Monday, February 18, 2013

my simple valentine

One of my favorite things about holidays is that I get to prepare an extra-special meal for my loved ones to enjoy. It usually involves ingredients that we wouldn't normally purchase due to budget constraints and something that involves much more preparation than one of our "normal" meals.

Part of my desire for living simple means that I don't partake, or rather, am not interested in partaking in consumer driven culture---this encompasses our holidays.

For us, Christmas isn't about getting material things. Easter isn't about giving a child a huge basket full of sugary candy and various toys. Valentine's Day isn't about being taken out to the fanciest restaurant and being showered with jewelry. That's just the way we live though, which I realize it doesn't fit in with the masses.

But trust me, I love not fitting in with the masses. 

Money to me is a tool to be used wisely---not to be thrown away frivolously. I do purchase "things" occasionally, it just doesn't drive me. My energy is focused on relationships--making memories and creating a home. Your home is where you come to relax, to get away from it all. It is to be your safe haven. So I make sure to enjoy it.

So why would I want to spend Valentine's Day anywhere else?

This Valentine's Day I decided to make Pasta Puttanesca served with a Arugula salad and Bourbon Chocolate Truffles for dessert. The kicker out of all this---I finally get to break out my pasta machine that my wonderful fiance gave me for Christmas! Do you know how excited this makes me? Pasta puttanesca with homemade pasta?

Aside from the fact that I would rather be at home with Drew present than most anywhere else in the world, cooking from scratch provides a huge cost savings. And part of the purpose of this blog is living a frugal life, right?

So lets get down to the money business...

From my best guess---and it is very much a guess---our Valentines meal would have cost us around $120+ at a local Italian restaurant. Homemade pasta and sauce, great bottle of wine, spinach and Arugula salad, homemade decorated cost: $40 (we splurged, $20 of it was wine). That's an $80 savings. Does it require extra effort on my part? Yes. Does it take away time during the day where I could be doing other things, things that are more productive? Yes. Do I love every minute of it? Do I enjoy working on meal that not only I will love, but Drew will as well? Are we making wonderful memories and building upon our relationship? YES!

I'll take my $80 savings and extra effort and go home.

Might I also add that we went hiking as well. Aside from the gas we consumed driving, this cost us a whopping sum of $0. Literally, priceless.

Here's a few pics from our simple, absolutely perfect, valentine...

But first, allow me a moment of cheesiness, this is a Valentine's post after all: 
My fiancĂ© makes me want to be a better cook. A large part of that "joy" I get from cooking is because of him. He's so loving and encouraging with anything that I do. He enthusiastically supports me in any of my crazy cooking endeavors....which is saying a lot! A seaweed dish for dinner? Sure, honey! 
Such a lovely, wonderful man. 

Picture time!

Homemade pasta---gotta let it dry for several hours before cooking. 
Well, you don't have to, but it works better (in my opinion). 

The beginnings of the sauce. 
Have you smelled the combination of garlic, crushed red pepper and anchovies? Oh, my..... 

It's dinnertime, baby!

Now for some dessert makings.... 

Toasted coconut, toasted walnut and chocolate coated with a white chocolate drizzle.
I ate two. I have my wedding dress fitting in four days. This is could be bad. 

We also enjoyed a wonderful (albeit cold, especially for Alabama) hike at Ruffner Mountain
Yep, we're both nature loving crunchy folks---and I love every minute of it!

Here's the Amanda requested we-must-get-a-couple-shot-during-every-single-hike photo.
I used to have this great vision of making some photo album with all of our random hiking pictures---then I realized that I wear almost the same outfit every time we hike. To which we also do the same pose. After this realization I scratched my photo album idea.

Forgive the hair. It was a tad bit windy. 
Isn't he the cutest? 

I'll leave you with the words of the wise Porky Pig, "Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-... That's all, folks."

You know you just read that in your best Porky Pig voice. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

coconut--the jewel of the tropics, the jewel of my coffee

I have this thing about making muffins on the weekends, usually Sundays.

I know, I know, it's not the healthiest of ventures---muffins do involve some sort of flour and almost always a sweetener. Although I do try to make them as healthy as possible by using organic flours (local or gluten free, if possible) and honey for that added bit of sweet. 

Blueberry, Raspberry & Orange Muffins---my fiance's fav. 
These muffins, although organic, were no kind of healthy. At least they were coupled with green tea, organic fruit and eggs from a local farmer? Right? 

When baking, I substitute dairy milk with almond milk. I've been doing this for months now and haven't had any substitution issues. The only negative to almond milk, which really isn't a negative if you plan ahead, is that the almonds need to soak in water for several hours before you can blend them into milk (recipe here). 

However, just two weeks ago, I didn't plan ahead. I forgot to set out my almonds to soak. No milk for coffee. Nothing for granola. No milk for the scrumptious strawberry muffins that I was dying to make on that beautiful Sunday morning... 

Enter-------shredded coconut.

