Best Use of Cheap Vodka

Six weeks ago, I rolled into Albertson’s before gym class with Annie in tow and bought a $9 plastic gallon of vodka.

The lady at the check-out processed my purchase in silence, but her eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. The girl bagging held the bottle up, shook her head and cut a look at the bagger in the next lane.

It was 8:45 am on a Tuesday. I was wearing sweats, my hair was in a bun and Annie had picked her own clothes, orange striped stretch pants and a puke green shirt that used to belong to Gabe.

I cleared my throat.

I feel like I have to explain why I am buying a gallon of vodka this early in the morning.

I expected them to laugh, but the idle checker in the next lane actually leaned across and said “Yes.”

Well, we make a lot of our household cleaners, to be safer and less toxic. We also have two dogs, so I’ve been looking for a fabric refresher that doesn’t have a ton of chemicals and fragrances, like Febreeze. I found this recipe online for Febooz. All it takes is a spray bottle, two cups of water, a cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Safe for all fabrics, carpets, clothes. And for kids and dogs, as long as they’re not drinking it.

They looked at each other. Then they started laughing.

“A few sprays for the couch, a few sprays for mama!”

“And if it doesn’t work, just pop off the top, have a few drinks and you won’t care what the couch smells like!”

The things we go through to bring you safe cleaning products.

Febooz

All you need is a clean clearly labeled spray bottle, 2 cups of water (the original recipe calls for distilled. I don’t know why, but I used tap and it was fine), 1 cup of vodka and some drops of essential oil. Shake and spray.

Courtesy of www.yellowbrickhome.com

PS: have your husband buy the vodka. No one will bat an eye at a man buying bulk vodka in a plastic bottle. Even if he has all the kids with him and it’s 1 am. But that’s a whole other post.

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Resolution Revolution~ Jen

It’s January and the TV and radio are full of ads for gyms and diets. I know that’s normal, but it’s grinding on me this year. Because even though Dana and I have been in the gym for almost a year, I have gained 15 lbs.

I know, I know, we’re not supposed to talk about actual lbs. We’re supposed to use euphemisms like “I ate a few too many Christmas cookies” or “It’s true what they say, eggnog goes right to your waist!”

But there’s no euphemism for “My synthetic thyroid hormone meds are jacked up.”

In case you didn’t know what your thyroid does, it regulates things like metabolism. Synthetic hormones have come a long way, but they can’t replace an organ. For whatever reason, my “normal” dose of hormones, which had done the job for over a year, stopped about six months ago and sent me into hypothyroid territory. My hair started to thin and I gained a fast nine pounds. My doctor upped my meds, which lowered my levels a bit, and made my hair thicken up, but I added another six pounds. So he upped them again. I’ve been at this level for three weeks now, and while my head is full of little tufts of baby hair when I pull it all back into a ponytail, the scale has not budged.

I am trying not to freak out. I keep hitting the gym and tracking what I eat on My Fitness Pal. But I have never weighed this much in my life. After Kate was born I worked really hard to lose an extra 15 pounds and I stayed there in the years between her and Annie. Now my clothes either don’t fit or don’t look right. I don’t look in the mirror. I don’t want to take pictures.

It’s enough to derail my determination to celebrate the wins.

Then yesterday I was driving along, listening to Air1.com on the radio and Brenda was talking about why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. She had read somewhere that it’s because most of our resolutions are about ourselves. Losing weight, climbing a mountain, traveling somewhere exotic, eating better food, exercising—while none of these resolutions are bad, they are all self-serving. And since most of us drop them within days or weeks, they aren’t making us any happier, either.

But resolutions to serve others? Could be we’re much better at keeping those.

It got me thinking—I could fixate on the scale and my weight. I could live or die by the numbers every morning and let my days and sense of self-worth be dictated by whether the numbers go up or down.

Or. I could let it go. I could accept that my meds are off right now, and may never get right. I can feel thankful that this weight gain means I am alive and beat my cancer. I can stay on my eating plan and stay in the gym and be the healthiest heavy version of myself that I can be.

And. I can make a different kind of resolution this year, one that doesn’t serve myself. I will volunteer or donate or advocate for others.  I have to look around, because this idea just came to me yesterday, but I already know there’s no downside. Think of others before myself? Give some of my time, treasure or talent to help? Show my kids how to walk the talk? Yes, yes and yes.

I think this is part of learning to Be, too. Do less. But be grateful. Be giving. Be humble.

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Not Your Mama’s Sauce ~ Jen

Cooking while drinking = blurry pictures...

Cooking while drinking = blurry pictures…

Fires, Family, Football and Food! We love Thanksgiving here at Full of Graces

We’re coming at you lots this week: Cranberries today, swiss beans tomorrow and spicy pumpkin pie on Wednesday. 

When I decided that I could be a scratch cooking diva in the kitchen, cranberries were my first throw down.

