More Tidbits from the Fertility Front

On another fertility note…

[warning]First let me say that this one is way TMI… [/warning]

I can’t get over how much Clomid has helped me not be secretly plotting revenge because someone looked at me funny. Mostly, I keep the crazy in (because I could still tell it was crazy, even if it was a real emotion), but Ranger usually ends up hearing my flippant thoughts. I think he heard the few I had this time, too. Seriously, I’ve got to get better. But it has been way easier to be nice to the world. And my family. And myself.

On another note. WOW. Let me just say, Niagra Falls aint got nothin. That is all. (Told you… Way TMI).

This is my second Clomid cycle, and I’m pulling out all the stops. Raspberry tea, vitamins, Evening Primrose oil, Clomid, and taking care of myself with sleep and healthful food (most of those happen every month, but I’ve added some vitamins and the tea). At least, if I can ever remember to drink my tea. I seem to find it 2 hours later. Cold. It’s not good cold. Ranger is taking the Fertilaid (Seriously, swear by it! I don’t think Ranger wants me touting that story, but I will tell you, it’s a blessing)

I confess that I’m super nervous. If we throw all our cards on the table, what do we do if it doesn’t work? Ranger assures me that we’ll never be able to throw all our cards on the table, but I really don’t know what we can afford to try next. The rest of the options are expensive. But one of my doctors (the ‘big guy on campus’ dr. I like the ‘underling’ better) is trying to tell me that no matter what, it’s going to be expensive. One of my blood tests came back positive for a rare blood autoimmune disease. He’s convinced that that is my problem. But more and more lately, I’m not so sure. From my research, I need both tests to be positive two times in a row, 12 weeks apart. I’ve only had one test show up positive, and I’ve never been retested. I can’t figure out why he’d tell me it was this autoimmune disease if he’s never ordered the second test. I intend to talk to the dr I trust, and run my feelings by him.

One thing is for sure, if I continue to stress about it, I’m going to hurt our chances. Luckily, we’ve got some fun things planned over the next month. I bet that will help.

Guess I Needed it?

[warning]This is a fertility post. It could be considered a trigger to some (though, not really. I trigger to fertility posts regulary, and this one is a good news one), and way too much information for others. If you don’t want to read it, I won’t be offended. [/warning]

I don’t feel miserable. And that’s not normal!

I’d better explain. The short story is… My cycle started today.

The long story makes a whole lot more sense. For the past 3 years, when my cycle starts, I’m a physical and emotional wreck. I never bleed very heavily (I warned you about the TMI) but I cramp so much that I can only handle curling up in a blanket all day and wishing my uterus didn’t hate me so much.

And then you add the emotional side. I’m so frustrated and sad and mad, all because I’m not pregnant. Yet again, I have to wait a month. I wonder to myself if I can handle it. I have to reaffirm my testimony. I have to remind myself not to hate my body. Every. Month. I spend the day fighting back tears.

I’ve always wondered how much of that emotion was hormonal. Today, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of it was. And apparently whatever hormone it was doesn’t mess with Clomid. I know we’re only supposed to take clomid for 3-month stints, but I like this. I think I’m going to have to tell my doc something’s working. Even if it’s not what was intended.

Today, I organized my computer, helped move a fireplace (it’s not in yet , but we’re closer), made apple butter and 5 kinds of fruit leather, washed a ton of dishes I just unpacked (my nice set), hung picture frames, took empty boxes downstairs, showered (yes, that’s a big deal), and made a pre-planned, pre-marinaded dinner. I had time to marinade! I had sanity! That doesn’t happen on day one.

I was still a little testy, but at least I could make myself shake it off and start over. I even had the mental clarity to follow love and logic when my 9-year-old forgot she wasn’t 14 (seriously! Drama! Over making her bed! No one told me the drama started at 9! I wish 8 had lasted longer). Normally, it’s all I can do to not raise my voice or dish it back. She has no idea who she’s messing with! Her mother was the queen of sass. Just ask her grandmother. And no, that’s not something I’m overly proud of.

I think of today, and I’m filled with gratitude. I forgot what this felt like. I have no idea what the Clomid fixed, but I like the change.

