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.

Oz Party Games

We had lots of cool games at our Oz party. And none of them took too much time on my part, which is also a plus.

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First we played toss the heart in the Tin Man. I kind of just let the girls toss it as much as they wanted, and they kept going and going, so I didn’t really stick to any rules.

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I got the hearts and the pails at the local craft stores. Easy peasy.

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Then I totally cheated and pulled out our Halloween game of pin the nose on the witch, drawn by yours truly last October. The Girls wanted to play it a few times, too. And I let them. Why not? It’s their party?

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Then it was time to move to the table, where we had a bunch of “teacups” set out. We got what we could find at the local thrift store. Don’t get me started… See previous post, about the shoes). They don’t all match, but what do the girls care? They’re all going to their own houses, anyway. I had them take them home to bake, so I sure hope they worked. We sent home a little note that said to place them in the oven and then pre-heat it to 400 degrees.Leave them in for 40 minutes, and then turn off the oven and let them cool inside. I’d google it before attempting. It seems like a hit-or-miss project. My girly hasn’t baked hers yet, she just keeps her pens in it. Works for me.

 

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Next, we moved on to the snacks. Seriously, I know what they say about teenage boys (and I’ve witnessed that it’s true), but 9-year-old girls can still eat their weight! (I took the cup pictures while they were eating, hence why there’s wrappers and 1/2 eaten suckers in all of them.

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When we were all done, the placemats became the next activity and the party favor bag. Two birds, one stone. The girls really enjoyed it, and it made me feel better about the fact that I was going to have these made up and just didn’t find the time. So, on the fly, I created this craft! If I had been the one to make it I would have cut off the little brand-name strip and probably would have glued instead of taped, but tape sounded like the best bet for a bunch of girlies. Quick, easy, and mess free.

Started by folding our paper into fourths. Then cut off 1/4 of the page. Turn the paper around, and fold the other direction, but this time, fold in from the sides and skip the middle fold. Then, on each corner, fold diagonally by taking each folded corner and having them meet up. The girls needed shown what I meant, but they all figured it out (The one that struggled with the craft had my sister and the “birthday” girl help her the whole time, and everyone else cruised along). When all the corners were taped (My sister and I debated about which end was better to fold the triangles at, and never really decided. I think it mostly depended on how the girls folded), we moved on to the lid. Measure the lid against the box, and cut (it’s 1/2 of the paper, in case you were curious), then take the lid and fold in half plus an inch (meaning find half, then scoot it over a little bit so there’s a spot to tape it to the box), on both sides, so the basket has 2 openings. Then cut the other strip in half and either use one strip for a stronger handle, or use both halves taped together for a longer handle (some of the girls picked one option, some picked the other. Personally, I’d pick stronger, but it doesn’t really make too much difference. No one had too weak of baskets, or had any break before they made it home, so it worked out well.

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Then pass out the favors (ours included bubbles, an apple, and a lollipop from the snack table. I would have loved to include a glittery red nail polish, but I can’t find Bon Bons anymore and I’m not paying 6$ per kid just to include polish! So we used it as an activity, bought 1 bottle of nail polish, and painted everyone’s nails in turns between “Yellow Brick Hopscotch,”  (Hopscotch drawn with yellow chalk).

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Oz party success with incredibly easy games. I say that’s a win.

Thank You, Thomas

Our family has been studying faith lately. It has been a great scripture study path for us. Every time we started the Book of Mormon again, it seemed like we weren’t getting much out of it. And we had trouble staying dedicated. Some days we’d have long chapters. Some days the chapters were beautifully short (sadly, that was the thought) and we’d be longing for a short one the next night, too. It breaks up stories too much to go by pages. And how do you know where exactly to end? So, the topic study came as inspiration. It allows us to study as long as we’d like, and since we’re starting with faith (the first principle, and something I have been struggling with lately), we get to delve into stories. We’ve studied Christ’s miracles, and the great examples of faith in the scriptures. It has been such a blessing.

But today, I woke up with the beginnings of a migraine. I blame the “family slumber party” on the couches. I agreed to stay up and watch a movie as long as we were all in PJ’s and all ready to fall asleep. I picked the long couch, but it has a bar running in the middle of it. The bar started out where my back is, but when my back hurt, I slid down and it ended up kinking my neck funny. At least, that’s what I’m guessing happened. At any rate, I grabbed my caffeine pills (the only think I’ve found to help my headaches), and we anxiously waited to see if church would be a good idea. Of course my kiddo was crossing her fingers. She’s too much like her mother. When she’s at church, she loves it there. But GOING always raises anxiety. While waiting for my headache to dissipate to see if I could stand being at church, we sat down and (quietly) watched church videos.

