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The Virtues of Vinegar

The Virtues of Vinegar

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

Are you enjoying summer? Are you trying? Or is the lure of the watermelon margarita too hard to resist? (You can make them without alcohol, too.)

Here’s something to really whet your whistle if you happen to be in Philadelphia: the Donut Cheesesteak Burger.

As if 1400 calories were the only thing we needed to worry about.

Yes, I know, capitalism. I’m not knocking capitalism, of course. . .but it’s just. . .couldn’t you use that intellect for something else? I mean, we now have two Ebola patients in the US–could you help out with that a little, maybe?

Anyway. . . .

I’m well into the second week of the infamous Yeast-Free Diet, to try and get rid of the heartburn and other gastro ills I’ve developed. No alcohol, no vinegar (except apple cider vinegar), no fruit, no dairy. . .well, you know the drill if you’ve read about it or done it. It’s a 90-day cleanse diet, and once you get over no cheese on your scrambled eggs for a while, it’s all good, and you’ll get the bug out of your gut.

I’m using the Yeast Control powder from Green Willow Tree again this time, too. Funny, it really doesn’t taste all that bad to me this time. That’s OK, and ice in the water helps with that.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be grumpy for a while. But I’m getting back into walking and exercise, so maybe that will take the edge off. A little. If I don’t hurt myself.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that what’s called “common knowledge,” also known as “common sense,” seems to be disappearing in this country. What I mean by that is that things people just used to know and passed along were little things, like a dozen equals 12. People don’t KNOW stuff like that anymore, and they certainly don’t pass it around if they do. While I don’t try to go around giving advice to people who didn’t ask for it, I do try to help out where needed. Sometimes.

Take vinegar, for instance. Yes, that bottle of strong, clear liquid in your pantry that comes in handy for the occasional recipe, and the stuff I can’t use for a while. (Distilled White Vinegar, that is.) Did you know you can use it for more than just salad dressing and stuff, right? Well, keep reading.

Twenty years ago, when I became a devotee of Martha Stewart, I found in either her Christmas issue or one of her Christmas books an idea for making flavored olive oils. I did some research too, since the web was becoming an information portal. Problem: fresh herbs have bacteria that may flourish in oil, but vinegar would kill anything like that. I just put the same herbs into vinegar, got some sealing wax, corked the bottles and gave quite a few folks some flavored vinegar for Christmas. I did that more than once, too.

Of course, when I asked the now-ex-husband to write down “sealing wax” on our shopping list, he didn’t understand what it was, or what it was for. When we got to Wal-Mart, I looked on his list and it said, “ceiling wax.” Um, what? You gonna get up there and wax it?

Anyway. . .

When I grocery shop, I buy two or three gallons of the plain white kind, because, well, I do not use it for salad dressing; that’s either apple cider vinegar or maybe raspberry vinegar. . I also don’t use table salt for cooking, but we’ll get to that later.

Vinegar does all kinds of non-foodie things, which is why I keep it around. Do you have a stainless steel kettle for boiling water to make tea or coffee in a French press? Leave it too long and it will develop a slime. YUCK! You can also become ill from it–read the linked post, and you’ll see I did that already, hence a previous round of the Yeast-Free Diet.  When I clean mine, I fill it halfway with vinegar, half with water, turn it on to boil and let it finish. Once I hear that “click” of the switch, I know it’s done–the mineral spots on the bottom are gone, too. Drain, rinse a couple of times until the vinegar smell is gone, and it’s good to go. If you use it regularly, doing the vinegar boil twice a week should keep it clean.

Vinegar can also get the scaling out of electric drip coffee makers–just fill it with straight vinegar and turn it on; then run two or three brew cycles after you dump the vinegar, or until you don’t smell it anymore.

I bet you didn’t know you could clear drains with it, did you? Neighbor K found this out on Saturday–I’d mentioned it to her a few days ago, and she texted me Saturday asking about it. So I texted back what she needed and how to do it. A little while later K texted this message back: “WOW it works!”

Would I lie about a thing like that? (See what I mean when I said we keep each other out of trouble?)

Mission accomplished. She told me later that the regular drain cleaner you buy at the grocery didn’t do anything, but this did. Woo hoo! It also works on a slow-running drain, which means you’ve got something developing down in the pipes. You can also do it monthly to keep the drain from backing up, which I consistently forget to do.  (I’ve since run that formula down my own kitchen sink this morning, mostly as a preventative measure.)

