Making Almond Milk

Shortly after my youngest daughter was born, we realized that she could not tolerate dairy. Since I was breastfeeding, I choose remove dairy from my diet so as not to upset her little tummy. It was a challenge at first, but I gradually came to enjoy my non diary options and found lots of tasty alternatives to cows milk.

Chocolate almond milk was one of those alternatives. See, I love chocolate almond milk. A lot. I could easily chug a half gallon in a day. My girls love it too, so I often freeze it in little popsicle molds to make healthy fudgesicles. 

Yesterday I went shopping and nearly bought some but, I refrained because, well, its pricey. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I got home I immediately wished I had a big glass of chocolate almond milk. Cold and refreshing, coupled with a cookie or two maybe? Why oh why didnt I buy it?! Saver’s remorse hit hard.

Thankfully, I have people in my life (Hi, Sara!) who are resourceful and like to say, “hey why don’t you just make your own almond milk?” instead of listening to my whining.

So, I hopped online and found a recipe for chocolate almond milk. Much to my pleasure, I found that making almond milk is actually pretty easy! And it tastes really good, too. Bonus!

Ingredients:

1.5-2 C Raw Almonds (soaked overnight)
4-5 C Water
4 Tbs Organic cocoa powder
4 Tbs raw honey

Directions:

  • Pour raw almonds into a jar and fill with water and soak overnight
  • Pour out the dingy water and rinse the almonds off
  • Put the softened almonds into a blender.
  • Add 4-5 cups of water
  • 4 tablespoons of organic cocoa powder
  • 4-5 tablespoons of organic honey or stevia (or whatever sweetener you might like)
  •  Blend, blend, blend
  • Strain the liquid into another container

And wala, chocolate almond milk!

You can keep this milk in the fridge for about a week. But I doubt it will last through the day at our house ::gulp gulp gulp::

**you can also dehydrate the leftover almond meal in the oven on low for 2-3 hours and use it for baking!**

The Health Benefits of Mullein

If you live in Colorado, chances are that you have seen a mullein plant. They are everywhere! As kids, we used to pluck the long stalks and use them as pretend swords. What I didnt know, was that this plant is a real herbal weapon!! We called the big soft leaves,”indian toilet paper” because…well… it came in handy when there wasnt a bathroom around. TMI? Sorry.

The girls and I were on a walk the other day (looking for rose hips…which I still need more of) and I looked over at the hill side and noticed lots of familiar mullein plants standing tall amidst the folliage and autumn leaves. So, I decided to take the opportunity to harvest some. Plus, I knew the girls would love the soft cozy feel of the leaves. See how nice they are? Just like slipping into flannel sheets at night.

Until recently I didn’t know much about mullein (in fact I didnt even know its formal name for years) other than the fact that my mom used to put warmed drops of mullein oil into our ears when we had earaches. After reading up on the health benefits of mullien, I can honestly say I am pretty impressed with this herbin’ weed. Here are some of the things I have learned about “indian toilet paper” ;) .

  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is known by many names and is commonly thought of as a weed and a nuisance by gardeners because it grows just about anywhere and is very hearty (it is even insulated by the hairs on its leaves so it can live beneath the snow during winter).
  • It can grow up to 7 feet tall and, when in bloom, has small yellow flowers at its top.
  • The leaves and flowers can be used medicinally in oils, tinctures, and even topically for burns. The roots are also useful for bladder issues such as incontinence.
  •  Verbascum (Mullein’s latin name) is an expectorant, meaning it is used to expel mucus from the lungs and throat.
  •  It is also a demulcent, which means that it has soothing elements and reduces inflammation.
  • Mullein aids in the promotion of cell growth and repair and assists in pain relief. It is often used to treat earaches and migraines.
  • It contains antiseptic agents and is used for chest ailments including bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, pleurisy and even whooping cough!!All of this from a weed? Yessiree!

The more I learned about the mullein plant, the more I wanted to use this awesome resource. So, I looked up some ideas on what to make and how to use it. I decided to try my hand at some garlic infused mullein oil. I found this recipe and whipped it up in no time. It was seriously so easy. You can also buy mullein oil in almost any health food store or herbal store. I posted the recipe below in case you would like to try it for yourself. Cold season is coming quickly, oft accompanied by the dreaded earache/ear infections.

