Drool Worthy Gingerbread Cookies From A Molasses Cookie Mix

blogcookies201510I tend to write posts for problems I come across and can’t find an answer out there…anywhere! This year I wanted to make gingerbread cookies for my kid’s teachers. I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish (a yummy gingerbread cookie dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.) It sounded simple enough. However, if you saw my post last year about perfect stained glass cookies you would know I don’t make gift cookies from scratch. I always use a mix, for the very practical reason of having no qualms about tossing a batch if it doesn’t come out well. For me, I would rather make something that I have no personal investment in until it’s ready to be baked, and then I can spend time being decorative.

20151212_154426
I looked for gingerbread cookie mix and I couldn’t find any. I’m guessing they were sold out at the stores near me. What I could find was molasses cookie mix. If you know the ingredient list for gingerbread, it starts out as a molasses cookie and then you add the spices. So, I wondered, “How hard it would be to start with the molasses cookie mix and make a few additions to create gingerbread?”
I did it! They turned out so good I have made 6 bags of cookies over the last four weeks. We took a couple dozen to our local fire station and police station, but we ate the rest! These are so incredibly good! Everyone who has one immediately wants another.

20151212_170002
These are so good you are going to feel like cookie monster! And that is exactly the kind of cookie I want to gift! I want the people I give cookies to, to really enjoy them. These are super simple (although you can take more time and get more decorative on the larger ones.) I will show you how I made all of them. Trust me when I say: make more than you need! These are super addictive and you are going to want enough to have for yourself! And a few more…and maybe one more…and then just one more…Oh, my! These are good!

20151212_155042
To start you need a bag/box of molasses cookie mix. These make cake like cookies, soft and chewy. If you want to make cut out cookies follow the cut out directions on the back of a bag of sugar cookie mix. Or you can find the directions online here: http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/easy-holiday-cutout-cookies/8b4ecec1-265e-479d-b595-c32aa4e789b7

20151212_160138
I wanted round cookies. I didn’t need to mix it for cutouts, but I added an extra tablespoon of flour to the mix because I knew I was going to be handling these and they needed to be a little stiffer than a drop cookie would be.
Next you are going to want to make sure this becomes a gingerbread cookie. For this I added the following ratio of spices and I wouldn’t change a thing. They are nice and spicy with this amount of ginger and there’s no mistaking this is a gingerbread cookie. (Also, there is already cinnamon in the cookie mix so I didn’t add any more). Don’t freak out about the cracked pepper. We all thought the idea of salted caramel was weird a few years ago!

20151212_154716
A couple of tips before we start: have some cookie cutters handy for the decorating portion. Also, you can roll these in granulated sugar, but if you want these to look like the ones on the bag you need a larger grained decorative sugar and there should be some next to the decorative sugar sprinkles at the store. If not you can find them at Micheal’s baking area (or other hobby stores that carry baking accessories.)

20151212_161542

I used my mortar and pestle to break the cracked pepper down into a fine powder. If you don’t own a mortar and pestle, I highly recommend getting one. Lastly, because these are rolled in sugar they will burn on the bottom pretty quickly. I baked them on parchment paper and then slid the paper and the cookies onto something to cool them (they will continue to cook if you leave them on a hot cookie sheet.) Some people buy racks for this. I am entirely too practical and just use the poor lonely broiling pan that came with my oven (that I NEVER use for anything else!)

blogcookies20151
Here’s the recipe:
1 bag Molasses Cookie Mix. (I used Betty Crocker brand)
An Egg
A Tbs of Water
1 stick of Softened Butter (equal to 1/2 Cup. I microwave refrigerated butter for 10-15 seconds or you can leave it out at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour.)
1 Tbs All Purpose Flour
1 Tbs Ground Ginger
½ tsp Ground Allspice
½ tsp Ground Cloves
¼ tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl add the cookie mix, spices and the flour. Stir with a fork until all added ingredients are incorporated into the mix. Add the softened butter, water and egg. Stir with a spoon or spatula until a soft dough forms.
For ginger snap sized cookies (these are tiny) use a rounded tsp of dough.
For regular sized cookies use a rounded Tbs of dough.
For the big cookies to gift people roll a large fist sized ball in your hands.
Roll the cookie dough in the large sugar crystals. For the small and regular sized cookies you just place the cookies on the cookie sheet. They will flatten out on their own. For the large cookies press into a flattened disk shape like this:

20151212_164607
Place the big gift sized cookies about 6 to a sheet. I make extra big cookies and give one per person or make a box and have one extra large cookie and a couple small decorated ones. If you go to your local baker or coffee shop you will notice they don’t sell small cookies. Take a cue from the professionals and go big! It’s way less work to make a few large pretty cookies than thirty small ones as gifts AND the recipient will remember them.

20151213_153231
Next is the white chocolate! For the extra large gift cookies I placed a festive cookie cutter on top of the cookie and painted inside it. I did not use icing although you could. I used a cup of white chocolate chips and a Tbs of coconut oil. (You could use shortening instead. It needs to be a fat that is solid at room temperature.) Heat the chocolate mixture in the microwave at 20 second intervals and stir between each heating. You want runny, warm but not hot, chocolate. This will make a chocolate sauce that is good for dipping, drizzling or “painting” (which is what I did on the extra large cookies.) Make sure your cookies are completely cool before starting to ice or put chocolate on them. This is also why you added the extra flour. The extra flour will stiffen the cookies and hold the cookies together as you handle them.

20151213_153617-1
As you are putting the chocolate on you need to have your crushed candy canes ready. I had a box of mini candy canes and I crushed them with the wooden handle of a knife right in the little bags they came in. This made for easy application, too. I just cut the end off with scissors and sprinkled the candy cane pieces directly on the cookie. Do one cookie at a time or your chocolate will harden and the candy won’t stick. You don’t have to push the candy down. They will stick on their own. The crushed candy canes will have good chunks and not so pretty powder at the bottom. If you really want to go all out you could put the candy in a sieve and separate the powder from the chunks. But be careful. The high humidity we have down here made the candy pieces stick to everything (including themselves) and weren’t usable after about fifteen minutes because they had fused back together and stuck to the cookie sheet. I would crush and apply as you go.

20151213_153753
Tips for the chocolate:
For drizzling: Use a tablespoon sized spoon, get enough to cover the spoon but not pool, scrape off the bottom of the spoon and start drizzling off to the side of the cookie and then go back and forth across it. The reason being: The beginning of your drizzle will be a big blob and dropping that on a cookie defeats the purpose of a pretty drizzle pattern.

blogcookies20155
For dipping: Use a small bowl. This is the easiest application of the chocolate. Just dip half the cookie, it looks nice that way.

20151213_153507
For “Painting”: Use a butter knife. Place a cookie cutter on top of the cookie (If you followed the above directions the cutter will not go into the cookie so make sure you hold it in place. I dipped a butter knife, drizzled down the center of the cookie cutter and then used the knife to dip in the chocolate and paint the chocolate up against the inside of the cutter. All of the cookie cutter painted chocolate cookies turned out pretty, but I liked the candy cane shape best.

blogcookies201512
As you are adding chocolate to the cookies, sprinkle the crushed candy cane as you go. Once the chocolate hardens back up you can’t get the candy to stick. Go slow and reheat the chocolate in 20 second intervals in the microwave to keep it flowing. I used parchment paper underneath the cookies and clean up was a breeze.

blogcookies201513
After you have a large cookie sprinkled with the crushed candy canes let them harden up for a minute and then tip them so the excess falls off. Go around your design and knock off or add any pieces that don’t look right. (This is where not having candy cane powder is helpful. The powder will get down in the cookie creases and is hard to remove.)

20151213_153804
I also rolled the edge in chocolate and then rolled the cookies in green sprinkles. For this I used the spoon I used earlier. Dipped it in chocolate and ran the cookies edge through the pool of chocolate on the spoon. Then I put green sugar crystals on a small plate and ran the edge of the chocolate covered cookie through the green sprinkles. It was a lot like the glue and glitter projects I did in elementary school (except this time I didn’t need to be warned not to eat the project!)

20151217_205816
I alternated the techniques and came up with some beautiful cookies. Great in cellophane bags, glassine envelopes or a little paper box! If you aren’t too particular even a Ziplock bag will do! We found some holiday themed food containers for the teachers and bus driver. I stacked them on platters for the firemen and policemen.

20151217_221621

I dropped some pretty wrapping paper down the sides of these containers. They were a hit!

Because of the humidity and the way sugar will absorb water from the air: I individually bagged the big cookies and grouped the smaller cookies by decorative type and bagged and froze everything. I got them out in the morning last Friday to send as gifts for the last day of school before Christmas break. For the stacked cookies make sure you stack them at the very last minute. The chocolate and candy on them will fuse the cookies together, if you do it early.

