Friday, July 30, 2010

My New Lounge Chair

I have been dreaming of a comfortable lounge chair for quite some time, but not wanting to spend the money on one. I finally saved up and splurged. I put it together myself and when I finished there were parts left over.  I don’t think that was supposed to happen, however, the directions were lacking immensely!  My son got after me because there were parts left over, but when he went to look at the direction understood why I completed the project the way I did.  He “fixed it” for me, as I knew he would.  Now, if he would have just helped in the first place he wouldn’t have had to fix it, but that’s another story……

As for my new chaise lounge…I love it! I wish I had gotten one years ago.  It’s so comfy you could almost use it as an indoor chair.  Now I can sit outside with the chickens and read in comfort. 

The chairs I had been using for years was the tri-fold type that like to fold up on you when you go to sit down on it.  Similar to this one pictured.  I have ended up with some really nasty bruises over the years from collapsing accidents.  These types of chairs are like

being on a teeter totter the entire time.  If you move too close to one end, the other one goes up in the air.  I get motion sick just thinking about it.  Not to mention the discomfort factor!  The new chair is so cushiony you don’t even feel like you should be sitting outside on it.  I can’t believe the difference. 

The down side, we have a rabbit visit our yard that apparently likes to chew on things.  The other day we caught him chewing on plastic garden fencing.  When we went to look at the fence noticed he had chewed several holes in it.  This is the same rabbit that chewed off my spinach just as I was ready to harvest it.  After putting up the plastic fencing we were putting the cover over the chair to protect it from the elements, my son noticed the rabbit had chewed on the chair covering too.  It can be fixed by sewing; however, it was a little upsetting to see the destruction made by a rabbit.  I may have to invest in a live trap to relocate the critter to a new home at this rate of destruction.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making Flour from Grain

I needed to replenish my whole grain flour this week, which meant grinding grain. I know some people like to grind their flour fresh each time they go to use it. It has more nutrients when you do, however, as my blog indicates, this is a journey, and I am still about convenience when possible. I prefer to grind the grain into flour and store it in the refrigerator so it is ready when I want to use it. It is still healthier than processed flour when I do this.  I also do not like to clean up messes, and since the parts require hand washing, I like to do as little of that as possible. I still like my dishwasher and put as much into it as I can!

I bought my grain mill after many months of research about a year ago. I kind of did things backwards. I purchased the grain first, then the mill. For awhile I was having a friend grind grain for me until I decided on which grain mill I actually wanted to purchase. I decided on the Nutrimill. I purchased it from Pleasant Hill Grain and was very pleased with the purchase and delivery. Their prices were less than competitors, they have a good reputation, and shipping was FREE!

I chose the Nutrimill Grain Mill after reading many reviews and have been pleased with it.  I wanted a machine that would grind the grain into as fine of a flour as possible since my family doesn't truly like "whole grains".  When I use the milled flour I often use it 1:2 or 1:3 with organic unbleached flour, or organic spelt flour.  The ground flour will make a recipe heavier and give it more substance.  I find I get slightly more cups of flour than I grind in grain.

This is organic spelt grain in the hopper.  I fill the hopper full and generally fill it again before emptying the flour.

I use the high speed setting and place the dial on as fine of a setting as it will allow. This means just slightly turning the dial.  You can also set the dial to a more coarse setting to crack corn for chickens, or slightly course to make corn meal.  The mill will grind various types of grains.  Be sure to check with each manufacturer as they do not all grind the same types of grain.

The machine is quite loud when running so you will most likely want to wear ear protection if you are sensitive to noise. I wear my head set I wear when shooting so I can still watch the machine while it grinds.  Some may choose to walk away and return when they hear the hopper has run out of grain.

This is the flour.

Finished Product.  I place this container in my refrigerator and use it in many recipes.  I replenish it as needed.

 I also have a hand grain mill which I  purchased should the electricity go out at some point, but I have not tried it yet.  As I mentioned, I prefer a finer flour and most hand grinders do not grind as fine.  Once I get it out and use it, I will post on it in the future.

**Note my storage container in the first picture is a recycled animal cracker canister.  I love these canisters to hold grain and other items I purchase in bulk.  I remove the label and wash them before reusing.  I also buy baking soda in a 13# bag which fits nicely into these containers.  

For more information on grinding flour:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chickens in the Back Yard

Chickens in the back yard, why not?  Recently the city of Cedar Rapids passed an ordinance to allow you to keep up to six hens within the city.  Hooray for those people!  They will soon be able to enjoy their own feathered pets and fresh eggs. 

