhere sensitive like your face.
I need to restock my supply of cosmetic clays. Right now I have none and they are incredibly soothing for insect bites, heat rash, and other summertime skin maladies. You just mix them with water, herbal tea, fresh juices, or even milk to make a paste of whatever thickness you like, then slather it on the irritated area and let it dry before washing it off with lukewarm water. You can buy cosmetic clays at health food stores, herb shops, or online – usually it’s sold by weight and I try to buy a one-pound bag at least because it goes a long way, you can mix up many treatments from a single large bag.
Alright, I’m going to take the compress off now and get some dishes done before a friend comes to visit tonight.
Quite unexpectedly, I was offered a chance to dig through a box of pantry goods today. My daughter’s father is deploying for Iraq in October and he’s busy getting ready to leave. He stopped by the house today to pick up clothing and supplies to take our daughter camping next week and brought in the box, letting me go through it before he donated the rest to a food bank.
I scored a canned ham, popcorn, a near-full resale case of spiced cider packets, hot cocoa (with marshmallows!), vegetarian baked beans, pumpkin pie filling, and whole black olives. That adds some nice variety since the bulk of what I currently have is very basic staples such as grains, beans, and canned goods like broth and evaporated milk.
Today I saw a very exciting thread on a survivalist forum about vacuum-packing your own MREs for emergencies. The ones pictured were very meat-heavy, though I could easily tailor my own around foil-packed seafood or vegetarian pouch meals. However, I also started thinking about how I could repackage my own homemade mixes such as my lemon-herb couscous (recipe below) for long-term storage in an MRE type bag. I’m not sure yet if it would be best to try to vacuum seal the portions of homemade mixes (I would, of course, be packing meals for two) or if I could put them in less expensive zip-style freezer bags and then put those into the larger vacuum pouches. Intriguing. I’m going to have to experiment to see if I can make predominantly vegetarian equivalents that are both tasty and nutrient-dense. Let’s not forget cheap!
I could make the couscous but add in a handful of dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables – sometimes sold as soup base at stores with bulks bins – or mix and match individually processed vegetables to suit our tastes. Freeze-dried can be expensive, but I bet you could stretch out a pound into several individual portions if you were pairing them with couscous, potato flakes, pasta, or some quick-cooking grain. And you could add black or pinto bean flakes for some protein, also available at some stores with bulk bins or sometimes in the organic section sold in small boxes. I’d be concerned about the sodium content, though I suppose if you’re in a situation where you need your home-prepped MRE, sodium count is the least of your problems, though too much salty food can increase thirst and cause dents in a stored water supply.
I already keep store-bought ready-to-eat meals in dry storage in my attic but they tend to be expensive unless you find them on sale and their packaging is designed for hanging on a peg in a store, it’s oddly bulky for something you’re supposed to stick in a backpack to save weight while in the great outdoors. It would be nice to fill up the rest of that dry storage bin with meals for two, especially if they were more compact than their store-bought cousins and could be completely prepared with just the addition of boiling water.
I’m going to start keeping my eyes peeled for single-serve products, something I usually avoid because of wasteful packaging and its environmental impacts, but if it’s just for emergency food supplies, I can justify that use.
Lemon-Herb Couscous Mix
4 cups couscous
5 teaspoons dried, grated lemon peel
4 teaspoons dried herbs (basil, dill, parsley, etc.)
2 teaspoons minced, dried chives
2 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons instant bouillon powder (chicken or vegetarian)
Mix it all together, makes about 4-1/2 cups of mix. Store in a cool, dry place.
To prepare, combine 1 part mix with 2 parts water, bring to a boil, cover, remove from heat and let sit 15 minutes.
Note: I have cooked this by pouring boiling water over it, covering it tightly, and letting it sit 20 minutes. Edible but not as light and fluffy as if cooked in the pot. You can substitute rice or bulgur wheat for the couscous, just adjust your cooking times accordingly.
One of the things I most enjoy about the DIY lifestyle I have chosen to live is that it offers ample opportunities for reflection and meditation. This morning I was shucking peas for tonight’s dinner (mashed potato volcanoes, a household favorite) and it took me back to childhood, sweltering summer afternoons spent shucking peas, snapping beans, or husking corn in the shelter of my grandmother’s shady back porch before dinner while the bees and hummingbirds flocked to the fuchsias in their hanging baskets, the smell of grandpa’s roses wafting through the heavy air. I always loved those times, there was a rightness about them, a sense of peace that’s hard to get in an increasingly busy world. I still enjoy those repetitive tasks that allow your mind a brief vacation from the hurry of it all: folding laundry, peeling potatoes, etc. I think it’s always a good idea to approach your domesticity with intent, then simple acts can become meaningful expressions of love for yourself and others and make chores seem less onerous. Maybe one day I’ll become enlightened enough to apply my philosophy to the dishes, the one household task I truly loathe doing and am guilty of putting off every chance that I get.
