Wednesday, January 29, 2014

DIY All Natural Body Spray

Many years ago, I used to love Bath & Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar body spray. This was back before I realized how harmful seemingly "safe" body products can be. As I became more conscious of what I was using on my skin and hair, I began to pay attention to ingredients, and I did NOT like what I saw there. All sorts of unpronounceable ingredients, and even artificial colors, being absorbed into my skin every day. Yikes!

But of course, like most people... I like to smell nice! So what's a health conscious girl to do? Make her OWN body spray, of course!

Making all natural, chemical-free personal fragrance is actually really easy.

You'll need:
Distilled water
Essential Oils of your choice
Glycerin (optional)

In a small spray bottle, mix equal parts of distilled water and vodka. Add your choice of essential oils until you achieve the scent you want. I usually use a 4 oz. bottle, mixing 2 oz. each of the distilled water and vodka, to about 30 drops of essential oil. You may want to use more or less oil, depending on how strong you like the scent. You can add a few drops of glycerin, if you'd like, to make the scent last a little longer when you wear it. Give it a little shake before each use, to keep the oils blended.

Vanilla beans, soaking in vodka
I love how easy and effective this recipe is, and I've made some fun scent combos with this... like:

lavender and rosemary
orange, clove and cinnamon
sandalwood and patchouli

But my absolute favorite scent ever is vanilla, and my current favorite scent combination is Vanilla and Sandalwood. It's a warm, woodsy scent that just makes me smile. Making this scent requires one extra step: adding some vanilla beans to the vodka. I usually let this sit for a few days (the longer, the better, but I sometimes get impatient) Then... just proceed as above, adding the distilled water, and any other essential oils that you might like. Vanilla is a wonderful "base" for lots of different scents. Lavender, patchouli, citrus scents, spicy scents and even some herbal scents pair very nicely with vanilla.

And one more benefit of this spray, that I forgot to mention... this stuff costs very little to make. Like, less than $2 per bottle, depending on how much you spend on the essential oils. So, it fits TWO of our goals here at Journey Toward Simplicity: it's natural AND frugal!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Old Favorite Made Vegan: "Spaghetti and Broccoli"

Creamy, Delicious, Satisfying... and Vegan!
When I was a girl, one of my favorite things that my father would cook was something we always called “Spaghetti and Broccoli.” It was capellini pasta (always capellini… my dad’s favorite!) with broccoli florets and alfredo sauce. Simple, delicious comfort food... full of creamy, carb-y awesome. Now that I no longer eat dairy, I wanted to find a way to recreate this delicious recipe from my childhood as a dairy-free vegan dish.  I’ve tried a few different vegan “cheese” sauces, and I finally found one that is PERFECT for this recipe. Enter… my favorite cashew cheese! Thinned out with unsweetend hemp milk to a creamy “cheese sauce” consistency, it is pretty much a perfect substitute for alfredo sauce, for those of us who don’t do dairy.  The other cool thing about this recipe is that if you have some cashew cheese already prepared in the fridge (as I almost always do, these days!) it goes together in no time flat.

Papa’s Spaghetti and Broccoli (Vegan Style!)

8 oz. cappelli, or other pasta (if you prefer to avoid gluten, you can use a GF pasta)
One head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 cup cashew cheese
1/2 cup unsweeted hemp milk (you could try almond, if you don’t have hemp)
*Note: you can adjust the amount of hemp milk according to how thick or thin you like your sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

 Cook the pasta as you normally would. While it’s cooking, steam the broccoli. Whisk the cashew cheese and hemp milk together. Toss the drained pasta and broccoli with the “cheese” sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Coconut Oil... Miracle in a Jar!

Quite a while ago, I did a post on the awesomeness of Baking Soda. Next to baking soda, the other substance I simply cannot live without is Coconut Oil. Some of you might have seen my giant tub o'coconut oil in my cabinet in my Organized Pantry post! Seriously, this stuff is AWESOME. Here are just some of the ways coconut oil will improve your life:

1. Bake with it! Makes an excellent vegan substitute for butter in baking. Works really well in cookies and pie crust.

2. Fry with it! Because it holds up well in high heat, coconut oil is great for frying.

3.Use it in other recipes, like homemade granola and energy bars. Coconut oil is a very common ingredient in lots of healthy, raw recipes. Google and you'll find hundreds!

4. Tame frizzy hair! My hair has a tendency to frizz out from time to time, so I tame those frizzies with a tiny dab of coconut oil. Just rub between your palms and run your hands through your hair.

5. Treat your hair to a deep conditioning treatment. When winter weather starts to make my hair feel too dry, I slather some coconut oil on dry hair, cover with a shower cap, and leave it on for 20-30 minutes or so before showering.