Tomato Paste from skins

In case you haven’t noticed, I hate wasting any part of my fruits and veggies. Every time I process my produce and there is something left over, my mind asks, “what can I do with this? There has to be some use for it.” And, surprisingly, there usually is! With tomatoes, I was left with tomato skins. So I googled it, and found this recipe. I’m glad I found it, because I bottle about 200 lbs of tomatoes in a given year. From just 25 lbs, I got about 22 quarter-pints of tomato paste. I could have had more, but by the time I got to the last batch of bottled tomatoes, the first batch of skins went bad. Note to self: Do the sauce as the skins become available. They don’t last long in the fridge.

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Isn’t this perfect sauce? I could have boiled it down a little further into a thick paste, but I left it as sauce. It’s a thick sauce, though.

It is important to wash all the pesticides and bacteria off of your fruit and veggies, especially if you intend to use the skins! There are a few different ways to wash them, so you can pick what works best for you.

Then blanch your tomatoes by sinking into their pot of boiling water (I let the skins pop. It cooks the tomatoes a little longer, but I like how much easier it is) and then sinking them into cold ice-water.

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Do whatever you planned with the tomatoes. I make salsa, stewed tomatoes, and just plain bottled tomatoes. When I fill the bottles, I go in sets of 7 to fill my canner, then  I throw any extra tomatoes that don’t fit in the right amount of jars into the pot. It’ll take a little longer to boil out the liquid in the tomatoes, but it is a good use for the extra tomatoes.

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I know, it doesn’t look like much, yet, but place all the skins and the extra tomatoes into a pot and turn the stove to medium (avoid any high setting. Burning tomato is not the best way to spend your evening).

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When it starts to get all soupy-looking use a stick blender to puree the skins. I simmered the tomatoes about an hour and a half, then pureed them and let them simmer another hour.

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you see the good pulp forming? I’m sure it’s overkill, but after the second hour, I blended the tomatoes again, and let them cool slightly (just so I didn’t get burned. The tomatoes were still hot, but not boiling).

Here’s where I deviated from NW Edible. She works her tomatoes through a fine-mesh sieve. I have a fine screen
attachment to my Victorio. It saves a ton of work! I don’t know if you need the fine screen, but I didn’t want to risk it. I ran it through twice. I wanted as much of the tomatoey goodness as I could get. I actually got a ton the second time, too! In the end, I got a bowl full of little straw-like skin leftovers and a bunch of coarse seeds and beautiful tomato sauce in a clean stock-pot.

To season, the measurements all depend on how much sauce you get. my tomatoes were really sour, so I added a bit of honey, some powdered garlic, some onion powder, dried parsley and oregano, and a little salt. Dried seasonings don’t mess with the pH too much, but I wouldn’t want to mix in too much. The flavor will get stronger as it is processed. And you can add more flavor afterwards.

Make sure to get the pH right. This is best achieved with a bit of lemon juice or citric acid. I can’t use the citric acid, though I wish I could (it’s usually corn-derived), so it’s lemon in this house. Add the appropriate amount to each bottle. Also, word to the wise: once I used vinegar. DON’T do it. sure, you wont have to worry about botulism, but you also wont have to eat it. It’s nasty. Oh, and do just the right amount of lemon juice, too. My tomatoes were so acidic this year, adding the lemon juice made my whole body cringe. I’m probably not being safe, but I cut the amount in half. It was the only way I could stand to eat them! I’ve never had that problem before, though. Just with one farmer’s boxes of tomatoes from the local farmer’s market. It might just be the variety he grew.

 

Fruit leather recipes

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Apples, apples apples! I feel like I will never run out of apples. Thank heavens, though. I like apples. And so does my picky little miss. With having over 25 cups of applesauce still in my fridge after making apple butter, apple pie filling, apple sauce and apple juice, I decided that we were in dire need of fruit leather. Or at least my apples were in dire need of becoming fruit leather.

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We all enjoy fruit leather, as long as it’s done right, but I’ve never actually made it with apples before. I feel that was a major oversight on my part, because if you look at any store-bought fruit leather (not fruit rolls, though. They’re mostly corn or pectin), the main ingredient is apples. Knowing what I know about food science, I’d attribute that to a few wonderful characteristics from the apples themselves. apples make a softer, smoother fruit paste. They have natural pectin, so they can congeal without added ingredients. This also makes them stay softer when they’re dry.

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I tried a few different apple leather recipes this year, and I can tell you, I ate the left-overs with a spoon. So yummy. After scouring the web, I came up with 15 different recipes of my own creation, tweaking what I found online to fit my own needs/tastes.

