Food Friday

Today's post is all about the day after the New Year celebration. I don't know about your household, but in mine, we watch the parades, watch football and eat.......all day long! We also take down the Christmas decorations during half time and time outs,  but I don't want to think about that, lol ! So here are some tasty and easy treats for your new year's day menu.

To start off, here is a recipe for a Breakfast Casserole. You need to make this one up at least a day in advance, so it is perfect for a morning where time or a headache may be an issue! In fact, this is my Christmas day tradition, so you may have seen it before. If you haven't tried it though, you are really missing out!

You will need;
6 slices of stale bread
8 eggs
2 cups of milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp mustard (I use 1/8 tsp spicy brown and 1/8 tsp yellow) *the original recipe calls for dry mustard but I like the prepared mustard better!
1 1/2 pounds cooked and drained sausage
10 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese. If you like, you can use 8 oz cheddar and 2 oz of jack instead.

Dry your bread out ahead of time, or place in low oven until dried. Spray a 9x13 casserole pan, and lay the bread in the bottom of the pan. Then layer in the cheeses and the sausage. 
In a bowl, mix together the eggs, mustard, salt and milk. When mixed well, pour over the sausage and bread. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, cook covered at 325 for an hour, or until slightly brown on the top. You may need to remove the covering and cook an additional 5 minutes to brown the top.

If you add a fruit salad, which you can purchase already prepared in the frozen section, you have a perfect and well balanced breakfast, sure to get any day off to a great start.

Of course, snack type foods are great for game time. We like to fix chicken wings, meatballs, and a tray of fresh vegetables and dips for all day snacking. You can purchase frozen chicken wings, already in the sauce and bake in the oven to save yourself time and effort. The vegetables can all be cleaned and cut and placed in baggies a day or two before the first. And dips can also be purchased already prepared to save yourself time. But here are a few to make from scratch if you are up to it!

Buffalo Chicken Dip tastes like buffalo wings, so it's not for those who don't like a little heat. Serve it with some celery and/or some chicken flavored crackers for a delicious pairing. We actually had this Christmas eve and it was soo worth the effort!   
You will need; 
2 (10 ounce) cans of chunk chicken, drained
2 (8 ounce) packages of softened cream cheese
1 cup of ranch dressing
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup hot sauce (such as Franks Red Hot or the like)

Heat the chicken and the hot sauce in a skillet, over a medium heat until it is heated throughout. Then stir in the cream cheese and the ranch dressing. Continue cooking and stirring until it's well blended and warm. Mix half of the shredded cheese into the pan, then transfer the mix to a slow cooker. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top, cover, and cook on the low setting until it is hot and bubbly. 

One of my most favorite dips is Spinach Dip that is served in a carved out bread bowl. And my favorite bread for this dip is Hawaiian bread, but you can use a sour dough or your favorite. You will need;
1 cup of mayonnaise or miracle whip, whichever you prefer
16 ounces of sour cream
1 (1.8 ounce) package of dry leek soup mix
4 ounces of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
10 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed, chopped and drained 
a 1 pound loaf of round bread, your choice of rye, sour dough or Hawaiian
  • In a medium bowl, mix the mayo, sour cream, dry soup mix, water chestnuts and chopped spinach together. Chill this mixture for at least 6 hours, or over night. Prior to serving, remove the top of the bread and hollow out the center, and fill it with the mix. Then tear the removed bread into bite sized chunks and place around the bread bowl on the serving tray for dipping!   

After you have had the wonderful breakfast casserole and snacked well all day, you will need an easy, yet complete dinner. So there is nothing better than a Crock Pot Casserole.    You will need;
1 16 ounce bag of frozen broccoli cuts, thawed and drained
3 cups of cooked and cubed ham
1 can (10.75 ounce) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 8 ounce jar of process cheese sauce
1 cup milk
1 cup uncooked instant rice
1 celery stalk, chopped small
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

To cook, just toss the the broccoli, rice, celery, onion and ham into the crock pot. In a bowl, combine the cheese sauce, soup, and milk. Stir until it is well mixed,   then pour into the crock pot and stir again. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or until the rice is tender. Make sure to leave the lid on at all times (otherwise you loose too much heat and affect the cooking time).

  • There you have it, a full day of good eats, without a full day of work! However you spend your New Year's day, I hope that you enjoy it and I wish you and yours health, peace, love and happiness for this new year and always! Please be safe and if you drink, don't drive! 

There will not be a Monday post, so please come back and visit January 2, 2012!

    Tripod Thursday-Scenery, Country Structures

    Today's Tripod Tour will take you across Southern Ohio and parts of Indiana too. Heartland photographs of a diminishing countryside. A simple beauty that many have never seen, but this is where I live. I hope that you enjoy the tour!

    **Please remember that all photographs and written work on this blog are the intellectual property of Unique Garden Essences llc. and/or uniqueXpression llc. Reprints or derivative works are not permitted in any form without the express and written permission of the author! 

    Wednesday's Installment of Teaching Tuesday- Pain

    There are two types of pain, or more accuratyely, two ways that pain is categorized and described. There is Acute Pain and Chronic Pain.

    Acute pain is usually a result of inflammation and/or injury, and usually is a soft tissue injury. This pain is immediate and has a short duration. Acute pain is a normal response to injury and some disease processes, and its cause can usually be diagnosed and treated without too much difficulty. A sprained ankle, a stubbed toe, a pulled muscle, and the like are all examples of instances where acute pain would be expected.