Mullein and Garlic Ear Oil

Pick 1/4 to 1/2 cup of mullein flowers (I used some of the leaves as well)
Finely chop 3-6 cloves of garlic
Cover both with olive oil in a jar
Place cheesecloth or a similar type of fabric over the top to allow moisture to escape
Allow to infuse for 3-4 days
Once infused strain through the cheesecloth and pour into dropper bottles
Store in the refrigerator for longer life
Usage:
Warm the oil in hot water or leave at room temperature during periods of ear pain
Add 2-3 drops several times a day to ear canal
*Do not use if you have a perforated ear drum or if your ear is already oozing fluid*
God’s garden is so full of useful things, isnt it? I am truly enjoying the adventure of learning about the resources around me and using them in the interest of my family’s health. :)

 

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

Did you know that, of our 5 senses, smell is the most closely related to memory?
One of the smells that brings back the best memories for me is the glorious fragrance of homemade whole wheat bread. Mmmmm…

My mom used to make bread every week (6 loaves at a time!!) and the smell of her homemade bread would welcome us home after many snowy play days. There was nothing quite walking in the door, pulling off our snow gear, and sitting down to a fresh slice of warm bread slathered in butter. This woman can make some bread!

My amazing mother!

Growing up, I made bread a number of times with my mom. I always told myself that when I had a family I would make our bread every week “just like mom”. Well, for the first couple years of marriage I didnt make bread weekly like I thought I would. Whatever my excuse, I just didnt do it. Well, at the beginning of this year I decided that it was time to suck it up and just DO it!  I wanted to make all of our meals from scratch and I wanted them to be healthy, inexpensive, and fresh. Sure, there is work that goes into it. And planning. And budgeting. But let me tell you something. It is so worth it.

So, here is the recipe that I use every week now. I started out using a my mom’s recipe and then I tried a recipe on allrecipes.com or epicurious.com (I can’t actually remember now). I gradually tweaked things and changed a few ingredients or methods to fit my preferences to fix the issues I had.

Before today I never measured or documented how I make bread, but I decided to take pictures of every step this time.

This bread is easy, tasty, moist, and it rises like a charm. It is also whole wheat, non-GMO, and organic. 3 things that important to us as a family.

(Most of) the ingredients

Ingredients:
3 C Water
1 Tsp honey or sugar
1 Tbs Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs Olive Oil
4 Tbs Honey
1 Tsp Salt
5-6 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (keep 1/2 cup out for kneading)
A couple dabs of butter
2 loaf pans

 

Directions:

1. In a medium-large bowl, add 3 lukewarm cups of water. This means that its just above your body temperature without being too hot and killing the yeast.
2. Add a teaspoon of honey or sugar and stir into the water (a bit of sugar helps the yeast to proof).

3. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of active dry yeast into the water. I use dry active Redstar yeast. Stir the mixture until the yeast is mostly disolved and looks like this.

4. Let the yeast mixture sit for about 5 minutes. This gives the yeast time to proof and activate- it will look more fluffy and bubbly.

5. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of raw honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well.

6. Gradually add 5 to 5 1/2 Cups of Whole Wheat Flour. I use a fork to mix the flour in.  Add enough flour that it starts coming away from the sides a bit but is still doughy. Like this.

7. Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm-ish spot for about 45 min (until its doubled in size) I accidentally bumped the bowl before taking this picture, so this was already starting to deflate – you get the idea though, right?

8. Sprinkle about 1/2 Cup of flour onto the dough and mix it in so its not super sticky.

9. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and begin kneading

10. Knead the bread- sprinkling on flour as you go to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

 11. Here is a step that I made up to help keep the dough moist and still prevent it from sticking to the counter: I add a dab of butter to my hands or on top of the dough and continue kneading. I alternate kneading with flour and butter a few times until I’m satisfied with the texture and feel of the dough. I usually knead for about 8 minutes and until the dough is no longer sticking to my hands and the counter, but is still moist and soft.