That non-toxic drain cleaner came out of one of two old books I bought in the 1980’s from Rodale. The Natural Formula Book for Home & Yard (1982) is 300+ pages of the kind of info that people used to just “know.”  Another vinegar-based thing is what’s called “Blue Window Cleaner” on page 17. Mine isn’t blue, however, because I discovered that to get blue food coloring, you have to buy the box of 4 colors. I don’t need it that bad, so my “window cleaner” is clear in a spray bottle from Home Depot. You could also re-use a spray bottle from Windex, or get one at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or even IKEA.

Cleaning/clearing your sink pipes toxin-free is very simple. Down your drain pour one cup table salt, one cup baking soda, and one cup plain white vinegar. It will fizz and bubble, but that’s all of it. Meantime, put that kettle on and boil some water. Once the water boils (which will take at least 15 minutes, the more the merrier), carefully pour it into the drain behind the mixture. Put that pot down and let the hot water do what it does–melt and disperse the gunk and take it out of your pipes, and out of your hair. Follow that up by running the hot tap water for at least 5 minutes, and you’re good to go.

Oh, and this will work in your bathroom drains, too. Just be careful if you haul big pots of boiling water, OK?  Burns are NO FUN.

I also saw on Facebook recently where you can clean your microwave oven by adding a cup of water and a cup of vinegar to a 2-cup measure or other microwave safe container, running it until it boils, and then wiping it completely clean. (Dump that down the drain while hot, carefully, for a little drain maintenance, too.)

I haven’t bought commercial window cleaner in 20 years; I just use this stuff and it works perfectly. Make it as I need it, one or two batches at a time.

Blue Window Cleaner

  • 3 tablespoons household ammonia (make sure you get clear, non-sudsy ammonia, or you’ll have a mess on windows and mirrors)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1-2 drops blue (or other color) food coloring (optional)

Measure ammonia and vinegar into a clean spray bottle, and add the water. Add food coloring, if desired, and shake well.

Easy, right? And cheap.

If you’re interested in that kind of natural, old-fashioned cleaning and housekeeping, the other book I still have through all that life has thrown at me is Rodale’s Hints, Tips & Everyday Wisdom. That book was published in 1985, although an updated version was published in 1994 that I just found out about. While I’m always interested in that sort of thing. . .my ex-husbands were not. That should tell you everything you need to know, right?

Another great use for vinegar is weed killing; I just found it recently, courtesy of Capper’s Farmer, with just a little searching on their site. (I get their emails and Facebook feeds, too.)  A non-toxic weed killer that does a pretty good job, and pretty quickly. Lucky me, I happened to have one of those pump-action spray containers like the exterminators have (don’t ask) so it didn’t take long. While it didn’t kill every single weed, it did a good job with the ones I sprayed. In the back, I dumped some out directly on a patch of weeds and they were just gone. I’ve gone out and sprayed the rest, and just haven’t gotten around to pulling them up. But they’re dead, that’s for sure. Except for that tree that keeps wanting to grow back. That’s a tough one to get rid of.

I also keep lots of baking soda and table salt around. Why? Together they are quite useful.

You know how I love to use the little toaster oven for everything, and turn on the big oven maybe 4 times a calendar year? Well, the little oven is getting a cleaning. You know how when you cook fish you remember it long after you ate it? Yeah, it’s like that–and opening the windows doesn’t help, either. I don’t toast bread very often, only when I make the gluten-free stuff, mostly it’s cooking and roasting stuff, like meat, chicken and turkey.

I’ve mentioned this before, I love turkey and get turkey parts (primarily thighs) frequently. Put them (or any part of chicken) on that broiler pan and roast them at 400F for about an hour, and you get perfectly cooked meat with a skin crispier than any potato chip you’ve ever eaten. HEAVENLY, I tell you. But when I cooked two more Friday night. . .I smelled them in my sleep. So the oven needs to be cleaned. Seriously.

I’ve discovered another foodie blog, The Kitchn, and so I get the Facebook feeds now. Good stuff, and what I found for non-toxic oven cleaning was here, using baking soda, water (or as someone in the comments suggested, hydrogen peroxide) and. . .vinegar. Of course, I unplugged the toaster oven first, then went to work. I cleaned the broiler pan, rack and drip tray best I could, and then went to work on the inside of this beast.

First, remove the oven racks, or anything else you might store inside the oven.  Since this is a toaster oven, remove the drip tray, since that’s funky too; we deal with that separately.

Next, you make a nice paste with water and baking soda, although one comment about hydrogen peroxide made me experiment with that. A half cup of baking soda, then 3 tablespoons of water or peroxide; more as needed, a little at a time. Coat the inside of the oven with this paste; not too thick, not too thin:

Yes, it's icky. But that's OK.

