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Friday, July 1, 2016

Roasted Dandelion Root Tea

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) contain plentiful amounts of Vitamins A, B, C and D, iron, potassium, and zinc.  The entire plant has an active biochemistry that has made it a valuable medicinal for centuries, from flower, to leaf, to root.  The root in particular is high in phenolic acids (which protect against oxidative damage) and inulin (a prebiotic that encourages beneficial bacteria to grow in the gut).1

Perhaps the most important benefit of consuming dandelion root, however, is in its liver protecting abilities.  In fact, a study showed that mice who were given ethanol showed no liver damage when they also received a hot water extract of dandelion root.   Beyond benefiting the liver, in the past, dandelion root has also been used:

  • to treat gallbladder problems
  • to increase bile production (which is great for anyone who has had their gallbladder removed)
  • for digestive issues, such as heartburn or constipation
  • as a diuretic
  • as a blood purifier
  • to treat hepatitis and jaundice
  • as cancer prevention

Though many studies proving the dandelion's medicinal value have been conducted using animals, such as mice and rabbits, unfortunately, not many are published concerning human use.  It seems that modern science and "big pharma" shy away from herbal remedies that our ancestors have known to work for hundreds of years.

Still, if you would like to try dandelion root, it is very easy to come by and to process for consumption.  Most of us have dandelions growing wild in our gardens and lawns, and if you do garden, you'll likely be pulling some of them up anyway, so why not put them to good use?  Not only do they have medicinal value, but when roasted, it is actually quite pleasant tasting, and some find a suitable substitute for coffee (personally, it just isn't the same as drinking real coffee to me, but still, it is an enjoyable beverage).

To make your own dandelion root tea, locate dandelions that are in an area free from pesticides or herbicides.  It is said that dandelion roots are best harvested in the fall, when inulin levels are highest, but I find that they can be harvested year round, and still provide benefit no matter when picked.

How to Make Roasted Dandelion Root Tea

1.  Remove the dandelion roots from the ground, being careful not to damage them.  This can be tricky (as gardeners know), since the dandelion has a long taproot that resists being pulled up.  You can use a shovel to dig around the dandelion in order to make it easier, or you can try a weeding tool.  I also find that they are easier to pull from wet soil than dry.

A weeding tool may make it easier to remove the dandelion's long taproot.

2.  Thoroughly clean the roots.  If it is a nice day, I hose them off outside before bringing them in.  Once in, I soak them in the sink for 15 minutes or so, and then I use a soft bristled brush to scrub them, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies, to remove all traces of dirt.

Soaking the roots helps to soften dirt particles for easy removal.
Your root may be one nice, long taproot, or it may be branched with several secondary roots.  In any case, you can use all of the root, even the little pieces.

All of the root can be used, even the smallest pieces.
3.  Chop the root into 1/4 inch slices.  Chopping them first reduces the amount of time needed to dry them.  There is no need to be perfect, it will all be ground up anyway.  Just aim for uniformity, so that the root pieces will all dry and roast around the same time. 

To prepare the roots for roasting, you will first need to chop them.
4.  Dry the roots with low heat.  You can do this by air drying (which takes longest), in a dehydrator, or in the oven (the quickest method).  I prefer the oven.  I place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and dry them at 200 degrees until pieces of the root are easily broken in half and all moisture appears to be out.  This will likely take an hour or two in the oven.

5.  Roast the roots.  Once the roots are dry, you could store them, and use them as is, but the flavor is nothing compared to roots that have been roasted!  This extra step will only take about 10 minutes and is well worth it!

You will need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and spread your roots in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Roast them in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until they are browning and fragrant.  Watch closely so that they do not burn.

Dandelion root tastes best roasted until it is golden brown.
6.  Grind the roasted root pieces once they have cooled.  I use a coffee grinder, but try a mortar and pestle, food processor, or scissors if you don't have one.  Once ground, store the roots in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.

Grind the roasted roots for use in tea.

7.  To make the tea, use one tablespoon roasted dandelion root per cup of boiling water.  Pour the water over the roots and allow to steep, covered, for 15 minutes.  Drink as is, or add heavy cream or sweetener to taste.  I generally avoid using sweeteners, but find that stevia tastes good in dandelion root tea.

