Homemade Scents DIY

 

I found these recipes circulating on the internet and just had to share them with you!  Now that cooler temperatures are upon us and we’re firing up the woodstoves, a steamer pot full of rich, natural potpourri is a wonderful treat for the senses.  Scent is such a powerful connector, linking us to people, places and events and is a simple way to create a warm, inviting atmosphere in your home.  Now, if you don’t heat with wood, don’t fret!  You can always use a kettle on low heat on the back of the stove or an Aromatherapy Electric Simmering Pot.   I love these electric simmer pots because you can move them around from room to room without worrying about children and pets around an open flame—or forgetting that you had potpourri on the stove until it cooked dry, ignited and stunk for days.  Ahem.

What I really like about these recipes, aside from the fact they’re not putting toxic chemicals into the air in our home, is that you can make many of these out of kitchen scraps like citrus peel, frost-bitten herbs or fruits that have begun to go south.  AND if you’re really clever, which I know you are, you can make these shelf stable and use them as handmade gifts.  Simply dehydrate the apple and citrus slices, cranberries and herbs, toss them in a bag with the remainder of the ingredients and sprinkle with any extracts, spices or essential oils.  Seal them tightly in a pretty bag and give them as a gift with an electric simmering crock.  Can you think of a nicer gift for a teacher, bus driver, mail deliverer or secretary?

Here are some simple, non-toxic, handmade scented recipes for you!

CINNAMON APPLE:  1 sliced apple +  1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 1 tsp. maple or vanilla extract + 2 cups of water

MINTY CITRUS PINE:   1 sliced lime + 1 tsp. vanilla + 1 small branch of fresh pine needles + 1/4 cup fresh mint + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

WINTER CITRUS   2 sprigs rosemary + 1/2 of sliced lemon +  1/2 sliced grapefruit + 1 tsp. vanilla  + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

CRAN-ORANGE   1/2 cup fresh cranberries + 1 sliced orange + 1 tsp. whole cloves  +  2 cinnamon sticks + 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg + 2 cups of water

MULLED ROSEMARY  3-5 cinnamon sticks + 1 sliced orange + 1-2 sprigs of rosemary +  1 cup fresh cranberries + 1 tbsp. cloves + 2 tbsp. nutmeg + 2 cups of water

SPICED VANILLA  4-6 cinnamon sticks +  1 tsp. vanilla extract +  rind of 1 orange + 2 tbsp. cloves + 3-5 bay leaves + 2 cups of water

But don’t stop with these recipes!  Create custom scents for your house using ingredients from your kitchen!  How about Viennese cinnamon using inexpensive coffee grounds, a few cinnamon sticks, and a dash of vanilla or maple extract to 2 cups of water?  Or chocolate mint using a few tablespoons of Dutch cocoa and a dash of peppermint extract?   Or candied citrus, with orange slices, vanilla extract and Dutch cocoa powder?  Personally, I love more savory combinations such as cranberry, rosemary and bay leaves.  But anything works so long as it’s pleasing to your senses!

So tell me, what are your tricks for making your home smell amazing during the long, closed-window seasons of fall and winter?

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

Guinness Stout Cake -or- Not Your Granny’s Fruitcake

Guinness Stout cake is the perfect finish to a holiday meal.

Okay, this may end up being a divisive post, so my apologies in advance.  I find that in the great fruitcake debate, there’s no gray area; you either love it or loathe it and rarely are there any in-betweens.  I loathe the stuff personally.  It typically weighs 12lbs, full of oddly-colored quasi-fruit that I can’t quite identify and has the same density as a cinderblock.   Historically, fruitcake was a grand indulgence reserved for special occasions such as weddings and Christmas celebrations, as it was full of expensive nuts, liquor and imported candied fruits.  So when your Granny sends you a homemade fruitcake, son, that’s because she really, really loves you and doesn’t realize that it’s handed out at white elephant parties as a gag gift and passed out free at corner gas stations with any fuel fill-up.  Gag.

But Guinness stout cake, now I like it pretty well.  Quite well, in fact.  The flavors are sophisticated, but less complicated than your granny’s traditional fruitcake, the texture is more delicate and the fruit is recognizable.  Oh and it weighs far less so you won’t be using this one as a doorstop come January.  Just like traditional fruitcake, you have to start this one well in advance, allowing at least a month or more for the flavors to mingle and mellow.  I typically start mine around Veteran’s Day if I plan on serving it for Christmas.