My favorite church video is Finding Faith in Christ. I’ve always loved the testimony it shares. Today was no different, I greatly enjoyed it. But today, I thought about WHY I enjoy it. It is a bold testimony, and as a teen, that is what spoke to me. But as an adult, my faith is very different than it was before. It is even different than it was 5 years ago. I feel like 5 years ago, my testimony was an impenetrable wall. I was in the middle of a battle for my soul, and it was still holding. Then I entered a very different battle. Instead of constant barrage, the tactic became slow and persistent banging in the exact same spot.

Infertility.

I never knew that infertility would rock my testimony harder than divorce. It still baffles me. I still look over my faith from past years and can’t quite figure out why it needs such reinforcement now. A slow and steady banging does more damage than an entire life upheaval. I struggle with feelings of impatience and a thought that God hasn’t kept  his promise. I feel that He hasn’t made a great friend lately, and that has made it hard to talk with him.

When we were married 6 months, I was given a priesthood blessing that my body would be able to bear children. It stated that God was pleased with my desire and that my body would be made whole so that I could carry them. I’ve been married for 3 1/2 years. I have no other children. This paragraph sums up the gaping hole in my faith. I know it can be fixed, and I know that God does keep his promises… and yet a niggling voice says “yeah, just not to me.” And that voice has been working for 3 years. It screams loudly about 1 week out of four. When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask why he had to make our bodies go through torture once a month. Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve got to deal with the fact that we’re, once again, not pregnant? That we’ve got to wait a whole other month to go through the same torture because maybe, just maybe, it might work this time?

I’ve got to admit that after 3 years, the sting has gone out of it. You learn to deal with it in a way I hope no one ever has to accept. It honestly, really and truly doesn’t hurt like it used to. It doesn’t even hurt when I see so many pregnant women around me. Or when I see kids that are celebrating birthdays and reminisce that that the news of their future arrival added one more rock to the catapult, one more swing with the battering ram.  But for a while, it really, really hurt. It hurt when I accepted the calling of nursery assistant. It hurt knowing I could have had a kid in nursery. It hurt making quilts for everyone else’s babies, and finding out exactly how many women that weren’t me were expecting in our ward. It hurt finding out first because of the calling.

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It hurt when my sister announced her pregnancy. But I think that that wound is actually the one that helped push me past the pain and into gratitude. The pain of my sister’s impending bundle was at its strongest the day I yelled at her husband. He’s not known as one with much tact. It causes conflict in his life, though I don’t know if he really understands the degree. He’s learning, and I commend him for it. But somehow, he always finds my tender heartstrings and yanks on them. This one was especially tender.

My sister had announced the name she was planning on using for her baby, and it was a name that was one of my favorites. A name that if I had already been able to have kids, might have already been taken. When I said something about it, I was severely cut in half. From the sister who rarely cuts with her words. She told me that “she was having a baby, first, so she would use it.”

Ouch. Seriously. I don’t have words to express how much that got to me. It was more than rubbing my face in my lack of child-bearing. I was more than taking something I really wanted. It was … pure pain. Twisting the knife in my side.

Well, my mother told my sister that she was justified. It’s expected. My personality is completely opposite from my mother’s and my sister’s is exactly the same. It is really easy for my mother to understand my sister’s point of view and very hard for her to understand mine. My sister is meek and timid, and often too submissive. I am bold and loud and often too oppressive. I don’t expect my mother to ever understand how much it hurts. Or to understand that I have feelings and am not just being mean. I also didn’t expect my sister to understand. My sister, who would never hurt on purpose (I call her my angel sister, which she hates; but she’s got a soul like Mother Teresa’s. She’s born to do and be good. There is no question that her strongest personality color is white), had no intention of hurting me. I knew she didn’t mean it.

And then, I was visiting with her and her husband, and she jokingly said, “are you ever going to forgive me for calling my baby that?” and I seriously said, “no.” … and her husband opened his mouth. Gave the same line I’d already heard. “Well, we figure, she’s having a baby first, so we get to use it.” Still not meant to hurt. But I had had it with that line. I looked him square in the face and said “STOP saying that! I’m so sick of hearing that.” Well, her husband back-peddled, and mumbled he didn’t mean to upset me, and I left.