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Some are a bit weird, but they’re worth a shot. Truth be told, I actually like the weird ones. I just can’t get my family to try them. They are an “acquired” taste, I suppose.

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We took a bunch of the leather on vacation with us, and didn’t come back with any leftovers. They made a convenient snack while waiting in line.

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I’ll post this here, though I’ll probably have to mention this in every recipe, as well. My dehydrator says to dry fruits at 135º. The internet says to make it 140º. Following either instruction will leave you with something rubbery and very undesirable. It dries the outside too quickly and leaves the centers still gooey and moisture-laden. Moisture means mold and spoilage. Bad news. I dried my leather between 115 and 125º, depending on the thickness. It actually took less time to dry at that temperature, because the dry was more thorough. It didn’t have to fight a hard crust to get to the moisture.

That brings up another point… Most ovens don’t go below 170°. I’ve never made fruit leather in an oven. I have heard it can be done, but I don’t know what happens to shelf-life. From what I can understand from the process, it will either shorten self-life greatly or it will give you a tough hart-to-chew product. The internet is full of how to dehydrate in an oven. Most say cook at 175º for 2-4 hours, checking after 1 hour. I think the oven is good in a pinch, but you really should consider a dehydrator if you like the idea of homemade fruit leather. It will give you safer results.

Fruit leather Recipes:

Classic Apple Fruit Leather (also known as plain)
Raspberry-Apple Fruit Leather
Pumpkin-Apple Fruit Leather
Lavender-Apple Fruit Leather
(I warned you there were weird flavors)
Whole-foods Green Apple Fruit Leather (The recipe looks weird, but try it. It’s one of our favorites)
Cinnamon Spice Fruit Leather
Spiced Blueberry Fruit Leather
Apple-maple Fruit Leather
Apple-Rhubarb Fruit Leather
Apple-Peach Fruit Leather
Cranberry-Apple Fruit Leather
Apple-Pear Fruit Leather
Apple-Almond Fruit Leather
Apple-Coconut Fruit Leather
(My personal favorite)
Apple Vanilla Fruit Leather

Apple Juice

A few weeks ago, Ranger’s family and I finally had enough time to get together and make apple juice. His family has a big press; his uncle designed it. I think it’s pretty awesome. My apples weren’t the greatest for it, but I still got a ton of juice. His family makes about 100 batches every year. They had already done some a few weeks ago, then they did mine, and they actually did a neighbor’s apples last weekend. I bet they froze last weekend. But when we worked on my apples, we were still wearing short sleeves! Isn’t that crazy?

Anyway, the apples start in boxes and buckets in the yard. We pull out some card tables, and grab all of Grandma’s cutting boards, and we slice and de-yuck the apples (Mine were pretty full of yuck. I don’t think the guy we bought the house from did anything to keep them good. And I have a ton of birds that like to take a bite from each apple. I don’t think I can help that, though.

Then the apples go into a wash and rinse, where they are carried to this table:

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I’m pretty impressed by this ingenuity. They bought a garbage disposal in order to chop up all the apples. I spent my whole time at the cutting table, so I never saw how they actually chop the apples safely without destroying whatever tool they use to do it. The apples come out of the black tube at the bottom, and they form a slushy mushy mess. Then you take the apples and bring them to the press. they have a tray set on here, with plastic trays to divide each layer of juice. Then they hook a weight up to the springs, and use a jack to stretch the springs and press the juice. It kind of makes a pulp sandwich. Then the juice collects in a drip pan with a funnel-like hole on one end. that hole has a hose that runs into the buckets.

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The buckets then fill water jugs and old juice containers for the freezer. I got about 13 jugs. The rest stayed in 5-gallon buckets so I could bottle them. Freezing gives a much purer taste, but I have a small freezer.

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I filled 2 5-gallon buckets with about 4 gallons of juice (had to leave room to travel home safely. And I still spilled a little. Its a good thing my Ranger loves me, or I’d constantly be in trouble.

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My apples were ab it too thick, so the apple juice is pretty dense. Interestingly, when I bottled it, it thinned out and the thickness all collected into little jelly globs. They actually aren’t that bad to eat, but I don’t recommend shaking the bottle to mix them in. It leaves a funny texture throughout the juice. Next time, I’ll probably let the sediment stay in the buckets and use it as pectin. clearly it works, even if it is just a little. Processing time, for me, is 15 minutes. You can check your processing time here.