Butter on dough

12. Add a couple of drops of oil to your (cleaned) bowl, and set the dough in the bowl. Then turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and doesnt dry out while it rises.

13. Cover the bowl again and let it rise for about an hour or until its doubled.  Like this.

14. Take the dough out and separate into 2 even parts. Preheat the oven to 350f now so that its ready.

 

15. Flatten out both sections of the dough with a rolling pin or something similar – I used an empty container since I dont have a rolling pin. Then roll the dough up (as if you were rolling a sleeping bag or a tortilla). The reason I flatten and then roll the dough is to prevent any air bubbles from causing holes in the loaves.

16. Place the rolled dough into the pans and let the dough rest for a few minutes (5-10) before putting into the oven.

17. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. The top of the bread should be hard and if you press on the crease (where the top and side meet) it wont give way. Then, 5 minutes before you take the bread out, brush on a tad of olive oil or butter to help it darken up a bit without getting too hard. Its really just to make it look pretty :)

18. When its ready, take the bread out of the oven, place on the counter, and let cool for a minute or two. I then use a rubber spatula to make sure all 4 sides are loosened from the pan before tipping it out.

19. Tip the bread out of the pan and lay it on its side or on a cooling rack for a bit.

20. DIG IN AND ENJOY!!

Top with butter, jam, peanut butter, honey, vegemite….whatever your heart desires. And watch out because this stuff disappears FAST!

Mark, enjoying some fresh bread.

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out! Or if you have another recipe you love- I’d love to try it!

 

Quinoa: Packing a Protein Punch

Its a meal, its a snack, its quinoa!

Quinoa still on the stalks – beautiful isnt it?

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my midwife talked a lot about eating a healthy diet and emphasized protein as an important part of every meal.

Diets that are high in protein have been proven to help a pregnant mothers avoid pre-eclampsia, lessens the chance of preterm birth, and it helps keep one’s energy levels up, so I was all for it!

Since I’m not a huge fan of meat, she suggested that I try adding quinoa into my diet. Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is gluten free and contains 8 grams of protein in a 1 cup serving. It is light, fluffy, easy to make, can be eaten alone or added into foods. The kids love it, its healthy, and BONUS – its not very expensive!

As soon as I tried quinoa, I was a convert.

Even after I gave birth, I remained a huge fan of quinoa. One of my favorite quinoa dishes is this awesome mediterranean quinoa salad. I love to bring a big bowl of it to picnics or whip up a batch for a weekend get-together.

If you want some other ideas for how to use quinoa, check out my pinterest board. I have pinned a number of fun recipes. Like the curried quinoa pictured below.

Curried Quinoa – Yum!

Another quinoa-based meal that I recently discovered, and has become a staple in our home, is the “mini quinoa egg quiche”. That’s probably not the real name, but since I kinda just make it up as I go that’s what I call it. My friend Beth introduced me to the concept, and I love it!! I dont have a picture for you because we gobbled them up too quickly. But if you make some and send me a picture, I’ll put it in here!!

Ingredients:

Heat oven to 350

In a large bowl, combine:

  • 1 Cup cooked quinoa (you can also soak quinoa overnight so it sprouts)
  • 1/3 C milk (optional)
  • 6-7 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup chopped spinach
  • 1/4 Cup salsa
  • 1/2 Cup grated cheese
  • 1/3 C corn
  • 1/3 C black beans
  • A sprinkle of salt and pepper
Mix all of the ingredients together and then scoop into a muffin tin.
Bake in the oven for about 15-18 min or until you can press the top and it springs back. Nice and spongy-like.
Let them cool a bit so your don’t scald your tongue. Then top with some salsa and enjoy!
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can play around with it and add other ingredients while still using the quinoa/egg as a base. You could easily add bacon or sausage for a breakfast version. Feta and tomato for a greek version. Peppers, onions, and chicken or beef for a dinner version. Anything goes. You can also make a double batch and freeze some to warm up at a later date. Easy peasy. 
If you’ve never tried quinoa, now is the time! If you are already a quinoa fan, these recipes are sure to give you some more fun ways to add it to your meals.
Happy Eating! 

 

Making and Canning Elderberry Syrup

More Elderberries!!

