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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Holiday Preparedness 2012

I am very close to being completely done with Chanukah/Christmas shopping. Hallelujah!

I have yet to really go through what I think I have and what I bought that I don't remember buying. It is all under my my bed, stuffed into the closet and there are even a couple things in the garage. I started buying a few things here and there back in March, but I have been filling in the major gifts in the last two months bargain shopping. There are a couple things that I do need to buy last minute, like new pillows (how do you hide those?!) and I also have some items to make on my to-do list.

Luckily I do know what I need/want to make and buy thanks to my handy spreadsheet.

To keep myself accountable, I thought I would share my homemade gift to-do list.

For my daughter:
- Play apron and potholders. I have already started cutting the fabric for these and I am really excited for her to play with her own potholders rather than mine. It is very inconvenient to have to search them down to take something out of the oven...
- Mirror. I have this really cute iron mirror that I got on freecycle that I can just envision as a fuschia pink in her room. I have not been able to find the right color spray paint, so I am on a mission to find the color at the craft store this week.
- Bed Skirt. This is the same bed skirt I set out to make in May for her bed and still have not started. I would like to finish this to give as a gift, but I will be happy if I finish by valentines day.

For my son:
- Game Bag. He is really into games right now. Any card game or board game is, um, game. I found a great idea at Teach my Child. Where the outside of a bag is a tic-tac-toe board and the inside holds the pieces. I am taking that concept and using a pillowcase to save time and making a game board on both sides: tic-tac-toe and checkers! I got all my pieces and I have to do some spray painting and sewing, but this should be a quick project once I have the time and energy to finish it.

Other gifts: (not started yet... lots to do!)
Teachers: I plan on giving a book (for the class) with a chocolate dipped candy spoon for her.

Aunties: There is a really cool versatile shirt called the Bina that I found online that I want. So I thought I would make one for my sisters (and myself). Much less than to spend $50 each...

Family from Kids: Key-chains from clay. Stamped and painted. I also want them to make me a couple charms for a personal necklace for myself. This should be a fun project to do with them!

Neighbors and Friends: I will make a batch of my mocha cappuccino mix to put in a pretty container with marshmallows tied with a bag of popcorn and chocolate dipped spoons for a cozy movie night. Much easier than making a fresh batch of cinnamon bread and apple butter like I did last year...

As you can tell from my list, I have a bit of an ADD problem starting a million projects at once (and this is ONLY holiday related!).
What homemade gifts are you making this season?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tis the season for Punpkins

This is a first for me.  I never really thought about making my own pumpkin puree until I saw the cute, little pie pumpkins at Trader Joe's. I ended up getting a few more pumpkins from Freecycle (yea!) and so made a giant batch of 7 pie pumpkins. Ambitious… I realized this about half way through the process.

Even though this is my first pumpkin cooking journey, I figured it was worth writing about and I have no idea when I will do this again. 

Before I heated the oven I did my research. There are a few ways to get the good stuff. You can cut it up and stick it in the oven. You can chop it up and toss it into a slow cooker. Or you can do what I did… simply deposit the pumpkins into the oven.
The simple way, or so it seemed. I coated the pumpkins with coconut oil and put them in there at 400 degrees. It took a little over an hour but then they cut like butter and the seeds just fell out with only a little scraping.

I set up with the cutting board area. A little bowl for the seeds (planning on roasting them later) and a huge bowl for the flesh of the pumpkins. Separating the seeds from the hot stringy goop was the part that took a long time and made quite a mess. Every time I had to stop I had to scrub my whole arms.

I noticed that the smaller the pumpkin, the more seeds and water there was.

When I was done cutting up the pumpkins I looked online again. I noticed that each website I came across used either a blender or a food processor to puree the stuff. What a mess! I decided to use my immersion blender. Much easier I think.

Looking at the puree, I decided that I needed to strain the orange puree. I know you can use a paper towel, but I just happen to have had some new cheesecloth. I rigged up a bowl with a large colander (I rarely use this but it sure comes in handy to have!) containing the cheesecloth. Once I had the pumpkin inside, I covered it with foil and stuck it in the refrigerator overnight.
In the Fridge on top of my batch of Granola Bars

Please note that I started this process at 3pm Sunday with a brief pause for dinner and putting kids in the shower and bed, I finally stuck the puree in the refrigerator at 8pm.