    Chronic pain, on the other hand, is a continuous pain. It is persistent, usually lasting for more than 3 months, which is well beyond the time of normal healing. It can range from mild to severe, and can last from months to years, or even a lifetime. The cause of chronic pain is not always evident, yet it can be a result of a disease process. Often the treatment plan takes a long while to determine and sometimes it is inadequate, in the sufferer's estimation if not the physicians'. For this reason, as much as the cause of the pain, chronic pain can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Many people with back injuries, arthritis, and various disease processes suffer from chronic pain.

    Why are we discussing pain types? Well, just like you need to know what Essential Oil (EO) to sniff when you are using aromatherapy, you need to know what type of pain you have, in order to whip up or purchase a balm or massage oil with an Essential Oil blend meant to relieve your pain.

    Several EO's have analgesic qualities and several have anti-inflammatory properties,  but only a few possess both of these qualities. Some EO's are good for soft tissue pain, while others are better for joint pain.  It is important to know what the EO's in your blend are meant for and what the source of your pain is, so that you can get the greatest bang for your buck and the most relief possible. It is also important to know what other oils, called carrier oils, are used in your product and why. Some oils are more readily absorbed by the skin, therefore they will help to deliver the EO's deeper into the skin, faster, and more adequately than others. Emu oil is one such oil, aside from helping the skin's tissue to heal, it helps to draw other ingredients down into the skin so that they are more effective. Among other things, Peppermint EO has the properties of an analgesic, a topical antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory, and a vasoconstrictor, therefore it would be an excellent choice for mixing with emu oil when needing something for pain accompanied with tissue swelling. Of course there are other Eo's that are considered  to be analgesics and some others that anti-inflammatory in nature, so some study is quite important when making your choice(s).

    A lesser known stimulant is Turmeric. A native of South Asia, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as an herb in cooking and as medicine. The yellow powder is an ingredient in many curries. Current research indicates that Turmeric has a strong antioxidant property that makes it an herb that may prevent and assist disease and aging issues. It belongs to the ginger family and the powder and essential oil is obtained from the thick rhizome (root). In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, Turmeric is used to treat flatulence, colic, abdominal pain, liver disorder, menstrual issues, hemorrhage, bruises, sores and toothache as well as chest and shoulder pain. Because of its analgesic, anti-arthritis, anti-inflammatory, choleric, digestive and rubefacient properties, aromatherapists use Turmeric for arthritis, rheumatism, digestive problems and liver congestion. Research has shown that turmeric can stop the proliferation of laboratory strains of melanoma. (Read Farida Irani 2008 article "Turmeric" in "Aromatherapy Journal," the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) e-Journal.) Turmeric is said to be non-toxic, non-irritant and non-sensitizing.


    Twas the day before the night before Christmas, and all through the land
     people were stirring and offering a lending hand.
    Great joy and good spirit was being spread this season,
    and we all know that for this was a very good reason!

    May the joy and the blessings that are the reason, be yours for more than just this season!

    Peace, love, happiness and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    There will not be a Monday post next week, so check back on Tuesday for a new Teaching Tuesday installment!

    Tripod Thursday-Last Year and This Year

    I very rarely show pictures of my family, but since this is Christmas, and Christmas is all about family, I have put together some photos from our annual Christmas tree cutting outing. Last year my Grandson was about 5 months old and he slept the entire trip. It was bitterly cold the day of our outing, but he was snug as a bug in a rug, safely tucked into his carrier. The wind was blowing so hard that almost all the snow was blown away, which just made the cold seem that much colder!

    This year, my Grandson is almost a year and a half old. He now calls me Nana, and he didn't sleep a wink on the trip! It was a pretty warm day, no real need for a coat. There was no snow, not even a hint of snow in sight. Instead of the carrier, Braidon sat on his Daddy's lap, his Auntie's shoulders, his Mommy's hip, and his Uncle's arms.

    While a lot is different, as you will see, some things never change! And while you are pondering that, check out who ends up decorating the tree together...both years! Lol.

    What's Happening Wednesday-We are Pretending it's Tuesday and talking about Hydrosols

    As you may have surmised, we inverted our days so that we could get another shopping post in while there was still time to shop! Speaking of that, I hope that you had an opportunity to check out the shops that have been featured the past few weeks, and I hope that you have all of your presents purchased and ready for giving! 

    Today we are looking at a product that is becoming increasingly more popular, yet many people do not know what it really is, or how to use it properly. What am I speaking about? A hydrosol, that's what! Hydrosols are not essential oils, but they were originally solely made by the process that collects the essential oils of various herbs, plants and shrubs. Although they were not called "hydrosols" until this century, these floral waters were a byproduct of the distillation process used to make essential oils for centuries. As the essential oil is distilled, the essential oil floats to the top of the vat where it is poured off, filtered and bottled, which leaves behind the watery distillate, which is now called the hydrosol. Although essential oils have been around for thousands of years, the hydrosols have not been utilized that long. Although, up until the  late 1500's to early 1600's, there was no such thing as rose otto (otto is the Bulgarian word for oil and is used to differentiate the steam distilled essential oil from the absolute. Instead, they used a rose water, really a rose tea or infusion, as their perfume until the wedding of a princess led to the discovery of rose essential oil. (Read more about the history of rose essential oil here.) Historically speaking, not much is mentioned about hydrosols or their introduction into the market place, except for the lavender hydrosol. At one time, Frech lavender EO was extremely expensive. In fact it was traded just like gold. During this time, someone with an entrepreneurial spirit saw the hydrosol as a low cost alternative to the EO., and began selling the distilling by-product. Today, the hydrosols are much less expensive than the essential oils, still, they have not really been too popular until recently, and even now many don't fully understand what this product is.