I knew one could make coconut milk from shredded coconut, it just wasn't something I had tried. Thankfully, I keep the yummy stuff on hand for other uses and with a little researching and a little recipe tweaking, I was ready to get this (coconut milk) party started! 

Before we get started on this recipe, I feel like I need to scream, shout, write in caps (and make bold) that---COCONUT IS GOOD GREAT FOR YOU! Please, don't miss out on this superfood due to some "coconut will make you fat" myth. If you need a little confidence booster in this great food, read this article....and pay close attention to the insanely long list of coconut benefits.

Now, for the recipe... Be cautious with this recipe though, you might become as addicted as I am.

4 cups water
1 cup shredded coconut

Measure out 1 cup of coconut flakes.

And a little side note here... I am, and always will be, BFFs with Mason Jars. Truly, they're my first love. However, I save any and all glass jars and use them to store random things---like coconut flakes. My beautiful "coconut flakes" jar was a Dr. Bronner's Coconut Oil jar in it's past life.  

Next, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. 

Why did I feel the need to show my lovely readers a picture of water boiling? No clue. 

Place the boiling water in a glass bowl and add the shredded coconut. 

You don't have to use glass, I just try to use it as much as possible especially when it involves anything hot. My goal this year is to remove all things plastic from the kitchen. And yes, that is a plastic measuring cup that you see pictured above---my goal is apparently a slow progression. 

While you're ignoring the plastic measuring cup, please look past my in desperate need-of-filing thumbnail as well.

Let the shredded coconut and hot water sit for 15-30 minutes. You don't have to let it sit that long, 5 minutes would work as well---just be really cautious when blending water that hot.

Blend for 3 minutes on high! I can't wait for the day I have a Vitamix...

Remove the lid and enjoy the wonderful smell of coconut milk---that you totally just made. Kinda satisfying, huh? 

Using a nut milk bag, or multiple pieces of cheesecloth, strain the shredded coconut "pulp" from the milk. 

I mentioned earlier that Mason Jars were my first kitchen love, the nut milk bag is my second.

Once you're done straining, the "pulp" will look like this--do not throw this stuff away! It can be used in your granola, multiple baked goods, or even made into coconut flour. I keep this wonderful goody in a plastic (sigh) bag in my freezer.

Anndddd..... you're done! Enjoy! Keep this puppy in the refrigerator, it will stay fresh for about a week.  Do know that once it's cold you will have a clump of coconut milk form at the top of the jar, just stir it back into the milk.

I also might add that while I was basking in this I-just-made-kick-butt coconut milk glow, I ran across this great blog post about making homemade coffee creamer with coconut milk. Brilliant. I'll be doing this next week.

Coconut Milk Recipe
4 cups water
1 cup shredded coconut

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and remove from heat. Add coconut to water and let stand for 15-30 mins, or until cooled. Blend on high for 3 minutes then strain milk through a nut milk bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Store coconut milk in the refrigerator for up to one week.

 P.S. Maybe it's Baloo's mad coconut skills at the beginning of the song, but "Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book will forever and always remind me of coconuts. I personally think it's a necessity to watch this video before making coconut milk, but that's just me....

Oh, my strawberry muffins made with coconut milk came out amazingly delicious.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

One does not burn a blanket to get rid of a flea. :: Turkish Proverb

This is my child dog, Maggie.

Isn't she just the cutest?

She's sweet, affectionate and sooooooo incredibly stubborn. Maggie thinks that she owns my apartment (which, truthfully, she kinda does) and that my lap is her forever pillow (which, it kinda is).

Yet the fact that she finds my lap so comfortable might be a tiny bit of encouragement to get myself into the gym a little more often....

Keeping my little child pup healthy and happy is a priority as she constantly keeps me smiling and is such a huge part of my life! The problem is, especially with being in an apartment complex around many other dogs, that I have to deal with FLEAS.

I. Hate. Fleas.

Truly, what is the good in fleas? They are nasty. They make your beloved animal miserable. Once they set up camp it's nearly impossible to get them to leave. And, for us natural holistic proud-hippy folks, how do you sustainably fight fleas without those nasty harsh chemicals? Without being pressured to drown your dog or cat in a toxic flea bath? Without being told by your vet to purchase a monthly flea medication that is supposed to "help" and be "harmless" to your pet? Well, natural holistic proud-hippy folks, it can be done. Read on, friends, read on.

I do/make three things that are mine, and Maggie's, lifesaver...

(1) I salt the floors
(2) I spray her every 2-3 days with an anti-flea spray that I make myself
(3) I bathe her every 1-2 weeks in an oatmeal anti-feal shampoo that I also make myself

#1 salt :: 

Salt on your floors? Table salt? Sodium Chloride?!?

Yep. It works. I purchase salt in a bulk bin from Whole Foods for $0.68 lb, when I need to salt (i.e. when I find a flea on Maggie) I use about 2 lbs a week---which is a whopping $1.36. I do have a little over 700 square feet of living space, so for those of you in a larger home or apartment, you will need more salt. Using salt actually alters the pH balance in fleas, this prohibits nutrients from entering their system causing them to die.

