Friday, September 28, 2012

Homemade Vegetable Broth

If you haven't tried homemade veggie broth, you are in for a treat!  We use this stuff for a ton of things.  It's perfect in mashed potatoes, to mix with stuffing, to use as a base for a marinade and as a great soup base.  There are a ton of recipes that use broth; why not make your own?

You first start with your vegetables.  Start saving all those pieces you cut off from the veggies you prepare for your meals.  Throw them into a zip lock bag and freeze them until you are ready to go.  Celery tops and leaves, carrot peels, onion tops and bottoms, vegetables that you won't finish before they go bad, leftovers from meals and over ripe vegetables are all great!  When you get a bag full, it's time to make broth.

You need a HUGE pot filled with water, some salt and your vegetables.

Salt the water to what you like.  We like it salty enough to taste but not as salty as commercial broths.

Keep dumping in your vegetables. . .
. . . and simmer them for a few hours.  We are trying to get every ounce of nutrients out of the vegetables and into the water. 

When the vegetables are the consistency of mush you need to turn the heat off and let the broth cool.  When the broth is cool enough to handle, strain the vegetables out.

You can either freeze the broth or can it in a pressure canner.  (DO NOT WATER BATH THIS. . . there is not enough acid and it won't be shelf stable.)  This batch I froze.

If you put a few cups of broth into a freezer bag and let most of the air out, you can lay it flat to freeze.

Thawing these are very easy.  Put the bag in the sink and run cool water over it.  The broth will thaw in a few minutes, depending on how much broth you put in the bag.

I also put broth into ice cube trays.  When they are frozen, I pop out and put into a bag in the freezer.  These are great for when you just need a little broth (mashed potatoes are our favorite way to use these). 

You can freeze these in jars or freezer containers.  Make sure to allow enough space at the top because it will expand and you don't want your jars cracking.

The great thing about this broth is that you know exactly what went into it.  You know it's good for you and you know it tastes great! 

Don't forget to compost the vegetables or, if you have a weird dog like mine, feed them to your pup!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Earning Spelling Points

My poor daughter has inherited my spelling genes.  Thank goodness for spell check.

She hates studying for her spelling tests almost as much as she hates taking them.  We have bribed given her some great incentives to earn 100%s on her test but she's started to employ the "forget about it until the night before" technique which is bad for my nerves and irritates her father to no end.

We started the Spelling Points system for this school year.

It's quite simple.  Both the kids have to earn twenty spelling points.  They can choose what they do and when they do it.  They have to give ME the completed task and I will give them permission to write their points down.  If they are short points by spelling test day they owe me an hour off bedtime each day of the following week, regardless of the score earned on the test. 

Here is our spelling points log.  There is glass over the top of the list so they can write their totals with a dry erase marker.

Here is our point system and how they can earn the points.


Bring the iPod and your spelling list to mom to put in the words
Work for fifteen minutes on Spelling City
Do a spelling list Word Search
Have Mom or Dad test you
Type your spelling words on the computer
Make flashcards of your spelling words
Rainbow Write your words
Spell your spelling words with scrabble tiles
Write your words two times each
Do the “Spelling Test” on your iPod
Make a Memory Game with your spelling words and play it with mom or dad
Put your spelling list on the floor in big letters
Stamp out your spelling words
Write your spelling list in stencils
Make Spelling Triangles

The one pointer is for the kids to bring their iPod to me and have me put in their spelling words on the "Spelling Test" app.  The app is free for a limited version.  All you have to do is delete the previous spelling test before putting the new list in and you can keep using the app for free.  I am lazy so I paid my dollar and now store all spelling tests.

Spelling City (2 points) is a program the school uses that we can access on our home computer.

The word search is something I make up each week using this free puzzle maker.  They can only do it once but they like to do it. 

Rainbow writing is when each letter is written in a different color pencil or marker.

Spelling triangles are when you write your spelling words in triangles.  For example, if you were writing the word THERE this is what it would look like:


I have a homework box on my table that has school supplies handy for homework time.  I've added index cards (cut in half) for flashcards and memory games, a plastic stencil sheet, an alphabet stamp set, scrabble tiles and large die cut letters.  This way, there's no excuse for not earning their points!