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Washing my Produce

I talk a lot about washing my produce and avoiding toxins in my produce, but I never shared how to do it – or why.

I admit, at first, I bought a fruit wash on a whim, and since I had it, I used it. Before that, I rinsed my fruit, but didn’t do much more.

Why you should wash your fruits and vegetables

I’m sure there’s at least one person wondering why I’m so glad I upgraded from just rinsing my produce off. In fact, I KNOW there’s at least one person, because he lives in my house. When it comes to health concerns, I’m the health nut and Ranger’s the junk food junkie. (he says at least he’s enjoying his time dying slowly). We’ll see what he says if he ever suddenly becomes allergic to everything, too.

Even though I grow most of my produce (except this year), I still live in an agricultural community. I cannot guarantee that my neighbors don’t spray their fields for pesticides. I also cant guarantee that their fertilizer isn’t full of yucky stuff I don’t want in my food. I read a soil conservation survey that found over 40 pesticides, nine heavy metals, and tons of other yucky stuff like bacteria and synthetic compounds in the fertilizer. the thing about dirt is that it’s not going to stay in one place. Your soil will mix with your neighbor’s. It’s not enough just to eat organic or grow organic. In my personal opinion, organic doesn’t exist any more. I’m sure there are quite a few people who will argue with me on that, but I did give the disclaimer on personal opinion, so let them argue. I cant guarantee that my “organic” fruit did not come in contact with some non-organic compound.  But that is why I feel it is so important to wash my produce! Especially because I like to use as much of my fruits and vegetables as I can, including peels/skins.

And what if you do buy or grow organic produce? If you grow produce, you know who touched it, and you’re a little more confident that they’ve washed their hands (a little more confident. I’ve had a toddler. And even though she was the type to hate “gick” on her hands, I still wouldn’t want to eat out of them most of the time!). But what about the stranger in California or Mexico harvesting your produce? Do you know that they washed their hands? That’s regulated, right? But what about the person who packaged the produce, loaded the truck, unloaded the truck, and put it on the produce display? I’d like to trust them. It’s their job not to spread contaminants. But that’s still not all the people who have touched your produce. There’s the other customers in the store! I have actually met a mother who brought her child to the store with hand foot and mouth disease! Yeah, we all washed our hands after finding out THAT tidbit came out.  And our produce. And anything that touched any part of the store (The cashier actually halted after she left and wiped everything down before checking me out. Thank heavens).

After I bought my fruit wash (oh a whim, remember?) and started using it, it just became a habit and one of those things you just … do. Like brushing your teeth or washing your hands. It seems wrong to not use something now. I wasn’t really stuck on the product until making apple juice with my in-laws. They added bleach to the wash water. I had mini nightmares. I’ve known the harm of bleach for a while. I know some people demand bleach, but if the idea of washing the fruit is to remove toxins, I don’t want to use a TOXIN to remove other toxins. That doesn’t make sense.  You can’t tell me your food doesn’t absorb it. So I did a little digging, and I’m glad I did. I’ve learned so much!

So, here are 4 alternatives to bleach:

1) Environne Fruit and Vegetable wash

There are many pre-made washes on the market, but the only pre-made wash I’ve ever used has been Environne Foaming Fruit & Vegetable Wash, but I don’t have any proof that they’re as good as they say they are. However, the ingredient list looks promising.

(photo from Amazon.com, along with affiliate link)

The only ingredient here that worries me is the Polysorbate 20; but in the bigger bottles, it isn’t included. I think it must be related to the foam? According to the Environne website, it shouldn’t be an issue, because it can be derived from safe and natural ingredients, and they claim that they use the safe stuff, but I advise you to take info from a product’s website with a little grain of salt.

To use, squirt one to three pumps into my sink as it’s filling with water. Then I just drop my fruit in, pick it up, and wipe the fruit off to get any remaining residue. I wouldn’t let it soak, like I do with DoTerra, because soaking fruit too long will replace some of the good fruit liquid  This is a good time to use that Norwex veggie cloth.There are other products similar to this on the market, but I’ve never tried any of them.

The best time to use this product is right before you intend to use the produce you are washing, as it also strips away the waxes that help to keep some produce fresher longer.

