12/20/13

Homemade Christmas Gifts...Ready, Set, GO!!


So it's that time of year again when money just seems to fly out of the bank account. What can really break the bank is getting gifts for the whole extended family -- aunts, uncles, grandmas, cousins, great-uncle George's best friend (who is that guy who always ends up at the family Christmas party?)...

The Dilemma

You want to get them all more than a card, but money and time just aren't your friend. You could just go out and buy everyone a gift card, but who wants a $15 gift card to the GAP? That buys maybe half a shirt?

Then you think, Hmmm, perhaps something homemade... But you count the number of people in your extended family and crawl into the fetal position to comfort yourself from the impending stress that comes from making 15 people homemade gifts.

EVERY YEAR I stress myself out making everyone homemade goodies. Jams, candles, cookies, candies, soap... By the time Christmas rolls around I'm usually ready to blow my brains out and sleep for seven years.

BUT THIS YEAR I DID SOMETHING RIGHT.

The Solution

This year I made a plan.

I streamlined the usually stressful process of my must-make-all-the-gifts-homemade complex that I seem to have.

So here's the plan. You can obviously alter it to fit your family's specific needs but this is the plan that has left my Advent season stress free.

The Plan

1. Choose to make TWO gifts:

Yes, friends, just two. One gift that you can give to everyone and one gift you can add onto the "everyone gift" for those close family/friends who deserve more than a tin of cookies.

For example, I'm making everyone a sample tin of Christmas cookies, and then for those extra-special people I'm adding on a bottle of homemade pumpkin liqueur to their gift.


2. Buy all supplies in one shopping trip: 

Make yourself a list. Do you need cookie tins, gift ribbon, ground cinnamon, and almond extract? Make a list of every ingredient and supply you don't have and take one afternoon to shop for them. This will save you from making last minute shopping trips in the middle of all your other holiday happenings.



And shop the sales too. I knew I needed a large quanity of Christmas cookie tins, so I made sure to buy them when my local craft store was having a 50% off all Christmas items sale. It saved me a lot of money!

3. Choose 2 to 3 days to make your preparations: 

For me, that's all I needed. I knew that by choosing to make an assortment of 5-7 different kinds of cookies for 15 people there would be no way I could do that all on Christmas Eve.

So I chose my recipes and set up two days where I made an assembly-line-like production of cookie doughs. I wrapped them up and have them waiting in the refrigerator to be baked and placed into their tins on Christmas Eve.



Along with the gifts themselves, take these couple of days to write your Christmas cards and gift tags to each of these people. Have everything ready so all you have to do is assemble the gift boxes the day before.


4. Make non-perishables a month in advance. 

Yes, this means you must think ahead. But it keeps your Advent season less stressful and much holier.

We made our pumpkin liqueur around Thanksgiving and it's been sitting on the counter waiting to be given for a month now. I've haven't even put one thought into it this past month except putting a tag and a ribbon on it.


If you're making Christmas ornaments, sachets, soap, or whatever else tickles your fancy and doesn't go bad sitting on the shelf, MAKE IT AHEAD OF TIME. You will thank yourself the week before Christmas.

5. Ready, set, assemble! 

A few days before Christmas get all your gifts ready to go. If you're making cookies, take your doughs out of the fridge, turn on the oven, and bake away! It's so easy you'll feel like you bought pre-made cookie dough.

Place everything in their designated boxes, wrap up, and place their cards with them.

On Christmas Day, all you have to do is distribute to your eager relatives. And I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you made, it will be much more warmly received than a mass produced card and some money.


What homemade gifts do you make for the holidays? How do you keep your holidays stress free? Share with us below!

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12/18/13

Myrrh for Menstruation



It's that time of year again when gold, frankincense, and myrrh, make their appearance. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Three Wise Men who brought these gifts to the Christ Child, but not many know of the incredible healing properties that these treasures bring with them. Both frankincense and myrrh can be used medicinally but it is myrrh that I will concentrate on in this post. 

What is it?

