All Natural (or getting close to it)

This is the post excerpt.

None of us can live a completely natural lifestyle today, but I am trying to move toward a more natural one.  Join me on the journey toward getting healthier as I make things from scratch from personal hygiene products to canning foods from scratch.cropped-dsc_7111.jpg


Fun With Wildlife

Sunday morning while watering the garden in an attempt to grow even more weeds, and changing out the water in the duck pond that looks suspiciously like a kiddie pool, a familiar smell pierced the air and my nose.  With all the dogs at the cross roads where our house sits barking, I assumed they had scared up a skunk.  A couple hours later, my daughter went out to give the horses fallen apples from a friend’s yard and noticed the stench and how skittish Mike was.  When Keme laid by the shipping container that doubles as our tack room, my daughter went to investigate.  Sure enough, there was a skunk.  Turns out it was just a baby.  Keme wanted to be its surrogate mom; Willow wanted to know what it was; Norbert wanted to play with it; and Mike wanted it gone!

After a bit of thought, my daughter and I came up with a plan to remove it from the yard, but not before we got pictures!  Having gotten them, the phone went down on the ground and we managed to get the little one in a plastic box and throw him over the wall, although not before each of us felt the sharp teeth through our gloves.  We spent the next 10 minutes trying to keep him from climbing back up the wall and into our yard again.

Coming inside, we found that even without having gotten sprayed, even baby skunk leave a horrible smell behind!  The smell was everywhere – clothes, living room, dogs, and the phone!  Baths all around, clothes washed with baking soda and essential oils and oil lamps lit all over the house, along with scented candles.  Unfortunately, none of these worked for the phone case, so we have to buy my daughter’s boyfriend a new one this week!

Tip of the day: if you have the smell of skunk in your house, light some oil lamps.  It truly does help!  For yourself, clothes and dog – baking soda, alcohol, and essential oils.

Baby Skunk
Cute but smelly!

Dangerous Homemade Appetizer!

This Labor Day weekend has brought a number of invitations to BBQ parties by friends.  One of these was for my daughter and her boyfriend who decided to bring a homemade treat as an offering to the meal – cream cheese filled, bacon wrapped jalapenos.  To do so involved scraping out the insides and seeds.  I had no idea how dangerous preparing food that didn’t involve knives could be!  Between the two of them, there was quite a lot of hoopla and pain with milk being poured in eyes and on cheeks to stop the burning.  By the time they were done, both of their faces were bright red.

Think I will stick to less dangerous treats!

Stuffed, Bacon Wrapped Jalapenos

  • 10 jalapenos, haled and de-seeded
  • 4 oz softened cream cheese (can use flavored)
  • 10 thin bacon strips, cut in half

Preheat oven to 400.  Cut jalapenos in half length-wise and remove seeds and ribs; fill jalapeno halves with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of cream cheese; wrap stuffed jalapeno halves with bacon; arrange them on baking sheet, lined with foil (secure with toothpick if needed); bake for 25-30 min



Iron Skillet Cooking

Several recent conversations led me to this post.  1) a woman at work who is pregnant and very anemic; 2) being told how to “season” my dutch oven; and 3) my husband and daughter’s excitement over cookbooks.

Anemia is not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.  Iron deficiency is often the culprit.  It is very common during pregnancy because the kid steals all of mom’s nutrition!  Which is why pregnant women are given prenatal vitamins with extra iron.  So why did this random conversation lead me to think about my cookware?  Because when people quit using cast iron for their cooking, they lost a significant source of iron in their diet.  Each time you flip a burger or vegetables in the pan, you scrape off a bit of the iron and put it in your food.  That may sound gross, but remember this happens regardless of what surface you use – I rather have needed iron in my food than the cancer causing “non-stick” chemicals in “modern” cookware lacing my dinner!

The second conversation happened at the firepit.  We had our family friends over enjoying beer and conversation around a raging fire (“Indian build small fire.  Sit close.  White man build big fire.  Sit way back.”  Yes, we had to move our chairs back several times!).  Somehow we got into a conversation about dutch oven cooking.  My husband’s sister had gotten me one a number of years ago, and last year he got me a wrought iron tripod to hang it from over the fire.  When I sheepishly admitted I hadn’t used it yet, our friend asked if I had seasoned it yet.  I even more ruefully replied, no.  He then proceeded to explain how to do so.  I listened politely then asked if he knew what I cooked on every day.  He said no (he has been my husband’s best friend for more than 30 years and been in nearly every house we have lived in since we got married 23 years ago!).  I thought it was obvious – cast iron!  They were hand me downs from my mother-in-law and they are the only pans I have cooked on since 1995.  Then it dawned on me.  Most people don’t use cast iron cookware!  It seemed an odd thought.

