Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cheesy Sausage and Rice -- Gluten-Free!!

Ok, I didn't know exactly what to call this recipe, but it is DELICIOUS!!  My youngest can't eat it because it's full of dairy ingredients, but my other gluten-free kids can!  It's pretty fast and easy to make.  (Sorry for the semi-blurry pictures.  My camera lens desperately needed a cleaning.  Future ones will be nice and sharp!)

Here's the recipe:

3 cups rice (measured dry)
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup butter, sliced
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin, canned or otherwise
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lb browned sausage (andouille is my favorite!)

I know, I know.  At this point you're freaking out because this recipe has pumpkin in it.  Pumpkin mixed with cheese and cayenne pepper.  Because pumpkin's just supposed to be mixed with cinnamon and clove and baked in a crust and topped with whipped cream, right?  WRONG!!  Trust me.  While pumpkin pie is super-scrumptious, so is this!  The final result is not pumpkiny-tasting.  It's perfect.  Just be brave and try it--you won't be disappointed!!  And it's nearing that pumpkin time of year, so what better time to try this recipe?

Start by cooking your rice.  I use a rice cooker, and I LOVE it!!

When the rice is nearing the end of its cook, brown your sausage.  My absolute favorite in this recipe is Whole Foods' andouille sausage.  The combo of the cheesy sauce and the spiciness of the sausage is to die for!  Today I used a simple smoked sausage, because I got it on sale for super cheap.  If you're making this recipe gluten-free, make sure that your sausage is a gluten-free sausage.

Next, combine the cream cheese, butter, parmesan cheese, and milk in a saucepan.  Cook on low, stirring frequently, until everything's melted.  Stir in your pumpkin and cayenne until heated through.

Add the sausage, then stir in your rice.

That's it!  You're done!  All you have left is to eat and enjoy! Pin It

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Amazed by Life #3

It never ceases to amaze me how BIG a noise little feet can make.

It never ceases to amaze me how BIG a mess little people can make (in a little amount of time).

It never ceases to amaze me how BIG a cat too little exercise can make.

It never ceases to amaze me how BIG a reaction a little announcement can make.

What in life amazes you?

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Home Redo--Entry/Stairs

Our house has a split entry.  I can't stand having a split entry, but there are worse things we could have to deal with.  In a split entry, the stairs are the first thing you see upon entering a house.

I wish I had a before picture, but I don't.  But this picture of the living room will give you an idea.

The stairs were covered with the same horrible, blue carpet that the living room floor had, and the entry walls were covered with the same, horrible, reflective contact paper (if you missed the post on the living room redo, catch it here).  

I strongly dislike carpeted stairs.  Especially when you have a dog who sheds so much it looks like at least 3 dogs and a wookie live here.  And for some reason, the air flow is such that the dog hair seems to congregate on the stairs.  It's almost like the carpet has a carpet.  And those stairs have to be vacuumed.  Who likes to vacuum stairs?  It's one of the most miserable jobs ever.  And my kids weren't old enough to do it themselves yet, so that left it up to me.  No, thank you!

However, laminate has a tendency to be slippery.  And it's expensive to get the extra pieces you need to laminate a flight of stairs.  However, we came up with a better solution.  First, we ripped up the carpet.  What's underneath the carpet?  Wood.  Real wood.  Hard wood.  So we stained it.  I LOVE the rustic look, and the stairs look gorgeous!  And it was CHEAP!  Just a few dollars for a can of stain!  We didn't even bother polyurethaning it.  Again, that would make the stairs slick (not good with a bunch of little kids going up and down).  This way, we just brush on another coat of stain really quickly when it needs it.  Takes about 5 minutes!

And cleaning up all of that dog hair?  Takes just a minute with a broom!  WOO HOO!!

We also redid the landing.  Before, it had a fake parquet linoleum.  Really ugly and gouged up.  We put down a new linoleum that looks like stone tile.  All the beauty of tile, no cleaning of grout!  And, of course, that contact paper was ripped down.

Oh, and that chandelier you see in the original picture up above?  It was coated with nearly 30 years of grime.  At first I couldn't wait to pull that thing down.  But then we washed all of the glass and dusted off all of the brass.  Now it's sparkly and shiny and beautiful!

Here are the stairs now:

Much, much better, no?  Stairs are one of those features that are must-haves in many houses, but you can only do so much with them.  What unique ideas have you come up with for your stairs?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The First Day of School that Was!

For those of you who missed the First Day of School that Wasn't, you can find it here.  I was all ready to get started, then the kids ended up sick.

Well, the kids got all better, and we finally started up last Saturday!  Yes, I know, I'm a mean mom who does school on Saturdays.  But we typically take Mondays off, so my kids still get a full weekend.  Anyway, we got started, and things are going great!  And those pencils are just as wonderful as I imagined they would be!  =)

One of the things I absolutely love about homeschooling is that you get to see so much insight into your kids.  I see every assignment they do, every art project they complete, and I get to hear so many of the thoughts going on in their head while they're working on these things.  And it's usually the artwork that gives most of the insight when they're this age.