Myrrh is the aromatic resin and natural gum of the tree genus Commiphora. It comes from a very small region of the world and can be found in Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Another species of Commiphora trees also grows in some parts of the Arabian Peninsula. 

This aromatic resin is extracted by cutting the tree through the bark and into the sapwood and collecting the sap from within. The gum is waxy and quickly hardens into crystals. Myrrh essential oil is then made by steam distilling the hardened sap crystals. 



Medicinal Properties

Myrrh is incredibly powerful. It has held many uses over the millenia -- from mummification in Egypt to anointment in religious ceremonies to the release of stagnant blood in medicine. 

It is an anti-septic, an anti-viral and an anti-bacterial, and can be used for a variety of ailments. It is great for dressing wounds, treating mouth sores, and soothing toothache pain. 

Taken internally it can clean the colon, promote peristalsis, and prevent blood absorption of toxins in the intestines. 

In aromatherapy, it can be used to uplift, to purify, and to heal, and has been used for thousands of years as an incense in religious ceremonies around the world. 




Myrrh for Menstruation

But perhaps one of the most powerful properties of myrrh is that it is a "blood-mover". Myrrh is used in traditional Chinese medicine to purge stagnant blood from the uterus.

I have been struggling recently with hormonal imbalances that have led to very irregular cycle patterns. I use the Creighton Model FertilityCare System to both track my health, as well as to either avoid/achieve pregnancy. 

Well, with a very abnormal cycle after the wedding (probably due to both stress and not eating right), I was not able to determine my ovulation day and the days of my cycle just kept creeping on. By day 48, I was starting to get worried that I would never menstruate. I knew I wasn't pregnant so I researched and learned about the blood-moving properties of myrrh. 

Within two days of rubbing myrrh essential oil on my lower abdomen, I began to menstruate. I knew that my body was not naturally preparing for menstruation before I applied the oil because I usually experience a wide range of PMS symptoms at least a week before my period(read why PMS isn't normal). It really was the myrrh that set things in motion! 

Now I will always keep myrrh on hand for cycles such as these!




A Word of Caution


Essential oils are extremely powerful. They can be used to treat many different ailments, but they must be used properly and with care. Always read about the potential side effects of an oil before applying to your skin or taking internally. 

Internal consumption of essential oils can be done effectively but only if one is extremely well-read on all side effects and contraindications beforehand. View the topical application and internal consumption of these oils as you would medicine. 

DO NOT USE MYRRH IF YOU SUSPECT PREGNANCY. Because myrrh is a "blood-mover" it can cause a miscarriage. 

Be very careful with internal consumption of myrrh. Large amounts of myrrh taken internally can cause kidney toxicity. 


Where to Find Essential Oils

There is much debate on where to find therapeutic grade essential oils. You may have heard of Young Living or dōTERRA essential oils. These companies often claim that only their company produces the purest essential oils.

These claims are totally bogus. 

A friend of mine introduced me to Edens Garden. Just as concerned about the quality of essential oils as me, she sent the company an email with a list of her questions. This was the response she got back. I was just as pleased as she was with the answer. Now I only support Edens Garden because I know they are both therapeutic grade AND affordable. 




What are your experiences with essential oils? Have you ever used myrrh for menstruation?

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12/13/13

Homemade Pumpkin Liqueur




Christmas is just around the corner, but you still have a couple of weeks to make some thoughtful homemade gifts for your loved ones. Doing so says so much more than a gift card or the latest widget.

This recipe combines real pumpkin, spices, and rum for a sweet treat that will warm any chilly winter evening. And the by-product? Homemade pumpkin butter!

Granted, there is a lot of sugar involved in this recipe, but it's a treat, not a staple, and we use organic cane sugar, which is never GMO. I encourage our readers to experiment with alternative natural sweeteners like maple syrup. Let us know in the comments how your batches come out!