“How hard can it be?” I asked my cousin over a bottle of wine the night before Thanksgiving, 1998.

Well, you can buy a can of cranberry sauce—or worse, that jelly stuff—that may have been fresh six months ago. Or you can buy a bag of cranberries, throw them in a pot with a cup of water and a cup of sugar and cook for ten minutes. Viola! Cranberry sauce.

That’s all it takes. To make it more exciting, I recommend you ask someone in the house if they want to taste a raw cranberry. Those shiny red berries are hard to resist. My cousin is still mad about that one.

Since then, I found two go-to cranberry sauce recipes. I make one or both every year, whether we do turkey or ham. And it turns out that cranberries are super healthy and cancer fighting. Bonus!

The first is a cranberry apricot sauce to serve as a side dish:

California Apricot Cranberry Sauce

½ cup dried apricot halves, cut into strips

¾ cup cranberry juice cocktail

1 12 oz bag fresh cranberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 tbsp minced ginger (use fresh for a strong taste, dried for a lighter taste)

Soak apricots in cranberry juice in a saucepan for ten minutes to soften. Add cranberries, sugar and ginger. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and cook uncovered for ten minutes until cranberries pop and sauce thickens.

Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 3 hours.

The second is an orange cranberry Dijon mustard to serve as a relish. This is unbelievable on a slice of ham or a turkey leftover sandwich:

Cranberry Mustard

12 oz bag fresh cranberries

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

½ cup orange juice

2 tsp grated orange zest

¼ cup Dijon mustard

2 tbsp unsalted butter

Place cranberries, sugar, water, orange juice and zest in saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium low. Cook until berries pop and sauce thickens.

Remove from heat. Stir in mustard and butter. Cool and serve.

You could even make these tonight or tomorrow and put them in the fridge. They keep!

Roast a Chicken…Don’t be Scared!

We used to be scared of roasting a whole chicken. And not just because of the  raw chicken thing. It seemed too much like roasting a turkey, and that’s a big dang deal.

But then we noticed that whole chickens are often on sale for less than $5 each. That was too good a deal to pass up for dinner and leftovers.

And then we found a really simple recipe in a Rebecca Katz’s cancer fighting cookbook called Chicken Roasted All the Way to Yum. And it is. Simple and easy and yum. Of course, we adapted it a bit. If you want her original recipe, go here.

Otherwise, you need just a few things: a roasting dish (we use a 9×13 pyrex baking dish); an orange; a lemon; salt, pepper and rosemary. And a whole chicken.

Take a deep breath, because you are about to be elbow deep inside that chicken.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drain the chicken and remove the innards. This is important. We predict you will only ever forget once.

Place the chicken in the pan—legs facing up!!!

Mix a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl; grab half and rub in the cavity of the chicken. Sprinkle the rest over the top.

Cut the lemon and orange. Squeeze the juice over the top of the chicken and stuff the rest inside the chicken.

Sprinkle chicken with whole dried rosemary.

Cook for 90 minutes, or until a meat thermometer stuck deep in the breast says the meat is done.

Carve and serve. There will be enough drippings for gravy (but that kind of defeats the purpose of healthy chicken…).

If you are really industrious, you can save the carcass and make Rebecca’s Magic Mineral Broth (just add the chicken carcass along with everything else), and then freeze and use for all your soups this Fall!

Jen cooked one of these Tuesday and forgot to take pictures. So instead, here’s a picture of what your plates will look like if you make this chicken.

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Yep, it’s that good.

Happy Friday!

Homemade Summer Fruit Yogurt Pops

It’s AUGUST!

In our part of the world, that means the kids are headed back to school soon and NFL players are reporting to training camp. As a bonus, the Dodgers are leading the NL West and the Giants suck.

All is well.

We thought we’d share a fun summer recipe we use with our kids. It’s a great go-to when the late summer fruit ripens a wee bit too quickly and is in danger of going in the trash.

Like these cherries I bought the other day. My kids won’t eat squishy and these got squishy fast.

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I would hate to throw $6 of cherries away so I repurposed them into cherry yogurt pops.

I bought the pop maker at Vons for $1.99.

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I use plain Greek yogurt, pure vanilla, honey and the cherries. I pitted the cherries with my handy dandy cherry pitter from Target. If you’ve never used one, I can tell you they are very useful but messy. Wear an apron and prepare for your sink to look like you killed something in it.

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A cup of yogurt, a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of honey and about a cup of cherries (the fruit amount can be very loose—more or less, depending on how you like it to taste).

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Hit the blender. Pour into the pop maker and freeze. Viola! Cheap and healthy summer treat. No squishy cherries, no wasted fruit.

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Recipe:

1 cup(ish) pitted fresh cherries (or any squishy fruit or combination of squishy fruits on your counter)

1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together in blender until ingredients reach smoothie texture. Pour into ice pop maker and freeze.

