Making Your Own Cottonwood Bud Oil

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Spring time in the Rockies!   What a beautiful time of year!   The grass is beginning to grow, the baby calves are being born and it looks like summer is within sight!

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We recently watched a reality show where the people made their year’s supply of a wonderful salve that they claimed to use on everything from sore muscles to diaper rash.   Also known as balm of gilead, the salve contains a bounty of medicinal properties.   It’s made from cottonwood buds whose resin contains “salicin” – which is the same compound that gives aspirin it’s pain relieving, anti-inflammatory benefits.   Using the balm as an external rub will reduce joint pain (as with arthritis and rheumatism) and will ease sore muscles.

Because cottonwood is high in antioxidants, it is useful for healing the skin, including sunburn.   The buds are also antiseptic and can be added to other oils to prevent rancidity and molding.

Since we live on a creek bottom full of cottonwood trees, my interest was piqued.

The best time to harvest the buds is in late winter to early spring – so I grabbed a plastic bucket and headed for the woods.

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I picked these buds in early February – they were just beginning to swell.   You can see the little drop of resin.

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While most recipes called for placing the buds in olive oil, I did find one recipe that used rendered beef fat.   I have LOTS of that – beautiful grassfed beef fat – rendered and frozen in blocks.   It got my vote!

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I placed the frozen fat in my crock pot and put the temperature on low to let it melt.   After removing the buds from the twigs I had gathered, they were chopped quickly in a blender.

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Then, I combined the melted beef fat with the chopped buds in the crock pot – and gently simmered for about 48 hours.   Upon waking on the second morning, our house had a wonderful, aromatic smell!   The resin from the buds had turned the rendered fat a slightly orange-ish hue.

I strained the mixture through cheesecloth, wringing to extract all of the oil.   At this point, the oil is done – but it is runny (like a baby oil consistency).   I wanted to use it more like a salve, so the oil was then warmed with a small amount of candellila wax to “thicken” it.   Use about 1 ounce of wax to 5 ounces of oil.

It was poured into jars and then cooled, sealing with a canning lid.   Store your salve in a cool, dark place.

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A note of caution – I have read that people who are allergic to aspirin may also be allergic to cottonwood bud oil.   Please check with your doctor before using if this is the case.

This lovely salve has been our “go to” for arthritis pain and sore muscle rubs.   It helped a friend who rubbed it on his elbow afflicted with tendonitis, and it calmed an injection site from a tetanus shot.   I think we will be gathering cottonwood buds for years to come!

Double your Garden Space with Double the Benefits!

Almost time to start digging in the dirt! The cool season crops, like spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, peas, etc., are happy to be already planted in our zone 5. They can take the cooler soil and air temperatures. Frankly, they will soon be unhappy when the warmer days are upon us.

 

My broccoli is growing nicely in the high tunnel. Since my temperatures can get quite high in there and these cool season crops will bolt, I've installed some old hog paneling over the raised beds to accommodate my heat-loving vining crops.

 

My intention here is to let my pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and melons grow up and over the cool season plants that are growing below. I've planted some vining crop seedlings that I had already started in small pots. As they grow, they will shade the stuff below – keeping them somewhat cooler – and have plenty of room to vine as they wish! I have read that the cucumbers are easy to pick as they will hang down below the openings in the hog panels. The pumpkins and melons will need a “sling” to support them – I'm sure some old pantyhose will do the trick! I'll let you know!

 

White Sauces – Easy (and From Scratch!)

I found a wonderful “comfort food” recipe on Pinterest the other day. It was just perfect to prepare after being out in the cold temperatures – Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. It dawned on me, as I was making the dish, that the recipe called for cream of (something or other) soup. I've made my own white sauces for many years. It's easy and you can skip all of the preservatives and chemicals that the canned soups contain.

By simply using three simple ingredients and spending about five minutes of your time, you can create a “cream of” soup (white sauce) for your recipe.

Here's how:

For a cup of white sauce (for creamed and scalloped dishes) simply melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan.

 

Blend in 2 tablespoons of flour, cooking over low heat and stirring until the mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove it from the heat and stir in 1 cup of milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly for one minute. Done! Season as you wish with salt and pepper, etc.

Here's that comfort food recipe: Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

For two servings, I grilled two chicken breasts and sliced them in serving size pieces in the bottom of an 8 x 8 casserole dish. Then chop some deli-sliced ham and sprinkle over the top of the chicken, followed by thin sliced swiss cheese. Prepare your white sauce (recipe above) and when you bring it to its final boil after adding the milk, ADD a good squeeze of fresh lemon, a dollop of dijon mustard, some salt, smoked paprika and white pepper to the sauce. Stir to incorporate. Pour the sauce over your chicken mixture in the baking dish.

