Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some Helpful Information

I'm not assuming any of you out there reading my blog actually need cloth diaper information, but I was just thinking if you know someone considering cloth diapers or you yourself in the future might consider cloth diapers, I thought this information would be helpful. So here are the sites/products that I have found useful:

Cotton Babies
DIY Diaper Sprayer video

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Going Cloth

I did it! Yesterday I made my first official purchase of cloth diapers. That's right. We're switching over from disposables to cloth.

What made me change my mind? Well, a big part of it was my sister-in-law, Amber, who recently switched over and loves it. She did a lot of research and was really enthusiastic to share it all with me.

In my mind, I thought cloth diapers were like what I remember back in 1990. I remember changing my little brother's cloth diaper - pins and icky white plastic pants and all. I wasn't going to go through with that with my children! But after going over Amber's research I was surprised to find that things have changed a lot since then. And I only had to think about it for a few minutes to realize that the switch totally made sense to me and was in line with the way I feel and think. Cloth diapers are totally do-it-yourself and once I buy them I don't have to depend on the store anymore to make sure my daughter has a clean bum. Yay! And laundry is one of those things that I don't mind doing, so... cloth diapers here I come!

What you need for cloth diapers:
* Diaper covers
* liners or tri-fold cloth diapers
* diaper sprayer that attaches to your toilet!
* diaper pail with PUL liner
* a couple of PUL wet bags for soiled diapers when we're out and about
* plenty of homemade wipes made from scraps of flannel (who knew?! Now I know what to do with all the old flannel clothes I was saving.)

(Image from Nature Moms Blog)

Friday, July 23, 2010


Well, we're finally all settled in to our new townhouse rental. (Yes, we moved again!) I have to say that I am very excited about this new place. Not only are we closer to the places I like to shop, the state forest, and some corn fields, but we are also way closer to that pick-your-own farm. Yipee! This new place is a lot smaller than our last place and you'd think that this would be super stressful, right? Surprisingly, we have really loved it! It has been really challenging trying to find a place for everything, but this has forced us to be ingenuitive in organization and use of space - in other words it has been wonderfully liberating. I feel like I have to be more aware of what we have and whether our things are fulfilling their purpose or just sitting around being junk.

I didn't realize how much having a useful environment to live in would affect me. Our last place had a horribly designed layout. (A kitchen at the front of the house with the sink being the first thing you see when you walk in the door???? Talk about stressful!) There were a few other things too and added altogether really subconsciously stressed me out. The contrast with this new place is like night and day. The size and layout are perfect. I feel so much joy and happiness in a well-ordered home. Half of that equation is the layout of the home, but the other half is entirely on me in organization and cleanliness. It's amazing how much peace a clean home can bring. Well, we just moved in, so we're not quite to the "cleanliness" stage yet. But we're getting there!

P.S. A few of the little organization tricks that I used (and never thought to use before!) were a tiered spice rack - so you can see all the spices (There wasn't enough room in the cupboards, but when you see how many spices I have, that's not a total shocker...)

An old-school spice rack that I removed the door from and repainted.
The spices I buy by the ounce and store in my own spice bottles! (Thank you BB&B!)

a shelf-helper - it's like a mini shelf that divides a cupboard space for extra storage,

and two standing racks to vertically store my cookie sheets, cutting boards, and cooling racks.

Now I don't have to dig through my space-hogging pile of heavy boards to get the one I want! Next on my list to get is a magnetic knife rack that mounts to the wall. Yay! (Can you tell that I was one of those weird children that actually liked cleaning and organizing their room? haha!)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Banana Bran Spice Muffins

This is one of my most favorite muffin recipes. I'm a big fan of bran flakes, but I do not like eating the bran dust at the end of the cereal box. So, whenever I reach the near end of the box, I dump the last 1/4 cup or so into my designated bran flake crumbs container and save it up for this recipe.

The second component is banana. Sometimes we just don't finish our bananas in time. So, what I do is stick them straight into the freezer, peel and all. Then when I need them for this recipe (or any other banana recipe), I pull them out of the freezer and let them thaw for a few hours in a pie dish. Then I take a sharp knife and while holding the banana from its stem, I slit it all the way down the back and squeeze the banana innards into a bowl ready for mashing. This is the most hassle-free way of using frozen bananas that I know - and you get perfectly creamy yellow bananas this way too.