Just a short time ago, I wrote a blog post about making elderberry tincture. Near the end of the post, I suggested that elderberry syrup is much more palatable and is a great way to boost the immune system – especially for kiddos. A couple of weeks after our tincture extravaganza we were on yet another walk. Once again, we happened upon a boat load of ripe elderberries. Hooray!

Ripe elderberries, still on the umbrels

These bushes were actually the same ones we had harvested from previously, but since we were harvesting later, the berries were even more ripe! As soon as I saw the masses of berries I began to picture little jars of elderberry syrup sitting on my kitchen counter. With cute little labels on them. Awwww.

Here is how I went about making and canning elderberry syrup. 

1.) Harvest and Separate Berries
Our second batch of berries was much easier to de-stem than the previous batch because they were more ripe. It only took an hour or two this time, instead of 5 hours. Whew! If you want some info on how to properly take the berries off the umbrels, you can find out here on my previous elderberry post.  Here is what the berries look like after they are separated and de-stemmed.

2.) Boil
Once the berries were separated, I poured them into a large stock pot (I actually used 2 pots because I had so many berries). I then covered the berries with water. Not a lot of water, just about an inch above the berry line. The goal is to add water without diluting the berry juice too much. As you can see in the picture above- there were still some bits and pieces of stems left in the pot, but any leftover stems or flowers will rise to the top once you add the water, so you can spoon them out. I then reached in and squished the berries up by hand. You dont have to do that- I just felt like it.  :) Anyway, I then turned the stove on and brought the water/berries to a boil. After removing my hand of course.

3.) Simmer
Once the berry mixture is boiling, let it simmer gently for 25 minutes or so. This will help to soften the skin of the berries and extract the glorious purple juice within.

This is how the berries looked after I squished them up a bit, just before being boiled.

4.) Strain
After the berries have simmered, strain the elderberry juice into a large container. We are not going to use the berries in our syrup, so the goal here is to get as much juice out of the berries as possible and leave behind the skins and seeds etc. Here is the contraption I came up with. Costa Rican coffee maker + organic cotton bag = great straining device!

Pour the berry juice through a sieve or cheese cloth to catch all the juice

Another good way to strain the juice out,  it is to lay a clean cotton cloth over a colander and pour it through. This will allow all the juice to be used but none of the other debris will make it through. After all the juice has been poured out, I would recommend you put all of the berries into a cheese cloth or a mesh bag, and squeeze the life out of them. Milk those babies for all their worth!!

The berries, after being squeezed to death. (and Norah’s hand)

5.) Add Ingredients
I then added approximately 48 ounces of honey to the juice. I had about 2.5  gallons of elderberry syrup and I basically did it to taste. I have a tendency to ignore recipes and just do my thing. But I tried to stick to a method this time. Tried. I also added 4 cinnamon sticks to the mix because cinnamon is just amazing and is also a great cold killer.

6.) Re-boil the syrup
Once I got every ounce of juice out of the berries, I poured the elderberry syrup back into the large pot to boil again for a short time. As you can see, I am by no means an expert pourer. Sadly, I spilled a couple of ounces during the transfer. Sad day.

No use crying over spilled milk- but ederberry syrup? That’s a different story *sob*

So, after I dried my tears and cleaned up the mess, I then re-boiled the syrup.

Look at that beautiful purple syrup!! Mmmmm

6.) Prepare Jars
While the syrup was heating up again, I prepared my canning jars. The jars need to be sterilized so that all bacteria is dead. For long term storage, this is a vital step. Its actually important even if you plan to use your syrup within the week. Just better all around. You dont want a bunch of nasty bugs getting into that liquid gold. I also sanitized the lids by pouring boiling water over them.

7.) Distribute
Once the jars are clean and the syrup has boiled for a few minutes, I let it cool for a bit and then poured it into the jars and put the lids on.

If you dont wish to can/preserve your syrup, you can stop reading here. The following steps detail how to can the jars for long term storage. If you plan to use the syrup within a month or so, you can keep it in the fridge and take it daily or as needed. Skip to the bottom for some suggestions on use and dosage.

