Day 180–A Mosquito Challenge

Ochlerotatus notoscriptus, Tasmania, Australia

Watering the garden last night, I was besieged by mosquitoes. Those tiny little devils love me (or at least, they love my blood). I’m not very good about putting bug spray on unless I’m camping and I never did get around to ordering that mesh beekeeping suit. The only products that work on me involve DEET. But who wants a known carcinogen on their body? And would I really wear the beekeeping suit when it’s 106 outside? And while we’re at it, why me??? What makes me such a popular mosquito destination while others get left alone? I’ve heard many theories about this including my estrogen level, how close my blood vessels are to the surface of my skin and–most recently–that I was born in The North.

I recently read about a homeopathic remedy that supposedly works from the inside out (regardless of where you’re from). It involves natures miracle–that’s right–vinegar. The goal of this treatment is to change your skin’s chemical composition to make it more acidic. I’m going to start this tonight and see if in a week I have any difference in my mosquito appeal. And if it doesn’t, well, it certainly can’t hurt. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 c. warm water
  • 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar

Add the cider vinegar to the cup of warm water and drink. Consume one cup per day. Here’s to research!

Day 116–Controversial Pickled Asparagus

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Fresh, local asparagus was the start of our pickled asparagus with mustard seed!

I’m adding asparagus to my list of controversial subjects. So far, they include politics, religion, college basketball and cobbler. And now asparagus.

If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that Ellie and I took a canning class so we can continue to eat some of our favorite local foods all year. Actually, we now have a three-pronged approach to food preservation–canning, freezing and drying. We’re looking at what is available at the market each week and considering whether or not we enjoy it enough to try preserving it for the bleak winter months. It’s fun to seek out new recipes to try–dried fruit leather was a big hit. One of the recipes that piqued our interest is pickled asparagus with mustard seed. We love asparagus. We love pickles. So, what’s not to love about pickled asparagus? And our local grocery sells pickled asparagus for $7 a jar, so I’m all about trying the DIY version.

I couldn’t decide whether this sounded really good or just really odd, so I posted an inquiry to my Facebook page asking the question: “Pickled asparagus. Good? Gross?” The overwhelming judgement was “gross.” Or at least “why?” as in “why would do that to a perfectly good asparagus?” A few people commented on texture issues with asparagus–would they be mushy? Ellie The Brave was all about it though, so we forged ahead. I picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market and apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and we got started. This recipe uses quite a bit of garlic, which made the kitchen smell great. I managed to get over my fear of canning garlic, which seems to be strongly connected to botulism if not done properly.

The end result was some semi-attractive jars, although not as perfect looking as the grocery store variety. I was concerned about stuffing too much asparagus in the pint jars, but in hindsight, the hot water bath cooked them slightly and they shrunk up a bit, so next time I will pack the jars pretty full.

How do they taste? Actually, very good! The asparagus are tender and not crisp like a true pickle, but also not mushy like asparagus from a can. The brine is good–tart, but with good seasoning from the mustard, garlic and pepper. They will be good with salad or even with deviled eggs. The garlic  helps to balance the vinegar and give the pickles a nice savory flavor. If you like asparagus and want to keep it around past asparagus season, this might be something to try (you can also blanch them and freeze them). This recipe is from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed (makes about 3 pints)

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, washed and dried
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn
  1. Trim the asparagus to lengths 1 inch shorter than your pint jars and pack vertically into the clean, hot jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring the brine to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then remove from the heat. Divide the garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the asparagus to cover by 1/2 inch. Leave 1/2 inch of head space between the top of the liquid and the lid.
  3. Use the boiling water method. Release the trapped air from the jars. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 74–Spring Cleaning

Our weather this week is so wonderful, it actually makes me want to clean the house. Not the usual “stuff everything into a closet” cleaning I usually go for, but the “throw open the windows and scrub the house til it shines” kind of cleaning. Some people head to the beach–I grab a mop bucket. Insane, I know.

This weekend we will be prepping our raised garden beds, so I’m taking a couple of days now to catch up on some projects and really clean the house. Yesterday I tackled my daughter’s room–yes, even under the bed–and somehow found three loads worth of laundry I didn’t know existed (the impulse to hide things instead of clean is apparently genetic). Today I’m tackling bathrooms, windows and floors. Somewhere in the mix there will be a Girl Scout meeting, and I even considered whether there was a cleaning badge (there isn’t).

In case the spring cleaning bug has gotten to you, too, here are some recipes for non-toxic cleaning solutions. They are amazingly effective and easy on your respiratory system as well as your nervous system. Given them a shot and let me know what you think!

