Homemade Lye

Making LyeLye is one of the ingredients used in old-fashioned soap making. I usually make the glycerin soap because it’s safer and pours into a mold more crisply, but once in a while someone puts in an order for good old-fashioned lye soap. The trouble is, sometimes it seems like finding waste from a nuclear reactor would be easier than drumming up some lye. However, this problem can be easily solved with a little homemade lye. Continue reading

Edible Flowers

Everyone knows that flowers are pretty to look at, but a lot of people don’t realize that many of those delicate blossoms are also quite edible. A few years ago at the local farm market I attend, one of the vendors had implemented the ingenuous idea of selling “edible bouquets.” They were exactly what they sound like, aesthetically pleasing bunches of flowers that were also one-hundred percent edible.

A few edible flowers include:

Dandelions – Though generally thought of as a weed, dandelion leaves go great on a salads and rival many traditional vegetables with their health benefits. My family has used the dandelion heads for years to make excellent wine.

Squash blossoms – Those big yellow flowers that appear on your squash vines and eventually turn into pumpkins are very edible and quite delicious when fried up with a little butter and Cinnamon.

Violets – With violets both the flowers and the leaves can be eaten. They make beautiful candied flowers are also a good addition to jelly, so I’m told.

Day lilies – These flowers are often seen growing along the roadside. The blossoms have a sweet flavor even when eaten raw and provide a good source of vitamin C. (A warning, however, they are poisonous to cats)

Honeysuckle – As one might image the tiny blossoms of this plant have a sweet taste and go great when added to salad and the like.

Red Clover – Again, generally thought of as a weed, those big purplish globes that grow out in open meadows have some of the sweetest sugar you’re ever likely to taste. These are so good, I don’t even add them to food, I just grab a few and suck on the blossoms as I’m walking through the field. Tasty!

A fun way to use edible flowers is to “sugarize” them. You can make sugared flowers by boiling together a little water and sugar, which will create a type of paste. Dip your flowers in the sugar paste and let them harden. You can then use them to decorate cakes. Or skip the sugaring process altogether and just decorate the cake directly with the flowers for more vibrant colors. No marzipan roses here!
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Fixing Squeaky Doors

Few things are more irritating and than the incesant cry of a squeaking door, especially when you’re trying to sleep. You just about drift off and then someone opens the door or it’s caught by the wind and SQUEAK! you’re suddenly wide awake.

WD-40 is an often used remedy to fix squeaking doors, but my sister recently found a trick that works even better. The squeaky door remedy is as close as the kitchen cupboard: Pam. I’m sure any such cooking oil would fine, we just happen to have Pam in our cupboard, so that’s what we used. And since it comes in a spray-can, it works great.

Just spray both sides of the hinges (taking care not to get the spray on the walls or the wood of the door) and let it go. It’ll seep into the hinges and silence the squeaks. We’ve done it to almost every door in our house and they’re so much quieter now. And as an added bonus, since Pam is used for cooking, we don’t have to worry about it being poisonous, making it a bit more kid and pet friendly. If the cat licks the Pam off the door hinges, it is not going kill them or make them sick like WD-40 would.

Homemade, chemical-free shampoo

I decided to try a little a experiment this week after stumbling across an idea for homemade shampoo.

For the most part I use commercial shampoo that’s on the organic/natural end of the spectrum with as few of the nasty shampoo toxins as possible (no SLS!). Even so, basically every commerically bought shampoo has a few unwanted chemicals, if only to preserve shelf life. I used to use the Beauty Without Cruelty shampoo, but Wegman’s stopped carrying it for whatever reason, and there aren’t many brands I like as well as that one, so I decided to try the all natural route this week.

I’d heard before that hair could be washed with baking soda, followed by a vinegar rinse, so I decided to give it a go. To make the baking soda shampoo mix a few spoonfuls of baking soda with a cup of water (if your hair is short, you can lessen the recipie). Make sure it’s all stirred in well.

The hardest part to get used to is the fact that the mixture is so thin when you’re used to using thick shampoos. The second thing is that is feels like you’re washing your hair with sticky sand. That’s where the vinegar rinse comes in. Mix two spoonfuls of vinegar with a cup of water (again if your hair is short, you may need less).

