Oct 8, 2015

How to Roast Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

When the leaves start turning brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange, it's winter squash season - something everyone in my family looks forward to. It's no secret I think winter squash is an awesome food - yummy, nutritious, and perfect for we homesteader types. But did you know nearly all squash have deliciously edible seeds packed with protein, calcium, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin K?

Most of us are familiar with roasted pumpkin seeds - but most other types of winter squash seeds are equally wonderful when roasted. Some are even superior to pumpkin! (My personal favorite is roasted butternut squash seeds.) In fact, the only winter squash seeds I've discovered that aren't particularly yummy are the seeds of red kuri squash.

Happily, making roasted squash seeds is very easy. Here's how I do it:

1. When cooking the winter squash of your choice, scoop out the stringy parts and seeds. Separate the seeds from the stringy parts. If a little bit clings to the seeds, that's okay. Compost the stringy part, or feed it to your chickens.

2. Place the seeds in a single layer on a plate; set aside. Once a day for a day or two, stir the seeds so they don't stick to the plate. Do not refrigerate.

3. Once the seeds have dried for a day or two, pop them onto a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, use other spices, too.

4. Place the baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree F. oven. Check the seeds every few minutes until they are golden.

Oct 6, 2015

The Easy Way to Get Mold Off Grout

So...I have this embarrassing problem. The grout in one of our bathrooms is perpetually moldy. It's not for lack of trying to clean it, though! For years, I've struggled to get that grout mold-free, using all kinds of different cleaners...but the mold always won the war.

Then I (finally!) realized the problem wasn't a matter of finding the right cleaner. After all, the best killer of mold is ordinary bleach. The problem was keeping the cleaner on the mold long enough for the bleach to do its work. As I learned last weekend, the solution is so simple, I should have thought of it years ago! You see, all I needed to do was thicken the bleach so it could stick to the grout for a little while.

Here's how I accomplished that.

1. Pour a little household bleach into a glass bowl.
Mold on my grout. Gross!
2. Sprinkle in some baking soda (which won't react negatively with the bleach, making it unsafe).

3. Using an old brush (I used one of the bazillion water color brushes my kids have), mix together these ingredients until you have a paste. If the mixture is too watery and runny, add a little more baking soda. If it's so thick you can't mix it, add a bit more bleach.
Mix the bleach and water to create a paste.
4. Brush the paste onto the grout. Be sure to cover the grout thickly, so you can't see any mold. If there's a large area to cover, work one section at a time.

5. Cover the paste with plastic wrap. This helps keep the paste moist - and actively killing mold - longer.
Cover paste with plastic wrap.
6. Leave in place for a couple of hours, then, in one of the most moldy areas, remove a little of the plastic and wipe the paste away. If the grout looks mold-free, remove all the plastic and rinse everything down, removing the paste. If there's still some mold, cover the test area with plastic again and wait another couple of hours before removing all the plastic and bleach/baking soda paste.



Oct 3, 2015

Weekend Links

In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Children exposed to 4 key bacteria are less likely to have asthma.

* Another good reason to grow your own veggies: The U.S. doesn't have enough vegetables for all its citizens. 

* Students grow rare squash from 800 year old seeds.

* 6 homeschooling misconceptions...erased. 

* Got homeschooled kids who complain? Try this brilliant idea of "sending them to public school" (sort of).

* The bad news about your kids' screen time

* Can you relate to this as well as I can? A mom's life: one millisecond at a time.

* Plastic doesn't take long to decompose in the sun, but it takes decades to decompose in a land fill. But nature has an answer.

* Great ideas for making the most of any kitchen.

* I received an exciting email about my free ebook A Day with the Dinosaurs this week. It may be selected by a film company as part of a special promotion! If you haven't seen this ebook, please do check it out. It's a chapter book in a similar style to the Magic Treehouse books, but with the gospel message and creation science throughout. And did I mention it is FREE??