Then there was the excitement from my husband who brought home a few cookbooks from Tractor Supply – Cast Iron Cookbooks.  I started making recipes from them and my daughter loves them!  She has even started eating left-overs!  Certainly the recipes can be adapted to use with other cookware, but it is nice to cook ingredients on the stove in the same cookware that the casserole goes in into the oven.

My advice?  If you don’t have a cast iron pan, get one.  Season it by coating it with oil and putting it in the oven at 200 degrees for an hour or more (until the oil has completely soaked into the pan) and start using it!

Here’s one of our favorite new recipes:

Black-Eyed Pea Casserole (from Cast Iron Casseroles #65)

  • 1 tablespoon (T) olive or coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup (C) chopped yellow onion
  • 2/3 C chopped red bell pepper
  • 2/3 C chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 1/4 pounds ground meat (beef, venison, bison, etc.)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
  • 1 (10 ounce) can mild tomatoes with green chiles or stewed tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon (t) ground cummin
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t chili powder
  • 1/4 t Himalayan or sea salt
  • 1/4 t ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 C shredded Cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 1 (6-ounce) package buttermilk cornbread and muffin mix; or flat pie shell
  • 2/3 C whole milk (if using muffin mix)

In a 10 inch cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; add onion and bell peppers; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (4 minutes). Remove from pan.  Add meat to pan, cook til browned, drain. Stir in onion mix, peas, tomatoes, cumin, garlic, chili, salt, and pepper.  Remove from heat. Sprinkle with 1 C cheese.

In medium bowl, combine cornbread mix, milk, and remaining 1/4 C cheese; whisk til smooth.  Pour batter over cheese layer, leaving about a 1/2 inch border.  (The muffin mix makes this very sweet.  I prefer a pic shell to cover it)

Bake at 450 degrees about 13-15 minutes (until muffin mix or shell is browned).

When a Shepherd is Raised by a Wolf

On August 25th of last year, we lost our shepherd mix.  He was brought to us by a neighbor girl who found him dehydrated and overheated hiding under a bush as a puppy.  Sixteen years later, having moved with us across town, up to Kansas, and back to the Southwest, and providing us with much joy and love, he passed away.  We, of course, were heart broken.

Late last September, I was walking my Golden Retriever and wolf when the wolf went into an abandoned lot trying to meet a couple of dogs there.  When one of them started screaming in pain, I ran in to help, thinking it had gotten caught in the chain link fence (NO, it never occurred to me that the wolf was hurting it, as I knew she never would).  Instead, what I found was a scared to death puppy who DID think the wolf was going to eat him.  He was only about a month to 5 weeks old, and cute as a button.  I caught a glimpse of the other dog as he ran away, clearly not the pup’s mother as it was a male.

I scooped up the puppy and held him through the rest of our walk and took him home, giving him a bath, food, and water, and contacting my friends to see if one would like to own a very cute shepherd puppy.  Unfortunately, my friend who was willing to take him didn’t return my call until after my kids had gotten him and immediately fallen in love – which meant that he was now ours!  Since he looked a lot like our beloved Chuy, and had to have been born within a week or so of his death, he was given the birthday of August 25th, and we have determined that he must be Chuy coming back to us (forget theology!).

His fear of the wolf that terrified him quickly faded and her love of him only grew.  Before long he was following her around – like a puppy dog!  She taught him how to patrol the property; how to dig for gophers in the yard; how to stay in his yard, instead of jumping the stone wall even though he could; how to how to be picky with food, making sure it wasn’t poisoned before he ate it; and all the other skills that a growing “wolf” pup should know.  Today, he is nearly a year old (by his given birthday of the 25th) and has grown into a handsome young shepherd (mix) who thinks he is a wolf.

This past weekend his mamma left for a party with my daughter – one of her dog park friends was moving out of the area and had all the dog park crew and their dogs over to their house.  Unfortunately, the wolf is overly protective of her pup and does not behave well at the dog park when they both go.  She growls at any dog who comes close to her baby.  While it would seem natural to let him go and not her (since she is technically the problem), it has been decided that it is important for the wolf to go as she is so very sociable and needs that interaction with the other dogs.  So he had to stay behind while she went to the going away party.  He was devastated!  We have never heard him whine or cry like that before.  He stood up in the chair, looking longingly out the window; he went outside and looked all over the yard and over the wall for her; and when he determined that she was gone, even though he would lay down, he didn’t once go to sleep – from 4 to 11:30 pm!  It was so sad!

Now, we have a wolf that can’t be separated from my daughter and a shepherd who can’t be separated from the wolf (or the wolf from the shepherd).  Looks like my daughter will have her hands full as soon as she moves out!

Mamma and her baby!

Being Overrun By Grapes

It has been a difficult summer garden-wise. Having started a full-time job (outside the home) at the beginning of May, that has often been more like a job and a half work hour wise, I haven’t had the time to spend in the garden.  So, this year’s crop has only been the strawberries, asparagus, blackberries, and grapes that are perpetual, as I didn’t plant anything more this spring. Unfortunately, the heat has decimated all but the grapes. We had several weeks of 100+ days with full sun every day that just fried them and watering them just wasn’t enough to save them. Then there are the weeds…. (grass and sage and weeds, oh my!).  They have taken over everything! I think the blackberries and asparagus will come back, but I may have lost the strawberries completely.

