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Homemade Ricotta

fresh homemade ricotta

I’ve always either avoided recipes calling for ricotta, or swapped the ricotta out for cottage cheese. The reason is probably not surprising—at $4 to $5 for a little cup, ricotta cheese just isn’t easy to smoosh into the budget.

Then I found out you can make your own ricotta, and it isn’t complicated at all. You only need three ingredients: whole milk, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt. That’s it. The result is a creamy fresh ricotta to use in all of your favorite recipes.

A gallon of whole milk produces roughly 4 cups (32 ounces) of ricotta. Since I buy milk at $2 per gallon or less, that puts one cup of ricotta at only $0.50. Now that I can fit in the budget! Now that ricotta can be a regular in our refrigerator without breaking the bank, I’ve found that there is a whole world of recipes opened up to me. Ricotta can be used in desserts, Italian dishes, baked goods, with fruit, well, it seems like almost anything!

Traditionally ricotta was made with fermented whey, which produced something a bit different, but many varieties of commercially-made ricotta cheeses are created using a similar method as the one I will describe. The biggest difference between homemade ricotta and store-bought is that yours will be fresher!

As with yogurt, you can technically make ricotta using lower-fat milks, but the yield and quality will vary. I like to make yogurt and ricotta from whole milk for both quality and quantity, so I have not tested homemade ricotta from low-fat or skim milk. Feel free to experiment on your own milk if you wish. We like our whole-milk products here 🙂

What you need:

A mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or several paper towels

8 cups whole milk

1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice

½ tsp salt

First, line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and set it over a bowl. Set it aside for now.

Pour the milk into a large saucepan or double boiler. Heat the milk to 185* F. At this point it will look foamy and steamy but it won’t be boiling. If it does boil, just remove it from the heat. If you happen to burn the milk on the bottom of the pan, don’t fret. As long as you don’t scrape it up into the milk you can still have perfectly good ricotta.

When the milk reaches 185*, remove it from the heat and add the vinegar or lemon juice and salt. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then leave it undisturbed for 5-10 minutes until you see the milk separate into white curds and clear yellow whey. If the mixture still looks milky or not distinctly separated after 10 minutes, sprinkle in a couple more tablespoons of vinegar.

how to make ricotta cheese

When your milk has clearly separated into curds and whey, use a slotted spoon to scoop the curds out of the whey and place them in the lined strainer until only the whey is left in the pan. Let the ricotta strain for 5-20 minutes depending on how firm or dry you want your cheese. I usually only let mine drain for about 5 minutes. If you let it get drier than you want, just whisk some whey back into the cheese.

how to make ricotta

If there are any small curds remaining in the pan, carefully pour the whey into your lined strainer to strain them out.

homemade ricotta

Use your fresh ricotta immediately or keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

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Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth or several paper towels and sit it over a bowl. Set aside.

In a large saucepan or a double boiler, heat milk over medium heat until it reaches 185* F. It will appear foamy and steamy but shouldn't be boiling. If it begins to boil, remove it from the heat.*

When the milk reaches 185*, remove from the heat and immediately add the salt and vinegar or lemon juice. Give it a gentle stir, just enough to distribute the vinegar. Then let it sit undisturbed for 5-10 minutes.

After resting the milk should have separated into white curds and clear yellow whey. If it still looks milky or not distinctly separated, add a few more tablespoons of vinegar.

Use a slotted spoon to skim the curds out of the whey and place them in your lined strainer. Let the cheese drain for 5-20 minutes until your ricotta reaches the consistency you want. The longer you drain it, the thicker and drier your cheese will be. If you let it drain longer than you want, just whisk some whey back into the curds.

If there are small curds remaining in the whey, pour it through the lined strainer to separate them from the whey.

Use the ricotta immediately or store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Yield: About 2 cups.

*If you burn the bottom of the milk, don't scrape it up. Your cheese will be fine as long as you don't scrape the burned part up into the heated milk.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/homemade-ricotta/
how to sew a Christmas stocking

How to Sew Christmas Stockings (Pattern and Tutorial)

how to sew a Christmas stocking

I realized this year that our family was in need of some new Christmas stockings to hang, so I decided to make some. Does that seem like a strange choice? They’re probably not super expensive things at a department store.  However, especially at Christmas time, handmade goods have special meaning to me. I don’t think a year has gone by that I haven’t received a handmade gift from my mom or brothers and sisters. Doll clothes, pajamas, blankets, decorative jars, hats, you name it. The Christmas tree itself was a flamboyant display of child-made ornaments. The tree from my childhood now graces my own living room, although admittedly, it’s lost a little weight over the years. It proudly displays a budding collection of homemade ornaments. The ornaments made by my brothers and sisters and me are still hung each year at my parents house on a tree of more robust stature. And of course, the glittered toilet-paper-tube star still makes its way to the pinnacle, in spite of attempts to replace it. What can I say, we have some sentimentalists in the family.