Materials:

  • Metal Strainer
  • Cheesecloth
  • .75 L Glass Bottle with Stopper
  • Large Glass Bowl

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup organic light brown sugar
  • 1 puréed organic sugar pumpkin (or one 15oz can of purée, not pie filling)
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 2 cups dark aged rum

Directions:
1. Mix water and sugars in a pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.


2. Lower temperature a bit, and then add the spices.


3. Slowly add the pumpkin purée by the tablespoon, whisking in between scoops so as to dissolve completely.


4. Turn the heat up to a gentle simmer, and let this reduce for a half hour, stirring occasionally
Line a metal strainer with cheesecloth, suspend it over a large bowl as you would for making Greek yogurt, and pour the syrup-like mixture through it.

 

5. Let the syrup drip for 15 minutes or so. When it stops dripping, you can pull the sides of the cheesecloth up to form a little bag and gently squeeze downwards. Avoid tearing the bag or squeezing out the paste within.

 

6. When the paste inside the bag looks like applesauce and the bag will drip no more without excessive squeezing, you're done extracting.

7. Now, add the syrup to the glass bottle, filling it halfway.


8. Add the rum to fill the bottle up almost to the top. Leave, say, an inch of headspace, but it will shrink down as it cools a bit.


9. Let the liqueur sit for a few days, if not a few weeks, before serving. It tends to settle, so shake it once a day and before serving. Like wine, the flavor gets better with age.

BONUS:


Don't throw that applesauce-like paste in the cheesecloth bag away! Once cool enough to the touch, open it up and pick out the spices. Plop this in a mason jar and you've got fresh Pumpkin Butter to spread on toast or biscuits.

Since it isn't canned, this will only last a week or so in the fridge, but somehow, I doubt it will take that long to use up.
How did your batch turn out? What alterations did you try? Let us know in the comments!
 

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12/4/13

Roasting a Pastured Turkey


The holiday season is upon us and with it brings the season of extravagant roasts. There is nothing better than a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey, an expertly cured ham, or a tender prime rib. But of course, as is usually the case with our modern food system, grocery store roasts are not the way to go.

Your average store-bought turkey is not only raised in a factory farm setting but is also injected with a solution of water, salt, spices, and natural flavor. While natural flavors sound "natural", they are actually far from anything nature produces. This article will shed some light on what exactly goes into the making of natural flavors. And don't overlook that sneaky word "spices" either. It's often code for hidden ingredients like MSG.

This Thanksgiving, rather than compromising our standards for the $0.98/pound turkey, we opted to seek out pastured turkeys in our area. They weren't too hard to find, but it was hard to find a farm that wasn't sold out. Luckily we picked up two freshly slaughtered, thirty pound turkeys the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. (We froze one turkey for a Christmas party we are having later in the season.)

This was our first try at roasting a pastured turkey, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy and the most flavorful, fall-off-the-bone, moist bird we've ever eaten. Never again will a store-bought turkey be found on our holiday table!

How to Roast a Pastured Turkey

Ingredients
1 pastured, gutted turkey at room temperature (save the giblets for stock)
butter, preferably grass-fed
unrefined sea salt
dried or fresh herbs of your choice, preferably organic (I used thyme and marjoram) 
white wine (Chardonnay works well)
4 carrots
4 celery stalks

Equipment
roasting pan
meat thermometer 
cotton kitchen twine
trussing needles
baster or ladle
small saucepan
hot pads

Method

1. Remove giblets from cavity. Salt the skin and cavity and rinse the turkey inside and out with purified water. Drain water and pat skin dry with paper towels. Skin must be completely dry to ensure a crispy skin forms during roasting. Having the bird at room temperature before cooking also improves the roasting process. Preheat oven to 325F. 


2. Place the bird in the roasting pan. You can now truss the bird if you so desire. I didn't have any twine or trussing needles on hand, so I chose not to. Birds are mostly trussed for aesthetic reasons. Here's how to truss a bird. 


