More Nesting: Entryway Update

Do you remember back in March when I blogged about the Healthy Habit of removing shoes at the door, and mentioned I was working on making my entryway more friendly to shoe removal? Well, I finally have something to show you.

Here is my entry [before]. Not welcoming, and very boring.

And now . . . here is what it looks like [after]:

Big improvement, yes? So here was the progression:

First, I found a bench on craigslist. Addicted to Love craigslist shopping! (If you missed it, read my safety checklist on bringing used/vintage pieces into your home.)

I looked for a couple of weeks for a great bench, and finally saw this one for $60. Too bad it was about 45 minutes away, but then all the good stuff seems to be that far away from me. It just fit into the center area of my minivan (seat removed), with the kids stuck in the back. It’s a solid quality piece of furniture, but came with no pad. (Strange how the seat is stained a different color, isn’t it?) So I threw down a white quilt and some pillows, and it was OK for a couple months.

We continued to use the small metal bin for shoes, but as warm weather came we always had a pile of shoes in the corner which didn’t fit in the bin. It’s the other corner of the entry, and I don’t have a picture, but I’m sure you know what a pile of shoes looks like. Not pretty.

So I started shopping for baskets to go under the bench.

So after several trips to multiple TJMaxx’s, Ross’s, and finally HomeGoods, I found these baskets. I learned something: these kinds of discount home stores only stock 2 of any kind of basket. It’s like a rule or something. One cannot find 3 of a kind at these places. At least not in the dark color I wanted. So the middle one is the same type of material as the two on the sides, but a slightly taller shape. And our shoes fit great.

All this time I was considering what type of fabric I would want on the pad/cover I would make.

My children selling hot cocoa (day 2 of the garage sale). We discovered that kids can sell a lot more at a lemonade stand (day 1) than cocoa stand, even if it is raining.

And then we had a block-wide garage sale. My neighbor was selling upholstery from her garage; she has 2 pallets of a wide assortment of fabrics. She let me take several home to compare them to the bench, and then when I decided on one, she gave it to me. Thanks, Trish!

I really like the brown and cream houndstooth check. I think it’s classic, practical, and stylish.

Then it was just a matter of time for my pregnancy nesting instinct to kick in with enough energy to work on the pad making project.

For the pad, I used an old bedspread, cut to size and piled 7 layers thick. The cording is some light rope we had the in garage (I think it is made for clothesline).This is the first time I’ve done a cording project, and it was a learning experience!

The houndstooth check made it easy to cut straight pieces and pleat the skirt. The pad took me several days to make, working on it during toddler nap-time.

Then  I wanted to add some more pillows to the bench than I’d had on it, and I had picked up this ugly but clean pillow at a garage sale for 25 cents.

I had this pad thing in the linen closet. It’s from my grandmother and she couldn’t remember what it was for. . . seems like a table pad? Anyway, I like the old soft cotton and the quilted texture. I cut the center out to sew into a cover for the pillow. Two side seams and an envelope opening in the back to pop the pillow through. After sewing the bench pad, this pillow cover was easy-peasy!

Then I used a scrap piece to make a tiny pillow, and piled them on the bench with the pillows I’d had on it all spring. But after looking at it for a day I felt that the putty, blue, and white color scheme was too pale, at least for summer, so I switched in the flag pillow.

Now I just need to decide what I’m putting above the bench and the entry will seem complete. [Hopefully that won’t take another 4 months!]

I’m linking to blog parties at theinspiredroom and funkyjunkinteriors.

Good Fat Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookie to Die For (Gluten Free!)

I just made the most fantastic, tender yet crisp-edged and crumbly, peanut butter cookies. They are gluten free. They also have good fats. (And they do have sugar in them, so they are a “once in a while” treat.)

OK, so fat has a bad reputation, but the healthiest peoples of all time have savored fats and oils. We all need a balance of saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. The difference between good fats and bad fats is the processing.

  • boiled and bleached coconut oil: bad
    VS.
    virgin unrefined coconut oil: good
  • butter from stall kept/medicated cows: bad
    VS.
    butter from grass fed healthy cows: good
  • Olive oil from sprayed fruit, heated process: bad
    VS.
    organic cold pressed olive oil: good

And of course, your kitchen is the final process: if you heat your oil above what it can handle, it quickly becomes a toxic fat. To read more about fats, check out this article on the Weston A. Price site: The Skinny on Fats.