Now, as if this recipe doesn't have enough comfort food calories, you finish the dish with a topping. Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a pan, add 1 cup of Panko crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon of Lawrys seasoning salt and a tablespoon of dried parsley. Combine and sprinkle over the chicken dish.

I baked for 30 minutes until the sauce was bubbly and then stuck the dish under the broiler to finish those Panko breadcrumbs into a golden brown.

Wow – is this good! (certainly not a dinner your waistline or arteries could take on a regular basis, but once in a while was sure delicious!)

Enjoy!

 

 

Repurposing an Old Wringer Washing Machine

 

These wringer washing machines are old relics – perhaps an eyesore on an old farm. I found this one in a heap of metal and got the idea to turn it into a cool ice-chest! It's on wheels, it has a rubber drain hose to dump the melted ice/water at the end of the day, and it has a lot of space for beverages.

 

The machines were quite heavy, so with my trusty little tractor, I tipped it over and we took the motor out of the underside. The inside of the wash tub itself was aluminum, so I masked it off and prepared to paint.

 

There are lots of great spray paint colors on the market today – I first chose one that had a “pebbly” appearance that I figured would cover up the rust pox marks. Worked like a dream, but it was a brown color and I was not satisfied with the color. So, I followed that with a cranberry color.

We replaced a couple of casters and were good to go! It rolls out on deck for “outside” summer parties, and can stay in the sunroom for “inside” gatherings. I simply roll the washIng machine to the outside door at the end of the party, drop the discharge hose on the ground and drain out the remaining ice water.

Instant Cooler! Most of the washing machines had a cover that came with them – this one had probably been lost years ago. If you have a cover – it'll help to keep your beverages cold!

 

It’s Hard to Plant Those TINY Seeds – How to Make Your Own Seed Tape

We recently returned from a nice getaway to sunny Arizona. Not that our Colorado winter had been too bad this year, but there is something about walking through the department store in February in Arizona and seeing beautiful petunias and marigolds on the shelves. Got my spring fever in high gear! I spent a good portion of the 14 hour drive with my nose shoved firmly into a stack of seed catalogs.

Anyone who has ever planted a carrot seed or a petunia seed, for example, will testify that these seeds are TINY! More than once, I have taken a tweezer and carefully picked up the seed to place into a waiting peat pot. At my age, you need bright light for that!

Since I use block planting in my raised beds, I saw a post that should just make my “tiny seed planting” a bit easier! It is a project that I am able to complete now – long before we are ready to plant outdoors. It should help me scratch that itch that hits so many Gardeners this time of year – the need to plant something!

With block planting (see my post: Here's the Scoop (on dirt!). March 15, 2013) you are able to utilize 100% of your bed. Each seed is strategically planted to optimize it's growing requirements and spaced to shade and choke out the weeds. All good on paper – but trying to get those little carrot seeds every 3″ is another story.

Enter the paper towel seed tape!

Pull apart your roll of double-ply paper towel, folding the top ply back out of the way. Mix up equal parts of flour and water and grab a small craft-type paint brush. I was preparing enough homemade seed tape to plant carrot seeds every 3″ on center and cover an 8' x 4' raised bed. I looked all over and couldn't find a small paint brush, but found that just a dribble of the flour/water paste came off a teaspoon quite nicely – so no brush seemed necessary. I found it helpful to mark the toweling in a grid pattern so that I could just dab the flour/water mixture in the right spot easily.

 

Go right to the edge of the paper towel – that way if you are planting more than one row of toweling in a garden, you will know where the last seed edge is located. Lightly tap the seeds out of the package, or use a tweezer, if necessary, and drop one seed in each dab of paste. Use enough paste that it will hold the seed and the top ply of paper towel in place as it dries. This 3″ on center technique works for block planting. If you are simply planting in a row, check your seed packet to give you insight on the spacing you”ll need for planting. You can easily cut paper towel “strips” for row planting using this same method.

 

 

One of the great things about planting carrots with your homemade seed tape is that when the plants grow, they are already perfectly spaced and will require no thinning! It is so much easier placing the dark carrot seed on the correct spot with the white background of the paper towel and flour glue. I was able to construct the rolls in the warmth and light of my kitchen weeks before I would be able to plant outside. As soon as they dry, I will label them, roll them up and store in a cool dry place. Now….where are those petunia seeds???

 

Power Your Day With A Kale Salad

Here is a recipe that just may change your opinion of a “kale” salad. It is packed full of color, flavor, fruits and veggies, is super-nutritious, and is just plain delicious!! The dressing is a simple mixture of fruit juice and olive oil. Give it a try!

 

Start with a bunch of freshly washed/dried kale – baby kale is ideal, however, I had good results from just removing the center rib section from my bigger leaves. To this, I added a good-sized handful of baby spinach leaves. Chop or tear all the leaves into small sections and place in a large salad bowl.