I picked this up again the next day. 

I took the juice and saved it in a jar. I ended up using some of it in place of water in a batch of pancakes. No need to let the nutrition go to waste...
Check out all this juice!

I started portioning out the pumpkin for freezing. I find it very interesting that pumpkin cannot be home canned...

Plus extra for pie!
Double bagged for the freezer.
 My husband saw what I was doing and asked for pumpkin pie… so I ended up with 6 portions to freeze and 2 pumpkin pies (that were really good! And surprisingly easy to make).

One pie did not last long. I mixed a couple recipes that I found on allrecipes with one I found from Paula Dean. It is a really good thing I made the other one to freeze for latter!

Have you ever experimented with pumpkins?

Shared with DIY Home, Monday Mania, Recipe Exchange, Frugally Sustainable, Should be MoppingCheerios and Lattes and Mostly Homemade.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Better than Quaker

I did a lot of cooking in my kitchen this weekend. I made bread, bread mixes, chocolate syrup, cappuccino mix, pumpkin puree (coming soon!) and granola bars. Now I’m tired…

I posted a picture on facebook a couple weeks ago of some beautiful granola bars. I made those without peanuts and we went right through them. This time I made 1 batch with no nuts (so my daughter could take them to school) and a double batch with nuts.

Why make them from scratch when you can buy them?
My main reason... do you know what is in these things?! food dyes and preservatives just don't sound that appetizing to me. And it is surprisingly easy to do. Has anyone else noticed that the staples that need to be in your pantry are really simple to put together yourself... but I regress.

I am positively in love with homemade granola bars! They are so easy and practically impossible to mess up. Just throw everything you have together in a bowl and add the sugar to hold it together. I originally gathered a couple recipes together to figure out what I liked to do and how. They are all really similar, but some require cooking in an oven while some don’t. Here is the recipe that I have adjusted to use the most:

Thick & Chewy Granola Bars – no bake

1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats 
1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar (use less if using Peanut Butter)
1/3 cup almond flour or oat flour (put almonds/oats in blender until you get a powder)
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups miscellaneous stuff (i.e. I like to add cranberries, raisins, coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, nuts, flax seeds, chai seeds, rice cereal and whatever else I have on hand)
1/3 cup peanut butter or other nut butter (if you don't want any nut butter, increase the sugar. But I like to add sunflower seed butter to my no-nut version)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1.    Stir dry ingredients in large bowl. Everything except the chocolate chips.
I like to put the seeds in the blender to
disguise them from the kids.

2.       Melt oil, honey, nut butter, and sugar until bubbly, for no more than two minutes.  Stir constantly. Let mixture cool for 2-3 minutes, then add vanilla and stir.

3.       Pour liquid mixture over dry mixture and stir thoroughly so that the oats and cereal are all coated.

After it is well mixed, I like to let it cool a moment before adding mini chocolate chips. They will melt a little, but I find that it is better to mix the chocolate together with the mix rather than add it to the top before pressing to avoid a melted chocolate mess on top.
4.       Pour mixture into pan. Press down to pack it all down good.

I like to put foil or plastic wrap in the pan so I don’t have to grease it and run the risk of bars coming apart when I am trying to take them out of the pan. I also use a piece of plastic wrap to press the granola down so I don’t have to get my hands dirty.

5.       Place granola bars in refrigerator until set. Then you can cut them. 
can you see my cut marks in the No-Nut version?
I like to make bars, but you can make squares or triangles if you like.
In this picture you can see the Nut version.
I took the foil/bars out of the container to cut
them and put them in ziplock bags.
6.       Store in the fridge or at room temperature. I like to put them in ziplock bags for easy kid snacks and store them in a Tupperware for easy kid access. I am also thinking that they save a little longer this way since I have noticed that they save 3 weeks with no problems.
You can see my beautiful labels. "NN" for No Nuts.
It might seem like a huge waste of baggies, but these bags are easily cleaned and reused. I have gotten in the habit of turning baggies inside out to wash with soap and water before letting air dry when the only thing inside them are silly things like granola or raisins or crackers or... you get the idea.