Multi-purpose Spray Cleaner (works great on windows, too)

  • 3 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. borax
  • Hot water
  • Essential oil (for scent only and completely optional)

Combine vinegar and borax in a 16 oz. spray bottle. Add hot water to fill. Add essential oil, if you are using (I don’t). Shake. This solution will keep indefinitely.

Oven Cleaner (this is thanks to Heather at Sugar Dish Me)

  • Baking soda
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • Hot water

Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Remove the baking racks from your oven and sprinkle baking soda evenly across the oven floor. Spray vinegar and water solution on the oven floor over the baking soda, so that the baking soda is quite damp. The baking soda will fizz–cleaning at work! Spray vinegar and water on the oven walls as well. Close the oven door and leave overnight. Wipe up all the yucky stuff from your oven and wipe down the entire oven with clean water. This is AMAZING!!! 

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  • Baking soda or borax

Sprinkle in the bowl and let sit overnight. Scrub with a toilet brush. Voila!

Hardwood Floor Cleaner (don’t use if you have specialty flooring as this may void your floor warranty)

  • 1/4 cup castile soap
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 gallons warm water

Combine all in a large plastic bucket. Apply with a mop or sponge (Note: I used an old towel to dry the floor after mopping to avoid streaks)

Scouring Powder

  • Baking soda or borax    OR
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • Castile soap (enough to make a toothpaste-like paste)

Use gloves to protect your hands. Apply either baking soda or soap paste to tough areas like bathroom showers and tubs. Scrub with a brush or sponge. Rinse with water.

Tomorrow’s post will feature recipes for insect control. Here in the land of horse-sized mosquitoes and flying “palmetto bugs” (if you’ve never seen a flying roach the size of a Cadillac, consider yourself fortunate), I will be trying these out for sure!

Have a healthy spring cleaning! Or, and maybe better yet, head to the beach :-).

Day 66–Healthier Cleaning

Cover of "Free To Be ... You And Me (1972...

“…So, the very next time you happen to be
Just sitting there quietly watching TV,
And you see some nice lady who smiles
As she scours or scrubs or rubs or washes or wipes or mops or dusts or cleans,
Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
Your mommy hates housework,
Your daddy hates housework,
I hate housework too.
And when you grow up, so will you.
Because even if the soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach
That you use is the very best one,
Housework is just no fun.”

I grew up during the 1970s, when Free to Be You and Me was a television special that you DROPPED EVERYTHING to watch. With only four channels, there wasn’t much on television for children, but I ate up the positive affirmations and not-so-subtle feminist messaging, along with the catchy songs that I can still sing today. One of my favorites was “Housework,” with Carol Channing slyly explaining that only on TV did anyone love housework. And that’s only because they were getting paid to smile.

What does this have to do with our blog? Well, for a long time, I didn’t want my daughter doing any heavy cleaning because of all the chemicals in the cleaners (and also because she uses about a bottle of windex on each window). My husband and I tackled the housework together (in truth, he does way more than I do). In January, we got rid of our old cleaners, some of which were highly toxic, and replaced them with vinegar, borax, and baking soda. I’ve found that the vinegar smell doesn’t linger too long and the house doesn’t smell like a big salad (not that a salad smells bad…). And vinegar is an amazing cleaner of just about anything!

So what am I waiting for? Now that we have replaced all our cleaners with some form of white vinegar, we should be making the work more equitable. If my sweet ‘tween uses a bottle of vinegar and water per window, what is that…like 15 cents? And having everyone helping makes for a happier, healthier household all around (as long as I ignore the eye rolling). Cheers for Carol Channing and for cheers for white vinegar! Cue Carol for the big finish…

“Children, when you have a house of your own,
Make sure, when there’s house work to do,
That you don’t have to do it alone.
Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To seem sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there’s housework to do,
That you do it together!”

Making a Clean Start

Did you know that there are no federal regulations for chemicals used in household cleaners? What is THAT about? Reading the warning “May be toxic to humans and domesticated animals” on a bottle of cleaner made me really consider how we clean our house and what we clean it with. After all, the “humans and domesticated animals” are the inhabitants I care about! So, today was D-day for cleaning out the storage area under the sink. It was scary, on many levels. But now we have cleaners that are mostly vinegar, borax and baking soda. Will they work effectively? Not sure, but I feel better about having my daughter help me clean knowing she won’t be exposed to phlates and other toxins. See the before and after pics. Before: I needed a caddy to carry all the cleaning supplies. After: much simpler and (hopefully) healthier.