Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Breathing a Little Easier with Eucalyptus Essential Oil

There's been a bit of blog silence here. I could blame it on a myriad of things. For part of the week, we were busy painting our kitchen cabinets. Then there was the planning and execution of our annual Halloween party this past week.  Or maybe it was partly because I was busy searching thrift store racks and sewing costumes, sometimes until 2 AM (hobbit and mummy costumes this year). Part of the reason for the blog silence was most certainly due to my oldest child getting strep throat, which meant lots of downtime just hanging out (read: snuggling), watching Halloween movies, and drinking smoothies. To top it off, my other boy got a nasty little cold a couple days later (how does a little nose produce so much mucus, I ask you). It's been busy, to say the least.

But now the boys are better, for the most part. My baby still has a bit of a cough and I'm still, to his chagrin, wiping his nose from time to time. One thing that helped my sweet little guy...

... eucalyptus essential oil.

Eucalyptus oil has a strong yet refreshing smell and has been used as a remedy for centuries, first by the aborigines of modern-day Australia, then to the people of China, India, and Greece.  It's powerful stuff in that little bottle! (For more a comprehensive look at eucalyptus oil, check out this helpful link.)

The way I use it to help my kids with colds is at bathtime. While I'm running the water, I just add a few drops (like five or so) to the bath. In seconds, the entire room smells like eucalyptus. It's like Vapo-Rub in bath form.

I also use it in the shower, particularly in the middle of the night. I swear kids' coughs get and sound worse at night. Last week, there was one night in particular when my little guy's coughing woke him up and he was just miserable. I took him the bathroom, put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a washcloth, put it in the tub, and turned the shower on as hot as it would go. The room filled with the eucalyptus-infused steam and my little guy fell back asleep soon after. (Sidenote: I saw these homemade vapor shower disks on Pinterest a while back and I have yet to make them, but they seem like a great thing and I'll bet they'd work better in the shower than just the oil on a washcloth.)

The nice thing about eucalyptus oil is that it is one of the less expensive essential oils. You can use it in other ways besides the one I've mentioned -- as far as I can tell, eucalyptus oil is a great basic essential oil to keep on hand. I still have lots to learn about essential oils, but the more I learn, the more I like them. And if they help my little ones breathe easier, even better.

{Disclaimer: I think it goes without saying that I am no doctor. Not even close. I got a degree in English, people. So if you have any concerns or questions, contact a physician.}

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

(This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Off the Needles: Max's Birthday Slippers

Months ago I was going through some of my first son's old clothes, seeing what would fit my baby-turned-toddler. At one point, I came across a pair of slippers. They were nothing fancy -- just a basic fleece slipper with a dinosaur pattern that I'd bought years ago at Old Navy. Max picked them up and said, "Oh! My slippers!"  I'd forgotten how much he'd liked wearing those as a three-year-old.  He looked at them for a while, tried to put them on (they didn't fit, of course), and then he said, "Mom, maybe you could knit me some slippers when it gets cold!"

Few things make me happier than knitting requests from my family. It makes me kind of giddy. I resisted the urge to pick up my needles right then. Instead I said as casually as possible, "Oh, sure. Maybe in the fall I'll make you some."  While I said this, though, I was thinking, "Yaaaaay! Birthday slippers!!!"

Then last month, I searched for a pattern on Ravelry and came across this one for children's mukluk slippers. I thought they were so cute and they looked pretty easy, too (before this project I'd never knitted any sort of footwear).  I picked up some green yarn at my favorite yarn store and got to work. Since I didn't want Max to see them, I waited until the boys were in bed to knit. For a couple weeks in September and a few nights in October, I would spend an hour or so knitting while watching British period films (mostly Bleak House) or streamed episodes of Raising Hope on Netflix. A lovely way to spend my post-kids'-bedtime free-time, I must say.

I gave them to Max for his birthday yesterday. He opened them first thing in the morning and slipped them on. He loved them! And that makes me a happy mama.