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 89/pop; .2 grams of fat; 15.7 grams of carbs; 6.8 grams of protein; 8% RDA calcium; 6% RDA Vitamin C

I can ~ Jen

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Not like “Yes I can!” Like can food. Jams and applesauce, mostly. Butters. Once, lemon curd.

It feels weird to admit this. Maybe because Dana and I have realized that with our recipes and our stories, we might be crossing over into crunchy granola SAHM mom-dom. There is nothing wrong with crunchy granola moms, but we don’t fit the mold. We’re more like cancer fighting sparkly Queens of the Castle moms.  And we’re taking urban homesteading mainstream, baby!

Anyhow, last Fall, I made a giant batch of organic Granny Smith applesauce with nothing in it but apples, water and cinnamon. It was tasty, but we didn’t eat it fast enough and some went to waste. I could have frozen it, but I have issues with freezing things. So instead  I started canning.

I bought the Ball canning kit, which comes with the Ball Recipe Book. There are plenty of websites that have tutorials about canning. I’ll put some at the bottom. Know that canning is science, in terms of recipes and measurements. Turns out, you can’t just make Aunt Sue’s famous pasta sauce and can it. Unless you want to die of botulism. You have to balance things like acids and sugars. Jams are a bit more forgiving, in the sense that if you screw up the ingredients, you only risk getting the consistency wrong, and not death. As long as you have correctly sanitized your jars, lids and tops, that is.

It scared me at first too. But it’s really just a process and once you get the process down, it’s easy. I make sure I use recipes which I know are tried and true.

The first time I canned jam, it took four hours to get three half-pints. I was nervous and kept checking and double-checking the process.

Last week I canned 4 half pints of blueberry jam and 3 pints of apricot jam in 90 minutes total. Six months of jam in an hour and a half.  That’s the kind of canning I am talking about!

I got the apricots at the store. But the kids and I picked the blueberries ourselves.

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I’ve never picked blueberries before. This farm was amazing—beautiful, green, clean. The kind of place where you let the kids run free and don’t worry about them.

We ended up with three pints for $14. Considering blueberries can run $4/half pint in the store when they’re not on sale, this was a pretty good price.

I make low sugar jam because I cannot bring myself to put 6 cups of sugar in anything.  We don’t notice any difference in taste.

In 45 minutes, I took blueberries from this…

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To this…

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To this…

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To this…

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I know, it’s not for everyone. But if you are curious about canning, then I’ll tell you  it’s not so hard once you get started. And there’s something so fulfilling about the fruits (ha!) of my labor all lined up there on the counter.

Resources:

www.freshpreserving.com

www.foodinjars.com

www.kraftbrands.com/surejell

www.pickyourown.org/jam

Lentil and Smoked Sausage Soup

We’ll explain more about our approach to cooking homemade later, but it’s going to be chilly for the next few days* and we wanted to share a great, healthy, easy recipe that our families love—even the babies.

You need a pot, these things, and an hour and fifteen minutes. But you only spend 30 minutes actually standing over  it. That’s all. Then you walk away for 45 minutes and let the goodness happen.

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2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup dried lentils

1 onion, chopped

1 cup shredded cabbage (red or green; I buy a head, cut it in half and chop it up myself to save money)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 smoked sausage, cut into pieces

1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes

2 cubes bullion (I have used veggie, chicken and beef, and they all do the same good work)

4 cups water

Bay leaves (we play a game at our house that whomever gets the bay leaf in their bowl gets good luck; this means I put three or four bay leaves into my pot)

1 tsp thyme (ground or leaves)

Salt and Pepper to taste—I always forget this step and never miss it

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Stir in lentils, cabbage, onion and garlic and cook until tender. Add sausage and tomatoes. Crumble bullion cubes over mixture and stir til dissolved. Add water, bay leaves, thyme; bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are tender (40 minutes). Serve.

This recipe feeds my family of five, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Here is a cost breakdown (since some things can be used for more than one recipe, I listed the real cost vs. the cost per recipe):

Ingredient Cost Cost/recipe
Bullion 1.25 .45
Lentils 1.89 .95
Cabbage .89 .45
Sausage 3.99 3.99
Garlic .50 .50
Onion 1.27 1.27
Diced tomatoes 1.99 1.99
Thyme 6.59 .55
Bay leaves 4.39 .36
Total $10.51

And the nutritional breakdown, thanks to Caloriecounter.com:

For eight servings:

139 calories/serving

4 grams fat

7 grams protein

18 grams carbs, of which 8 grams is fiber

Vitamin A: 10%

Vitamin C: 21%

Calcium: 3%

Iron: 12%

Recipe grade: A

Enjoy!

*By chilly, I mean it’s going to rain and get down into the 40s here in So Cal. But the rest of you are going to get some snow, so really, this works for everyone!