EASY & FANCY SWIRLED ZUCCHINNI TART- looks impressive, but it's oh-so-easy and can be made paleo & gluten-free

Everyone who has a garden knows that excess zucchini is a real (good!) problem.  All winter long, you dream about getting those beautiful green beasts fresh from the garden, then all summer long, you dream of what to do with the mountain of squash that your garden is overproducing.  Before you start to lose friends and people stop answering your calls for fear of you giving them more zucchini, check out this recipe.

As an added perk, it uses quite a few eggs, too.  It's such a good problem to have, but too many eggs is a real one when you have your own laying hens.  We thought five hens would be a good number to keep this year, which seemed reasonable.  Shows you how well I do with math.  Five hens + an average of four eggs a day = 20 eggs a week, give or take a few.  That, my friend, is a lot of eggs.  We give quite a few away to friends, but we also eat a lot of eggs.  A lot. of. eggs.  Happily, this is a delicious way to use a few.  It also makes great leftovers and reheats nicely (i.e., when you're sick of summer cooking, toss one of these in the oven and you'll have a few meals out of one cooking session).  Tip: invest in a toaster oven for summertime baking.  It's not quite as great as a regular one, but it doesn't heat up the house as badly.



I know, I know, someone somewhere out there has been searching for this exact vintage stool and I've ruined their lives.  Okay, now we can move on.

I found this stool for half price at a thrift store, which is almost nothing (or, $1.50) and loved the legs and the lines but not so much the shiny chrome and the heart-shaped back rest.  Yes, it's old and I did cut off the heart shaped back, but, in my defense, I kept the amazing gold flecked upholstery!  See, I'm not so bad after all.  At least no books were harmed in the making of this project.



Don't replace an outdated ceiling fan- those suckers are expensive!  Instead, consider painting it a different color.  I'm not a huge fan (haha, so punny) of the spray-paint-everything-in-sight-watch-out-pets-and-small-children-nothing-is-sacred pinterest-fueled trend of using a can of paint to fix your decorating woes, but in small doses it can do wonders.  In the 1990's the ceiling fans in our house would have been glorious.  In a 100+ year old Victorian house, though, our shiny look-at-me brass ceiling fans were woefully out of place.  The Man let me know that replacing them with a regular light fixture was out of the budgetary and reasonable things question- he's definitely my voice of reason.  Plan B: paint the ceiling fans! Weee!

There was one little catch- I couldn't take them off of the ceiling if I wanted to do this myself, and I wanted to do this myself.  For one, I don't trust myself with electrical things.  After I electrocuted myself just by hanging wallpaper (who does that?!), I didn't feel like tempting fate.  Secondly, I have the arm strength of a 5'2" T-Rex. Holding up a fan motor while removing it from the ceiling and standing on a ladder that has a leg nearly chewed off by a squirrel because we left it outside once would also be tempting fate.  So, I figured out a way to paint it nicely while it was still attached to the ceiling. 

Click through below for the how-to steps and the before and after (hooray for actually remembering to take before and after pictures!).



The rain and humidity brought a sad and early end to my potatoes this year.  Blight hit them the worst, along with my tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and squash.  The survivors are on a steady diet of a milk and baking soda spray solution and I think they'll pull through.  My potatoes were another story- they withered and yellowed and died within just a few days and I couldn't save them.  It wasn't all bad, though, it just meant that we'd be eating lots of itty bitty new potatoes as quickly as we could.

It was a year of purple for my garden.  I tried out growing indigo rose tomatoes, purple kale, purple peppers, and, purple potatoes!  Well, they say they're blue and they are in the store, but when you dig these out of the ground they are the most beautiful jewel toned amethyst color you've ever seen in a tuber!

Anyhow, I'll cut to the chase and give you this easy recipe.  It's perfect as a side dish to grilled burgers or anything else that you're making on the grill because it's too darned hot outside to cook inside.



Apple pie is, of course, the perennial favorite of all the pies.  Whether it's a crumbly-topped Dutch Apple or a double-cruster, apple pie is definitely the king of pastries here in the U.S. of A.  I love the making and the eating, but for some reason, I can't stand the part where I have to put the crust into the pie pan.  Maybe I have a deep down suppressed fear of pie pans after some unfortunate incident with one as a child (I'm cautious around glass pop bottles after one shattered and cut me as a kid- I guess that dates me a bit, too). 