If I do it again:

I would make the font darker on the spelling points or use a less patterned piece of paper.  It's hard to read from any sort of distance.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tip: Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

Ever since we signed up for Door to Door Organics we have had tons of fresh produce sitting on counters in bowls and on plates.  This is normally an invitation for the fruit flies to arrive and set up housekeeping.

We have a little trick to get rid of fruit flies.

On my counter, in the back corner, I have a tiny jelly jar with 1/2 inch of red wine vinegar in the bottom.  The fruit flies are attracted to it, land in it and drown.  Once a week I dump the vinegar (and dead bugs) out, rinse the cup and refill.  Apple cider vinegar works great, too.  I use the red wine vinegar because I have an insanely sensitive schnoz and I prefer the smell of red wine vinegar to the apple cider kind.

Try it.  Within a day you will notice a big difference!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bring One In; Take One Out

I could very easily become a hoarder.  I blame my mother who taught us to wash out bread wrappers and save the twist ties.  Just kidding, mom.  I don't really blame you.

I learned some very valuable lessons on making do and making things last but I also picked up some bad habits.  I don't give up items very easily.  It has nothing to do with emotions; I'm missing the sentimental gene.  It has a lot to do with "what if."   What if it broke.  What if I need it later.  What if.

We've tried to curb my hoarding impulses by following a rule.  It's the "Bring one in, take one out" rule.  The rule doesn't apply to things we need but more for things that we want.  For example, when we FINALLY bought a laptop computer, we didn't pitch our desktop.  The kids are older and we need two computers.  When I found an amazing blender/food processor at a garage sale, I donated my old blender because we don't need two blenders.  (I thought we did but my husband disagreed.)

This past weekend we put our In/Out rule to the test.

I had my eye on a nice desk that was being sold at one of those outlet stores where the furniture comes in boxes and the directions are in Sanskrit.  When it went on sale, I picked it up.  It would fit our office much better than the current desk and we could Craigslist the old one.

My eleven year old son and I spent the better part of the morning putting together the new desk.  The directions were all in picture form - no words - with lots of arrows.  Periodically, one of us would say "What IS that?" or "Do we even HAVE one of those?"  We persevered and got it done.  I emptied the old desk, organized the new desk and mentally started on my Craigslist ad.

When I asked my husband how much he wanted to ask for the old desk, he looked hurt.  Turns out, he wanted to keep it.

Since I'm the one that normally has a problem with the In/Out rule, I bit my tongue and got creative.   This is what I did.

The new desk went IN the office.  The old desk went OUT.
The old desk went IN the spare bedroom.  The antique dresser went OUT.
The antique dresser went IN my closet.  The ugly purple dresser went OUT.
I replaced the knobs on the purple dresser with some pretty porcelain ones I had in my stash.  It's ugly but has some character.
The purple dresser with character went IN my daughter's room.  The black table went OUT.

The black table will be up on Craigslist shortly.  My back hurts and I've realized my daughter has too many pairs of socks.  With all of the moving came reorganizing drawers which needed to be done but I was ignoring.

The absolute genius of my In/Out plan is that nothing had to be carried up or down stairs, except for the black table and the new desk.  The black table is by far the lightest of all the pieces so I am thrilled to keep the rest up here.

Next time, I'm taking photos.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gift in a Can

Even the cheapest, lamest gifts can be awesome if you present them the right way!

This is one of my favorite ways to give a gift card or small gift.  It's a gift in a can!

Take a pop top can.  I like to use something that held fruit because 1) the kids like fruit 2) it smells nice.

This is a pop top can.  You could use a regular can but unless you are sure your recipient has a can opener that might not be a good idea!

Use a can opener that opens from the side, not the top.

Flip the can over and take the BOTTOM off from the can.  Eat what is inside.

Wash it and dry it well.  Drying will help keep it from rusting.

Decorate it.  I like using some scrapbooking paper and paper scraps.

See the cute butterfly sticker???

Add some ribbons to the tab.

I also add a tag.

Flip upside down and stuff in your present!  I like putting a crumple of tissue paper, a gift card or whatever gift I'm giving and then another crumple of tissue paper.  This can held some small scented tea lights.

Put a thin layer of hot glue around the rim of the can and fit your lid back on.