Oct 1, 2015

The SAFE Way to Clean up After Mice and Rats

Finding mice or rats in or around your house is nothing less than disgusting. But what their urine and feces can do to your family's health may be downright deadly. In fact, my father-in-law's brush with death may have been leptospirosis - caused by a bacteria that's spread through the urine of infected animals, including mice and rats.We still don't have a definitive answer about the cause of his illness, but knowing he was working in an area that had mouse droppings sure made my stomach turn. And then my husband moved some heavy furniture in our home and discovered mouse droppings left over from an old infestation. Yuck and quadruple yuck!

So how do you safely remove rodent droppings, without opening yourself up to the many diseases humans can get from them?

First, Get Rid of the Source

The first step is to get rid of the rodents completely. Figure out where they are entering the building, and seal up those holes. They say mice can squeeze through a spot as small as a dime, but I've personally seen them slip through barely 1/4 inch slats in vents. So even tiny slits or holes must be repaired. (Not positive what type of pest is leaving behind droppings? This may help.)

You'll also need to set out traps. There are many ways to try to catch rodents, but in my experience, the best is a covered trap set with peanut butter and poison. Of the homemade traps, the type shown here is the best. You may also wish to invest in electronic mouse repellents; we successfully use these. They work well, but you must follow the manufacturer's directions about placing the correct number of them in your building.

Once your traps are free of rodents for seven days, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says you can be sure you've caught all the rodents in the area - and that any infectious diseases in the droppings are no longer a danger.


Despite the fact that the CDC says droppings that are 7 days old are no longer likely infectious, they absolutely recommend proceeding as if you can still become ill from them. That means wearing gloves (rubber, latex, or vinyl) and old clothes that you don't mind throwing away - or at least washing in hot water when you're done. The CDC says nothing about wearing a respirator (though this site for professionals says the CDC offers guidelines about them), but many other sources suggest it. Professionals also wear goggles while cleaning up rodent droppings.

Once you have all your gear, open the windows and doors and allow the area to ventilate for 30 minutes before you begin work.

Cleaning Up

Because so many diseases that infect humans come from the dried up urine dust of rodents, the most important thing is to not stir up dust while you are cleaning. Instead of sweeping or vacuuming, the CDC recommends the following procedure:

1. Spray down areas with droppings or possible urine dust with bleach water (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) or other disinfectant. (This is not the time to use vinegar, folks. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for dilution if using something other than bleach.) Wait 5 minutes.

2. Use paper towels to pick up the droppings. Place the used paper towels in a garbage bag and seal it. Place that bag in another bag and seal it, too.

3. Mop the floor, counters, and other affected surfaces using bleach water or disinfectant. Carpets and upholstered furniture should be steam cleaned, according to the CDC. Clothing, bedding, and the like should be washed with laundry detergent and hot water. If you have boxes of things that are contaminated, take the boxes outside and into direct sunlight; remove everything from the box, staying upwind, so nothing blows into your face. Cardboard boxes must be thrown away, but plastic or metal containers can be disinfected by spraying, waiting 5 minutes, then wiping with paper towels.

4. Remove your gloves and place in a garbage bag. Seal it and place in another garbage bag. Seal that bag, too. Wash hands with hot water and soap for at least 30 seconds before rinsing thoroughly.

If You Find Dead Rodents or Nests

1. Spray with disinfectant. Wait 5 minutes.

2. Wearing your gloves, carefully pick up the rodent or nest and dispose of it in a garbage bag. Seal and place in another garbage bag. Seal that bag, too.

* Title image courtesy of George Shuklin and Wikipedia Commons.

Sep 29, 2015

Easy DIY From Scratch Steak Fries

I call them steak fries, but they are actually pretty similar to jo-jos - except they aren't fried. So think of them as a cross between jo-jos and steak fries. (On second thought, who can even afford steak these days? Maybe I should call them burger fries, instead!) But whatever you call them, these fries are super easy to prepare and extremely yummy - soft on the inside, and crispy on the outside.

Easy DIY From Scratch Steak Fries

Yellow potatoes
Olive oil
Sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Begin with yellow potatoes. You could probably use another type of potato, but they won't hold up as well, and the texture and flavor will be different. Scrub up the potatoes, and prick them with a fork three times each. (How many do you need? I typically use one per person, plus one or two extra.)