Or, maybe I like the freedom of just tossing the crust on a pan, dumping the ingredients in, and flopping the edges up.  I think I kind of understand the joy of "dump cakes" now, although I still maintain that the name should be changed.

Regardless of your stance on pies, pop bottles, or dump cakes, I think you'll like this apple galette.  It's a crowd pleaser, it's easy, and it looks like something you picked up at a french bakery. Win, win win!

p.s. That awesome table top is at 99 Bottles Winery, made by the talented and amazing Mandy Youngquist over at Youngbranch.



This is another one of those oh-crap-I-don't-know-what-to-get-the-man-who-has-everything presents for my dad.  My dad just buys whatever he needs and my mom takes care of the socks and dress shirt thing.  I think dads kind of get screwed over on Father's Day- Moms get presents and dinners and flowers and dads get ties and socks or some Pinterest craft.  I don't know about anyone else's dads, but mine wouldn't exactly be thrilled about a poster with candy glued to it and a cheesy poem about how his coolness relates to candy bars.  Maybe one king-sized snickers that also came with spending a whole day with his kids and in-laws.  Or a six-pack of beer (please don't arrange it into a cake and tie ribbons on it- this is Father's Day, not a baby shower) that comes with a huge steak dinner, a nice new set of sharp knives, and a day spent fishing- now we're talking.  Dads are practical.  Dads like food.  Dads like manly things.  Dads like spending time with their kids.  If you don't like the idea of food, though, I also wrote a post on Manly Presents that you can make yourself.

In that line of thought, I made some of this spicy, garlicy, just a little sweet sauce to go with the beef jerky that I made for him this year.  I may throw in a cutting board, too (let's face it, they get ruined when you leave them in a sink of dishes or lazily run them through the dishwasher- I'm totally guilty of both).  You can almost never have too many nice, small cutting boards.

Just a quick note, I didn't actually can/process this stuff, so keep it in the fridge.  It won't last long in there, I promise! ('cause you'll eat it, not 'cause it will go bad- it should actually last several weeks in the fridge).



Father's day is just around the corner and I've been scrambling to find something for my dad.  It's hard when you get to be this age.  A gold pasta picture frame is no longer acceptable, yet I don't make enough money to gift my parents with cool vacations or grandbabies.  I'm stuck in the middle and need to make gifts, but I'm almost always at a loss for ideas.  Homemade gifts usually ride a very fine line between really crappy and wonderfully thoughtful.  Unfortunately, most DIY father's day gift ideas out there are for little kids to make and they look like it.  Apparently I'm not "adulting" very well and, just like when I shop for shoes, I'm relegated to the kids section on this one.  Maybe someday...

Anyways, I scoured pinterest and googled my little heart out for "cool Father's day gifts" and "Father's Day gifts he'll actually like" to no avail.  I've already exhausted my Manly Presents blog post by giving all of those things at Christmas.  Jeez, I have no self control when it comes to gifting.  So, I resorted to food.  I thought beef jerky was a pretty safe one, too, as I don't know a man alive who doesn't love it.  I present to you, easy beef jerky:


We have lots of native plants and trees around our house, thanks to its former owner, and I'm always looking for ways to use them.  This year, the birds didn't eat all of the Saskatoon berries, which was a miracle!  Last year, they would get to them at the exact moment that they were ripe, and I think I only got to eat two or three of them.  This year, the tree is loaded with them in all their purple, blueberry-ish glory! 

If you've never had a Saskatoon berry (or juneberry, or serviceberry), you're missing out!  They look like a blueberry, but taste more like a cross between a grape and an apple.  This website has a really interesting history and background for the berries, if you're interested.  

I love pie, I love almonds, I love berries, but I don't love making pies.  For some reason, a galette is just so much easier than a pie with its carefree form and flopsy crust.  Maybe I'm just lazy...

This recipe is sort of adapted from the always-wonderful Smitten Kitchen cookbook, but it's a pretty basic galette/almond paste recipe


In the summertime I crave veggies and pasta and mayonnaise.  I'm guessing it has something to do with my midwest upbringing and the happy memories of summertime potlucks.  It wasn't until I was about 16 years old that I learned "salad" meant lettuce to everyone else in North America. 