Notice the amazing close-up detail??
It's my new camera, baby! YEAH!
At long last my photography is not stuck in 2004 anymore!

Banana Bran Spice Muffins

1 cup bran flakes cereal
1/4 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup melted butter
2/3 cup mashed, ripe bananas
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a small bowl, soak cereal in the milk for 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients with a hand-held mixer until combined; then add the cereal mixture. Beat at medium speed, scraping the bowl often, until well mixed.
Spoon into a greased or paper-lined 12-cup muffin pan, evenly distributing the batter between all the cups. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until a light golden brown, or until tops spring back when touched lightly. Cool 5 minutes and remove from pan to cooling racks. Allow to cool completely... if you can wait that long.

Note: Feel free to add 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Ooooh, so good!

This Is How I Homestead

I have a neighbor who seems in awe of what I do. I had sent over some fresh homemade jam and bread one time as a thank you gift and she couldn't believe I had made those things myself. Another time she stopped by the day I was making those homemade pop tarts and said, "Are you kidding me? You make pop tarts too?" This was really embarrassing. I tried to explain that it was the first time making them and I was just trying it out. When we had a 4th of July BBQ with them I mentioned something about the pickles I made last year and she gave me this look and laughed. "Oh my gosh, you made your own pickles? Is there anything you don't do?" She seems to compare herself to me which I think is rather silly.

I am not doing anything that special. Well, okay, maybe in today's world of buy-everything-pre-made-for-you it is a bit "special". It's something anyone can do if they decide they want to. For me, I took on this personal quest to make things from scratch, to discover new things to make homemade and to depend less on food science and more on my own two hands. This is how I homestead.

I've been thinking a lot about what a "homestead" really means. What I have discovered is that Homesteading is completely personal and is what brings you joy - but ultimately, it's about doing for yourself at a level you can handle. It's exactly what you make of it.

The biggest thing I've learned on this journey of the homemade is that I am never going to make everything we use all by myself. I am learning what I feel comfortable making, what is practical time and energy-wise, and what I would really just rather buy. Right now I'm happy buying milk, the majority of our clothes, Cheerios and sharp cheddar cheese. I do want to bake my own bread, make my own toothpaste and cleaners, have my own chickens for eggs, and sew my own quilts. And even when I try making something new from scratch, I'm not obligated to always make it from scratch. My journey is about learning new skills, seeing what I'm capable of, and how much I can grow in my talents and abilities. Much of the time, I set my mind on something and don't think about whether I can do it or not. I just do it. (That's how I started quilting.) I feel so blessed to have this determination - something I don't always use, but should.

My husband and I have talked about our future senior years and what we want them to be like. Without hesitation we both say we'd like to be like his grandparents. They live on a farm in the northern-most reaches of Montana near the Canadian border and with the Glacier National Park mountains on their horizon. When we visit the farm we work. His grandparents always have some project or other going on. Grandma is always trying new things and making interesting stuff. Grandpa is usually found in the barn tinkering with machines or working on his retro tractors. Their farm doesn't have animals. Sometimes it has a garden. They host hives of bees from California and get honey in return (which trickles its way down to us occasionally.) :-) They are the epitome of reusing and recycling. (Their "honeymoon suite" in the barn boasts 2 reclaimed hospital gurney beds. haha!) Best of all, they're just busy and happy. We love going to the farm.

My husband and I would love to have a place like that someday where our children and grandchildren could come to learn new skills and to work together as a family. But most of all I would love to be that example of industry and to display the joy that work brings. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there. One project and homemade recipe at a time.

How do you homestead?

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's FRYday Once Again!

So, yes, I'm a bit late for FRYday. The past week has been crazy and the next two weeks don't look any less crazy, so I cheated. I fried something in the middle of last month. I know, I know! I told myself I wouldn't, but considering the recipe, I just had to! To compensate I didn't fry anything last Friday, so that makes me even. :-) And it worked out because I'm way too busy (and it's way too hot!) to be frying up a storm in my kitchen right now anyway.

I got this recipe from a good friend. It involves tofu, and if that totally freaks you out - don't panic! If you're going to try tofu for the first time, this is the recipe to do it with. So, go get your box of extra-firm and get cooking!