20151220_013456

These are all gone! I actually have more mix to make for tomorrow. You really don’t need to decorate them, but the candy canes and chocolate put these incredible cookies over the top!

I hope you take my advice and make more than you need! Expect to resemble the little blue Muppet of your memories with these! “MMMMM…COOOKIE! Nom Nom Nom Nom!”

blogcookies201511
These fast fun and incredibly tasty cookies are going to make you crave them every year! I’m making another batch for Santa tomorrow!

Easy Packing Tape Ghost

2015halloween4

Oh, I had fun making this!

I saw this “packing tape ghost” idea in a pin, but the instructions given seemed nearly impossible. The instructions I saw wrapped the ghost with packing tape sticky side out and then went back and re-wrapped it sticky side in. I knew from the get-go I was NOT going to attempt this with these directions! I have to thank Pintrest for the idea, if not the instructions.

This is the sort of thing I see a photo of, and then skip whatever instructions there are and wing it myself. I made a 30 foot spiderweb this way…but I won’t give you instructions for that. My spiderweb was purely a project to do by sight and it took me several hours to complete. My instructions for my spiderweb would basically be: look at this and then recreate it out of string. Lame instructions indeed! This ghost however, I can easily help you recreate!

I have moved enough to intimately know the limitations of packing tape and I could not see a way to follow the pin’s instructions without pulling all of my hair out in frustration…so I came up with my own way! Here are super simple instructions for a packing tape ghost:

2015halloween9

First you are going to need a form. I contemplated having my husband tape me, but figured I might not enjoy the process. I was right: DO NOT USE A LIVE PERSON FOR THIS! It takes hours to finish this and plastic wrap and tape do not breathe. If you tried to use a person 1. they would forever hate you for making them stand still this long and 2. they would pass out from the accumulated body heat. You do not want to be calling 911 when you have made your live “dummy” sick with this project!

I didn’t have a form. I thought I might stuff a dress with newspaper and tape that. I am glad I didn’t. You could try that but it would come out lumpy and dorky and not especially cool. I decided to go down to my local craft store and see if there was anything cheap I could use. If you have a dress form- use it! If you are like me and don’t want to shell out a couple hundred dollars for a real adjustable dress form there are alternatives.

2015halloween10

My extra large spider (on my homemade web) caught the ghost!

There are plastic dress forms on hangers (they are cheap!) used for store displays sold online. The limiting factor to this is super high shipping and for me: I came up with this idea too close to Halloween to wait for something to come in the mail (I got the idea for this two days before Halloween.) If you live in a large city you may be able to find a local supplier that sells forms to clothing stores. Look up mannequins. I couldn’t find anything close by, so, that was out too. I decided in a last attempt (I was completely ready for this to be a “next year” project) to go down to our local Hobby Lobby…Success! Hobby Lobby had decorative dress forms for sale and I had a 50% off coupon. Hobby Lobby has an app and you can just show them the online coupon and they will take it…so don’t buy anything you don’t have a good coupon for!

20151125_181144

Like a lot of things in Hobby Lobby: most of the dress forms were broken. We had to find some up on shelves. So if you are going to try this and want to buy the dress form: make sure what you are getting is solid, if it isn’t make sure you talk to the manager and get a discount. (Hobby Lobby will give you incredible deals on things that are slightly damaged. Our local Micheal’s craft store does not have these. I did not try JoAnn’s fabric.) I would guess that this type of mannequin is sold in many different hobby/craft/fabric stores, you are just going to have to look around.

Second you need a Styrofoam head or a large detached doll head. I had to pass on a baby doll I borrowed from our neighbor. The hair was in the way and would have made cutting the form off the doll difficult (did I mention I made a ghost baby, too? I used a bald baby doll. This has a lot of applications!) I got my Styrofoam head at Hobby Lobby, as well. There is a section just for Styrofoam in the back of the store (not with the floral foam.) I cut part of the neck off so the head sat correctly on the body.

2015halloween11

So, now that you have the two basic pieces for the ghost, (the head and body) you can get the rest of your supplies:

Clear plastic packing tape (I used two jumbo rolls and used 2/3 of it)

Plastic wrap (You don’t need premium plastic wrap but make sure it will actually stick to itself.)

Support for your ghost (read below)

A bright black light to light the ghost (make sure the bulb and housing are made for outdoor use.)

Optional:

A tape gun (I wouldn’t do this project without one, but you can try.)

Scissors for any excess you decide to remove as you are going.

A queen sized sheet (If you want to make a dress shape for the ghost.)

Something large to support the skirt of the dress shape (I used a large bag of paper we had to shred and balled up newspaper. I also used newspaper to make a bustle for the back of the skirt.)

Pins to hold the skirt of the dress to the form.

Now it’s time to make the ghost!

Tape the head to the form. Wrap the entire thing in plastic wrap, including the skirt. The more wrinkles in the plastic wrap: the better this ghost turns out. The wrinkles will catch the light. Feel free to be messy! You don’t want more than one pass with the plastic wrap because the tape needs to be in contact with the plastic wrap to keep it in place. So, try to keep your plastic wrap layer thin. (Although you will end up with a few extra layers as you go. You can use the scissors to cut back any layers you feel might be too much, although this is completely optional.)

2015halloween14

Once you have the plastic wrap done start taping the ghost. Hold down any plastic wrap sections on the face and neck as you tape to create detail. You can also cut small sections of tape to fit areas that need more detail than a long strip will give you…and yes, the details show in the end product. You need two layers of tape. This part of the project took a couple of hours (even though this is a simple project it takes a good chunk of time.)

2015halloween12

Now that you have completely covered your form (twice) with tape it is time to cut the layers off of the form. This is why plastic wrap is superior: you don’t want the tape to be stuck to your form and it makes this a semi-easy, doable project!

Once you have cut the tape off of the form and removed it from the mannequin you created (with the dress form and head) you need to tape it back together. When you cut this off I suggest looking for the fastest route across the taped area that does not cut the face of the ghost. Sit down, align the areas that need taping and slowly (and carefully) tape your ghost back together. The two layers of tape will give the form enough strength to keep its shape.

2015halloween8

You need something inside the ghost to keep it upright. I suggest buying a piece of rebar, drive it into the ground and slide a taller piece of pvc pipe on it (I think plain rebar would poke through the tape.) Put your ghost over it (making sure the pvc has been cut to rest in the top of the ghost’s head.) To secure it: I suggest getting some landscape pins from a home and garden store. You don’t want this to fall or blow away. We had no time to work on her support this year so my husband just took the ghost and put her on a large floor lamp with the shade removed. It wasn’t quite tall enough so the skirt buckled (not permanently, but it would look much more impressive set up at the right height.) but more importantly: ours blew over! We got home to find the tape had touched the light we had aimed at her…and it was smoking. We were very lucky the ghost didn’t catch fire in the front yard!

Another idea (that would cost more but be fun) is to create a wooden hangman’s support to hang her from. You would still need to tie her down though, because she doesn’t show up with out a lighting source and would need some stability to keep her from flying all over…this is on my “to do list” for next year!

(We live in South Texas. Everyone does Halloween in a big way down here! You should see some of the cool stuff around our town! Some people spend thousands on their front lawn. My display is probably the best for the money. I make all of the “big” stuff that we have. I guess I grew up too long ago to believe in spending much money on Halloween!)

2015halloween3

To light your ghost you need a black light flood light. You can try other kinds but we have found the incandescent ones work much better than newer types of bulbs. The drawback to incandescent bulbs is that they get hot and the tape cannot be: on, over or very near, the light bulb. Just try and be aware of this when you light the ghost. This ghost is almost a neon sign in your yard. People can see this from down the block and will come to your house just to see the packing tape ghost. It turned out to be just as impressive as our 30′ spiderweb that I made from string, a year earlier.

Also, expect that some teenage no-goods may find your ghost very attractive and try and bring her home with them. I would not leave the ghost in the yard unattended, as we had a few older kids lurking about on our dark street, late at night, that magically decided to go home after I brought the ghost in.

2015halloween1

The lighted ghost baby that we took around in a stroller.

I also made a ghost baby and intend to make spider egg sacks (with balloons as a base form.) We put the ghost baby in an old stroller and lit it with a flashlight. A stroller, by the way, is a brilliant addition to trick or treating! We had the storage below the stroller for: a garage door opener/keys, water bottles, snacks for the kids, an area for extra candy (bring shopping bags to keep the candy separated), and a place for the costume parts that my kids always shed as we walk around. Go big or go home, right? Anyway, the baby was a fun way to bring a part of our display with us.

