Both kids had the day off school today.  There is less than an inch of snow and none of it stuck to the roads.  It was very pretty, though, coating all the trees.


After about forty minutes outside, they asked for hot cocoa.




DSC00853.jpgThis recipe (hardly even a recipe) is very simple, and not too rich.  It is just right for a treat for the kids, as it makes two or three small servings.

2 T. cocoa

2 T. white sugar

tiny pinch of salt

1 dash of vanilla

1 cup milk

Dump the dry ingredients in a small saucepan. Add the vanilla and a splash of milk so that you form a thick liquid.  Heat on medium low for a few minutes until everything bubbles up.  Let it boil for a minute or so, then add the rest of the milk and heat through on low.  Pour into tea cup sized cups and top with marshmallows.

Kids’ Favorite Hot Cocoa

We have had what feels like two weeks of straight clouds and rain, which gets a little depressing after a while. The fireplace has been going constantly, even though it has only been in the 40s.  I need the coziness.


I tried to liven things up a bit inside with some house plants.  We finished this house in late October and it still looks very bare.  I hate “decor” items such as giant letters on walls, faux farmhouse horribleness found at Target, and other meaningless things purchased to fill space, but I made peace with the plants.  After the Christmas decorations come down, and before there are flowers outside, you need something.


Still pretty plain.  I want to find a sideboard or china cabinet to hold my girls’ puzzles and lego sets.  This is their preferred spot for those activities.


A plant for the kitchen island.  Look at the weather outside, yuck.  I actually bought two more palm trees but apparently neglected to take pictures of them, even though I was taking pictures for that specific reason.


It helps to have a resident artist who can paint beautiful winter snowman scenes.

I pruned some peach tree branches to force into bloom inside.  Just cut, put in water, and keep them indoors.  I cut some every week or two, starting late January, so I have a steady supply of blooms.  They have a long way to go.  Their bareness does not bother me though.DSC00812.jpg



We have been inside a lot, doing art.


Baking together..DSC00717.jpg

Making some cozy-smelling vanilla soap…


And thinking of spring.

Around the house: January



Last night I found our sweet little cat, Figaro, dead by the door to our barn.  He came with the property when we bought it three years ago, wandering over one day and staying.  I have no idea how old he was.  He slept on our porch every night, even when it was cold out and we would leave the barn open for him.  He was good at catching mice, chipmunks, and rabbits, and will be missed very much.


Our girls loved him, especially Maddie, who would tell him about her day at school when she came home.


He had a small injury to his neck.  Matt thinks maybe an eagle got him and then dropped him after realizing he was not something he wanted to eat.  We do have huge bald eagles that perch on our oaks and look around.  Poor little guy.


I buried him as soon as I found him, by a row of pine trees, and surrounded his grave with little rocks.

In the spring we will get some kittens and train them to go into the barn at night.  We need them for rodent control, and will need the promise of something happy to cheer up the girls.


Farm Cat



This is my absolute favorite soap recipe.  It is is better than any bar soap you can buy at the drug store, and I prefer it to to any other cold process type I have tried.

This recipe makes forty ounces, which nicely fills a good sized wooden mold.  Mine is from Brambleberry.  It will also fill a silicone bar mold, like the 16 bar one I have.  You can’t easily do swirls in a silicone bar mold, but it is easy to pop out your soap and you don’t have to cut it.  I started with that and bought the wooden one after I was more comfortable.

If it is your first time making soap, I would recommend the 100% coconut soap that I posted earlier until you are comfortable with the process.  If having soap for cleaning does not interest you, you could do a basic recipe that is 30% olive, 30% coconut, 30% palm, and 10% of a “luxury oil” like avocado or shea butter.

But honestly, it is not that much more work to measure out a few more oils, and it is worth it to have a product you will be excited about.

Another thing you MAY want to skip is color and fragrance. I would certainly not attempt a swirl your first time, but doing a single color is probably ok.  I do not like unscented soap, so I wouldn’t both making one without fragrance, but it is not necessary if you don’t like it.

The basic process is melting oils, adding lye to water to create a chemical solution, then blending those together to make soap.  While the soap is still liquid, fragrance and color are added if desired.  It is then poured into a mold to set, and cured for a few weeks.  That’s it.  It requires a lot of special ingredients, but actually doing it is no harder than making a cake.

Here’s the recipe:

11 oz. coconut oil

9 oz. olive oil

9 oz. palm oil

2 oz. sweet almond oil

4 oz. castor oil

4 oz. avocado oil

2 oz. mango butter

5.83 oz of lye

10-15 oz. water

4 T. of fragrance (for a strong scent, vary this to your preferences)


All my oils I ordered from Brambleberry, except my olive oil which is from Costco.