    There are a few things that you need to understand before delving into the world of hydrosols. First off, these products have developed into their own industry now. As such, there are several levels of quality. In fact, the best hydrosols come from a distillation where the hydrosol is the product being produced, rather than an essential oil. And, even when it's from an essential oil, usually the best will come from the earliest part of the distillation, rather than the body of the distillation. The pH will be low, about 3.5-4.0. This will usually smell bright and very fragrant to the nose. Although, some of the therapeutic part of the hydrosol is also produced at the very end of the distillation, and it usually has a rather grassy or vegetative note. As the plants are being distilled, micro-particles of the essential oil are in suspension, and they give the aromatic distillate its scent, and will separate out as the hydrosol cools. There is approximately .02% essential oil in the hydrosols, and they have a strong taste, as well as a strong smell. Normally they will be acidic and clear, like water. But you need to know that not all of the water from the distillation of essential oils can be considered a valuable hydrosol.

    While hydrosols do contain the same properties as the essential oils, they are in a much less concentrated form. Because of this, they can be used in instances where the essential oil can't. One good example is in pet care and pet care products, especially those for cats. Since cats cannot metabolize essential oils (using them can lead to death), using a hydrolsol (it still needs to be diluted) offers the beneficial properties of the EO without the negative effects. 

    Additionally, since the hydrosols are much less expensive than their EO counterpart, you can afford to use them where you otherwise would not have been able too use that particular EO. A couple of good examples of this are rose otto and jasmine EO. Both of these EO can run in the several hundreds of dollar range per ounce (as in almost a thousand dollars), but the hydrosols can be found for under $20 a pound. Of course, even an moderately priced EO can be expensive in large batches of certain products, so using a hydrosol or a mixture of  the EO and the hydrosol can give you the perfect blend for benefits and your pocketbook. 

    When creating recipes, you do need to keep in mind that the hydrosol and the essential oil, as well as the plant extract, may all have different properties. So research is key. An herbal extract may have certain therapeutic properties and uses, while the hydrosol of that same herb and the essential oil of that herb may have entirely different properties. For instance, the herb oregano is quite tasty in spaghetti. It can also be used as a compress to relieve pain in aching muscles, while the herbal extract is used in capsules to cleanse the digestive system. The essential oil, since it has high levels of phenols and thymol, make it an effective anti-infective by inhalation methods, while the hydrosol is an antiseptic by application only. Since we are still discovering all of the therapeutic properties of the various herbs, and aromatherapy is still a science in its infancy, it is safe to say that hydrosol therapy is a new baby that will grow in the coming years. 

    So what can you do with hydrosols? Let your imagination run wild! Since hydrosols contain many of the plant acids, they are by nature very "skin friendly." Additionally, since they tend to have a PH that is between 3.5 and 6, they are great as stand alone (facial) toners, as well as a primary ingredient in other skin care products. Historically, they have frequently been used as flavorings, room sprays, and body sprays. 
    When looking for hydrosols to purchase, make sure that you also look for essential waters and/or herbal waters, as these are other names for hydrosols. Some of the more common, and easily found hydrosols are; rosewater, lavender, lemon balm and chamomile.
    If properly handled, hydrosols will have a shelf life of one year and more. Properly handled means that they have been deeply chilled at the distillery and that they are bottled in sterile containers directly at the still. Assuming these criteria have been met, the hydrosols  should have a shelf life of at least 1 year. It is important that no water should be added until the hydrosol reaches the consumer, and that the consumer should dilute the hydrosol with distilled water just prior to use.  Any water added before this will not only dilute the hydrosol, but will enable contaminants such as mold and mildew to enter the product. Unless you make your own products, you need to make purchases through a reputable and knowledgeable company to ensure high standards and quality.
    If you do make your own products, know that any container that will receive the hydrosol should be rinsed with a 10% Clorox solution. Do not use peroxide or alcohol, as they do not work as well.  Then, after rinsing with the Clorox, carefully rinse with boiling water to remove the bleach odor. They should then be filled and sealed immediately, and shipped right away. Once received by the marketer, they should store the hydrosols in a cold room,  at about 55° F. (like wine) to extend the shelf life.
    There is some debate about my next statement. But according to experts in the field, hydrosols do not need a  chemical preservative because bacteria do not live well in acidic environments (this is why acids like vinegar make good preservatives for pickles), and hydrosols are on the acidic side. Of course, once you introduce water to the hydrosol this changes, in my opinion, and a preservative becomes necessary, unless you are storing it in the refrigerator and using it soon after you introduce the water. By soon, I would recommend using it within two weeks, but I would not sell any product that I made with it, without a preservative. It just isn't worth the risk. Think about it, you have no control over temperatures during shipping, you don't know how long a package may sit in a truck with the sun beating in on it, or in a mailbox, and you never know if there are other factors (such as germ-filled fingers contaminating the product) that may influence the growth rate of bacteria, cutting short your expected shelf life for a non preserved product. Better safe than sorry!   

    Teaching Tuesday- Shop til ya Drop (holiday series final installment)

    Since We are less than one week away from Christmas, yes folks, just four more days!, I am pretending that today is Wednesday instead of Tuesday! Don't worry, we will make Wednesday our Tuesday this week, and still get in an informative post! Since today is the last day that many shops will be shipping for your Christmas gift giving, I want to look at another place where you may find those last minute gifts. This site is actually a relatively new shopping site, with under one hundred vendors. What sets these vendors apart from the millions on other shopping sites, is that they consist of herbalists and naturalists.
    The sites' name is Poppy Swap, and their tag line is, "we bring people herbs," which really says it all!  Aside from bath and body products, the shops at Poppy Swap offer herbal remedies, teas (yes, the drinking kind), pet products, foods, art inspired by nature, and many other unique items. Designed to be an on-line herbal market, the site supports herbalists and farmers, as well as promoting organic living. They are also big educational advocates, so be sure to check out the blog, as well as the  community forum. Plan on spending a bit of time clicking your way around, cuz there are many interesting shops, covering a variety of product categories. To make your search a bit easier, the main page has a list of product categories down its left side, so you can just click and go! Of course, if you are looking for a specific shop you can use the search bar or scroll through the shop names, which begin on the main page. Just want to play ennie meenie and try something new? There are a set of [rotating] featured shops on the main page, so be bold and click on one and go!