Alright friends, let’s make a Guinness Stout cake!

The ingredients you’ll need for this cake are

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 12oz pitted, chopped prunes
  • 8oz golden raisins
  • 8oz currants
  • 1 1/4 cup of Guinness Stout, plus more for dousing
  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2t baking powder
  • 1/4t freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4t ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4c light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 eggs

Directions

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Brush a 9-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with butter. Line pan with parchment paper; brush with butter. Set aside.

2. Combine the chopped prunes, raisins, and currants in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup stout, and let stand for the dried fruit to plump a bit.

3. Sift flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon together. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each, scraping down sides twice. Add dry ingredients in two additions; mix just to combine. Fold in fruit mixture.

4. Pour batter into your prepared pan. Bake until dark brown and set and a cake tester inserted into the middle of cake comes out clean, about 3 1/2 hours. (Cracks will appear on top of cake.) Remove from oven; sprinkle with 1/2 cup stout. Let stand on wire rack 30 minutes. Remove from pan; discard parchment and let the cake cool completely.

5. Wrap in a cheesecloth, a thin tea towel or muslin and douse fruitcake with remaining 1/4 cup stout. Store in a cool, dark, dry place (such as a large Tupperware), dousing with 1/4 cup stout once a week for at least 1 month before serving.  Personally, I like to do my last “dousing” about a week prior to serving it, to allow the stout to absorb and the flavors to mellow.

(Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.)

So it’s a pretty cut-and-dry recipe as you can see, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious!  It’s not sickeningly sweet and slathered in greasy frosting like many holiday cakes are, so this one goes down pretty easily, even after a heavy meal.  With a hot cup of tea or coffee, Guinness Stout cake is the perfect finish to a holiday meal.  So where do you fall in the great fruitcake debate?  Yea or nay?

 

8 Ways To Become A Producer

Amish country is one of my favorite family day trips.  I absolutely love seeing their big, beautiful market gardens, their Clydesdales working in the fields and the family-run stores dotting the landscape.   What I admire most about the Amish is their culture of production rather than consumption.   I love that they build their own homes, sew their own clothes, educate their own children, grow their own food.  It’s hard to imagine, but only a few generations ago, America largely resembled the Amish in many respects.  We were a nation of producers.

America’s economy for its first 200-300 years was largely based on tangible, useful items produced in family-owned small businesses.  Yes, there were a few giant corporations out there but in large, skills were specialized,  handed down and produced goods that provided fair livings.  Businesses aside, homes were in the business of production too.  Families utilized skills to produce what they needed and sold and traded within their community to other families producing other goods.  Even the smallest city homes frequently had chicken coops, small gardens, and made income by selling handmade items or providing services such as sewing.  Man alive, how different we live now!   Even if we can’t go back to the days of family businesses and localized trading, we CAN shift the emphasis of our own family’s culture from consumption to production…and we can get started TODAY!  Here are 8 simple things you can do to become a producer!

Gardening is a key skill for producers!

  1. Raise your own food.  This can be as simple as a patio garden or as elaborate as large raised beds, fruit trees, berry bushes and raising livestock.  You don’t have to grow acres and acres of crops in order for raising food to be worth your while.  It’s possible to grow herbs, lettuces and greens in planters 8 months or more a year and their taste is incomparable to anything you’ll find at the grocery store.
  2. Learn to cook from scratch.  I know this is a more difficult idea for many people, but think baby steps.  Can you use fresh veggies instead of canned?  Can you attempt a loaf of bread, a pie or a batch of biscuits instead of buying them from Walmart?  Maybe try your hand at homemade condiments and salad dressings?  Just think simple; it doesn’t have to be fancy!
  3. Make your own cleaning supplies.  Vinegar, essential oils and baking soda are very effective cleaners, both non-toxic and inexpensive.  Give it a try!   
  4. Learn to fish.  You know the old saying…if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day….but I want you to eat for a lifetime!  It doesn’t take much equipment or skill to catch a fish, but it can enable you to provide your family with fresh, non-farmed protein that’s practically free after the initial investment in a fishing pole.
  5. If you’ve learned to garden, try your hand at seed saving.  When you begin to practice seed-to-seed gardening, you effectively close the consumption loop.  It’s entirely possible that you’ll never have to buy seed or plants again and that’s a valuable goal to pursue!
  6. Learn food preservation.  Again, think baby steps.  I know not everyone has the time or inclination to take up canning.  That’s fair.  But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look into freezing seasonal produce.  I have a freezer full of blackberries to turn into blackberry mead and jam later this winter.  There are bags full of herbs, sliced green tomatoes to fry up, chopped up bell peppers…and most of this produce requires nothing beyond cleaning and chopping.  Bonus!
  7. Line dry your clothes.  Take advantage of a breezy day by hanging out those items that take forever in the dryer (denim, heavy knits, towels).  They’ll smell wonderful, save hours of drying time and cut way down on electric consumption.
  8. Learn the art of foraging.  This one takes time and expert help is a huge bonus…but foraging enables you to find the freshest, in-season, wild produce….and it will cost you nothing but your time.  Depending on your location, you can find produce growing from March through November in the form of wild herbs, nuts, berries, fruits and roots.   Freeze it for later and you have a skill that will continue to provide all year long.