So for me making stockings was the natural choice. And the fact that I already had suitable fabric in my closet collection made it a budget-friendly one. I’m sharing the pattern and tutorial here in case any of you feel so inclined to sew your own stockings.

The pattern I’ve created for these stockings is actually based on ones my mom sewed for us back in the day, and it’s pretty straightforward. If you have a little sewing experience, it should come together quickly. This pattern creates modestly-sized stockings, as opposed to some of the gigantic ones you see at the store. This makes them easy to stuff full! If you don’t need them for your own family, they would make a cute gift package for neighbors and friends, stuffed with something nice. They would also be great for a sewing class or group service project.

Here’s how you do it:

Materials

  • Stocking Pattern (Download and print both pieces at actual size, on 8 ½ x 11 paper)
  • Cotton, cotton-poly, or other non-stretchy fabric*for stocking body
  • Contrasting Fleece*for stocking collar
  • Cord (to create a loop for hanging)
  • Thread
  • Sewing Machine

*One stocking requires a 9” x 26” piece of fabric. One yard of (45” wide) fabric will yield 4-6 stockings depending on whether the fabric has a directional print. You need a 6”x 13” rectangle of fleece for each stocking, with the stretch running lengthwise.

**Sew all seams with a ½” seam allowance. The seam allowance is included in the pattern.

Instructions

  1. Download and print both pattern pieces. Print at actual size on 8 ½ x 11 paper. Do not scale to fit the page. Cut out the pattern pieces, match the dotted lines, and tape it together. A ½” seam allowance is included in the pattern.
  1. Fold your fabric so that right sides are together. Pin the pattern to the fabric. If your fabric is printed, be sure you have the print running in the direction you want. Cut out your fabric stocking pieces following the edge of the pattern. You now have two stocking-shaped pieces.
  1. Cut a 13 inch x 6 inch rectangle from your fleece. Cut the rectangle so that the fleece’s stretch runs lengthwise.

cut stocking and collar pieces

  1. Cut 3 inches of cord.

Cord

  1. With right sides together, and using a ½” seam allowance, sew along the edges of the stocking, beginning at one corner and ending at the other. Leave the top open. Zigzag or serge the raw edge of the seam. Press the top portion of the seams to one side.

sew edges of stocking

finish edge

press seam

  1. With right sides together, sew the short ends of the fleece rectangle together, creating a band. Use your fingers to smooth the seam open.

sew fleece seam

  1. Slide the stocking (with wrong side out) into the fleece band, matching the fleece seam with the back seam of the stocking. The wrong side of the fleece should also be facing out.

slide stocking inside collar

match raw edges collar and stocking

  1. Fold the cord into a loop and sandwich it between the fleece seam and the stocking back seam. Line up the raw edges and pin in place.

loop cord and sandwich between seams

loop from inside

  1. Sew the fleece band to the stocking, backstitching over the cord.

sew collar to stocking

  1. Turn the stocking right side out. Fold the top edge of the fleece down ¾” and pin in place. Sew down using a ½” seam.

turn stocking out

fold raw edge down

hem collar edge

  1. Fold the fleece band down over the stocking so that the outer collar measures 4 inches wide. Use your hands or a cool iron to press down the crease. Tack the collar down to the stocking on the back seam. Press the stocking body (with a warm or hot iron), pulling the edges into shape as you go.

fold down collar

finished stocking

Enjoy some handmade stockings this year (or next)!

 

How to Soften Butter Quickly No Melting No Microwave

How to Soften Butter Quickly

How to Soften Butter Quickly No Melting No Microwave

Pretty much every baked recipe out there (minus pie crust/biscuit type doughs) calls for softened butter, yes? Do I ever think to get my butter out hours before I bake cookies? Of course not. Cookies are an impulsive decision.

Further, I’m not one to leave a stick of butter on the counter, perpetually waiting for the moment next week when I have fresh-baked bread to spread it on. And we all know what happens when you try to spread cold butter on bread. Holy smashed bread. I mean, hole-y smashed bread.

For years I tried to fix this problem by putting my poor stick of butter in the microwave for a few seconds. The butter be like, “No, Cuba, not the nukes!” Because let’s be honest, does anyone ever get perfect, soft spreadable butter from the microwave? Not me. Even if it looks proper, it has cleverly hidden pockets of radioactive melted butter hiding in its interior. And once butter is melted, you cannot restore it to a soft spreadable (or cream-able) state. It is forever altered. My slightly better alternative when baking was to place the stick in my stand mixer bowl and forcibly pulverize the cold butter into oblivion. This was marginally successful but generally resulted in a lumpy sugar mixture instead of a nice fluffy one.

