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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Best Smelling Homemade Laundry Soap / Detergent

The Best Smelling Homemade Laundry Soap / Detergent


Homemade laundry soap with scent beads
Laundry Soap can get expensive in a house with four children, two of whom are teenage girls.  The only people on earth who make more laundry than teenage girls are teenage boys and I have one of those, (as well as a preteen) too.  Needless to say, we go through a lot of laundry detergent.

I've tried the generic brands as well as the store brands but they just don't do it for me.  I'm addicted to the fresh fragrance of clean clothes, and those cheaper brands just don't have any fragrance in my opinion once things come out of the dryer. 

So about a year ago my sister and best friend, Tiff turned me on to her version of homemade laundry detergent.  While I loved it, and it's fragrance, I've upped some things, and left out others out completely to optimize it to my taste,  but I will forever be grateful to her because I estimate she has saved me over $100 in the past year.  The recipe below is my adapted recipe, and will fits nicely into a 5-gallon bucket (available at Lowe's or Home Depot) 

When I make this, I buy double the ingredients and make two 5-gallon buckets FULL.  As I said, we do a lot of laundry!  Although we only use about 1/2 cup per load, we still go through both buckets every five months.

Home-made laundry soap
1 - 4lb 12oz. box Borax
2 - 3lb 7oz box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
1 - 3lb box Oxyclean
1 - 4lb box Baking Soda
5-  bottles Downey Unstoppables Scent Boosters

Directions:
Open all boxes/bottles and pour half of each into a large container.  Mix thoroughly with a large wooden spoon.  Empty remainder of boxes/bottles and mix thoroughly once again.

Note:  It is very difficult to mix powders at these quantities.  I typically do this outside so I don't get any powders on the floor, and mixing each half separately helps makes it a little easier.  If you dump everything in at once, it's not likely that you'll be able to get to the bottom of the container and blend the ingredients well.

Also, I usually make each batch with matching scent booster beads - but this past time, I combined blue and pink ones, and I just love the layered scent effect it's giving our laundry.  Try it sometime!



Monday, September 8, 2014

The Perfect Deep Dish Apple Pie

Deep Dish Apple Pie (recipe below)



I'm really in the mood for Autumn to hurry up and get here, so I'm trying to encourage it by doing Autumn-y things like putting out my fall linens ad decorations in the dining room and baking Apple Pie.

This Apple pie is so easy to make and tastes delicious - equal parts tart and sweet with the perfect balance of cinnamon.

Truth be told, I never use a recipe for pies of any kind - I just throw it all together and hope for the best.  I admit that this is not the best approach.  While most turn out just fine, I have had my share of soupy pies.

The trick of it all is to trust yourself and know how it's supposed to look at the various stages.

Step one: is always start with fresh apples.   I prefer the tartness of Granny Smith for my pies, but I have been known to throw any kind of apple into my pies if they're on hand.

I slice each apple off of the core into about 4 large pieces then peel the pieces. I feel like they're easier to handle when they're in pieces that way.

After all the pieces are peeled, I cut each piece into slices that are around 1/2" wide and put them in a large bowl.

Once all the apples are sliced in the bowl, I dump sugar on them, followed by cinnamon until it looks right (don't worry! the actual recipe is going to follow).

When the sugar/cinnamon ratio is right, I add flour until it appears a bit sticky.  If you get this part right, you won't have a watery pie.
                                     



  

Step 2:  For this pie, I used refrigerated pie crusts.  Roll the bottom crust out to the point it is bigger than the pie plate you plan to use and then transfer it into the pie plate allowing it to hang over the edges.

Poke the bottom crust with the tines of a fork and add the apples and a few chunks of butter.  Don't worry if the apples are mounded up in the center because they will melt down in the oven.

You can either add strips to the top for a woven lattice effect or simple add the entire top whole and cut slits in it.  The important part is to allow them to hang over the edges.  Don't try to trim it or make it even.  You'll clean it up in the next step.
Step 3:  Take all the crust that is hanging over the edges and fold it under.  Pinch around the edges with your thumb and finger to create the fluted effect shown to the left.