2) Norwex Fruit and Veggie Cloth

To get us started, Norwex has a fruit and veggie cloth. It is great for something quick and simple. Google before and after pictures. You’ll be impressed. It’s a great cloth for getting anything off the surface. But, it’s not a liquid. Norwex used to sell a wash, but they’ve discontinued it. I wish they hadn’t. I love Norwex products! I didn’t link to anything here, so if you want info on Norwex products, contact me. Or check out Norwex.biz. I could write a whole post about why I love Norwex, but that is another day’s fodder. Specifically why I love the Fruit and Veggie cloth: it removes the wax and bacteria, but it doesn’t scratch the fruit. 307010-Veggie-and-Fruit-Scrub-Cloth

3) Vinegar

Vinegar has been tested and retested as a cleaning agent. Most of the tests come back as toting Vinegar as a good cleaner. It also makes a good produce wash. I’ve found the best information from Kitchen Stewardship, and honestly can’t think of anything to add, so I suggest checking out her link and I won’t copy her word for word. Blog publishers don’t like that. ;c).

4) DoTerra’s Citrus oils

I saved the best for last! Mostly, because with DoTerra’s Citrus oils you will know exactly what is in the water; but also because it has other health benefits, as well. We’re not just removing bad, but adding good. Can’t complain, there. I’ve heard the best things about the grapefruit, lemon, or orange oils, but my DoTerra consultant says any of the DoTerra citrus oils removes toxins. To use, fill the sink about half way and then add 3-4 drops of lemon or other citrus oil. I’m betting it varies by sink size, but 3-4 is a good rule. Add your fruits or vegetables and let them soak for 10-30 minutes. Rinse off, and pat dry.Make sure to never use a plastic dish to add the oil into! Because the citrus oils remove toxins, they will break down the plastic. Glass is fine, however. I still prefer the sink, though, because I feel the oils help clean the sink, as well.

Image from DoTerra’s website.

My DoTerra consultant says she’s been wowed the most by when she washes her potatoes with DoTerra’s lemon oil. She also loves how it helps preserve her produce because she can wash it all as she gets home and put it in the fridge and then her kids can just open the fridge and pop the fruit right into their mouths. Bonus info: She also says, “with apples you can cut up and add on guard in water and let the apples soak….it gives you all the healing benefits of OnGuard and makes the apples taste like cinnamon! It’s so yummy! You can add as many drops depending on how strong you want the flavor.” From what I know of OnGuard, you’d also get the sickness-fighting benefits added to your healthful snack!

 With using DoTerra on produce as you get it, I’d be very gentle when you pat your produce dry. As an example, when you wash carrots, they go bad faster. Carrots have a fine protective layer that keeps the freshness of a carrot locked inside. I studied carrot harvest last year (when I was up to my ears in carrots) and learned that professional carrot gardeners rub their carrots in the dirt if one gets cut when it shouldn’t have been. The dirt protects the carrot like that thin layer does, and the carrot builds a new one. Soaking the carrot in lemon juice may or may not remove that layer, I’m not sure, but lemon oil helps with preserving freshness anyway. Most kitchen experts would agree to that. However, patting dry may disturb it irreparably. Get to know your produce and see how it handles being dried.

What I suggest:

I suggest a little of all of them! Anything is better than nothing. But personally, I like using a balanced combo of the last 3 options. I would use vinegar as a quick rinse, DoTerra as a good soak (if the flavor absorbs into anything, I wouldn’t want it to be vinegar flavored!), and use the Norwex fruit/veggie cloth where appropriate to dry. Sometimes you need options! Some will work for one fruit/vegetable. Some will work better for another. My favorite would be DoTerra, mostly because you gain health from the oil. It’s like a sneak-attack back-up army for your immune system.