Yes, it’s icky. But that’s OK.

Let it sit overnight, then go back and wipe that grunge off as best you can. Scrub a little, scrape a little, but it starts to come off pretty well.  Use a plastic scraper thingy if you need to on some burned-on crud. Once you get as much of it off as you can, spray some vinegar in there and let it fizzy up. Wipe some more. Yes, more. Eventually, you will remove all you can remove.

Better!

Better! (Sort of.)

That weird liquid at the bottom of the page is caught between the glass and the metal band that holds it on. Eventually it drained off and I cleaned it away.

I scraped, scrubbed and wiped some more after this picture, but this is about as good as it gets. Remember, this toaster oven is about 4 or 5 years old. While I’ve cleaned it before, it doesn’t all come off, since it’s not ceramic on the inside like a standard oven is.

Now, the drip tray I treated a bit differently. I put it in a bucket of water and a half-cup of ammonia, which will also work on the oven racks (but I didn’t think about that when I was soaking it.) Some of the comments at The Kitchn suggested filling the bathtub with water, but I thought that was a bit unnecessary since it was small. After I took a shower for the night, then filled up the bucket with water, added about a half-cup of ammonia, closing the bathroom door so me and the cat didn’t have to smell lemony-scented soapy ammonia all night. Next day most of the baked-on stuff came off, but not all. I scraped with a plastic scraper, but not all of it was loose. Maybe next time.

It’s about as clean as it’s going to get now. I turned it on to burn off anything else, and it had a slight smell for a bit and that was the end of it.

CLEAN!!

CLEAN!! (Mostly)

And then I started cooking in it again.

I’m sure I’ll get a few more years out of this one. Maybe this one will croak and I’ll buy me a brand-new one. Again. That’s what happened to the last one–the electronic bits went out and that was the end of it after 6 years of heavy use.

Now, under no circumstances should you use a fancy gourmet vinegar for any of this stuff. My stash of Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar from Oil & Vinegar is tucked away in the back of the still-organized pantry (with the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil) and only comes out occasionally (especially now.)

While I do have some, I’m not using apple cider vinegar for cleaning, either. However, Bragg’s ACV is the best I’ve found, and has the live “mother” in it. While Bragg’s is widely available now in grocery stores (at least, it is here in Houston) Bragg’s website can show you all the products they sell. If there’s something you want but can’t find, you can order it there or on Amazon.com. They have a collection of books as well on not only using their ACV but other health topics as well.

Maybe I should do a blog post on Bragg–whaddaya think?

I heard Patricia Bragg on Dr. Hotze’s radio show one day and have been buying it ever since. She mentioned something about the vinegar for cats, but I missed it, and never got around to finding out what it was.  At one point I was putting a tablespoon of ACV in my water, but I kind of got out of the habit.

If you’re interested in more uses for vinegar, you can find lots more info at Capper’s Farmer’s website, Grit.com, and this article on Backwoods Home’s website too (although a website search will give you all the articles, including recipes.) Of course, there’s always the Google search, too. Up to you.

This book on vinegar by Christine Halvorson also has some good tips, like clearing your clogged shower head by soaking it in vinegar. I’ve done that before, too, and it works very well.

Speaking of those magazines, and Mary Jane’s Farm, I’ve got some gluten-free updates coming soon.

Now that I’ve covered the subject of that little kitchen condiment, I’ll close here and let you go find out what it can do for you. Sure, it stinks, but the smell goes away quickly, and it cleans as well as anything you can buy in Home Depot.

So what are you waiting for? Go get some vinegar!!

 

 

 

 

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The ‘Burbs and the Bees

First off, I have to give thanks to my very nice neighbor, who brought me some delicious food last night from a work function. The cookies went first, so she couldn’t bring any. The spinach-artichoke dip (which became breakfast) was just addictive–I told her it should be Schedule 2 illegal. The meatballs were perfect for lunch, too. She promises next week that there will be lemon bars on the menu, which she promises to bring, as well as chicken poblano dip. YUM. I loved the lemon bars last year. She remembered. That’s why I’ll walk her doggie anytime.

Oh, and she gave me some home-grown oranges when she came back after Christmas. I saved some of the seeds to sprout and plant. Love oranges.

My last blog post about Suzy Homemaker appliances now has me looking on eBay for that stuff and wondering a) where I will put it, b) when can I buy it, and c) when can I buy a house so that I can have my Suzy Homemaker room to put them in. Sorry, you think about a lot of stuff when you’re unemployed and working on other opportunities.