I’d love to see your versions and please remember to include where you got your instructions if you share your creation! Here are the original instructions I got off Pinterest (in case you think you might want to try a different version . I think you will see why I didn’t want to try to make it this way.): https://craftygeeks.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/halloween-crafts-packing-tape-ghost/

If you enjoyed my packing tape ghost, here’s my second most visited post! I’m sure you’ll find solutions to all of our heat island effects in suburban and urban home sites! Please don’t rock your yard! And if you would like to get to know my heart, try: a love letter to my boys! 

Shrub-A-Dub-Dub What To Do With Imperfect Fruit

While we had plenty of rain this year for my vegetables it was a poor year for fruit. We got so much rain this year that the peaches all aborted and the limbs oozed sap trying to find a way to compensate for the deluge. My persimmon also dropped most of its fruit in response to the excess rain. The only fruit that survived this year was a large Breba crop of figs and first year canes with sour blackberries. Most people with figs toss the Breba (or summer) crop. The fruit is generally not as good as main crop figs, and although I could have tossed it all in the compost pile, I thought I’d find something more immediately useful for them. That’s when I came across a recipe for something called a Shrub. I am a recent convert for homemade fermented prebiotic foods. I’ve been making an awesome salsa the last couple of years and I can’t tell you how delicious a home ferment can be! It’s one of those things that once you try it: you jump in with both feet! Fermentation is one of those old time skills (like home canning) that make you nervous the first few times you do it. Mysterious and a little dangerous, your first foray into fermentation can make you wonder how anything that sits out on the counter for a week can possibly be healthy or taste good. All I can say is: give it a try. If you follow proven ferment recipes, I promise you won’t get sick and you will love the end result!
image

Shrubs are a great way to use up fruit that you would otherwise have trouble finding a use for. The definition for a Shrub (thanks to Wikipedia):

“A shrub can also refer to a cocktail or soft drink that was popular during America’s colonial era, made by mixing a vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water. The term “shrub” can also be applied to the sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made; the syrup is also known as drinking vinegar. Drinking vinegar is often infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks.”

image

I saw a drinking vinegar (aka shrub) for sale in a catalog and thought: I bet I could make this! Which after some research, I found that: yes, these are great homemade! There are a variety of shrub recipes out there. Some require cooking, I prefer my fruit (and veggies, like the salsa ferment I make) fresh. There were plenty of recipes to choose from.
image

For my shrub I chose to make my own recipe after examining a few shrub recipes online. I mixed some flavors from what I had on hand: figs, blackberries, cracked black peppercorns and some home grown rosemary. I decided on using apple cider vinegar for the vinegar because I tried a spoonful with the fruit I had macerated, and I thought it was good with the apple cider. (Champagne vinegar would also be nice.) I tried a good quality balsamic vinegar with the macerated fruit and that was a definite “No”. To me the balsamic vinegar puts a “rotten fruit” taste in it that I couldn’t handle.
image

When you are making a homemade drinking vinegar (or shrub) you want half of your fruit to be very sweet: my Breba crop of figs, and half to be something tart: the blackberries (tart cherries would work too.) Luckily blackberries are usually for sale at the grocery (fresh or frozen) and the ones from the store are always tart. You could also add a little lime or lemon if you don’t want to go the blackberry/cherry route. For something sweet (other than figs) I would think blueberries, plums, persimmons, grapes or peaches would work well. You are going to be adding quite a bit of sugar, so having something tart makes for a kind of depth of flavor that I really enjoy. Taste it once you add the sugar and macerate the fruit. That’s when to add other flavors or adjust the fruit ratio until you are happy with the flavor. It will only become a deeper more complex version of the fruit and sugar combination from there.
image
image

image

Here’s how I made mine:

2 cups washed fruit (1 cup tart: I used blackberries and 1 cup sweet: I used figs. Cut up larger fruit. I quartered the figs.)
1 1/2 cups sugar
One sprig rosemary
2 tsp freshly cracked black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

Mix the sugar in with the fruit until the fruit is coated. Add the fresh cracked pepper. Remove the stem and add the fresh rosemary leaves. Mash the fruit mixture. (I used the pestle, from a mortar and pestle set, in a bowl but you can just use a fork or even a food processor.) Cover the fruit mixture with plastic wrap or a towel (to keep anything from getting into it) and leave it out out on the counter for 48 hours. After the first 24 hours: stir and crush the fruit again, then let it sit again until the 48 hours has expired. Add the vinegar and strain the juice through a sieve into a large mason jar. Put the mixture on the counter (or in the fridge. Your choice. Refrigeration will slow down but not stop the fermentation. If you leave it on the counter a “wine” type flavor may develop. I aged mine in the fridge because I like a fresh fruit flavor instead.) in a sealed mason jar for at least a week. Open the jar daily to let gases escape and shake or stir the mixture daily. At the end of a week: add some carbonated water to a drinking glass (I use a lime flavored club soda.) Fill the glass 2/3 of the way with the carbonated water: slowly add the shrub until you are happy with the flavor. You should taste the tartness of the vinegar but: it shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Shrubs remind me of Italian sodas and I can definitely see where our modern day carbonated sodas get their flavors. The shrubs are a wonderful old time way to extend your enjoyment of fruit season and a great way to use up fruit that you would usually have taken from a plant and directly dumped it into the compost (overly ripe or damaged fruit is fine, but if it’s truly rotting find something else to use!) You can also use up the tail end of any fruit glut in a Shrub. My children enjoy the shrub as well. It is a healthier alternative to pop.
image
I like a sprig of mint in mine. Just roll the mint between your fingers and crush it a bit before you put it in. Vodka would also pair with this well!
image

Curing An Extra Itchy Case Of The Gardening Stupids

I would bet that most gardeners have a list of a few things that they do, out of habit, that are counterproductive. For me it’s gardening without gloves or long sleeves. I almost never wear gloves or long sleeves. I love to work the soil with my hands, I weed bare handed and I harvest bare handed. Most of the time I end up in the garden working without having planned on it (which is why I’m usually dressed for Texas summer weather and not gardening!) Most of the time I can get away with this habit with minimal issues. Yesterday was not one of them!

20150717_182422-1

My wonderful but itchy okra! If you wondered about your okra plant’s smell: Yes. The entire plant, including the pods, have a distinct cat pee like smell. It’s part of the plant’s defense and easily rinses off the pods using just water.

20150717_182914

All of the okra goodness is under those big spiny leaves!

In high summer heat everything in my garden seems to have some sort of defense. Tomatoes, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers and okra (especially okra!) have spines or hairs that can break off in your skin (like the irritating glochid fuzzy hairs you can find on cacti) and cause a rash on your arms and hands (or whatever part of your body that brushes up against the plant.)

20150717_183540

The hairy underside of a poona kheera cucumber leaf.

I also grow some things with sap that can irritate. I have figs whose milky sap can cause itching and then there is the parsnips that can cause a chemical burn if you rub up against the leaves and stems. Yesterday I got into all of the above with no gloves or long sleeves to protect myself. My “duhhh” factor was in full swing and I was miserable by the time I came inside!

20150717_183728

The breba crop of a fig tree that I got a start from in my neighborhood.

It was like an instant poison ivy rash. I was itching so enthusiastically I was sure I was going to break the skin on my arms! I believe the main culprit was the okra spines I got into while reaching across the plants to harvest some pods but, I also carried in an arm full of figs. It’s entirely possible this was a cumulative rash from the many bad decisions I made that day to handle things without gloves or sleeves.

Regardless of the cause: I needed a cure, and fast! I first grabbed a tube of anti-itch cream from my husband’s dopp kit and applied enough to cover a large farm animal, with no results. The itching was completely uncontrolled with the cream so my mind started racing looking for an alternative to what I had already tried. I washed my arms repeatedly with castille soap because I was afraid it was sap from the arm load of figs I’d gathered (since my arms were sort of sticky.) That didn’t help much either. That’s when I remembered we have a can of instant oatmeal in the bathroom to mix in my kid’s baths when they get viral or allergic rashes. I was desperate at this point and I was ready to try anything.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d gotten into fire ants. This was sooooo bad! The itching was insane!

20150717_183430

The fuzz on tomatoes and beans make the plant leaves a little bit like Velcro!

I have used oatmeal in baths before for my kids, but what I was dealing with was not going to be relieved by my soaking in a tub with just a little bit of oatmeal. I put the oatmeal in a small cup and added enough water to make a paste. I rubbed it all over my poor bright red, itchy arms and hands. It was a messy process but:

I had instant relief!

20150716_213136

My son said this was zombie skin. To me: I see relief. This was after I’d let it dry and knocked off the big chunks of oatmeal. You would think I might have tried this at one point over the last forty some years! But this was the first time I’ve used it as a paste, and an oatmeal paste will be what I turn to first…next time!