A spiel about wiping off your fruit

In my research, I’ve learned it is not simply enough just to rinse a product. For the same reason that sanitizer and paper towel usage are not enough, it’s not enough to simply soak and rinse your fruit. Although that’s better than nothing.
Do you remember back in elementary school when they talked about health and why we wash our hands? The world likes to leave off the end part, where they tell us that it is just as important to DRY our hands. And it’s not just because germs like moisture, though that is a big part of it (one statistic said 85% of micro-organizms are transmitted by wet hands, but only .06% were transmitted by dry hands, although I already know that most statistics are tweaked to say whatever the argumentator wants them to say.
The wiping itself is important!  Wiping off surfaces removes more gunk than most soaps! When my daughter was on a field trip tour of our local hospital, they did a black-light demonstration of germs on your hand. First, the nurse has a student rub their hands with the “germs” (I don’t know what they used as germs, but google has some clever ideas), and then she shows how they look under black light. Then she has the student wash their hands and switches the black light back on. Most of the “germs” are removed. We’ll say about 80%. But there is still quite a bit that shows up under black light. After the student dries their hands thoroughly with a paper towel, that left over 20% is almost non-existent. It wasn’t that the hands were dry, its that some times, water and our hands are not enough to get the remaining bacteria. It is the same with our food.
 I know that I’ve picked some good products, but why should I miss a step? It is one extra checkpoint to get all the gunk off of my food! The less gunk on my food, the less gunk in my body! And some gunk is stubborn. Wiping is best done with an antibacterial cloth like Norwex, since it won’t spread the germs you just wiped off right back onto the next fruit you scrub, and it has a better durability than paper towels, as long as a surface that grabs germs instead of pushing them around.

Soft salts for a baby shower

Guess what? My sister’s having a baby! like, in a month. I’m actually pretty excited. We’ve got her shower coming up and so we made her favors the other day. I LOVE them. I’m sort of hoping she doesn’t have that many people show up, so I can keep some of the left-overs (Some, because of course the pregnant mommy should have her fair share).

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16 c Epsom salt ( I’d change it to 12 cups and add 4 more cups of sugar)
3 c sugar
2 c quick oats (or oats run through the blender)
2 cups Dr Teal’s Body & Bath Oil with Olive Oil & Aloe Vera
4 cups coconut oil (I would probably add more for personal use, but this was more of a bath salt instead of a scrub)
1 tbs vanilla
10 drops rose oil (ours was cheap stuff, so this may vary)
8 drops lavender

It smelled so good! And it was so pretty and sparkly. Perfect for a winter baby! This made about 22 cups of scrub. It ended up a really light scent, but that’s perfect for a baby-shower gift. For my personal use, I’d definitely cut back the salt and add more coconut oil. I’m more in favor of a scrub than just salts.

You could just use regular olive oil, but I’d recommend Dr Teals because it has a nice fragrance and because of the health benefits from the aloe.

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Soft salts for a baby shower
Author: Keira @ Searchforseven.com
Ingredients
  • 16 c Epsom salt
  • 3 c sugar
  • 2 c quick oats (or oats run through the blender)
  • 2 cups Dr Teals olive and aloe oil
  • 4 cups coconut oil
  • 1 tbs vanilla
  • 10 drops rose oil (ours was cheap stuff, so this may vary)
  • 8 drops lavender
Instructions
  1. mix all ingredients together.
  2. divide into favor-size containers.

 

Oz Cupcakes

I am pretty stoked about how these cupcakes turned out! I made all the toppers with Satin Ice Rolled Fondant Icing, that I always have on hand. Okay, I didn’t make the hearts. I had these sprinkles in my sprinkle stash (everyone has a sprinkle stash, right? Right? Just me? Oh).

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Pretty easy place to start. For the Scarecrow cupcakes, I used a simple yellow paper, frosted the cupcake with a thin layer of yellow icing (if you do the yellow icing before you do the “straw,” you see less  cupcake peeking out, and it looks much cleaner. Even thought the “straw” is meant to be messy anyway), and then took the Wilton Grass Tip (#233) and used long strands to coat the cupcake in more yellow buttercream. As I said before, the topper is made from satin ice (seriously, way way better than Wilton fondant). It is representative of the Scarecrow’s fabric patches.  I already had orange and blue from previous purchases, and I had a smidge of green that I tinted myself from a previous project. Any time I don’t have to mix color into fondant, I’m a happy camper.  To make the plaid look, I just rolled the fondant into snake-like strands and made a grid on the cut-out square. I tried to round the edges, but I didn’t do it so evenly. Or so well.

The Tin Man cupcake is my favorite. It’s simple and elegant.

The Tin Man is encased in a red wrapper (my wilton wrappers aren’t cut evenly. I’m pretty disappointed, but they work well enough for a bunch of nine-year-olds. Just be warned for your own purchases. I tinted up the buttercream with black cake  coloring, and liked the depth I got by not mixing it in all the way. I don’t know, maybe it’s tacky, But with a simple Wilton large round tip (#2A) swirl, it needed some kind of depth. To decorate it, I dug out the red hearts from my set of  Valentine Sprinkles.