Sweet & Sour Tofu

Canola oil (for frying)
Two boxes extra-firm tofu (found in the refrigerated produce section of your grocery store)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup corn starch
2 eggs
Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare the tofu:

Heat oil about 1/2" - 1" deep in a deep skillet. While oil is heating, remove the tofu from its package, and place on a plate lined with a few paper towels. With a few more paper towels, gently press the tofu, patting it on all sides with the paper towels, to squeeze out as much water as possible. Be careful not to press too hard or the block will break. Next, cut tofu into approx. 1"x1" cubes. Sprinkle tofu with the garlic powder.

Mix corn starch and flour in a small bowl. Place the tofu in the flour mixture and gently toss until the tofu is coated. Place tofu into egg and toss gently. Then place the tofu into the oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Set aside to drain on paper towels.

1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Mix all these ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for a
couple minutes until it reduces a bit. Watch it, because it could boil
over creating a huge mess.

Place the tofu into an oven safe dish and pour the sauce over the
tofu. Put this into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so stirring
(You might want to double the sauce recipe, as it doesn’t make very much of it. And you'll want a lot more of it because it is good.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Finally! The Garden is In

Thanks to my neighbor starting seeds for me, I finally have my container garden finished. I have patio pickling cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. For the tomatoes I have Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Yellow Plum, Yellow Pear, Green Zebra, and my favorite - Bloody Butcher. I hope to have enough tomatoes to make salsa. A few of my plants have flowers on them already. Yay! I'd also like to get some semi-mature jalapeño plants soon.

 Some cool annuals I don't know the name of. I love how bright and funky they are. 
No wimpy flowers here!

My container tomato and cucumber plants.
And the satellite-dish-turned-fire-pit. 

Bloody Butcher Tomatoes in a self-watering container. 
I can't wait! They're so yummy...

I know I'm a little behind, but I'm trying to start some herbs too. We'll see how that goes. I sure miss my purple sage. :-(

I am in love...

...with this:
White Stilton cheese with dates and orange rinds. Oh. My. Goodness... I mean, I love cheese in general, but this stuff is like a taste of heaven. At least I hope they have it in heaven, because I think it deserves to be there.

Look at that beautiful cheese! Sweet and creamy and a tinge citrusy. Amazing.

Makin' It From Scratch #9 - Dishwasher Detergent

We were running out of dishwasher detergent. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how expensive that stuff is - at least if you don't want white film on your dishes. Well, I decided to turn to my trusty book Homemade to look up their recipe for the homemade variety. I was happily surprised - the simplest recipe for anything I've ever made! I made it in far less time than it takes to walk into the store, pick up the dishwasher detergent from the shelf and go buy it - and it was a lot less expensive!

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent (powder)

2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing Soda

Combine well and store in a 32 oz. container. (I used two 16 oz. sour cream containers.)
Use 2 Tbsp. detergent per wash. 

Yield: 4 cups/64 Tbsp./32 loads 

For a scoop to keep with the detergent, I used an old Country Time lemonade powder scoop (from their extra large container.) One scoop holds a little over 2 Tbsp. You could use any leftover scoop as long as it fits just 2 Tbsp.

And what about a rinse aid? That blue stuff is really expensive! A super cheap alternative: white vinegar. Toss 1 - 1 1/2 cups vinegar in during the rinse cycle of your dishwasher, or pour some into your rinse aid dispenser. (Another tip from that wonderful book Homemade.)

On another note, finding Washing Soda out here in Maryland has been a nightmare! No grocery stores carry it. But after a search online, I found that some hardware stores do carry it, including Ace Hardware. In fact, if your local Ace doesn't have it on the shelf, you can buy it through their website and they'll ship it to your local Ace for free. Nice! I made the 20 minute drive to the closest Ace store and bought all the washing soda they had on the shelf. I am now officially stocked up. :-) (Okay, so they only had 3 boxes, but the trip was so worth it! I forgot how fun hardware shops are to look around in!)

You might be wondering if there is difference between Washing Soda and Baking Soda. The answer is YES! "The chemical name of washing soda is sodium carbonate, it is also known as soda ash or simply soda crystals...It is also slightly acidic and will therefore wear down fabric and elastic bands faster than baking soda.
"Baking soda is a bicarbonate of sodium or simply stated it is sodium hydrogen carbonate." (or sodium bicarbonate) We use baking soda, obviously for baking, and it is slightly alkaline, so it's somewhat gentler than washing soda.
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