I left it on long enough for it to start drying and then rubbed off the big chunks of oatmeal over the kitchen sink. What I was left with was a thin powdery coating of the oatmeal paste (my older boy noted that my skin looked like a zombie.) I left this coating on my arms for about an hour and then rinsed it off. I’ve never reacted to okra like this before, but in gardening: there are always first times for everything. I had complete and total itch relief. Now I have a new (old fashioned) cure for when I walk into another plant that my skin decides to violently dislike!DSCN0025

Lastly, over the years: this has become a bigger problem for me. If you are getting crazy itching on your forearms every time you get dry skin or after you are out in the sun for a while: you may have something called Brachioradial pruritus. You would need a doctor to diagnose that, but it’s getting diagnosed more frequently. Ice helps. I keep a dish sponge cut in half soaked with water in zip lock bags in my freezer or use a gel freezer pack. 

Or just a baggy of ice. The cold REALLY helps! 

I keep several frozen to help because the itching was becoming a problem several times a week. I also only moisturize with either an oatmeal baby lotion 

or something equivalent to Cetaphil lotion and I make sure to do it after every shower or bath: before the itching has an opportunity to start! I cover my arms too, when I’m outside,  so the sunlight doesn’t have a chance to start the intense itching. 

Cetaphil brand is expensive. This is the pump Walmart version.

This is a Cetaphil knock-off tub from a random grocery store.

Since the disorder above is also light sensitive it finally makes sense why my bare arms were crazy itchy after being out in the sun gardening. I no longer use any soaps or detergents on my lower arms and I have gotten a little bit of control over what I have (which actually IS what I linked to above.) Since pinched nerves can cause this: I also believe my chiropractor helps when he adjusts my neck. 

This itching is worse (or equal to)  poison ivy but there’s currently no treatment or cure. Try the above suggestions, and if this is becoming frequent for you: see a doctor. It might be something else, it might be serious or you might have what I have and these suggestions will save you hours of misery. Good luck! Let me know how this works for you! 

Kohlrabi Ham Bake!

This year has started off with a whole mess load of stress. We have had to gratefully step through doors (so that we could close them) while trying to remain open to new adventures. It’s been rough, but gratitude is an incredibly stabilizing force during loss and chaos. The one thing that has stayed constant is: my garden. Although most of the country is in a deep freeze, down here in Texas my garden is chugging along. This is a preview for the rest of the country’s spring. I advise everyone to take the plunge and try growing kohlrabi this year!

20150215_175949

Crazy looking kohlrabi. It’s the best kept garden secret out there!

Trying to grow cool weather crops this far south means planting in fall and harvesting mid winter. I recently pulled some Kohlrabi, turnips and carrots.

20150215_173615

I jump for joy when the kohlrabi is ready. It’s my very favorite vegetable (and it’s my mom’s favorite, too!) Kohlrabi may look funny but it is a tasty brassica. Brassicas are a big family and include: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, mustard, turnips, kohlrabi, kale, rutabaga, horseradish and many more. You will often hear them grouped together as cruciferous vegetables or cole crops. In the below recipe you can substitute rutabaga or turnips or use a mix. Use whatever you can find at the grocer or what you have growing, although I think the kohlrabi is the tastiest in this.

20150215_173847

That’s right. This weird looking fellow is what I am telling you to grow. You HAVE to try this! It comes in purple like the one in the photo or a light green. You peel the outside anyway so the exterior color doesn’t matter much. It looks pretty goofy and alien but it tastes divine!!!

 

Brassicas have great health benefits including antimicrobial effects, anticancer compounds and they may help your liver clean up toxins. They have a couple of unusual drawbacks to consider. If you have thyroid problems, do not eat these veggies raw. They can cause goiter in people who have iodine deficient thyroid issues. They may also cause colic in breastfed babies. Once they are cooked they lose most of their thyroid disrupting potential. If you are breastfeeding a colicky baby: try removing brassicas from your diet to see if it makes a difference.

20150215_180002

If you have thyroid disease: cooking these vegetables will greatly reduce goitrogens and nitriles, making them safe to eat in moderation. Don’t worry about these veggies if you don’t fall into the above two categories. For most people these vegetables are powerful, healthy additions to your diet.

20140811_182140

This is rutabaga. When I am outside of my kohlrabi growing window I often sub rutabaga or turnips in this. Those are root veggies and they are sweeter and less woody the smaller the root size. Look for turnips that are the size of baseballs (or smaller) and rutabaga that are the size of softballs (or smaller.)

Kohlrabi looks like a root vegetable but is actually a swollen piece of the stem. Do not plant them too close together as this will make them long and leggy and they will become woody. Also, do not try and grow these in the heat of summer: there is no removing the bitterness a brassica will develop in the heat. Cool weather will produce a sweet, round, root like vegetable with a taste somewhere between broccoli stems and rutabagas (rutabagas are a wonderful root vegetable. I find them at the grocer occasionally. They are also easy to grow. Once cooked: rutabagas remind me of a potato but with better flavor.)

20150221_170211

Like root vegetables in this family: you need to remove a band of fibrous tissue that surrounds the edible part of the kohlrabi. You can see the part that needs to be removed in this photo, it’s the white ring and everything outside of it. The easiest way to remove this area is to use a knife. You can use a vegetable peeler but: it will take a long time, and several passes, because of the amount that needs to be removed.

A lot of people enjoy kohlrabi raw. They have a slight bite when raw, like a very (very) mild radish or a turnip. I am one of the people that can’t eat raw brassicas because of thyroid disease, so I am very lucky that kohlrabi (like most cole crops) tastes delicious cooked with ham or bacon. I think kohlrabi was born for the recipe below and the result is a truly enjoyable comfort food!

20140811_190552

The entire plant is edible. The stems taste a little earthy (like beets) to me. The leaves are very thick and can be cooked like kale or collard greens. Save the leaves and stems for another recipe. The real hero of this plant is the swollen stem. Once they are cooked they become slightly sweet and wonderfully savory. They are incredibly delicious and once you’ve tried them you will, forever after, be sure to add plenty of space for them in the spring/fall garden.

14 - 7

This is a young kohlrabi plant before the stem begins to swell.

20150226_173731

This gets to be a good sized plant. Give it room (a foot or more per plant) and it will reward you with a softball sized swollen stem.

20150226_173726

Almost time! This kohlrabi is swelling and just about ready to pick. I let mine get to be the size of a softball but you can pull them and use them when they’re smaller (although, why would you short yourself with a smaller plant?!) This is when patience pays off.

People in the know impatiently wait for their kohlrabi to mature and do a special kohlrabi “happy dance” when they are ready to pick! Trust me. I’m not the only one head over heals in love with this vegetable: it’s really that good!

Kohlrabi Ham Bake:

Ingredients:

3 Tbs Butter or Bacon Grease

4 Kohlrabi, Peeled and Diced (Or any mix of: turnip, rutabaga and/or kohlrabi)

8 oz. Ham Steak, Diced

Fist Sized Amount of Fresh Chopped Parsley

4 Egg Yolks

1 Cup Heavy Cream, Table Cream or 1/2 and 1/2

3 Tbs All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Mace (No, this isn’t the stuff you spray on attackers! You’ll find it in the spice isle.)

1/8 tsp (+/- To Your Liking) Each Of Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In a large skillet, melt the butter or bacon grease on medium heat. Add the diced kohlrabi and gently cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Beat the egg yolks and whisk in the heavy cream, flour, mace, salt and pepper until well combined.

3. Place half of the cooked kohlrabi in a greased, large oven-proof casserole dish. Layer the ham and parsley and top with the rest of the kohlrabi. Pour sauce over the mixture. The thicker you layer this: the longer it is going to take to bake. I keep mine fairly thin and wait until the center is bubbling to call it done. If you make this really thick the outside will be done long before the inside so try to keep it thin. If yours is starting to set on the outside and the center is not done, go ahead and stir it. It won’t taste any different than if you have neat layers and you will get a better end product if it is all finished cooking at the same time.

4. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the center is bubbling and no longer runny. Serve immediately. You can add grated cheese to the top if you like, but I prefer the recipe as is.

Serves 4.

20140811_194918

Once you try this, you will be a convert to this weird looking vegetable. It’s truly a shame that more people don’t have access to this veggie. The seeds are easy to sprout and will come up in your spring garden with the beets and peas…but once you’ve had kohlrabi: those other spring vegetables won’t matter. Spring and fall will start to mean “Kohlrabi season”. On top of your personal enjoyment: you can surprise and convert your friends into kohlrabi lovers when you serve this underused garden star. Then show them the crazy looking raw stem: It’s guaranteed to “wow” the uninitiated!

 

Stained Glass Cookies!

20141219_220815I always have these great ideas about making everyone gifts. Then it gets down to the last minute and I end up having picked ideas that are way too complex to complete in the time I have left. These can be done in one day. I just finished them and they are beautiful! The cookies were so much fun to make and I gave them individually to bus drivers, teachers and I even have some for our neighbors.

