Friday, September 22, 2017

Arnica Salve Recipe

Arnica Salve for Bruising and Muscle Pain

Thankfully, I recently made a batch of Arnica Salve. Not more than a few days after I made the salve, I took a hard fall while stepping through the front door of my house with my arms full of heavy bags. My right knee and left elbow took the brunt of the tumble. I limped into the bathroom to inspect the damage, and my elbow and knee were already swelling and turning purple. (My left hip had some bruising too, but wasn't nearly as painful. Small graces!)

I gently but thoroughly rubbed on the salve, and kept this regimen up about four times a day for a week. Not only did it help with the bruising, but I felt as though it took some of the pain away for a time after each application.

Was I ever glad that I had this salve in my arsenal! And it's easy for you to do the same. Here's how I made it:

Arnica Salve

1 cup olive or coconut oil (I used a combination)
enough dried arnica flowers to completely infuse the oil
1/4 cup beeswax pellets (sometimes called pastilles)
essential oil of your choice (optional)
2 wide-mouth half-pint canning jars or other suitable containers, sanitized
2 lids for the half-pint jars (I use the plastic storage lids that Ball sells.)

If you have a double boiler, you're in luck--use that for this next part. But if you don't, do what I do. I use a smallish Pyrex mixing bowl that, when set on another saucepot, fits snugly with plenty of room underneath so I can add water. Voila! A DIY double boiler.

To the Pyrex mixing bowl, add the oil and arnica flowers, making sure that the oil is pretty much filled with the arnica. I imagine that if you use a half-cup, that would be plenty, but I usually use more. (This is based on my notion that the more arnica, the stronger the oil will be, but I have no idea if that's correct. Yet, it pleases me, so I do it.)

 Turn on the heat to about medium-low. You don't want to boil the oil, but rather, get it barely hot. Let the oil/arnica mixture sit there for about 45 minutes, stirring gently every so often, and turning the heat up or down as needed. Remember! Never let the oil mixture come to a boil.

Take the oil off of the heat and strain out the arnica using several layers of cheesecloth or a flour sack-type kitchen towel so all the bits are caught. Pour the strained oil back into the Pyrex mixing bowl or double boiler, add the beeswax, and on low heat, stir until the beeswax is melted. (This won't take long because the oil is already hot.)Once the beeswax is melted, add essential oil if using (I love lavender), stir it in, and then pour the salve into the prepared jars. Keep the lids off the jars until the salve has cooled and set up. Screw on the lids and store the salve in the bathroom, a cupboard, or even the fridge if your house is hot (like during a heat wave in summer and you don't have air conditioning).

Following are some handy links for online purchase of supplies:

Organic dried flowers, herbs, and much, much more at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Beeswax, essential oils, and lots more at Glory Bee
Canning jars and plastic lids can be found at Ball/Kerr canning supplies.
And then, of course, there's always Amazon.

Making your own salves and ointments is easy and so, so satisfying. I hope you try some today!

Blessings to you and yours,
Georgia, plain and simple

Saturday, April 29, 2017

5 Great Tasting Taco Recipes

I think tacos are great any day of the week. In fact, I love them so much, that rarely a week goes by that doesn't include tacos for at least one meal. I have a number of different recipes that I use to keep things interesting, and I want to share five of my ideas in this blog post.

We'll take a quick look at how to prepare five of my favorites: classic ground beef tacos, spicy shrimp tacos, sauteed scallop tacos, chicken fajita tacos, and pork and black bean tacos.

Classic Beef Tacos

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, diced
2-4 T. chili powder
1/4 cup (more or less) water
1-4 T. chili powder (depending on how much heat you like and how hot your chili pepper is)
1 tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. garlic powder or crushed garlic

For garnish: 
1 bunch fresh cilantro, snipped
1-2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey pepper Jack

Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Pineapple Mango Salsa

3-5 large shrimp per serving, depending on size
Tony Chacere's Creole Spice
1 cup pineapple, diced
1 cup mango, diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 paste (also called plum) tomato, diced
2 green onions, chopped (use the white parts and part of the green parts)
2 T. lime juice
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. cilantro, plus more for garnishing
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
corn tortillas

To make the salsa: Mix together the pineapple, mango, bell pepper, tomato, green onions, lime juice, lemon juice, cilantro, and jalapeno. Refrigerate while making the shrimp.