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Then I just added a few to each cupcake. By using the round tip, starting at the outside, and building a little spike in the center, you get the feeling of the Tin Man’s hat.

I think the Cowardly Lion is my least favorite cupcake this time. If I ever have to make lion cupcakes again, I think I might build a little tower of frosting in the middle to give it some depth. It just seems so flat.

I used the same yellow wrappers and  frosting for the foundation of this cupcake that I used for the scarecrow. Then I tinted some of the yellow buttercream with a bit of copper and a bit of brown cake coloring. I used the same grass tip (washed, of course)  and went around the outside of the cupcake, making messy long strands, again. I tried a few with short precise strands, and it just didn’t look as … lion-y. The courage badge was satin ice with a little bit of grey cake coloring (that made the finished product blue. Way to go Wilton…) and coated it with white Pearl Dust. I rolled it flat, lightly set the end of the roll from my fondant ribbon cutter set onto the Satin Ice to get some depth to the badges, then I used fondant ribbon cutter set to actually cut the circle. Clearly, use what you have.

The Dorothy cupcakes were my girly’s favorite. I wish that more blue had shown up in the frosting. I just made a buttercream cupcake rose with my Open Star Tip (#1M), and decorated it with satin ice that I colored red (the HARDEST color to achieve), shaped the shoes(mine are flats. every time I tried for heels it looked funny), and then coated with a layer of eggplant petal dust and a layer of  Wilton Ruby Red Pearl Dust (I hope that’s the right one. Wilton doesn’t label their dust once you take it out of the package. I have 2 pink colors from them. This is the darker pink, but it’s not really red. More of a dark salmon.

 

And, as you saw earlier, inside we did rainbow colored cupcakes. I cheated and used a box this year, and I could sure taste a difference. But kids don’t care. I’ve just got refined tastes. ;c) . To me, box mixes (especially cake boss’s box mixes) taste and smell like a combination of playdough and plastic.

But at least they look cool.

[warning]disclaimer: I used a lot of Amazon affiliate links in this post. I linked to products that I have and that I use. I could be paid for linking, if you were to purchase a product from Amazon, but I linked more for convenience than for expectant purchases.

Also, most of my links are to Wilton products. If I had to start all over, knowing what I know now, there are many other brands and some of their products are superior to Wilton, but when I started collecting cake supplies, Wilton was the only product locally available. Shop around. Read reviews.  [/warning]

Oz Party Food

All the best parties have food. Of course. And I worked really hard at figuring out the food for this party. I just didn’t get to frosting the cupcakes before pictures. Story of my life.

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We went with pink and green utensils because the little miss wanted these plates, but Pinterest led us astray. They don’t exist anywhere anymore.  She had her heart set on representing the witched with her plates, so all that I could think of was to match up pink and green. Not as cool-mom-award, but at least it worked for her.

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Here’s where I apologize profusely for my camera skills again. I am so frustrated with myself that  these pics are blurry. I think I need a new phone case. My pics are getting worse and worse.

But, with that apology noted, here’s our rainbow licorice.

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And “lions and tigers and bears.”

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The emerald city. I wish I had thought about it before, but I had crystal-fill beads downstairs. At the time, rice was all I could think of. Tacky, I know. But with everything still in  boxes, who knows if I could have found the crystal fill.

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And then we have a yellow brick road.

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and bananas for the monkeys and apples from the haunted apple trees (had to have SOMETHING healthful).

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And Tin Man hats

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and, of course, lollypops from the lollypop guild. FYI, check your dollar store before you spend tons of money at a party store or online. I’m sure they’re still bad for you, and the color is “painted” on, but we’re talking kids. They don’t care. And they were way cheaper.

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Next up, straw for the scarecrow. I had apple straws and veggie sticks. Believe it or not, I approve of both sets of ingredients, and it was the biggest hit. Health-Nut-Mom-approved, and the kids devoured it. Go team!

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I know it’s also tacky, but cake pans and my cool vintage funnel made a nice Tin Man cupcake display. And it was easy peasy. Sorry again that I didn’t get a pic of the finished cupcakes on the stand… But, I have a pic. That’s better than nothing.