If you feel like you are backed against the wall and don’t cook frequently or don’t have a lot of experience baking. Stop now! Don’t ruin your own Christmas trying to make everyone on your list happy. If you really aren’t looking forward to trying these ideas or you already are behind with other things: go pick up some cute ornaments and put them in some festive bags and call it done! You deserve a great Christmas season, too! If you think you can do these without going crazy: I guarantee these are fun, simple and they will be well received.

20141219_220907(1)

Stained Glass Cookies

You need:

A sugar cookie dough base (From scratch: or pick up a bag of cookie mix from the grocer.)

Translucent hard candy (I used a bag of Jolly Ranchers)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F or follow the directions in your recipe or on your bag of cookie mix.

I saw these in my Family Fun magazine and knew I had to try them. They made their cookies from scratch. Yeah. I’m too busy right now and I can find bagged cookie mix in the grocery store. These can definitely be done from scratch but you are adding more time and work to this that you don’t have to. If you buy a bag of sugar cookie mix: look for the directions on the back for cut out cookies and follow that recipe. You will either be adding a lot less butter or adding flour to the mix. I also don’t mind scraping cookies from cookie mixes into the trash if they don’t work out. The first batch I lost three out of twelve cookies. Part of it is my oven but the other part is you are combining two very different main ingredients: dough and hard candy. Getting them to come out perfect takes some work and practice.

However, those not so perfect cookies make great treats for my kids (and for me). We don’t care what they look like! The best thing about these cookies is they are impressive enough to give a single cookie as a gift. That means you have way less to do to have finished presents for people like your mailman or kid’s bus driver.

Make your cookie dough according to the directions for the cut out cookie recipe on the bag (or if you’re making a bunch of cookies and want to make yours from scratch: you can use your own recipe.)

20141219_201717

Roll out your cookie dough on a floured surface. Keep adding flour to your rolling pin, cookie cutters and the surface of your dough as you go so the cookie dough behaves itself. You want these thin (otherwise they will puff up and you will loose your design.) Aim for 1/4 inch thickness. Don’t worry, they will hold together with their rigid candy center.

20141219_193440

I used a drinking glass to use as my original cut out for the cookies.

20141219_193452

If you don’t get a clean outline with a glass: when you transfer the cookie to the baking sheet tap the side of the cookie with the flat side of a butter knife until you have a sharp edge on the cookie.

20141219_202424

After you get your cookies cut out (and before you cut the second interior shape out): put them on a room temperature cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (Yes. you definitely want to use the parchment paper and not just a non stick cookie sheet.)

20141219_194039 20141219_194227

I only bake 6 cookies a sheet with this method (These are large showy cookies. Don’t waste your time making little ones!) and the parchment paper keeps everything clean and reusing the sheets is easy.

20141219_194307 20141219_194444

Get out your interior cookie cutter. Pick something simple. My first batch had a snowflake design and it ended up being a mess with all of the points the candy had to melt into. I now am using a heart shape and they turn out exactly like I want them too. Dip the cutter in flour between each cut out. If the dough doesn’t come up with the cutter use a butter knife to lift the interior out.

20141219_194604

If you end up with a bunch of flour in the cut out: gently blow it out.

20141219_195017

Refrigerate your tray! You need to do this to keep your cookie shape crisp. Put them in for 10-15 minutes. If you are stacking them in the fridge over what is already in your refrigerator: you can do it by arranging what is in there so they fit flatly.

20141219_212508-1

When your trays are ready: take them out of the refrigerator and quickly add your hard candy to the center. From experience I have found that I need more than one candy per cookie. I suggest you bake a single cookie to test what you need to do, rather than end up with a mess and having a whole tray (or two) that didn’t work.

20141219_212952

I recommend if you are going to add a second candy to the cookie, that you wait until half way through baking. I time my cookies for 3 minutes and then remove the trays from the oven, add the extra candy and put the trays back in (while switching the racks that the trays were on). After you put them back in the oven: Do not take your eyes off of them! They will go from unfinished to overdone very quickly. The main problem you will have with the candy is when it gets hot enough it will start bubbling and it will boil up and out of the cookie. Adding the second candy in the middle of the bake time lowers the temperature of the candy that is already baking.

20141219_213435

Hopefully, this will keep the candy from boiling up and ruining the look of the cookie. Keep an eye on your cookies after you put them back in. Watch for bubbling: which can ruin the cookie if you let it get out of the center of the cookie. You want the outside of your cookie to just start to brown. Take them out and let them cool a minute or so before you slide the sheet of parchment with the cookies off on the counter to finish cooling.

20141219_214108

They should separate from the paper without the candy bending as you slide them off of your tray. (If you move them before the center has started to solidify you will break the cookies.) Be very careful of the candy while it is hot. This could potentially cause a very bad burn if it gets on your skin!

20141219_213831 20141219_213909

If you get the very outside of the cookie a little too brown you can take a knife and gently remove that portion while the cookies are still warm.

20141219_221139

Make sure you wrap them in something clear because they are really pretty!

20141217_215035Cling wrap will make the cookie look even prettier if you fold the edges over the back. It creates a crinkling effect. If you are sending these to school or somewhere where you need more than one for a teacher and teacher’s aide(s): gently wrap when in a parchment paper envelope and stack them in a plastic container.

20141219_214452-1

Tip the container gently to see if the cookies are in there solidly. I was able to send three cookies for teachers in a bento box with my youngest (and he didn’t destroy them in his backpack on the bus.) Make sure you let whoever you are giving these to know that they are to eat. They look like ornaments and I had a few people question what they were. They are truly beautiful and I was happy to give them out.

As you can see from the different colors these would be great ideas for a variety of holidays and celebrations. Choose the colors to match: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, your wedding or batchelorette party colors or birthday. You could find orange and black candy for Halloween. The applications are endless!

20141219_221642

My last few tips are these:

1. Most recipes you find for these are for small cookies and some require you break the hard candy into pieces so they fit in those small cookies. Don’t bother with those. It is nearly impossible to break hard candy without having pieces shoot across the room and stick to everything. Also, they won’t be impressive enough to give as single gifts if they are small.

20141219_221211

2. After you take the cookies out (to put the second candy in): squat down and watch these through your oven window  If you see the candy flatten out and start to bubble they are probably done. They will brown a little more as they start to cool.  So, it’s better to have them just done than a little brown.

20141219_221153

3. Get to know your oven! It you have a gas oven (like I do), move the racks as far away from the heat source as you can. If you are lucky enough to have a convection oven: turn it on! If you notice that the cookies are starting to brown differently in the oven: take advantage of the fact that you remove these 1/2 way through cooking, and rearrange the trays so that they all have a turn in the hot spot.

20141219_224422-1

4. Store the cookies between the parchment you used to cook them on. I just cut the used parchment in half and continually fold it over and add more parchment strips as I add cookies.

20141219_220657(1)

5. If you are giving more than one to someone: pick a plain white or silver paper plate. The cookies are incredibly beautiful and patterns behind them will just distract from their beauty. If you are giving just one and the recipients are not formal ones (like your kids bus driver or teacher instead of your boss or someone else you’d like to really impress) you can just drop them in a ziplock bag folded over and stapled with a piece of wrapping paper used for a tag. You could get fancy with glassine envelopes (or just make your own out of more parchment paper) add ribbon and tags. Whatever you do (and no matter how you choose to present them): the cookies will impress!

20141217_215049

If you post your finished product, remember where you got your instructions and please link back to my page! Thanks and Merry Christmas!!!

Last Minute Christmas Gift

20141217_170657-1

Want to know what I made at the last minute this year? Fun winter themed footprints from my kids! If you are searching for something you can complete quickly: the shirts/sweatshirts need time to dry in between layers but it won’t take too long if you follow my  directions.

20141218_171117

I chose a winter theme (rather than Christmas) because if you gift these to grandma and grandpa: they can wear these outside of the Christmas season! Also, if these arrive late: who cares!? Grandma and grandpa will still love them and be able to wear them until it gets warm out. If your Christmas season is during the warm months (those of you South of the equator) you can give these during the colder months of your year.

20141218_171019

20141218_171022

You need:

Sweatshirt/s Or T-shirt/s (in the correct size/s for the recipient and pre-launder them so you remove the chemicals that come on new clothing.)

Plain Old Acrylic Craft Paint (you do not need special fabric or additives and those would have longer drying times. Let your recipients know that they should wash these on delicate to keep the paint it’s freshest looking. Although, these should stand up to regular washing.) I used: brown, green, red, black and white

20141220_161907

Craft Paint Brushes (You really only need: one large brush to fill areas and one small brush for edges and details)

20141220_161921

Chalk (I used my kids sidewalk chalk, but thinner chalk or chalk made for marking fabric would work better.)

