Friday, January 31, 2014

Castile-Oatmeal Hand and Body Soap

In an effort to get rid of some of the nasty chemicals in our lives (and also because we ran out of hand soap) I decided to try making some sensitive-skin friendly liquid soap. I know I saw another blog with something similar, but couldn't find it again. Or maybe I had a dream about such a blog. This is what I've been doing, and I couldn't be happier with this easy swap for store bought. I love the peppermint Castile soap so much, I went ahead and bought the big bottle this time around.

I start off with about 1 cup oats and 2 cups water. This makes a fairly runny liquid, which is what I prefer. More oats to less water makes thicker goo, and more like store bought soap.

Boil the oats for about 10 minutes and then strain

I ended up with about 1 1/3 cups oatmeal goo, and mixed in 3 tablespoons liquid castile soap. This is what I've been using for body soap (gentle, but... fair warning the peppermint tingles) and in our bathrooms for hand soap. I love it, and so far nobody in my family has noticed it's not regular soap.

Does anybody know how long this would last if I made a larger batch? We go through it quickly enough (in a week or so) that it doesn't seem to go bad.

I am linking to:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

  Kid friendly chocolate milk, mom friendly mocha and a shared squash muffin.

My parents have a thing about mochas. They have a fancy espresso machine that they fire up every day. They have big opinions about which espresso makes the best mocha, and which chocolate has let them down in the past. A long time favorite of theirs has been Ghiradelli powder, but it is so expensive. They have tried throwing in chocolate chips, but it clumps and sinks to the bottom. For the past few months I've been making them this syrup, which is super cheap and simple to make. It stirs into hot or cold milk, and doesn't clump or sink to the bottom.

Start with a 2:1 simple syrup

Have your blocks of unsweetened chocolate ready to go

Not ready yet! I'm always impatient and end up with grainy syrup. Wait until it's clear.

The syrup will be done when it's clear when taken off the heat.

 Throw in the chocolate, salt and vanilla, and let it melt. At this point it'll look like a total globby, nasty chocolate froth, floating on a sugar pond. Don't worry!

Blending it up turns it into a smooth sauce, which stays smooth after cooling off.

The syrup should coat the back of a spoon when still hot, and tastes amazing!

 This amount makes four pint sized jars plus a little left over. It should keep my folks happy for a week or two!

Homemade Chocolate Syrup:
3 cups water
6 cups sugar
4 bars unsweetened chocolate (4oz)
1 tsp salt
1 T vanilla

Canning experts: can this be safely canned next time around? We just keep it in the fridge, but I'd love to know!

I'm linking up to

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thankful for over abundance

Life is chugging along. I can feel my hair getting more grey strand by strand, minute by minute. Life is stressful right now. Some things are moving forward - I'm thisclose to starting a new job, and I have my daughter in a really wonderful new Montessori preschool. One thing that helps is to keep doing small projects around the house that are comforting:

We still have way too many of these to contend with, so tonight we baked one up for sweet bread.

Stirring is her favorite part. She loves all things "pumpkin spiced"

We may have gobbled down a few muffins before I took this photo.

The big stress I can't write about will not be resolved any time soon, if anything it's getting worse before it gets better. But I can be thankful for homemade butternut squash bread and the family I was given to bake things for. I am thankful for the luxury of Too Much Squash. Slowing down and taking the time to make a simple treat like our favorite pumpkin (this time butternut squash) bread forces me to remember what it's really all about, and it forces me to remember that we have it pretty darned good. 

The recipe is adapted from Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread.

I replaced the can of pumpkin with cooked and puréed butternut squash, and half the flour with whole wheat flour. I reduced the sugar by 1/3. It's kid approved even with my alterations!

I'm linking up with:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Five Year Old Spaghetti Snob

In an effort to clear out some deep freezer space, I dug out some spaghetti sauce from 5/10/13. Why, oh why did I think it was smart to make a batch of spaghetti sauce before my garden had ripe tomatoes? Why did I buy canned tomatoes and waste my garden herbs and fresh garlic??

Look at that watery mess!! I know better now.