And, you can actually buy an original Amana Radarange on eBay, right now. My dad bought one in 1976, when they were VERY expensive–a lot more than the $100 or less at Target. Oh, no, we went to a special appliance store in Metairie and got one. This was a big deal for us, and he figured with four kids it would make life a little easier on Mom. (I never asked, though.) They only parted with it because it stopped working (like, maybe 1997?) and they couldn’t get it repaired anymore (or maybe they didn’t care.) Still, it was a great appliance, and if it didn’t weigh 50 pounds and take up half my little kitchen, I might consider bidding on it.

So in my Wall Street Journal this morning,”Personal Journal” section, there was this article about the new Agrarian Collection at Williams-Sonoma. I get emails and catalogs from both Williams-Sonoma and from Sur la Table, but this was new to me. Had no idea they had this whole new collection. It’s for a specific niche market that’s been around for a long time, but let me give you a little background, first.

Lately the press has thrown around the word “prepper” like it was a negative thing, since it was attached to a negative news story. They always tell you that it’s people getting ready for the end of the world or something. Not always. I’m not venturing into that fray of course, but being a “prepper,” or having emergency plans for disasters, is not really a bad thing. Living in Houston as I have since 1998, and in New Orleans for most of my younger years, we do “prepping” frequently, because hurricanes have an affinity for the south. You keep stuff around for emergencies. Extra water. Batteries for the radio and flashlights. Canned food. Stuff like that. Lots of books are dedicated to the subject; I have a few of them as well.

I’ve also noticed that when people start doing their own thing, which is as American as apple pie, the media REALLY likes to ridicule the people doing it. Homesteading and having some preparations, is one of those things to be ridiculed. Until the day you are prepared, and then you’re not so nuts.

As technology has gotten more sophisticated, more people have things like generators and solar chargers for phones and computing devices. You can go all out for stuff like this, if you want, and be ready for just about anything. Yes, even the end of the world that didn’t quite happen in December.

And, you can bet that the New York/New Jersey part of the country will become preppers after Sandy gave them a taste of what we go through in the south periodically. Hurricane Ike didn’t have snow attached to it. In about six months the New York Times will pick up that story, and the Los Angeles Times may decide to run it so Californians can read about the new east coast preppers. Maybe they’ll get the idea they should be more ready for earthquakes, too. . .just sayin’.

I don’t wish that kind of thing on anybody, of course, but, you know earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, and droughts happen, so keep reading.

A few years ago I was involved with a bloke who, among other things, wanted us to a) get married and b) live in the country. (My “townie” friends were horrified when we actually looked at properties.) The second part appealed to me, since I’ve long had this idea of moving out of the city and raising veggies and maybe even chickens for eggs and, well, chicken. At the time, I had a good job in IT, and he didn’t. He lived 50 miles to the north, meaning that I would be driving 100 miles a day to go to work. I’d be dead in six months after I bought the new car I’d need to commute, but that didn’t deter him. Eventually, I realized he was a control freak, and it took quite a lot of prayer to get rid of him (because “I don’t want to marry you, please go away” didn’t seem to do the trick.)

It’s called “Homesteading,” and folks from all walks of life, and in all kinds of places, are doing it. Growing vegetables has caught on in urban and suburban areas partly because of the economy, but also because of a “back to the land” mentality. There is nothing wrong with this.

But you know when something goes mainstream, gets “popular,” it’s not “cool” anymore. Oh, well.

I have a small plot of land , measuring 8’x5′, and I’ve been trying to make it a full-blown garden. So far I’ve got mint, scallions (green onions), rosemary, and a surprise bamboo shoot from a plant I thought was long dead. And weeds, which I’ll be digging up one of these days to plant lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and basil. (I like salads and making pesto.) I’m also trying to sprout and grow a pineapple top. My container garden is a little simpler than one you’d see elsewhere. Paint buckets from Home Depot are cheap.

With the “wedding” off, I got back to a normal life, and the idea of buying property and doing some of my own farming stuck with me. I haven’t done it yet, being unemployed and all, but I love reading magazines like Urban Farm, Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home (kind of like Martha Stewart Living for the farm set, with good recipes, ideas and advice for the modern-day farm household.) Guess I should subscribe, so I can keep them coming. I mean, what’s not to like about growing nuts for food and profit?

