Thursday, March 31, 2011

Simple Cleaners

It is the time of the year for spring cleaning. I don't see any point of washing windows at my house until we are done with the dry wall dust, but I still need to clean the bathrooms.

For years I've heard of using vinegar and baking soda for chemical free cleaners. I've wanted to try it and even asked for your suggestions for homemade cleaners several years ago. But, honestly, I wondered if they would work, or if I would like them. It doesn't sound difficult but somehow I just avoided taking the plunge of trying something new.

Finally, I just decided I wouldn't buy any more cleaning solutions. When I finished a bottle, I'd make something to replace it.

I still use dish soap and furniture polish but I'm quite pleased that for every other cleaning needs, two items is all I need. I love that both are cheap, quite easy to find, and safe. I'm sure you've guessed by now, the honor goes to white vinegar and baking soda.

This little bucket holds all my cleaning supplies.  I can keep this little bucket right under my bathroom sink. Formerly, I stored my cleaners (and all those chemicals) down in the basement out of reach of little hands.

In my bucket I keep:
a squirt bottle of white vinegar
an old paremesan cheese bottle of baking soda
a spray bottle with half water/half vinegar
a rag
a toilet brush

When I clean the bathroom, first I dump some vinegar into the toilet and allow it to soak a little. While waiting, I use the spray bottle to clean the mirror. I fill the sink with hot water with some vinegar. I use the rag and the sink water to scrub down the sink, counter, toilet and floor (in that order). If something is extra dirty, I sprinkle on baking soda. I use the brush inside the toilet. And I'm done!

For the shower, I have a brush hanging inside the shower. Our shower is one of those 30 year old grungy plastic never-looks-clean deals. I would use a high powered cleaner in the shower. The fumes were so bad that when I was pregnant with our first child, Ed took over cleaning the shower. I never took the job back. Can't believe I'm admitting this but my method of cleaning the shower was to totally ignore it. When the orange slime got too bad, Ed would take the fume producing cleaner and labor with the brush. Ed is my hero! 

I thought that nothing would work on shower build up but stinking cleaners but I just thought I'd try the vinegar/water solution. I sprayed it on one night before climbing into the shower. After I was finished showering, I grabbed the brush and started working on the slime. It disappeared! I couldn't believe it! Now I don't dread shower scrubbing and have been consistently cleaning the shower the last few months. (And Ed is always quick to notice and give lavish praise!)

I love that these are cleaners I can hand to my children without a gas mask. I sometimes give them the vinegar/water spray bottle and a rag and send them to scrub the door knobs and light switches. They think it is a blast. (We'll see how long that enthusiasm for cleaning lasts.)

I don't know if everyone would have the same success as I did. Water and circumstances vary. But it sure has worked for me. Once again, I love when simple, frugal and healthy all line up!

I don't think it has anything to do with it, but this is the first winter that our family didn't succumb to the stomach virus. We ALWAYS have one go-around every winter. I have no idea what to credit it with but at least my new cleaning routine didn't compromise our health. We've never had a winter of so little sickness and I didn't touch the Lysol or Bleach once.

I'd love to hear if you have any good ideas for simple cleaning solutions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring and Summer Picture Books

Even though the temperature is still frigid here and "they" actually said we could have snow this past weekend. (We didn't.) I think it is time to get the winter books  off the shelves and pull out the spring books. You can find other picture book favorites on the Agrarian  and  Boy lists.

Actually, the spring books would  cross into the agrarian or nature books.  But I'll share a few favorites that come to mind in hopes that you'll share your favorites to add to my library list!

The Tiny Seed (World of Eric Carle)
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Endearing illustrations with a garden theme.

Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
More from a wonderful illustrator combining fun story, days of the week, numbers, and a butterfly life cycle.

Butterfly House
Butterfly House by Eve Bunting
Another butterfly book with a sweet relationship of a girl and or grandfather.

The Donkey's Day Out by Ann Pilling
A sweet story of a donkey that realized the important part a donkey can play.This one could be hard to find but check your library.

Make Way For Ducklings
Make Way for the Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
I didn't know which of McCloskey's stories to mention because they are all wonderful and fit the spring/summer theme. Make Way for the Ducklings was my daughters favorite but my berry loving son likes Blueberries for Sal and we've all enjoyed Time of Wonder and One Morning in Maine.

Miss Rumphius
Miss Rumphius
This year I have lupines starting on my window sill. Doesn't everyone who reads this book want to make there world more beautiful?

 Chipmunk Willie
Chipmunk Willie by Harry Baerg
A slightly longer picture book that follows the life of a chipmunk family.

Your turn. What books do you enjoy rereading to your little people when waiting for the weather to warm?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bread Variations

Once you have mastered a basic bread dough such as the Country White Bread or the Whole Grain Bread, you can now make endless variations! 

If you make out a weekly menu, on baking day you could look at your menu for ideas on breads you could use during the week, such as hamburger buns, cinnamon bread, garlic bread, etc. I'm not that organized but maybe you are! 

Be sure to mark the your tops of your loaves in some way, such as sprinkle cinnamon bread with some cinnamon sugar.

 I'm sure you can come up with many other ideas but here are a few to get you started. Other ideas can be found on the sweet dough post.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Roll out your bread dough into a rectangle.
Spread with softened butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. If desired, sprinkle raisins, chopped nuts, craisins or other dry fruit. Roll the dough up beginning with the short side, squeezing tightly. Place in greased loaf pan.
Note: Bread made like this will separate but taste awesome. If you want a prettier slice, omit the butter and sugar so that it will "stick" together better. 