My daughter knew instantly that I'd pulled some terrible prank on her. She normally gobbles up more spaghetti than I do. This time, two bites in, she tells me how horrible it is. The tomatoes are hard and chunky! It tastes like pennies!

She's honest, I'll give her that. It was bad enough I let her swap it for a granola bar.

What's funny is that in terms of spaghetti sauce, the flavor is still better than what you'd get out of a jar because I went through the effort of using all the other fresh ingredients I could. But man, those tomatoes are no bueno, and my kidlet could tell. Come to think of it, nothing in the sauce but our garlic and herbs were in season. This year I'll be more patient and make even more of the real deal.

These were the first tomatoes I ever grew!

I was so proud! And it made fantastic sauce.

This is what has turned my child into a spaghetti snob. Proud momma! Let's all forget about that sugary granola bar I let her eat, k?

Have your gardens ruined you for anything store bought you used to love?

Friday, January 17, 2014

No Knead Beer Bread

Baking bread is a science and an art. I'm not particularly scientific when it comes to my baking or cooking skills, so I've hesitated to try an honest to goodness loaf of bread. Maybe beer bread is cheating, but I gave it a try and I followed instructions.

Dough rising. I used beer that reminds me of my years living in Germany. Mmmm, beer.

Mark it with a K and put it in the oven for Kiddo and me. Since kiddo's name starts with K. Did you know that's how you used to tell your loaf of bread apart from everyone else's in the communal oven? Love that.

At this point I was a little worried I'd baked it too long. It looked very... rustic.

Ohhhh, it's soft and wonderful on the inside and crispy crunchy amazing on the outside. Following the directions made it perfect, imagine that.
Beer bread for all!

Do you have any favorite bread recipes? I'm excited to try more, now that I've had some success!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What I'm thankful for right now

A recurring theme in my life right now is chaos and bad juju that I have absolutely no control over. It's been an entire year's worth of it. But when I step back and take stock... I have it pretty good.

I survived another year and have family who loves me enough to make me a birthday cake. And a thoughtful daughter who encrusts it with rainbow sprinkles. We had a wonderful dinner with my parents and brother and my husband and daughter. I am so lucky.

The other day my baby had a nuclear meltdown and practically had steam pouring out her ears. It got bad enough that I was really worried she was really sick - she was lethargic and burning hot to the touch when she calmed down.


She was just over tired and needed a nap. My Tasmanian devil child passed out before I could even get a reading on the thermometer. I am so lucky she wasn't really sick.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Seasonal Chef - Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Trying to cook with what's available or what's left of the harvest in the middle of winter is a challenge. We're eating a lot of soups and stews these days, along with other meals we've squirreled away in our deep freezer.

My fairy kitchen helper searching for goodies in the pantry

Onions and shredded carrots from the garden we kept in the freezer. Potatoes and celery past their prime. Butternut squash from the garden that we're desperate to work our way through. Amazing, fatty bone stock from our Thanksgiving turkey.

It's still good!

Last year's garlic is over-eager. Can't wait for fresh garlic again!

How I preserved some of our garden herbs - in shot glasses

Throw it all together, cook 'till tender and blend till smooooth

Looks like baby food. Would totally work for baby food. And adult food too. It's very tasty.

I added some of the purée to turkey bone broth and shredded turkey we had in the freezer along with a little extra sage and thyme. The veggie purée thickened the soup and gave it some amazing flavor. No extra veggies or noodles required. My husband and I have been eating on this turkey soup for several days.

As for the rest of the purée, we may eat it just as a thick soup with a chunk of bread or I might add some meatballs to it to stretch it for a few more meals. I love experimenting with ingredients I have on hand mainly to see if it can be done. Our great grandparents wouldn't have thrown out those potatoes, I'm telling you.