If you haven't tried this before. Take a couple minutes to whip up a batch!

Shared at Recipe Exchange, Homemade Monday, Mop it Monday, Homemade Monday, Monday Mania DIY Home Sweet HomeCheerios & Lattes, Saturday Seven and Frugally Sustainable.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Transition to Working Mom

I think the title of this post is funny since I consider that being a Mom a lot of work. Simple errands are an adventure! But since my two year old started preschool, I have been thinking that I would like to occupy my time doing something other than mopping the floors. Before having my son I took the CBEST thinking that I would like to teach. I was sooo fortunate to get a job at the school district as a substitute teacher. This has been great! I am able to have a very similar schedule as my kids and easily take off days that something is going on. I took a day off when my little man was up all night sick; and another to take my daughter on a field trip.

I like the flexibility. But I have to say that on the nights I work I am exhausted! I come home and sit. I just don’t have the energy to get up or cook or clean up. My husband has been amazing picking up and dropping off kids and even cooking. So here are the differences… I used to get the kids up dressed and ready in the morning, make lunches, breakfast and then schlepp the kids to school before running around before picking them up. Now, when I am working I still have to get lunches ready (including mine) and get kids up and dressed, but hubby is making breakfast, taking kids to school and even making dinner.

One thing I knew that needed to change is the way I have my meal plans drawn out. Otherwise I could see us wanting to eat out every night… 
Refrigerator Before...
and yes, that is a New Year card from last year
So I bought a cheap frame and glued some magnates on the back.

Made a cute Menu print out and printed on stationary. 

And voilĂ , a visible menu easy for daddy to follow and mommy to plan for.
MUCH Better!
It still isn't as clean as some refrigerator doors that I've seen on Pinterest. But we have to do what works for us. Before I wrote in my own book and kept track of meal plans, but that just wasn't working out with the change in duties. I really like this change and think that once the kids are reading, there might be less complaining over their dinner since it was posted for them to see. It has made a huge difference in our planning!

What do you do?

Shared at Cheerios and Lattes, Saturday Seven and Frugally Sustainable.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Holiday Present List

I know that Halloween has not even gone by yet and we are already seeing holiday merchandising in the stores. I have started seeing blog posts by other people about Christmas and Chanukah shopping. I have a couple of ideas for this year and I have purchased several things already.

I haven’t posted anything recently, so I thought that I would show you how I keep track of what gifts get given. I have an excel file that I have used for several years. Each year is on a different page. This allows me to look back and see what I gave family and friends the year before, and before that—eliminating the possibility of gifting the same thing twice.

My kids are super lucky since they get the best of all the holidays!

On the left side I have a list of all the people in my life. Family members and their children, friends and neighbors, work acquaintances, etc. are listed on the left side. And then I have boxes on the left of the sheet I have a couple boxes: (1) things still to buy and where, (2) major Christmas gifts, and (3) Chanukah gifts for each night.

I have already started this year’s – but I wouldn't want to give anyone the opportunity to cheat!

Shared at Cheerios & Lattes, Tip Tuesday and Petite Hermine.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Road to Shampoo-less-ness

I have been trying to remove the chemicals from my house for the last year. The next step is Shampoo and conditioning products. I have been scouring the Internet for shampoo replacement ideas (an ongoing process). I started making my husband’s “shampoo” about six months ago with oil, water, tea tree oil and castile soap. It works great on his hair, but didn't really cut it on my thick, long and curly locks. I used the same mixture for about 10 days before I gave up on it. I understand that there is a hair detox period, but my hair just got dryer and dryer.

I dreaded the idea of using baking soda.

I started entertaining the idea of a shampoo bar, like the one on Frugally Sustainable. I am not quite ready to make it, though. Then, I found a soap that just might be what I was looking for. I thought I would give it a chance.