Then, when my sister and I were together again, she told me that she and her husband had talked about it and had decided to use another name. I told her I didn’t care. It wasn’t the name that had hurt me. This is true. Though before finally saying what I was thinking, I would never have called the girl by her name (ever), it wasn’t about her name at all. We had a nice long talk about loss and infertility (if you’ll recall, she lost her baby last year at 28 weeks). It gives a strong bond most sisters don’t share. We know mutual suffering. She talked about how she understood the agony of trying. I know she does. I’ve watched her. She’s been such a blessing in my life because of all she has taught me through her own trials and how they correspond with my own. Then she used another well-overused line. ” when you get your baby, you’re going to get a very special spirit.” It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? But it is so shallow! It doesn’t soothe the pain. It doesn’t make up for anything. I’ve learned that God doesn’t reward our suffering with exactly what we want, and that saying I’ll get a special spirit doesn’t make it even. Nor does God really work that way. It is what we learn that matters, not what we get. But even the learning doesn’t seem to be enough while we are in the midst of the storm. In fact, I was so done even trying. It seemed like I was faced with continuing to try, continuing to be mad at God every month when once again, he “failed to keep his promise,” and continuing to be exhausted or to just stop caring. I expressed with her my struggling faith, and she understood. She just listened. It comes down to choosing God or choosing to try for a baby.

It was so much easier to just not try, not care. After 3 years, that’s where I was at. It was easier not to care. I’ve been through the wringer with my faith. And what have I learned from it?

  1. You have to believe in God to be mad at Him. It seems like a silly thing to learn, and a silly place to start, but when you’re severely struggling with your testimony, it gives you rope to hold on to when you’re spiraling downward with your faith. When I was questioning what I believed in, it gave me a foundation. You have to believe He is real if you’re going to be angry. First stone in the foundation. He exists.
  2. You have to believe He CAN keep His promises, if you are going to be frustrated that He isn’t. Once again, I realized that if I believe in God, I have to believe he CAN keep his promises. If I was going to be angry with Him, I had to believe that he really could fulfill his promises. Second foundation stone.
  3. You can’t gain faith by “praying” to gain it. Praying isn’t enough. Neither is holding an ultimatum. “God, I’ll believe if you will give me a baby.” “Lord, help my faith by giving me what I want.” and “Can I just learn the lesson already, so I can move on?” are not words that bring faith. Nor do they work, just FYI. I was constantly seeking the answers to building my own faith, but  I wasn’t actually doing it right. I couldn’t find a clear-cut formula for faith-building anywhere I looked.
  4. Instead of seeking to understand faith, seek to understand the atonement. True story. As we are reading about faith in the scriptures, it is not in the miracles that faith is found. It is not in the stories or examples. It is in understanding the atonement. Luckily, the book of Romans discusses the connection between faith and the atonement so well, that I discovered the connection in our studies. Faith must be founded on the atonement in order to take root in the soul. All the studies of faith just slip out unless there is also a study of the atonement.
  5. When you believe in the atonement, you must question your proximity to God and his will. This is the walls of a testimony. There was a beautiful talk about this in conference, though I confess I had a pretty snide answer to the opening questions (“Why, yes, I would “confidently walk up to” Heavenly Father. I’d look Him in the face and ask him why on earth he’s doing this to me!”). Seriously, that talk was meant for me! He expresses the struggles of my soul! I’ve made it this far in my faith. I’ve stripped down my testimony to it’s foundation, but it will go no further. So instead of continuing to attack my testimony in God, Satan tried to attack my testimony in myself. In all the blessings I have received in the past 3 years, one phrase is always there. “God loves you.”  And, sadly, I don’t think I ever accepted it. In fact, I rolled my eyes. I feel like my testimony is going through it’s teen years. You know, like every time your parent told you they love you and you just rolled your eyes and think, “Whatever. If you loved me you’d let me go to Stacy’s party.” [Yeah, I never thought that, either. I don’t know where that thought came from. I was a perfect child. And if you believe that, I invite you to re-read this post]. There are 3 parts to questioning your proximity to God:
    1. you must ask yourself if you believe that he loves you.
    2. You must ask yourself if you love  Him.
    3. You must ask yourself if there is anything in your life that is keeping you from following God’s plan for you. For me, the answer here is my own stubbornness and hurt feelings. My need for justice and fulfilled promises.
  6. Question C leads directly to where I’m at. Once you put away those things that are keeping you from drawing closer to God, there is just simple faith left. You’ve stripped away the doubts and hurt feelings. You’ve come to just accept Him and His will… yeah, it’s just that. It is the “peace, be still” of the soul. It is the calming of the personal storm. It is the acceptance of who you are and where you are. Giving God back the wheel. Just… Being. And being okay with just being. It is the roof on the testimony-fortress. Acceptance of God’s will is the protection we all need.

