Monday, April 14, 2014

DIY Tub & Tile Cleaner




While cleaning doesn't rank highly on my list of exciting pursuits, I appreciate the outcome. I love a clean, sparkly kitchen or bathroom and this natural DIY cleaner gets the job done!
While cleaning doesn't rank highly on my list of exciting pursuits, I appreciate the outcome. I love a clean, sparkly kitchen or bathroom (not saying that's how it always is here). Somehow, having everything clean and fresh just gives me a lighter spirit. For many years I used commercial cleaners, but a few years ago I began to be concerned about the risk to our health that those products pose. So, I began reading, researching, and making my own. It's really amazing how simple it is to whip up your own cleaners with just a few basic, inexpensive ingredients.

There are lots of recipes out there, and I've tried quite a few, but for scrubbing the shower, tub, sinks, and even countertops, I love this one. I've been using it for a couple of years now. It's simple, frugal, and it works!

Ingredients:
3/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. liquid castile soap
1 T. vinegar
10 drops of essential oil (optional)


1. Mix the baking soda and castile soap together in a small container. The mixture will be very thick.
2. Add the vinegar and mix again.
3. Add essential oil if you choose, and mix a final time.

I like to use peppermint castile soap most of the time, so I don't add the essential oil. When I use unscented soap, I like to add tea tree or lemon essential oil. Tea tree oil is a great antiseptic, making it a good choice for cleaning. And, there's a reason that lemon is so popular even in commercial cleaning products: it's an excellent grease cutter in the kitchen, and the clean, perky fragrance makes the job a little more pleasant.

I hope you'll give this easy tub and tile cleaner a try. Do you have any other favorite DIY cleaners?

Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa

Lou Lou Girls

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Make Your Own Buttermilk...and Southern Biscuits!




I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.

If you read my post on homemade crackers, you already know that I culture my own buttermilk. It's incredibly easy and since I'm always buying lots of milk anyway (9 people drink A LOT of milk), it's easy to use some for buttermilk rather than buying a separate jug - and then someone would probably pour themselves a big glass on accident…Anyway, it's just easy and, in my opinion, a better product than commercial buttermilk. And, it's a key ingredient in the homemade biscuits that my family loves.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart. For a few years I attempted to sell my family on whole wheat biscuits. While they were plenty tasty (I thought), they didn't get rave reviews from the boys who preferred the frozen, white variety. (sigh) So, I decided to compromise on the flour and choose the best additional ingredients I could. Score! They now love biscuit morning and if I could just learn how to make gravy as good as their Papa (my father-in-law) does… :)

So, for great biscuits, you've got to have buttermilk…all you need is milk, a jar, and buttermilk starter. You can buy the starter here (not an affiliate link). You only need to use it once. After that, simply save some buttermilk from each batch to make more. Instructions for the first culture come in the package.  Then, save 1 tablespoon of buttermilk per cup of milk for the next batch. One quart is recommended as the largest amount to culture at once. 

Pour the milk into your jar, add the saved buttermilk, cap and shake. It should not be tightly covered during the culturing process, so I like to put a coffee filter on top of the jar. A paper towel works fine too. Put it into a closed cupboard for about 24 hours. You will know the buttermilk is ready when you lean the jar to the side and it's thicker than milk - it moves similar to loose gelatin. Now you're ready to use your buttermilk! And, after it's finished, it's stored in the refrigerator. The instructions on the package recommend culturing at least weekly to keep it strong.

Make your own buttermilk in 4 easy steps.

Now with our buttermilk finished,we're ready to make those biscuits!

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Start by whisking the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl.


I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Next, work in the palm shortening (or cold butter) until it's crumbly. I do this with my fingers.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Pour in the buttermilk and stir together until everything is wet. I almost always find that I need to add a bit more buttermilk. Just make sure it's not soupy. You want a firm, sticky dough.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Flour your surface and hands well. Transfer the dough and press out to 3/4 to 1-inch thickness. I don't like using a rolling pin for biscuits. I think it keeps them from rising as well as just gently pressing out by hand. You'll probably find that you need to sprinkle a bit more flour over the top as you to this. You want to have a smooth surface that's not sticky. Sprinkle flour in small amounts at a time as needed; too much flour will make a heavy, dense biscuit - not good!

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
I like to use a canning jar ring to cut my biscuits. If I'm making gravy or plan to serve with butter, honey, and jam, I use a regular-sized ring. For "sandwich" biscuits I grab a wide-mouth ring.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Put them on a greased baking sheet, touching. Biscuits love company while they bake and it makes them rise nicer. Put them into a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown and you'll have a nice batch of biscuits like those at the top of the post. BUT, if you'd like to make something a little special, you can add one more step before baking:

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup butter. Remove from the heat and add 2/3 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Blend until smooth.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Divide the topping evenly over the biscuits and then bake as above.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
After baking, you get gooey-cinnamony biscuit goodness!  My children love them. 