Next, toast one-half cup sliced almonds on top of the stove until slightly brown. Set aside to cool.

Dressing: In a separate small bowl, zest an orange. (Reserve the fruit for later). Add 1/4 cup of a good (organic) extra virgin olive oil to the bowl followed by 2 tablespoons of orange juice which you will squeeze from the orange you just zested. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a little salt and pepper and then stir.

Add 1/2 cup of cran-raisins and the toasted almonds to the kale/spinach mixture and top with the dressing that you've made. Toss to coat thoroughly and let stand at least one hour.

Just for fun, I also added some roasted sunflower seeds and raw hemp hearts. The hemp hearts have a nutty taste and add some all important Omega 3s to the dish!

Peel the rind from the remaining orange and chop fruit into small sections.

The dressing gives the salad a light, fruity flavor. Packed with goodness – hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

 

My Self Proclaimed Challenge – Homemade Everything!

It started a few years back – you know, you run out of some ingredient and you have to either find a substitute or go without. Where I live, the closest grocery store is a half-hour away. With fuel over $3.00 a gallon, I figure a trip has to be very necessary at that price – so homemade became my motto. About five years ago, I vowed to avoid processed food. Living on a farm with a great big garden made that really easy. I don't eat every meal good, but at least five out of seven is healthy, homegrown, and without preservatives.

I challenge myself each time I go to the grocery store to see what aisle I can avoid. Haven't seen anything in the freezer aisle for years….because it is all processed food. If I am hungry for waffles, I make my own from scratch. I know… I understand that I do not have to leave home for an 8 to 5 job anymore so I have time to live this way, but I also think I would still get up early to keep this style of living even if I had to be out the door to punch a clock.

In the next few posts, I thought I would share a few more reasons to avoid buying prepackaged items. Usually, you can make a batch of glass cleaner, non-abrasive cleaner or laundry detergent for pennies on the dollar AND make a large batch while you're at it. You spend the time to make a big batch of laundry detergent and you are set for months.

So here's a few ideas for your own homemade fabric softener – perhaps one of them will fit your lifestyle!

First option: crumple a few balls of aluminum foil and place in the dryer with a load of clothes. As crazy as that sounds, the metal dissipates the charges that build up between the fabric as it flops around in the dryer.

Second option: plain old vinegar to the final rinse water. It will not only take the leftover soap out of your clothes, but also helps to clean washers and drain hoses too! You do not the risk of smelling like a pickle from using vinegar – when your clothes are dry, the smell has dissipated. If you insist, you can add 10-20 drops of an essential oil (eucalyptus or lavender for example) to the vinegar.

Third option and my favorite to date: Take 2 cups of a cheap hair conditioner and combine it with 6 cups of hot water. When it is all mixed together, add 3 cups of plain white vinegar. No chemicals, no artificial flavors or colors. This makes a family sized batch – pennies on the dollar,

So – here are a few ideas for you to start you off! Many more to follow. If you have a great homemade, no preservative, no processed, no artificial anything you'd like to share – let me know!

Til next time…

 

Mexican Roll Ups For Your Next Pot Luck….(or hopefully Super Bowl Party!)

Living in Colorado, we are ALL excited for our Denver Bronco team. With our first playoff game tomorrow, there are many gatherings to cheer them on. Hopefully, we will be gathered around the television on Super Bowl Sunday, with family and friends, watching our team compete and win!

Here is a great recipe for your next food gathering – regardless of the occasion. I found the basic idea on Pinterest, but have made a few changes that we found made this dish the whole complete meal! I had frozen some cooked chicken breast meat which I took from the freezer – this made this dish even easier

At least one hour before you wish to serve this dish, combine an 8 ounce carton of cream cheese with 4 ounces of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. To this mixture, add a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, a couple shakes of chili powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of coriander, and salt and pepper to taste. The recipe I saw called for cayenne pepper to taste and I added it. It was very good – but you use your own discretion if you want to add it or not.

 

Once your cheeses and spices are thoroughly combined, add a can of Rotel tomatoes – drained, but keep the juice as you may need to add it later. Add a can of black beans that were drained and rinsed, and then a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Mix all together – and if it seems too thick, add some of the reserved Rotel juice to thin it out.

Cover and place in the refrigerator for an hour to really get the flavors to mix together!

Then, spread a heaping spoonful onto a flour tortilla. Spread to the edges with a knife or spatula. Roll the burrito up and cut into slices. Place each roll-up on a plate or serving tray. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro to garnish.

We served it with a side dish of homemade guacamole which rounded the platter. It's an easy dish to prepare and share.

(Go Broncos!!!)

 

Sous vide……..What a Great New Way to Cook!