First measure your lye and water separately using a digital scale, then carefully combine them.  Pour your water into a cup you don’t care much about, then add the lye, stir it until it dissolves, and set it somewhere it will not be knocked over, drank, or otherwise messed with.


Then you measure your oils, using your scale, zeroing out the scale before each addition. DSC00787.jpg

The coconut oil and palm oil may need to be softened before you can get them out of the bag.  I do this in the microwave.  It the summer it is not necessary.

Melt them on your stovetop, bringing the temperature up to around 140.

Now everything needs to cool to about 110 to 120 degrees.  It will take a few hours.  Check with a thermometer.

Once your temperatures are right, it is time to combine.  BEFORE you do this, make sure any color and fragrance you want to add are ready to go, and that your mold is prepared.  A wooden mold needs to be lined with freezer or parchment paper.  A silicone mold requires no prep.


DSC00796.jpgDSC00797 (1).jpg

Until everything is combined and you have reached a thin “trace”.  This means your soap had thickened up JUST a little.  If you were to drizzle a bit of soap of top, it would stay instead of sinking in.  I started out liking a thicker trace, but have come to like it thinner so I can do swirls.  Either is fine, and does not really affect the final product

Here is where I added my color and fragrance.  I don’t have pictures, but stir BY hand, not using the motor of your blender.

Then pour everything into your prepared mold.DSC00801.jpgDSC00803.jpg

Wrap in some old quilts to keep it warm, OR put in an oven set to 140 degrees or less.  Let the oven run for an hour and then turn it off, leaving the soap overnight.  Or just leave it wrapped up overnight.

The next morning or afternoon you take it out and cut it into bars.  Use three or four weeks later.  You will love it.


Making cold process soap for the shower


I started making cold process soap about two years ago, when my mother in law sent me birthday money and I decided to spend it on the supplies I would need.  She thought it was about the strangest thing she had ever heard.  It is one crafty-type hobby that I love the most and have stuck with the best.  It feels truly useful, and I love the product I create.

It took me about six months to create my favorite recipe, but I have a very nice one that is good for hand, face, and body that I will share some time soon.  It uses a lot of different oils and I like to do combine fragrances and colors so it is not a great one if you are just starting out.

All soap is a combination of oils, lye, and water.  Basically a chemical reaction occurs between the lye and oil (the water is really just a delivery method for the lye), and the end result is soap.  The different oils you choose and the amount of lye affects your soap in different ways.  Some oils are good at creating a lot of lather, some are moisturizing, some clean well, some make your bar last longer. I would say that the oils you choose are the single greatest difference between different kinds of soap.  I like my soap moisturizing and with a lot of lather, so I worked on my proportions of oil until that is what I got.

If you are going to start soap making, you will need some new things.  I order all my supplies for Brambleberry because I love their fragrances and customer service.  If you do not have a stick blender or a kitchen scale that measures in ounces, you MUST have one for this project.  I ordered both of these specifically for soap making but now I use them all the time for cooking.  I measure my bread ingredients by volume now, and use the stick blender for soups, beans, and probably other things I can’t think of now.

You will also need to order oils and lye.  The most commonly used soap making oils are olive, coconut, and palm oil.  Coconut is very cleansing and lathering and creates a hard bar.  It can also be very drying, which is why it is balanced out with olive and palm which are more moisturizing.  My first soap recipe I made was 30% olive, 30% coconut, 30% palm, and 10% avocado.  It was nice, but I have added quite a few oils since.  This would be a good starting point if you don’t want to order and measure a million oils.

You will want some bowls and cups that you don’t mind setting aside just for soaping.  I find that if you are using a strong fragrance oil the scent can linger in plastics so it is best to have some just for soap.

Today I wanted to share a recipe that is a little different, and super easy for a beginner.  It is a 100% coconut oil soap that is made specifically for cleaning.  Since there is only ONE oil, it is nice and simple.  I grate it for homemade laundry detergent, rub in on stains with a little water to spot treat clothes, and even clean my showers and toilets with it.

Coconut Oil Soap for Cleaning

You will need:

30 ounces of coconut oil

10-12 ounces of water

5.52 ounces of lye

(OPTIONAL: color and fragrance)


First you measure all your ingredients using your digital scale.  dsc00772dsc00770

I forgot to take a picture of the lye.  If you order from Brambleberry, it comes in white flakes in a jar with skulls on it.  Do not be alarmed.  If you can handle bleach in a safe manner, you will be okay.