Before putting it into the oven, I add some crust protectors so the crust doesn't burn.  

Pop it into a preheated oven (on a cookie sheet in case it bubbles over) at 350F and bake it.  I usually remove the crust guards after about 30 minutes, and then return it to the oven until it begins to smell good and I can see at least a little bubbling.
This is the end result.  Good luck - and if you decide to try it, or if you have any questions, please be sure to let me know!

Deep Dish Apple Pie Recipe
This makes a 10" pie

Ingredients
8-10 granny smith apples peeled and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter cut into chunks
1 package prepared pie crust 

Step 1
Add sliced apples into a large bowl.   Add sugar and cinnamon and fold it all together carefully until it's well mixed.  Sprinkle the flour in and again fold carefully until well mixed.

Step 2
Roll bottom crust into pie pan, pierce with a fork.  Transfer apples into bottom crust and top with butter chunks .  Place top crust on pie.

Step 3
Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and apples are soft.  (If you watch for bubbling within the syrupy part of the pie you won't go wrong).  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.








Sunday, September 7, 2014

Easy Weekly Family Dinner Menu / Meal Plan Week 1


Weekly Menu

One of the things I do to keep my sanity with this big family is to plan my menu a week ahead of time.  Honestly, between field hockey, football, orthodontist appointments, and work there is no time for floundering around trying to figure out what to eat.  Not to mention that the kids don't want to hear how busy your life is.  They just want dinner on the table.  The alternative to having a plan is to have quick junk food or fast food - something I hate to do.  We call convenience foods and fast food plastic food in my house because of all the chemicals, stabilizers, and preservatives in it.  Have you ever seen photos of a McDonalds hamburger and fries that have been left out for years?  It looks the same - because it's fake food!

When I create my menu each week, I start with a digital photo-frame that has something to do with the season or a birthday we're celebrating.  In the frame I write the days of the week and their corresponding date.  I also add any sports activities and appointments.  When I print it out, it goes into a modified frame I bought from the dollar store (see photo above).  I removed the glass, and velcroed it to the side of my refrigerator.  Each week a new menu goes in front of the old one.  I never thought the kids would care about this one way or the other.  After all, I'm using this as a tool to help me be prepared - but they love it!  They can't wait to see whats coming when I post it each Sunday and will actually cheer if one of their favorite meals is coming up in the week.  So it ended up being a win-win for us.

A few last comments about my menus are 1.  The disclaimer.  I have a disclaimer printed right on the top of each and every menu.  It reads - Please note:  All menu items are subject to change without notice.  I cannot even imagine the chaos that would ensue without the disclaimer.  What?  You promised that we were having fried chicken on Tuesday!  Followed by all sorts of attitudes and pouts.  Now, all I have to do is wave a finger at my disclaimer, and it takes all the steam out of their revolt.  2.  I have at least one and often two "Survivor Nights".  These are nights where leftovers are encouraged, but I tell them to imagine they were on a deserted island.  What could they cobble together to make a meal?  This is a night for them to stretch their own skills and learn some independence too.  I guess I should mention that the kids absolutely hate Survivor nights.  They're used to fresh home-cooking and aren't shy about complaining.   I tell them that they're probably getting more home-cooked meals than any else they know so a night or two each week shouldn't kill them.  So far, they're not buying it.

Sunday
Linguine with home-made marinara sauce, and meatballs.  Served with crusty garlic bread.  Deep-dish apple pie for dessert.  (I'll link the recipe here when it's complete.)

Monday
Marinated, grilled pork chops served & baked potatoes served with sour cream and fresh chives

Tuesday
Crock pot Beef fajitas, onions and peppers served with warmed tortillas, tostada chips, and home-made salsa

Wednesday
~ Survivor night ~

Thursday
Mango-Jalepeno grilled chicken served with fluffy white rice

Friday
Home-made pizza with choice of toppings:  cheese, pepperoni, Italian sausage crumbles and/or bacon

Saturday
~ Survivor night ~

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze

Buttermilk Bundt Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze


Oh my god!  This cake is so good.  I was looking for an easy "go-to" cake recipe that didn't come from a box, but used things I often have on hand.  This cake fits that bill perfectly.