Chickens go along with the sustainable ecological lifestyle, many of us would love to attain.  Many years ago chickens were in back yards everywhere.  Why the change in attitude?  What is so offensive about chickens? They eat bugs, grass, food scraps, provide fertilizer and help to fill the compost bin. And give us eggs!  They are quieter than a dog.  They eat less, and quite honestly, smell less too! Chickens are low maintenance pets. 

Chickens will also eat items out of the garden when available, bugs included. Ours love green peas.  I get more enjoyment out of watching them eat the peas rather than save them for ourselves.  They fight over who gets to eat them.  I have never seen anything like it.  One of the larger ones, we now call her fatty.  (She was crazy feathers, but lately has really put on the weight).  She is always first in line begging for treats.  She will actually push the others out of the way to get to them.  She’s also really fast and is usually first to get to them. 

Every time we go outside they look at us in their run and wait for us to come and give them treats and pay attention to them.  They like to be let out in the yard to forage for insects and eat grass.  Today we mowed the yard and placed the bagged grass into their run.  They loved it.  They could sit in the soft grass and eat all they wanted.  They like scratching and playing in it.  They will have the grass gone within a few days.  I generally keep straw on the ground for them to scratch and eat the seeds off of to keep them busy, but when we mow, we like to treat them with fresh grass. 

It shouldn’t be too long before we start getting eggs from our older girls.  One of them in particular is starting to get a nice red comb.  This is a sign they are about ready to start laying.  I can hardly wait.  I haven’t bought eggs from the store in a long time.  I am going to have to break down and buy another dozen for baking.  After having fresh eggs, I just can’t seem to use an entire dozen of store bought eggs any more.  They don’t last very long and taste awful! 

I am also excited today because I have finally found a local source for organic chicken feed!  Thanks to the facebook group CLUC (Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens) I was able to contact our local Theiesn’s to see if they could order it for me.  They were nice enough to actually pick it up at another store and in the future will do a store trade if I would like more.

 When I inquired about the feed the manager indicated others thought the price was too high and walked out of the store, therefore, they do not carry it.  He quoted me a price of 14.89 for 40# which actually is only a little higher than non-organic TSC store brand I had been purchasing.  I think I pay close to $12 for 50#. 

I currently give our hens organic fruits, vegetables and nuts when possible.  I had looked at organic food in the past, but could only find suppliers on the west coast.  Shipping charges were going to be outrageous. I even looked into making my own, but this meant having all of the grains on hand, grinding them, and then mixing it all together.  This was going to take more room for storage, time, and having a lot of food on hand that could possibly go bad.  Not something I was wanting to tackle for my brood of 12 hens.  In the meantime, I am looking forward to Friday when my organic feed comes in.  We are getting down to the last few inches of feed in the bucket! 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pimento Cream Cheese Spread

Last night I tried a recipe I found on a fellow bloggers site .  It turned out yummy!  As usual, I realized I don't have any crackers to eat the spread on.  I opted to try it on homemade bread instead.  It was good, but I think  I'm going to make some rye bread today which I think will go great with the spread.  I love eating those mini rye bread loaves you buy in the store with cheese spreads on.  Making my own rye bread will save me a trip to the store!

When I was younger my grandmother got me hooked on those little jar cheese spreads.  We would always spend New Year's Eve with my grandparent's and have our own celebration.  This was one of the things she would always have for us.  My favorites are the pimento and pineapple spreads.  This recipe is very close to the pimento cheese spread in the jar, but easier to spread! And probably better for you since you know the ingredients that you are putting into it.  Who knows what type of preservatives are in those for them to be able to sit on the shelf for so long!

The recipe is also much cheaper to make.  It seemed to make about three times the amount that comes in the jars, and last time I looked, the jars were almost $2. each.  Not to mention, you are left with a glass jar to do something with.  Either recycle or reuse.  Put it this way, we have lots of juice jars in our cupboard and no room for anymore.

Pimento Cheese Spread

8 ounces Cream Cheese
2 ounces cheddar cheese -- shredded
1 tablespoon Heavy Cream
½ Cup Pimientos, Canned -- 4 ounce jar - drained
Combine cheeses & cream in food processor until fluffy. Pulse in pimentos. Makes 12 oz. cheese spread.

This recipe and others can be found here on the Iowa Housewife's Blog.  It is simple to make and only takes a few minutes to prepare.