Then one day I had a stroke of brilliance. I devised a way to soften butter quickly without melting or hammering it. And I tell you, I did not even consult the Great Brain (Google) to come up with this. Yep, me and my little brain figured it out on our own. Now I get perfectly softened butter in a matter of 10 minutes (yay cookies!). Some of you may live in climates where 10 minutes on the counter will achieve these results, but alas, not I. All day on the counter will still give me cold butter…

Anyway, here’s how you do it.

You need butter (obviously), a plastic zip-top baggie, a bowl or tall glass, and some warm water.

what you need to soften butter

First, zip the butter in the baggie, pressing out as much air as possible.

zip butter in baggie

Next fill a bowl or tall glass half way or so with lukewarm water. The water should feel just slightly warm to the touch; if it is very warm you will melt the butter. I use water in the whereabouts of 80-85*F. Butter melts at 90-95*. You’ll know if you didn’t get the water warm enough because your butter won’t be soft after 10-15 minutes.

Place the butter-baggie in the water. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the butter baggie once or twice during that time so that the floating side gets to contact the water.

put butter baggie in water bowl

Meanwhile, prep the rest of your goodie-making ingredients or set the table. Or pick up play-dough off the floor. Whatever.

When you come back, take the butter out of the bag and carefully unwrap it. You will have nice, soft, spreadable, mixable butter. Problem solved, the problem is solved, we solved the problem, now everything is awesome…butter butter butter.

how to soften butter quickly

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

How to Sew Fitted Crib Sheets

My children’s sheets were transparent. As in, the sheets I was using on their beds were so thread-bare that you could literally see through them. They were from the two-pack of crib sheets I had been given shortly before my first child was born, and were the only sheets used for my two kiddos. They weren’t super-fancy sheets to begin with, and they’d been washed a few times. You know, just a few.

Several months ago, well okay, maybe more than a year ago, I was given some nice baby sheet fabric, enough for two standard crib sheets. I finally came to terms with the near-non-existence of my children’s bed sheets a couple months ago and sat down at the sewing machine to construct them some new ones. Thankfully, they aren’t very complicated to make, and if you can get fabric for a decent price (or free) you’ll save a pretty penny sewing your own crib sheets for your little ones. Turns out that even cheap sheets are a little pricey.

Because crib mattresses actually vary in size, I’ve written these directions with a formula and diagram so that you can plug in your mattress’s measurements and end up with a sheet that fits precisely. It looks more complicated than if I were to give you the measurements I used, but the results will be better. Don’t let the diagram and formula scare you. Once you wrap your head around the concept, you’ll find that sewing fitted sheets is really a simple and straight-forward project, as sewing goes. I initially tried making a sheet using measurements from another blog rather than measuring my mattress, and lo and behold, the sheet did not fit well. Just grab a measuring tape, measure your crib mattress, and plug the numbers in as shown.

Materials needed:
2 yards of 60” wide, non-stretchy fabric
3 yards FOE (fold-over-elastic)
Thread
Sewing machine

For your reference:
W is the width of the mattress.
L is the length of the mattress.
D is the depth of the mattress.

All measurements are given in inches (“).

Instructions:

  1. Measure your crib mattress and calculate the measurements of the rectangle you need to cut from your fabric.

 The width of the fabric after you cut it should be the width of the mattress + twice the depth of the mattress + 10”. In other words:

Cut width=W + 2D + 10”

 The length of the rectangle should be the length of the mattress + twice the depth of the mattress + 10”. In other words:

 Cut length=L + 2D + 10”

  1. Cut your fabric into a rectangle based on your mattress measurements, as stated above. If you can, have the fabric cut to this size for you when you purchase it. Fabric stores have the luxury of large cutting tables which makes cutting a sizeable piece of fabric much easier than doing it at home (like on my bedroom floor, ahem).

cut fabric rectangle

  1. Take a corner of the rectangle and fold it in half with right sides together so that the raw edges are lined up. Pin in place. This makes a pointy triangle corner triangle. Pencil a line perpendicular to the raw edge of the fabric such that the line measures D+5” from the raw edge of the fabric to the folded edge, as shown.

Fold over cornerpencil line

  1. Stitch a seam along the penciled line. Repeat step 3 with each remaining corner.

stitch

  1. Cut off the “triangle” outside the seam, leaving a ½” seam allowance, as shown.

cut off triangle

  1. Finish the seam with a serger or a zigzag stitch. You want your sheet to withstand many washings! Repeat steps 4-6 with remaining corners.

finish edge

  1. Sew on the FOE. To do this, fold the FOE over the raw edge of the sheet, so that the edge of the fabric is touching the center “line” of the elastic. Set your machine to the 3-step zig-zag (elastic) stitch. Begin stitching the FOE, backstitching several times at the beginning to anchor the elastic. Then stretch the elastic from both directions, as much as you can, as you sew. Be careful to keep the edge of the sheet fabric all the way tucked into the folded elastic as you sew. Stitching slightly over the edge of the FOE prevents it from curling up. I highly recommend practicing applying some FOE onto scrap fabric first if you are using it for the first time. It can be tricky to get used to.