My 6-year-old son is ALL boy, and my 4-year-old daughter is ALL girl.  Here's a perfect example:  The other day, they decided to play dragons (my 6-year-old LOVES the movie "How to Train Your Dragon."  My 4-year-old has not seen it yet, but plays with the toys and knows the main story line from her older siblings.)  My 6-year-old son was contributing his part of the story in his excited voice, all breathless from fighting the deadly dragons, "And the dragons were flying over the Viking village, breathing fire and destroying the houses..."  And my 4-year-old daughter would pick up the story line and without missing a beat, would say in her sing-song voice, "And then the dragons flew over the flowery village, where they were getting covered with flowers..."  And my son would pick it up right where she left off, "And then they'd fly back to the Viking village, where the flowers would fall off, and the Vikings were shooting, and stabbing, and slashing..."  It was priceless.  I wish I had my video camera on at the moment, but at least I have the memories.  It was the perfect demonstration of how a boy's mind works vs a girl's.  (Of course, there are exceptions--I'm one of them.  I was never a girly-girl.)

Anyway, that brings us back to school.  My son has a writing book that he LOVES where they give a title, and he's supposed to draw a picture and write a sentence or two about it.  One title they gave him was "Worm Family Portrait."  So you think of a nice, happy, worm family, right?  This is what my son drew and wrote:

In science, we're doing Anatomy and Physiology.  We're currently studying the skeletal system.  My son was supposed to draw a picture about something he learned and write a sentence or two about it.  He picked a skull.  But did he draw just any old skull?  Oh, no.  He drew a skull and crossbones:

Then you have the pictures that the littles draw.  My 4-year-old daughter had to draw a picture of her favorite animal.  You have to wonder, is this really what a flamingo looks like to her?

If your kids bring home artwork from school, take the time to look at it.  Ask them about it.  Ask them why they drew what they did and what they were thinking about while they drew it.  There's so much insight there, little glimpses into their minds that would be easy to miss otherwise.

What have your kids drawn lately?

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Quick Tip #1

There are some tips that I have picked up in life that revolutionize how I do things.  The one I'm going to talk about today revolutionized my linen closet!

Ok, maybe revolutionized is a bit strong, but it definitely organized my linen closet.  And it's soooooo simple!  We have 6 beds being used in this house, soon to be 7.  That's a lot of fitted sheets, flat sheets, and pillowcases.

Here's the tip:  when you wash and fold your sheets, tuck all the sheets and pillowcases of the set into one of the pillowcases in that same set!!

For example, the following is my daughter's twin sheet set.  I folded the flat sheet and fitted sheet and put them both into the pillow case.  Then, when I'm looking in my linen closet for a twin set, I just grab that pillowcase, and everything's together!

For queen sizes, I fold the flat and fitted sheets and one pillowcase and tuck it all into the other pillowcase.  For crib sheets, I have a very stretchy knit pillowcase that I fold all of the crib sheets into.  

All of this stacks nicely and neatly into the linen closet if you stack them.  If you let your 6-and-8-year-olds stack them, it's not so nice and neat (which is why I'm not showing you a picture inside my linen closet itself). However, even if they're all jumbled in your closet, it's still so easy to find exactly what you're looking for when everything is nicely contained together!

What tips have revolutionized your life?
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Castile Soap Tutorial

Ok, I've had a few people ask me for an actual tutorial on hot process soap making.  Well, I aim to please, so here it is!!  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read a kind of intro here.

I'm not very experienced at writing tutorials, so if there's anything you don't understand, PLEASE ask me so I can clarify it for all.

**Disclaimer:  I am in no way responsible for any damage, injuries, etc that may come from using lye, crockpots, or anything else in the making of this recipe.**  =)

This recipe isn't the most luxurious, but it's still nice and moisturizing and way healthier than most anything you buy in the store.  This is also among the easiest, cheapest, and most hypoallergenic soaps you can make.  Once you get the actual process down, you can apply it to other soap recipes you find.  Soon you'll have fun experimenting with different additives, oils, fragrances, etc and making a wide variety of soaps.

The recipe we are using today calls for:

54 oz olive oil
16 oz distilled water
7 oz lye
essential oils are optional

Start by gathering a few basic supplies.  Pictured below are olive oil, distilled water, a scale that weighs to the tenth of an ounce, measuring containers (preferably not plastic), spoons, and lye.

Make sure you get 100% lye (sodium hydroxide).  I buy mine at Westlake Ace Hardware.  It can be found in the plumbing section with the drain cleaners (a common use for it).  Don't worry, once the soap is finished, the lye is fully saponified--that is, it has all reacted with the oils and is now soap and is no longer caustic.   *For more on lye, it's history, and its source, scroll to the bottom of the post.