8.) Canning
We choose to preserve our syrup.  #1 We cant see ourselves using 2.5 gallons of elderberry syrup within 3 month’s time (3 months is about as long as you can keep elderberry syrup on the shelf/in the fridge). #2. We want to be able to give it away to friends without a “use by date” printed on the label. We dont have a pressure canner. In fact, all I have is a huge stock pot and some jars. Guess what? It works! Simple, affordable, and fun!

Here is how to use a water bath canning method for your syrup:

  • Fill a stock pot halfway with water
  • Once the water is heated add the filled jars
  • The jars need to be separated with a wire rack like this. Or with random objects you find in your kitchen. Like we did.
  • Add more water until the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Allow the jars to boil for 20-35 (the amount of time depends on the size of the jars and your current altitude.) Here is a chart that details the various boiling times.
  •  Remove the jars from the water. Most people like to use these handy dandy jar grabbers if they dont have a rack, but since I dont have either, we just tipped some water out and grabbed the jars with a pot holder. Only a few minor burns were sustained :) Kidding. We are fine.
  • Let the jars cool and check the seals before storing
  • Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.Here is the fruit (literally) of our labor! *sigh* Looks good, eh?

    Tada!!! 21 jars of canned elderberry syrup! Ain’t she a beaut?

If you dont have elderberries, or dont feel like buying any and making your own syrup- you can also buy elderberry syrup online. It’s pricey, but boy does it work!! Kicks those germs right out. Not to mention the other benefits that I mentioned in my tincture post.

Here are some great ways to use your elderberry syrup:

*For adults: Take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 per day if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*For kiddos: Take 2 teaspoons per day, or 2 tablespoons if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*In homemade yogurt as a sweetener and an extra immune boost
*In carbonated water- the girls love it! Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of seltzer water. It makes a wonderful and healthy “soda” as a treat for the kiddos
*Pour over pancakes, baked oatmeal, or in tea instead of honey
* Drizzle over ice cream
*Use as a sweetener in baked goods

What would YOU do with elderberry syrup??

Picking Wild Apples: Fun with Foraging

Orchards in the Wild

Oodles of Apples!!! 75 pounds to be exact.

If you had asked me last year, or even last month, whether there were a lot of fruit trees in the area, I would have laughed and said, “No, not much grows around here”.  I would have been wrong. At the beginning of the summer, Mark and I were talking about foraging and using the resources around us. We decided that our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to explore the land a bit, look for edibles (herbs, fruit, veggies) and then do something with them. You know, living off the land type stuff! We are going all pioneer-ish on you. Well, all I have to say about that is: seek and you shall find!!! In the last month alone, we have stumbled upon more than 15 wild apple trees, countless crab apple trees, a few pear and plum trees, and at least 10 elderberry bushes – all while exploring and having fun! So, we have gotten busy picking wild apples and eating, canning, and baking with them too. We still have about 50 pounds of apples sitting in the kitchen ready for peeling too. Oy. Now, let me be honest. I have never been the canning type. More specifically, I have never even tried to be the canning type. I’m all for homesteading, preserving, storing, and being resourceful (I even have a cute little apron!), but I have just never gotten into canning. Until this week. See, here’s the thing. When you pick 75 pounds of wild apples, like we did, you have a choice. You can either pick them and let them sit in the bags and look pretty or you can make use of them. If you decide to use them, like we did, its time to get out the knife sharpener and start peeling, cutting, stewing, cooking, boiling, etc.  After a few hours of work, you end up with a lot of apple-y goodness! Here are some of the tasty treats you can make with your foraged fruits!

  • Apple Sauce *Peel and cut the apples into halves or quarters (depending on the size) put them in the crockpot overnight with a couple inches of water, in the morning when the apples are super mushy you can add some honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste. I didn’t put mine in a blender or anything because I like it chunky, but if you prefer your apple sauce smooth and without chunks you can just throw it in the food processor and blend until it meets your demands :) Easy peasy!

