Some New Faces

So my lineup of living things is much the same as it was last time… With the addition of some fancy new foodstuffs: dill and garlic!

One of these things is not like the others...

Basil, dill, garlic and syngonium

Like my basil plant, the dill was salvaged from one of those supermarket packages of “living” herbs with the roots & dirt still on.  It didn’t look so hot at first, but luckily I kept babying it and now it’s looking much more robust.  The resiliency of plants never ceases to amaze me!  I always worry when I over or under-water, or make some other mistake, like they’re fragile and delicate.

It mostly survived because I was too lazy to pull it out of the pot

Didn’t have a ton of hope for the dill at this stage…

But for the most part, they’re really, really not.  The dill looks fantastic now!  I’m afraid to harvest any, but maybe I should, if only to encourage branching.  It’s getting pretty tall.  I’ve been chopping off basil pretty aggressively (and putting it in everything, yum!) which is starting to make it pleasantly bushy.  But I’ll just leave the dill alone for now, I think.  It’s been through a lot.

Hard to tell with the trees in the background, unfortunately

Tall & proud, now! And even (mostly) green!

Like my basil, dill, and succulent, the garlic is also a “rescue…”  Can you tell that I don’t like paying for plants?  I forgot about a head of garlic in the fridge for a while, and was startled one day to find this at the back of my produce drawer:

"Plant me!"

This is the Farmpartment version of a “volunteer plant,” I suppose.

I planted eight cloves and let me tell you, they just boosted out of that soil.  They looked like this after I think only 2 days (no more than 3):

So fast.

What is this devilry???

Hit a little speed bump within the past week, unfortunately, and started yellowing and attracting a bunch of gnats.  I suspect a combo of too much water / too little sun, so I set up a nice makeshift grow light (aka desk lamp) and have been crossing my fingers for the soil to dry out a bit.  I probably should also thin them out, but I’m loathe to pull up any of my little volunteers  😦

I'm pulling for these little fellas!

We’ll just see how it goes.

Oh, and my bridal bouquet succulent has put out some new growth!  I’m honestly not quite sure how that works with succulents… will it just get spikier and spikier?  Will the old growth shrivel away?  I could absolutely google it, but I’m having quite a lot of fun just watching it do its thing.

My little baby is growing up! (I think.  Or I'm a plant grandma?)

Oh, the wonderful mystery of life…

Oh, and those papaya seeds from Hawaii?  Yeah, those didn’t work out.  I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much out of $2 souvenier seeds from a Wal-Mart next to the airport… But that would have been so cool!  Guess I’ll just have to “rescue” some sort of fruit seed next.

Do you have a garden, or a “garden” (like mine)?  How’s the harvest?

This post is shared in the DIY Linky at Little House in the Suburbs, and at Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday!

My Kombucha Process, in Excessive Detail, with Too Many Pictures

Do you have a kombucha SCOBY?  If not, go buy a bottle of kombucha and grow one real quick.  I’ll wait.  Find a smallish glass / ceramic container in which to store your SCOBY between batches.  While you’re at it, get yourself some pitcher-sized black tea bags, a bottle of (non-citrus) fruit juice, and a bag of white sugar (gasp!).  And scrounge up a big, wide-mouth glass jar or bowl or… vessel of some kind, some empty bottles (flip-top bottles are ideal if you’re real fancy like I am), and something permeable to cover the top of your vessel.  Optional but helpful, depending on your containers:  funnel and/or ladle.  Wash everything really well, but don’t use antibacterial soap!

Wow, it looks like a lot of stuff all out at once!

No, I did not forget to put out my fruit juice. I did that on purpose.

Ready?  Time to create some delicious, bubbly kombucha goodness!

Step One:  Brew yo’self up some tea, dump a bunch of sugar in it, and then cool it down.

Make enough tea to mostly fill your big glass vessel, following the instructions on the package as far as tea bags/water ratio, and how long to steep it.  

Lots of water!

5:00 for mine

(Pitcher-sized tea bags are key; otherwise you have like 10 strings going)

Take the tea bags out when it’s done, and dump a bunch of sugar in it (1 to 1.5 cup per gallon-ish).

Suuuugaaaaar...

Don’t worry, the buggies eat most of it.

Stir it around to dissolve the sugar.  I use the measuring cup to stir it rather than dirtying a spoon, because I hate doing dishes that much.

I am quite the lazy girl.

Now cool the tea down, so you don’t kill your SCOBY by overheating it.  I like to just set the pot in the sink with cold water around it for an hour or so, because my fridge is usually packed to the limit.  When it’s lukewarm, you’re ready to go.

Chillin'

It takes a while, go read a book… or a blog! (*wink)

Step Two:  Put the tea in the vessel, and the SCOBY in the tea in the vessel.  Cover the vessel.

Check out my sweet pouring moves!

The SCOBY will feel really slimy and gross – but cowboy up, it’ll be over soon.

Ewwwwww...

“Yee-haw!”

Little extra boost

Make sure to dump in the kombucha that the SCOBY’s been sleeping in

Your SCOBY might float, or it might sink, or if you’re lucky it might even do some weird thing where it stands on its end vertically.