6. Scalp treatment for itchy, irritated scalp. Mix coconut oil with a few drops of tea tree oil and rosemary oil. Massage into scalp. Leave on for 20-30 minutes and wash hair as usual.

7. Use to make homemade lip balm.

8. Use to make homemade deodorant.

9. Rub into dry skin to moisturize and soften.

10. Shave your legs with it! Works better than any shaving cream I've ever tried, and makes your legs really soft.

11. Sore nose from a cold? Dab on a little bit of coconut oil.

12. Coconut oil is a great cuticle cream... just rub a little bit into ragged cuticles.

13. Suffer from eczema? After bathing, massage coconut oil into affected areas to moisturize and soothe itching.

14. Soothe baby's diaper rash without harmful petroleum products. Just rub a bit of coconut oil in at each diaper change. (Safe for cloth diapers, too!)

15. Coconut oil offers a tiny bit of sun protection (the equivalent of around SPF 4)

16. Use it as eye cream. Dab just a little bit around your eyes to soothe delicate skin and soften fine lines.

16. Though I haven't been brave enough to try this one myself yet... "oil pulling" with coconut oil is reported to ease a whole bunch of ailments. This ancient practice has gained popularity in recent years as a way to remove toxins from the body and improve oral health. Soon, I'll try it!

So there you have it... some great uses for this miracle substance. I'm sure there are probably more that we haven't figured out yet. If you have any other great uses, please do share!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Organized Pantry, Part 2

Ok, so last post I showed you our our "dry goods" cabinet and our spice drawer... now I'll move on to the final part of our kitchen pantry storage: our corner cabinet.

Now, this cabinet has been a bit of a challenge. It's kind of a "catch-all" cabinet, and it's definitely not as "pretty" as our other cabinets. This is where we store our baking supplies, oils, vinegars and pretty much anything else that needs to be stored. Since it's a fairly large cabinet, it's easy for stuff to get lost in there. To keep things somewhat organized, I use plastic bins to corral like items.

On the top lazy susan, we keep stuff like baking soda, baking powder, sugar, honey, etc., along with various cooking oils. On the lower susan, we have flours, vinegars, and lesser-used baking supplies.

Plastic storage bins keep things fresh and neatly contained. 

I prefer to keep frequently-used oils within easy reach, so I put them in pretty bottles on a little tray and keep them right next to the stove. This way, I can grab them quickly while I'm cooking.

So there you have it! That's our kitchen food storage. We also have a set of shelves in the basement, where we keep back-up bulk supplies, and our jars of jams, jellies, applesauce, etc that I can.

With our kitchen nicely organized in a way that makes me VERY happy (see this post and this post for the other areas of our kitchen) I have been focusing my energy on some other areas of our home that need some love! Our basement has been a work-in-progress for longer than I care to admit, but I continue to plug away at it a little bit each weekend. Hopefully, I will be able to share that project with you soon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Organized Pantry, Part 1

With a New Year upon us, most of us are trying to turn over a new leaf or two in various areas of our lives. For many of us, this means trying to get organized!

This post is going to be the first in a here-and-there series about Home Organization. I will take you through some areas of the Homestead which I feel are functional and well-organized, and I'll be sharing some that are "works in progress" so that you can follow my process from chaos to organized.

I must admit, I am a chronic organizer. I can't stand clutter, and I need to have order around me to feel at peace. I feel more productive and efficient when my environment is organized, and I actually enjoy the process of solving organizational dilemmas. I get way too excited about buying storage containers, making labels, and making things look tidy and pretty. I will admit that it is often a one-step-forward, two-steps back process, especially with other people in the house who don't always see the method to my organizational madness!

The first area of our home I'm going share is our kitchen pantry. Now, we don't have a real "pantry" as such, but we do have a few cabinets that serve this purpose. We currently have a double wall cabinet, a drawer and a corner cabinet with a lazy susan which is plenty of space to store everything. We did a kitchen renovation this past fall, and our new cabinets are pretty spacious, which is a good thing for our large family.
Here is our main "dry goods" cabinet. On the top shelf, we have pasta on the left, and our one concession to "convenience food," Annies Mac-n-Cheese, on the right (as you can see, we're running a bit low!). Though I'm trying to keep vegan, the kids just don't want to give up their mac-n-cheese. There could be worse things, I suppose. But I digress... 

On the second shelf we have our various "snack" type foods, which are stored in labeled baskets. On the third shelf, we have assorted grains on the left, and oatmeal and cereals on the right. On the bottom shelf, we have dry beans on the left, and nuts and seeds on the right. We buy a lot of things in bulk, so we use mason jars and plastic storage containers to keep everything fresh. 

We use these baskets to keep all those little bags and containers from getting lost in the back of the cabinet, and it makes it easy to reach up and grab what you need in a hurry.  Plus, it looks much nicer! 