So, here I am. I am not pregnant. And I’m okay. I’ve since learned that in order for me to get and stay pregnant, I’m going to have to give myself shots every day. Shots that aren’t cheap. Shots that cost more than my house payment. And did I mention that they’re SHOTS? Self-injected shots? I’ve also learned, through more blessings, that there is a divine reason for this, though I don’t know what it is. And that’s okay.

Thomas, too, needed a testimony boost. His testimony walls were severely shaken. I think that Thomas was the last to see the Savior, because although he truly wanted to see Him, he was so caught up in his own head, so busy, that it was impossible for him to accept and understand. It was through the agony of waiting that Thomas began to accept the truth of God’s miracle for him (The agony of waiting. Nope, can’t relate…).Through the desperate sorrow of the loss he felt, he eventually came to be still. And when he was still, Christ was there. I am grateful for Thomas, and that through Thomas’s example, I, too, can learn to wait and be still. I’m grateful that he didn’t have perfect faith. I’m grateful that he needed to see to believe. Because we can see that God loved him, anyway. Chastised him, yes, but still loved him. And by feeling the nail-marks, a physical representation of what Christ did for us – you could say it was by understanding the magnitude of the atonement – Thomas’ testimony became stronger than it had been before.

Oz Party Decorations

Dun dun dun Duh! The moment you’ve all been waiting for! I’m finally sharing our Oz party… 2 months later! Sorry it’s been so hectic! Canning really takes a lot of time. Especially when you’ve filled 5 moving boxes full of apples from your newly-claimed trees.

This little miss (who is not so little anymore. Seriously, no one told me that nine might as well be 16!) has a thing for the tin man. It has sparked a love for all things Oz. It started with Pentatonix’ Wizard of Ahh’s song. which sparked burning coals of fandom for all things wizard of Oz. And then I introduced her to the Tin Man miniseries. If you combine those inspirational muses with the new Oz the Great and Powerful movie and the the classic the Wizard of Oz, and there is plenty of fodder for the fire and sources for inspiration. And then you add Wicked (some day I’m gonna see the play and not just rock out to the CD. They were here in July, but it was finals week), because no Oz party is complete without just a little bit of Glinda vs Elphaba. At least for me.

Anyway… Since we were moving all summer, and since moving made it so the friend pool was rather small, we decided to wait until school was in session in order to help make friends, and we’d call it a back-to-school party.

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Of course, if we’re going to create Oz, we’ve got to squish a witch with our new house, right?

So, a story about the witch legs: first of all, aren’t the socks perfect? Secondly, the shoes… Oh, the shoes. I wanted to glitter a pair of shoes and add some flair to my personal shoe collection (bonus). I have no closed-toed shoes, at all. I had things to do, so I sent Ranger into town. Our favorite thrift store was closed for training, go figure. So Ranger ran across town to the other thrift store. Yeeeeah, never send a man to pick out shoes in a strange store. And when you do, make sure there are at least some good options (he showed me pics afterward. There WERE no good options), and that he has seen the Wizard of Oz in this decade, and that you’ve pointed out subtle nuances in shoe detail that the male brain is not programmed to notice. I ended up with two pairs of shoes that would have done the nineties proud. And by that, I mean big platformed clodhoppers with no feminine shape and big heels and square toes, instead of anything slightly fitting. I tried to find a good pic but even the internet is embarrassed by this footwear choice. There are no good representations online (why were those so popular, again?).

Shudder.

So, plan B: shoes from my wedding. They’re open-toed, but at least they’re red.
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It was pretty easy to create. I simply rolled up pillowcases and pulled the socks up around them. I only used 2 pillowcases, Next time I’ll use at least three each. My witch looked a little thin.