FOEFOEFOE

  1. When you reach the end of the sheet edge, backstitch and cut off the loose FOE, leaving a little extra length on the mattress edge. Fold this extra length over at the end and stitch it down over the beginning of your FOE hem for a finished edge.
  1. Turn your sheet right side out, wash it, and put it on the mattress!

finished crib sheet

This is the underside of one of my sheets. You can tell I’m not the greatest seamstress, but hey, it’s functional!

Peanut Butter Playdough

Peanut Butter Playdough

While a college student with a toddler son, Peanut Butter Playdough1it occurred to me one day that it had been way too long since I had eaten peanut butter playdough. And that it might be fun for him to play with. But mostly that I really wanted to eat some. I could remember that taste and texture so vividly–soft, chewy peanut-butter-and honey goodness. This playdough is fun and you can stir it together in seconds. It tastes way, way better than regular playdough, obviously, and has the perfect texture for molding into imaginative shapes.

This isn’t an original recipe by any means, but it’s definitely one to have in your arsenal of fun activities and treats for kids, as long as your kids don’t have peanut allergies of course. You can enhance the fun and tastiness by serving things like chocolate chips, raisins, marshmallows, pretzels, M&Ms, etc. alongside the playdough to aid in construction.

It only takes three ingredients: honey, powdered milk*, and peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Playdough Ingredients

Measure them into a bowl and stir them together until they form a cohesive, moldable dough. It looks funny at first.

Peanut Butter Playdough Ingredients

Have faith and be persistent, people. Keep stirring until it looks something like this.

Peanut Butter Playdough Mixed

The texture of your playdough will vary depending on what brands of products you use and the climate you live in, so here are some adjustments you can make until you have the texture you want. Brace yourself, this is complicated.

If your playdough is too dry and crumbly, mix in a little more honey.
If your playdough is too sticky, mix in a little more powdered milk.

There you go, peanut butter playdough ready for the taking. It will become smooth and shiny as it is played with. Do try not to eat it all before your kids touch it.

*As far as the powdered milk is concerned, make sure to use nonfat dry milk, and not instant milk granules. Dry milk is a fine powder that will give you a smooth-textured dough. Instant milk is made of little round-ish granules that will make your playdough rough and crunchy. So unless you enjoy crunchy playdough, stick with the dry powdered milk.

Please remember not to feed recipes containing honey to children under 1 year of age.

Peanut Butter Playdough

Peanut Butter Playdough

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter

Instructions

Measure ingredients into a bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, mix in a little more honey. If it is too sticky, mix in a little more dry milk. It will become smooth and shiny as it is played with.

Not safe for children under 1 year of age because it contains honey.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/peanut-butter-playdough/

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less

Gardening Without a Yard

You Can Garden With No Yard

Gardening Without a Yard

Have you ever wanted to garden but you don’t think you have the resources? I’m willing to bet that unless you live in a dark tunnel in a parched desert and never see the light of day, you can indeed grow something. And if you grow something, you are a gardener. Even if it only grows for a little while, it counts in my book!

Expanding the Definition—You Don’t Have to Have a Yard!

When we hear the word “garden” we tend to think of the traditional garden, lined with rows and rows of veggies. The trouble is, this spacious, horizontal style of gardening isn’t a possibility when you live in a home or apartment without a yard, or at least not a yard you’re allowed to till.

So let’s expand our definition of gardening. When I speak of gardening, I’m referring to growing anything that is edible, even in the smallest quantities, and even indoors. I encourage you to try your hand at growing something to eat, whether a full traditional vegetable garden or a small container of herbs or green onions on your windowsill.

Over the course of my life, I’ve been party to a number of different gardening styles, depending on the living situation of my family. Here are some suggestions to help you find a gardening method that will suit your needs:

  • Utilize your windowsills. Some plants require very little space and sunlight to produce what you need. Try growing a fresh herb like basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, or oregano in a small container on a windowsill. You needn’t purchase anything fancy. An empty yogurt container, ice cream bucket, or any other waterproof container will do. Just be sure to poke several holes in the bottom for drainage, then sit the container on top of a shallow container, such as a lid, to catch the runoff. You will need a small amount of potting soil for your container. You can even purchase living herbs from some grocery stores. These come ready to be watered and used continually. Just using one fresh herb in your cooking can really make a regular meal taste like fine dining!
  • Take advantage of your patio. For a few years of my childhood, my family lived in a townhouse boasting only a cement patio. We used 5-gallon buckets that had previously held laundry detergent to grow tomatoes. Reuse old bins and containers to turn your patio into a garden. Burpee has even engineered a variety of corn specifically for growing in containers.
  • Scout out small areas that could be used to grow food. One year my husband and I rented a mobile home. We didn’t have the resources or permission to till into the yard for a garden, but noticed that there were some small beds by the front door which had been filled with decorative rocks and had been overgrown by ugly weeds. We ripped out the weeds and rocks and used the space to grown several pepper and tomato plants. Edged with marigolds, it looked a lot nicer than weed covered rocks!
  • Eavesdrop! Actually, please don’t drop. Hang. That’s right, eaves-hang. You can grow tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, small peppers, and herbs from hanging baskets just as you would flowers. Use existing hooks or install strong hooks in your eaves, or hang containers from trees, awnings, or fences.
  • Consider a shared or rented plot. In some communities you can actually rent a space in a community gardening area. Where I live, the local university offers garden plots to students, along with a kit of seeds, for only about $15 per summer.
  • Negotiate with neighbors and friends. Do you know anyone who has space for a garden but doesn’t want to take on the work solo? See if you can strike a bargain and grow a garden together. Perhaps in exchange for using their land and water, you will be responsible for all of the weeding. Then split the harvest amongst yourselves. Or do all the work and offer to share the harvest in exchange for using the land. When my husband and I lived in a small apartment, we were able to grow a garden together with our relatives who own their own land.
  • Don’t forget your fences. There are climbing and trailing fruits that can put your fence to good use. Grapes are great at hiding an ugly chain-link fence. The taste of Concord grapes always reminds me of my great-grandmother and grandfather’s home, because their fence was covered with grape vines. Plus, grapes are perennials, which means they come back year after year.
  • Ask your landlord or HOA. If you are renting a space that includes a yard (or own within a home owner’s association), don’t assume your landlord won’t let you grow a garden. Ask him or her to be sure. Right now we are living in a rural area, and our landlord was perfectly fine with us tilling up a section of grass to use as a garden plot.
  • Consider a fruit tree. If you can’t or don’t want to disrupt your turf, you may still be able to plant one or more fruit-bearing trees. You can even purchase genetically-engineered dwarf varieties that won’t take over your space. You can buy fruit trees that are already a couple years old so you won’t have to wait long to bite into some juicy, homegrown fruit.

Hopefully this has given you hope in your ability to grow something even if you don’t own a yard. What ways have you thought of, or used, to put gardening within your reach?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

Why Grow Your Own Food?

When you can buy food at almost any store, why would you want to bother growing it yourself?

There’s no denying that gardening is dirty work in its truest sense. It requires dedication and commitment, and it takes days, weeks, and even months before you can taste the rewards of your efforts. Our society often tells us that it doesn’t make sense to do something yourself when you can pay someone else to do it for you. Here are a few reasons why growing a little (or a lot) of your own food is worth the time.

Gratitude

Do you know where your food comes from? Do your children know where it comes from? (And I don’t mean the refrigerator.) Yesterday I watched my son sit in his grandma’s strawberry patch, eagerly observing the green plants and waiting for strawberries to appear. I had told him he would have to wait a while for the strawberries to grow, and he was exercising all the patience a 3-year-old could muster! Whenever I pull the shredded zucchini from our freezer, he reminds me that we got it from our garden. Zucchini happens to be one plant I always manage to grow prolifically (and I’ll bet you can, too.)

When you grow your own food, even a small pot of herbs in the windowsill, you become aware of the intricate process that must occur for the plant to thrive and produce. A variety of variables must happen correctly—water, light, and nutrients must all reach the plant in proper balance. If you’re gardening in the outdoors, you’ll become painfully aware of the effects of weather on your precious greenery, not to mention insects and wildlife. You come to realize that it’s no accident or stroke of luck when food makes it to your table, or to the supermarket shelves. Growing our own food helps quell our expectation of instant gratification and increases gratitude for the abundance we enjoy.

Survival Skill

Many of us live in a time of plenty, when we don’t have to doubt whether the local stores will have the food we need on a daily basis. What would happen if our stores could no longer supply food, for whatever reason? If someone handed you a packet of seeds, could you make it grow into something edible?

Before the industrial revolution, settlers carried seeds to new frontier lands, counting on their ability to supply the nourishment necessary for survival by planting those seeds and harvesting the results. In spite of the complexity of our economy and the remarkable advances in technology and science, our produce and grains still originate from seeds that are planted, nourished, and harvested. This natural order will remain in place until the advent of replicators (a la Star Trek.)

If you learn to garden, you’ll have the basic skills to provide your own sustenance in time of need (although I hope that will never be necessary.)