Floating!

My SCOBY didn’t feel like performing any tricks this time…

Cover it all up with a little dishtowel or cheesecloth or something that allows air to circulate, but doesn’t allow bugs to circulate (the bad insect kind, not the good microscopic kind that I usually talk about).  I use a coffee filter, mostly because I’ve got a bunch of ‘em lying around from my pre-French-press days.

Step Three:  Ignore it for like a week.

Put it in the darkest, warmest spot you can find in your kitchen and ignore it for like a week.  Some people let it go for ten days; I usually stop it at six or seven.

Look at that sweet setup.

Yup, just ignore it.

The first few times you make it, you might want to take a little taste daily starting around day 5, until you get a feel for how long it should sit in your particular climate and for your particular preferences.  As it sits longer, it will get less sweet and more sour.  If you’re going to keep following my process, you’ll take it through a secondary ferment with juice, so you’ll probably want to stop it when it’s still a little bit sweeter than you’d like.  Protip:  if it turns out tasting too sour for you, you can always dilute it with water or add a little juice to your glass!  I did one of those two things with every single batch up until recently – it takes some time to learn how you like the ‘buch.

There might be a thin film of new SCOBY growing on top of your old SCOBY, or just on the surface of the tea-bucha (it’s kind of in the middle now, so I’m not sure what to call it…) if your old SCOBY sunk to the bottom.  It might look like little spots of mold at first glance, but don’t freak out.  It’s not mold unless it’s fuzzy!  I would include a picture, but mine didn’t make any this time.  You’ll know it if you see it, trust me.  Baby SCOBY is kind of gross.

Step Four:  Switch your kombucha into bottles and put your SCOBY to sleep.

Wash your hands really good (again, no antibacterial soap!) and grab your SCOBY out of its kombucha bath (yes, it’s truly kombucha now!).  Again, it will feel gross.

The switch!

“Yee-haw!”

Place it into its glass /ceramic container with a ladleful of your kombucha to cover it, and stick it in the fridge.

Ladleful to cover...

It’ll hibernate in there until you need it again.

Bedtime for SCOBY

Now pour some juice into your bottle(s), like an inch high.  I used a half cup (I usually don’t measure but I was curious) of straight-up cranberry juice and it’s super strong, so you might need more of a less aggressive juice.

Cranbucha!

Fill ‘em the rest of the way with the kombucha from your vessel and seal ‘em up.  (Sidebar:  I usually just ladle it straight in, but this time I strained it through the coffee filter to prevent the creepy little floaties that usually sink to the bottom of my bottle.  It definitely worked, but it took forever and I wouldn’t recommend it.  Just stop drinking before you finish the bottle to avoid the floaties.)  Wash your vessel and thank it for its service.

Wouldn't recommend the coffee filter thing.

The funnel comes in handy, here!

Step Five:  Ignore it for a couple more days.

Stick your closed bottles in the same place as before, and wait 1-3 days (again, shorter is sweeter and longer is… sour-er).  If you’re impatient like I am, sneak a glass before you put it away!

Same spot!

Patience is a virtue…

Sneaky glass!

…But I’m not all thaaaat patient.

Step Six:  Enjoy!

The best step!  Keep it in the fridge.

Pic was taken before the site redesign... Flashback!

You can figure this part out on your own!

This post is shared in Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, the Little House in the Suburbs DIY Friday Linky, and the Carnival of Home Preserving at Laura Williams’ Musings!

A Greener Clean

I would love to go back in time like two or three years and read this post to Past-Farmer-Amy.  She would think I was crazy.  (Possibly even über cray-cray.)  I used to have dozens of bottles of shampoos and conditioners and shaving creams and lotions and face washes and lip balms and scrubs… I collected the stuff.  Nowadays I’ve pared that down quite a bit, with a focus on fewer, safer ingredients.  Some of my stuff is even homemade, and one of my beauty products only has one ingredient!  My switch was inspired by my eczema (which is vastly improved, by the way), but I think everyone can benefit from a more natural personal care routine.  Some options for you to consider:

Face Wash:  The Oil Cleansing Method (OCM)

My oil mixture, 40% castor oil and 60% olive oil.

Here’s a good explanation of the method (although it’s kind of woooo).  I use oil to clean my face every evening, and I love it!  I spent years when I was younger trying just about every face wash on the market, only to be disappointed every time.  My skin is pretty oily, but is also very sensitive and tends to get really peely when damaged… So I would always end up with this weird combination of shiny and flaky that was NOT attractive (and was only highlighted by makeup).  It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but rubbing oil all over my face has actually made my skin less oily… and it removes makeup better than anything I’ve ever tried!  My blend is about 40% castor oil and 60% olive oil, but a key part of the method is to play around with different ratios and oils to see what works best for your skin.  I started out with only 30% castor oil and that wasn’t strong enough for my oily skin; 50/50 dries me out.