To cook shrimp: If the shrimp still have their tails on, gently grasp the meat near the tail end and pull; the shrimp should slide out of the tail. Sprinkle the Tony Chacere's Creole Spice onto the shrimp. (If you haven't before used this spice mix, know that's it's quite spicy, so use a light touch.) Heat a small amount of oil in a saucepan and cook the shrimp, turning once halfway through cooking. It should take only about 4 minutes to cook the shrimp. You'll know they're done when the meat turns white and pink.

Heat the tortillas, add the salsa, and top with shrimp. Add a bit more of the cilantro if desired.

Chicken Fajita Tacos

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small to medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
3-4 T. chili powder, more or less, depending on taste
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 cup water
4 T. lemon or lime juice (or use a combination of the two)
corn tortillas
cilantro for garnish
cheddar cheese (optional)

In a saucepan on medium heat to which a small amount of oil has been added, sauté the chicken for several minutes, turning the pieces to get both sides. When most of the pink is gone from the meat, add the peppers and onion and continue to cook for about 5 minutes or until the peppers start to soften. Add the tomato, chili powder, garlic power, cumin, and water and sauce, stirring occasionally, until much of the water has evaporated and the peppers are cooked. Add the lemon/lime juice and cook for another few minutes until the juice has reduced somewhat

Heat the tortillas and spread the chicken mixture across the tortilla. Garnish with cilantro, and cheddar cheese if using.

Sautéed Scallop Tacos with Yogurt Lime Drizzle

about 6 small bay scallops per serving
thinly sliced cabbage
1 small onion, thinly sliced
avocado, peeled and sliced
1 cup plain yogurt
3 T. lime juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
corn tortillas

To prepare the yogurt lime drizzle: Mix together the yogurt, lime juice, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper, and some of the cilantro. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

If the muscles are still attached to the scallops, remove them. Rinse the scallops and pat them dry. Dredge them in flour and shake off excess. (You can also gently shake them in a baggie to coat.)

On medium-high, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a saucepan. Sauté the scallops, turning to sear all sides. Cook just until done, which should only be about 4 minutes, but could be longer depending on the size of the scallops.

Heat the tortillas; layer on the cabbage, onions, avocado, and scallops. Drizzle with the yogurt lime sauce and garnish with cilantro.

Pork Tacos with Salsa Verde and Black Beans

This is a great meal to make on days when you're busy outside of the home because you can slow cook the meat and quickly finish up when you return home in the evening.

1 small boneless pork roast
1 small onion, chopped
1 jar salsa verde
1-2 cans black beans
corn tortillas
thinly shredded cabbage
shredded cheese, optional (Pepper Jack cheese is good, but you can use Monterey Jack or Cheddar)

Place the pork roast and onions in your slow cooker and cook according to the slow cooker's directions. When almost ready to serve, shred the pork using two forks; add the jar of salsa verde (you don't have to use the entire jar) and let the mixture heat up while you continue.

Place the undrained black beans in a saucepan and heat until the liquid is gently simmering and the beans are hot.

Heat the tortillas, spread the cabbage on top of the tortillas, next add the pork, and top with the black beans (use a slotted spoon to spoon out the beans so the liquid stays behind). Garnish with some cheese if using.

Well, there you have it. Five tasty taco recipes. Feel free to use these as a jumping-off point for your own creativity. You can use flour tortillas if you prefer, or add or delete ingredients to accommodate your family's unique taste preferences. I hope that you find a new family favorite from among these.

Blessings to you and yours!
Georgia, plain and simple

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Easiest Way to Render Lard--Use a Slow Cooker!

Render Lard the Easy Way!