3. Place the prepared potatoes in the microwave and cook them - 3 minutes per potato. (So if you have three potatoes, you'll need to cook them 9 minutes.) When done, the potatoes should no longer be hard - but you don't want them mushy, either. (NOTE: If you don't want to microwave the potatoes, you can bake them whole in the oven.)

4. Allow the potatoes to cool enough so you can comfortably handle them. Cut each potato in half and place the cut sides down on a cutting board. Slice each half into wedges that are a generous 1/4 thick.
Slice potatoes a generous 1/4 in. thick.
5. Place the wedges on a rimmed baking sheet. A few may fall apart; that's okay. Just make sure the wedges are in a single layer. Drizzle olive oil over the wedges. Turn the wedges over, making sure both sides are lightly coated with olive oil. (You can use spray oil, but it has added ingredients that may or may not be healthy.) Season the wedges liberally with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Season liberally with sea salt and pepper.
6. Pop the baking sheet into the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.

7. Now broil the wedges for about 5 minutes; remove from the oven and turn the wedges over. Broil for about 3 more minutes. Be sure to watch the potatoes carefully at this stage, or they may burn. When the wedges are golden brown and the skins bubbly, they're done.

Feel free to serve these fries with catsup or homemade Ranch, but honestly - even my kids agree these fries don't need condiments!

Sep 24, 2015

How I Lowered Our Natural Gas Bill by HUNDREDS!

When we first moved into this house about 15 years ago, I was astonished at how high our natural gas bill was. We use gas for our water heater and for heating the house in spring and fall (when running the wood stove would make the house feel like the tropics). I was always careful to wash most clothes in cold water, used an efficient dish washer, make sure our filters were clean, and turn down the high temp on our water heater. Yet our gas bill was still $300 or more every month.

Over the years, we avoided using gas heat as much as possible, and were able to lower our bill to $20 - 25 a month...unless it was spring or fall, when gas heat was our only comfortable option, and our bill went back to hundreds of dollars.

Then our house became infested with mice. I could watch them coming and going through the heating vents throughout our house. Ugh! Once we got rid of the mice, we knew it wouldn't be safe to run our gas heat without having the ducts cleaned. Mice and other rodents can have serious - even deadly - diseases in their feces and dried urine. And you don't have to touch the dust of their urine or their feces; just breathing it in can make you very, very sick. So I hired some pros to come in and clean the ducts.

Funny thing was, they discovered that every single duct in our house was no longer attached to the vents! So for years, we'd been mostly heating the space underneath our house; very little heat was actually getting in the house itself. It took the workmen a handful of minutes to reattatch the ducts to the vents...and guess what? Ever since, our gas bill has been very reasonable - even in the spring and summer. We never get a bill over $30, and around $25 is much more common.

So if your gas bill seems high, and you've tried all the usual advice about lowering it, you might consider checking to see if all your ducts are properly attached to the vents!

Sep 22, 2015

How to Preserve Apples: Canning, Freezing, Dehydrating, and Root Cellaring

Apple trees are a huge blessing. A single tree can provide a whopping 420 lbs. of filling, healthy food! As I walk around my suburban town, I always feel gratitude toward earlier residents who planted an abundance of apple trees. Some are still in private yards, but many are in public areas where we can forage. Plus, we have our two little columnar apples (which produced about 9 lbs. this year). But whether you have large or small apple trees in your yard, or you forage for apples in public areas, or you buy apples from a local farmer, fall is the time when you're faced with the question: What should I do with all these apples?

Fortunately, there's a lot you can do with apples. They can be stored in a root cellar - or stored well into winter without a root cellar. You can dehydrate them, or freeze them, or can them. So many possibilities!

Apples ready to be pressed into cider. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Root Cellaring

A root cellar is a cool, underground location designed for storing fruits and vegetables so they last many months without electricity or any special treatment, like canning. If you are fortunate enough to have a root cellar, take advantage of it!