The pattern is great -- very easy, very straightforward. It can be downloaded for only $7 -- totally worth it. There are no tricky stitches, increases, or decreases -- just the basics, really. There is only a little bit of sewing required at the end to stitch up the seam (just an overcast stitch, which is really simple). Making these was a good learning experience and I even overcame my (unfounded) fear of double-pointed needles (they're not nearly as tricky as I thought they'd be).  The pattern requires around 100 yards of bulky yarn (I picked the Comfort Chunky because it's machine-washable and soft), a pair of size US 7 straight needles, and a set of size US 7 double-pointed needles. (For my Ravelry notes, click here.)

The slippers fit a pretty wide range of young kids, from a toddler size 7 to a big kid size 5 -- there are instructions to make them either small, medium, or large. I'm glad that there's a pattern to make them in an adult size because the whole time I was knitting them for Max, I kept wishing for a pair of my own!

I can't recommend this pattern enough. Max tells me that they're warm and comfy. I'm going to be knitting up a pair for my 18-month-old soon (so many things to knit, so little time!).  Not only do they make a great birthday gift, but they're something you could definitely whip up for Christmas gifts. I can already tell that $7 pattern is going to go a long way in my knitting repertoire!

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

{This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Homestead Barn Hop, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Fall 2012 Canning Recipe Round-Up

It's that time of year when my kitchen always gets a little overrun with jars, lids, and rings. The canner is always on my stovetop  whether it is in use or not. There are apple peels, tomato tops, peach skins, cucumber ends, and other scraps in bowls headed to the compost heap or to the chickens. The countertops are covered in sticky patches of juice and sugar syrup. My kitchen gets hot, I sometimes burn my fingers, and the pile of pots and bowls in my sink stacks up. Most nights I feel too tired to cook because I feel like I've been in the kitchen all day (pizza, anyone?). Even so, when I see the jars lined up in my cupboard, all the mess and work reaffirms my love for fall canning (though it would be nice to have prettier labels on them. For now, masking tape and a Sharpie will have to do).  Plus, I love canning with my mom -- we get to spend a lot of time chatting and being productive all at once.

Anyway, I thought I'd do a recipe round-up on here, a list of links to the recipes I used this canning season.

1. Jam
The first thing I made this fall was jam. Homemade jam turned me into a jam snob.

This year, I made raspberry, blackberry, and peach jam. My raspberries didn't produce as much this year, so I only got a couple pints of it (so, so sad -- raspberry is my favorite!). We got lots of blackberries, though. For my blackberry and raspberry jams, I simply used the recipe from the pectin label. Nothing but fruit, sugar, and pectin.  For the peach jam, I used the recipe from Food in Jars -- I love it because it has this very warm, fall-like taste to it with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Yum.

2. Salsa
Again, nothing on the shelf at the store even comes close to being as delicious as homemade salsa.  We made two kinds this year.

The first is roasted tomato salsa. This recipe is THE best canned salsa recipe I've tried, period. It's from the blog Doris and Jilly Cook. I would make gallons of it if I had enough tomatoes. I love it because it has no vinegar in it. Now anyone who has read this blog for a while knows of my deep love for vinegar, but whenever I've made other salsa recipes, there's usually vinegar in it and it overpowers all the other flavors. This recipe uses lime juice instead. Another thing I love about this salsa is that tastes fresh, even months after it has been canned and sealed. I reminds me of the salsa you'd get at good Mexican restaurant.

And the recipe couldn't be simpler -- just tomatoes, a few dried peppers (boiled until they're pliable), a big onion, cilantro, garlic,  salt, and lime juice. Broil the tomatoes for a few minutes. Put the tomatoes and all the other ingredients into a food processor. Puree. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for ten minutes. Pour into hot jars. Remove air bubbles. Adjust lids and bands. Process. Easy.  Mom and I have made three double-batches this year and we'll probably do at least one more (*crossing my fingers that all those green tomatoes I have turn red*). What more can I say? This recipe rocks.

The other salsa we made this year was tomatillo salsa. The recipe we used is from Food in Jars. This salsa verde is delicious -- it was tangy and sweet and just a little spicy. I just picked all of my tomatillos and my mom has buckets full of them, so we're going to be making a bunch of this salsa over the next week or so. So good. Plus, it's great for a Halloween appetizer -- I often serve salsa verde and guacamole with dark blue corn tortilla chips at our annual Halloween party (Martha gets the credit for that idea).