Today has been busy with chores. I vacuumed and poured out the contents of the vacuum chamber into the worm bin (why add it to the trash when it’s practically dirt already?), washed the dog, did dishes, and now I’m taking a break from folding several loads of laundry. I keep hoping to get around to pressing and measuring the pink pillowcase that I want to turn into a sundress for my daughter, but I’m not sure if I’ll manage to get to it with laundry to still wash and fold, dinner to cook, and getting ready for the start of another week. But I’m working on creating more time in my schedule, it’s become a priority because the exhausting commutes and the rest of the rat race are getting to me. I know the strain of it all is affecting my productivity and my overall well-being.
I had a busy morning and just now realized that I was starving and didn’t feel like waiting much longer to eat something hearty, so I warmed up leftover rice and veggies, then made an Indian spiced buttermilk to pour over it. Lunch in less than ten minutes.
To make the spiced buttermilk, pour a cup of buttermilk into a heat-proof bowl, grate in some ginger and add chopped hot chilies (I used my very spicy mustard-pickled jalapenos), and salt to taste. In a small skillet or metal ladle, heat a spoonful of vegetable oil until quite hot but not smoking, toss in a few pinches of cumin and brown mustard seeds and lightly fry for a few seconds, then cool slightly and stir into the buttermilk. It’s so simple. I know that I’ve said it before, but I really love Indian food. Many restaurant dishes can be elaborate to prepare, but the everyday food is wonderful in its flavor, simplicity, and economy. I find it one of the easiest cuisines to make substitutions in, it’s very forgiving of being short one ingredient or having an abundance of another.
A friend is coming for dinner tomorrow night and we’re having spinach enchiladas, so I thought I’d make a little vinegar cheese to crumble on top….and so that I could experiment some more with cheesemaking. So I poured a pint of 2% organic milk (whole milk would have been optimal, but I’m working with what’s on hand, so there ya go) into a small saucepan and heated it over medium heat until it reached about 180 degrees and the milk started looking streaky, then poured in a few tablespoonfuls of white vinegar to separate the curds and whey, removing the pan from the heat and gently stirring before pouring the curds into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to drain. Later I tied the cheesecloth into a bundle with some scrap yarn and hung it from my sink faucet to finish draining. Easy peasy.[caption id="attachment_240" align="alignleft" width="289" caption="Bringing the milk to 180 degrees F"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_241" align="alignleft" width="289" caption="Adding the vinegar."][/caption] [caption id="attachment_242" align="alignnone" width="289" caption="Curds and whey"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_243" align="alignnone" width="289" caption="Checking the curds"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_244" align="alignleft" width="289" caption="Draining the curd"][/caption]
I’ve made paneer and cottage cheese before and I recently picked up some vegetable rennet so that I can attempt more complex cheese such as feta. I find the idea of being able to make my own cheese at home very exciting. It’s cooking and science, two of my favorite things all rolled into one.
I also made homemade enchilada sauce and a loaf of multi-grain bread tonight, as well as doing some household chores. No wonder I’m tired now!
One of the things I miss from better days is a foofy coffee drink, but at $3-5 a pop, those are no longer a regular purchase for me but I still want one, so I went into my kitchen and started mixing until I found something I liked. I mixed 1/4 c. of hot cocoa mix with 1 tbsp. instant espresso powder and a shot of vanilla, almond, or hazelnut extract, then filled the cup half-full of boiling water and stirred it up before adding milk or soymilk. It’ll never fool you into thinking that it’s from a cafe, but it is pretty good. I’ve also made a fancier version by melting good chocolate in some warm milk with a little orange peel and a piece of cinnamon stick, then fishing out the solids and using the scented chocolate in my coffee. Even if you use a few squares of a super high-end chocolate bar, it’s a lot cheaper than the chain coffee places. If I drank more coffee at home, I’d take the time to make flavored simple syrups for my drinks. To make a simple syrup, you melt 2 parts sugar with 1 part water, then you can add citrus peel, vanilla beans, mint, cardamom, or other flavorings. Let them steep to taste, then strain them out and bottle the syrup in a clean container and use it for sweetening coffee and tea. Simple syrups are great when you have a summer barbecue and batches of iced tea to dole out to the masses. Lemon always seems to be the most popular, even beating out plain.
Yesterday we received a sample of mini rice cakes in the mail. Just in time to eat them alongside our lunchtime bowl of soup. Plus I got a coupon, and the really nice thing about the coupons that come with samples is that they usually are for a higher amount and have a much longer time until expiration than the coupons you clip from the newspaper. Stocking up one little bit at a time.
I cleaned like crazy yesterday, got the kitchen and the living room looking pretty good. With the budget being what it is, at-home entertaining seems to be a wise decision, so I need my house to be up to my standards of company clean. I need to go tackle the bedroom. The sewing table doesn’t quite work where it currently is, it takes up all of my space to exercise and that’s no good, so I need to find a better spot for it. I also moved my laptop back downstairs to the desk so that I stop staying up all night surfing the net and I need to clean off the folding table it was on beside the bed because that’s become another spot where clutter accumulates and that’s not good either. I have to get rid of the things that tempt me to be lazy because, for all of my ambition, I don’t need any help when it comes to procrastinating about putting something away.