The best thing about this recipe is that you can change it in so many ways and completely alter the outcome.  For instance, you can substitute almond extract for the vanilla for an amazing almond cake.  I have also added lemon extract and some lemon zest to the vanilla when I want to focus on the more citrusy flavors.

I have substituted sour cream and 1% milk for the buttermilk when I didn't have any on hand, and it still came out delicious.  You're only limited to your own imagination here, so go wild!

I have to say, that the above photo was my first attempt at this cake, and I allowed the glaze to cool off too much before putting it on the cake - it turns out much nicer when the glaze is really warm.  I also didn't know I was going to blog this photo initially, but I decided to just go for it.

If anyone out there tries this, please let me know how it turns out!

Buttermilk Bundt Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 baking soda
1/2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
1 cup buttermilk

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Generously butter and flour a Bundt pan (cooking spray doesn't work for me with this cake and it ends up sticking).
  2. In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy (about 3 minutes), scraping bowl down as necessary.
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before moving on to the next.
  4. Beat in vanilla.
  5. In a separate medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  6. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk in at least 3 additions.
  7. Spread into the prepared Bundt pan and bake 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert on a rack.
Salted Caramel Glaze
4 tablespoons of butter, cubed
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Steps:
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, and cream.  Bring this to a boil, stirring constantly.  
  2. Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.  
  3. Sprinkle sea salt over the surface and turn mixer to moderately high (about 7 or 8) for about 2 minutes.
  4. Turn mixer off and add confectioner's sugar a little at a time, on very low until it is fully incorporated, scraping sides of bowl as necessary.  Once it is fully incorporated, turn back to moderately high for another 2 minutes.
  5. Drizzle this glaze - while still warm - over the cake.  Allow it to set up before serving

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It's a new chapter for Elizabeth Obsesses

Well.  It sure has been a long time since I've posted to my blog, I don't even know where to begin.  In all honesty, that's why I haven't written in so long.

The year 2010 brought some huge changes for me.  Some quite difficult and some incredibly beautiful.  In a nutshell, I got divorced.  I also reconnected with my high school sweetheart.  We combined our families, and suddenly, I became mom to 5 beautiful children, and grandmother to two! The oldest, Ashley, who is 23 years old, lives with her fiancĂ© and their two children not far from us. The remaining 4 live with us - 2 are mine biologically, and two are his.  I adopted his youngest two, so for us it really is all kids all the time, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My baby is 11-year old Austin.  My oldest is 16-year old Ryan.  Adding to the fun are the middle two.  They're 14 year old girls, born 5 weeks apart, both named Amanda.  We call them Big A and Tiny A.

So as you can see - I have even more to obsess over now.  They are constantly on the go, and between my work, their school, after school activities, and sports there is barely enough time to breath!  Still, I take pride in cooking with whole foods, all from scratch whenever possible.  This adds to the chaos, but it seems that they've come to expect (and demand) no less.  I love that it matters to them and do my best to raise the bar whenever possible.  The only way I can pull it all off is to organize...and obsess.  Which brings me back to why I'm blogging again.

I can't wait to get back to doing what I do best - sharing recipes and stories of our adventures.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vampire Man in Upstate New York

OK - this is a snippet from my recent vacation. I can personally attest that every word is true!

My kids and I, along with my dear Sister's family (her, her husband, and two daughters) went to upstate New York for a fabulous retreat from society a few weeks back. We stayed at a reclaimed farmhouse from the 1800's, which was literally across the street from the Oswegatchie River, in St. Lawrence County. Our little home away from home was situated on 85 acres of beautiful meadow and woods.

One of the first things that struck us as we set out to see what upstate New York had to offer, was that there really wasn't a whole lot to choose from. It turns out that while simply gorgeous, St. Lawrence County, isn't exactly the cultural mecca of New York. With help from my trusty GPS, Emily, I set out trying to add some destination-based fun to our week.

The entire list of available activities for us - beyond the fishing, kayaking, hiking, and boating which we could do from the property itself - is as follows: there was a water park over 2 hours away, a museum in town, bowling, maybe a movie, Natural Bridge Caverns, a huge hedge maze, a privately owned aquarium and of course, in Alexandria Bay, we could visit Boldt Castle.