The holidays are always greatly anticipated at our house, especially when we are privileged to host our family and friends. We go into high gear – and this year, it was even more fun than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, a new-found friend had been explaining a cooking technique he used. It was called sous vide. What??? How do you spell that?

It's French, pronounced “soo veed” and it means “under vacuum”. After our friend's animated description, we looked at each other and decided we just had to check into this technique a bit further. Off to the Internet we went, reading different recipes and understanding the whole concept of this type of cooking. The sous vide technique cooks your food in a vacuum sealed bag while it is submerged in a water bath at a precisely controlled temperature —- whew! That's a mouthful!

In a nutshell, you take your piece of meat, for example, and place your favorite spices, fruits, and/or rubs inside the bag. Vacuum seal the bag closed and submerge it in the sous vide cooker. It is preset to a special temperature and the cooker will hold water within one degree of that temperature for the entire period of time it cooks. The natural flavors and juices are locked inside the bag as it cooks. The nutrients found in the food are retained – compared to grilling or baking, where they may evaporate or stay within the pan.

The time and temperature that you cook your meat varies. We did a brisket for 48 hours (yup, you heard it right!). Beef tenderloin – 4 to 6 hours. Pork tenderloin took 6-8 hours and salmon was done in fifty minutes. Each cut of meat was sealed in it's own bag with it's own variety of seasonings. The low, slow way of cooking made the meat OH so tender and moist.

We chose to purchase a sous vide cooker, but have been told that you can make your own by purchasing a heating element and circulator on-line. I will tell you that the cooker, itself, was pricey – but we seldom go out to eat and I would liken the price to a fancy dinner out for four. The water temperature and the cooking time determine the “done-ness” of the food – so special attention was given to the cooking manual!

Not to be outdone by the main dish, we had to have some homemade Thanksgiving bread to complete the look. We made a batch of dough, shaped the rolls into balls and scored the sides with a sharp knife. As the dough rose, it spread apart and gave the appearance of a little pumpkin. We stuck a nut in the top to give it a stem – and off to the oven they went.

After a wonderful day of great family, friends, and food – we paused to say “thanks” for another holiday….and bustled off to the car to go see Santa!!

 

Wild Ricing??

Sometimes you just don't realize what a cool childhood you had. Things that we feel are “normal and every day” are foreign to others. Let me tell you of one of those ah-ha moments.

Last evening we had a neighborhood get-together where everyone brings a crockpot of soup. We share the soup and eat like kings! I made a wild rice/ham soup using the wild rice that my parents had picked in Minnesota.

When I mentioned that it was hand-picked and processed, people were a bit mystified……rice? Did you grow up near a rice pattie? How do you pick it?

Well, “ricing” was an actual season in Minnesota – the same as fishing season and hunting season. The wild rice (which is actually an aquatic grass) grows in shallow water in lakes or slow-flowing streams and rivers. My family would rice in the area lakes and slow-moving waters of the Mississippi River where the plants grew in areas of slow or no current. Ricing season was during the last part of August and first part of September. The Division of Natural Resources controlled the season and you had to purchase a license to be able to rice. You were not allowed to rice with any motorized boat – the vessel had to be propelled by muscle power only. My parents used a canoe and my Dad pushed the canoe through the water with a big pole that had “feet” on the bottom of it. As he pushed, my Mom sat in the middle of the canoe with two 3-foot sticks. She would reach out to the right with one stick pulling the rice stalks over the boat and then would knock the heads off with the second stick. Then she would repeat the process with the same sticks, only working on the left side of the canoe. They worked back and forth, in this way, through the wild rice patch. You certainly ran the risk of losing all of your rice if you tipped the canoe over, so many would unload mid-day just in case!

There were always buyers on the shore to buy your “green” rice, or you could take it in to be processed for your own use. My family always had a burlap bag of processed rice and we ate it often. One of our family favorites was wild rice pancakes where my Mom added cooked wild rice to our pancake batter. (You want to talk about a flapjack that would stick with ya – that was it! Try it!)

 

So, here is the recipe for the Wild Rice Ham Soup that we enjoyed last night. It's hearty and delicious!

Since I was preparing for a lot of people, this recipe will serve 12 and fill a good-sized crockpot. First, bring 2 cups of rice and six cups of water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Your rice will pop open when it is done – taste it to be sure.

 

Then in a separate pot, melt 3/4 cup of butter and sauté a small diced onion in the butter. After the onion is done, blend in one cup of flour until smooth and then gradually add six cups of chicken broth. Stir this mixture constantly as it thickens until it comes to a boil, then reduce the heat and stir in your cooked wild rice, 1 and 1/2 cups of diced ham, a cup of shredded carrots, 1/4 cup of slivered almonds. Cook for an additional few minutes and then add 2 cups of half and half just before serving.