Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Process

In my last part I talked about the road to more natural and healthy living. Here's a confession: my desire for keeping the budget and my strong belief in the "waste not, want not" philosophy has delayed our change over to 100% real food all the time. I just don't have it in me to completely empty our pantry of everything in a box or can. We have a few dwindling items, like canned tuna, beans, instant potatoes and instant macaroni and cheese. Many of these items have been given to us and the rest are just leftovers from our "survival mode" days while my hands were full with the new baby. I also have several pounds of white flour and sugar that I'm whittling down. Long story short, I'm trying to use these items here and there, while introducing more fresh and home made meals in between.
Tonight, I sauteed some chicken breast with garlic and Italian seasoning and wrapped it in a tortilla with parmesan and spinach. At least that is what my husband took to work for dinner. It was a bit of a stretch for the kids, although we could have made it work. Then, I decided to let loose and use up a box of macaroni! However, I could never make it per the instructions and still respect myself in the morning. Instead, I threw in the butter, and instead of milk, I added some ranch dressing, some chopped turkey bacon, some of my Italian chicken breast and a dash of parmesan. My only regret is not tossing in some spinach to make a more complete meal. Huge hit! We called it chicken club Mac n cheese and every one cleaned his/her bowl.
Now for the real fun...I don't have any popsicle trays, but that would not stop me. I mixed up some Jello (another hanger-on in the pantry) and I poured equal portions into snack size zipper bags. I then folded the bags over, making sure all the Jello lined the bottom of the bag. To help form a popsicle shape, I gently wrapped the extra bag under the bottom, so the Jello couldn't spread out in the freezer. Finally, I stuck them in the freezer and hoped for something fun. What happened was perfection. Once the "zipper pops" were frozen solid, I could peel the bag away and the kids used the bag to hold the popsicle, like a wrapper. I am more excited about trying this method with other recipes, like mixed yogurt and fruit. Jello just happened to be in the pantry, so it made the trial run for us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trial and, Sometimes, Awesome!!

This is my lavender scented olive oil. You can see a purple band
around the neck...this is a twist tie I put on to avoid any mix-ups
in the kitchen! A pretty ribbon would also work,
and be more aesthetically pleasing. 
I started really reading labels a few years ago and found that, even with an A in college chemistry, I don't recognize most of what I find in our every day foods or toiletries. So, I am slowly trying to integrate new habits and move toward a much more natural, and healthier lifestyle. Last year, I started using extra virgin olive oil for a moisturizer in place of lotion. What? You mean, the kind that you use for cooking?  Yes, that exact same one. I just bought an extra bottle to keep in the bathroom. It doesn't spread as easily as lotion, and takes longer to soak in, so you want to allow more time before you get dressed if you decide to try it. The benefits are that your skin stays soft without all the chemical conditioners that actually interrupt your skins natural absorption and regeneration. Your body should, ideally, have everything inside it necessary  to keep its balance. Ideally is the key word.
WARNING: SOAP BOX ALERT!  We don't eat well now days and, with all the beverage choices, we certainly don't drink enough water. So, instead of changing those habits, we come up with ways to treat the side effects of an generally unhealthy life style. Ok, now I'm done ranting. I am not pointing any fingers, because we are still a long way from where we need to be. It's a process.
Back to the olive oil. I decided that just smelling like an Italian restaurant wasn't enough. Also, it made me want fresh bread all the time, whatever that was about. So, I decided to experiment with adding fragrance. Still keeping to all natural and DIY theories, I headed off to the local natural food shop. After a few minutes of essential oil heaven (me standing in the isle and sniffing all of my favorites), I came back to reality and recognized that I was not ready to spend between $10 and $30 for a tiny bottle of smelly oil for an experiment. Then, I moved to the bulk dried goods and found that dried lavender and rose petals, among others, were rather inexpensive. The price per pound was negligible when you consider that even half a pound of dried flowers is a big bag full! I took my bag of lavender and went to Wal-Mart. There I bought a package of cheese cloth, which is sold in pre-cut lengths of 4 yards. I googled how to fragrance olive oil and found several options, but I'll share what I found to be the easiest. I came home, opened a new bottle of olive oil and spooned the lavender buds directly into the bottle. I was so excited, I didn't really think it through. I then closed the bottle tightly and put it in my dark pantry for ten days. Those ten days felt like an eternity! After opening the bottle, it smelled good, but I wanted more, so back in for another ten days. Bingo! It smelled fantastic! Now, when I realized I had to get all the lavender out of the bottle, I recognized my folly. Next time, I'll pour the oil into a wide mouth, air right container. However, I was not giving up. I poured the oil into a large glass bowl that I had double lined with cheese cloth inside of a strainer. Then came the messy prospect of pulling up the edges of the cloth, gathering it and wringing out the oil. Once I was satisfied that I had every precious drop I could get, I took an empty olive oil bottle that I had saved, made a funnel out of wax paper and slowly ladled the lavender oil into the bottle. It was so worth it! I just found that first bottle I made this morning, still half full. When everything  happened with my last pregnancy and I suddenly had to stay off my feet, my routine went out the window. I fell back to old, convenient habits. What I realized this morning is that, after a year of sitting (inside a dark green bottle) it smells as good as ever!
Now, for those less adventurous, go buy your favorite scent in an essential oil and just slowly add a few drops to the oil at a time until you reach the fragrance for which you are trying. You can also use sweet almond oil or jojoba oil, which are suppose to scent well and be nourishing to the skin. My mom has used coconut oil also, which has its own delicious scent. You wild-at-hearts like me, if you want to experiment like I did, here are a few tips:
1. Get an airtight, wide mouth container, glass, not metal. A large canning jar would work.
2. Choose your scenting agent, herbs or flowers, but dried. I've learned by using fresh rose petals that the added moisture can cause mold.
3. Cut about 3 layers of cheese cloth and make a sashay, or think tea bag, with the scenting agent in the middle, gather the edges and tie tight with string, so that you have a little pouch.
4. Buy a funnel!
5. Have a dark, glass bottle for the finished oil washed and sterilized with boiling water. You want to sterilize to ward of any bacteria that can lead to mold. If your bottle is clear, plan on storing it in a dark cabinet, because light and heat are the enemy with  fragrances.
6. Place your sashay into the wide mouth container, pour your oil over it, close the lid and put it away in a dark place for at least 20 days, longer if you have the patience. The longer it sits, the more fragrant the outcome.
7. When it is time, you can squeeze out the sashay and have scented oil, ready to funnel into the storage jar.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I have! Next, I'd like to try rosemary and mint, or maybe almond and vanilla. I would like to experiment more and then make some up for gifts. I will be sure to take pictures each step of the way and post them ASAP.