So, give me the peanut butter cookie recipe already, right? OK, here it is:

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Preheat convection oven to 320 degrees, or set it at 345 degrees if your oven is like mine and automatically heats the oven 25 degrees less when in convection mode. Why 320? Peanut oil should not be heated above this temperature.

In medium bowl, mix together:
1 cup organic sugar
1 TB molasses (or decrease sugar to 1/2 cup, add 1/2 cup brown sugar, and omit molasses)
1/2 cup organic creamy peanut butter, at room temperature
1 stick organic butter, at room temperature (or 1/2 cup Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, and over-measure the salt)
1 large pastured egg

In separate bowl, whisk together, then add to wet ingredients:
1 and 1/4 cups Bronwyn’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (see below)
1/4 tsp. Xanthan Gum, heaping
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2  tsp. baking powder, non-aluminum
1/4 tsp. unrefined fine salt, such as RealSalt

When fully mixed, spoon out tablespoon sized pieces of dough, and roll in the palms of hands just until round (don’t handle too much or they begin to melt). Then roll tops in:

extra organic sugar for rolling

Two happy cookie-rolling helpers!

Place sugar side up on a baking stone. Use a fork to press a criss-cross pattern in the tops. The whole roll/ sugar/fork process is really fun for kids to help with!

Place full stone in your oven. Again, the oven should be 320 degrees and blowing, for an “equivalent” temperature of 345. This will not actually damage the peanut oil, but will allow the cookies to bake correctly. Leave them in for 10-12 minutes, or until you can see the edges starting to turn golden. Remove from oven, and leave on baking stone/tray for at least 5 minutes, until they have set, then move to cooling racks.

Makes approximately 30 cookies. Enjoy with a tall glass of cold, fresh, raw milk!

Bronwyn’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

1 part organic brown rice flour
1 part sorghum flour
1 part tapioca flour

Xanthan Gum is required in all recipes with this flour, and should be whisked in prior to adding the flour to other ingredients. Here are the amounts needed for different types of baked goods.

Add per cup of All Purpose Flour used:
1/4 tsp. for cookies
1/2 tsp. for cakes
3/4 tsp. for muffins and quick breads
1-1 and 1/2 tsp. for breads
2 tsp. for pizza crust

I am linking to linky parties at theinspiredroom and at FunkyJunkInteriors.

Pectin vs. Gelatin for Making Jam

My Raspberry Freezer Jam

Christina of Ramey Ranch Review (check out her post on Making Mozarella) writes:

Pectin for Making Jam: I have heard pectin and gelatin content are about the same. While I’m not a vegetarian or anything, I do try to feed my family as wholesomely as possible. Animal waste products are not high on my healthful list! There are some alternative (vegetarian) jam pectins out there, but they are pricey. We live on a ranch and grow most of our own fruits and veggies. I preserve lots of food every year. I am looking for an economical alternative to pectin since I make 12 + batches of freezer jam per year. I would prefer to not cook and can the jam. I did find a product from Mary Jane’s Farm http://shop.maryjanesfarm.org/store/p/65-ChillOver-Powder.aspx. I heard a rumor you could use it for jam. I’m going to try to find out. If you find anything on this topic, please let me know.

Way to go, Christina, on growing the majority of your own fruits and veggies! That has got to be a huge amount of work in and of itself, not to mention the preserving. Your family is undoubtedly reaping the health rewards of your labors!

Pectin is a vegetarian product found in the cellular structure of fruits and veggies, and often sourced from citrus peels or apples. It can be pricey, particularly in small retail packages. In bulk from Azure Standard, a 1lb bag costs $42. 90; this makes about 320 cups of jam.

Gelatin, on the other hand, is an animal product, and most gelatin is made from pork carcasses. Chicken broth and beef broth (made from bones/carcasses) are marketable products, but pork broth doesn’t have much of a market, so this “waste” product is made profitable in the form of Jello, jams, and jellies.

Although this is a waste product of factory slaughterhouses (and that’s a disgusting thought with their sick animals and unsanitary practices!), gelatin in general is a very healthful and nourishing food; this is the main source of nourishment in bone broth (read Bone Broth: Body Builder) and gelatin can even be purchased in capsules as a nutritional supplement for joint problems.