Next you mix your lye and water.  Always add the lye to the water.  This means put your measured water in a old cup and then add your measured lye flakes, stir until dissolved and set aside.  Mark the glass so someone doesn’t accidentally drink it and die.  It can give off fumes and some people like to put it by an open window or outside.  I don’t want my outdoor cat drinking it, so I just put it up on the windowsill.


It will be cloudy, but will clear up as it cools.

Next you melt your oils and bring them up to about 130 degrees.


Your coconut oil will start out white and solid, but will melt to look like any other cooking oil in a pan.  Like Crisco!.

Now everything needs to set aside and cool.  The lye water will have shot up in temperature once it mixed with the water, and your oils have been heated in a pan.  They need to cool to about 110 to 120 degrees.  These will take a few hours.  You want them about the same temperature before they are blended, at least no more than 20 degrees difference.

Once the temperatures are right, it is time to combine them using your stick blender.  Before you start this, have any fragrance and color you want to add ready to go.  Also have the mold you are pouring to ready to go.  Things will move quickly and start turning into soap right away, so you want to be ready.

Dump you lye water into your pot of oil, and blend using the lowest setting on your stick blender.  You are looking for something called “trace” which is when your soap has the consistency of a very thin pudding.  I like a very thin trace, so I stop as soon as it looks thicker than water and dragging my blender leaves any type of mark.


Once you are there, add any fragrance and color you like.  I wanted my bars to be pale pink just because I think it looks pretty grated.  I had a bottle of lavender fragrance that was almost empty, so I added two tablespoons of that as well to finish it off.  To be honest, if you are trying to have scented clothes, homemade laundry soap is not going to cut it, so don’t go crazy here.

Pour into your molds.  Remember, this is for cleaning.  Who cares if they are perfect?  Another reason this is a great starter soap.


They will be ready to pop out in 24 hours.  I put mine in the freezer while they were setting so I could keep the color nice and light (heat as the soap is hardening intensifies the color).


Then they need to cure.  You are not using this on your skin, and the bar is already very hard, so two weeks is plenty. It just needs to dry out a bit and finish the chemical reaction so there is not any “raw” lye that will make it too harsh.

To turn into laundry detergent:


Just grate two bars in your food processor, and add a box of borax and a box of washing soda.  Mix it up and keep it somewhere air tight. Not complicated.

As laundry detergent goes, it is fine, but I still soak towels and kids clothes in oxi-clean before washing to remove any tough stains.  (I did this when I was using ultra expensive Tide, too.) I also add Downy Unstoppables to our sheets and towels since my husband likes them scented.

To use in cleaning:

I keep a container of soap flakes in my bathrooms, and clean the shower using a wet rag and soap, then rinse off.  It leaves a really nice shine, no residue, and cleans very very well.  I also sprinkle them in the toilet bowl and scrub.  I really feel if you are willing to clean before things get bad there is no need to use such harsh cleaners.  (Part of the benefit of a cleaning schedule.)


You may want to label these bars so no one accidentally bathes with them.

Give it a try!  I will post the shower soap recipe next time I make it. It is the only kind of soap my family uses, and it makes a great gift, whereas soap to use for laundry would be a pretty terrible one.

Making Cold Process Soap



Key lime pie is my favorite dessert, and I have made many versions,  but this is the best.  Start the afternoon before you want to serve it.  It really needs at least 8 hours to chill once fully assembled, and it will take you about 3 hours to get to that point.

Graham cracker crust first.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 1 and 1/2 sleeves)

1/3 cup sugar

6 tablespoons melted butter

1/2 teaspoon cinamoon

  1. Grind your graham crackers in a food processor to get crumbs.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until blended.
  2. Press into a 9 inch pie plate
  3. Bake at 375 for 7 minutes exactly.  Do not wait for it to brown, or it will be rock hard.
  4. Cool at room temp for 1 hour.



Onto the pie: (this recipe comes from Allrecipes.com)

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup key lime juice (MUST BE KEY LIME.  Bottled key lime is fine.  Fresh regular lime is NOT OKAY.)

1 teaspoon grated lime zest (normal lime is fine)

2 egg yolks

1 whole egg

4 tablespoons white sugar

2 egg whites (this all adds up to 3 whole eggs)

  1. Mix everything in a bowl EXCEPT the egg whites and sugar.  Pour into your graham cracker crust, cover and chill for an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350
  3. Make meringue by mixing egg whites and sugar in an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Spread meringue gently over pie.
  4. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until top starts to brown.
  5. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.