I was recently given about 8 pounds of hog fat by a friend of mine who had just butchered. My work schedule was currently hectic, and I knew it would be hard to find the time to laboriously cook and stir for hours to render out the lard. But in my opinion, cooking and especially baking with lard is the best, so I considered my options. Now, I've always rendered lard the old-fashioned way: on a stove top with large kettles. But I had read accounts of folks using their slow cookers instead of kettles, and one thing that had stuck in my memory was that you don't need to constantly be stirring the pot because cooking the hog fat on low in a slow cooker virtually guarantees no burning. I figured I'd give it a try, and I'm so glad I did because the results were spectacular!

Snow White Lard

Here's how to render out gorgeous, mild lard:

First, cut off much of the meat that might be still clinging to the fat (no need to obsess about this), and then cut the fat into small pieces, about 1 inch square. Place them in your slow cooker and add about 1/8 cup of water  (if you have a full pot of fat pieces), or possibly less if you don't have a full pot. You can start by turning the slow cooker on high to heat everything up, but move the setting to low after about 30-60 minutes and keep it on low for the rest of the time.

Here's what mine looked like:
Pieces of hog fat in my slow cooker beginning to melt.
From time to time I stirred the pot and cocked the lid of my slow cooker so the water would evaporate over time. After about only 3 hours I began the process of pulling off the lard. Basically you can either pour or ladle out the melted fat and filter it through a colander that has been lined with several layers of cheesecloth:
Filtering the lard
I continued to filter the lard as the fat melted. Prior to beginning the process, I sanitized pint-and-a-half canning jars so they would be ready when I needed them. (I'm currently low on quart jars or I would have used them instead. But use whatever you have because the size doesn't matter.)

Just keep up with this process until you aren't getting anymore melted fat and what's left in the slow cooker has turned brown. Those brown chunks are cracklings, and lots of folks eat them and consider them a real treat. I just spread out the cracklings on large baking sheets, give them a shake of salt, and then bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, stirring them once or twice while they are crisping up.
That's all there is to it. And when you're done, treat yourself to the best pie crust or biscuits you've ever tasted. Simply substitute the lard for Crisco in your favorite recipe. Heaven on earth!
Lard, ready to refrigerate and use when needed.

If you don't raise your own hogs, check around in your community to see if you can find a local hog farmer who might be willing to give you fat,  sell it to you, or let you take it if you give him or her half of the lard that you render. Alternatively, if you have a local meat processor or market, they might have hog fat to give or sell to you also.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Vegetable Gardening in My Front Yard

It has been quite a summer, and the Lilliputian Cottage is thriving!

I made the decision to tear up my front yard and grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers there. I think it has been a good decision. And an added bonus is that I've met many new neighbors who regularly stop by to chat, ask questions, and visit. Their stories are interesting and varied...and sometimes quite poignant. It gives me the chance to spread a bit of joy and encouragement as well as good, freshly harvested veggies.

One story in particular stands out to me. There is a young lady who walks by my house on her way to the library, pushing a baby stroller that holds her beloved dog. She is neurodiverse. She always stops and talks if she sees me outside, and early in the season she told me more than once that she loves cucumbers. So, when my cucumbers began to ripen, I invited her into the garden and we picked all the cucumbers that were ripe. I picked some other veggies for her, and she left for home with a big shopping bag filled with produce--all of it fresh and at its best and grown with no pesticides, etc. She was so thrilled! She has been back several times, asking if my cucumbers are ready to pick again. We have had to come to an understanding that we need to share! But it pleases me that we have become friends after a fashion.

Like everything at the Lilliputian Cottage, my front yard isn't all that large. But it had two monster fir trees that overwhelmed the yard. The roots wandered underground all the way to my house, and they went under the sidewalk and, I'm sure, under the street as well. They were just plain old too big for the space. And I worried every time a strong wind came up that they'd crash into my tiny house. So I got permission from the city to take them down, and that's what I did last fall.
The second tree is coming down!
Getting ready to dig up the yard

As you can imagine, the mess was something else. One of my sons got an obviously very nice friend of his to buck and move the wood to my backyard, and then I had a company come in and start digging up roots. They filled up two monster dump trucks and didn't get nearly all of them. But it made a huge difference nonetheless.