Wholesome Work

Those precut green beans at the grocer might buy me an hour to watch a movie or play a game with my kids. But am I really doing myself and my kids a favor? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for watching movies and playing games in moderation. An hour weeding and watering the garden, though, gets us working together as a family and spending time out-of-doors. My parents made my siblings and me help with the weeding, rock-digging, and watering growing up, and though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I do now. Even my small children can help with tasks like moving rocks and watering, and pulling weeds with some guidance. My children are at an age when they would much rather be outside playing in the dirt than doing anything in the house. Kids and adults have an inherent need for work. And besides, that movie will be so much more enjoyable when you’re worn out from digging in the garden!

Personal Responsibility

In our day-to-day lives, many of the consequences of our actions aren’t very tangible. Good work at school is rewarded (or poor work punished) by marks on paper. Good work in our occupations is generally rewarded by a larger number on our paycheck (at least we hope).

In the garden, we can see and touch the results of our actions. A plant that isn’t watered will shrivel and die. Weeds that aren’t pulled will choke out our vegetables. A loved and cared-for garden will deliver the fruits of our steady labors with ripe and juicy fruits and vegetables. This kind of work can help children learn that their actions inevitably lead to consequences, good or bad. The lesson in a garden is more clear and direct than seemingly-arbitrary school marks or parent-imposed consequences for breaking or keeping house rules.

Companionship

I’m saying this a little tongue-in-cheek, but if you’re feeling lonely and don’t want a pet, you might try a plant! It will never argue with you or relieve itself on your carpet. It will only show you its appreciation for your loving care and conversation. Or it might wilt if it doesn’t like you. But probably not.

Quality

It’s true that we enjoy a much wider variety of foods than our great-grandmothers did. But while the variety of produce available to us is immense, the quality is generally inferior to what great-grandma might have eaten! Take tomatoes, for instance. I almost never buy fresh tomatoes at the store. You know why? Because they don’t taste good. Even farmer’s markets usually don’t carry tomatoes that taste like the real deal. If there’s one reason on this list that really motivates me to grow a garden, it’s the taste of a homegrown tomato! The only way to get that genuine, sweet and sassy tomato flavor is to grow them yourself or beg them off of someone who does!

The same principle applies to other fruits and vegetables as well. Most homegrown produce outperforms its purchased counterpart in flavor and nutrient count. In addition, you get to control the environment your food comes from. If you aren’t comfortable with pesticides or have specific dietary needs, to can have confidence in the methods that are used to produce your food, because you grew it yourself! You can have organic food without the big price tag if that’s what you want.

Cost

Growing some of your own food can save money. It depends on what you grow, how you grow it, and a little bit on luck. An unexpected late-summer hailstorm can definitely do you in. Here are some principles to improve your chances on gardening to cut costs:

Choose plants that grow well from seeds. Some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, take some special care and technique to start from seeds. The less-experienced gardener (like me), or those who don’t want to bother with seeds, will buy young plants from the store and transplant them to their gardens.

There are many plants that actually grow better from seeds sown directly into soil. Summer and winter squashes, green beans, lettuce, spinach, chard, and carrots are good examples. Onions can be grown from inexpensive sets. Considering that one 50 cent pack of zucchini seeds will produce more zucchini than one family can eat, requires no special equipment or care, and is very easy to grow, you can almost bank on saving money with this vegetable. I rarely find zucchini at the store for less than $1/pound.

On the other hand, I live in a cool, short-season climate, and it is difficult to grow tomatoes without using somewhat-costly protective devices such as walls of water. The tomato plants also do not reach a very large size due to the lack of warm nights and hot days. Thus, the monetary return from growing tomatoes may not be substantial, or I may even lose money if I fail to care properly for the plants, or disaster strikes. I grow tomatoes anyway for reasons stated above.

Freezing or canning excess produce is also a great way to make the most of your harvest and spend less at the grocery store. Green beans, chard, spinach, summer squash, onions, and carrots can all be frozen for later. Winter squashes will stay good on the shelf for several months in a cool, dry place.

I look forward to gardening more than almost any other summer activity. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re thinking that gardening has to be a huge project, or that you can’t grow your food without any land, stay tuned! I’ll be redefining gardening in an upcoming post to show you how almost anyone can grow their own food.

 

Linked at: Living Well, Spending Less

Easy Homemade Bath Paints

Homemade Bath Paints

Easy Homemade Bath Paints

My kids are marathon bathers. If I let them they would stay in the tub for hours, and take more than one bath in a day. Not kidding. But it can be a challenge to keep them from picking on each other in the tub for entertainment (read: 3-year-old dumping water on his sister’s head, and being bitten in return). Then there’s the massive amounts of water that get splashed out of the tub just for fun (read: to annoy Mom because that behavior is expressly forbidden.) And let’s not get going on just how many toys are in the tub at any time. I have to clear the battlefield of toys before I can shower. Or just shower with them. It depends on the day. Sound familiar to anyone?