Apples in the crockpot for apple sauce. You can see the big boxes of canning jars in the background :)

  • Stewed Apples *Peel, cut, and boil apples in a couple inches of water. Add a cup or two of sugar (if you’re using a huge pot like we did!) and a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. Boil gently until soft. We boiled for 25 minutes or so because wild apples tend to be a bit green and firm with less water content. Once the apples have softened, let them cool and then eat with custard, in a pie, or with baked oatmeal! Yum! If you want to can/preserve the stewed apples you can follow these directions. Or download this PDF, from the University of Tennessee which details all the ins and outs of canning and preserving.

    All stewed and canned up. We used waterbath canning method and it worked great.

  • Apple Crisp/Pie You can use fresh apples (peeled or peel-less) or you can use stewed apples. Mix the apples with a bit of sugar and cinnamon and a tablespoon of flour. Pour it into the whole wheat crust and then top the apples with some oats and butter mixed together. If you use stewed apples you will have to use more flour in the apple mixture to prevent too much liquid runoff.

    Whole wheat pastry bottom, apple filling, oat topping.

     

  • Spiced Apple Cake *Here is a super yummy recipe for apple cake. I subbed the all-purpose flour with whole wheat and the sugar was raw, but I left everything else the same.*
  • Zucchini Apple Bread *I used this recipe but I substituted the canola oil with 1/2 C. olive oil, and 1/2 C. coconut oil. I also used organic whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, and 3/4 C. raw honey instead of sugar. The end result was 2 moist and delicious loaves of bread. We gobbled them both down in a day!*
  • Raw Apple Juice *We just threw a few in the juicer with some carrots. A tiny bit tart, but tasty!*
  • Apple Butter (coming soon after I peel more apples…)
  • Dried Apples (nutritious snacks without much of a mess)

Here is what I suggest you do. Take a walk down your street- or better yet- go exploring in the woods. I bet you will be surprised at how many edibles you find. And if you dont find any apples or elderberries….dandelions are also edible. Yummy, right? Ha. Foraging is a great way to get out, have some fun as a family, and enjoy the amazing things God has created for us!

Making Elderberry Tincture

Finding Elderberries in the Mountains

Around this time last year, the girls and I were on a stroll and happened upon an elderberry bush. I was shocked. I never expected to find elderberries in the mountains of Colorado! I picked a ripe cluster of the berries and brought them home and did a bunch of research to make sure that I was right in my herb identification. I was! We went out later that week and harvested as many berries as we could find and made 2 large bottles of tincture from that one bush. We felt like such pioneers. Well, imagine my surprise when we found over 10 elderberry bushes this year on our foraging adventures! Thanks to Mark’s keen elderberry spotting.  We decided to make as much tincture as we could. Little did we know what that was going to entail. Before detailing our little venture into herbal remedies though, here are some important rules of elderberry use.

Safety Rules of Elderberry Harvesting and Use

  1. You can ingest the flowers of the elderberry bush- some people put them in champagne for a light springy flavor. Here is what the elder flowers look like

    Elderflowers

  2. Do not ingest unripe berries. They contain a mild cyanide which can cause nausea and vomiting etc.

    Unripe elderberries

  3. When using ripe elderberries, use them when they are purple and the stem has turned reddish/pink.

    Ripe elderberries

The Health Benefits of Elderberry

When I was a kid, my aunt used to make elderberry tincture and send it to us so I was somewhat familiar with it. I knew it was good for fighting off the flu or common cold because the second I complained of a stuffy nose or headache, out came the elderberry tincture. What I didn’t realize is that it can also improve heart health, lower cholesterol, lessen asthma, help with diabetes, and improve vision. It is also helpful in reducing inflammation in the bladder and urinary tract. Elderberry juice was used as a treatment in Panama during a flu epidemic in 1995 and in Israel, at Hadassah’s Oncology Lab, it was determined that the anthocyanins in elderberry enhance immune function greatly. In fact, it does such a great job that they are now treating AIDS and Cancer patients with elderberry!!! So that’s the scientific side of things. On to the making of the tincture. Be prepared to get dirty and have some fun!