African Black Soap is made with coconut oil and/or palm oil, Shea butter, oats, aloe leaf juice, plantain extract, vitamin E, vegetable glycerin, and essential oils. It has a reputation for fighting acne, detoxifying and healing skin conditions. I also read that it works miracles on curly hair… let’s see!

Although I was going to buy a bar from, but decided to order the Nubian-Heritage bar from Vitacost since I was making an order anyway. I even read all the reviews; most of them mentioned how soft their skin was and a couple did say that they used it on their hair. I’ll take that as a good sign.

I decided that taking out shampoo chemicals should coincide with taking out conditioner too. I took a small spray bottle and filled it with ½ Apple Cider Vinegar and a couple drops of lavender oil. After washing I sprayed my hair with the ACV and left it in while I dried before I wrapped my hair in the towel and let it sit a little longer before combing it out.

My log:

Wash #1 – So glad the vinegar smell goes away fast. My hair feels dry but combed out easily enough.
My skin feels awesomely soft from the lather!
Day 2: The next day the hair in the back of my head, close to my scalp was really oily.

Wash #2 – Soap seemed to lather more in my hair than before. Still felt dry when I combed it.
Day 3: The next day I could tell there was some improvement. It wasn't as oily, but still feels a little thick and sticky.
Day 4: (usually wash my hair every other day) I woke up with a head of nappy hair. There is no other word for it. It was nasty and sticky dread-lock like; though it didn't look bad when brushed out. And was not frizzy either, like it normally would be if I brushed my hair when dry.

Wash #3 — I was thinking that the stickiness of my hair could be because I have not been rinsing the vinegar out. So this time I let it sit, combed through it with a wide-tooth comb and then rinsed before getting out of the shower. It seems less sticky. We shall see.
Day 5: Every day seems to get a little easier. My hair is still stiff/sticky (which really is a bummer!). BUT the hair by my scalp is soft and easier to run my fingers through. So that makes me think that I need to stick it out until my hair grows out.

Day 6: Wash #4 – This time I used barely any vinegar and caved in a little by using some stay-in conditioner spray. I don’t really think it helped though. I might go back to the chemically-rick Suave if my hair doesn't improve soon!
Day 7: Blah.

Wash #5 – I think and hope that my hair is getting better. I would hate to quit and go back to Suave.
Day 8: I went through the whole day with my hair up again.

Wash #6 – My hair felt a little oily at the roots. Funny how light and normal my hair feels when it’s wet…

Day 9: Wash #7 – I know I shouldn't wash my hair 2 days in a row. But I have a meeting tomorrow and I can’t look like this! So I decided to switch it up (couldn't look worse than it does…) I used Baking Soda mixed with water in a squirt bottle first. Then added a little bit of the African Black Soap before rinsing.  This made my hair dry! But the ACV made it easy to comb through. Wow! I can feel a difference, but since it was still a little dry so I put a little coconut oil on my fingers to comb through my hair when I got out of the shower.
Day 10: I might just stick to last night’s routine! My hair feels much better today and looks better too. Not perfect, mind, but getting there and I feel encouraged.

Day 11: Wash #8 – I did the same thing, minus the coconut oil. Next time I buy the Black Soap, I will buy the kind without the oatmeal, which feels great on my skin but my hair tends to stick to it.
Wet hair. It does dry much faster!
Day 12: My hair is less dreadlock-thick feeling. Still a little sticky but getting better

Day 13: Wash #9 – After letting my hair down it feels dry on the end and oily by my head before I washed. Same wash as #8.
Day 14: At least my hair looks a little better than it did a week ago. But I am still unsatisfied. I hope this continues to get better or I might have to start testing more methods. Blah.
Day 15: I woke up looking like I was balancing a nest on my head. This seems to be the norm lately. I had to comb my hair which made it look like a frizz ball (typically I can only comb it when it is wet so the curls stay intact). Luckily it looks great when it is up and hidden from site.

Wash #10  - Baking Soda. Soap. Vinegar.

I am going to stop there and post an update again in a month or so since I don’t have much else to report in the encouraging department. I am just hoping that this whole icky hair business goes away and I get my silky feeling back (without resorting back to the chemical stuff). We shall see.

Any words of encouragement from people out there who have taken shampoo out of their routine?