One morning, we decided to caravan to Natural Bridge Caverns. Both families ventured out together in separate cars.  Emily (smug with satisfaction) instructed me to "Please drive to highlighted route" in her crisp, Australian accent.

Eventually, we began seeing road signs advertising Natural Bridge Caverns. A heartfelt "waaa hooo" went up from the back of the van. Turning down the road that Emily and the signs pointed out, we soon found ourselves in a tiny, rundown town looking like something out of a Stephen King novel. I made nervous small talk indicating as much.

Up ahead, on the right, the signs all pointed. Moving slowly, I eventually came to what appeared to be an old gas station building. But instead of pumps, a parking lot overgrown with weeds was all that there was to welcome us. Both vehicles turned in and slowed to a stop. The shades were all pulled on the little gas station building, and a large faded orange sign hung in the plate glass window. "Closed", it said mockingly.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Surely this was the wrong place! Crestfallen after having driven an hour, I parked the car, and got out to talk with my Sister and her husband. My son took the opportunity to get out of the van and stretch his legs. As I conversed with my sister, a very tall man appeared from behind the building and lumbered slowly towards us. Despite the fact that it was 10am, he was clutching a beercan in one hand and a pack of skoal in the other. His pasty white skin and even his hair and eyebrows, were covered in what I assumed was drywall dust. (A hoax to camouflage his true nature).

Immediately, I recognized him for what he was: Vampire. Moving quickly to collect my son and trying to keep everyone in one place, he approached us and asked us if we were there to see Natural Bridge Caverns. His voice was an odd mixture of Canadian accent and slow Southern Draw. He told us that the owner of the cavern had passed away about 5 years ago (he probably fed on him!, my mind called out), but that he would be happy to show us the entrance and exit of the cave. He noticed my daughter at this point telling her aunt that she had to find a bathroom. In his slow Canadian draw, he invited us to follow him to the facilities.

Although every fiber in my body was telling me that maybe we should just go back out on the main road and find a fast food place to go to the bathroom, I silently followed my sister and daughter around back to where the "facilities" were supposed to be.

What we found was a house - presumably the vampire's lair. It was completely devoid of furniture, but not of people. A heavily tattooed man was there plastering over drywall, along with a young girl roughly the age of my own daughter. She had a wild look in her eyes. It occurred to me that we had driven an hour from the safety of our cabin and were now entering a complete stranger's house to use the bathroom, and no one knew where we were.

(This is wrong - this is wrong - this is wrong, I repeated to myself in my head). While my sister and daughter went into the bathroom together, I looked around and tried to calm myself. I reassured myself with the fact that if we didn't come back, her husband would come looking for us. The young girl seemed especially happy we were there. In just a few seconds, a fast-looking, yellow Mustang skidded to a stop outside the little house, and a hard looking woman got out and entered. Eying me up and down sideways, (surely wondering whether she was going to take our kids or our cars after she killed us), I waved my white paper brochure for Natural Bridge Caverns in an attempt to demonstrate that I'm a tourist and I surrender...I later found out that when it was my turn in the bathroom, the little girl told my sister that, "when I was born, my Momma got schizophrenia and I became a cancer." She now lived with her daddy (presumably Tattoo Man).

I was thankful when we were able to get out of the lair, and headed back to the car. However, Vampire Man had already beat me out there and was talking to her husband. "Sure", I heard him say. "We'd love it if you could show us around."

 And so it began. Our little group of 7 following our beer-chugging, snuff chewing Vampire tour-guide into the overgrown bushes and shrubbery to the left side of the gas station building.

The journey to the mouth of the cave was uneventful - save for the fact that access to it was down a steep set of overgrown earthen stairs covered with loose gravel and a trip over a wooden foot bridge that was so rickety we were advised to cross it one at a time. By this time, her husband was engrossed in his conversation with Vampire Man, and I was unable to get his attention to let him know that we were all going to be killed soon.