3. Pickles
Some aspects of my garden this year were disappointing (what happened, green beans?) and frustrating (curse you, blossom-end rot), but there was one aspect that was awesome this year: my cucumbers produced so well! At one point, I had around 15 cucumbers in my fridge -- and they just kept coming. We ate a lot of them in salads and on sandwiches, but we also pickled a lot of them.

We did two different types of pickles. First, we made sweet pickle chips -- Mom and I made them for the first time last summer, sort of as an experiment, and we ended up loving them. They were great on their own, but also worked well in potato salad and macaroni salad (I used them in Pioneer Woman's recipe for macaroni salad. Now I'm craving it.)

Last year, we canned dill pickles and they were tasty, but they definitely weren't the crisp kind of dill pickles I love. Then I came across this recipe for refrigerator pickles (so, technically, they weren't canned, but I'm including them because it's a sort of preservation). They were so, so easy to make. It took probably 20 minutes at the very most (maybe less -- I wasn't really timing myself) to make them. As indicated in the recipe, I let them sit in the fridge for two days. Then we tried them. To quote my husband, "This is the best pickle I've ever had."  Delicious! What makes them even better? When you run out of the pickles, you just slice up more cucumbers, add them to the brine, let them sit a couple days, and -- voilĂ ! --  more pickles!  The name of the recipe says it all: "The Very Easy and Neverending Jar of Pickles".

4. Peppers
Just check out the post before this one to read all about the sweet pickled peppers. No need to be redundant, right?

5. Applesauce

In my effort to eat less refined sugar, I've been cooking some foods with applesauce as the sweetener (like these waffles. Yum.). Since I try to only buy organic apples (they're #1 on the dirty dozen list this year, after all), I've been getting organic applesauce at the store. It's pricey, though. Imagine how excited I got when my in-laws said we could pick all the apples we wanted from their unsprayed apple trees! Organic apples for free! Some of them were blemished and had some nibbles from worms on them, but we picked them anyway.  Then, my mom and dad went on a trip to Zion National Park and found a u-pick organic apple orchard and picked 40-lbs of apples (for both applesauce and all the juicing my parents do) at a remarkably low price (we're talking like under a dollar a pound -- a steal compared to the organic apples at the grocery store). No more pricey, store-bought organic applesauce for us!

Applesauce is so, so easy to make: you cook the apples until they're soft and then puree. I like to use the food mill pictured above because it eliminates the need for peeling or coring the apples. But you don't need a food mill to make applesauce -- I've used a food processor, too. For the step-by-step of how I make applesauce, check out this link.

It's been a busy season and there's still more I want and wish I could do. Sometimes I overestimate my time, my kids' patience, and my endurance. That said, I love canning not just for the self-satisfaction of seeing those jars in my cupboard, but because it's an exercise in gratitude. It's an extension to the awe I feel about growing food and seeing how others grow it. Everything about canning is lovely. Well, except cleaning up.

What have you been canning this fall? 

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Little House FridayYour Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursdayand Farm Girl Blog Fest.} 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pack a Peck (or at least a few pints) of Sweet Pickled Peppers

My husband loves pickled peppers. He eats them on hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, salad, and sandwiches. Since he loves them so much and since they're so easy to make and since my mom had a bit of a surplus from her garden to share, she and I canned a few jars of them.

This recipe (adapted from this one) is so simple. You can make just a few pint-sized jars or go gung-ho and pickle a peck of peppers (which, incidentally, would yield about two gallons worth!).  There's still plenty of fresh produce at the farm stands and coming from the garden (unless you forgot to cover your plants like I did last night. So sad.), you could put up a few jars of sweet pickled peppers in less than an hour.

To make sweet pickled peppers (this recipe yields 4 pint-size jars), you'll need: 

around 1 lb. peppers {I used mostly banana peppers but you could use other mild varieties, like Anaheim or Hungarian.}

4 cups of white vinegar
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
1 tsp. celery seed

1. Wash and sterilize four pint-size jars (or whatever size you want to use -- half-pint sized jars would be good, too.).