Here is my week long process when I find a flea present ::
- Vacuum all floors
- Spread salt evenly across all areas of your home. You can do this on furniture as well, if you desire.
- Let salt sit for 24 hours, then vacuum to remove salt. Immediately empty vacuum canister and dispose of the contents outside of your home.
- Reapply salt. Let sit for 48 hours.
- Repeat vacuum process, salt again and let sit another 48 hours.

It works. And it's a heck of a lot cheaper (and SAFER) then bombing.

#2 flea spray ::

Just a little disclaimer, first. This spray does not KILL the fleas or the eggs. If it did, I'd love it even more for saving me the pleasure of salting my carpets and vacuuming way more than I feel necessary. Now I'm sure you're wondering---so WHY am I making this spray? Because, friend, fleas do not like lavender or citrus and this wonderful (great smelling) spray includes both.

3 cups water
6 lemons, sliced thinly
50 drops of lavender essential oil

Place 3 cups of water in a pot, add lemon slices. Heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Once boiling, immediately remove from heat and let sit for 12-24 hours. Strain the liquid and add the 50 drops of lavender essential oil. Place mixture in a spray bottle.

Spray your dog. Your furniture. Your rugs. Your carpets. Heck, soak your dog's collar in it and make your own flea collar. Just don't spray your cat---cats do not do well with lavender. 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Sorry. I couldn't help it.

#3 oatmeal shampoo ::

The dreaded bath. Maggie thinks that if she keeps herself in the back of the tub then she can avoid a bath---uh huh. 
I didn't discover homemade oatmeal shampoo because of fleas, it was actually after realizing that Maggie has an allergic reaction to mold. And mold is nasty stuff.

When you live in an older apartment complex, you're going to have mold. I realized this after watching my dog scratch for days. After much research, talking to a well-known groomer as well as my vet, I decided that mold was the cause of her excessive itching. I was told that oatmeal shampoo would greatly help, and it did!

However, the $10-$20 price tag for a dog shampoo wasn't helping my wallet. So, I made my own.

I first started out with this recipe, which worked wonderfully well! Maggie seemed to get immediate relief after her baths and one batch of the oatmeal shampoo would last me several weeks (keep refrigerated to keep it from spoiling).

We were going along with our happy lives, and then....

Enter said fleas.

I now needed a shampoo that would do double duty. I began to research, pulling information from various sources---here is what I found:

Lavender, Citrus & Peppermint Essential Oil :: As mentioned above, fleas are repelled by the taste of lavender, peppermint and citrus essential oils. These oils will not kill the fleas, just deter them from the pet or sprayed surfaces. Note that I did not use a citrus essential oil in my recipe below, but feel free to substitute (or add) it to the recipe.

Apple Cider Vinegar :: Truly, there aren't enough good things to say about ACV! I am such a junkie. When applying apple cider vinegar to your dog's skin, it will actually make the skin too acidic for fleas to survive. For a few more benefits of apple cider vinegar, click here.

Oatmeal :: From my previous shampoo recipe, I already knew that this ingredient would sooth and moisturize Maggie's itching skin, so this was an essential ingredient to my new shampoo.

Vitamin E Oil :: I love Vitamin E Oil and use it often when creating lotions or "medications" for my fiancĂ©'s eczema. It didn't surprise me when I learned that this great oil works well for not only fighting off fleas from pets, but greatly improving your pet's coat. When applied directly to a flea bite, this oil  helps it heal quickly---just place a few drops on the bite and massage in with your fingertips. When purchasing this oil, make sure you find one of good quality as not all oils are created equal. I order mine from Mountain Rose Herbs

Baking Soda :: Keeps your pet squeaky clean (well, you know, until they go back outside), eliminates odors and kills fleas naturally in much the same way salt does! Win!

And there you have it---the basis of my Flea Fighting Oatmeal Shampoo for Dogs. Go grab your ingredients, a glass jar and your dog and get started!

Flea Fighting Oatmeal Shampoo for Dogs
A few quick notes: I used these measurements for my little 12 lb dog. This batch makes enough for 4 baths. Also, don't use this on your cat unless you omit the essential oils! Feline's are allergic to lavender as they cannot break it down the same way canine's do. 

Forgot to add the Castile Soap to the pic---eh, it's there in spirit!

1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c baking powder
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
2 tsp vitamin E oil
1/4 c castile soap
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
1 1/4 c hot water
Glass jar for shampoo (Mason jars work great)

Place the rolled oats in a blender, food processor or VitaMix (which I want sooooo very badly!) and blend until the consistency of cornmeal like the picture below.

Add the ground oats and baking powder to the glass jar, stir (or shake) to mix. Then add hot water, Vitamin E oil, castile soap, apple cider vinegar and essential oils.

Now place that lid on that jar and SHAKE---or dance! Hey, whatever you need to do to get that baby mixed. No judging here!

Now, go bathe Fido. 

So there you have it friends, this is how I treat fleas and keep my dog happy. It works well for me, and I hope it does for you as well! Let me know if you have any questions.