For our spices, we used to use a small cabinet, but I found it really didn't work well for me. I didn't like having to dig around in the back and move things out just to find the spice I needed while I was cooking. I found this neat (and cheap!) spice organizer for a drawer on Amazon, and I'm VERY happy with it. Much more efficient than my old cabinet!

In order to keep this post from getting too long, I'm dividing it into two parts... so next post I will show you the rest of our food storage! Until then... Happy Organizing!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cashew Cheese Love

In my quest to move ever-closer to a vegan diet, I have become utterly OBSESSED with cashew "cheese" spread. I made my first batch in November, and have been making at least one batch a week, often two, ever since. I have tried several different recipes from around the interwebs, searching for the perfect combination of ingredients. I haven't found any I really didn't like (except for one Cashew Walnut Cheese, which tasted great but was an unappealing greyish brown color.. bleh) I have done a lot of experimenting and tweaking things, to suit my tastes. This has brought me to the following recipe, my favorite so far:

You will need a food processor, or a high-speed blender to get this to the right consistency.

Cashew Cheese Spread

1-1/2 cups of raw cashews, soaked
3 cloves of garlic (I LOVE garlic, but if you prefer milder garlic flavor, only use 1 or 2 cloves)
Juice of one small lemon (see note below)
2-3 Tbsp white wine (This could be optional, but try not to skip it, as it gives it such a nice flavor!)
1/4 cup of nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp white miso paste
salt and ground white pepper, to taste
water, as needed to make creamy

First thing, make sure you soak those cashews. Really, do not skip this step! If you don't soak them, the cheese will not come out as smooth and creamy as it should. If you can, soak them overnight in the fridge. If you're pressed for time, pour boiling water over them and let sit for an hour. Drain before continuing.

Place all the ingredients into the food processor. Process until very smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides and adding water a little at a time as needed. You want it to have a nice thick, spreadable texture, kind of like that Alouette cheese stuff. You can eat this right away, or store it in the fridge for up to a week.

*A NOTE ABOUT THE LEMON:  I found this works best with a small lemon. If your lemon is large, start with half the juice and add more to taste.

Feel free to experiment by adding different herbs and flavors! For one batch, I reduced the amount of garlic and added some dried dill. Soon, I plan to try adding some rosemary and chopped sundried tomatoes. Doesn't that sound awesome?!

So what do you do with this cheese, once it's made? Here are some serving suggestions:

  • On a Sandwich! My favorite is cashew cheese with lettuce, tomato, carmelized onions and avocado. YUM. 
  • On a baked potato, with broccoli! (for this, I usually thin some with a little almond milk to make it like a cheese sauce)
  • On crackers or crust of baguette with a nice glass of wine.
  • As a dip for veggies! Also, fill celery sticks with cashew cheese and dot with raisins. 
  • On pasta! Thin with almond milk as suggested above, to make it like a creamy cheese sauce for pasta. 

Now that I feel like I have mastered making spreadable cashew cheese, I plan to try my hand at other homemade "alternative" cheeses. Of course, I will keep you all updated on my progress.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Vitamins and Supplements... Yes or No??

Generally speaking, I've never been much for taking vitamins. I am of the opinion that it's better to eat a wide variety of "real food", and in doing so, you'll get what you need. Right? Um, maybe not always!

As I have posted about on many occasions, I do try hard to eat a clean, healthy diet, as least most of the time. Since I eat well, I assumed I was getting all the nutrition I needed. Additionally, several studies have shown that multivitamins are pretty useless for most people. I remember a quote I heard from a doctor many years ago, who said, "Know what multivitamins give you? Expensive pee!" So, naturally, I decided that I wasn't going to waste money on a product I didn't need.

However... after several months of feeling a bit run down and unwell, a visit to my doctor confirmed that I was actually low in both Vitamin D and Vitamin B12! Both of these nutrients are essential, but they aren't always easy to get enough of without supplements. We get Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, or from Vitamin D-fortified foods. Since most of us live and work indoors, it's pretty hard for us to get adequate amounts of sunlight, particularly in the winter months, so supplementing Vitamin D is a good idea. As for B12, this is a nutrient that is found primarily in animal products, so unless a vegan is careful to include non-animal B12 sources in the diet, there is a good chance that B12 levels could be on the low side. (Though, interestingly, even meat-eater can be B12 deficient!) Vegan sources of B12 include nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, and fortified non-dairy milks. If you are a vegan, or a vegetarian who eats very little dairy, it's a good idea to have your B12 levels checked, to make sure you're getting enough.