2.  Slice the peppers crosswise, so you end up with a pile of pepper rings.

3. Put the pepper rings into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. (As you can see, my 18-month-old is a burgeoning canner. He was "helping" me put the peppers into the jars. And don't worry -- these were really mild peppers so his cute, chubby hands were fine.)

4. Next, mix the the vinegar, sugar, mustard, and celery seed and bring to a boil.

5. Pour the hot mixture over the peppers, being sure to leave 1/2" headspace. Run a knife or rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to remove the air bubbles.

6. Make sure the rims of the jar are clean and adjust the lids and bands. Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for ten minutes (be sure to adjust for altitude; I ended up processing mine for 20 minutes).

Not only are these peppers delicious, but they're pretty, too. Maybe it seems silly to tout this recipe partly because the end result looks so nice, but, to me, there are few things more satisfying than seeing rows of brightly colored food packed away and preserved in glass jars. Definitely one of those simple joys of life. They almost look too pretty to eat -- almost.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Simple Lives ThursdayFarm Girl Blog Festand Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Off the Needles: The Granny-Style Washcloth

I barely knitted all summer. It just feels weird to knit scarves, hats, socks, and the like when temperatures are in the high 90s.

Then my baby started kindergarten this past August (not nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be) and I realized I'd be spending some time shuttling him around and waiting for him in the car. After the first couple days of our new routine, I started to miss my knitting needles; these 5-10 minutes I was spending just sitting and waiting were perfect for knitting.

However, it was still August. What to knit in August? Then I remembered the knitted washcloths my husband's aunt (my aunt-in-law?) gave me months before. It was the perfect hot-weather knitting project! So I looked around for a pattern that resembled the washcloths she gave me (I found a couple -- I used this pattern and this pattern as guides). The washcloths look like something my grandma would have made if she knitted (who, expert seamstress she was, would have probably been an awesome knitter if she'd picked up some needles).  They've got this old-fashioned feel to them -- maybe it's the doily-esque edge to them.

Let me just take a moment to tell you about these washcloths: they are fantastic! They're made out of cotton yarn and they absorb well. What's cool about them is that they're really soft, but the ridges make them great for scrubbing. I use these washcloths all. the. time. I made a couple for my mom and she uses them all the time, too. They work better than a basic rag or dish towel and you can use them instead of an icky sponge -- when you're done with these, you just pop them into the washing machine.

One other thing I like about these washcloths: they're super easy to knit up.  After my knitting hiatus, I was a little nervous that I'd forgotten how to knit. This project was a great way to get back my knitting mojo - not only was it simple, but I didn't feel any pressure. If it turned out looking weird, who cares? It's a washcloth. More on that later. They don't take long to make -- I've already made a couple since school started and I've kept them in the car, so they were made by me knitting in short spurts here and there.

Ready to get started?

1 skein cotton yarn, medium weight (4-ply)  (Nothing fancy -- I got mine at Walmart for $2)
Knitting needles, US size 6, 7 or 8

CO: Cast on
BO: Bind off
K: Knit
K2tog: knit 2 stitches (sts) together
YO: yarn over (check out this video for a quick, helpful tutorial)

CO 4 sts
Row 1: K 4 sts
Row 2: K 2 sts, YO, K to end of row
Repeat Row 2 until you have 40 sts on the needle
Row 3: K 1, K2tog, YO, K2tog, K to end of row
Repeat Row 3 until you have 4 sts on the needle
To finish, slip 1 stitch, BO 3 sts.

I have to say that I've really missed having something to knit in the car. It's the best thing to have when you're waiting for kids to get out of school or while you're at the drive-thru of the bank or even at a really long stoplight. But, please, only do it when you're safely stopped. Friends don't let friends knit and drive.

The finished project.  So simple and so useful. {Ravelry notes can be found here.)

And since I'm all about honesty on this blog, remember what I said about getting back into practice?

I'm not sure what happened here. I sort of lost it toward the end. Maybe I was tired. I think I may have done a couple rows wrong. Oh well. My fingers are back into knitting shape and my brain remembers how to knit again.

Plus, it's going to look like this most of the time.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopLittle House Friday, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Simple Lives Thursday, , Waste Not Want Not Wednesday,and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}
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