Our Favorite Key Lime Pie



Here is a recipe we love:

Raspberry Linzer cookies

-1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

-1 cup plus 2 T. butter

-1 egg yolk

-1/2 tsp salt

-2 tsp vanilla

-2 3/4 cups flour

-raspberry jam for filling

-powdered sugar for dusting

  1.  Blend butter, egg yolk, sugar, salt, and vanilla with electric mixer until smooth
  2. Add the flour.  If mixture is too dry and crumbly add a tiny bit of water until it comes together
  3. Divide dough in half, shape into flattened disk, and put in fridge 2 hours.
  4. Remove dough from fridge.  Let it sit at room temp until slightly softened, then roll out on well floured surface, with floured rolling pin.
  5. Cut out bases and tops (make sure you have the same number of each!)
  6. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, bake at 350 for 12-13 minutes. Cool right on the pan.
  7. Shake powdered sugar on the cut out tops once they are cool.
  8. Spread jam on the bottom cookie.  Place sugared cut out on top.





Linzer Cookies






One of the best things about our house is the fireplace.  It is a wood burning, EPA certified prefabricated unit called Fireplace Xtraordinair.  EPA certified just means that it burns the wood cleanly without a lot of smoke and pollution.  This also makes it more efficient in terms of how much wood is used to generate heat.

I just learned how to use it by myself.  It used to be that when Matt came home from work he would have to go get the wood and get it started, which can be a bit of a process.  Now that I have learned, I typically start a fire very early in the morning, around 5 AM, let it die down by late morning, and then clean it out.

Thought I would share some pictures of a great way to clean the glass when it gets sooty.  I learned this from my sister in law, who heats with a wood stove with glass doors.







First, you crumple up some old newspaper, dip it in water, and then in the (cold!) ashes.  Rub it on the glass doors to make a paste.  The lye in the ash will instantly clean off all the grime.  Some of the darker areas might require a little elbow grease.


Scrub….Then wipe off with a damp paper towel and polish with dry newspaper.





All scooped out, hearth swept, and ready to go!




Cleaning Fireplace Glass




Another early morning, and absolutely freezing.  The wind chill is 3, which is very unusual for us.  We had about two or three inches of snow on Saturday morning, so the kids have a school delay today.  It seems ridiculous but I can barely get down our driveway on foot, so I understand.

I have kitchen towels and rags soaking in hot water and oxi-clean.  Monday is my day to menu plan, grocery shop, and change the sheets on our bed.  I am planning on making another batch of laundry soap.  I have been spending a lot on Tide and Persil and I just don’t feel that the results are worth it.  I have done homemade detergent in the past and never thought it was great on stains, but I am pretreating a lot now as it is, so might as well save the money.

Looking forward to spring and starting to plan the garden.  I start tomatoes and peppers inside in early March, so it is early.


Golden Lemon Bread




A few days a week I wake up at 4:45 with Matt.  While he is getting ready for work, I make his coffee in a to-go up and pack his lunch.  I have come to enjoy the alone time after he leaves and before the kids wake up.  I have a few hours to do a couple small chores, like start laundry and unload the dishwasher, and then I am able to watch TV and putter around.

If it is below 50 degrees outside I will start a fire for me and the kids so it is warm when they come downstairs.  We keep the heat at 65 and that can feel really cold, especially first thing in the morning before you get moving.

I have just started a new project, a cross stitch sample called My Sweetie Pie ABC’s, designed by Alicia Paulsen.  I downloaded the pattern to my iPad, and really enjoy doing it on that, as I can zoom in.  I have not gotten very far.



It will be for the new baby’s room.   The kids are really interested in it and squeeze next to me while I am working on it, even though you would think it would be very boring to watch.

I wanted to save here a recipe we made that we always enjoy.  It is called Golden Lemon Bread and is from my Taste of Home cookbook.  It tastes like a pound cake with a lemon glaze.  The kids love it.   It is great for snacks, breakfast for me, or be to packed in a lunchbox for a light dessert.

It is good to have a little helper pull up a chair and try to eat all the lemons.





Golden Lemon Bread, via Taste of Home, by Marjorie Rose


1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 cup milk


1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp. lemon zest

2 0r 3 T. lemon juice

  1. Beat shortening and sugar in electric mixer with paddle attachment.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with milk
  2. Pour into greased loaf pan bake at 350 for 45 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.  Place pan on wire rack to cool.
  3. Make the glaze and immediately pour over warm bread.  Cool completely before removing from pan.