    While Unique Garden Essences does have a Poppy Swap store front, it is not well populated. So, if you would like a product or a gift set, please contact me through this blog, email, or via the Etsy shop, where you can view more of my product line. Today will be the last day that I will accept Christmas orders, and all orders will be sent priority mail with delivery confirmation for the best chance of arriving on time.

    Make it Yourself Monday- Skin Cleanser

    With one week left to go until Christmas, this recipe is an extremely easy one, yet it will make a wonderful gift, either for yourself OR for a gift! And for more gift ideas, just look back at all the Make it Yourself  Monday posts, as well as the past few weeks of the What's Happening Wednesday and Frankly Speaking Friday posts, where the Shop til ya Drop series has been highlighting unique gifts from various Indie shops!

    So take a deep breath of lavender and relax so that you can enjoy the reason for this season!

    This recipe is for a Skin Cleanser that is appropriate for normal to slightly oily skin.  All you will need is; 2 sprigs of crushed, fresh thyme OR 1/2 Tbs. of dried thyme, 2 tsp. of crushed fennel seeds, juice from half of a fresh lemon, and 1/2 cup of boiling water.

    To make, just put the thyme and the fennel seed into a bowl and cover with the boiling water, then add the lemon juice and allow to stand and steep for 15 minutes. Once   the time has passed, strain the infusion and store the liquid in a jar.  Keep this in the refrigerator in between uses.

    This recipe is very gentle and can/should be used daily. The ingredients have antiseptic as well as astringent properties, and they are known to reduce puffiness and superficial skin irritations.

    Frankley Speaking Friday- Another Shop til ya Drop Installment!

    Are you still hunting for that special, unique gift? Well, I have another great Etsy shop that just may solve your difficult to buy for problem! Michigan crafter, Michelle, offers some flair for the home in her shop, Amore Vivo. Among other things, she describes her shop as having unique gifts, gifts for wine lovers, home decor, Italian wine art, and silk floral arrangements. It really is an eclectic variety of decorative home accents, something for most everyone!

    Just want to send flowers? Why not send ones that will last forever? Try these silk roses from Amore Vivo .

    Or what about these decorative plaques? A bit of whimsy, they say "Live", "Laugh", and "Love" in Italian!

      I really like these sweet hearts. She has others, one even with red roses (if not for Christmas, plan ahead for Valentines day!)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Or what about this "Love" wall plaque in Christmas red!                            
    For more interesting gift ideas, check out the Amore Vivo shop! 

    Tripod Thursday-Christmas Items Found and Made

    This weeks photographs are of some great finds. Some are newly finished ornaments, and some are re-purposed finds. If you look closely in the second hand shops you can usually find some great (and inexpensive) items that are easily refurbished, or even transformed with a little paint, imagination and elbow grease!

    What;s Happening Wednesday-Shop til Ya Drop

    We are happily at Wednesday again, another Shop til ya Drop day! And only eleven days until Christmas, which means only ten more shopping days! So are you stuck? Is there that one person that you still cannot find a gift for? Well how about putting together a gift pack so that they can make their own special something? I did this last year for my Grandson's Mother by purchasing her some cute, special paper, acid free glue sticks, and lots of embellishments. Put it all in a nice gift box, add a scrap book, and there you have an unique gift! Of course, you can always include a few pages that you make so that they will get a jump start on their album. They will always remember you starting them off on their new hobby, and when all is said and done, this type of gift keeps on giving for many years to come!

    So now that you have the perfect gift in mind, where do you get find special items, just as special as your gift? At the Etsy shop,
    Moment in Time, that's where!  You will find all sorts of pretty and unique papers,  embellishments, and fabrics at this Canadian shop. With almost a thousand sales, this shop has been open since 2007, and on my favorite list almost as long!

    Teaching Tuesday-

    While we have discussed terminology and definitions in the past, today I thought we would revisit a this subject, add a few more, and go into greater depth. It is important to understand what the labels you read really say. 
    One of the big "hot buttons" in the Indie movement today is organic materials and ingredients. But do you know what organic really means? When a product is labeled as organic it generally means that it is meeting very specific legal standards. However, just what those standards are will vary, depending upon the   country of origin, and some countries do not regulate it at all (though most do).

    While the certification process does vary, all countries that regulate organic products set standards that control all aspects of the organic product. Each stage, every process, and all the various businesses that touch that product in any way have set standards that they must adhere too, in order for that product to maintain its organic status. This means that, from the seed stage all the way through to delivery to the consumer, whether a restaurant for consumption, or a grocery store for sale to the public, those standards must be kept. 