Mid-Winter Garden Leftovers Soup:
8 small russet potatoes, peeled
2 butternut squashes, cooked and puréed
4 stalks celery
1 cup diced sweet onions
2 cups carrots
3 cups bone broth (I used turkey. Vegetable broth would work, too)
2 cups water
8 cloves garlic
1 oz pesto with no nuts
Pinch rubbed sage
Pinch ground thyme
Pinch ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Birthday ambitions

I think I might just water my house plants already and then take a big birthday nap after yesterday.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Using up Butternut Squash - Muffin Recipe

Our butternut squash went just a little bit crazy last year. We had a really nice, mild summer for our region and I had the time to take much better care of the gardens. The result was that this cute little flower bed-turned-veggie patch went wild:

Not bad, we thought! Maybe we'll get luckier this year and get a dozen before the squash bugs kill the plants.

This was before it had a growth spurt. No joke.

It was beautiful in there. I wish I could have shrunk myself and gone camping in there.

This was just our first harvest. The plants survived the squash bugs and we got another round with even more than this.

We've eaten a lot with butter and brown sugar, we've puréed a lot and frozen it for later use, a lot has gone in soup and we've given it away. But we still have a squash problem. Today I made some muffins to chip away at the pile:

They're keeping beautifully. Only a few have gone bad so far.

These turned out great, but my picky little girl isn't too keen on the oatmeal texture. I keep trying with her and she's just not an oatmeal person. You win some, you lose some I suppose. Next time I'll stick to whole wheat flour for the whole recipe, even though I love the oats.

Butternut Squash Oat Muffins
2 cups puréed butternut squash (one 15 oz can pumpkin with one oz water would work, too)
4 eggs
1 cup melted butter (not too hot!)
2 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 T pumpkin pie spice (see below)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup oatmeal (or sub this with flour if you'd rather have softer muffins)

350 degrees, 20-25 minutes for muffins, 30-35 minutes for mini loaf, 60-70 minutes for a large loaf

Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ginger

I'm going to try and link up to it, I hope it works. I love checking in every week to find some inspiration in other people's blogs. I hope to have more to contribute when we expand a little more this spring!

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to clean Marshmallow out of Microfiber

I'm not even sure I want to explain this one. Let's just say, two teenagers and one infant were involved. And thank God the baby didn't choke to death. I loved nannying the baby, but sometimes I was at a loss when it came to the messes we came across at their house due to the teenagers. This is one that Google only got me part way on.

At first, Google told me to use straight up rubbing alcohol, as to avoid water marks. Brilliant! It dries more quickly than water!

Unfortunately, the sticky dried on mess needed more work to melt off, or something. I was just rubbing it around. So I heated the rubbing alcohol in the microwave. Don't do that. It bubbled instantly and smelled up the kitchen, and I'm sure the fumes shortened my life. And the hot rubbing alcohol didn't work either! It cooled instantly when the air hit it on the couch.

Hot soapy water fixes everything. I mixed two drops of dish washing liquid with 1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol. The marshmallow melted slightly, pilled up and wiped cleanly away. And some of the old stains on the couch came up too!

Success! Not perfect, but way better than the comparison to the right. And no more marshmallow. Have you ever had a particularly tricky mess to get up?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Healthier Chocolate Chip Oat Muffins

I made these to try to satisfy the whole family. Low in sugar for my Type 1 diabetic husband, high in good fats for my kiddo, and chocolate to make everyone happy.  I wanted to use up some eggs from my mom's neighbor's backyard chickens. The applesauce was from apples we picked from my sister-in-law's farm. There's melted Amish made butter. I may have eaten a few too many.

They turned out really good, but someone with a serious sweet tooth may want to add a bit of brown sugar. To me they taste just like heartier oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Throw all the dry ingredients into the bowl

Mix in all the wet except for the chocolate chips. Make sure the butter isn't too warm, or it'll cook the eggs!

Be the hero mommy and let the kiddo be in charge of the chocolate chips. This meant my batch was one small handful shy of 1 cup.

The final consistency should be like extra sticky cookie dough that wants flour

But the resulting muffins are hearty and moist and wonderful. And definitely not glorified cupcakes.

Healthier Chocolate Chip Oat Muffins

1 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs
1 cup applesauce
1 tsp honey (if applesauce is unsweetened)
1 T vanilla
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup chocolate chips
(Chopped walnuts or something would be great in here, too!)

Bake at 400 degrees for 16-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean