A temporary crisis

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Have I already mentioned this is not my favorite season?

After weeks of cold, rain, mud, being unable to poke our noses outside, and a series of colds, three of my children were finally diagnosed with strep throats and started a course of antibiotics, and now thankfully they are feeling much better.

After that, I did a throat culture as well, but it hasn’t come back yet and I’m so much recovered that even if it turns out I had had strep too, I think taking antibiotics now would kind of miss the point.

Anyway, the frustration of being cooped up has gotten so bad that as soon as the rain stopped this morning, we were out, equipped with coats and rubber boots, to wade through the little stream flowing near our home.

It’s probably the coldest day of the year today, but the days are getting longer and, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping, will soon get warmer. I know the folks shoveling snow up north will think us a bunch of spoiled ninnies, but we’re not used to cold, and Israeli houses generally don’t have effective central heating.

It’s amazing how much better it felt to have been able to spend even a short while outside. I hope for many more opportunities for outdoorsy stuff in the near future.

In the meanwhile, stay snug and warm, and don’t forget to make yourself a cup of cold weather tea – homemade chai masala mix or ginger, cloves and lemon are a synergistic combination.

I’m going to cook a big pot of lentil soup this afternoon. Plenty of onions, potatoes, squash and celery… Mmm… Can almost smell it!

Hope everyone is having a lovely cozy day.

Lavender lip balm

Who wouldn’t love to capture the smell of their favorite herb in a jar of healthy, all-natural skin care product? In this case, I used lavender, but it could also be rosemary, mint, sage, or any other herb.

I love the smell of lavender, and it also has calming, relaxing properties. We don’t have any in our garden yet, but I know an area in a local park with a large hedge of lavender bushes.

So, fresh lavender.

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Air-dry your lavender. This is done simply by tying it in a bunch in a shady, breezy spot. Drying the lavender will prevent spoilage and rancidity in the finished product.

Next, you will need some base oil without a strong smell, such as almond. I used grapeseed oil.

Pack the dry lavender into a glass jar and pour the oil over it, just enough to cover it. You can use both flowers and leaves. Place the jar in a sunny spot for a period of time from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on how warm it is and how powerfully infused you would like your oil to be. Smell the oil from time to time to decide when it’s ready.

Now filter the oil and discard the lavender parts.

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You could, of course, just add a few drops of essential oil, but I find something thrilling about the idea of scenting my own natural skin care products with herbs I had found and dried myself.

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Next step: weighing the filtered oil and beeswax. Combine in a glass bowl, 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil.

I remember that last time I posted about using beeswax in skin care products, I got a question about substitutes for people who are sensitive. There are several options for plant-based wax, but I have never used them and can’t offer you first-hand experience.

Place the glass bowl into a small pot of water and gradually heat it over a low flame, stirring until the beeswax melts. Pour into containers and allow to set.

Use as lip balm, on dry rough hands, and on dry heels.

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Strategies for minimizing mold

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Ever had a mold problem? It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re dealing with in our current house, and though it’s an ongoing battle, I’m happy to say we’re gradually getting the situation under control. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Mold isn’t just unsightly and nasty-smelling. It can have potentially serious health consequences such as respiratory problems or symptoms akin to allergy and asthma. Treat it promptly and uncompromisingly as you would a dangerous enemy.”

I’m telling you, in the first weeks of moving here it was like battling some malicious, purposeful enemy rather than colonies of fungus. Every spot that wasn’t completely dry, toasty and thoroughly aired would be covered with ugly black mold dots within days. Persistent airing and copious amounts of bleach made these attacks recede somewhat, but we still have to be extra diligent when it comes to maintenance.

By the way, when we first came to see the house, it was impossible to know there was a mold problem at all. The place was spotless! Which is something I always keep in mind whenever I feel challenged. It’s definitely doable.

I’m ready to try methods other than bleach, because I hate the way it smells. Vinegar and baking soda did not make an iota of difference. Anyone has any good tips?

Image source: Wikipedia

Basic Lip Balm: two ingredient recipe

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I ran out of lip balm a few cold and windy days ago, and rather than venturing out in this weather, I thought I’d try making my own.

Most lip balm recipes call for beeswax, which I thought I didn’t have on hand, but then I discovered some fragments of a broken beeswax sheet while I was clearing out a drawer (Pesach, here we come! ). Perfect!

Other than the beeswax, the only ingredient you will need is oil – I used olive, but coconut, jojoba or another nourishing oil would work just as well.

The proportions are approximately 1 part beeswax to 6 parts oil. You can decrease the amount of beeswax a little if you live in a cold climate and would like your lip balm to be softer.

Mix the oil and beeswax in a small pot over a very low flame, or better yet, place your small pot into a larger pot filled with boiling water and stir. The beeswax will melt very quickly.

Optional: at this point you can add some essential oils. I added a drop of mint and rosemary for a refreshing herbal scent.

Pour the mixture into containers and allow to set. That’s it! A few minutes of work, and you have a healthy, natural balm that’s great for your lips and other extra dry areas such as elbows and heels. It can even be used as a diaper cream.

PS: in case you are wondering about the hole in the middle of the lip balm jar, I suspect it had set this way because I popped it into the refrigerator to speed up the process.

Along with homemade soap, a cute little jar of this lip balm would make a fantastic gift for whomever you might want to pamper.

My first time making injera (with pictures)

Pop over to Mother Earth News to read about my first experience in making injera, a traditional Ethiopian fermented flatbread that forms the base of every meal (when I say base, I mean this literally, since injera also serves as the plate!):

Teff, Ethiopia’s traditional grain, has been enjoying its well-deserved spotlight as a recently discovered superfood. Teff is extremely healthy and nutritious, and certainly worth getting acquainted with. You can find teff in health food and ethnic stores. There is a darker variety and a lighter one, and it’s worth trying both to see which you like better.

The process, in pictures:

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Starting the batter.

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Day 3: Bubbles are the evidence of successful fermentation.

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Day 4: Diluting the batter with water prior to cooking.

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I let it cook a tad too long and it over-dried somewhat, but it was still really good, and I hope to do better next time.

The battle against sugar

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It seems that sugar cravings, at least in my case, get especially bad in winter. The cool, short, rainy days make me (and my kids!) long for a pick-me-up in the form of a sugary baking session of cookies, cakes, and sweet rolls. It’s so homey and fills the kitchen with a delightful smell, and arguably what you make at home is better than any store-bought sweets – but it’s still not the healthiest treat in the world.

The winter cravings can be explained on many levels. Not only do we stay indoors more, and so have more time, inclination and possibilities for a snack, we also feel sleepier due to higher concentration of melatonin caused by the diminished daylight hours (winter hibernation, anyone?), and so subconsciously long for something energy-packed to keep us going. We also tend to eat more, and more energy-high foods, when we’re cold. Finally, at least for me, in the summer we have all these wonderful juicy fruit that make such great dessert alternatives – melons, watermelons, mangoes, grapes – while in the winter we’re pretty much limited to apples, bananas, and oranges.

Read more in this informative article from Sweet Defeat: Sugar Cravings – Why We Crave Sweets and How to Stop It:

“Fighting and putting a stop to sugar cravings can be a challenge at start. Initially, you may notice that your cravings are in a vicious cycle that only causes you to crave sugar more often. However, there are some things  you can do to set your body up for success.”

Also check out other posts on sugar and food cravings:

Conquering Sugar Cravings

Food That Makes You Hungry

Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.