3. Next rub down the inside and outside of the bird with softened butter. Be liberal with the butter. It will help to ensure a beautiful golden crust. Next sprinkle every inch of the bird with salt and then apply dried or fresh herbs and pepper to your taste. Put a few carrots and celery stalks into the cavity or stuff with your favorite stuffing. Place the bird uncovered in the preheated oven. 

(As you may notice, my bird was way too big for the pan. I placed a dish underneath to catch the drippings.)


4. Let the bird roast uncovered for half an hour before basting. Prepare basting solution in a saucepan. Combine two sticks of melted butter and a bottle of wine. 


5. After 30 minutes, cover bird with cheesecloth that has been soaked in the basting solution. Baste turkey every half hour until it is done cooking.



6. Estimate about 12-15 minutes per pound for cooking time. Don't rely solely on cooking time, however. Pastured turkeys tend to cook faster than store-bought turkeys. Your roast is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165F. Also, when the leg is wiggled, the juices should run clear.


7. Remove the turkey from the oven and let sit for about 30 minutes before carving. Here's how to carve a turkey.


8. Don't waste any part of the turkey! Save everything from the carcass to the pan drippings. You can use the pan drippings to make gravy and the carcass to make turkey stock. When finished eating the drumsticks and wings, throw those bones into the stock pan as well.





Happy Thanksgiving from Living the Rustic Life! 

Share with us your experience on roasting pastured poultry.

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11/19/13

We're Married!!!!


Well, friends and dear readers, it has finally happened--we're married!! We appreciate each and every one of our readers who stuck out the long span of time in which we did not post. As I'm sure you all understand, planning a wedding and planning a future consumes all of your free time (especially during a six and a half month engagement!). 

But now that we are finally united in the bond of Holy Matrimony and finally live together, planning our lives is much easier. We don't have a farm yet. We don't live the rustic life yet. But we do still hold those ideals close to our hearts and make movements toward them everyday. We believe that only through the sacred bond of marriage can we truly move forward with our lives. So now it begins! And we will take you, dear readers, along for the ride!

We were married on Monday (Columbus Day), October 14th, 2013 at 11 o'clock in the morning. Here are some photos for you to enjoy of our happy and blessed wedding weekend. 

Rehearsal Dinner

Bridesmaids at the Rehearsal Dinner

The Nuptial Mass

Finally married!

Kristin's Parents

Nicholas and His Parents

The Wedding Party

At the reception

Wedding Banquet

Last dance surrounded by friends

Enjoying the honeymoon in Playa del Carmen, Mexico!

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8/7/13

A Brief but Necessary Update

Living the Rustic Life blog is neither dead nor forgotten. Our readers are so important to us and the emails we receive regularly from them, despite not having posted in months, means a great deal to us.

As we've mentioned before, we are preparing for marriage. This entails all the usual planning and stresses that most people are familiar with, but perhaps these are even more amplified when one tries to plan a future that runs against the grain of modern society.

As such, our blogging time has given way to house showings, pre-Cana classes, and more than a few evenings tinkering with financial spreadsheets.

So to our readers, we beg, hang in there. We will strive to post as much as we can before, but after the wedding, big things are planned. We hope to move to our own website (in fact, we already own it), and start sharing our journey as Kristin and I dig into the Rustic Life.

Until then, keep fighting the good fight!

6/5/13

5 Amazing Uses for Epsom Salts!



While Pinterest may find itself obsessed with the benefits of baking soda, there's another white powder available at the grocery or drug store with just as many natural uses--perhaps even more. Named after the bitter springs of Epsom in Surrey, England, Epsom Salts are crystallized Magnesium sulfate. This compound has numerous health benefits and home uses.

Increased Overall Health

Many people in Western countries suffer from a magnesium deficiency due to poor diet and have no idea. This can lead to stress-related illnesses, digestive issues, osteoporosis, and even heart disease. A simple soak in an Epsom salt bath a few times a week will increase the amount of magnesium in your body, relax you, and increase your overall vigor. I try to do it as often as I can before bed, which puts me right to sleep.