Becoming a producer is nothing more than a change in mindset.  I don’t expect I’ll ever reach the place where I can produce everything I need and I don’t expect you will either…but when you change your thinking about production and consumption, something funny happens:  you’ll find yourself LOOKING for more opportunities to produce.  Initially, you’ll find yourself satisfied with merely growing lettuce, but then you’ll decide it’s a real shame to dump store-bought dressing on your lovely greens so you’ll attempt a simple vinaigrette.  When that’s a success, you’ll begin to investigate other areas in the home and kitchen that you can DIY, grow yourself, repair yourself, produce yourself.  It snowballs, my sweet friends so be prepared!  If you’re a producer, I’d love to know what you produce…and if you’re a consumer, what’s the first item you’d like to learn to produce yourself?  Til next time!

Felting Wool Made Simple

 

 

As much as it pains me to say it….winter is coming.  I am a total fan of hot weather and 16+ hours of daylight…I blame it on the time I lived on the coast and a faulty thyroid….but winter and I just don’t jive.  But nonetheless, cold weather is on the way, so I want to share a fun little skill with you to help you prepare for the {{{brrr shiver shiver}}}.  I learned about felting wool when my children were very small and we couldn’t find accessories that would keep them toasty.  They loved playing in the snow, but even with the best quality gloves we could find, they’d come in with frozen fingers and ears and that just hurts a mama’s heart, you know?  So I did some research and found that felted wool would make mittens and hats FAR superior to anything I could find in a department or discount store.  AND it was a cheap, easy and quick project, which were huge bonuses for me!  Here’s what you do.

 

Felting wool begins with second-hand, quality fibers.

 

First, you need to find 100% wool or wool/angora/cashmere blend sweaters and blankets.  No rayon, acrylic or cotton or other blends;  you need animal fibers that will shrink under heat and agitation.  Believe it or not, you CAN find them very inexpensively, especially wool, at yard sales and second-hand stores, often for as little as a couple dollars.  Buy the biggest sizes you can find because you’ll be shocked at how much they shrink up (think 60% or more.)

 

Next, you are going to throw that beautiful wool sweater or blanket in the washer on the hottest/longest cycle available with a small amount of detergent and no softener.  I know.  Our mamas and home-ec teachers are rolling over in their collective graves right now, but just do it, my friends!  In fact, do it several times if you’d like.  After a long, hot soak and an agitating wash, you should notice a difference in the size and texture of your fabric.  Now throw it in the dryer, on the hottest, longest setting and let it dry.  When you pull it out, it should be *substantially* smaller.  It should also feel thicker and denser, for lack of a better word.  If it isn’t, repeat the process one more time and that should do it!

Now, begin cutting the sweater into the largest, workable pieces of fabric you can.  Cut the sleeves off at the shoulder and at the inner arm seam (**see the tip on mittens before you cut the inner arm seam).  Cut the sides and shoulders of the body of the sweater.  Remove any tags, labels, buttons.  What you should notice is that the wool, while it may be fuzzy, doesn’t fray like a sweater typically frays.  Instead of individual threads, you should have one solid piece of fabric.  That’s one of the beautiful things about felting wool…it doesn’t ravel.  No matter how you tug, cut, poke or pull, it won’t fray like a woolen sweater or blanket made from animal fiber.

