Thursday, May 8, 2014

HoneyBee Cake With Candied Violets And A Story

I'm just going to say it. This is hands down one of the best cakes I've ever had. It's sweetened with honey and dark brown sugar, giving it this rich slightly nutty taste. The crumb is soft and moist. It should be re-named the ambrosia cake because that's basically what it is.

Nothing more delightful than a couple of candied violets. Just brush violets with whipped egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Then let them dry for ten minutes or so. They become sweet and crunchy with just a hint of floral. 

There's something so amazing to me about eating flowers, especially when they've been candied and are sweet. It's like eating a lovely thought.

Just look at those lines of honey sugar goodness sliding down into the cake.

Here's the recipe for yous...

I got this recipe from Vintage Cakes, which is a fantastic book, filled with wonderful cakes that are sweet without using crunched up oreos or that disgusting stuff many people call frosting (yes, I am a cake purist.) I adapted it a touch, so if you don't like this cake you can always try the original recipe. Either way, I definitely think you should check out the book.

While we were picking violets for the cake we also bundled up some with twine to take to my grandma's nursing home center. As my daughter was handing out the violets all of the old ladies got a blissful smile on their face and began talking about picking violets when they were little, braiding them together, or weaving them into May baskets. It always nice to think about those things that connect generations together, the little things like picking wild violets in the spring. Wild flowers are so much more wonderful than produced flowers, like tulips or hyacinthias, because you can only really experience them outside. They are laced with the feeling of grass underfoot and the blustery wind tangling your hair and the sunshine bringing out your freckles. One of the ladies we visit, Louise, is confined to her room (she's 99) and she asked me to tell her all of the other things that were blooming now, "What about the dandelions? Have those come up yet? And the honeysuckle? Are the fruit trees in bloom?" 
We spend a lot of time outdoors and the children and I take great joy in marking the progression of spring by blooms, just as people have for innumerable generations. I don't know what I would do if even this primal sense of time was gone from my life. To be honest, I left with a very bittersweet feeling. It was nice to be able to bring spring in to people but I hope I never have to rely on just my memories and flowers in a vase to experience spring when I'm old. 

I think we may have to plan a jail break for Louise. Everyone needs a least one taste of spring air.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Earth Day! Here Are Some Ways To Reduce Your Garbage!

I have tried so many ways so many times to reduce how much garbage we create but I realize now it really comes down to just one factor: Convenience.

If you can easily throw something where it should go, you're more likely to put it there rather than the garbage can.

For example, we have two trash cans sitting out in the kitchen. One for regular garbage, one for recycling. If I had to go all the way out to the outside bin everything I wanted to throw a recyclable away I wouldn't. Also, things like removing labels from glass jars and rinsing and drying cans are more of a nice thing for you to do. Most large recycling centers will do that themselves.

Every day I put out a small bowl for compost scraps. You can even put paper products or cardboard in your compost too but again, the point is to have a compost bucket convenient in your kitchen so that it's more likely to  make it outside instead of thrown in the garbage.

Our compost pile is not pretty. It's just a couple of boards nailed together. But it get the job done.

I also keep out a bowl for leftover cooking liquid. When I cook veggies in water or steam them I always save the water, let it cool, and give it to my plants. It's kind of creepy to think about giving broccoli water to my baby broccoli plants but this stuff is seriously liquid gold. Never throw it out.

And finally, my favorite way to reduce garbage is to reduce my consumption!
  • Specifically look for products with less packaging
  • Be sure to take your reusable grocery bags and produce bags
  • Never buy things on the spot. Go home, think about it, and come back. Impulse buying is a great waste of both product and money.
  • Find a way to reuse old wood, windows, bricks, that broken lamp, whatever. Pinterest is full of people who, instead of throwing something away, looked and wondered what they could make of this junk. And they make a lot of really wonderful things.
  • Don't assume it's garbage just because you didn't want it. When my parents re-did their bathroom they sold their jacuzzi tub online for about what it would've cost them to have the garbage guys come and haul it away. They made some money, someone got a new tub, and nothing was thrown away.
  • Don't underestimate what donation centers will take. Just because fabric scraps or your holey t-shirt doesn't look like something anyone would want, many donation centers sell those things to be recycled. And often, even if you don't want something, it doesn't mean it isn't exactly what someone else was looking for.
  • Really take note of how much you use. Many people like to buy in bulk because it saves money per item, but if you have to throw out half of those tomatoes because they went bad before you could use them, you aren't saving any money at all. My MIL once told me she stopped buying food in bulk because she realized if it was in the house her boys would eat it! It wasn't that they NEEDED to eat that twelfth pudding was just there, so why not? 
  • Remember even yard waste can be reused. Many people with wood stoves would love that big limp you lobbed off your tree, and those bushes you didn't like and dug up may be perfect for someone else. Always list things on craigslist, for free or for a fee, and you'd be surprised at how much stuff you can get rid of. Yard clippings and small sticks, even weeds, can and should be put in your compost.
  • Before you buy new, check out used. Almost anytime I want to buy something I find a product, grimace at the price, and check at thrift stores, antique stores, and on craigslist. Just the other day I was at World Market and saw tons of cute things, but they were so expensive, especially when I knew I had seen something really similar, for much less, at the antique store before. Just because it isn't your "garbage" doesn't mean that you can't help prevent it from going to the dump!
  • And remember the alliterative moto: Rethink, reduce, reuse, that order!
Now go plant a tree!

Tip! How To Fry An Egg

Frying an egg is one of those things that seems so easy...they do it in waffle house all the time and those guys certainly aren't the world's most skilled chef
But, like lots of other breakfast food, a fried egg is actually kinda hard to get right. At least it's hard to not crack the yolk everywhere. So lets do a run down of how to fry an egg:

Butter your skillet with approx. 1/16th a tablespoon of butter. Seriously, not a lot. You want enough that the egg can slide around in the pan but you don't want it to get soggy.

For a first egg keep the heat on high, second egg low, and all other eggs medium. I don't know why that works best, you'd think just medium the entire time would be fine, but the first egg never comes out right on medium heat.

So crack that puppy into there once the skillet is hot. You can see the outside and inside whites. The outside white will be runny and the inside will be jelly like.

Continue cooking until the outside edges get just a touch of brown and the outside white solidifies and isn't runny anymore. There will be a clear line between the outside and inside white.

Loosen the egg lightly with your spatula, then slide the egg onto the spatula and using the edge of the pan, flip. The top only takes half a minute or so to cook. Don't let it sit there for longer or the yolk will cook.

And slide (don't pick up!) your egg onto a plate. Done. Easy Peasy.

Tip! The Easiest Pasta Sauce Ever

This is so so so easy and so so so yummy

When your pasta is done take a ladle or two and put in it a pan.

Add about 4 tablespoons of butter

Simmer 2-3 mins

Add about 1/4 cup cream

Put it on your pasta. Perfect!

Chicken Stock and Dog Food

I know this says dog food, but I also make this for my cat!

About once a month I make a big pot of chicken stock and then, being the frugal little lady that I am, I use the leftovers to make dog food. This is so convenient because it totally eliminates any laziness excuse to not make your own dog food...or even your own stock really!

It starts by buying a whole chicken. Or two. You can just as easily cut the breasts off your chicken as you can buy pre-cut chicken breasts, and then use the carcass to make a chicken soup (all the leftover bits of meat will fall off into your soup. yummy!) or cut off the legs and wings and fry them, or you can cut of all the bits of meat and grind them to make meatballs or chicken nuggets. Whatever you want. Or you can just roast the entire chicken. The point is, buy a chicken, use 95% of the meat however you want, so you have a lovely carcass to boil.

Pop your chicken carcass in a stockpot, cover with water, add some salt and pepper, and begin boiling. You'll want to boil it for at least 4 hours. The longer the better. Skin off any foam that forms on the top.

After you feel like it's been long enough, let it cool, then put it in the freezer for about 2 hours. The fat will come to the top and solidify. Scrap it off. You can see there's still some white fat around the edges of mind. A little fat is ok.

Next, heat your stock until it's liquid, remove as much carcass as you can and put it in a bowl to cool. Strain remaining stock.

Once you have your lovely strained stock, I usually add a cup or two back into the bowl with the carcass. Your stock is complete! Now to work on the dog food:
Once the carcass has cooled, remove any bits of meat, cartillage, fat, skin, or large bones (this is usually just the drumsticks and breastbone). You can also include the spine if you'd like. All you should have left are small bones. Throw those away. 

Take your meat mixture and add in some vegetables. I have to really puree them to hide them from my dog, but yours may or may not be as picky. I usually just use whatever leftover vegetables I have in the fridge, sometimes adding in some frozen peas. If your vegetables have a sauce on them, rinse them off first.

Add in any supplements, like omega-3 pills, or Mullein tea for allergies like we do.

Allow this mixture to come to a boil and then add your "filler." I usually use barely or bran, but cornmeal and brown rice also work well. If I have any tiny amount of leftover or broken pasta I usually throw that in too. Let it cook until all liquid has been absorbed.

It doesn't look great but it should smell wonderful in your kitchen. Just be sure to let everyone know it's not stew, it's for the dog!

Finally you're done. You should have 4-6 qts of chicken stock and 6qts of dog food. For our medium sized dog, I will give him a cup 2-3 times a day. This is much more nutrient and energy dense than regular dog food.  When I serve it I include milk, cream, or some other kind of dairy, and occasionally will give him a raw egg cracked on top.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Managing Your Dog's Allergies Naturally

There seem to be a shocking number of dogs out there who, like their human buddies, are struggling with allergies. Our dog was on antibiotics when we got him from the pound and we very quickly learned why. Grass, food, animals...he is allergic to just about everything. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if that is how he ended up in the pound, because his allergies are BAD, and without almost constant attention they take over his body.

Dogs, like all of us animals, have a very complex bacterial environment living in their bodies and on their coats. Just like a cow's ruminant systems, bacteria on one part of the body does its job wonderfully, but once it is introduced to another part of the body where it doesn't belong, it can wreak havoc. Such is the case with dogs and allergies. Our dog, like many has allergic dermatitis which just means his skin breaks out in reaction to an allergen. However, when his skin becomes red and inflamed it becomes easy for skin and fur bacteria to enter the body and the skin becomes infected. This is pyoderma*. So when managing dog allergies you are really looking at two problems: allergy and bacteria management.

*Not, I will be discussing chronic superficial pyoderma. Serious acute or chronic pyoderma is best treated with antibiotics.

This is typical spring and summer belly skin for him

As with any other allergy, it is a good idea to try to get a sense of what is causing the problem. It may simply be food (almost all commercial dog foods contain generous amounts of wheat and corn, both of which often cause allergies), or outdoor triggers, or even another animal in the house. For us, it is all the above.


  • Make homemade dog food. There are so many great recipes out there for dog food, but we stick to ones that contain few grains but many immune boosting vegetables. I essentially make a stew, starting with meat boiled in water, and adding in mushed vegetables, and finally brown rice to soak up all the liquid. DO NOT  THROW AWAY THE BONES. Despite what you have no doubt heard, dogs CAN and SHOULD eat bones. As long as they are raw or boiled, not baked, bones are perfectly safe for dogs. They only become brittle and sharp when baked, but they are a good and necessary part of a dog's diet, providing useful nutrients, and nothing is better than a real bone for keeping a dogs teeth clean and dental disease away (The only real exceptions to this are elderly dogs, very small dogs, and brachycephalic breeds.) If you still feel concerned about it you can always freeze raw bones to be chewed so that the dog it literally forced to chew, rather than swallow it. Bones should always be given at the END of a meal, not as a treat. You should also include organ meat in the food. A basic dog food recipe should look something like this:
  • 30% Meat
  • 20% Organ Meats
  • 10% vegetables
  • 35% Filler, like bread or rice
  • 5% Bones or cartillage (bone meal or shark cartillage are good bone substitutes)
  • You may also want to consider a vitamin or herbal supplement. We give our dog mullein and echinacea "tea," as well as omega-3 supplements.
  • A couple times a week you should give your dog some diary in the form of yogurt (unsweetetned), or milk. Frozen yogurt drops make a great treat. Raw or boiled eggs are also a good occasional snack.

Keep Their Skin Clean

  • Studies have shown that daily baths are just as effective against superficial pyoderma as antibiotics (which is good since it's good for no one for your dog to always be on an antibiotic treatment.) Unfortunately, I am not dedicated enough to give our fairly big dog a bath every day, so I focus on baths after he has been outside, particularly when he goes swimming in the creek or has been laying in the grass all day. You can really use any antibacterial soap but I recommend a chlorhexidine shampoo. We've had good luck with it. 

  • When flare ups occur oatmeal or peppermint baths can be soothing, and eucalyptus oil added to bath water will reduce inflamation.
  • Topical lotions for eczema or sensitive skin such as Aveeno Oatmeal Lotion work well in reducing the itching and inflamation. This is particularly important because any skin lesions from rashes or scratching can lead to infection.

  • A polic of mint, echinacea, and eucalyptus also works well, if you can get your dog to hold still
  • And most importantly, your dog must be kept free of pests such as fleas. Again, any kind of open wound, even as small as a flea bite, can become a problem in sensitive dogs.
  • When the skin dog become infected cleaning it with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol between baths helps to reduce bacteria.

Reduce Exposure to Allergens

  • This can be done in two ways: By literally preventing them from being near the problem, or by allergy medication.
  • Normally, our dog receives two benedryl pills in the morning and one in the evening. You can use this, or another medicine prescribed by your vet. Although I prefer using more natural remedies, when it is for prevention of a much bigger problem (pyoderma and most likely another round of antibiotics), I am willing to make an exception. 
  • We have had to actively discourage our dog from eating grass, or even lying in it. I always try to make sure he has a soft surface to lie on (which he will eagerly choose over the grass since he is obsessed with anything soft and fluffy), and in the summer it is very important to give them access to cool, clean water, since heat can cause a flare up. 
  • We (unfortunately) have to avoid putting a collar on our dog since anything touching his skin can be a problem (I now write our phone number on the inside of his ear lol.) For the same reason I try to clean his ears, armpits, and toes regularly. These are the kinds of places bacteria loves to breed. 
You can still see a tiny bald spot on his neck. Last summer it was completely bald and swollen and just looked terrible. So, no more collars.
I see you in there bacteria! You can't hide from me mua-hahahaha
  • We also have to limit his contact with other animals. Being around them isn't a problem, but when our cat licks him, or another dog even playfully bites him, his skin will almost instantly become red and irritated.
  • The easiest thing to do is simply think about how a human allergy sufferer will adjust their life, and do the same with your dog. Even if he loves the outdoor, getting into an air conditioned environment for "breaks" throughout the day will go far in easing his symptoms.

When dealing with chronic problems it is necessary to try dealing without many medical interventions but it is equally important to know when you're beat and throw in the towel. Always have some antibiotics on hand.

How to Paint Your Cabinets from a DIYer

This is the ugliness that was our kitchen cabinets. Actually, they don't look nearly as bad in this picture, but they had this horrible pinkish stain that was chipping all over the place. In other words, they NEEDED to be redone, and they SHOULD be redone because of the ugly.

Worn to the bone. We bought the house from an older couple who had got it from their parents. The house itself is from 1925 but when they sold off a bunch of their farm in the early 2000s they updated and renovated a lot of things. Like the kitchen. So the cabinets are actually fairly "in style"...not that terrible handle-in-the-middle crap they did in the 80s but the kitchen was designed by a woman in her 70s so it looked pretty...old. They also had a bunch of fake pink tiles on the walls...which we replaced with wainscoting.

1-Anyway, so let's get started. There actually isn't too much prep work, expect removing the cabinets and hardware. I did mine in sections so I didn't bother labeling the cabinets but if you're doing them all at once you will want to.

2-Then you begin the sanding. To remove paint or stain and to buff the surface you should start out with 100 grit paper. Do NOT use a sander, it will remove too much. You really need to make sure to get every inch of surface, cabinet doors and frames, buffed or the paint will not stick properly. This is the hardest part of the project in my opinion.

3-You are really going to want to remove any existing paint or stain. Painting over paint on wood is a lot easier than sanding but it will not last. Little bits of paint will commit suicide and jump ship, leaving your finish constantly chippy and you'll always be sweeping up bits of paint. Don't be lazy. Get it down to new wood.

4-Lets talk paint. You really want a latex. Some people say oil is better but it's not. Don't listen to them. You're going to need to primer (Kilz is generally considered the best choice) and then also enough for about 4 layers of top coat. We used a little less than a gallon of Sherwin Williams Classic Latex paint. Also buy a new brush for this project. It's really important to get a smooth coat, which will not happen if your bush is even kind of dirty.

5-After you have completely sanded the surface you can apply the primer. The key to getting a nice tough finish is to apply many thin layers and sand smooth between each. I put on two layers of primer, applying each VERY THIN. When you have so many edges and varying surface heights like you do in cabinets it's super easy to have paint collect or drip. Thin layers mean there's not enough paint to accumulate at the edges and corners.

6-Once you have lightly sanded the second primer coat go ahead and apply your first top coat. Again, thin layers, and sand between each, this time with 150 grit paper. I think it goes without saying but let your cabinets dry completely before you sand. And don't go easy on the paint! If it's beginning to get thick and ripple sand it all the way back down if you need to. It'd better to get rid of the irregularities before they get worse.

Don't forget about all of the places that you don't normally see, like the edges underneath the cabinet, beside your stove and fridge, or the area on the inside of the drawer front.

7-This project took me about 2 months to complete but that's because of my on scattered time-table and has no indication of the amount of time it should take you. If you work consistently it should only take about a week for 20 cabinets. The most important thing is to let the paint dry completely before sanding, which takes almost an entire day.

8-When I did three coats I had the cabinets put back up and gave them another coat while they were attached. You may not need to do this. I painted mine in the basement where the light wasn't as blazing as it is in the kitchen. Once they were in better light I thought they needed another coat, so just bear in mind that the lighting may affect how many times you need to paint. If you just have a florescent bulb in your kitchen you may be able to get away with only 2 coats.

And finally, measure and attach hardware.

Now to do the counters!