You also need a crock pot, stick blender (unless you like to stir by hand for 2+ hours, nonstop), and a spray bottle filled with half soapy water and half vinegar to neutralize any residual lye in measuring cups, etc.

When the soap is finished, you will need a mold.  I use a simple 9x13 lined with wax or parchment paper and sprayed with olive oil.

Start by turning your crock pot on low.  Then weigh out 7.0 oz of lye into a glass container (the lye will static cling to plastic).  I'm going to assume that you know how to tare your scale and weigh accurately.  If you don't, make sure you learn before you begin.

Weigh 16 oz of distilled water into a separate container.  16 oz equals 1 lb.  Make sure you're familiar with your scale and its units.  You can see here that once mine hits 16 oz, it switches over to pounds and ounces.

Now take your water, lye, and a plastic spoon outside.  When you mix lye with water it causes a chemical reaction.  Your glass will get hot, so make sure it's sitting securely on a table.  It will give off fumes that you don't want to breathe--that's why it's best to do it outside.

IMPORTANT:  Pour your lye slowly into the water.  Do NOT pour the water into the lye!!!

As you slowly pour the lye into the water, stir with your spoon until it's all added and dissolved.  The solution will be milky white.  Leave it sit outside for now.

Go back inside and spray the container that had the lye with your soapy water/vinegar mixture to neutralize any lye residue.  Also spray your skin anywhere that lye happens to touch.

Now weigh out 54 ounces of olive oil.  Unless you're doing it in a very large bowl, you probably won't be able to fit it all into your measuring cup.  So be sure to keep track of your math and know how many ounces you've measured!  Here you can see that I've weighed out 32 ounces (2 lbs) so far.

Pour the oil into the crockpot, then go outside and get your water/lye solution.  It should now be clear.

Carefully add the lye-water to the oil in your crockpot.  The lye will sink to the bottom and you can see it starting to react with the oil on the bottom.  Neutralize the measuring cup that had the lye/water in it with your soapy water/vinegar mixture.

Get your stick blender and start to blend.  Make sure that the blender is fully submerged and not splashing.  Also make sure you keep it at an angle so it doesn't suction to the bottom of the crock pot.  If you do splash or spill any, make sure to neutralize it with your soapy water/vinegar mixture.

You will blend for 3-5 minutes or so, until it reaches trace.  You will know it has reached trace when it's like a thick pudding and somewhat holds shape when you pull the blender out.  (Make sure you do not pull the blender out while it's still running, or it will send caustic lye mixture flying everywhere!)  This is what trace looks like:

Put the lid on your crock pot and let it cook.  Meanwhile, rinse your stick blender with your soapy water/vinegar mixture.

While the soap cooks, prep your mold.  I simply put some wax paper or parchment paper across the bottom of a 9x13 pan and spray the whole thing with olive oil.

Now you wait.  About 25 minutes into the cook (all times are approximate, as every crock pot cooks at slightly different temperatures), you will start to see the soap wave at the edge.  Castile soap doesn't wave as much as other recipes, but you can see it here.  (I don't recommend lifting the lid during a cook, but I wanted to show you a good picture.)  See how along the left edge it's getting darker, more transparent, and kind of raised?

As it continues to cook, the waves may rise against the lid.  With some recipes, the waves may even lift the lid.  Here you can see it waving against the lid.

Here's my soap at approximately 45 minutes.  You can see that there's still an uncooked island.

10-15 minutes later, and it's all done!!  Every recipe cooks at a different time, so especially if you're trying a new recipe, check it often.  When the island is gone, stick a spoon down the center of the soap and make sure it's cooked all the way through.

Turn off the crock pot and stir the soap.  With some recipes you'll have a nice layer of glycerin on top.  Stir it all in.  In this recipe, you can see a little bit of glycerin around the left edge.  If you plan to add essential oils, let the soap cool for a few minutes then stir them in.  If not, you can go ahead and spoon it into your mold now.

Hot process soap is already saponified and thick at this point, so you're not going to get the perfectly smooth molding that you do with cold process.  I like mine rustic and rough, so I don't smooth it much.

Now you just wait until it is all opaque.  Here's a batch that isn't quite solidified yet.

It takes several hours to fully harden.  Once it's all opaque and hardened, it's ready to cut, just a few hours after being made (as opposed to cold process soap that takes weeks to saponify and cure).

Grab the edges of wax paper hanging over the sides and lift it out of the mold.  You can cut it with a knife or pastry cutter into whatever size bars you prefer.

Yay!  You've now made your own soap!  Wasn't that easy?

*ETA:  In the comments, a reader asked the following question:   why is the lye not dangerous when it turns into soap?