Later, I went to the party supply store again, and found these. Fistpalm. Seriously?

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You can use these socks but I got mine at my local party store.

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And a few rolls of streamers made quick, easy, and affordable decorations.

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“over the rainbow”

Otherwise, our decorations were quite simple. I just pulled out our paper lanterns from my wedding (Did I mention I’m a party hoarder? I could throw entire receptions with the stuff I’ve got in storage. In fact, I used to).

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[disclaim]there are multiple Amazon Affiliate links in this post. Amazon could pay me for the links because I’m promoting them, but honestly, I’ve never made anything from Amazon. I’m linking to these particular products because they fit with my post. I’ve been incredibly selective on what I link to, and it is more for reader content than sales pitch. And believe me, it wasn’t easy to find a non-rauchy pic of black and white striped socks![/disclaim]

Peach lemonade concentrate

Every year when I bottle peaches, I always wonder if there is something I can make with the skins. Last year, I made peach honey (check out this source, and pick your own’s recipe), and it was delicious, but this year, I thought the idea of peach lemonade sounded FANTASTIC! So I played around with the idea, tinkering with the flavor. I think next year, I’ll use a cup less sugar.

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after blanching all the peaches for canning, throw the skins back into the water used for blanching and let them sit in the fridge overnight. Boil the whole mixture the next morning, blending the skins, and then pouring it through a sieve to get the liquid. Discard pulp. You will need about 16 cups of liquid when you are finished. If you don’t have enough, you can use juice or enough water to make 16 cups.

To zest lemons, get a peeler and peal the zest in big strips. You don’t want the little sprinkles, you need big chunks. Place in a heat-resistant bowl and set aside.

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Combine sugar and 3 cups of flavor-infused water (from step 1) and boil until sugar dissolves, creating a simple syrup. pour over lemon zest. Let soak for 10 minutes, then strain out the peels, reheat the water, and pour over the zest strips a second time. let sit. (you have to do it twice because the water cools and the oils arent completely released). strain a second time. You can now dehydrate the peels and make candied lemon strips. I’ve not done this but I want to next time.

Save the pith and pits for Citrus Pectin

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Add peach water, syrup, and lemon juice in a pot. Simmer until desired flavor is achieved (can take a few hours). And remember it’s a concentrate, so it should be strong!. Add peaches and simmer another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. you may blend peaches, but I left mine in chunks. It’ll make great texture when I use it.
Pour into warm sterile jars and process for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude (I live at 5000 feet).
To reconstitute, it’s about one part concentrate to one part water or soda, but adjust it to taste.

Peach lemonade concentrate
Author: Keira @ Searchforseven.com
Ingredients
  • 20 cups water
  • Skins from about 2 boxes of peaches (the more you have, the more flavor)
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 10 lemons, washed and ready to zest
  • 4 cups lemon juice (can use from lemons above)
  • 6 cups fresh peaches, diced
Instructions
  1. after blanching all the peaches for canning, throw the skins back into the water used for blanching and let them sit in the fridge overnight.
  2. boil the whole mixture the next morning, blending the skins, and then pouring it through a sieve to get the liquid. Discard pulp. You will need about 16 cups of liquid when you are finished. If you don’t have enough, you can use juice or enough water to make 16 cups. set aside
  3. To zest lemons, get a peeler and peal the zest in big strips. You don’t want the little sprinkles, you need big chunks. Place in a heat-resistant bowl and set aside.
  4. Combine sugar and 3 cups of flavor-infused water (from step 1) and boil until sugar dissolves, creating a simple syrup. pour over lemon zest. Let soak for 10 minutes, then strain out the peels, reheat the water, and pour over the zest strips a second time. let sit. (you have to do it twice because the water cools and the oils arent completely released). strain a second time. You can now dehydrate the peels and make candied lemon strips. I’ve not done this but I want to next time.
  5. Add peach water, syrup, and lemon juice in a pot. Simmer until desired flavor is achieved (can take a few hours). And remember it’s a concentrate, so it should be strong!. Add peaches and simmer another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. you may blend peaches, but I left mine in chunks. It’ll make great texture when I use it.
  6. Pour into warm sterile jars and process for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude (I live at 5000 feet).
  7. To reconstitute, it’s about one part concentrate to one part water or soda, but adjust it to taste.