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Enjoy your biscuits!


Southern Buttermilk Biscuits:

4 c. unbleached white flour
4 t. aluminum-free baking powder
1 t. sea salt
1/2 c. palm shortening (or cold butter)
1 1/2 c. buttermilk

1. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
2. Work shortening (or butter) in until mixture is crumbly.
3. Add buttermilk and stir until a soft ball forms.
4. With floured hands and surface, press dough into a circle, 3/4 to 1-inch thick.
5. Cut biscuits and place on a greased baking sheet.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield: 20 regular-sized biscuits. You can easily halve this recipe.

Do you make homemade biscuits? How do you like to eat them - plain, with butter and jam, as a sandwich, or some other way?

Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa
Lou Lou Girls 
All Things Thursday Blog Hop

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The 2014 Ultimate Blog Party




Ultimate Blog Party 2014
I'm so excited to be joining the 2014 edition of The Ultimate Blog Party! Want to join in? I'd love to meet you there. You can get all the details here.

I'm Karen, and I'm so glad you are visiting To Work With My Hands. I'm a homeschooling mom of 8 children (6 still in school), and our house is always busy. You can meet my family here. Keeping this bunch fed and organized can be quite a challenge, and at times I need to recharge. One of my favorite ways is to create with my hands. I love blogging here about those creations. I create and write about food (we consume lots and lots of food!), gardening, handcrafts, DIY projects for the home, and the body, and sometimes I'll profile what other creative people have done.

Thanks for stopping by! If you're visiting from the party, please leave a comment and share your link! I'd love to visit you too.


Monday, March 31, 2014

How to Make Your Own Natural Linen Spray




I loved hanging my sheets on the clothesline in the springtime and bringing in all the sweet smells of blooming flowers and trees. Now, with my own natural linen spray, I can come close to those sweet fragrances.

Now that spring has finally arrived, I've got the same bug that lots of people have. I want to get everything fresh and clean. After a few months of tightly closed doors and stale air, it's time to welcome fresh, fragrant breezes through open windows and let the dusting and polishing begin!

Before we moved, we had our own outdoor clothes line. Spring was always my favorite time to load it up with freshly washed sheets and let them dance in the wind. Bringing them in always brought in the fresh smells of all the blossoming flowers and trees. I miss that! But, although I can't totally mimic that perfect smell, I can get a little creative and come close - at least with something that is equally pleasant.

I love to use homemade linen spray when I wash my sheets. It's so easy to mix up and it just makes me smile each time I walk into my room and am welcomed by the sweet, gentle, or crisp fragrance. I don't save it just for springtime - or the sheets. I use it year-round and it works great on upholstery or carpeting. We don't have any carpet in our home now, so I love to give the rugs a spray instead. (Always be sure to test anything you spray in an inconspicuous place first to check for colorfastness.) Making spray in small batches is great for changing up fragrances often, or you can just have several bottles available and choose the fragrance that suits your tastes at the moment.

All you need is a spray bottle, distilled water, vodka, and essential oil. Since oil and water don't mix, you need a carrier for the essential oil. That's where the vodka comes in - it works in the same way as with homemade vanilla extract. You can substitute vinegar or rubbing alcohol for the vodka, but it's harder to mask their smells. I prefer vodka for that reason. Pour 1/4 cup vodka into the bottle and add 20 drops of the essential oil of your choice, or a combination of oils, and mix it together well. Then add 1/2 cup water and mix again. That's it!

I love the crisp, cool fragrance of peppermint, but if you have trouble sleeping, stimulating peppermint wouldn't be a good choice for your pillow. Calming lavender would be better, or a sweet mixture of lavender(15 drops) and Ylang Ylang (5 drops). I love to experiment with the oils I have and find new combinations that I love.

I hope you will celebrate the arrival of spring with me by whisking up a batch of fragrant linen spray. Be sure to leave a comment and share your favorite fragrances.


Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Spring Garden





What's Growing in Your Garden?

After five months, it's finished! Yes, this was one of those projects that has spanned some time, but a little here, a little there…and just in time for the approaching warmer and longer days. After getting the final section filled with soil, my sweet helper, Samuel did a great job of getting the trellis up for me.

The Spring Garden

 It will support the English peas now - which are already climbing - and cucumbers this summer when it gets too hot for the peas.

What to Plant in Your Spring Garden

I bought a small bag of seed potatoes and filled nearly all of the new section with those. In our area, potatoes go in around mid-February. I left an empty space at the back again to plant cucumber seedlings in a few weeks. They are still inside, growing strong and waiting for their preferred temperatures, before going outside. They are finally beginning to peek through the soil - yeah!

Growing Potatoes in the Southern Garden

By late February, our order of romaine, kale, Swiss chard, and one amazingly fragrant peppermint plant arrived from The Tasteful Garden.