So to find a clean source for gelatin . . . I thought briefly about whether you could make your own from bone broth; gelatin powder must be just dehydrated bone broth. However, I can’t imagine going to that amount of effort (and I didn’t find anything coming up when I googled making your own gelatin powder). I did find some other options, though: certified organic porcine (pork) gelatin, which is more expensive than the pectin above. The bulk size of 2lbs of powder should gel about 200 cups of liquid (perhaps it would be less in making jam?), with a current price of $53.10.

Some people prefer to avoid all pork products, organic or not, in which case beef gelatin is available, and quite a bit cheaper at $7.25 for 1lbs. This is from Azure Standard, a supplier of natural foods, so it is unclear to me if this is gelatin sourced from naturally raised beef or from conventional/factory farming, but a call to their customer service should clarify this. There is no information given on how much would be required to make jam, but I would think it would be 1:1 with the porcine gelatin. If this truly is naturally sourced gelatin, I think this would be an excellent, healthful addition to homemade jam, and an economical option too!

Chill Over Powder

I have no experience with this, although it sounds really interesting. I wonder what’s actually in it? I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary Jane is marketing her own brand of fruit pectin, similar to the one above, in which case you just need to compare the yield/price against the price at Azure or another bulk supplier of natural products.

[Christina writes back: I found out what Chill Over Powder is made from. Ingredients: Agar-agar kanten, an odorless powdered sea vegetable with superior gelling qualities—a MaryJanesFarm exclusive.]

Read Raspberry Jam for my recent experience on using both pectin and gelatin. Good luck in all your summer preserving!

Raspberry Jam

My Raspberry Freezer Jam

Today I made raspberry freezer jam with some local fresh picked raspberries. My first batch was the “yummy” batch because my husband asked me to make sure that it turned out really good. 🙂 My second batch is made with honey rather than sugar, gelatin rather than pectin (because I ran out of pectin, and I wanted to experiment with gelatin), and without lemon juice because my daughter is allergic to citrus. Here are my recipes:

Raspberry Jam
4 pts. fresh raspberries, rinsed and mashed with potato masher (yield 3.25 cups)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, stirred into raspberries
1 package pectin, slowly added and thoroughly stirred into raspberry mixture
4.25 cups organic sugar, added slowly to raspberry mixture, then stirred until completely dissolved (it takes awhile)

Pour into freshly washed glass pint jars, leaving 1 inch at top for expansion. Leave on counter for 1 day to set, then freeze. Thaw in refrigerator and use within a few weeks. Yielded 5 jars, and tastes delicious (of course, with all that sugar!).

Raspberry Jam with Honey
4 pts. fresh raspberries, rinsed and mashed with potato masher (yield 3.25 cups)
1.25 cups honey
4 envelopes gelatin, stirred into 1/2 cup water in saucepan (my jam turned out a little too firm, so I’ll try 3 envelopes next time)

Add about 1/3 of the mashed raspberries and all of the honey to saucepan, and stir over medium heat until it begins to simmer. Add back to the rest of raspberries. Pour into freshly washed glass pint jars, lid, and place directly in freezer (one recipe I was adapting stated that if left covered at room temperature the gelatin would liquefy). It did set up, even more firmly than the pectin jam. Yielded 3.5 jars jam, and tastes nice, although not as bright of a flavor as if I had added lemon juice.

Read Pectin Vs. Gelatin for Making Jam a review on the health and price comparisons of these two products.

I am linking to a linky party on Inspiration at theinspiredroom.

Happy Summer Feet: Water-Based Nail Polish

Red Toenails (can I just say that it's hard to take a nice picture of one's own feet?)

I love bare feet in summer. . . especially if they are mine and the toes are sporting red polish! I know that there are definite color trends in nail polish, but I keep reaching for the red for my toes, as my style tends toward Classic. And because it makes me happy.

However, nail polish and polish removers are nearly all quite toxic: they carry high levels of phthalates (known to cause reproductive deformities in male babies) and harsh/toxic solvents. Fortunately, there are some brands now available without these toxic ingredients. The two I’ve tried are Honeybee Gardens and Suncoat. (I’ve copied some of the safety info from Suncoat at the end of this post.*) They are both water-based (imagine that!).