    As a general rule of thumb, in the USA and most other countries that regulate organic materials, organic, in relationship to food crops, means that the use of anything synthetic has been avoided. Chemicals, such as pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms are not used. Here in the US it also means that the land used to raise the organic crops has been free of chemical use for at least three years, and that there is a physical separation between certified organic plants and the non-certified ones, in order to avoid contamination. The grower is also required to maintain accurate production records, process records, and sales records, and these must be available for Inspectors upon demand. Although Inspectors can, and do, show up unannounced, the needs often outweigh the resources, as with most government offices. Speaking of offices, it is the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is responsible for setting and maintaining the standards for "organic" here in the USA. They have guidelines for three different levels of labeling of organic products. 
    #1. 100% Organic. These products must contain ingredients that are only organically produced, excluding any water or salt. The processing aids must also be all organic, and they cannot be produced using any excluded methods, sewage, sludge or ionizing radiation.
    #2. Organic. These products must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients, again, excluding water and salt. Any remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances that are approved on the National list, including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.
    #3. Made with Organic Ingredients. These products are to contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and are allowed to list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principle display panel. Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principle display panel, however the USDA seal cannot be. 
    Any product that meets the requirements for either "100% Organic" or "Organic" is allowed to display the terms on their principle contact panel, as well as the USDA seal and the seal(s) of any other certifying agency on their packaging and in advertising. 
    So what does this mean to you as a consumer? Well, first off, while you always have legal recourse for false advertising, since "organic" is a regulated term, you have a far better legal leg to stand on. The majority of companies will not risk the wrath of the USDA, so their labeling is going to be accurate. It means that once you know the verbiage, you know exactly what is and is not in your product package. It means that you can feel confident in your product choices. That all being said, unfortunately, this certification process is quite costly and usually only the mega large corporations can afford to pay for the certification process. This does NOT mean though, that Indie businesses cannot follow all of the same principles and guidelines mandated for organic products, food safety and the agricultural processes, as well as all other applicable government guidelines. In then end though, they must label their products as "non-certified organic."  Side by side, product to product, the quality should be the same, the only difference being that one paid for the right to use the term, "certified".

    Any product that contains less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the term "organic" anywhere on the principle display panel. They can identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredient information statement panel (read here, the back label, which us usually the directions/instructions/and fine print panel. I am not going to go into the fines that can be applied if a manufacturer fails to meet growing, distributing or labeling regulations, but suffice it to say that they can be quite substantial. Knowingly providing false label information is a crime and can be very costly.

    Having said all of this, one major problem now days, is that there are some home grown businesses that do not have a clue about labeling laws, let alone how to comply with them, or what organic truly means. I know this may sound terrible, but it has always been buyer beware, so it is up to you to question the knowledge base of those you are trusting as experts.

    Organic ingredients/materials cost more to produce (largely because of all the compliance issues), so it costs more to purchase products that utilize those organic ingredients. So another major problem is that this provides an opportunity for the unscrupulous to gouge the public. There will always be charlatans that say the magic word ("organic") simply to increase the greenbacks that they can charge. 

    It is important to remember that there is no regulation on the phrase "all natural," and that being made with organic ingredients does not ensure that there are no "bad for you" ingredients in that product. The FDA states that "natural" means that the product does not contain any synthetic ingredients, and they also have definitions for "healthy", but there are no restrictions on the use of other truthful labeling claims. Also, these words are often regulated more closely on food products. So "no drugs or growth hormones used", "free range" or "sustainably harvested" label phrasing on foods means nothing, and on other products, means even less. 

    I am not saying that everyone lies or all businesses are using key words simply to gouge you. But some are, some do. Actually, I believe that many, if not most  labeling mistakes are made out of simple ignorance. So many of the cottage businesses popping up begin with Aunt Sue making something in her kitchen and then getting hooked on the hobby. Next thing you know, she is selling the product at craft shows to support her hobby costs. Unfortunately, she doesn't spend a lot of time on the legal end of things, or on expanding her knowledge base. And she listens to others who are in the same boat that she is, only she thinks they are experts, so she takes what they say and runs with it. Next thing you know, she is passing this information along, and now she is viewed as the expert by the next, upcoming Aunt Sue business. And so the misinformation grows and is seeded as fact. 

    Read, research, and ask questions. You may even find several companies that utilize organic materials, yet do not label that way (on the main panel). Aside from the limited space on small labels, it is sometimes easier to avoid all of the labeling legal issues. So look at everything and ask questions. Of course you could get such a great product from [many of the] Aunt Sue['s], that you won't care about the label. Just beware of the seller who screams all natural and organic, yet cannot tell you their definitions. For more information, check out these two posts. 

    Make it Yourself Monday- Jar Gifts

    Yes, we are in the home stretch, just weeks before Christmas. If you are like me, there are still a few gifts that you need to finish up, so here are a few easy to do ideas. Jars are so versatile, you can fill them with bath salts, fizzy balls, foods, drinks, candies, all sorts of things! I personally enjoy receiving easy to do foods, so here are some recipes that you can make and give. There are some more recipes in this post from the beginning of the year, so be sure to check here too!  

    The first, and probably the easiest jar gift is also maybe one of the most delightful....Scented Sugar.

    Scented sugars add a nice, subtle flavor and scent to coffee, tea, fruit desserts, and baked goods. Just mix a small batch and put it into a pretty jar for a creative and aromatic gift. Heading to a holiday party?This jar gift makes a wonderful and thoughtful hostess gift!

    Just layer granulated sugar with your choice of aromatic edibles. Try scented geranium leaves, dried lavender (make sure to only use the buds), rose petals (make sure they are untreated), vanilla beans, dried orange peels, or dried lemon peels (you can wash, peel, and dry these on the counter for a couple of days, or use the dehydrator). Make sure that you mix these in small batches for better results, and allow them to sit for a few days, in tightly sealed jars, so that the scents will infuse the sugar.

    From the Martha Stewart Living (12-2006), how about some  Honey, Walnut and Dried Fruit Topping? Great for yogurt, cereal, toast, ice cream and whatever else you can dream up, this tasty treat is an easy jar gift. The following recipe will yield one 6-ounce jar, so adjust according to your needs.

    1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted and cooled
    1/4 cup dried cranberries
    1/4 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1/2 cup good-quality honey
    Stir the nuts and fruit together and then transfer to a 6-ounce jar. Then top with the honey. This topping can be refrigerated in the jar for up to one month. To serve, make sure to bring it to room temperature first.