Just a note, if you're wanting the greens in Iowa or nearby and you're eating at someone's house or a church potluck, you'd better ask for a "lettuce salad" or a "side salad".  Yep, you need to specify "lettuce" in there or you'll be getting something either jiggly or mayo-y.  Where I grew up, "salad" means vegetables or marshmallows (or both) suspended in Jell-o, or a vegetable or pasta (or both) suspended in mayonnaise.

Although Jell-o has it's moments, mayonnaise is truly king at all food-centric functions.  When my friends have a potluck together, sometimes everything we bring is just a variation of mayo or cream cheese: Reuben Dip, Pickle Wraps, Deviled Eggs, Spinach Artichoke Dip, Suddenly Salad- the list goes on and on.

Midwesterners wouldn't dream of not having a jar in the fridge (and usually a spare in the pantry).  Come to think of it, non-midwesterners would probably be appalled at the vast array of mayo choices at the grocery stores here. If the mayo section is under two feet long, you're probably not in the Midwest.

So, in true celebration of my wonderful, mayo-ridden upbringing, I give you the recipe for a delicious pasta salad.  And with this salad, you can eat it as a little lunch before bed, or even as a full-blown supper.  Heck, enjoy it like we do, at the supper table with a Spotted Cow from the Midwest's glorious beer and cheese-making state of Wisconsin.

(see below for definitions if you're curious)
Reuben Dip:  Thousand Island Dressing, cream cheese, sauerkraut, and chopped Buddig corned beef melted together in a crockpot.  Smells terrible, tastes amazing.
Pickle Wraps:  Buddig corned beef slices smeared with cream cheese and wrapped around a little pickle.  You can't eat just one.
Deviled Eggs:  Hard boiled eggs, cut in half.  The yolk is removed and mixed with seasonings and, you guessed it, mayo.  Ten points if they're topped with a sprinkling of McCormick's Salad Supreme.
Spinach Artichoke Dip: Basically hot cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo along with cheese, spinach, and artichoke hearts.  In other words, comfort food heaven.
Suddenly Salad:  A boxed Betty Crocker concoction that is the shortcut little brother to the glorious lineage that is the pasta salad.  You'll see it at nearly every function that involves bringing your own dish, mostly in the Bacon Ranch version. 
Supper:  What you eat when you're at home or a friend's or family's house at around 6:00pm.  Although this is also added to the end of mostly any word like "Soup Supper", "Spaghetti Supper", ect., which usually means it's some sort of charity or fundraising event, but it's still around 6:00pm.  You can also add "feed" to the end of some of those words and it's along the same fundraising/charity line: "Spaghetti Feed" "Pizza Feed", etc.  "Waffle Feed" is a popular one, but that takes place in the morning.  Lastly, there is the "Fish Fry" which is amazing and it happens for Lent every year at nearly every Catholic church, American Legion, Knights of Columbus or even townie bars.  If you've never gone to one- you're missing out!
Dinner:  What you eat at a fancy function or restaurant at around 6:00pm (or around 12:00pm, but usually it's the 6:00pm time).  If it's Sunday, though, it's what you eat at 12:00pm, and possibly again at 6:00pm, and probably followed later by "a little lunch".
Lunch:  What you eat around 12:00pm when you're at work, school, or at home on a regular day.
little lunch:  a light snack (ha, who am I kidding, it's going to be pretty much a full meal) that you eat when you're not eating your main three meals.  Usually after getting home from church or a late night high school sports game.
Coffee Break:  Midwesterners "brunched" before it was hip, but we called it a "coffee break".  At about 10:00am after a long Saturday of cleaning house, my mom would sit us kids down at the kitchen table and we'd all split a Coke and have cookies, some leftovers heated up, or some fruit and cheese.  Ah, the good old days.  Coffee breaks are also widely enjoyed by the retiree crowd, although theirs just kind of continues on from their morning coffee.
Pop: carbonated sugar drink mixture.  Some midwesterners have started to say "soda pop" or "soda" to try to be more "with it" but it makes them sound silly and we laugh at them behind their backs. 
Spotted Cow: amazing beer from New Glarus brewery that you can only buy in Wisconsin
Salad:  Any combination of vegetables, Jell-o, fruit, pasta, marshmallows, mayonnaise, etc.  Pretty much anything goes, except I've never seen lettuce in one.
Lettuce Salad:  Lettuce.  Probably with ranch dressing (can't forget the mayo!)
Casserole:  Pretty much hotdish, except, alhtough frowned upond, you can leave out the can of something condensed (i.e., condensed cream of mushroom soup).  Usually involves potatoes, preferably in tot form.  Generally beige, cheesy, and delicious.
Hotdish:  This is more of a Minnesota thing, but I know what it means- it's basically a hot casserole, but if you didn't use a can of condensed something in it, it's not a hot dish, it's just a casserole.  Oh, and don't forget the cheese!
Dish:  If someone asks you to bring a dish to their party, I guarantee you they will think poorly of you if you show up with a plate.  It means bring a main dish of food. Oh, and be generous with what you bring- we here in the Midwest show our love and respect for each other with gifts of food.  Oh, and one last thing, we also show our love and respect by eating other people's food.  Always clean your plate, even if you think you're going to die from it- we don't waste other people's home-cooked food.  Also, you're going to be offered seconds, thirds, or even fourths after you clean your plate.  This is the proper rigmarole for seconds being offered:

Host: "Here, have a little more of that hotdish, you look hungry"
Guest: "No, thanks, I'm stuffed, but that was delicious"
Host: Picks up dish and offers it towards you, "Are you sure, it's a long drive home"
Guest: "Aww, I really shouldn't, I've had two helpings already, but thank you"
Host: "Okay, then, if you're really not hungry, but it's all just going to go to waste otherwise" (if this is your mother or grandmother, they'll just put a scoop on your plate while saying this)
Guest "Oh, alright, just a bit.  Wow, that was really good!"
Host: "Here, let me bag the rest up for you for the road"
Guest: (button pops off of shirt in stomach area)


Yep, that's cake batter.  Despite it's resemblance to a kid's spin-art creation gone awry, it's a rainbow cake.  Wow.  Lots of color.

I'm not normally an advocate of such a blatant abuse of artificial food colorings, but every once in a while life calls for such an occasion.  This time it was for the album release party for the Man's band, Goodcat

I covered the cake with dark chocolate frosting and topped it with their CD cover art in buttercream, so it was a fun surprise to see the rainbow inside.  It was also going to be in a dark bar, so I wanted the colors to really pop.  And pop they did!

I was going to just wimp out and use one of the Cake Boss tie-dye mixes, but I heard a lot of negative reviews about how they tasted terrible, so I thought I'd just make my own.

The main complaint from a lot of people is that it takes so many bowls and spoons to make a rainbow cake.  My solution is a bit of an art-class experiment and could be a fun hands-on kid lesson in color mixing.  You're going to get four (or even up to six) colors and only use three bowls total.


Does anyone else ever have the problem of their flowers being torn apart by a dog and/or hose as soon as they're planted?! Yesterday my dog stepped right on a plant while it was still in it's pot, ready to be planted- it didn't even have a chance. 

The only things that survive are usually very tenacious mints or thorny roses, but not this summer!  I'm taking back my flower beds (except for the one that he dug a two foot by two foot hole in... those flowers might not make it).

Here is my solution, which is better than my first idea of stringing up a tiny barbed wire fence and patrolling the garden like a cowboy looking for a coyote.  I found a big box of vintage and new cast iron trivets at Goodwill for only $5 and knew I could use them for something. 

Er, I impulse bought them and had to think of a way to make use of them so my poor husband doesn't think I've gone full hoarder on him and really start to worry.  So, I made a little fence with them.  It's prettier than the cheap wire fences and cheaper than the pretty cast iron fences- win, win!

Normally, I shy away from "upcycling" types of things because it often isn't really "upcycling" (i.e., if you're turning a nice, unchipped mason jar into a lantern, you didn't "upcycle" it, you repurposed it- and don't even get me started on "upcycling" books- oh, the humanity!).  But, in the case of these, none were antiques and some still had the Ace Hardware stickers on the back of them- they aren't worth much money and they're not being ruined, so I was okay with it. 

In the event that there is a sudden shortage of cast iron trivets in the world, I'll pull them up and wash them off, but until then- hooray for no more crushed flowers!



This cake was made for Easter this year, I just never got around to posting it- things have been so busy!  The cake is a Dark Chocolate Stout cake from a recipe that I found here and tweaked.