Ease Sore Muscles

Living the rustic life certainly comes with its aches and pains. A warm soak in a bath of Epsom salts will relax muscle fibers. This also works to alleviate aching feet, remove splinters, and heal bruises, as it increases blood flow.

Fertilize the Garden

Use one tablespoon of Epsom salts per gallon to prevent against a magnesium deficiency and boost yield. Of course, this should be an emergency-type application for those more interested in biodynamic farming and deep nutrition, but sometimes the compost teas and nettle sprays need a little help. Epsom salt is a great, natural source of both magnesium and sulfate.

Alleviate Dandruff

I've struggled off and on with this embarrassing scalp malady for years. Most of the shampoos made to treat it are full of synthetic chemicals and sometimes they don't even work. A simple bath in Epsom salts once a day for 20 minutes makes dandruff disappear. You have to be consistent, but it's an entirely natural way to improve your scalp health.

Obliterate B.O.

Yup. The daily Epsom salt bath I've been pushing this whole page also reduces body odor incredibly. We've had numerous comments on our Homemade Antiperspirant article from people saying they're nervous it won't work because they smell so bad. Some of this could be dietary and holistic, but soaking in Epsom salts once a day and using a simple, homemade antiperspirant is an excellent way to smell clean and fresh without any synthetic chemicals.

Do you know of any more uses for Epsom salts? Let us know in the comments!

image source: http://floatation.biz



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5/28/13

Thumb Tack: Is Soy Lecithin harmless?



I came across this article this morning over at Girl Meets Nourishment about soy lecithin and how it's not just a harmless food additive that we can forget about. 

And as usual when reading an article about some hidden health concern, I was disgusted...and annoyed...and frustrated... 

Disgusted because I've been eating foods with soy lecithin my whole life, annoyed because the FDA has pulled the wool over our eyes yet again, and frustrated because soy lecithin is in so many foods that I enjoy (try finding a chocolate bar without it!). 

But yet again, this just confirms that we need to continue to make the shift to an agrarian life in which our food is produced either by us or our local farmers. 

Distressed that your favorite chocolate bar contains this harmful ingredient? Have no fear! Make your own even more delicious bar from this recipe over at Homemade Mommy.

What hidden food additives have you learned about lately? How do you prevent letting these harmful foods into your kitchen?

5/26/13

Homemade Topsy Turvy Planter


So, you spent all spring keeping your tomato plants warm and well-watered. You grew a few extra from seed as an insurance policy, but now they're just sitting there wilting while the others happily flourish in the garden. What's a homesteader to do?

Since I don't have anymore room in my garden, I thought I'd make an upside-down planter for them. I'm sure you've all heard of the topsy turvy tomato planter that basically lets you grow these savory little fruits with zero space. This is basically the same thing, but I used an old hanging pot instead of buying the works myself from Walmart. 

Sorry I didn't take any action photos, but the construction is pretty simple. All I did was make the hole in the bottom bigger with some scissors. Then, I coaxed two of my plants through the opening and faced then in opposite directions. They're actually sideways in the pot, but since tomatoes are actually a vine (we grow them like bushes in the North), they don't mind being a little contorted. Then, I dumped potting soil on top of the roots.


I used sticks and string to pull the plants up a little bit. They'll do this on their own, as all plants naturally bend towards the sun, but I figure the extra support will make them yield faster. On top of the soil, I placed the perforated plastic piece from inside the original hanging pot. I then put a rock on top of this, and later, I added some wood chips. All of this, I'm hoping, will reduce erosion and retail moisture.


No guarantees this will work, but it's worth a shot. Anyone else have any luck growing tomato plants upside down? Let us know in the comments!

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5/14/13

Thumb Tack: Quick Frost Protection


Oh no! Frost is in the forecast and you just planted all those lovely, sub-tropical plants like squash, peppers, and tomatoes.

Solution? Grab some paper bags and get to work!

Step 1: 


Step 2:



Step 3:


Step 4: 


Step 5:


And repeat!









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Living the Rustic Life

Living the Rustic Life