Body Wash:  Castille Soap

Credit: Amazon (linked)

I use Dr. Bronner’s, and it’s sold at Target, so you don’t even have to hit up Whole Foods for this one.  Not only is it super gentle on my eczema-prone skin, this soap is certified organic and has the type of recognizable ingredients list that makes me jump for joy!  It’s not very expensive… even less than you’d think, since a bottle will last you FOREVER – the stuff is super concentrated. (For real.  I just got a little travel-sized bottle the first time I bought it, to see if I liked it or not…  That 2 oz. bottle lasted me an entire semester!)  It takes a little bit of getting used to because it doesn’t lather up as much as your average body wash – no synthetic foaming agents (which is probably a good thing).  Now I wouldn’t use anything else!  Plus, it comes covered with the eccentric ramblings of Doc Bronner himself; have fun reading that while you rinse 😉

Hair Wash:  No (Sham)poo Method

Credit: Kitchen Stewardship (link)

The “No ‘poo Method” has a goofy-sounding name, but I love the concept.  Apparently there are people out there who can clean their hair with baking soda, then condition it with vinegar or lemon juice, then just rinse it without washing for another week or so… and it looks & feels great!  I can’t personally vouch for this method, because I just can’t get it to work with my long, straight, fine hair.  But oh, how my crunchy little heart longs to give it another go!  Maybe I’ll try it again someday.  Until then, you’ll have to let other people tell you about it… It seems to work best on hair that has some wave to it.  If you try it, let me know how it goes!  I just alternate between whichever natural-ish shampoos I can find for decent prices.  My most recent find is Nature’s Gate herbal shampoo… it’s made my hair super soft, and smells really good.

Deodorant:  Homemade… or None (Shh!)

Homemade deodorant!

Okay, this one’s kind of a tough one to accept; I’ve always been inclined to max out the strength of my deodorant.  But my underarms are one of my eczema spots, so after seeing recipe after recipe for homemade deodorant on the Internets, I finally caved and tried it out.  I used this recipe.  FYI, it stung like the dickens until I adjusted the proportions so that there was much less baking soda.  (I’d tell you how much, but I just played around with it so I don’t know.)  I also added a couple drops of tea tree oil later, because it’s antibacterial and smells nice.  Verdict:  it actually works great, odor-wise, but it’s not an antiperspirant (obviously), which took some getting used to.  Once I adjusted to a little bit of dampness, I was very happy with my homemade deodorant’s performance.  The only remaining downside is that it gets rock solid at low temperatures (because of the coconut oil), so it’s really hard to apply when it’s cold.  My solution to this problem may shock you… I kinda just stopped using deodorant this past winter.  I found that I develop a slight “human smell,” at most, that is much more pleasant than the combination of synthetic deodorant scent + sweat that I used to loathe.  As the Texas heat gets more intense, I’ll probably go back to homemade!  And for travel, I noticed some Tom’s of Maine deodorant on sale at Walmart recently…. A better option than normal deodorant, if I feel the need to bring anything with me.

Moisturizing:  Coconut Oil

Lotion and/or food. Yay!

This is my one-ingredient wonder!  I just scooped a bunch of virgin coconut oil into a jar and I keep it on my bathroom counter… You could use the more processed stuff too, but that doesn’t have a yummy tropical scent.  I use a little bit for body “lotion,” and I use it on my face at night (it makes my eye makeup run if I use it in the morning, but I find it soaks into my skin or rubs off or something overnight so it’s not a problem.  I don’t generally wash my face in the morning because I am lazy.)  And if you got super hungry while moisturizing for some reason, you could eat it right out of the jar!

…Don’t do that.  That would be weird.  But how many lotions can claim to be edible (and tasty, at that)?

*1/2014 Update: I stopped using coconut oil as a moisturizer, partially because I wasn’t satisfied with the “feel” on my face, but mostly because my husband didn’t like the smell. Odd duck, that one.

Lip Care:  Lanolin

Credit: Lanisoh (link)

This one is near and dear to my heart, because my eczema is worst on my lips.  So, no lipstick or lip gloss or even normal Chapstick for me; almost everything makes my lips itch, peel and crack!  For a while I put petroleum jelly on my lips before bed and that worked okay, but once I actually thought about how much petroleum processing byproduct I was probably ingesting overnight, I decided to look for alternatives.  Thankfully, I found a suggestion on a similar post to  use lanolin for chapped lips!  I had never heard of it, but apparently it is most commonly used to relieve sore nipples during nursing.  (Ow.)  It’s produced by sheep to moisturize their own skin and wool – but don’t worry, it doesn’t look weird or smell… sheepy or anything.  So I use that at night, and during the day I alternate between Burts Bees Medicated and Ultra Conditioning lip balms.  This is partially because they work pretty well, but mostly because I don’t really want to be whipping out a big purple tube of nipple ointment in public all the time.

*1/2014 Update: Still using & loving lanolin at night (and still working on the original tube!). But I’ve switched to eos lip balm for daytime (the cute little spherical-shaped ones). Those are AMAZING and have never irritated my lips at all, even when they’re really sensitive! Luckily my lips haven’t been too bad lately, so I can also use Baby Lips tinted lip balm when I want a little pretty in my life.

Do you use any of these products?  Got any alternate recommendations?  Think I’m a weirdo hippie?  Do share!

This post is shared at Fight Back Friday!