Let dry and then give!
If I do it again:

This combo of paper isn't my favorite. . . I've done much better!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cherry Amaretto Jam

I have one of the most fabulous jam recipes EVER!  It's the jam that flies off the shelf the fastest in our house.  This is actually one of the few jams the kids enjoy.  Most times they beg me to buy "normal" jam - Smuckers being the definition of normal.  They eat this stuff, though!

This recipe is basically the same recipe as my peach jam with just a few changes.  

Pit and chop four cups of sweet cherries.   That's about three pounds of cherries.

Put into a large pot with one package of NO SUGAR NEEDED Ball Pectin, 2/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of Amaretto.  We like this stuff:

Any amaretto works. . . cheap is great. . . and it adds such a nice flavor when you cook with it.  Try it in cake!

Bring the fruit, water, lemon juice and amaretto to a rolling boil.  Boil for two minutes.

At this point you need to add your sugar.  I used less than a cup.  The amaretto is very sweet already and I don't like too much sweetness in my jams.  Taste your cherries, though.  If they're not super sweet (like mine were) you will want a bit more sugar.  It all depends on how sweet your sweet cherries are.

Add the sugar, bring back to a boil and boil for three minutes.  If you like a softer set, you can boil for less time but I like a very firm jam.

Fill your hot, clean jars and put the lids on them.  If you've not canned before, check out this article for a good how to and safety tips.  

Process fifteen minutes.  Let set!  I give my jars a good shake after they've cooled down quite a bit to spread the fruit around otherwise it tends to float to the top.  (You aren't supposed to. . . it's just what I do.)

If I do it again:

I make this stuff every year and every year I wish I made more.  Pitting cherries is the pits, though.  My kitchen looks like a crime scene with sprays of cherry juice covering all surfaces and my red, red hands.  We freeze a ton of cherries for the year and what's left is what I make jam with.  I usually pit enough to make two batches before I decide that enough is enough and let the kids eat the rest of the cherries fresh.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homemade Dishwasher Soap

I finally ran out of the dishwasher soap/TSP mix that I've been using in my dishwasher so I headed out to the store to grab some supplies.  YIKES!  First, I may need to renew my Sam's Club membership. . . I don't recall dishwasher soap being SO expensive!  Second, I can't find the TSP.  I can find the non-P TSP but not the regular stuff that works.  This was a major "bummer" moment for me.

I got online and found oodles of dishwasher soap recipes and hated them all.  Most looked like they wouldn't work for our family.  We are the family that has to check our glasses before using because there is always goop dried on inside it.  I cook, and cook a lot, so the dishes are actually dirty when they go into the dishwasher.  Somehow some of that goop ends up on the inside of our drinking glasses.

My TSP'd dishwasher soap took care of the goop but it was the "P" in the TSP that did it.  I needed something that gave the dishes that "slip" until rinsed so that the goop wouldn't stick.  I found it! 

Here is my dishwasher soap recipe.  It works well for us and is much cheaper than the store bought.  I had most of this stuff on hand (I had to buy the castile soap).

Homemade Liquid Dishwasher Soap

6 cups water
3/4 cup washing soda
1/2 cup Borax
1/4 cup liquid castile soap

Boil four cups of the water.  Add the dry ingredients.  Stir until dissolved.  Add the Castile soap and stir.

Add two cups of COLD water to this mix.

Let sit until cooled completely.  I let it sit overnight.

This stuff gels up pretty thick.   Take a hand mixer or hand immersion blender and mix up this big, gloopy, jelly mess.  Slowly add an additional TWO CUPS of cold water while blending. It will still be thick but not a solid gel chunk.

Pour into a bottle. 

ONLY USE A TABLESPOON PER WASH LOAD.  If you use more, it will get streaky.  White vinegar in your rinse area works great if you don't want to buy the fancy stuff.

If I do it again:

I think scented castile soap would be very nice!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Lemon Rose Body Scrub

I have a very dear friend that I wanted to make something special for.  I decided on some Lemon Rose Body Scrub.  I found the idea here but tweeked it a teeny tiny bit for my personal taste.

You need the following ingredients:

Refined Sugar
Unrefined Coconut Oil
Rose Petals
Almond, Jojoba or other body oil
Lemon Essential Oils
Glass jar
 The glass jar in the photo is one that a candle came in.  I thought it was the perfect shape!

Start by filling your jar 1/3 of the way with coconut oil.  I pile it in and then heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt it.  That way it will settle smooth at the bottom of the jar.  Let it harden back up before doing the next steps.