Monkey Bread

Pull dough into small balls. Dip into melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar.
Place into greased bread pan. (Don't fill too full. I often have balls “hopping” out of the pan as it rises in the oven! Maybe the reason it is called monkey bread! This is my children's favorite and is usually consumed immediately out of the oven!)
(I didn't get a picture of the monkey bread before several "balls" were pulled off and consumed - but you get the idea!) 
Dinner or Sandwich Rolls
Form into rolls of whatever size desired and place in greased pan or baking sheet.

Herb Cheese Bread
Roll dough into a large rectangle. Sprinkle with cheese and herbs as desired. I usually use mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika, and poppy seeds.
Roll up dough beginning at long side, squeezing seam tightly. Place on greased baking sheet. 

I often form a figure “eight”, tucking the ends into the center, but you can make any shape. Brush top with milk, sprinkle sesame seeds and slit the top.
I'd love to hear what you do with a ball of dough!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Raising the Roof

This week will probably be the last "dramatic change" for the house addition. You just can't get any greater change then putting on the roof.

 This is how the week began, foundation, floor, and walls but open sky.

With one eye on the weather reports, on Thursday, then men tore off our house roof. We had replaced the front of our house roof several years ago. We didn't do the back in hopes of doing this addition soon. But with more shingles flying off in every wind, it was time to get the job done. They also put in the supports for the porch.

Early Friday morning, the trusses were delivered. Things moved quickly as the rafters were set in place.

Inside the children helped make soft pretzels for a morning snack.

We have been so blessed by all the help our families have given us on this project. We couldn't have begun to do it without them.

By noon all the rafters were up...

...and it was time for a pizza break.

By evening, the whole front roof was covered with shingles.

Saturday, my dad, brothers, nephews, and friends began work on the back of the roof.

Some of the men worked inside, putting in supports and the inside studs.

The roof is almost finished.

And even a few windows were put in.

Look at the change a few days can bring! I'm dreaming of paint and furniture - though I know we are a few steps away yet!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vegetable Beef Casserole

In the craziness around here while working on our house addition, I've been looking for simple one pot meals or casseroles. I love having everything all in one dish to make serving and cleaning up easier.
But some casseroles are anything but simple. By the time you fry the meat, cook the pasta and maybe the vegetables, I already have several pans dirty. So much for time saving!

But this casserole is truly a one pot, no mess meal. It is full of great vegetables. Best of all, my family loves it! The only thing that is dirty in preparation is a knife and cutting board. It is easy to increase the amount of veggies or meat if feeding a crowd.

Vegetable Beef Casserole

3 sliced potatoes
3 sliced carrots
3 sliced celery ribs
2 cup fresh or frozen green beans
1 onion, diced
1 lb ground beef, raw
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 chopped tomatoes OR a pint pizza sauce
1 cup cheddar cheese

Layer vegetables, meat and seasonings. Top with tomatoes or sauce. Cover and bake at 375 for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Melt and serve.

I have found this a good recipe for Sunday. I can cut up my veggies the night before, cover with water and assemble in the morning. I put it in the oven on time bake and it smells wonderful when we get back from church.

I'd love to find some more simple meals like this for Sundays. Any ideas?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Whole Wheat Potato Bread

Potatoes are known to have a softening affect on bread. Replacing the water in a bread recipe with water that potatoes have cooked in, promotes the growth of the yeast and results in a lighter bread. I don't know the science of why potatoes help bread, just know that they do.

I haven't made potato bread for years. I didn't like the hassle of cooking and mashing potatoes before baking bread. Some bakers add potato flakes to bread - but you know how I am about processed ingredients.

But recently I was talking to an elderly lady who mentioned that her mother made the best potato yeast bread. I was seized by an overwhelming desire to make potato yeast bread, too!

The recipes I've used in the past were with white flour. I searched for a whole wheat potato bread online. But then I remembered something I read somewhere of how it is better to bake one bread ten times than to bake ten different breads. Could I add potato to my basic whole wheat bread recipe? I tried it - and WOW I now have a new favorite! If this wasn't the best whole wheat bread I've ever eaten, then it sure came close! The bread rose high and beautiful with a wonderful texture and flavor. I don't know that I'll always go to the work of adding potatoes but now I know how to push this bread over the top! This would probably make wonderful dinner rolls.

I used two potatoes, but they were on the large side so I may have actually had three cups of mashed potatoes. I didn't measure. When cooking the potatoes, be sure to cover with generously with water so that you can use that water in the place of the water in your bread. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes.

Whole Wheat Potato Bread
Makes 4 loaves

2 medium potatoes
2 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 T soy lecithin (optional)
1/8 tsp vitamin C (optional)
2 T vital gluten (optional)
1 egg (optional)

1 1/2 T instant  yeast
7 cups whole wheat flour, approximate measure

Cover potatoes with water and cook until soft. Drain water and save. Mash potatoes adding a little of the potato water if needed. You should have at least two cups of potatoes. Allow to cool to warm.
Measure potato water, adding more water if needed to make 2 1/2 cups.

Combine mashed potatoes, water, oil, honey, salt, soy lecithin, vitamin C, gluten flour, and eggs. Mix well.
Add three cups of flour and mix. Add yeast and mix. Add flour until dough doesn't stick to sides of bowl.
Stop mixer and allow to rest for ten minutes.
Knead for five minutes with kneading hook on medium speed or by hand.

Form into loaves. Place in greased bread pans. Allow dough to rise until double.
Bake bread at 350 degrees for  about 30 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool.


Have you added potatoes to bread?


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