I used a small food processor and I'm sure it would go much quicker with a standard sized one, however, once again, someone else thought they needed my larger food processor more than I did. ( I was told the girl friend was able to get a lot of use out of it.  Gives me a warm fuzzy just to think about it ;)
If I had more room I would purchase a larger one, but currently I have no place to store it.   I'm not sure how making coleslaw is going to work with the smaller food processor.  I haven't tried it yet, but my cabbage is coming along nicely so it won't be long!

Taking Out the Trash

How many of you take out the trash simply because it is trash day?  I used to be one of those people.  I would go around the house and gather the trash out of each can to be taken out to the curb.  I use trash bags in each trash can or often recycle plastic grocery bags.  Note***I know some people use waste baskets without a bag and simply just empty the basket.  Personally, I don't want to handle the trash more than I have to.  There is a reason it's called trash, and picking it out of the trash can to place in a bag later just grosses me out.  I know, just dump it right.  Well, there is always some piece that doesn't seem to want to come out and you have to grab it anyway.  Not for me, but to each their own.  

Gathering all of the trash bags was something I did weekly.  I wanted to make sure we had all of the trash.  I was always afraid we may have extra the next week.  We are allowed one trash can per household.  At times the trash can was very full.

As time has gone we have slowly cut back on our trash.  With being more conscientious of what goes into the trash I have been able to extend the time it takes before it is necessary to "take out the trash".  I have been able to go two weeks and more depending on the trash bin location before I have to take it out.  

I have always recycled and recycle as much as I can.   I started recycling before they had curb side recycling.  Our recycle bin is always full.  I hate seeing items that can be recycled simply discarded into the trash. 

I have also started composting more items versus throwing them in the trash or down the garbage disposal.  This has helped cut back on using trash bags as well.  By simply not throwing any food items into the trash, it has helped cut down on odors that may arise, and allow me to actually fill the bag before discarding.  

One idea I had never thought about I learned in my Sustainable Living Course is a way to reuse large plastic bags.  You know the ones paper towels come in when you buy them in the large mulit roll pack.  You have to be careful and cut the end open so you don't put a hole in the plastic.  Once you have used all of the items in the bag, simply place it in your trash can as a trash bag.  Simple idea right!  We are going to end up throwing it in the trash anyway.  Why not give it a second use before doing so? Funny thing is my grandmother most likely did something like this and we always thought she was being tight.  She was actually just being frugal and not wasting things.  She is probably looking down at me and chucking at the things we have started to incorporate into our daily lives.

This summer, on my quest to simplify things more, I purchased another compost bin. I already had one, but we were not very diligent about using. It seemed every time we added items to it that meant it would take longer to break down before we could harvest the compost.  Now with two I can alternate the bins. One bin is almost ready to harvest, and the other I am still able to add new items to be composted.

In addition to purchasing a second bin for outside I decide to purchase a compost pail for inside.  The pail has a charcoal filter in the lid to help destroy any odors.  I really like it.  You don’t have to line the bin with a bag if you don’t want to it just simply means washing it. It is dishwasher safe too!  I choose to reuse a produce bag to line the pail so all I have to do is grab the bag and go dump it into the large bin outside.  I have a feeling I am really going to like it this winter when it’s really cold and no one will want to go dump the compost. 

If you don’t recycle yet, I hope you will start.  The less we have entering the landfills the better it will be for our children in the future.  Many things can be placed in the recycle bin.  Check with your city regarding recycling and trash collection.  By recycling and composting items you will end up with less trash to haul to the curb!  This day taking out the trash isn’t as bad; I often think we are missing something because the trash can is barely half full.  

A good book to read is Green Living for Dummies. It was one I had to purchase for my class that actually ended up having a lot of great ideas.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Making Beef Jerky

I have been making beef jerky for several years. I started back in the early 1990's with a "Ronco" food dehydrator. I can't remember where the recipe I use came from whether it was supplied in the recipe book with the machine, or we acquired it somewhere else. Regardless, it has been a recipe I have been using for a long time, with a few minor adjustments now and then.

I know many people make beef jerky using a jerky press, hamburger and spices. I can't seem to grasp the concept of jerky being made out of hamburger. To me that just seems wrong. I prefer to use sirloin steak cut into strips approximately 1/4" in size.

I no longer have the Ronco. I gave it up to someone that thought they needed it more than I did. I now have a much better dehydrator that I love and use for many things. My husband was very gracious and gave it to me for Christmas one year along with a Cuisinart Mixer. I was a very good girl that year apparently!

As I mentioned, I alter the recipe on occasion. I switch teriyaki sauce for the soy sauce and will sometimes vary it by adding 1 cup of each. Teriyaki will give the jerky a little sweeter taste. You can also add ground pepper to the recipe if you like peppered jerky.