Not all apples store well for many months, so if you're planting new trees and know you want to root cellar them, choose an appropriate variety. Generally speaking, thick-skinned apples store better, as do those that ripen late in the growing season (October - November), including Jonathans, Ida Red, Red Delicious, Winsape, Stayman, Crispin, Spur Winters Bananas, Northern Spy, and Rome. If you're unsure what variety you have already growing in your yard (or wherever you forage), a little trial and error is probably your best bet to determining whether or not your apples will store well through winter.

To store apples for months in a root cellar, first make sure your root cellar has the right conditions. The ideal temperature for apples is 30 - 40 degrees F. with an ideal humidity of 90%. Check several locations within your root cellar, because some may have the right temperature while other locations do not. Apples will rot quickly if they freeze, and will ripen very quickly past 40 degrees F., so do stick as close to those ideal temps as possible.

Next, sort through the apples and store only those without bruising or other blemishes. (Blemishes hasten the ripening - and rotting - of apples. Eat apples with blemishes right away, or use another method of preservation.) In addition, larger apples don't store as long as smaller ones, so it makes sense to separate the large, medium, and small apples, choosing the largest to eat first.  Also note that different varieties of apples ripen more or less quickly, so be sure to separate out varieties and store them separately, first eating those that ripen quickly.

Now, wrap each apple in black and white newspaper. A lot of people don't do this; instead, they just put the apples in a box or basket and store. However, if one apple in that box rots, the rest will rapidly follow. By wrapping each apple in newspaper, you protect it from rotting quickly - even if a nearby apple is going bad. A good method for wrapping each is apple is to lay it in the center of a single sheet of newspaper, pull up the edges, and twist the ends to "close" them off. Store wrapped apples in a cardboard box or basket..
Jonathan apples are a good storage apple. Courtesy of Sven Teschke and Wikimedia Commons.

More tips:

* Store apples as soon as possible after harvesting.

* Don't store apples near potatoes or onions, because the apples will take on the flavor of both. In addition, aging potatoes release an otherwise harmless gas that encourages apples to ripen more quickly, leading to quicker spoilage.

* Tart apples that are stored over winter sweeten over time.

* Root cellar apples should store well into February - or perhaps even later.


Storing Without a Root Cellar

If you don't have a root cellar, you may still be able to store fresh apples for many months. For example, you could dedicate a refrigerator toward their keeping. (According to the Purdue Cooperative Extension, 1/4 of the volume of the fridge should be left as air space for circulation.")

Although you can wrap the apples individually, just as you would for root cellar storage, you can also put them in perforated plastic bags.
Northern Spy apples. Courtesy Red58bill and Wikimedia Commons.

If you don't have an extra fridge, another method for storing apples is to put them in any cool location that won't freeze and remains dark - like a garage, basement, or in the closet of an unheated room. For best results, wrap them individually in black and white newspaper and place them in a box or basket. Also, try to ensure the location is as close as possible to 30 - 40 degrees F.

You can expect apples stored appropriately in a fridge or other cool, dark location may last into February.

P.S. If you really want to go old school, dig a pit and line it with straw, fill it with apples, then cover with a thick layer of straw.

Apples dried in the warming drawer of an oven.

Dehydrated apple slices or rings are easy to make, and last at least a year. They make an excellent snack, especially when you're on the go.

If you have a food dehydrator, simply wash and slice the apples. I like to keep the peel on because they add nutrition - but you can remove and compost them, if you wish. For me, the easiest method of preparing apples for dehydrating is to use an apple slicer; if you have large amounts of apples, this is definitely the way to go. Otherwise, you can do the slicing and coring by hand.

If you don't want your apple slices to look brown, sprinkle diluted lemon juice over them. (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Honestly, though, I usually skip this step because, as far as I can tell, it's purely about aesthetics. (I've heard some people say lemon juice also helps preserve the apple's nutrients, but I can't find any scientific evidence to back this up.)

Now, lay the slices in a single layer on the trays of the dehydrator and set the temperature to 135 degrees F. The slices are done when you can tear a slice apart and not squeeze juice from it. Let the slices cool completely, then place in glass jar with an air tight lid and store in a cool, dark location.