Like the baking soda, the vinegar rinse is thinner than any shampoo, but once you get used to that, it does get rid of the stickiness left behind by the baking soda.

This homemade shampoo works fine, but it does have one odd characteristic. The hair is clean, the hair looks clean, but the hair doesn’t feel clean. It has a heavier weight due to the fact that the natural hair oils aren’t being stripped away as they are with commercial shampoo. That means even though it is clean, and looks clean, it doesn’t have that light, squeaky-clean feeling.

This may take some getting used to (or I may just decide to run back to my bottle of chemical shampoo.)

Squirrel Deterrent

It happens every year, the nuts on Gramma’s trees and the fruit in our are little orchard are growing beautifully. They get just about ripe, and suddenly BAM! they’re gone. Where have they gone, they’re taken by the squirrels of course. Between ourselves and Gramma, we’ve tried almost every deterring technique known to man, save one: Plastic Bags. Believe it or not, this simple solution works better than all the rest.

Just tie a few plastic bags to the trees with fruit or nut and allow them to blow in the wind. The presence of the bags (and probably the noise as well) does wonders to keep the squirrels away, which means we’ll actually be able to enjoy the fruit of the trees we worked so hard to take care of. And so as not to deprive the squirrels of everything, we have a bunch of butternut and walnut trees in our yard that they’re welcome to.

Diesel Fuel Repels Flies

Spring and summer bring lush foliage, blue skies, warm sunshine and long days of planting. With the arrival of the warm months, however, also comes the incessant torment of flies. Black flies, brown flies, horseflies, deer flies; all emerge at this time to wreak havoc on every farmer’s animals.

The tags on a newly purchased cattle rub recommend citronella pyrethrum or any other similar insecticide insecticide, but flies will often inevitably still find their way through such defenses. However, although you won’t find it listed on the tags of cattle rub, an almost infallible fly deterrent is ordinary diesel fuel. My grandfather has been using this method, which we refer to as a “folk remedy,” for as long as I can remember with excellent results. In fact, we have found that nothing works better than diesel in preventing flies.

Diesel is a simple and effective means to repel flies and other insects that torment the animals of the farm. For those farmers who have a ready diesel supply to power tractors and tillers, it is also a convenient source of fly deterrent. Diesel works like any other fly repellent ; it is poured onto a cattle rub and left for the cows to cover themselves with. Its only drawback is the fact that if any is spilled on one’s clothes while soaking the rub, they will forever smell of diesel. Therefore it is often best to set aside some clothes and reserve them only for the pouring of diesel.

Animals quickly learn that the smell of diesel translates to mean no flies. Every afternoon during the warm months, our cows can be found sitting around the rub, soaking up the sun with very few flies to bother them. The ground around the rub is constantly torn up; visual testament to the amount of time the cows spend there.

The smell of diesel is strong enough that it penetrates through the air creating a “fly free” zone all around the rub. At our home we apply diesel to a rub once a week and that seems to suffice. Reducing the amount of flies also reduces the spread of pink eye and other such ailments and succeeds in giving our cows a better quality of life.
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Churning Butter

Churning ButterIt was a butter day today (yes, at my house we still actually churn our own butter). My cousin has a dairy farm where he sells raw milk, so every few weeks someone in the family makes a milk run to his farm. We end up with four one-gallon jars of milk, each with a 1-2 inch layer of cream on top, which of course becomes the butter.

There are several different ways to churn butter. There is the old churn and dasher method, but few people have enough cream to fill one of these. There is the butter bowl method which involves stirring the cream in a large wooden bowl until it becomes butter. And then there are the shaker jar and the paddle jar methods. These two are probably the most convenient.

If you only have a relatively little bit of cream, the shaker jar method works well. Simply fill a canning jar with the cream, screw on the top and shake the jar until the cream turns to butter. The drawback of this method is that your arms generally feel like they’re going to fall off from exhaustion long before the butter begins to form.