Great question!  The simple answer is that once the soap is fully cooked, there is no longer any lye in it!  Without bogging you down in chemistry details, an actual chemical reaction occurs between the lye and the oils.  Once the soap is finished saponifying, the lye and oils are now chemically changed into soap.  I actually superfat my soaps by 5%.  That is, I use 5% more oil than needed for the amount of lye I use.  This ensures that all of the lye has been transformed, and it leaves extra oils in the soap for extra moisturization.

Lye actually comes from ashes when wood is burned.  They discovered it way back when, when they would burn a fire and cook animals over the fire, the lye in the ashes was combining with the lard in the animal fat (which is another kind of oil) and forming soap.  Back then, however, they had no way to measure exactly how much lye they were using.  That's why if you hear grandmas talking about soap, a lot of times they talk about how it used to burn.  It's because there was too much lye to not enough oil, so some of the lye was left unsaponified.  Nowadays, we don't have that problem, since we use clean, pure lye--and this why we go by weight, rather than kitchen measuring utensils that aren't as accurate.

Anyway, this is the way our grandmas, great-grandmas, and so on made soap!  Only we have so many more options in the choice of oils, and most of us don't use lard (you can make lard soap, but it's not as luxurious as others).  And we can conveniently use a crock pot, rather than slaving over a fire.  =)

Also, please do NOT just substitute other oils in this recipe.  Different oils require different amounts of lye to react with.  Some need less, some need more.  So if you want to use different oils, please find a proper recipe or use a good lye calculator to determine what ratios you need.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The First Day of School that Wasn't...

Yesterday was supposed to be our first day of school.  I had the textbooks all organized and ready to go...

...the pencils all sharpened...

...(yes, I tend to panic at the sight of pink erasers, but the packaging on these assured me that they're latex-free)...

...the lesson plans all done up...

...and the classroom organized and just waiting for us to begin (obviously this room is not one of the ones that we have redone in the house.  It still needs a lot of work.  Those yellow floors are awful!).

Who doesn't LOVE new school supplies?  I get all giddy and crazy when school supplies appear in the store.  Those freshly-sharpened real-wood pencils, don't they just give you goose bumps?  I was raring to go.

Then my 8-year-old came out of bed in the morning, tossed her pillow onto the couch, laid down on it, and said, "I don't feel good."  I thought, ok, she's just all nervous about starting school today (yes, homeschooled kids get that way, too).  But no, by late morning her temperature was up to 100*.  She spent all day laying on the couch watching videos.  So much for the first day of 4th grade.

Then, my 6-year-old (who does most of his core classes right along with his 8-year-old sister) said, "Well, if we can't do Bible, History, Science, and Health, can I not start today, either?"  So much for the first day of 2nd grade.  (Today he has started the sore throat that's the first symptom of this illness.)

Then, after nap time, my 4-year-old started complaining of a sore throat, and she felt warm to the touch.  So much for the first day of Kindergarten.  (Today she has a 103* fever.)

This is one of the benefits of homeschooling, though.  We can pause the school year (or postpone it) instead of the kids just getting farther and farther behind.  We typically do school Tuesday through Saturday, but we can add extra days in on Mondays if we need to.  And the kids aren't worried about having to make up a bunch of work or missing out on something fun.  They can just have movie days and focus on getting better.

Meanwhile, I keep staring at my empty classroom with all of it's fresh, new notebooks just beckoning me to write on one of the stark, clean pages.  But I doubt anyone will be up for school tomorrow.  

Would it be too weird to start school on a Friday?  I really, really want to use one of those pencils...

How was the first day of school for your kids?
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Beaded Hair - Tutorial

My girls love having beads in their hair.  It makes them feel so fancy, and they like choosing what colors get put in and matching their outfits and dresses.

My mama has this really cool machine that puts the beads into the hair.

In a matter of about 2 seconds, it can do a whole line of them.

I, however, don't have one of those machines, so I do it the good old-fashioned way having nothing but beads, small silicone pony holders, and a bit of water.  

Start by deciding where on the head you want the beads, and separate a small strand of hair.

Make that strand into a braid.

Dip the tip of the braid into a cup of water, much like wetting the end of a thread to thread a needle.

Thread the beads on in the order you'd like.

Once you have the number and colors of beads you want, put a small, silicone pony-tail holder at the bottom.  If you have beads with larger holes, you may have to do a second pony over the top of the first to hold them on.

Then style the hair as you'd like.  Sometimes my girls want the hair pulled back with the beads hanging down.

Other times they want the beads pulled back, too.

They love it when the beads kind of circle their heads like a tiara.

The beads can be left in a long time.  They can be shampooed, slept on, and brushed around.

Have fun experimenting with placement of the beads, colors, and styles.  It literally takes mere minutes, and the girls love it!

What fun bead styles have you come up with?

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