I was excited when I found this simple recipe for homemade bath paints at Forgetful Momma. I’d never heard of bath paints before, but it sounded like some colorful bath-time fun. I don’t have regular paints for the kids to play with, and I liked the idea of experimenting with paint within the confines of a water-proof bathtub–much easier than trying to keep other parts of the house safe from paint.

I let my son help me make the bath paints. Now truly, this is the dangerous part. The paints left no staining whatsoever on the bath area or wet little bodies, but clothing is a different story, and food coloring is rather volatile if even the slightest drop escapes where it shouldn’t—a little goes a long way!
The end result was that the kids had a blast with the colorful tub paints, and a 100% contention-free bath-time. The paints were very easy to clean up. They came off quickly with the moveable showerhead, and by wiping. Just make sure you don’t have any light-colored towels on the floor by the tub, and don’t wear clothes you care about in case any gets on you.

The one drawback is that now my son asks for bath paints every time he takes a bath, which is not going to happen. If you’re up to letting your kids have a wild time with colors in the tub, try this recipe. It’s simple and uses cheap household ingredients.

Homemade Bath Paints

Recipe from Forgetful Momma

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup children's body wash
  • 5 TBS cornstarch
  • food coloring

Instructions

Mix together the body wash and cornstarch. The exact texture of your paint will depend on the brand of body wash you use. Divide the mixture into separate containers and use food coloring to dye as desired. Start with just a drop or two--a little food coloring goes a long way. Mix thoroughly and carefully transport to the bathtub for some washable painting fun.

http://www.raspberriesintherough.com/homemade-bath-paints/

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Retreat, Flour Me with Love

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

Pattern: Neck Pillow Pattern

I always fall asleep in the car on trips. Travel Neck Pillow No, not when I’m driving. But my husband drives 90% of the time, and I get an achy neck 100% of the time that we take a trip because I fall asleep in the car.

So, I finally decided to learn to make neck pillows. The typical horseshoe shaped type was what I had in mind, but then I saw this one from Sew4Home and it looked so different, and so comfortable. It’s a bone-shaped pillow, how cool is that? Plus, it looked like it could be great for tucking under a baby bump or maybe even to use as a nursing pillow. Right now I’m not pregnant or nursing, so I can’t speak from experience on those uses.

But, I know as a mom, I like to sleep whenever I get the chance, even if I’m sitting up. So this would make a great gift for yourself or anyone else you know who wants to travel comfortably.

I altered the pattern from Sew4Home to make a slightly smaller pillow (you can print the pattern scaled to a larger size if you want a bigger one). For one, I’m a smallish person, and for two, I wanted to make it from a minky crib bumper. I was given a beautiful, plush minky crib bumper when I had my son, but unfortunately the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using them because apparently they are a safety/SIDS risk. But there was no way I was going to let go of that lovely minky fabric and batting, so I’ve kept it just waiting for the right re-purposing opportunity.

On the off chance that you also have a soft crib bumper lying around that you want to use for just such a neck pillow project, you should know that this pillow can be made from a crib bumper measuring at least 9 ½ inches wide (tall) and at least 34 inches in length, assuming it has the desired fabric on both sides. If for some reason it only has soft fabric on one side, you need 52 inches in length.

So without further ado, here’s how you do it:

Materials needed:

  • Download and Print the Pattern: Neck Pillow PatternPrint 4 copies, actual size (100%) on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper*. Do NOT scale to fit the page. Cut out along dotted and solid lines, place pieces edge to edge and tape together to form a bowtie-shaped pattern.
  • A sewing machine. A walking foot is nice with stretchy fabrics, but not essential. I don’t have one and did fine with minky.
  • ½ yard of soft fabric such as minky, microfleece, or strong cotton
  • 1 foot of ¾ to 1 “ ribbon
  • One medium bag of polyester fiberfill
  • Thread
  • Fabric Scissors
  • Needle for hand sewing
  • Straight pins

*If you want to make a larger or smaller pillow, you can scale the pattern size up or down when you print it. For example, under printer properties, print at 110% of normal size, or 95% of normal size, etc.

Instructions:

  1. Print 4 copies of the Neck Pillow Pattern (at actual size, 100%, on 8 1/2 x 11 paper), cut the pieces out along the solid and dotted lines and tape them together so that the lines connect and form a bowtie-shaped piece. Don’t overlap the pieces; just place them edge to edge.

*If you are using a crib bumper for your fabric, carefully cut the binding off of the edges, then cut the fabric away from the batting/lining at the seams by sliding your scissors between the batting and the fabric.*

2. Pin the pattern to your fabric and cut around the edges, cutting notches into the fabric along the small marked triangles. Repeat this step two more times so that you have 3 bowtie-shaped fabric pieces. I don’t recommend cutting through more than one layer at once if you are using a stretchy fabric like minky. If you are using cotton, you should be fine.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. With right sides together, place one layer on top of another, matching raw edges, and pin from one notch to the other notch. You will only be sewing the seam on one side of the piece, as shown. Use extra pins with stretchy fabric to prevent it from shifting as you sew.
  1. Sew from notch to notch where you pinned, using a ¼” seam allowance. Remove the pins as you go.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. Place the third pillow piece right sides together with one of the other pillow pieces, and pin along the unsewn edge from notch to notch. Be sure not to catch the remaining layer; you are only pinning two layers together. Keep in mind that the pillow will be forming a triangular shape.

neckpillowstep5

  1. Cut your ribbon into two 1-foot lengths. Fold each piece in half to form a loop. Remove the pins by the notches and insert the ribbon between your fabric layers, matching the raw edges of the ribbon with the raw edges of the fabric. The center of the ribbon’s width should line up with the notch in the fabric. Do this with both pieces of ribbon, pinning the ribbon in place.

neckpillowstep6How to Sew a Travel Pillow

  1. Sew along the pinned seam from notch to notch. You are only sewing through half of the ribbon’s width at this point (end at the notch). Backstitch over the ribbon at the beginning and end of your seam to reinforce it.
  1. Pin the remaining raw edges of the pillow, right sides together, and sew from notch to notch, again backstitching over the ribbon. Be sure to leave a 3” opening in the seam so that you can stuff the pillow (and be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the opening). Leave the opening somewhere in the middle of the seam so that you are machine-stitching over the ribbon and to make the pillow easier to stuff.

How to Sew a Travel PillowHow to sew a travel pillow

  1. Turn your pillow right side out. Use a long, thin object, like the blunt end of a pen, to reach inside and make sure the seams are turned out completely.
  1. Stuff your pillow with the polyester fiberfill. Use small balls of fiberfill at a time, teasing them with your fingers rather than leaving them in hard clumps.

How to Sew a Neck Pillow

  1. When your pillow is comfortably stuffed, slipstitch the opening closed.

Enjoy your comfy pillow!

How to Sew a Comfy Neck Pillow

Linked at: Living Well Spending Less, The Weekend Retreat, Flour Me With Love

 

paper-bag-gnarly-tree

How to: Paper Bag Gnarly Tree

I am not a craft-sy sort of person. paper-bag-gnarly-tree This is not because I don’t like the look or function of crafts. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy looking at crafts that other people have made and the color and character that said crafts add to their homes.

I have two main problems with doing crafts myself: 1. I just don’t have the “eye” for them. My crafts tend not to come out looking all that “cute” or “decorative” which detracts from my motivation to spend the time on them. 2. Making crafts requires lots of colorful, cutesy “stuff.” I do not have lots of colorful, cutesy stuff. But what about the local craft store? Sadly, the grocery store gets all my business. Perhaps someday I will have money to spend at a craft store and I will learn to make lots of lovely little goodies.

In the mean time….

Several days ago I had a strange, unexpected urge to decorate. This is strange because with the exception of a handful of Christmas decorations given to me by family members, I have never decorated for anything. (Yes, I am very boring. Let it not be misunderstood, I love looking at other folks decorations. Indeed, if you have a decorating nature, please continue. You make my life interesting.)

My goal in decorating for this Autumn/Halloween season was to do it entirely with materials already in my possession, so that it would not become an expense. Incidentally, I broke that goal by spending 75 cents at the thrift store on a bag of silvery leaf-thingies. This was a mistake. I keep finding them strewn about the house. Which brings me to another reason I don’t decorate…certain young people think that decorations are toys. Since my boy can scale almost anything in the house, that basically only leaves the ceiling as a “safe” place for decorations…oh well.

Anyway, I was thrilled when I found this idea on Pinterest from Pikadilly Charm. All it takes is a brown paper bag and a pair of scissors (ok, so my craft scissors are a pair of slightly broken kitchen shears. So what? they work). The original tutorial suggests glueing on bits of paper for leaves, but I was going for Halloween-spooky, so I left that part out.

The result may not be a polished, shiny something from a home decorations and whatcha-ma-callits store, but it is so my style.These trees just have so much, well, character.

Plus, I was able to sit on the floor with my kiddos and make these while they played with extra paper bags and kiddie scissors.

You could make a whole “Forbidden Forest” of these!

How to make a Paper Bag Gnarly Tree:

1. Take a plain paper lunch sack.

paper-bag-tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Make several cuts straight down the sack, about 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the sack.

cut-paper-bag-tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Twist the sack between the cuts and the base to make the “trunk” of the tree.

twist-bag-treetwisted-paper-bag-tree

4. Pull down two or three of the strips at a time and twist them together to make branches. Bend them any which way you like.

twist-bag-tree    paper-bag-tree

Enjoy your Halloween Gnarly Tree!

paper-bag-gnarly-tree