The other supplement that I take now is calcium. Calcium is pretty easy to get if you eat a vegan diet, as it's found in leafy greens, broccoli, beans, seeds, fortified non-dairy milks, cereals and more. In fact, it's been well documented that plant sources of calcium are better at building strong bones than dairy sources, but the Got Milk people and the National Dairy Council don't want you to know that. So, if it's so easy to get, then why do I take a supplement? Well, I'm a Lady of A Certain Age, and my doctor has recommended I take a supplement to avoid osteoporosis as I'm getting older.

Lastly, I also choose to add probiotics to my family's diet. We don't all take them daily, but we do use them during times of tummy trouble, or when we maybe aren't eating as well as usual (hello, Holidays... ) or if someone needs to be on an antibiotic. Probiotics help to keep our intestinal flora in check, and healthy intestinal flora is essential for proper function of the digestive system. There are TONS of different probiotic supplements available... check with your health professional to see which ones might be best for your needs.

I've got Health, Nutrition and Wellness on the brain a lot these days. OK, I often have Health, Nutrition and Wellness on the brain. But, the New Year with it's New Intentions have brought it back to the forefront. Also, I am currently reading The China Study... interesting stuff! I'm only a few chapters in, and looking forward to reading more!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Frozen Pipes!!

This here is a Public Service message type of blog post. See, the Northeast, where we live, has been hit with a brutal cold snap (and a big snow storm) which we, unfortunately, were ill-prepared for. We ended up with some frozen, damaged pipes. We spent about 36 hours trying to fix things, but finally ended up getting a plumber in.  He was here for almost three hours, and I have a feeling I'm probably going to cry when I see his bill.

The Man and I are putting this into the category of Lesson Learned. We will now take these Winter Weather Warnings seriously, and we WILL properly prepare our home and ourselves for such things.

Here is a handy little guide to preventing and thawing frozen pipes, from the American Red Cross:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Intentions, 2014

So, another New Year is upon us! Funny, how that happens. I'm quite relieved, I must say, as 2013 has not been the best year for us. We have been through quite a lot this past year, but as 2013 has drawn to a close,  I think we did pretty well getting through it all. The year began with a great loss, the death of my children's father, my former husband, and friend for much more than half my life. As you might imagine, this has had a profound effect on us all... however, in the darkness and tragedy, we have found some light. This light has been an increased awareness of the preciousness and fragility of life. It has really made me think long and hard about the direction of my life, and of my relationships with the people who matter to me. As we move into 2014, I will try to keep those hard-earned lessons close to my heart.

Each year, I make myself a list of New Year's Intentions. I usually begin by looking back at last year's list. Sometimes I am pleased to find that I have achieved some things, and sometimes I find that there are things I have let slide. In looking back at my goals for 2013, I found that I made good progress with following a mostly vegan diet, I made some positive financial decisions (such as refinancing our home at a great new low rate) and I've made a bit of progress toward finding balance between work and family (though, there is still quite a bit of room for improvement in this area!) The one intention that I have failed miserably on is my intention to exercise more in 2013. I did not. In fact, I exercised less. I am trying not to beat myself up about this.

This year, I plan to continue on with some of last year's intentions, while adding a few new ones:

1. Continue on the path toward living Simply, frugally, naturally and intentionally. This has become the overall theme of my life, and so it's been my top Intention for several years running. I think this will probably always be the case. 

2. Move more. As mentioned above, I haven't been so good with this. So, once again, it is my Intention to move my body in a positive way each day. 

3. Stop Yelling. This is a BIG one for me. When the children were little, I made a vow that I would not be a Yelling Parent. As they've grown into preteens and teens, this vow has been broken. I'm not proud of this, and it's something that I really don't like about myself. It is my intention to make note of the triggers which make me want to yell, and to find ways to redirect myself into more positive communication. 

4. Begin laying the foundation for a career which will feed my soul.  There are a lot of things I really like about my current job. I've always loved taking care of little ones, and I love that this job allowed me to support myself and my children after the end of my marriage, while still allowing me to stay home and homeschool the kids. And the commute is awesome... I just walk downstairs! I also love that The Man of The House and I work together, side by side, everyday. (That is my favorite thing!) But prior to this job, I did some pretty cool things. I was an artist. I was a writer. I was an actor, and I taught theater to children. I miss having a job which stimulates me intellectually and creatively. It is my intention to start moving toward something which will fill that void. 

5. Take care of at least one home project each month. Like most homeowners, we have a rather long list of stuff that needs to be repaired, renovated, cleaned out or organized. We took care of some pretty major issues this past summer (all of which were LONG overdue) but with an old house there is always more, and while we were focused on these big projects we did, a lot of smaller things fell by the wayside. It is my intention to choose at least one project per month and see it through. 

So those are my Intentions for the coming year. I hope that 2014 will allow me to continue to evolve and grow and learn. Happy New Year!