So, how did they work? Here’s my review:

Watercolors Desire

Honeybee Gardens Watercolors Nailpolish
Price: retail $6.99, luckyvitamin.com $5.21

I purchased two colors of this polish, “Desire” for myself (toes) and “Valentine” for my 6 year old daughter. I noticed right away the absence of odor unless you stick your nose right up to the wet polish. Also, the polish was slightly thinner than some conventional polishes I’ve tried, so the suggestion to do 2 coats is a must for getting the color to look dark enough (this is in the case of the red on toenails).

Watercolors Valentine

My only bad experience with this polish was in washing my feet too soon after applying (this was really user error, not the fault of the polish). It was February and my feet were quite dry; I applied the polish and then showered immediately after the polish dried. I think my toenails soaked up water in the shower and expanded, or something, because the polish peeled up in huge flakes. When I avoid applying it before going in the water this polish lasts several weeks before chipping.

Suncoat Water-Based Nail Polish
Price: retail $8.99, luckyvitamin.com $6.89

After having tried the Watercolors brand, I decided to try out the Suncoat brand in “Red ‘n Red“. It was a little more expensive, but I think the intensity of color blows Watercolors out of the water (sorry, bad joke) and that makes it worth it to me. I’d still buy the other for little girl polish, but I was really impressed with the red-ness of this polish. Also, they seem to have some pretty hip options on color (even a black) . . . not that I’m straying from my classic red. . . 🙂

Again, I was impressed that there was no odor. (I even painted my toenails in the car on the way to a wedding without any complaints from my husband! Not recommending it. . . just keeping it real.) And 2 coats are a must in a dark color. They do recommend their clear-coat for a shiny finish, but I’m happy with the “satin” finish of just the 2 color coats. How long has this polish lasted? I’m on day 31 without any chips that I can see from my 5’5 vantage point (I’m 8 months pregnant, so don’t ask me to get any closer!).

Removal

The instructions say to remove with isopropyl alcohol: I was particularly happy about this as conventional removers seem to be a pretty toxic set (straight solvents, right?). However, I did try removing it with my conventional remover (before getting the alcohol and pitching the old one), and the polish came right off as normal. I have also tried removing the Suncoat polish with isopropyl alcohol, but it takes some time and rubbing to get it all off. I do have a lot of grooves and ridges on my toenails, so I’m sure it would be easier with smooth fingernails, but you should be aware of this if you switch colors a lot.

*Why switch to water-based? Some info from Suncoat is below, for more see the page on luckyvitamin.com.

Why is Water-based so much better?

  • Environmentally Friendly: Conventional nail polish contains large amounts (typically around 70%) of chemical solvents such as toluene, acetates and alcohol. When nail polish is applied to nails, these solvents evaporate into the air, generating toxic chemical fumes; the well known and VERY offensive “chemical smell”. This is why many people find it hard to breathe when using conventional nail polish: you are surrounding yourself with heavily polluted air, inhaling toluene, acetates etc.; chemical solvents. In Suncoat water-based nail polish, all the chemical solvents are replaced by water. The major ingredient is water, not chemical solvents! So when Suncoat water-based nail polish is being applied, it is only water that evaporates to the air, not toxic chemical fumes.
  • Safer to Nails:The chemical solvents in conventional nail polish, after repeated use, can discolor nails and make them brittle and weak. This is not an issue with water-based nail polish.
  • Not A Safety Hazard:Since conventional nail polishes contain around 70% chemical solvents, they are highly flammable and explosive. They are often classified as dangerous goods. They are safety hazards for retail stores, salons and residential homes. They should be kept away from heat, open flames such as burning candles, etc. Water-based nail polish, on the other hand, is not considered dangerous goods, and is much safer to both store and use.
  • Other Benefits of Suncoat Water-based Nail Polish:No Phthalate of Any Kind.Many conventional nail polishes contain a deadly chemical, namely, phthalate. Phthalate, such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), has been proven by research studies to interfere with normal hormone balance, can cause severe birth defects and other health problems. Phthalate is a very effective and popular plasticizer that gives nail polish flexibility, and helps prevent polish from cracking. Phthalate is also a very low volatile chemical (meaning will not evaporate quickly). So after the polish is applied to nails, phthalate will stay on the nails with the polish, and can penetrate into our system, causing health problems. Suncoat water-based nail polish is phthalate-free.
  • Formaldehyde-free: Many regular nail polishes have formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, used in preserving the formulation. Formaldehyde has been reported as a carcinogenic chemical. Suncoat water-based nail polish is formaldehyde-free.