To make mittens, simply trace your child’s hand or a mitten onto the fabric (X4), leaving 1/4-1/2 inch seam allowance all the way around.  Cut out carefully, match up the pairs, pin them together, then using either a sewing machine or by hand, stitch the pieces together with a sturdy thread, tie it off and you’re finished.  (**Whenever possible, I used the wrist of the sweater for the wrist of the mittens because they made for a nice finished edge that would tuck right up inside my children’s coats without any bulkiness or gaping.)  To make a hat, trace a hat shape (X2) onto the body of the sweater, using the waistband as the banding of the hat if possible, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch seam allowance.  Cut out both pieces, line them up and pin them, then sew them together using a heavy thread.  If you’re feeling particularly crafty, add a cute pompom, an applique, a button or ribbon or whatever you like to dress it up.  Or wear it plain.  Either way works.

The fantastic thing about felted wool is that it turns moisture and is super warm without feeling itchy or bulky, so when I bundled my kids up in their wool accessories, they’d come in hours later with warm, dry, pink hands and ears instead of soaked mittens and numb fingers.  Using the same procedure, we’ve made slippers, earwarmers, scarves and a dozen other cold weather items.  In fact, I have a thick wool sweater set aside this year—for a “jacket” for our German short-haired pointer, who LOVES to play outside, but can’t stand the cold!  (She must’ve taken that after her Mama.)  Felting wool is also a great way to reuse or upcycle quality fibers that are perhaps out of date or just a little too itchy to wear/use as intended.  Ma Ingalls would absolutely approve of felting wool to keep the children warm!  Give it a try and tell me what you think!  Til next time—

 

Salt Preserved Herbs

Our grandmothers were experts.  They may not have held degrees, but they KNEW how to do stuff and do it well, and food preservation (in all forms) was at the top of that list.  They were able to take a simple, raw material and turn it into something amazing that we are willing to pay a premium for now.  Take for example, infused salt, which is nothing more than common table-salt that has been infused with herbs, minerals or essential oils and used to “finish” elaborate meals.  It’s all the rage among foodies and in fancy restaurants, but it’s something our grandmothers have done for centuries.  As the tagline says, “All things old are new again.”

So there’s a reason our grandmothers used infused salt, and it wasn’t to impress their Bridge clubs or quilting circles: infused salt is the by-product of salt-preserved herbs.   With little to no effort, equipment or electricity, plain old salt will preserve fresh herbs without destroying their flavor or color.  Salt is a natural desiccant, and in absorbing the moisture from the herbs, it also absorbs the flavor, leaving a delicious finishing salt for the table.  As we’re moving quickly toward the end of the growing season and my cupboards are already stocked with dried herbs, I’m going to make a good-sized batch of chive-infused salt, both for cooking and for gift-giving later this year.  It’s seriously the simplest process ever and as it’s a fairly quick project, it appeals to the immediate-gratification Gen X in me!  Here’s what you do:

 

Salt preserved herbs

 

First, you need to start with quality, fresh herbs.  Old, wilted, past-their-prime will work, but quality-in results in quality-out, savvy?  So either cut your own herbs or pick the best quality, fresh herbs you can find at the grocery.  For infused salt, I lean toward what we consider Italian herbs:  oregano, rosemary, chives, basil, parsley but any variety will do.  It’s all a matter of taste preference here.  Beforehand, clean and dry the herbs well.

Next, you need a good quality salt.  Yes, you can use the $.45 box of non-iodized table salt, but if you’re looking for the best results, I prefer Kosher, sea salt or Himalayan.  A finer grind works better than a coarse grind in my opinion, but please experiment and find what you like best!

Last, you need a glass jar with an air-tight lid.  Plastic tends to absorb flavor, so I avoid it and use an old mason jar.