    One of my personal favorites, and another great jar gift, is Chai Tea Mix.  This recipe makes two, 6 oz  jars.

    1 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
    1/4 cup black tea leaves
    12 cardamom pods
    4 2 inch pieces of cinnamon stick
    2 tsp dried lemon peel
    Divide all ingredients in half and layer equally in your jars. Add the following directions to your gift;
    In a large saucepan, place contents of jar with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes then strain through a strainer, coffee filter or a piece of cheesecloth.
    Serve and enjoy, adding honey/sugar/sweetner to taste

    Want something a bit more substantial? How about some soup? This first one could be given alone or in a gift basket with a box of tissues, some tea, and maybe even a good book, for the perfect "For whatever ales you" or "Get Well Soon" gift basket. You don't have to wait until the person is ill, give it so they will have it when they need it!

    Chicken Soup Jar
    Layer the ingredients from the bottom up, in the order listed, in a 1/2 quart (2 cup) glass jar.

    1/4 cup of red lentils
    2 Tbsp dried onion flakes
    1 1/2 Tbsp chicken bouillon granules
    1/2 tsp dried dill weed or dill seed
    1/8 tsp celery seed
    1/8 tsp garlic powder
    1 cup medium egg noodles
    1 bay leaf
    In a 2 cup glass jar, layer

    Then add a card with the following directions;  In a large saucepan, bring 8 cups of water to a boil, then stir in the jar of soup mix. Cover and reduce heat, simmering for 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in 1 1/2 cups of mixed vegetables and 2 cups of cooked, diced chicken. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is heated through.

    Minestrone soup
    Layer into a 1/2 quart (2 cup) glass jar the following ingredients in the order listed;
    1/4 cup red lentils
    1/4 cup green split peas
    1/4 cup barley
    1/3 cup beef bouillon powder
    2 Tbsp parsley flakes
    3 Tbsp onion flakes
    1/3 tsp thyme
    1/3 tsp pepper
    1 tsp basil
    1/4 cup macaroni noodles
    Add a card with the following directions; In a large saucepan combine 8-10 cups of water, a 28 oz can
    of crushed tomatoes, and the jar of soup mix. Add 2 chopped carrots, 2-4 chopped potatoes, and 2 cups of chopped cabbage. Bring all to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until the peas are tender.

    Curried Lentil Soup
    This recipe will make two 1 quart jars.
    1 pound red lentils
    6 tablespoons minced, dried onion
    2 tablespoons curry powder
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 pound green lentils
    1/2 of a 5 ounce package of dried apple rings that you cut into 1/2 inch pieces
    2 tablespoons dried parsley
    Divide the recipe in half and add equally to the two jars. Add a card with the following directions;
    Place the soup mix in a 3 quart saucepan, with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Each jar will make 8 cups of soup.

    Bean Soup
    This recipe will take care of 12 gifts at one time! So make sure that you have 12 wide-mouth (canning), pint jars (2-cup jars), with lids and rings. You will need 14 pounds of assorted dried peas, beans and lentils. Make sure you get at least 8 different varieties for a great soup and a pretty jar! Try some;
    pink beans, black beans, baby lima beans, lentils, red lentils, black-eyed peas, red kidney beans, pinto beans, split peas, great northern beans, small red beans, and some white beans. You will also need;
    12 italian-flavor bouillon cubes (you may substitute beef flavor if you cannot find the Italian flavor cubes) and 12 bay leaves.

    Take 1/4 cup of each type of bean and layer them in the jars. Start by adding the most colorful one to the bottom and go from there. After you add eight (1/4 cup) layers to each jar, place 1 bay leaf and one bouillon cube on top of the beans, then seal the jars with the lids and rings. Add the following directions to a card;  Set aside the bouillon cube and the bay leaf and choose the method you wish to use to soak the beans.  To quick soak; Sort and Rinse the beans into a large pot. Add 6-8 cups of hot water. Bring to a rapid boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the soak water and then rinse the beansp
    Overnight soak; Sort and rinse the beans into a large pot. Add 6-8 cups of cold water. Let them stand overnight, or at least 6 to 8 hours, then drain the soak water and rinse the beans. Once you have completed one of the soak methods, you are ready to cook. To cook; place the beans in a large pot and add in 6 cups water, one 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with the juice, the bay leaf and the bouillon cube. Simmer gently until the beans are tender, usually about 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper prior to serving.

    To make your jars festive, try adding a circle of fabric over the lid and tie with a ribbon. You can print your gift tag on the computer and put a cute design on one side and the directions on the other. Then just attach to the ribbon, around the lid.  Want more jar recipes? Check back next Monday for jars perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth!

    Tripod Thursday-Windmills of Indiana

    This past Summer, while traveling from Ohio to Minnesota and back, we came across fields of windmills. Since it was raining on the way and I was thoroughly fascinated by them, we made a point to allow some extra time on the return trip for photography. Once home, I did some investigating of  these wind turbines and found that I am still fascinated! If you missed that post you can catch up here. I hope you enjoy the blue skies and unique wind mills!