It is best to drink this tea about 15 minutes before you plan on eating, as it helps to better digest the meal.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Homemade Pasta

Few things can top the taste of homemade Fettuccine Alfredo, made with fresh noodles.  It is one of my family's staple meals.  But we eat all kinds of fresh pasta here, from spaghetti and meatballs, to lasagna, so pasta is something we make frequently.

Why make pasta when you can just buy it?

Good question.  It takes more time than picking up a box of it at the grocery store, doesn't it?  My reasons include:

1.  Fresh pasta tastes better.
2.  We like thick noodles.  Thick and chewy, slathered in a sauce of some kind.
3.  We can use healthier flours (whole grain, sprouted, freshly ground) and avoid unhealthy additives (synthetic vitamins, like niacin, iron, and folic acid).
4.  We just like making our own stuff.

Whatever your reasons are, I'm sure that you will find pasta easy enough to make.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Homemade Window Cleaner and Vintage Cookbooks

There are three shelves in my kitchen overflowing with cookbooks. Many of these cookbooks are what I call "old church cookbooks." They are generally found at garage sales and thrift stores, and most of them that I find are from the 1950s-1960s (though I have many from as early as the 1920s, and plenty from the 70s and 80s). 

These cookbooks are real gems, and whenever I see one, I make sure to snatch it up.  Religion has nothing to do with it, so it doesn't matter your faith or lack of; these cookbooks made by the church's "Recipe Committees" are full of vintage wonderfulness.  They are a real snapshot of American housewives in the mid-century 1900s.  Often times, the previous owner of the cookbook has made notes in it, or has saved other recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers and tucked them inside (as seen in the black cookbook above).  There are always a few surprises to be found.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Homemade 100% Lard Soap

This post is written especially for my homesteader friends--maybe you are raising pigs, or going in on a pig with someone--make sure you get that lard, and render it!  Not only is it great for cooking, but it also makes a nice bar of soap.

Lard is useful for cooking and soap-making.
Properly rendered lard should be white and fairly odorless.

Lard has become somewhat a "dirty word," which is a shame, because as long as pigs are going to be killed, I see no reason to not use every part of them that we can.  I generally prefer to get lard from family or friends who have raised the pigs themselves; in this way, I know they were treated humanely and fed a proper diet.  There are many farmers getting into organic, pasture-raising of animals, so if you search your area, I'll bet you can find a good source of lard.

Lard is an excellent choice for making soap because it is so beneficial to the skin.  Lard contains high amounts of Vitamin D and is very similar in profile to human fat.  Many have claimed to cure skin ailments, such as acne, by applying lard to the skin.  When it comes to soap, lard produces a rich, creamy lather, and makes a nice, firm bar.  It is also a very conditioning bar, meaning it wont dry the skin out, like many soaps made with vegetable oils do.

Lard soap is a pretty white color.
I used butterfly soap molds for these lard soap bars.

The following recipe is very basic.  So basic, in fact, that it contains only three ingredients:  lard, lye (sodium hyrdoxide), and water.  In my opinion, soap is very much like cooking.  If you can cook, you can make soap! 

A Few Notes About Ingredients  (If you have made soap before, you may want to CLICK HERE to just skip to the recipe).

LARD:  You will need lard that has already been rendered and strained.  You can learn how to render fats here.  The lard should be white and clean looking.

SODIUM HYDROXIDE (LYE):  You will likely be able to find lye at the hardware store.  It might be labeled as drain cleaner.  Some popular brands include Roebic and Red Crown.  Just be sure that it is PURE SODIUM HYDROXIDE!  Some drain cleaners, such as Drano, contain other additives, and they are not appropriate for soap making.  Look for labeling such as this:

Red Crown Lye
The 1½% of impurity has not ever been an issue for me.  Generally, as long as the lye you select is 97-100% pure, it will work fine for making soap.  I am not sure of what the "inert ingredients" are, but my best guess is maybe an anti-caking agent of some kind?

As you can see, this  product is over 98% pure Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), so is suitable for soap making.  They lye will look kind of like tiny little crystals. 

Lye is caustic, so should not come in contact with skin or eyes, nor should fumes be inhaled (this will be an issue when adding to water).  Please follow the recommendations on the MSDS when working with lye, including:

  • be sure there is adequate ventilation (don't make soap in a little room with the door shut and no windows open).  I make soap in my kitchen with no problem.  Some people like to make soap outside.
  • wear rubber or latex gloves--dishwashing gloves work fine.
  • wear goggles for eye protection.
  • have running water nearby that you can fit your entire body beneath; the bathroom shower or an outdoor hose will work fine.  If lye gets on your skin, rinse the area with plenty of running water.

I think of the lye in the same way as I would a pot of boiling water.  You wouldn't want to spill it on your skin, or splash it around.  You'd make sure that kids knew not to touch it, and that pets stayed away.  But, it is nothing to be scared of as long as you are careful.  I have been soaping for over five years and have never been injured.

WATER:  I have never had any issues with using tap water, but we have well-water, which, unlike most city water, is not chlorinated.  If your water is chlorinated, you should consider collecting rainwater or buying bottled water for your soap.

A Few Notes About Equipment and Safety

You will want to have separate equipment for soap-making that you do not use for food preparation.

RUBBER GLOVES:  As mentioned before, since lye is caustic, gloves can be worn while making soap to protect the hands and arms.

GOGGLES:  Goggles can be worn to protect the eyes.

WHISK:  You'll need a whisk to stir the lye crystals into the water.

SPOON OR RUBBER SCRAPER:  Wooden spoons or rubber scrapers work well for stirring and getting all the soap out of the bowl when you pour it into the mold.

IMMERSION BLENDER (STICK BLENDER):  Though not essential, it speeds the process up some.  It can mix faster a whisk, which means it will take less time for the soap to come to trace (the point when the oils and lye have emulsified and will not separate; visibly, the mixture will have thickened a bit, and when a line of soap is drizzled across the top, a "trace" of it will remain visible).

SAUCEPAN OR POT:  You'll need a pan or pot to melt the lard in.

BOWLS or PITCHERS:  You will need two large bowls or pitchers.  Pour spouts are really nice to have, so pitchers or spouted bowls work best.  They should be made of glass, stainless steel, or plastic.  They must be heat resistant; when lye is added to water, it produces temperatures up to 200 degrees F.  Never use reactive containers, as they will be eaten away by the lye.

THERMOMETER:  Ideally, when you combine your fats and lye solution, they will be around the same temperature.  A clip-on candy thermometer works nicely for taking temperatures.

SCALE:  In order to be precise, ingredients are generally measured by weight.  Digital scales can be purchased inexpensively at most department stores, or ordered online.

MOLD:  You can purchase molds specifically for making soap, which can be found at craft stores or online, or you can use whatever you can find:  plastic containers, cardboard boxes, tubes (such as Pringles cans), or silicone baking molds.  If you are using wooden or plastic molds, it is a good idea to line it with parchment paper, for easier release.  If you are going to use a cardboard mold, you will want to line it with a plastic bag so it doesn't leak.  The article, Inexpensive or No-Cost Soap Molds to Get You Started Making Soap, has some great ideas!

Now that you know about the ingredients you'll be using and what equipment you'll need, you are ready to make soap. 

  • Have all your ingredients and equipment out and ready.  
  • Be sure that everyone in the house knows you are going to be making soap, and you have explained to everyone not to mess with the lye.  
  • Small children and pets should be kept from the soap-making area.  
  • Be sure that you will have no interruptions.  Once you start, you won't be able to stop and walk away from it (the same as with cooking). 

Recipe for Homemade 100% Lard Soap  (Click here for a printable version.)


14 ounces water
5 ounces lye (sodium hydroxide)
38 ounces lard

1.  Begin by preparing your mold if necessary (line with parchment or plastic).  Have it on the ready to pour into.  This recipe will make about 6 cups of soap batter, so be sure you mold is large enough to accommodate.

2.  Put on gloves and goggles, and weigh out all your ingredients:  I usually begin with the water; place an empty bowl on your scale, and turn the scale on.  Pour water into the bowl until it weighs 14 ounces.  Reset the scale to zero, and start slowly sprinkling the lye into the water until it weighs five ounces.  Once you begin adding the lye to the water, it will produce heat and some mild fumes.  Avoid breathing in the fumes.

3.  Using a whisk, carefully whisk the lye and water until the lye has completely dissolved.  Set this mixture aside somewhere safe and out of the way, being cautious not to spill (treat it like a pot of boiling water).

4.  Next, set an empty pot on the scale, and measure out your lard to 38 ounces.  Gently heat the pot of lard on the stove until it has melted, stirring frequently.  Pour the melted fat into an empty bowl.

5.  Using a thermometer, check the temperature of the fats and then the lye solution.  It is ideal for both to be under 130 degrees F before continuing.  The closer they are to each other in temperature, the better, but if they are not exactly the same, it isn't the end of the world.  Try to wait to combine them until they are at least within 10 degrees of one another.  I usually like to combine them once they are both around 120 degrees, but you can do it at lower temperatures as long as your fat isn't solidifying.

6.  Once they have reached an appropriate temperature, pour the lye solution into the fat, and begin pulsing with the immersion blender (or whisking if you are doing it by hand)--being careful not to allow soap to splatter out of the bowl.  Usually, you'll notice an immediate change in the color and texture of the soap "batter."  You need to keep blending/whisking until the fat and lye is completely emulsified and "trace" is achieved.  The amount of time it takes varies, but you can test for it periodically by lifting the blender/whisk out of the batter, and drizzling some over the top.  If you can see lines on top where the batter was drizzled, it is ready to pour into the mold.

7.  Carefully pour the soap batter into the mold, using a rubber scraper or wooden spoon to scrape the sides of the bowl clean.  Cover the mold with its lid or a piece of cardboard or a cookie sheet.  Place the mold in an out of the way spot, and gently cover and surround it with an old blanket or towels.  You will leave your soap-filled mold insulated like this for 24 hours.

8.  After 24 hours, unmold the soap, and cut it into bars.  Place the bars somewhere out of the way to cure.  Cure time is four to six weeks.  The soap must cure before you use it in order to completely neutralize the lye.  While curing, be sure the soap has good ventilation and keep it covered to keep dust and pet hair off.  A cardboard box works fine to cure it in.  An old dresser is also a good option.

9.  Once the soap has cured, it can be used.  You can also wrap and label it at this time if you are planning to use it for gifts or to sell.


When the soap has reached trace, you can also stir in add-ins if you'd like.  Essential oils are popular add-ins for fragrance.  Herbs and spices can be used for coloring and decorative effect.  You can also stir in soap scraps or spread chopped soap scraps in the bottom of the mold before pouring.  The soap scraps give it a neat effect, as seen in the picture below (back row of soaps):

Some of these soaps contain soap scraps for a pretty effect.
As we use our soap, I save the scraps in a jar.  They are a pretty addition to new batches of soap.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Smelly Balls (It's Not What You Think!)

Father's Day is this weekend!  Did you find the perfect gift for that special Dad in your life yet?  If the Dad in question has a sense of humor and likes to smell good, then I have a great idea for you:

Smelly Balls

Sounds gross, right?  Don't worry, it's not what you think!  These balls are made out of clay, and they actually smell good.

You can infuse these balls with your favorite essential oils, and then use them to freshen any space.  They work great for dresser drawers, closets, cars, lockers, bathrooms, or even in shoes.  They are so fast and easy to make, and your favorite dad will likely get a good chuckle from the silly name.  They can also be personalized for the recipient; when I made these for my husband, I had each of our children dip a finger into some cinnamon, and then press it into the clay, so that each ball would have a child's fingerprint on it.

To Make Smelly Balls:


Oven Bake Modeling Clay
Pencil or small dowel
Toothpick (Optional)
Spices for coloring (Optional)

1.  For each ball you would like to make, tear off enough clay to roll into a ball about 1 inch in diameter.  Roll the clay between your palms to form a ball.

2.  Use a pencil or dowel to poke a hole into the clay ball--do not poke the hole all the way through.  This hole is where the essential oils will be dropped into.

3.  If desired, you can use a toothpick to carve a design into the ball.  In addition, you can use spices, such as turmeric or cinnamon to add color to your design.  Dust the spices on, or dip the tip of the toothpick into the spice to press it into the clay.  The spices can also be kneaded into the clay before rolling it into a ball for speckles of color.

4.  Place each ball onto a cookie sheet, hole side up, pressing lightly to flatten the bottom somewhat.  Bake the balls according to the clay package directions.