A Pencil Or Washable Marker

A Plate For Paint (with some cling wrap to keep the paint fresh between layers)

20141217_143952

Paper Towels: for clean up on mistakes, chalk removal and to moisten the fabric before you paint details. (The only paint I had trouble with on damp shirts was red because it bled. I would recommend wetting the shirt/sweatshirts for all other colors)

Cardboard: to keep foot prints off the floor and to test your first prints

A Way To Clean Up! A bathtub full of warm water for older kids or warm water on paper towels to clean paint off of a baby’s foot.

Time To Do This (Mine took two days to complete with the drying times included.)

 

Instructions:

Get out your supplies. Put on the shirt or sweatshirt (if these are too small for you to wear hold them up against your shoulders so they drape like you are wearing them.) Go in front of a mirror and use the chalk to make a large square where you would like the footprints to be. Make sure your bottom line is straight and that you have left room for whatever labels and names you want to add below the feet.

20141215_180204

Grab your kids and go in the bathroom! This is really messy while your kids are involved! Choose the foot you want to use (or if you are using both of one child’s feet start with one foot first.) Paint your kiddo’s foot with black craft paint and test stamp it on the cardboard. Once you’ve figured out how much paint you need for a good stamp CAREFULLY stamp your kids foot on the shirt with their toes at the bottom line. (If you are dealing with a baby put some cardboard inside the shirt so you can stamp sideways while the baby lays on it’s back. Wait until they are sleeping heavily to do this or they will wiggle their toes. You may only have one shot at this per nap.) Make sure you have room to either hang these out of the way immediately or have a place you are able to put them flat to dry!

20141215_180212

Once you get a stamp: quickly wash your kids foot off or they will put black paint everywhere! It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will be filling it in with more paint in a moment. Get all of prints that you want to use. (For a large family this could take some patience!) If you really mess this up and need to start over: carefully wipe off as much paint as you can and scrub, then wash the shirt well.

20141215_180639

Once you and your kids are cleaned up take the shirt in on a clean hard surface and fill the footprints in until they are solid. It is easier to push the paint towards a line than pull it across the fabric. A moist surface accepts paint better than a dry one will.

20141215_182831

Let the foot prints dry completely.

20141216_160434

Draw in your details on the foot print with a pencil or chalk.

20141218_145509

Draw in your labels or names with a washable marker or chalk (pencil doesn’t work well directly on fabric.)

20141217_144048

Paint your large white front on the penguins, add wings in black, paint in the names and paint the background colors on any details you want to add.

20141216_161859

Let dry.

20141217_135235 20141217_135230 20141217_140344

Finish painting details. Let dry. Use your wet paper towels to remove the chalk markings and any mistakes you make as you are going (the paint is really hard to completely remove so try not to make any big changes.)

20141218_171014

Get ready to impress your gift recipient! We mailed ours to the grandparents but if you are going to see them this Christmas: you still have time to finish these!

20141218_200510

Have fun, try not to completely stress out and if you post your work online please remember where you got your instructions and link back to this page! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Decadent Herbal Cold Remedy: Turmeric Milk

I’m sick. This has been a bad year for colds in our home. My youngest boy started school and he loves to germ up while he’s there and then come home and share! I love my little walking petri dishes, but I am tired of the viral circus that they star in!

20141207_171525

About a decade ago I decided I was going to go all herbal with my remedies. I had good intentions, but eventually there were some things I found Western medicine necessary for. Cold viruses were not one of them. These little nasties are not treated here in the US by doctors. Your every day US citizen doesn’t have a cold treatment repertoire much outside of half-hearted attempts to use echinacea or zinc.

I have a wonderful friend from South India who grew up near Hyderabad. She was my roommate for a quite a while and I learned a lot about Indian culture through our friendship. As our friendship grew: I started a journey into trying to understand the Hindu religion, the caste system she was expected to marry into (which is quite a departure from my decidedly Western viewpoint) and her view of Ghandi (which was not what I expected, but that I respect). I grew to appreciate her views, as I attempted to glimpse the world through my friend’s perspective on reality, by asking lots of questions and visiting her temple (the service always seemed like a huge party and everyone is fed at the end). During this time I also fell in love with South Indian cuisine. Turmeric has a vital role in those curried dishes.

While I attempted to understand an entire country through my friend’s individual experience: I began to marvel at a culture with a long, rich and interesting history. One of the key pieces of India’s puzzle (at least for me) is Ayurveda. I will not pretend to be fluent in the medical practice of Ayurveda, never the less: I find it fascinating. The diagnosis of illness and treatment in Ayurveda relies on examining your dominant dosha. Doshas are believed to be one of three life forces (or energies) in your body. They are said to be a combination of the 5 basic elements in the Universe. “People may be of a predominant dosha prakruti (constitution), but all doshas have the basic elements within them.” -Wikipedia (Learn more about doshas here: LINK)

You can take a fun test here and see what your dominant dosha is: http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/

The above dosha quiz is on a site written by Deepak Chopra. I have been interested in his views for quite a while. I saw him speak at a lecture once about 15 years ago…I recommend reading his books, instead. It was quite a snoozefest (although, maybe he was just having a bad day.)

I also own a fantastic hybrid style herbal remedy book by Andrew Chevallier. It is hands down the most complete, reliable and useful book in my library. I have relied on it to assemble my daily teas that I make from plants in my garden. I use this book a lot!

20141212_135253-1

So, with my fixation on herbal remedies and interest in Ayurvedic medicine I stumbled across Turmeric milk (also known as golden milk, yellow milk and originally: haldi ka doodh) as a traditional cold remedy. I have been playing around with my recipe for this for several years. I am now at the point where I would choose (and do choose!) this drink over hot cocoa: I think it’s that good!

20141212_132114

If you are unfamiliar with turmeric and it’s active compound curcumin (Read up on curcumin here: LINK) it is touted as a “super herb” used to treat things as varied as: “arthritis, heartburn (dyspepsia), stomach pain, diarrhea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, jaundice, liver problems and gallbladder disorders. It is also used for headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, menstrual problems, and cancer. Other uses include depression, Alzheimer’s disease, water retention, worms, and kidney problems.” (Source: Webmd )

20141212_132200

I can attest to its effectiveness against depression and I knock out colds with it regularly. I can’t take the herbal supplement pills because I get gastrointestinal problems. They’re just too strong. I still want the effect of turmeric, but I have to watch how I ingest it. That is where this recipe comes in.

20141205_161728

I also add cinnamon (which is frequently cassia: a cheaper relative of cinnamon and interchangeable in labeling in the United States. Learn more here: LINK) Cinnamon is a folk remedy for regulating diabetes: “In addition to diabetes, Cassia cinnamon is used for gas (flatulence), muscle and stomach spasms, preventing nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, infections, the common cold, and loss of appetite.” (Source: Webmd ) I add it to my turmeric milk for flavor and because it is a “warming” spice that is supposed to help fight colds. Learn more here: LINK

20141212_132256

I add the vanilla for flavor (I don’t use artificial vanillin, but you can. Artificial vanillin is a synthetic flavoring) but it is reputed to help with digestion and fever: “People take vanilla to treat intestinal gas and fever.” (Source Webmd: LINK)

20141212_132549

These herb’s health benefit claims are not scientifically proven but at the very least: they don’t hurt. Personally, I have found them helpful and you may, too. Either way, learning more about your dominant dosha is a fun way to try to wrap your head around your health and your body. A warm cup of turmeric milk is also a soothing way to treat yourself. You may also be improving your health by drinking it.

20141212_132457

I advise that you make sure whatever you use as the liquid base has fat in it, if you are prone to an upset stomach. I use cow’s milk but almond milk or coconut milk (etc) would work well, too. The fat seems to keep the spice from upsetting my stomach…and with this recipe: turmeric milk becomes a decadent wonder! You can definitely spend more time making this, but I’m more practical than purist, so this is how I do it:

Ingredients:

Milk (or milk substitute)

Approximately 1/4-1/2 tsp Turmeric (You may also make a paste with butter or ghee and heat it with the turmeric before adding to the milk, although I now skip that step.)

Approximately 1/8-1/4 tsp Cinnamon

Two or three drops of Vanilla

Sweetener of your choice: to taste

Marshmallows (If you really want a treat!)

Directions:

Find a mug you’d like to drink this out of and fill it with hot milk or a milk substitute. If your milk gets hot enough that it forms a skin, skim that off or it will bind your spices together and they will sink to the bottom of your cup unmixed. (This is why most traditional recipes combine butter or ghee with the spices and heat them first. Going that direction will give you a more consistent mixture but it is extra time and extra calories that I choose not to use with this, especially since what I’ve usually got on hand is whole milk.)

Sprinkle the turmeric and cinnamon into the milk (You can decide to increase or decrease the amount of the spices to suite your taste and tolerance.)

Add vanilla and a sweetener of your choice (I use Truvia, which is a no calorie sugar free stevia product) and stir until well mixed.

If you like: you can add marshmallows at this point (I totally recommend it!)

20141207_171720

That is my cold/depression fighting, warm fuzzy, yummy, decadent way to get your daily dose of turmeric, vanilla and cinnamon (and everyone deserves marshmallows when they feel yucky!) These should help you get well soon!

20141205_161541-1

I also use the above supplements to help with a viral illness. I have found them to be very useful and I use them in conjunction with the turmeric milk. I use oil of oregano, garlic pills (You lose some effectiveness going with an odorless variety like I have in this picture.) and zinc. All of these together: usually keep me out of bed and I also deal with minimal symptoms. I recommend them, although you should be careful adding anything new to an herbal regimen. Make sure read the instructions on the bottle and ask your doctor if any of these are appropriate for you or if they will interfere with any other medications you are taking.

On a side note: while I was fighting my cold I decided to make marmalade with the kumquats I grew this year. It was a great success but definitely not something you just “throw together and can”! I’ll post my recipe on here soon. In the mean time here are some pictures of my beautiful kumquat marmalade:

20141205_161822 20141206_135325 20141206_175006 20141209_132215

Yummy!

Winter: Garden Planning

Winter is a wonderful time to read up on gardening literature. When your garden is fast asleep, it is the perfect time to make preparations for next year. Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand: this is the yearly time for reflection. What has worked for you? What have you struggled with? What are you sure of? What would you like to learn about?

SAMSUNG

Follow along and learn how to create a long lasting, low maintenance gardening experience. There’s a lot of practical knowledge in here that I would love to share with you! Below is a list of articles by category. You can quickly find solutions to past problems or plan your garden design to avoid those problems altogether.

SAMSUNG

My instructions are heavy on preparation, but they create gardening solutions that will last for decades.

20140511_174748

Does it seem like you are spending $20 for each tomato you grow? If you are struggling to get anything from your garden the problem could be your soil. Raised beds are a great way to create the perfect conditions for vegetables. Unfortunately, a lot of instructions out there look nice: but they are ideas from novice gardeners. Frequently the beds are too shallow, too expensive or built from materials that will quickly rot. Building raised beds is a lot of work and I don’t want to have to redo everything in a couple of years. I doubt you want to start over every couple of years, either. Here is my solution involving a sheet mulch, hugelkulter and keyhole bed combination with cinder block walls. This is the cheapest, most fertile, longest lasting solution I could come up with and it works beautifully: Mother’s Day Raised Hugelkultur Bed and a second article here: Hugelkultur, Keyhole Gardens: Bridging Ideas

20130512_161313

If you need help choosing products to either amend soil or to build raised beds: these are my picks for choosing bagged soil and soil additives and also my choices and suggestions for building your own soil with cheap sheet mulching supply ideas. Making sense of old sayings

20140521_162634

Once you’ve created good planting conditions your next step is efficient watering. This will help you whether you are in an arid area or just need to save on your watering bill: Efficient Summer Watering In A Raised Bed

20140626_141422

Are you struggling with pollinators? If you aren’t getting abundant squash, melons, cucumbers and other veggies in the cucurbit family you may just need more bees. While you are waiting for your newly planted flowers to attract pollinators this year, here is what you can do: Be The Bee! How And When Hand Pollinating Makes Sense This also explains how to help plants that are wind and self-pollinators.

2010-10-09 18.56.26

If you are brand new to gardening or if you are really struggling overall: this is my “all in one stop” to learn your way around common mistakes. You must know the subjects in orange and you can add the rest as you get more success under your belt: All You Need To Know To Grow The same information is also at the top of this page under Gardening Basics

20130609_141658

If you are struggling with clearing Bermuda grass and are impatient to have finished beds I suggest this approach: Beds Over Bermuda grass Or: Landscape Fabric Sandwich

Inexpensive Vine Support

Inexpensive Vine Support

If you would like to try to train your vining plants on a cheap support next season: this is a fast, inexpensive and strong solution- Simple, Inexpensive Vine Support

Seed Starting: Tips and Tricks

Seed Starting: Tips and Tricks

My tips for starting seeds in milk jugs and my recommendations for mail order seed and live plant companies: The Seed Collector’s Insanity (Tips And Tricks For Starting Your Seeds)

20140421_143801

If you dislike the hardening off process (getting your seedlings ready to plant out in the garden) like I do, here is a short cut: Short Cut Through The Hardening-Off Process

20140411_133950

If you would like to see what other people have been interested in on here, this is Crazy Green Thumb’s most read article. I don’t advocate using gravel in the landscape and this is why: Please Don’t Rock Your Yard!

20140502_171239

If you are longing for a fun craft project for this winter, here are a few ideas. These are the projects I have enjoyed creating this year:

20140818_170453

Melted Perler Bead and Pony Bead Craft Projects

14 - 5

Last Minute Kid Friendly Halloween Decorations

1114

Come On, You Know You Want To! Recycled Glass Flowers In The Garden

20140403_132729

Solution For Sore Shoulders: Microwavable Rice Sock

Want some new ideas for using plants that you may already enjoy growing? Here are some of my favorite recipes from this year. These are my own recipes. They may make you interested in adding a few of these plants to your plans:

20131113_173734

Ever Had Spiced Hibiscus Flower Tea?

20140320_183920

Cooking With Lettuce?!?! Yes! And It’s Delicious!!!

galaxy s3 pics 583

Garden Huckleberry: A Completely Nutty Science Experiment!!!

I love my short winter down time! I get to look at my successes and challenges, plan my garden for next year and organize and choose the seeds I want to grow. I hope you have a productive winter planning your garden! Here in the Northern Hemisphere our season is at an end. If you’re on the Southern part of the globe: Happy Spring/Summer!!!

SAMSUNG

See you all in the garden next year!!!!

600208_341391732657789_1658592031_n

Melted Perler Bead and Pony Bead Craft Projects

Every once in a while I end up on Pinterest. I don’t do it often because it’s like going to an all you can eat buffet: I think I can eat (or do) way more than reality will allow me to. On one of my visits to Pinterest I saw some melted pony bead crafts and I thought it would be fun to do them with my kids.

20141023_142739

These are pony beads. If you want a stained glass look: make sure you use translucent beads.

20141023_142722

I bought two big bags of pony beads and then separated them by color and put them into sandwich bags.

I also like a challenge and since I saw a pony bead version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night on Pinterest I figured I could do that as my grown-up craft. You can find it here: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=101446.0

IMG_4893

Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

So, now I am going to come out of the closet and admit to being a Doctor Who fan. (This seems like a random admission at this point, but keep reading.) I love BBC programing and I have since I was a kid. I would hand tune my TV dial to PBS and watch everything BBC as often as I could. It definitely affected my sense of humor! To celebrate my inner nerd (Who am I kidding? I’m all nerd!) I did a bunch of Doctor Who themed crafts for the season premier, this being one of them.

I saw the original starry night pony bead sun-catcher and I said to myself: this just needs a TARDIS (Doctor Who reference) and it would be perfect! (I had seen a starry night painting online with the TARDIS in it before. It’s here: http://stuffpoint.com/doctor-who/image/36814-doctor-who-starry-night-with-tardis.jpg ) I also thought there had to be a way to make the pony bead version look more interesting (the colors in the original were very plain in the sunlight). I also wanted to have better control of the dark areas: I decided I’d use Perler beads there.

20141013_141516

These are Perler beads. Perler is a brand of beads . They are usually sold to be used in a preset pegged design and then fused together by passing an iron over it. These are sold in craft and hobby stores.

You certainly don’t need to watch (or care) about BBC programming to enjoy this craft. I also made a tic tac toe board using the same technique (The tic tac toe board was my son’s idea and it was a good one!). I used a combination of Pony and Perler beads for the Starry Night project. I only used pony beads for the board. Doing a large project like the Starry Night one isn’t too difficult but it takes a long time to finish. You may want to start with something smaller like the tic tac toe board or a small sun-catcher to get a feel for the melting times. I assembled my bead version of “Starry Night” over two days. You have to be very careful not to bump it or tip it or you may have to start over!

20140820_125800

We used parchment paper for the board but you don’t have to. Although, it made it easy to line the beads up in a grid.

20140820_150048

This is the tic tac “bow” board we made, prior to melting it.

The reason I am exposing my nerdy tendencies is this: as I was doing the Van Gogh craft I wanted to use Perler beads for detail and translucent pony beads for the sun-catcher part. I could NOT find anything that had information about melting Perler beads or if you could use them with pony beads. This was my first bead melting project and I had no instructions. I’m a firm believer in the “go big or go home” way of living. (You can refer to my past gardening entries for verification of this.) I spent two days assembling the beads and I had no idea if they would work.