Take the petals off from one or two roses.  I used one for this size of jar.  Make sure your roses are organic.  (Is there such thing as organic roses???)  You want one grown without pesticides since this will go on your body.  I'm lucky enough to have a neighbor who is patient and who watered the crap out of her roses this year.  Put the petals into a bowl and pour oil over them.  Coat the petals well.  This will keep them from browning.

Put them into the jar on top of the hardened coconut oil.  Pour the refined sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw) and press down.  Pour your almond oil over the top, adding three to five drops of your essential oil.  You can add more if you like it stronger.  Let soak in and then add more almond oil until the sugar is completely saturated and you can't add more oil.  Put the lid on.

This is ready to give!  Before the first use, use a spoon to smush all the sugar down into the coconut oil.  It will break up the rose petals as well.  Keep stirring until it is mixed.  To use, rub a small amount into your skin in a circular motion.  Rinse.

This stuff is extremely hydrating for your skin.  There are actual benefits for your skin with all of these ingredients.  I like using lemon oil because I like the possible skin benefits and because I think it compliments the rose scent nicely.  I don't care for anything too terribly floral scented!

If I do it again:

If I didn't have access to fresh flowers, I would probably purchase freeze dried rose petals online.  They're inexpensive and you can get a wide variety of colors.  I would probably add a few drops of rose oil, though, to boost the scent. 

Shared this recipe here:

and here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fire Starters

Fall is coming and with it comes camping, bonfires and smores!  For that, we need fire starters.

Fire starters are easy to make and work very well.  You need:

Something flammable (newspaper, sawdust, dryer lint, cotton balls, shredded paper, etc)
Cardboard egg carton

Start by grabbing your flammable item.  I usually use a combination of sawdust and shredded paper but my husband had just cleaned the garage and, crazy man, swept the sawdust up!  I grabbed dryer lint this time.

Appetizing, right?  Lay your cardboard milk carton on something to protect your workspace.  The wax will leak.

Stuff the egg holes with your flammable material.  Pack it in tight.

Pour melted wax over the entire thing.  Make sure to fill the egg cups really well.  (NOTE:  Wax is flammable so be careful how you melt it!  I used to take a metal can (something that once held fruit or veggies) and fill it with the wax.  That can would then go into a pot of water and the pot of water heated on the stove.  It's a cheap way to make a double boiler. )  Since I have the candle warmer (see Fixing a Fugly), I'm periodically left with a scentless candle.  I take it straight from the warmer and dump it into the fire starters.

It will leak through. . . this is why you cover your workspace!
It's not pretty. . . .

. . . but it works.  Let it cool completely and then cut apart.  When it's almost dry but still a little soft, I like to fold in the stray papers and tuck them into the wax.

Package them up.  I put three into a zip lock bag with a couple packs of matches for the car, just in case.  It's always good to keep survival gear in your vehicle.  You never know what will happen!  The rest of these go into a jar and is kept in our cupboard for nights that we do smores.  I'll put a few in a zip lock to take camping when we go.

To use:  Light one!  They will burn for about ten minutes.  They burn well and they burn hot.  This is enough time for your wood to catch fire and for you to get a good flame going without having to babysit it with kindling!  I usually put a fire starter on a larger piece of wood and "tent" a few more pieces above it.  (Imagine a wood triangle with the fire starter in the middle.)  Light the fire starter and your fire is on it's way!

If I do it again:

I will use sawdust instead of dryer lint.  I happen to like the way the sawdust smells when it burns!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Heath Bar Apple Dip

It's apple season!  I love apples and I love dip!

This is a fabulous recipe but it isn't healthy nor is it something you should have a lot of.  Moderation, people!  It's great for those special occasions, potlucks and sweet-tooth moments.

Heath Bar Apple Dip:

1 brick cream cheese, softened
2 T brown sugar
1/4 cup caramel icecream topping
1/2 cup Heath Bar chips, divided.

Mix cream cheese, brown sugar and ice cream topping together until combined and creamy.  Add 1/4 cup of the Heath bar chips and stir.

Put into a bowl and top with the remaining Heath chips.  Serve with sliced apples.

If I do it again:

I usually double the amount of Heath. . . butter toffee is my favorite food EVER and you can't have too much of it!