5.  Allow the balls to cool completely and harden before using.  Once cool, a drop or two of your favorite essential oil can be put into the hole, and the smelly ball can be placed in the desired spot.

If you plan of gifting these balls, you can make a simple label describing what they are and how to use them as shown in the picture below.

It is also nice to include a bottle of an essential oil along with them.  Some essential oils that men may prefer include:  peppermint, vanilla, lavender, cedar, lemongrass, lemon, cinnamon, and cloves. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Whoopie Pies

Whoopie pies, made popular by the Amish, are a dessert sandwich made by enclosing a vanilla frosting between to chocolate cake-like cookies.  This recipe has been modified somewhat from it's original Amish version however, mainly to substitute a healthier fat for the shortening that was initially called for.

Whoopie Pies (Printable)

Cookie Outside

2 cups sugar
1 cup soft butter or lard
2 eggs
4 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon vinegar + enough milk to make 1 cup)
 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease well with butter.  

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter.  Mix in eggs.

In another large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.

Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk, mixing after each addition.

Add the vanilla extract and mix well.  

Mix together the baking soda and hot water, and add to the batter, mixing well to incorporate.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls, one inch apart, onto one of the cookie sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  

Meanwhile, prepare the second cookie sheet in the same way.  Once the first sheet has finished baking, place the second sheet in the oven.  Remove the cookies to a rack from the first sheet, and drop more cookies onto it to be ready to go into the oven once the second sheet has finished.  Proceed this way until all the batter has been used.

Spread filling (below) onto the flat side of one cookie, and top with another cookie to make a sandwich.

Filling Inside

2 egg whites, beaten
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened

In a large bowl, mix together egg whites, milk, vanilla, and 2 cups of the powdered sugar.  Then add remaining sugar and butter.  Mix well, until the frosting becomes thick and creamy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Homemade Graham Crackers Recipe

Graham crackers have been on my "To-Do List" for quite some time, so I finally decided to tackle the project.  Fortunately, it wasn't even much of a project; graham crackers are surprisingly easy to make.

By making your own graham crackers, you can avoid some of the less desirable ingredients used in most grocery store shelf, boxed products--namely the high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils.  You also have the ability to adjust:
  • The type and amount of sweetener used.  For example, you can use all honey if you'd like, or substitute molasses, which is a sweetener that would complement a graham cracker well. If you decide to try a different sweetener, keep in mind that you may need to adjust the amount of flour. 
  • The type of fat used.  You could try coconut oil, lard, or tallow in place of the butter.  Perhaps you'd like to try olive oil?  Or even substituting half the fat with a fruit puree, like bananas or applesauce?

As far as the flour goes, I went out and bought some graham flour to make these crackers, but upon further investigation of the issue, have found that graham flour is pretty much the same as whole wheat flour.  The difference is that the bran and germ are ground separately from the endosperm of the wheat berry. 

I would imagine that you could just substitute whole wheat flour for the graham flour if it is too difficult for you to find it.  Will it drastically effect the taste or texture of your crackers?  Honestly, I don't know, I haven't tried it, but I'd like to.  I'm also interested in finding out if other types of flours could be substituted, such as rice, millet, or oat flour.

The recipe itself is pretty simple--much like mixing up a batch of roll-out cookies.  It took me less than an hour to make them. You can cut them into rectangles, or if you'd like to please the kids, use cookie cutters and make fun shapes.  These crackers are good served with a glass of milk or a hot cup of coffee.

Graham Crackers (Printable Version)

3 cups graham flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, or grease with butter.

2.  Combine the first 3 dry ingredients.

3.  In a separate bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar.  Beat in the egg, honey, and milk.  Beat in the lemon juice.  Beat in the vanilla.  Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.

4.  Divide the dough in half.  Place one half onto each cookie sheet.  Roll each dough half out to a thickness of 1/8 inch.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the rolled out dough into rectangles.  Prick each rectangle with a fork.  Optionally, you can sprinkle the dough with a cinnamon-sugar mixture if you would like.

5.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned*.  Cool on the baking sheets set on wire racks, and then break the cookies apart.   Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.

*Note:  To get the crackers to be a bit more crisp, while avoiding burning them by leaving them in the oven for longer, put them on wire racks overnight to dry out a bit more.