The heavenly, almost gooey cake with its ever-so-subtle bitterness is a perfect contrast to a sweet peppermint buttercream frosting that sort of dances around on your tongue as it mingles together.  Deep, dark, bittersweet cake and creamy, sweet, minty frosting- what more could you ask for?  Oh, probably the recipe, huh?

Without futher ado, I give you the recipe for Dark Chocolate Stout cake with Peppermint Buttercream as a bonus to a mini tutorial on how to make your cake look as pretty as a picture.

Also, don't be scared if you're making buttercream for your first time.  This was my first time, too, and it turned out just fine.  Aside from the horrifying reality that it's just made of butter and sugar.



If you have dry, sensitive and/or aging/mature skin, this face oil is going to suit you perfectly.  I've tried all kinds of products for my dry skin and they all seem to be so heavy and not as deeply moisturizing as I'd like.

This combination is perfect and it works wonders for wintery, dull skin.  The rosehip seed oil is a "dry" oil, meaning it doesn't make you feel greasy.  I combined this with avocado oil for it's superior moisturizing properties.  You can use half macadamia nut and half avocado oil, as they both impart different qualities.  I've found that if your skin is not extremely dry, the macadamia nut is great, as it is a bit more of a "dry" oil than avocado is. 

I also added a few drops of rosemary for it's anti-aging and anti-bacterial properties (skip the rosemary if you have very sensitive skin).  Lastly, I added a few capsules of Evening Primrose Oil.  This is very expensive if you buy it in pure form, so I opted for the gel capsules that you can find at your local pharmacy.  These also have the added benefit of having Vitamin E oil in them, which acts as a preservative for the serum as well as a healing moisturizer.

All in all, this oil is great- it will keep you glowing and moisturized all day, even in the wintertime.  It can take about 10 minutes to fully soak in, but it's not greasy or oily on the surface once it does.  I usually just wait to put on any foundation until it soaks in.  Even once it's fully soaked in to your skin, it still gives you a nice, dewy glow.

Here is the link to the free printable labels.



My poor niece has really dry skin, despite all of the lotions in the world that my sister slathers on her.  Poor little thing- and her feet are worst of all.  After reading up on some really good moisturizers, I found that tallow is supposed to be a really good one, so I whipped up this batch of foot balm using some of my rendered tallow.  I've also made a free printable label that you can download to make your lotion look fancy and store-bought (I assumed that "beef fat lotion" scrawled across a tin in permanent marker would be a turn-off).



There are tons of tutorials out there for bath fizzies, but most all of them call for artificial fragrances and dyes, which are not something that I would want to soak in.  Even the queen bee of bath products, LUSH,  uses artificial fragrances and dyes, not to mention they're a little pricey at about $6 a pop.  These cost about $1 each, depending on what ingredients that you use.

 The recipes below are made with things that you likely already have in your kitchen.  If it's something that's safe to eat, I feel comfortable soaking in it in a warm tub (with the exception of essential oils, which shouldn't be ingested without the guidance of a trained professional).

HOW TO RENDER TALLOW - and not stink up your house

Yup, that's a cutting board full of fat.  Vegetarians and weak stomachs: avert your eyes- things are about to get a little primal.

I don't think my poor husband will forget the day that I asked him to pick up a 10-lb. bag of beef fat from the local health food coop.  Poor guy didn't know what he was getting into.  Just had to wander back to the butcher counter and tentatively ask if there was any fat back there for him.  Sure enough, they lugged out a whopping bag of trimmings labeled with my name and handed it over to him.  Did I mention that he is awesome at supporting whatever harebrained ideas I get into my head?  Although I do like to think that he felt a little triumphant (in a primitive hunter sort of way) as he walked right past the cash registers with his free bag of fat, telling them that he didn't have to pay for it.

 "Oog.  Me provide for family."

I think it was a lot less majestic in his experience, but I like to think that I at least keep him entertained.

A lot of people say that the leaf fat around the kidneys is the best for this, but I couldn't find any and this fat was free, so I went with this one.  It worked out just fine, although the rendered tallow isn't quite as hard as the leaf fat tallow and it takes a little more fat to get the same amount of tallow.  So, aside from the quantity and hardness of the final tallow, the only thing that was sacrificed was some of my husband's pride.  Poor guy.