To make preserved herbs and infused salt, you begin by adding a layer of salt11 to the bottom of your jar.  1/4c (or less) of salt12 should work, depending on the size of your container, as you need at least 1/2 inch of salt13 on the bottom of the jar.  Next add a layer of herbs.  Not too thickly because you need the salt14 to be able to ‘reach’ the middle of the layer.  Add another layer of salt, completely covering the herbs.  Repeat til the your container is full, then cap it tightly and sit it in your fridge.  It takes 1-2 weeks for the herbs to dry and infuse the salt15 with wonderful flavor.  Kept refrigerated, salt16-preserved herbs will last well into winter and beyond.  To use the herbs, you simply remove them from the jar, brush off the salt17 and use as if they were fresh.  The salt18 can be used directly from the jar as a finishing salt19.

That’s it, my friends.  There’s your salt-preserved herbs and the accompanying infused salt20.  How easy is that?  And placed in a pretty jar with a label you print at home, infused salt21 makes a beautiful, frugal homemade gift during the holidays.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!  On a personal note, I’d like to welcome my new readers from the Simple Life Mom Blog Hop .  So glad to have you!   Til next time, my new friends–

Christmastime’s A Coming…

 

I know.  I know.  You don’t have to say it….it’s WAAAAY to early to be thinking about Christmas.  But my friends, if you subscribe to the idea that handmade and from the heart is the way to go for Christmas gifts, NOW is the time to start thinking about it.  I don’t know about you, but beginning around early-November, our schedules take a dramatic uptick in general busyness.  Of course there’s Veteran’s Day remembrances and breakfasts, followed closely by Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  Not long afterwards, our little town holds “Christmas In The Village”, complete with a parade, shopping, and a free community dinner at our church.  Then there’s Petunia’s band recital, a church play with it’s weekly practices and Christmas Eve worship.   All of which I love and would hate to miss and would hate to miss, but there’s only so many hours in the day!

Schedules aside, in the past few years, my thinking about gift-giving has changed.  Oh Lardy, it used to be that I would work myself into a frenzy trying to buy the perfect gift for everyone on the list; children, adults, neighbors, siblings, parents, cousins, sibs-in-Christ.  And the older we/they got, the more difficult it became to buy gifts, especially with loved ones who live out of town or state and so the obvious thing to do was purchase gift cards.  Then one Christmas, I kid you not, we sat down in the living room and exchanged gift cards with our siblings.  That’s to say, we just traded them.  I must have had the most ridiculous look on my face as the full impact hit me.  We did nothing more than pass a gift card to the right and accept one from the left.  (Close your eyes and visualize that.)  The following year, things changed.  Well, my attitude changed.  My job as a dear sister and auntie wasn’t to make their Christmases;  my job as a sister and auntie is to love them.  And one way I can love them is to bless them with a little gift I made with my own hands, just a simple reminder of my affections.

So now, homemade gifts are at the forethought of my mind and my goal is to have 90% of the preparation done by Halloween.  Which admittedly is a big task!  I try to come up with new, fresh ideas each year as no one wants the same gift year after year and to which I can only say—God Bless Pinterest!  Some gifts that have gone over incredibly well in the past few years included handmade, scented soap with a homegrown loofa sponge and crocheted cotton spa cloths,  Anna/Elsa crocheted hats for my niece, homemade blackberry cordial, pans of baklava, jars of homemade maple syrup and so on.  For this year, I’m considering baking extracts,  blackberry mead, small quilted pieces, flavored honey, herbal tea blends and new scents of soap.  If things go well and I learn to weave baskets, there may also be a small basket or two to offer.  With the kids returning to school, I’ll use the lull to begin creating gifts and hopefully be finished well before my target date.

I’d like to share a trick with you that has served me extremely well in the past few years:  a gift closet.  So, memory isn’t one of my stronger points and invariably, I’m going to forget *someone* from my list and invariably, that person will show up on my door with a gift for me.  Que c’est embarrassant!  So over the past few years, I’ve built up a small collection of gifts that I keep on hand for just such an emergency!  Some of the handiest items have been small 31 totes and Longaberger baskets, candles, coffee mugs, books, candle frames, lotions, stuffed animals and inexpensive games.  A couple cute pieces tucked into a nice tote or basket make a sweet gift for anyone and you never have to worry about the person you’ve forgotten.  At least that’s been my experience with a gift closet!  Now is a great time to get started stocking your closet for the upcoming holidays.  Don’t be afraid to shop markdowns and seasonal items….a quality gift is a quality gift, no matter when you bought it or how much you paid for it.  Now get to it….it’s only 132 more days til Christmas!!!

Til next time, my festive friends!