If you don't have a food dehydrator, you can create dehydrated apples using your oven's warmer drawer - or you can dry them in the sun.

Freezing apple pie filling.

There are many ways to freeze apples. Two of the most popular are to freeze applesauce or apple pie filling. But you can also freeze apple slices and use them for baking - or making applesauce at a later date.

Begin by washing the apples, and peeling them, if desired. To prevent browning, sprinkle them with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Place the apple slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; don’t let the pieces touch. Place in the freezer. After 3 hours, transfer to freezer safe containers.  

For a sweeter recipe for freezing apples, click here.


There are also many ways to can apples. Applesauce, apple pie filling, and apple butter are popular choices. You can also can slices or rings in simple sugar. To do so, wash, peel (if desired), and core apples. Sprinkle with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water) to prevent browning. Pour into a pan and add 6 1/2 cups water and ¾ cups granulated sugar. Bring to a boil and stay there for 5 minutes; stir from time to time, to prevent scorching. Pour into hot canning jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Process pints or quarts for 20 minutes in a water bath canner.

An apple press. Courtesy Anne Dirkse and Wikimedia Commons.

Another way to can apples is to turn them into juice or cider. Yes, the traditional way to do this is with an apple press - and if you have a large amount of apples to process, it's a good idea to save up and invest in one. But you may also make apple juice or cider other ways.

To make apple juice using a kitchen juicer, choose apples of at least two or three varieties, experts suggest mixing tart and sweet types. Wash the apples and cut into pieces of the correct size for the juicer (usually halves or quarters). Run through the juicer and refrigerate juice for 24 - 48 hours. Pour off the clear liquid and toss the sediment (if any) into the compost. Strain juice through double layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Pour into a large pot placed over medium high heat, stirring once in a while. When the juice begins to boil, turn off the heat and ladle into sterilized canning jars (pints, quarts, or gallons). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Using a water bath canner, process pints or quarts for 5 minutes, gallons for 10 minutes.

To make apple cider,  follow the same procedure - though many experts suggest using only sweet apples. Also, don't strain the liquid or refrigerate it before heating and canning.

Don't have a juicer? You can still make cider or juice! Just chop up clean apples, and put about 4 inches of water on the bottom of a large pot. Add the apples, cover, and turn the heat to medium high. Once the water boils, turn down the heat to medium and allow the apples to turn completely soft. Be careful not to scorch them! Pour the contents of the pot through a colander (catching the liquid in a bowl) and heat and can. If you're making juice, strain the liquid first, then refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours, and strain again before heating and canning.

WARNING: Any cider or juice must be heated to a boil before ladling into jars and canning.

More Posts about Apples

What to do with Crab Apples

Picking Unripe Apples for Making Apple Pectin

Apple Skillet Cake Recipe

Apple Spice Bread Recipe 

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumb Bars Recipe

Canning Apple Pie Jam

Freezing Apple Pie Filling

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

Making Dried Apple Rings in the Warmer Drawer

Title image courtesy of Spirtu and Wikimedia Commons.

Sep 19, 2015

Weekend Links

Courtesy Binatoneglobal and Wikipedia Commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Do your kids REALLY know what you believe? A new series over at Not Consumed. "...Recent events...have made me ever so sensitive to the fact that our culture has a very specific agenda and is INDEED teaching our children, whether we like it or not. The question is, are we giving our kids the tools they need to defend their faith or are we letting them eat right out of the hands of the wolves?"

* Why doctors are rethinking giving children melatonin. Turns out, it can wreak havoc on their bodies. (Don't worry; there are alternatives!)

* Baby monitors aren't very secure. But some are better than others.

* A good reminder to use antibiotics only when really necessary: Infant antibiotics linked to adult diseases.

* A lot of folks are trying to replace store bought cleaners with natural, homemade ones. But despite what you may have heard, vinegar often isn't a good choice

* University scientists caught conspiring with Monsanto.