But the grapes?  They went ballistic this year!  I had gotten a third overflowing bowl in addition to the two overflowing bowls in the picture, and there are plenty more on the vine that I haven’t picked yet!  They are wonderful, but do have seeds and are pretty small, both of which makes it difficult to turn them into jam or wine. But they make a great lunch!

One thing to keep in mind about growing grapes, however – they can be deadly to dogs! For reasons I don’t understand, they destroy their kidneys. So, if you are going to grow grapes (or onions), keep your canines away from them and don’t put them into your compost pile where dogs can get into them. Otherwise, plant and enjoy them! If I can get this many just a couple years after planting them in the desert, with the heat and sandy, rocky soil, I know you can too!

Moving Toward All Natural By the Numbers….

Because of medications my doc had been getting blood work done on me every 6 months.  Now it’s down to once a year.  The last one was in June, and while I met with him and he said it all looked good, I didn’t get a copy of it, like I had the previous lab work.  However, I downloaded my medical records and was looking over my latest blood work results and was a little stunned….

There are some things that are on everyone’s radar with respect to numbers – cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose.  More specifically, the doctor and patient are worried about each of these being high.  But was if they are low?  I mean really low!

Most people understand that there is “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol.  Remembering which is which isn’t as easy (at least for me).  Then there is the “overall” cholesterol.  This isn’t just the two added together, it is the two added together plus 20% of the triglyceride count.  So, what’s a good number for each of these?  The overall should be between 112 and 200, with the lower the better.  The triglyceride should be between 0 and 150; the “good” cholesterol (HDL) should be between 35 and 75; and the “bad” (LDL) should be between 100 and 129, with the lower the better.

My “bad” cholesterol used to be around 90.  This past summer, after losing about 30 pounds, cutting out processed foods, and being as all natural as possible, my LDL count was 49!  That sounds great, right?  Well, not so fast….  While my HDL and triglycerides were low but within the range, and right in the middle respectively, it put my overall cholesterol at 108.  Again, great, right?  According to studies regarding heart disease and stroke it is great, but not according to studies regarding depression.

See, my risk of dying from heart disease and stroke are about nil based on these numbers, but when one has an HDL below 70, and overall cholesterol below 120, they are at greater risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidality.  For someone who suffers from PTSD and Major Depression, this isn’t so good.  Another number that is seemingly good is my BP – which tends to be around 100/70 on average.  Again, this is great for my heart, but not so great for depression, as low blood pressure has been found to be a factor in depression, with 120/90 being the ideal.

Other dietary factors related to depression and anxiety are low levels of vitamin D and B-12.  While I have struggled with both of these being low in the past, they are much higher now, and seem to be compensating for the lower cholesterol and low BP.  Another good point to the blood work was low SGOT and SGPT, which are numbers related to how well the liver is functioning.

All of this is to say that the changes I’ve made have found there way to the numbers, which were always pretty good to begin with, in a way that is good for preventing heart disease, stroke, and liver disease.  However, if you struggle with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, these lower numbers may cause you more problems than you or even your doctor realizes, because mostly people worry about high numbers in these areas.  Take the time to talk to your doctor about how these may be effecting not only your physical health, but your mental health!

Stuffed Shells Recipe

Each month I do a big trip to the store, getting everything I need for suppers for the month. This month I was unable to find a couple things I needed, and thought I got something that I apparently didn’t. Then, when I had my husband pick them up, I couldn’t find the recipe I had planned! I have looked everywhere for it and somehow the crock pot version of the stuffed shells has disappeared in a black hole. Fortunately, I found another that I had the ingredients for and made that last night. Actually, that’s not true. I was missing an ingredient (the Ricotta Cheese), but made up for it by putting in more mozzarella and Parmesan. Should have added a second egg, as it made it a bit dry, but still tasty. Anyway, if you are looking for a way to incorporate some spinach in your diet, in a way that masks the taste if you don’t like it, here’s a good homemade recipe.

Stuffed Shells Florentine

  • 1 Cup (C) ricotta cheese
  • 1 C shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 10 package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and well drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon (t) dried oregano leaves, crushed
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 12 jumbo shell macaroni, cooked
  • 1 3/4 C homemade spaghetti sauce (with or without meat)

In bowl, mix well first 7 ingredients (all but spaghetti sauce and shells); stuff about 3 T mixture into each shell; in 12 by 8 inch dish, spread 1/2 of sauce; arrange shells, stuffed side up, in sauce; spoon remaining sauce over shells, cover with foil; bake at 350 for 35 minutes; sprinkle with chopped parsley and more Parmesan cheese if desired.