Shared at Tip Tuesday, Cheerios and Lattes and Frugally Sustainable.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Freezing in Portions

One of my goals the last couple months was to start freezing in portions when I put food in the freezer. It’s all well and good to have a HUGE batch of soup in there, but if I want some soup, the entire family gets some and it takes too long to thaw for a quick meal.

I was seeing other bloggers freeze soup or pasta in cupcake tins. But I think it would be difficult to take the food out once it was frozen. Maybe silicone would be great to freeze in and easy to pop out – but I wasn’t able to find any! So I came up with the idea of using plastic wrap.

Very simple. Just take a strip of wrap and pour soup/stew/whatever into the cupcake portion. 

Cover. Repeat.
Stick it in the freezer.

Then the next day (when it’s frozen) pull out pieces and put into a ziplock. I just left them in the plastic wrap. It isn’t difficult to unwrap them but I figure it is a little more protection from freezer burn.

These pictures were from a batch of stew in my slow cooker. We ate it for dinner and I was still able to freeze another meal on top of the 12 servings. I think my chili would work for dips or if I want a little flavor in another dish, I can toss a serving in. I like the flexibility and this will help my family eat from scratch rather than eat from a can.

I also did the same thing today with some cupcakes. When my sweet tooth needs satisfaction I need something quick and yummy.

What else do you freeze in single servings?

Shared at Shine on Friday, Frugally Sustainable and Cheerios and Lattes

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chocolate Sauce from Scratch

This is the second time I have made this recipe and once again it turned out perfect. I know you can make chocolate powder for chocolate milk from cocoa and sugar, but I decided that by making syrup it was a little more versatile because it can be used on ice cream too.

My kids didn’t mind the switch to homemade and I feel a little better about making their milk extra chocolaty. The original recipe did not have vanilla in it, but I think vanilla should be in every recipe. =)
I really like it too… and I have always been more partial to Nestle Quik than Hershey’s.

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup water
1 ½ cups sugar
Dash salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan mix the cocoa and water with a whisk. Heat, stirring occasionally, when it begins to boil, add the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves.
Bring mixture to a boil for 3 minutes. Remove syrup from heat. Add the salt and vanilla. Stir to blend. Let cool, and then pour syrup into a container. Store in the fridge.

When we ran out my husband chucked the Hershey’s bottle but luckily I had another container I could reuse. I think I like the fact that it’s clear. Note: this chocolate syrup is not as thick as store bought stuff so it actually mixes into milk really well. This should keep for a couple months in the refrigerator, I haven’t had problems with it crystalizing.


Shared at Make it Pretty Monday, Frugally Sustainable, Lil Luna, Shine on Friday and Little House Recipe Exchange.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Making Disinfecting Wipes

I finally used up all of my Clorox and WannaBe-Clorox wipes. I love these things! But I have been waiting to go through my supply so I could implement a greener wiping method in my house. There are two reasons for making my own wipes: (1) to make my house a less wasteful place and (2) because I hate spending money on items that are meant to be thrown away. Are you with me on this one?

I have seen other's replace their wipes with a soap solution and paper towels. But, instead of wasting the paper, I have decided that instead I am going to cut up some fabric from old T-shirts. I have to do the laundry anyway... I decided to keep the solution simple rather than use a bunch of essential oils:

2 tbsp. Liquid Castile Soap
1 ½ cups Hot Water
½ cup Vinegar

I had some lemon-marinated vinegar on hand, so that’s what I used to get a light citrus smell.

But I regress…
First I cut up the fabric into rectangles.
I folded to stagger the rectangles.
(It will pull the next rectangle up the hole of the container like store-bought wipes. And it works! Which makes the minutes it took to fold these worth it.)
Stick the wipes in the container.
Mix the solution and pour it into the container.

So I have used them and they work just fine. Even better, they smell like soap. I added a bag under my sink for the used wipes. When it's full, I will wash them.

Shared at Frugally Sustainable, One Creative WeekendCheerios & LattesMake it Pretty, Tip TuesdaysPositively Splendid and Living Green.

Featured on One Creative Weekend