20140817_210148

Perlers and pony beads. DO NOT try it this way!

They didn’t, and they failed in a different way than I thought they would. My husband and I were able to pry them out and in the process we broke the whole thing. Luckily this project is just melted beads so I was able to save this by fixing the problem with the Perler beads and remelting the whole thing.

20140817_213820

So, Yes! You can melt Perler beads and pony beads and any combination of the two, you just need to follow these directions:

There are many melted pony bead sun-catcher instructions online. All you need to be successful melting pony beads is a non-stick cookie sheet and an outdoor gas grill so you don’t have to deal with the fumes. (This will forever ruin the non-stick cookie sheet or non-stick cupcake tin. Make sure you put them in with your crafting supplies when you are done rather than trying to cook on them again. If you don’t have a non-stick pan you are willing to ruin: visit your local thrift shop and pick one up. You can also do this in an oven. I don’t recommend it because the fumes are horrible.) After you melt the pony beads: they cool and shrink and will automatically release from the non-stick surface. Just wait for them to cool and lift it out. EASY!

Perler beads are a different animal. Perler beads look like they are made of vinyl. I figured they would melt first and maybe run under the pony beads and make a huge mess. They did make a huge mess, but not in the way I imagined. The Perler beads melted last and I didn’t leave them in our gas grill long enough to melt out the holes in the middle of them. I imagine if I left them in a bit longer I would have had a smoother end product but this was when I was dealing with the difference in the beads. I came very close to giving up. The Perler beads fused to the nonstick cookie sheet. I ended up having my husband force them out with a hard spatula. He had to break the whole thing to get the Perler area out.

20140818_152245

I was afraid I had wasted two days of my life on this dumb sun-catcher project. So, I started going through pages and pages of obscure blog posts trying to find the answer to the Perler problem. I did find an answer: parchment paper. Here’s where I found it: http://rebekahgough.blogspot.com/2012/12/perler-bead-oven-ornaments.html

20140818_170453

If you line your cookie sheet with parchment paper the Perler beads will not stick. But would the pony beads work with my solution? Yes. They did.

20140818_173239

The very nearly ruined first attempt.

The problem then became how could I melt these in the gas grill and not catch the parchment paper on fire? I ended up deciding not to chance it and remelted the broken pieces on parchment paper in our oven. It stunk up the whole house with a sickening plastic smell! That is why Fall (or Spring) is a great time to do this. You can open up your house and air it out! I did mine in +100 F degree summer weather and I still HAD to open the house up to get the plastic smell out. Not good for our air-conditioning bill…live and learn! I wish I had had a big enough toaster oven to do this outside which would avoid the chance of catching the paper on fire. I think the paper might work at a very low temperature for a longer amount of time in a gas grill.

20140818_173239(1)

I’ve made a few things with melted beads and I would only use Perler beads if I wanted the effect I got in the Van Gogh project. The pony beads are much easier to work with! Either way: this is a fun and satisfying project!

Instructions:

First decide which beads you want to work with. For pony beads you just need a non-stick cookie sheet (Use a sheet with sides! I wouldn’t try this if you are making something large on a completely flat sheet.) For Perler beads, or for a combination of the two, you will need to line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.

The pony beads don’t ooze much so you don’t need much paper outside of the pony beads design. Perler beads ooze more so: you will need more paper or run paper up the side of the tray for them. Put the parchment paper down and fold the area by the sides so that it is creased enough to follow the  of the edge of your sheet.

20140817_210155(1)

Decide on your design. Mine was loosely based on Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I printed out and put a grid on my inspiration piece so that I would have an easier time lining things up in the right proportions. The more I worked on it the more it became my own idea and less of what I’d seen.

Remember this is a bead project. If you keep these two rules in mind this will be a much less stressful project: 1. You won’t get a lot of detail with little circles that melt down to a hexagon shape. 2. You will not get straight lines with a large picture like this. For a very large project it is necessary to pack the beads tightly to keep the design from moving. That means the beads will be in a zigzag pattern as you push them close together. Try and remember that as you pick out your design. It is one reason that the Van Gogh painting works with this: few straight lines. Anything with strong lines or great detail will be hard to duplicate.

I marked on the parchment paper with a pencil to get the lines straight on the tic tac toe board (Or: “tic tac bow” as we call ours. It looked too much like a present to not add a bow!) I was able to create straight lines with this one because the pattern was much smaller. It took a long time to get straight and then the slightest bump made the lines wonky. Also, the pencil transferred to the melted beads so you might want to try a pen or marker.

20141012_125938

Some pony beads don’t melt as fast as others. The red ones that I had that did not have glitter in them stayed lumpy even though the glittery ones melted flat. I would guess if you wanted to have them both flat it would just take a little longer in the grill. I kind of enjoy the lumps. I used two kinds of beads because I didn’t have enough of one kind for the project.

Arrange your design. Work until you are happy. I didn’t have enough beads for the Van Gogh project to use the colors I wanted. I wish now that I had just bought more beads. You can’t change your design once they are fused. This takes a long time to get right and you might as well invest in the color beads you will be most happy with. I also wanted more colors than the one I saw online. Unfortunately, the beads looked very different before I melted them than they did afterwards.

20140818_170846

Before

20141012_175132-1

A very different “after” look.

I really liked my color choices before I melted them. After I melted them I wished I had used slightly different colors and gone ahead and bought more beads…but they aren’t cheap so I doubt I will redo this. Plus: it was a fun Doctor Who themed craft. It’s not like it was going to hang in a museum!

Set your gas grill burners on low or set your oven to 400 degrees F. Carefully place your cookie sheet in your heat source. Wait 5 minutes and check it. These will continue to flatten out. If you want it as smooth as glass it may take 30 minutes or more. The longer you melt, the fewer bubbles will be trapped and the clearer the design will be. Heating times will vary depending on the look you want and (unfortunately) the type and brand of plastic pony beads you use (which makes the melting time kind of random.) Mine melted really fast on the grill. Slower in the oven. Your project most likely won’t be done after five minutes, but you need to keep an eye on this. I have read some people have caught them on fire in their grills. (I would guess they left them in way too long, had the heat too high, were using charcoal or did something else that aren’t in these directions.) Check on your beads every 5 minutes. Opening the oven or gas grill often will allow the bead fumes to vent. Again, I wouldn’t do this inside if you don’t have to: but you can.

Once your beads are fused and as flat as you would like them, carefully remove them from your heat source and allow them to cool. Put them outside to cool! Since cooling can be done outside and they are still creating fumes: remove them from your home if you had them in your oven! Wait until it’s cool to the touch. If you used pony beads they will have automatically pulled away from the non-stick surface as they shrink and cool. Lift it out and admire your handiwork!

20141012_180757-1

If you used Perler beads: allow your project to cool. They should not have touched anything other than the parchment paper. If that is the case: lift it out and admire your handiwork! If they touched the cookie sheet: Pry it off. If it breaks, put parchment paper along the whole surface (you’ll know exactly where it didn’t have parchment, it’s okay, you can fix this!) and carefully align the broken area/s. Remelt. Allow to cool and admire your handiwork!

Finishing:

I have a bunch of different colored magic markers. I added details using the magic markers. You can easily remove the magic marker marks from the pony beads with a pencil eraser. This way, you are not stuck with just the way the beads melt. I wanted to see a little more movement in it so I added swirls to it. I know from experience magic marker will not last outdoors. If you like what your design looks like with magic marker make sure you hang it inside.

20141012_175527

For anything you would like to hang (versus just sitting it in a window, which is what I did): use a small diameter drill bit and drill a couple of holes and hang (If you break it, you can always remelt!) These end up pretty fragile so be careful. For the tic tac toe (tic tac bow) board: use dry erase markers to play. I’ve only done these projects with the above directions. I don’t know what else would work, but that’s the fun part: experimenting! I’d love to see any projects you come up with using these directions!!!

Please remember where you got your instructions! If you use these directions and post your own project please be kind enough to link back to this page. Thanks! Have fun!

Here are the other projects I tried out for the Doctor Who season 8 premier:

20140909_184503(1)

I tried painting some $5 shoes I picked up at Walmart. I will definitely do more like this. Sonic screwdriver

20141013_153140

A weeping angel and the eleventh doctor with a mop, a bow tie and a fez. You can scream “NERD!” at me now. I’ll roll with it.

20141013_153159

A crack in the Universe and my obligatory glitter. Yes, I am only twelve years old in my mind! I figure I should never grow up: It’s bad for my imagination!

20140819_202417

Goofy, Doctor Who themed nails. WAYYY to much work. I will not be trying to do this much detail on my fingers again (especially since I was using toothpick tips to paint the details!) I have a lot of respect for the people who post nail art. I will have to admire their work from a distance from now on!

20140819_202405