I normally cut up three sirloin steaks at a time for the following recipe. You can cut the recipe back to make less, but once you start making it, you realize how fast the jerky will disappear when your family tastes it!

Beef Jerky Marinate
½ cup liquid smoke
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
½ pound brown sugar

This recipe makes quite a bit of liquid, so you can cut it in half if you are only doing one steak, or save the extra and place in the freezer for another batch.

Never save the used marinate to use again later. You need to discard it once you have marinated the meat for food safety reasons.

Also, be sure to use a glass bowl with a cover. I use a glass casserole dish. If you use plastic it will absorb the odors of the ingredients. Just make sure to cover the dish you use, even if it is with plastic wrap to contain the odors in your refrigerator while you marinate it.

I have found over time, the longer you marinate the steak, the better the jerky is. I have left it to marinate for as many as 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

Once you have marinated the meat, pour it onto a strainer and let all of the marinate drain away. Place the meat strips onto your dehydrator trays once they are no longer dripping. Be sure not to crowd them too much.

This isn’t a project you can start and let the dehydrator run over night. The jerky will become too dry and brittle.

The directions I follow are from the book Making and Using Dried Foods, by Phyllis Hobson.

If you have a dehydrator, this book is a must. It is the most complete and informative dehydrating book I have found. If you don’t have one, the book also includes directions how to dehydrate things using your oven.

These instructions are taken directly from the book.
Dehydrate at 140 degrees for 4 hours. Turn strips and rotate trays. Dry for another 6-8 hours. Well dried jerky should be dark and fibrous looking and brittle enough to splinter when bent in half.

Once the jerky is finished, removed the strips and place on paper towels and blot to remove and fatty oils that may be sitting on the surface. Depending on the fat content of the meat you are using, you may want to dab the strips with a paper towel before rotating them. I always trim the steaks to remove any fat before marinating.

Jerky can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 6 months. If I want to store if for a long period of time I will vacuum seal it and place it in the freezer. If I know we will be eating it right away I place it in a Ziploc baggie.

I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does! I can’t ever seem to be able to save any of it for very long.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gnats Galore!

We had an outbreak of gnats and could not for quite some time figure out where they were coming from. I cleaned the drains with baking soda and vinegar as I have in the past to get rid of them and that didn't seem to work. I had resorted to leaving my vacuum cleaner sitting in the kitchen to suck them up every time we found one. It seemed like we were vacuuming all the time.

We went away for the afternoon to return home to a frenzy of them in the entrance. After vacuuming up those that didn't sneak away, my son notice the worm farm sitting in the basement; the gnats were flying out of the air holes we had made in it!

Needles to say, the worm farm is now sitting outside in the shade, which happens to be on our front porch. I'm sure we will fit in with all the other red necks in the neighborhood by having a cooler sitting on our front porch now. Just don't open it thinking there is going to be a cool beverage chilling for you. You will get a wiggly surprise. Since we moved the worms outside the gnat population has dwindled and they are no longer doing fly byes as we eat or work on the computer!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Making Your Own Cleaning Products

How many of you have ventured into making your own cleaning products?  If you haven’t tried it yet, I challenge you to do so.  They are not only more economical to use, cleaners you make yourself do not have the toxic smell or leave behind a residue.  They actually clean better than the expensive cleaning products you buy too!

I have been making my own cleaning products, with the exception of laundry soap, for several years. I have contemplated making my own laundry soap for awhile now, but haven’t taken the leap.  I hope to make some later this week after I locate all of the ingredients.  My niece gave me a recipe I hope to share after I have been able to make and test on my own laundry.

I first started making my own cleaners because my husband kept complaining of the fumes from the cleaners I was using. He felt they were creating more problems for us allergy wise by simply breathing the fumes from them. I had to agree. I was almost to the point of wearing a mask each time I used them.

Since I started making my own cleaners, I now realize how much money I was spending on various products in the past. I don’t have to worry about trying to find a coupon to get a product cheaper, or buying several products because they are only used for a specific job.  The products I buy are inexpensive, last a long time, and are versatile.  

You can do a variety of cleaning tasks with basic items on hand.
The main items I use and keep on hand are:
Baking Soda
Tea Tree Oil
Liquid Peppermint Castile Soap
Rubbing Alcohol (90%)

Vinegar is a main staple in my home. I purchase it by the gallon getting several at a time when I shop at Sam’s Club.  I use vinegar for many things around my home. 

*I add it to my rinse cycle as a fabric softener.  It also helps cut any soap residue that may be in the rinse cycle. 