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I’m linking to theinspiredroom.net.

Feathering My Nest the Clean Green Way

The concept of re-using things is certainly a “green” idea. But it’s not always a “clean” idea, as in non-toxic. Some old pieces of furniture carry an ugly past —mildew, lead paint— that can pollute your home if you bring them in unawares.

Recently I’ve been enjoying a number of DIY decorator blogs (like theinspiredroom.net and funkyjunkinteriors.blogspot.com), and with 6 weeks until my baby’s due date (and nesting instinct in full gear!) the inspiration has been enough for me to take action, scour craigslist.com for cool vintage items, break out the sand paper, and start feathering my nest. So how to balance a love for vintage items with a determination not to bring toxic stuff into my home? Here’s my go-to list:

  • Check items for signs of mildew (black spotting on wood) and odors. No smoke, mold, or animal smells welcome!
  • Check for peeling paint/other finishes, and be aware of work involved to restore pieces. There’s a real design trend for “chippy white paint” and “weathered finishes” but these are just asking for home contamination as they continue to wear.
  • When attempting a restoration project, be aware of the risks involved with both dust and chemical inhalation. Choose low or zero VOC products (paint), apply in a ventilated area, and wear protective gear.
  • Vacuum and wash/scrub all items with a rag and water, vinegar if needed, before bring into your home.
  • Clean up your mess as you go, so paint chips from old furniture, etc. don’t spread around your work area/home.

Want to see some of the things I’ve been working on?

Drawers

Old drawer used as a kitchen table tray

These drawers (3 of them) came inside this cute old cabinet which I snagged free off of craigslist. (Yes, free!)

Old cabinet

OK, so it isn’t so cute in this picture, but wait until you see my after photo (coming later…). The lady I got it from had scraped half of the paint off, and was done with the project, so I took over. I love the scraped look of the drawers, so with a thorough inspection and washing I brought them inside.

The first drawer is used as a tray on my kitchen table with a basket of napkins and glass bowl of flowers in it. It keeps things a little neater and gives the whole group presence.

Here is another drawer, which I’ve used to hold books in the living room. Love how it again gives presence to the grouping, as well as allowing them to be displayed upright on a trunk.

Drawer used to tidy coffe table books

(By the way, how do you like the architectural paper book covers? I’ve seen this treatment in Pottery Barn to simplify the random colors of a stack of books. My husband thought I was crazy to “cover up all the color.” Hmm, I’ll have to live with it awhile and see if I miss the color. )

Old Mirror

Here is another project that I got for free off craigslist (gotta love free stuff). I actually drove over to get this old mirror, and left because it was too decrepit, then thought, hey, free is free, turned around and went back for it. The lady said it had been hanging on the side of the barn. Oh my. Do you see where the mirror backing is peeling from the frame mirror pieces?

Peeling old mirror

It sat in my garage for 2 months before I figured out a brilliant solution: scrape away what’s coming off, and paint those areas of the mirror black. So, with dust mask and rubber gloves, and a vacuum to clean my mess and not allow it to spread, I scraped the backing off those side pieces. Then I carefully masked up the other areas, and sprayed it with black satin spray paint. It was not a low VOC spray paint (I don’t know of one, do you?), but I did this job outside, in a full breeze, while wearing gloves, a mask, and holding my breath for spurts, then walking away to catch my breath again. (A pain, but I think this is about the only way to do spray painting with a chemical awareness.)

Here is the finished product in my living room.

Old mirror new

Amazing, eh? I think so! This was a completely blank corner, so it’s really added a lot to the space.

Oh, and here are the books before being covered with paper. Thoughts on the difference?

Do you have some fun before and afters from feathering your nest?

I’m linking to a blog party on uses for old drawers at FunkyJunkInteriors and a linky party for inspiration at TheInspiredRoom.