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And to drink we had glinda punch. I have to admit, just a taste of this sent me into corn-syrup trauma, but I searched and searched for a good pink lemonade and couldn’t find one. And you can forget about finding a corn syrup-free sherbet. I did find a pink lemonade, but it was expensive, so I drank it, and the kids had this cheap toxin-laden punch. See how nice I am?

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And of course, Glinda’s wand tops off the drink perfectly! I know that Glinda is a gold more than a silver, but first of all, the kids don’t care. And secondly, have you ever tried to find a food-safe gold wand? Good luck. we talked about painting them, but didn’t know if it would leach out.

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Anyway, when I got the cupcakes frosted (confession: after the party…), they were pretty cute. Check out my next post to see how awesome they looked.

Salsa season

A few years ago, I was looking for a good salsa recipe and i came across the recipe from A Gardener’s Table, and I am so glad I did. This is my 3rd year making this salsa and I LOVE it. Salsa has become my comfort food. I made 12 jars the first year I made it, and 24 last year. 12 was too few, and 24 gave us quite a bit of extras, but not in a bad way. I made 4 batches this year, again (24) and made some of it super mild for the kiddo and some of it spicy enough for Ranger and I to enjoy. My love for it is 2-fold. First of all, because you bake the tomatoes, not boil them. Seriously, that trick makes it an instant favorite. Genius! No more watery salsa! Even with very juicy tomatoes (which is what I am using this year).

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I also like that it uses lime juice instead of just lemon. I’m not a lime-and-spicy kind of person, so I was hesitant, but it’s an amazing difference. It goes from regular Joe-Shmoe salsa to yummy with a kick. In my case, a big kick. we use about 1/2 lb of mild peppers, then a whole lb of the mediums, followed by a 1/2 lb of the good and fiery varieties. You can use any combination, as long as you get to 2 lbs.  It doesn’t sound like too much spice, since there’s still more mediums, but think of how little the big-ticket peppers are. A 1/2 lb of those tiny things is actually pretty intense. My cousin came over yesterday and his eyes were watering from the first bite. My eyes have been watering all day, what do I care!?! The onions are pretty potent when they haven’t chilled before you cut them. And I kept getting whiffs of peppers up my nose every time I opened the chopper.

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I’ve tweaked the original a bit, adding back some of the lemon juice instead of lime (lime had a bit too much flavor for me), and I’m much happier with it now. I didn’t core the tomatoes this year. Next year, I’m going to. It is a whole lot easier to remove the cores before cooking as opposed to after.

Salsa season
Author: Keira @ Searchforseven.com
Serves: 6 pts
Ingredients
  • 5 pounds tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb bell peppers
  • 1 lb medium peppers
  • 1/2 lb spicy peppers
  • 1 pound onions
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 c lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons pickling salt
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. slice and core the tomatoes. Lay the tomato halves cut-side up in a single layer on an ungreased pan.
  3. Bake about 3 hours.
  4. While they’re baking, seed the peppers or not, depending on your heat tolerance (I don’t). Then chop the peppers and the onions (I use the food processor, leaving some small and others big). Pour all the peppers and onions into a large nonreactive pot.
  5. Pull the tomatoes out and let them cool and then remove the skins (Seriously, let them cool. You’ll than me). Blend the now skinless-tomatoes so that very few chunks still remain. Drop the tomato pieces into the pot with the peppers. Add the lime and lemon juices and salt. Stir.
  6. Bring the salsa to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Ladle the salsa into pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.
  8. Close the jars with two-piece caps, and process the jars in a water bath canner for 20 minutes, depending on altitude (I’m at 5000 feet).

 

I also used this recipe to make what I keep joking is “weak sauce” because there’s no spice and no chunks. Perfect for my anti-tomato, anti-spice, anti-chunk, and mild-flavors-only daughter.

I follow the directions above, but I use only bell peppers, and really blend the heck out of the tomatoes. I puree the peppers and onions really (really) well, and then blend the whole mixture again before it’s done simmering with my stick blender (caution! HOT. Legal disclaimer ;c)). I have this blender, but sadly, I paid more for mine. It works great, though. I just had to replace my old one, because it finally gave up the ghost. It was only 10 years old.

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I have to say, my picky child loved it! Just proves that you can always make something enjoyable. Now she wont have much room to complain. And next time she doesn’t like something, I can remind her that saying no to healthful food is not a forever thing but a “we’ll try it a different way” thing and bring up the salsa as an example.