*You can add it to your dishwasher in the rinse cycle to eliminate water spots in addition to cleaning your dishwasher. 

*I make a solution of vinegar with rubbing alcohol (90%) to sanitize electric toothbrushes, clean mirrors or glasses.

*I also use it to clean any lime residue off of faucets.

*I pour vinegar with baking soda down my drains to clean them of the gunk that can accumulate in the pipes.  I sprinkle about ½ a cup of baking soda into the sink and pour vinegar down the drain.  It’s also like a science experiment the kids will love to watch!  The combination of baking soda and vinegar will create a mini volcano.  It’s a great way to entice children into helping clean. ;)

Baking soda can be used in place of soft scrub to clean your sinks and shower.  To scour and sanitize my kitchen sink I sprinkle it with baking soda and spray a mixture of bleach diluted with water and scrub.  This takes the place of soft scrub with bleach.  For my shower I omit the bleach and just use baking soda and water. 

Borax can be added to your laundry as a booster.  You can also soak clothes in borax to remove stains.  I add borax to my toilet bowl and let it sit for several hours before scrubbing.  It helps remove stains as well as hard water deposits that may be left behind.  I also use borax in my all purpose cleaner.

Tea Tree Oil has many uses. I found a great list of the uses from this site:

20 Great Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil
For Health
1. Use a dab to treat acne.
2. An anti-fungal for treating Athlete’s Foot, eczema, various yeast infections, etc.
3. An antiseptic to be used on cuts and burns.
4. An anti-viral: it may lessen the symptoms of colds and flu. Try using a few drops in the bath.
5. Add to a vaporizer to loosen chest congestion.
6. Add a small amount to shampoo to 
destroy head lice.
7. A small amount added to your bath can help with persistent body odor.
Treating sinus infection.
For dandruff and dry scalp.
10. In the form of 
aromatherapy, tea tree oil is used to treat colds, persistent coughs, acne, toothaches, and sunburn.
For Cleaning
11. To create an all-purpose cleaner, combine 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil in 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.
Another version would be 14 ounces of water with 1 ounce of Murphy’s oil soap and 10 drops of tea tree oil.
13. Mix the above solution with kosher salt to scrub bathtub and bathroom tiles.
14. Add a few drops to dishwasher dispenser, then fill with a 
green dishwashing soap.
15. A few drops added to each load of laundry leave your clothes smelling cleaner.
16. Control mold with a tea tree oil/water spray.
Remove mustiness with that same tea tree oil/water spray.
18. To keep germs at bay, spray it on high chairs, car seats, and other high traffic spots.
19. 15 drops in a quart of water can be an effective insect repellent.
20. Be sure to take some with you when 
hiking and camping to put directly on insect bites or blisters.
Liquid Castile Soap
My two favorite uses for liquid castile soap are cleaning hardwood floors and as an insect repellant for garden vegetables. 

For my hard wood floors I use an old windex spray bottle with ¼ cup liquid castile soap and fill the remainder of the spray bottle with hot water.  I use a dampened microfiber cleaning rag to wipe the floors after I have lightly sprayed them with the solution.  I also place a dampened microfiber cleaning rag onto my swifer and use it in the same way for larger areas.

To keep insects off of cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes I use the same formula but in a two gallon sprayer versus the smaller one.  It’s much easier when spraying several plants rather than tiring my hand out from using the windex spray bottle. 

Rubbing alcohol can be used to sanitize metal instruments such as tweezers and nail clippers.  It can be used to clean mirrors and glass.
You can use it to wipe down your telephone to remove germs.
Rubbing alcohol will also remove sticky adhesive residue left behind when you remove labels or tags.

Bleach is used to whiten clothes, kill germs, disinfect, and sanitize water.  If you have a septic tank, do not use bleach as it will kill the helpful bacteria in the system.  

     The recipe I use for an all purpose cleaner is a combination of other recipes I have found. This is my   favorite all purpose cleaning recipe.There are only four ingredients needed to make it.  You can find them easily, or may already have them in your home.

I use this cleaner on my floors, counter tops, shower, sinks and toilets.  Basically everywhere except for my hard wood floors.  It really cuts through hair spray, grease and grime, as well as leaving your bathroom fixtures sparkling.  I mix a gallon at a time so I don’t have to make it as often.

The following recipe will make one gallon
8 teaspoons borax
1 1/2 cups vinegar
40 drops tea tree oil
16 cups hot water

You can also make a smaller batch that will fit into a spray bottle
1 teaspoon borax
3 Tablespoons vinegar
5 drops tea tree oil
2 cups hot water