The paddle jar is a much easier method. The paddle jar is basically a glass jar with a set of paddles that churn the butter as you turn the handle. The one we use belonged to my great-grandmother, so it’s probably over a hundred years old, but it still works great. However, since the majority of people probably don’t have their great-grandmother’s churn hanging around the house, there are several companies that still make jar churns. A quick Internet search can locate them.

To churn butter, leave jars of milk in the refrigerator over night. This will allow the milk to settle, so all the cream is easily accessed at the top of the jar. Use a measuring cup to dip the layer of cream off the top of the milk and put it in the churn.

Begin to churn the cream, moving the paddles at a relaxed rate. You’ll be there a while so don’t wear yourself out by trying to go too fast. (If using the shaker jar method, just shake as hard you can for as long you can, then pass the jar to a friend and have them do the same).

The cream will go through several stages. First it will slosh up and down on the sides of the jar like milk. Second the top of the cream will start to bubble and suds-up. Then the bubbles will subside and the cream will become smooth again, but as it sloshes against the side, it won’t slide away cleanly; it will begin sticking to the jar. When this happens the cream is beginning to “butterize.”

Keep churning, stopping periodically to check the cream inside. When you see thick clumps form, you can celebrate. Spoon out of the clumps of butter into a bowl, and savethe leftover liquid for any recipe calling for buttermilk. The butter is best best kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it as it will go bad faster than store-bought butter, due to not having the preservatives.

Once in a while, for some reason still unknown to mankind, the cream will refuse to turn to clumps of butter. It will instead form a light and fluffy layer of whipped butter. Don’t despair. Although it may not be traditional butter, that fluffy stuff is the sweetest tasting butter you will ever have.
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Sponge Painting

My mother recently redid her kitchen walls. The paper was getting old and discolored and peeling at the seams, and everyone agreed it was time for an upgrade. The first attempt was a disaster, however, with the solid gold color she chose, reminding us of a kitchen from 1970’s California. The only thing missing was my Gramma’s old Philco refrigerator! The second attempt was an almost cream colored yellow, which left the kitchen looking as stark as a hospital wing. But the third time was the charm when my mother decided to try sponge painting.

Sponge painting a fun and easy way to give new life to any room, all you need is two shades of paint, a roller and a sponge. Reminiscent of the old spackled enamel cookware, it gives walls a country cottage look, and is far more welcoming than a solid colored wall. This is particularly nice for a room such as a kitchen where the formality of a solid color is not necessarily wanted. Sponge painting is a lot easier than trying to deal with wallpaper, but the finished result has a similar feel to wallpaper.

To start, select two shades of the same the color, one being the main color you would like to see, the second being about two shades darker. Paint the darker shade on the walls first. If there is already wallpaper on the walls, smooth the seems with plaster, then paint right over it. It saves the trouble of trying to remove the wallpaper. Use a paint roller to coat the entire wall with the darker color, the same way you would paint any traditional wall. Apply a second coat if necessary.

When the first shade has dried, softly dip a piece of sponge into the lighter color then proceed to dab it on the wall. The object is dab haphazardly, allowing the bottom color to peek through in tiny spots. Don’t try to make it to orderly. Stand back from time to time to ensure there are no large patches of dark color showing through. Keep dabbing until you are satisfied with the result. This is very similar to rag rolling, except that where rag rolling requires a bit of practice, sponge painting is so easy anyone can do it.

The Finished Result


Close up of sponge paint texture

This is What Happens When Sheep Get Angry…

Ok, so sheep are usually cute, cuddly, wooly, adorable little critters, but in all honesty, Ziah (my sheep) isn’t one of them. Sure he’s cute and adorable, but as far as cuddly, forget it. Like a small child he tends to have a large temper when he doesn’t get his way. Last night was such a time.

When it came time to put him in the barn for the evening (which we do to protect him from the coyotes), he decided that he wasn’t quite ready to go in. So in one quick movement, he focused all his energy on the door, and banged himself into it as hard as he could, ripping the door right off his barn, latch, hinges and all.

So, here is Ziah’s handywork – This is what happens when sheep get angry.

It’s going to be a fun day reattaching the door tomorrow. Somehow I don’t think superglue is gonna fix it.