Top Greens for Spring Growing: Swiss Chard, Romaine, and Kale

We had a significant freeze the day after they arrived, so I kept them in the house for a few days until it warmed back up, then moved them onto our covered deck for a bit of sun each day until they adjusted. After a couple weeks, I put them into their new homes.  

Starting Peppermint in the Spring Garden

Since it's invasive, the peppermint will live in a pot. It already smells amazing and I am working hard to restrain myself from plucking off some of those gorgeous leaves. Can you see that little runner on the left? It already has tiny roots. I'm sure I'll be repotting, and sharing, before summer ends.

I ordered a few seeds this year from my favorite seed supplier, Seed Savers Exchange, and put those in too. There are leeks, two varieties of yellow onions, chives, bee flower, and echinacea. The bee flower is new to me and I am eager to see how it grows and hopefully attracts lots of pollinating bees to the garden. And, although I am familiar with echinacea, I have never grown it before and am really looking forward to having it and harvesting for the great tinctures we can make to keep the cold and flu germs at bay next winter.

The carrots are our stars.  I love to watch their feathery tops swaying in the wind! We have already tasted a few, and will be harvesting them more frequently soon, enjoying the small ones for snacks, and allowing the others the room to grow larger.

A Southern Spring Garden

I love the rich color that the pansies still grace the bed with. I'll leave them in as long as they stay nice, which will be a few weeks yet. When the temperatures climb too high for their preference, I plan to replace them with one of my favorite summer border flowers, Dianthus.

Herbs in the Spring Garden

The herbs are really thriving in the new soil. I've never grown thyme this beautiful before.

The Spring Garden

The sage has improved too, and I decided to move a second plant into the bed as well. It has just begun blooming and those bright, purple blooms add to the color in the bed. 

Yarrow in the Spring Garden

 And after spending the winter living in a pot, I moved one of my newer herbs, yarrow, into the bed. It was a vigorous grower in the pot, so I am eager to see what it will do now that it has room to spread out some.

Spring will be short here - our summer temperatures usually don't wait around until June to show up. So, our peas and greens will likely have a short growing season. As soon as they are out, I'll replace them with tomatoes and cucumbers, and maybe a few more heat-loving plants I can squeeze in.

I'm so glad spring is here! How about you? What are you growing?

Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Make Your Own Lip Balm




I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away. Ideally, I would do this before I run out… :)

I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

The ingredients and supplies are few: almond oil, beeswax (I LOVE to use the bead form), a plastic pipette, and empty tubes with lids. Optional ingredients are flavor and sweetener oils. There are so many flavor oils to choose from, that it isn't hard to find one, or five, that you like. The sweetener oil gives the flavor oil "taste", rather than just smell.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Start by banding the tubes together. This recipe makes seven tubes of lip balm, but I have found that a group of ten tubes provides better stability, so three won't be filled and can be saved for another time.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Next, measure the beeswax into a saucepan and heat gently until it melts. For such small quantities, the tiny beads are much easier to measure than bulk form, and melt very quickly. After the wax is melted, remove it from the heat, add the almond oil, and blend. Finally, add the flavor and sweetener oils and stir again. It cools and sets quickly, so if it begins to harden before you are ready to fill the tubes (can you see that happening here?), just return it to a bit of heat and stir again.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Using the same pipette, the mixture is now ready to put into the tubes.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Fill the tubes and allow them to set. The balm will sink a bit in the center as it cools.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Finally, add a few more drops to each tube to created a nice, rounded top.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

A few drips over the edges happens when working quickly - at least for me - but it wipes off easily.


I love lip balm! I am forever swiping it on, and when I run out, I make the time to create a few more tubes to stash away.

Finally, after allowing the balms to cool a bit - long enough to print some fun labels - cap them and attach the labels. And, they are finished!

I enjoy making several batches of these around Christmas each year and giving them to friends. It also allows me to make more than one flavor at a time and try them all! A batch of seven balms would last a very long time for just one or two people (I can't seem to get the boys into lip balm…), so it's nice to be able to share.

These balms have an excellent shelf life. When I made this batch and dug out my storage basket, I found a few forgotten tubes that I had made for Christmas 2012. They were still nice and very fragrant, and one was even my very favorite - mango! And I thought I was completely out of lip balm…

If you want to make your own tasty lip balm, you can get the tubes, pipettes, flavor and sweetening oils, and even waterproof labels here. They have a great selection of flavoring oils and offer a nice trial size vial that I found to be perfect for one batch.

Here's the recipe: 

2 t. beeswax
8 t. Almond oil
7 drops sweetener oil
2 1/2 ml. (1/2 t.) flavor oil

The pipettes are marked in milliliters, so it's much easier to measure the flavor oil with it than with a spoon.

Have you ever made your own lip balm? What flavors do you like best - or do you prefer unflavored?


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