A lovely fence was built, with privacy for the backyard, and a framed wire fence surrounding the front yard. I love my choice of fencing and wouldn't change it in any way!
Work begins on the fence

The fencing is done and we're ready to spread compost!

Now the fun part began: I started planting things. As is the case with many of us, I had a budget to adhere to, and most of said budget had already been spent on the big stuff. But I knew that I'd be able to add and expand over the next several years, so I was content to start small. I most planted annual vegetable seeds and starts, although I was able to plant three blueberry bushes that rewarded me with almost two quarts of blueberries! (When the bushes grow big, I'll be blueberry rich for sure!) And I planted two artichoke plants, which come again except in the very coldest of winters when they will die back. Still I love artichokes, so I took the chance. I also planted some perennial herbs and flowers...but mostly I stuck with cheap annual veggies and flowers.

My garden grew.

And grew!


Delphiniums are a favorite of mine!

Borage in full bloom. Good for people and good for my bunnies.

My first year of front-yard gardening is winding down. I'm hoping to make some raised beds for next year because I think it will keep the area looking more organized. But I'll continue to have a wide swath of flowers all around the perimeter. Bees love flowers. I love flowers (and herbs!). And my neighbors seem drawn to the colors and textures.

In the early morning I pour my first cup of coffee and wander through the garden. I water, or weed, or harvest, depending on the current need. But I always--always--cherish the time spent among my plants. They feed my body as well as my soul, and I'm grateful.

Blessings to you and yours. Life is guaranteed to be difficult sometimes, but when life gets ugly, hold your head up, square your shoulders, and carry on. Because you are precious!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How to Make Self-Rising Flour...Cake Flour Too!

Yesterday I got a wild bee in my bonnet and just HAD to bake some biscuits using a new recipe. One of the ingredients happened to be self-rising flour, which I never keep on hand because it's so easy to make my own. But that didn't slow me down because it's so easy to make your own. Here's how:

Homemade Self-Rising Flour

For every one cup of flour, measure out the flour and then remove 1 3/4 teaspoons flour (you'll be adding that amount back in with the following ingredients); add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt; mix everything together well and either store it for future use or add it to your recipe. That's it!

Remember that if you decide to use self-rising flour in a recipe that doesn't call for it, you'll want to delete the baking powder and salt (or at least some of it) because it's already included in your special flour.

Homemade Cake Flour

And since I'm on the subject of flour, I thought I'd tell you how to make cake flour also. I have a very few cake recipes that call for this special flour, and my frugal nature won't allow me to run to the store and buy an incredibly expensive box of the stuff. So instead, I haul out my cornstarch and make my own.

First of all, I use all-purpose white flour for this--I've never tried it with whole wheat flour and I don't think it would work well because the gluten content in whole wheat flour is so high. But even so, I can't bring myself to ever buy bleached all-purpose flour, so I opt for unbleached all-purpose flour. I don't know if there would be a difference if using bleached, but I thought I'd throw that out into the ether.

Measure out one cup all-purpose flour; remove 2 tablespoons flour and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Mix well and then before using, sift so it's light and fluffy.

Well, I'm going to say good bye for now. I have work deadlines and need to keep on track. Plus three of my grandkids are coming over this evening and we're going to have a magic marker coloring fest (I bought new markers--the kind that don't mark anything except the special pages--and special marker coloring books). I can't wait!

I hope that life is treating you and your loved ones gently. But if you are in the midst of a storm right now, keep your chin up and remember that better times are coming, just as sure as the seasons change.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Georgia Varozza (Georgia Plain and Simple) Featured in a Podcast with Pioneering Today

Hello, friends-

I was recently featured in a podcast with Melissa K. Norris of Pioneering Today. Our conversation was wide-ranging and fun, fun, fun! I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed talking with Melissa.

Blessings to you and yours,

The Amish Canning Cookbook Is Officially a Bestseller!

Hello, all! Yesterday my publisher informed me that the ebook version of The Amish Canning Cookbook was listed last Friday in Publisher's Weekly as #7 on the top-20 bestsellers list in the cooking, food and wine category. I'm pretty happy about that!