    What;s Happening Wednesday-Shop til Ya Drop

    Today's specialty shop for your Christmas shopping pleasure, is the Etsy store, (the) Little Diva. I found this shop several years ago, while shopping for the perfect gift for my niece. The tag line for this shop is "all things pretty for little girls", so what better place to shop for the girls in your life?  You will find a variety of handmade crocheted goodies here, from hats and headbands to gloves and purses. Don't see your favorite color or exactly what you want? Simply fixed, just drop the owner and designer, Jen, a note and ask about a custom order. You can have it your way without ever leaving your house!  This Wisconsin shop has over 100 sales with great reviews. And not only is Jen a school teacher by trade, but she is also the mother of her own two little divas, so she knows what little divas want!
    For the baby diva, try this snugglie

    Teaching Tuesday-Emu Oil

    I have a friend in Utah that swears by an emu rub to combat the pain in both aged, arthritic and youthful, over-worked knees. After more than a year of hearing the virtues of emu oil extolled, I decided to look into more deeply, and I must say that I was intrigued. So today's Teaching Tuesday is all aboaut that flightless bird, the emu! 

    Emu oil is actually a by product of processing the Emu. After it is processed for it’s meat, the thick layer of fat that is under its skin on its back, is rendered, refined and sterilized. This oil is then used in various cosmetic and medical applications. 

    The Emu is actually a prehistoric, Australian bird. It is quite largeflightless, and rather ostrich like. It is thought to have wandered the Australian outback for the past 80 million years, and can still be found there today! Its history can be compared to the Native Americans' relationship with bison, as this bird provided the Australian Aborigines with food, clothing, shelter, medicine ( it was used for wounds, aches, pains and skin protection) and spiritual sustenance. The emu has been valued by the Aborigines for thousands of years, especially for its healing powers, and it does indeed, have many natural qualities which are  beneficial to our health. And, unlike many other oils, emu oil is beneficial to our health without the addition of any herbal or chemical additives. In fact, the fatty acid composition of emu oil is [very] close to the composition of fats that are found in our skin.

    Emu oil has been proven to be an intensive pain reliever, especially in cases of chronic arthritis, strains, sprains, and muscle pain. It is also known to possess anti-inflammatory properties, its effects comparable to ibuprofen, bacteriostatic properties (meaning that it inhibits the growth of bacteria, not that it prevents it), and hypoallergenic properties, meaning that it is not known to cause skin irritation or have any other side effects. Emu is widely used to accelerate and promote wound healing. Additionally, it is a non-comedogenic oil, which simply means that it does not clog the skin pores, which makes its perfect for most all cosmetic applications. The chemical composition of emu oil is actually very similar to that of human skin, which means that the emu oil, as well as all of its beneficial properties, can quickly and easily penetrate the skin's surface, which sends its  soothing benefits deep into the skin's tissues. Once applied to the skin, emu oil is odorless and will serve to moisturize and condition.

    Emu oil contains Vitamin E, a major antioxidant and healing agent; Vitamin A, which is a known skin repairer, as well as another antioxidant, linoleic acid, which helps to ease muscle and joint pain. It also contains oleic acid, a proven skin cell regenerator and anti-wrinkle agent, sapogens, which are skin softeners, and terpines, which are known antiseptics. Therefore, skin care products that are made with emu oil, (because of the powerful antioxidants) will be great skin cell regenerators, and anti-wrinkle agents. They will actually improve the condition of aging skin. Additionally, products made with this oil are deep (read "great" here) moisturizers, capable of smoothing and conditioning the roughest, driest skin, especially those hard to deal with areas, the elbows, knees and heels. 
    Emu oil is also known to reduce the itching and flakiness that often accompanies dry skin issues, because it forms a protective barrier on the skin, after it moisturizes and lubricates the irritated area. Emu oil is also a skin-thickening agent, and it offers the skin protection from wind and other harsh weather conditions, especially when used in formulations for the face and hands. Perhaps best of all,  the wonderful properties of emu oil, its anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as all its others, are considered to be "long lasting".  

    Because of its bacteriostatic, anti-inflammatory, and cell regeneration properties, this oil would make a great addition to most any homeopathic balm. In fact, this oil is gaining great popularity in the sports medicine world, its properties making it a natural choice for pain balms that are used to treat muscle aches, pains, strains, pulls, sprains, cramps, as well as minor wound repairs, especially where scarring could be an issue. It is also a good oil for any recipe that is intended to lessen the pain of chronic conditions, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. It works well in formulations to lesson the pain and the scarring of sunburns and burns, those intended to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, alleviate the discomfort of eczema, psoriasis, diaper rash, and shingles. Any formulation intended to reduce the infection, pain and swelling of insect bites and/or stings will benefit from using emu oil. In fact, emu oil has even been shown to help reverse hair loss, so maybe it should be the next big shampoo or scalp conditioning sensation!    

    You should be aware that not all of the emu oil sold at market today is of animal origin, and that some emu Oil is only rendered and filtered, not purified. Unpurified oil may contain contaminants. I did not find any information on what  potential impostors would likely be made with, or how to tell the difference between the real [emu] oil and an impostor. So all that I can suggest is to be sure and read the fine print, choose the refined product, and be sure to purchase your supplies through a reputable company. 

    Make it Yourself Monday- Healing, Healthy Coughdrops

    This week's Make it Yourself Monday is all about healing. The following recipe can be altered to meet your needs better, or your likes better, if lemon isn't quite your thing. Why not make a bunch and wrap some up and place them in a gift box, along with tissues, a fuzzy blanket, some tea, and tylenol? Gift the perfect cold gift set! 

    for the LEMON  DROPS you will need;
    1 3/4 cup sugar
    1/4 cup honey
    3/4 cup light corn syrup
    1/2 tsp. lemon extract
    1/2 cup water

    Line a baking pan (9x9) with foil, making sure that the foil goes all the way up the sides of the pan, or you will be sorry! Then, butter the sides of a 2 quart saucepan. Combine the corn syrup, sugar, honey, and water in the pan. Cook over a medium-high heat until the mixture boils. Make sure that you stir constantly, in order to dissolve the sugar and keep it from burning. This usually takes about five minutes, give or take a few minutes. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat down to medium and continue cooking at a light boil. Stir occasionally. Once it reaches the soft crack stage (which is 290 degrees F. on a candy thermometer), keep cooking for 20 more minutes, still stirring occasionally. 

    Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Stir it occasionally, as it cools, for the next 2-3 minutes, then add the lemon. **If you are going to add any other vitamins or herbs, add them at this point**  Then pour the mixture into the foil-lined pan to finish cooling. As it cools (another 3-10 minutes), it is a good idea to use a spatula and mark some "break" lines into the drops. Make squares in the size you want, remembering that they are for individual-size portions. These marks will stay when the mixture is completely set up, making it easier to portion correctly and consistently. If your marks do not stay, it means that the mixture is still too hot and needs more cooling time, just wait a while and  try it again. Once properly marked, let the pan sit overnight then use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Break the pieces apart along your marks then package them in individual candy wrappers or wax paper. Make sure to twist each end tightly, then put all of the wrapped pieces into a large baggie or a paper bag. This recipe will make from 100-200 pieces, depending upon the size that you mark and break. They will last from 6-8 months, when properly wrapped and stored.

    **To make this recipe more holistic and herbal you can add one each of the  
    following; zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, and goldenseal. If these are in tablet form, finely crush them before adding, if in capsules, just pull apart and drop the inner content into your mixture. 

    Of course you could also change up this recipe by either substituting (for the lemon), or just by adding an herb or two (some essential oils are ok too) to the lemon.
    *when using fresh herbs, it is probably best to infuse them into the liquid portion of the recipe, but you can also finely chop them
    *You may also substitute a food-safe flavoring oil, however you will NOT receive any of the benefits listed for that flavor. The way in which they are created destroys their natural benefits.
    *If you plan to use essential oils, you MUST be aware of, and familiar with, the warnings, as well as the necessary dilution rate (which are not provided for you here). 
    *If you are not familiar with the proper use of essential oils in edible products, you should NOTattempt to use them in this recipe.

    If you want, you may add another herb/spice (in addition) to the lemon. Basil, bay, bergamot, black pepper, clary sage, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lime, orange, rosemary, vanilla, all blend well with lemon.

    If you would like to substitute another herb/spice forthe lemon, you may want to consider one of the following;

    -Basil has a beneficial action on the respiratory tract, and is often used for asthma, bronchitis, colds, coughs and sinus infections. It blends well with; black pepper, ginger, geranium, grapefruit, lavender and lemon. 

    -Black Pepper has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, and is good for coughs, colds and flus. It blends well with bergamot, clary sage, coriander, fennel, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, lime, orange, nutmeg, and rosemary. 

    -Ginger is good for colds and flu, congestion, coughs, sinusitis, sore throats,   fever and chills. It does have a slight warming affect, so be extra cautious in the amount that you add. It blends well with; basil, black pepper, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, coriander, eucalyptus, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, rose, rosemary, spearmint, and vanilla. 

    -Geranium is good for sore throats and tonsillitis, and blends well with; basil, grapefruit, lavender, lime, orange, and rosemary.

    -Grapefruit is good for colds, flu, and headaches and blends well with; basil, black pepper, geranium, lavender, lime, and lemon.

    -Lavender is good for bronchitis, asthma, colds, laryngitis, and throat infections. It will blends well with everything, so use your imagination.

    -Lemongrass is good for sore throats, laryngitis, and fever as well as  indigestion and gastroenteritis. It blends well with; basil, bergamot, black Pepper, clary Sage, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, lavender, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, rose, and vanilla.

    -Lime is good fevers, colds, sore throats, flu, coughs, bronchitis, sinusitis and  asthma. It blends well with; basil, clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, orange, peppermint, rose, rosemary, and spearmint. 
    -Margoram, an antiseptic and calming agent
    -Eucalyptus, an antiseptic and calming agent, good for bronchitis, colds, flu, headaches, sinusitis sore throats, and throat infections. The antiseptic properties in the essential oil increase with age. 

    -Orange (Sweet) is good for colds, flu, and fever, blending well with; basil, black Pepper, cinnamon, ginger, clary Sage, lavender, lime, peppermint, and  spearmint.

    -Peppermint, an antiseptic, expectorant and a muscle relaxant, so it is good for   
    dry coughs, sinus congestion, asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia, as well as   bad breath (in case you want to make breath drops along with the throat drops). Peppermint blends well with; basil, black pepper, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, lime, orange, and rosemary.

    -Rose (use pure essential oil or untreated rose petals to infuse the water) posses anti-infectious, antiseptic, antiviral, and bactericidal properties that help with asthma, headaches, and coughs. It blends well with; bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, lavender, lemon, and madarin.  

    -Rosemary is an antiseptic and works well for respiratory track issues, including asthma and bronchitis. It blends well with; basil, bay, black pepper, chamomile, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, lavender, lime, lemon, lemongrass, peppermint, rose and spearmint.

    -Spearmint. While spearmint has properties of a local anesthetic, an antiseptic, a decongestant and an expectorant which can benefit fevers, headaches, asthma, bronchitis and colds, its effects are less powerful than those of peppermint. For this reason, spearmint may be better in children's products. It blends well with; basil, lavender, peppermint and rosemary.  

    -Thyme is frequently used in commercial applications of mouthwash, gargles, toothpastes and cough drops because of its analgesic, antifungal,  anti-infectious, antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, and antiseptic properties. It is good for bronchitis, chills, colds, coughs, sinusitis, sore throats, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. It blends well with; bergamot, clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, marjoram, and rosemary. 

    There may be a few more, but these the ones that popped into my mind to begin with. While I hope that you won't need them this year, I wish you luck making these flavored drops!