My awesome hubby getting the berries at the top of the bush and his mum holding on to his ankles, “just in case”

Making Elderberry Tincture and Syrup

1.) Harvesting We spent about 30 minutes picking the ripe berries, and filled an entire reusable grocery bag. Hooray! You can also buy dry berries from herb stores like this one.
2.) Separating Guess how long it took us to separate those berries? Oh….about 5 hours.
Yep, talk about labor intensive! Oh well, its a labor of love, right? Anyway, to take the berries off of the umbrels, you simply have to use your finger tips and lightly pluck the berries off making sure to not take any stem along. If the berries are super ripe you can use a fork or wide tooth comb and run it downward along the stem. Some people freeze the berries while still on the umbrel and separate afterwards, but I havent tried that method yet.

Berries: separated and rinsed

3.) Recipe and Process There are a few different ideas on how to properly make tincture. Some people use only berries and alcohol. We decided to add a few extra ingredients. One thing is certain though- you have to use alcohol that is 80 proof or higher in order to extract the medicinal properties and preserve the berries. We used 90 proof rum for some of the jars and 90 proof whiskey for others. Some people say that vodka is the only proper alcohol to use when making tincture. But, I like to live on the edge so we didn’t use vodka. Anyway, here are the steps we took.

  • Separate and wash the berries
  • Mash them lightly
  • We added raw honey to the berries (about 1/4 cup of honey per 1 cup of elderberries) just because we wanted to make it a bit more palatable.

    Filling the Jars

  • Fill each jar about halfway with the berry/honey mixture
  • Add alcohol to the berries until the jar is nearly full (ends up being about a 50-50 mix).
  •  (Optional) Add a couple of cinnamon sticks, 3 or 4 cloves, 1 tablespoon dried echinacea, and 2 teaspoons dried lavender to each jar. We added these things because we had them on hand, and because they all have specific medicinal qualities that are also helpful in fighting illness and boosting the immune system.

    The finished product.

  • Seal the jar and shake the mixture until well combined.
  • Store in a dark dry place
  • Shake lightly every couple of days
  • The tincture will be ready after 2-3 weeks.

Suggested Use: You will want to strain the tincture before consuming it. You can do so 1 serving at a time or strain the entire content into a new jar and discard of the berries entirely. A daily serving (1 tablespoon) of tincture is great for keeping your immune system up and running. You can take it 3 times per day when you feel the first signs of flu or cold coming on. For kids, I would suggest making elderberry syrup since its more palatable and  kids love it!

Healthy Treats for Kids

My girls think these are pretty fantastic

I’m always looking for healthy summer treats for my girls. I am one of those health conscious moms. You know, the kind who doesn’t let her kids have the lollipop that is so kindly offered to them by the teller at the bank or the old lady at the coffee shop. I try not to go overboard, but since becoming a mom and knowing that I was given the responsibility of caring for the health and growth of my girls I feel its vital to start them off on the right foot.

That being said- here is one of my go to recipes when it comes to healthy treats for kids.  Its easy. Its healthy. Its a winner.

In a blender pour in:

  • 6-8oz Coconut Yogurt (any flavor works)
  • 1 Cup fresh fruit- we love berries.
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Milk

Blend until smooth and creamy
Pour into popsicle molds
Freeze
Eat

These treats are so easy and delicious. They are full of vitamins, healthy fats, and probiotics.

My girls think they are pretty good and so do I.

Crab Apple Jam

Crab apples are just so darn cute aren’t they? So red. So tiny. So crabby. All bunched up on the tree together like a group of girls headed to the restroom. You know its true. 


We have a number of crab apple trees around our apartment complex and my husband has been saying for weeks now, “we should do something with those crab apples.” I liked the idea. I really did. But to be honest I was thinking, “Ok. If you want to stand out in the hot sun while wrangling 2 kids, pick a bushel of teeny tiny tart apples, peel and core them, and then make something edible out of them – be my guest. I have other things to do.”
That’s where my mother in law comes in. She is visiting from Australia and, let me tell you, this lady knows how to ‘git ‘er done’! She takes ideas and makes them reality. Well, Mark knows this and he must have mentioned his crab apple idea to her as soon as her plane landed because guess what we were doing the day after she arrived? Yep, picking tart and tiny apples out in the hot sun while wrangling 2 young children. Operation crab apple jam was underway.  It turned out to be a lot of fun actually and the girls had a blast.
The truth is that it wasnt that hard! In fact, it was so easy I might just do it again!! Tomorrow even!