Oblivious to my not-so-subtle head and neck jerks in his direction, he led the way and we eventually made it out of the mouth of the cave and back to the safety of the parking lot. "OK, thanks!" I said in an attempt to dismiss him from his services or distract him from whatever plans he was forming in his head. "We'll be leaving now. Too bad it was closed, but thank you for your time." (There, that ought to do it.)

I was more than half way to the mini-van when I realized that the majority of our little group was once again following Vampire Man....into the woods this time, to look at the exit of the cave. This time the hike was a little further, and I began exchanging nervous looks with my sister. The children, of course, were completely oblivious to how shady this all seemed. It seemed perfectly acceptable, to them, that we would have a private tour guide.

Of course after the 5 minute hike through the woods to see the cave's exit, it was only a short hike to the "blow hole." Surely we'd want to see that too, right? With every passing minute and every step we took, my brain was exploding with all kinds of warnings. This was just about the time when my sister leaned over to me and whispered, "he's taking us so far away so the others can hotwire and move our cars...there'll be no trace left of us."

At the blow hole, Vampire Man tried to get me to go closer to the hole to take "really good photograph" (it was a hole straight to Hell...I know this because my son threw a rock down and it *never* hit bottom). I just said, "ummm ahhh...no thank you." (please don't kill us, please don't kill us).

Urgently thinking that we really should be getting back to the vehicles right about now, I was stunned to see her husband still at the front of the line engaging Vampire Man in a one-on-one discussion on local geological finds and other caves nearby. Over another old footbridge, that spanned a large gorge with all the lateral slats rotting away ("stay on the verticals, and I guess you'll be fine", our tour-guide shared,  with a mischievous grin) we trudged forward into the bug infested woods.

It wasn't even 10 minutes later that we came upon, what I like to call, the crime scene. My sister and I - well and truly freaked out now and beginning to speak up from our place at the back of the line - frantically took pictures of the scene in case our cameras ever made it out of these woods. Up against the trunk of a tree with weeds and underbrush growing all around were the remains of a pair of denim pants, a t-shirt, boxers, and a toothbrush (yes, a toothbrush!). But no body. (Oh my God, this is it, we're getting ready to be killed, and her husband is up there talking about rocks!)

I lean over to my sister and tell her that if, by chance, we do happen to make it out alive, at least we'll have an *awesome* story to tell. She responds by leaning over to me and telling me that the rest of Vampire Man's posse (Tattoo Man and Mustang Woman) is waiting for us up ahead, and that they'll probably let Cancer Girl feed on us first, since she's just a kid. I gulped nervously and said loud enough for her husband to hear, "OhhhKayyyy, we really need to be getting back to the car now....remember, we have those *other* plans for today, too."

A short time later, he simply hiked us back out to the cars. I was happily surprised to see that they had not been moved (not that I could see, anyway). We piled in and quickly drove away; anxious to put as many miles between us and the town of Natural Bridge as possible. But not before asking Vampire Man to be in our family photo. In front of the drawn shades and the Closed sign, Vampire Man held up his beer in a silent toast to us, the ones who were getting away, while surrounded on both sides by my family.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Freelance Update

If you've been reading, you know that I've been really trying to break into the freelance market - either with writing or photography. I've applied for dozens of positions over the past month or so, and have received a lot of helpful feedback along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, I applied for a position in a local photography studio, and sent a link to my portfolio along with my cover letter. I got a reply very shortly afterwards, and set up an in-person interview for that very evening. I took a disk containing even more photos along.
In short, everything went great...they said my photos were creative and artistic, and that I could benefit from more training, on the technical side. They (the business is owned by a husband/wife team) have "hired" me, and will provide on-going training. While in training, I will be a "second" photographer. The best part is that I still get paid for this. Eventually, I will become "primary" photographer, and the pay is a lot better at that point.

My first training session is 9/5, and my first wedding (where I will be a "second") is 9/6. I am so incredibly excited about this opportunity! One of the most important things is training. Because I am trying to get my personal photography business off the ground, the fact that they will help me learn even more is key. Also, since it takes time to build a customer base, this will keep me busy in the meantime. They will even provide a "company shirt" and personalized business cards.