But now, Williams-Sonoma has a line of products for the homesteading backyard farmer, including a $1,300 chicken coop, a $29.95 butter making kit, a $598 vintage copper cricket weather vane, as well as an $11.95 herb garden kit. Not to mention raised bed planters, a fungi log for growing your own mushrooms, vertical planters for small spaces like mine, beekeeping equipment, canning and preserving, food dehydrators, sprouters. .. crikey, just go look at it if you don’t believe me.

Oh, here’s something  I’ll be all over: the Asian Tofu Cookbook. NOT!

The Wall Street Journal article says that they will be publishing a standalone catalog for this line, too. Urban Outfitters is also getting into the act, with Terrain gardening centers, targeted to women. I haven’t looked at that one yet, but I should see if we have one here in Houston.

I wonder if they have their own version of the Topsy Turvy planters? I have one but it didn’t go well last year. I put it away, and will try it again soon. Heck, maybe more than one.

Back in WWII, people did this kind of thing as a matter of course. Henry Fonda–yes, the movie star–was famous for his Victory Garden. People raised chickens, veggies, canned, all that stuff, even in the city, however they could. Over time, we got away from doing these things for ourselves.City folks tend to look down on farming types, but suddenly it’s “fashionable” to be a homesteader.

I have a replica poster from WWII that says “Sew For Victory.” Well, sewing is my favorite thing to do, and I thought it was appropriate decor. But that’s what people did. Now, we’re getting back to doing for ourselves, bit by bit.  I’m glad to see that, but I don’t think I’m gonna be buying a $1,300 chicken coup.

While Williams-Sonoma is just branching out into a new market, and they call it a “lifestyle,” I have to say that taking care of yourself can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I mean, my paint bucket garden isn’t something you’ll see in River Oaks or Beverly Hills. Unless that’s a big dirty secret.

Confession: two years ago, we had a drought here in Texas. Bad one. I planted zucchini (from a small potted plant) and cantelope (from seed) back there, and they took over half the plot! I watered it carefully, but over time, the heat and dry conditions were too much, and they shriveled up and died. What survived is what I still have, except the rosemary, but that’s another story.

Here in Texas, it’s getting on digging-up and planting season, and I need to get back there and get busy with it. I should have planted sugar snap peas back in November, but have been otherwise occupied. I love them, but they’re expensive, so why not grow them? Ditto for celeriac, fennel, and some other pricey veg. This year I hope to successfully grow grape tomatoes, finally, as well as bell peppers and cucumbers along with lettuce and the aforementioned things I haven’t killed yet. Oh, and I want to grow lots of strawberries. I love strawberries. Louisiana’s are the best, Texas comes in second. I think the birds got the few that made it last year. Maybe a Topsy Turvy strawberry planter will work better.

I’m not producing ALL my food yet, heck not much of it at all, but I’ll make the effort. Maybe even some cantelope this year. (Love that too.)

You can see the short WSJ video here. And if you have any growing tips, or ideas for stuff, pass it along in the comments.

If you’re interested in homesteading, I can also recommend Backwoods Home magazine, which has a free newsletter and a few free Kindle issues on Amazon.com; you’d just have to search for them. There are also a lot of free articles on their website; just search for what you need. Keep in mind that these are folks that really do live in the backwoods, not in a wooded suburb. This is the real thing.

I also came across this book, Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich, after reading about it by a newspaper colunmnist for the Houston Chronicle.  It’s an interesting read with good advice and even a few good recipes. She talks about what it was like to have her attitude changed towards a lot of things–you’d have to read it to understand. She talks about sewing, too, although not the kind of sewing I like to do, just stuff to get you started on your way to self-reliance.

Another good book for the “prepper” is Just In Case by Kathy Harrison. Geared toward emergency preparedness, it’s a good basic manual for being ready for emergencies. June will be here before you know it, so I guess I should re-read it again soon before hurricane season.

Of course, these are just books I have in my possession–a trip to Amazon.com or a bookstore and a little searching will yield lots of titles on both homesteading and preparedness (not to mention cooking and sewing.)

Let me say here and now that if you suddenly decide to do a little homesteading and a little preparedness, you are not nuts. You are taking care of business and getting ahead of a problem. There is nothing wrong with that. Think about the pictures and the stories of folks who lived through Sandy just a few weeks ago, and you’ll see it’s not a bad idea.

You can also buy freeze-dried food online, similar to the MREs that the military uses, and seeds stored in sealed cans for long-term storage. Many are non-GMO and will last many years. Ditto for the freeze-dried food. I have never tried this stuff, but if ever I do, I’ll let you know. I haven’t even taught myself canning yet, although I do have the Ball book for it.

See why I need a house?

Happy Dining!

 
 

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