So, here is where I explain the process to you and you have the option whether to go out and do it yourself, or just enjoy the story. Pictures make it even better!

  • We picked the reddest, ripest apples we could find and put them into bags
  • We brought our loot inside and threw the load of tiny apples in the sink to rinse them
  • We cut out all the bad spots and the stems, and sliced them in half.  (No peeling needed! Yay!)
  • We threw them all into a big pot and set it to boil for a few hours. Maybe 3?
  • Once the apples were soft and mushy, we strained out the juice and set it aside.
  • Then we pushed all the pulp through a colander so we could get some of the apple goodness without any seeds or skin. You dont have to do this part, but I like some fiber in my jam.
  • We then added 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice/pulp. Our first batch ended up being about 11 cups of each. Oh and I added about a tablespoon of cinnamon too, because, apple cinnamon jam? I mean, hello!
  • We then boiled the apple/sugar mixture on the stove (stirring until the sugar melted and every 30 minutes to make sure it wasnt burning etc) until “setting point”. This is when you drop a spoon of the apple mixture into an ice cold glass of water and it instantly becomes a gel.
  • Once it was at setting point we poured it into our prepped jars. Basically we cleaned jars with boiling water and then poured the jam into them. Really tough stuff, huh?
  • Then we left it to set.

A couple hours later I pulled out a loaf of fresh bread and we slathered that goodness on top.

It is amazing. We have about 10 jars of jam and the only expense was the sweat from our brows and the sugar we used. It is chock full of vitamin C, tastes amazing, and its great for gifts too. That is, if I want to part with any of it.

So, take it from me. Its worth the effort and is actually a lot of fun. Maybe you wont need your mother in law to get your rear in gear- thats what this post is for.

 

 

Garlic as a Natural Antibiotic: A Germ’s Worst Nightmare.

What do Italian food, crunchy mamas, and natural antibiotics have in common?

*hint* take a peek up at the title up there.

I’ll even give you a picture. Yes. It’s garlic.

At least you cant get bad breath from just looking at it, right?

 

In all its potent glory.

I could list all the benefits of garlic right now, but let’s just suffice to say – its basically a miracle herb. You should definitely use garlic as a natural antibiotic. I’m talking the 007 of herbal remedies here folks. No, its not ideal for a make-out session, but if you can get past the…um…vibrant fragrance its great for almost everything else.

About 3 months ago I was bathing my youngest daughter when I noticed some peeling and cracking on her big toe. I figured it was from being dry. Living in a desert can do that to ya. But it gradually got worse, to the point that her foot was actually peeling, cracked, and bleeding. Since I didnt want to take an unnecessary trip to the doctor, I decided to do some research and figure out how to treat it on my own. You will find that this is a common theme in the Sharman household.
After a lot of researching, googling images, and comparing notes I figured out what it was. Athlete’s foot! I know, right? Seriously? I didnt think babies could get that stuff.

Regardless, I figured that since athletes foot is a fungal issue, it was time to pull out the big guns.
Here is what I did to help, and ultimately cure, Norah of her foot fungus.
Every morning and evening I slathered on a layer of GOOT. What is goot? Goot is a homemade mixture of coconut oil, garlic, olive oil, and essential oil. Its goot stuff!

I cant remember where I first saw the idea for this smelly yet amazing salve, but as soon as I read the ingredients I was sold. I’ll post the recipe for you below.

  • 1/3 C Unrefined Coconut Oil (I like the organic extra virgin stuff)
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 8 Cloves of Garlic
  • A couple drops of essential oil like lavender

Throw it all in a food processor or a blender…just something to make it nice and smooth. Then slather it on. You can heat and strain it to make sure there are no garlicky lumps, but I didnt. I also used this salve on the bottom of the girls feet at night when they were fighting a flu/cold too and on their neck and chest for a respiratory issue as well. It helped a lot.

I’m telling you- this stuff will evict any germs who have tried to make their home in you or your little ones. Its easy to make and a little bit goes a long way. Garlic helps treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It is chock full of antioxidants and boosts the immune system. It also tastes good on fresh bread.