Spring has sprung and the chill has left the air up here in Zone 5!  I'm so excited- I got a new garden tiller from The Man for my birthday this year, so no more hassling with renting one and getting my garden in late.  We did the math, and renting one over the course of a few years was less economical than just buying our own.  Although we will now have to deal with what all truck owners do- everyone will want to borrow it!  That's okay, we'll share.

This winter was so long and dreary that I kept myself happy by making all sorts of garden plans.  Happy thoughts of little seedlings sprouting up and ripe, red tomatoes in July made winter less of a drag.  I've got my 2015 garden plan all put together and you can download it for yourself if you'd like it by clicking on the above image.

This year, I'm trying out a "bug barrier" of both repellant and attractant flowers.  The pyrethrum in the daisies and the all-around amazing anti-bug properties of the marigolds will help to deter bugs.  I also included some things to make pollinators happy like lavender and basil. 

My garden is slightly shaded on the west side, so I put more cool-season vegetables over there.  You can shift things around if you'd like, but I tried to stay as close to a good companion planting system as I could.  I use Mother Earth News' companion planting guide, which was easy and helpful.  I didn't plant things clumped all together like I think you're actually supposed to, but I put them in places that would benefit them most.  I have enough trouble remembering what I planted where that I don't think I'm quite prepared to be mixing my veggies all together!

Enjoy the garden planner and happy planting!


This easy soup just screams Easter and Springtime.  Carrots, greens, and mushrooms make it colorful enough to remind you of spring, but the creamy broth still comforts like a hearty winter stew.  This recipe is also a great way to sneak some veggies into your food, as it all just tastes like creamy goodness and not kale or carrots.  Also, it seems strange, but that egg on top makes everything taste better.  Happy eating!


Tips I learned from making soap this weekend and some questions and concerns that I initially had that others out there may have, too:

Don't be an idiot- open a window while you're making it.  I stood over that stuff for an hour breathing in the lye fumes and now I've got a sore throat.  Wow.  Just.  Wow.

Yes, I looked like a Walter White western bandit with my yellow rubber gloves, goggles, and a tea towel tied around my nose and mouth.  Ironically, I used the towel because I was afraid of breathing in any lye powder while I was mixing the lye and water.  Apparently, it also fumes a bit as it's hot and being stirred on the stove.  Wow, again.  Sometimes it's a wonder I made it to adulthood. 

Lye isn't that scary.  I got some on myself and I didn't die.  The powder got on my arms and I also got raw soap on my fingers and all it did was sting a bit.  Just pour vinegar over the spot that stings, let it sit for a few seconds, then run it under cold water. 

Maybe I'm just not deep enough into the homemade soap scene, but I've yet to meet a soapmaker with Fight Club burns on their hands.  Just don't go around kissing people's hands and then pouring lye on it and you shouldn't have any problems.  Also, I must note that, unless you use a special process, the glycerin stays in your soap, it doesn't separate on it's own.  Come on, Hollywood, I can't believe you'd make a scientifically inaccurate movie...

Don't be scared, there are lots of everyday chemicals that are just as nasty as lye.  Toilet bowl cleaner, bleach, and oven cleaner are good examples.  Just be careful and take precautions.  Also, unless you fancy a steaming lye water volcano in your kitchen, always, always put the lye into the water, not the other way around. 

No, you can't make actual soap without lye.  Through the magic of science, lye mixed with tallow (or other fats, or oils) becomes "sodium tallowate" after the saponification process and it is no longer lye and doesn't have the same qualities as lye.  Check the labels of the soap in your bathroom- does it say "sodium tallowate"or "sodium palmate"?  That was made with lye and some kind of fat or oil.  The reason that your soap doesn't usually say "lye" (although some, like Dr. Bronner's, list sodium hydroxide, but are quick to point out that none remains after saponification) is because even though it's an ingredient used in the process of soap making, there's not actually lye in the final soap product, it's "sodium insert-whatever-fat-or-oil-used-ate" or "saponified oils".  See what I mean- magic!  Also, if you're not into "magic" as the simple explanation, here's a hoity-toity chemistry explanation of saponification.

If you buy lye in a plastic container, open it in a larger plastic container.  The static electricity from the container will cause a bunch of little lye balls to shoot out of the container and bounce around your kitchen counter like cake-fueled kids in a birthday bouncy house.  It wasn't a big problem, as I just wiped them up with a vinegar-soaked paper towel and then washed the counter, but it would have been nice to know that would happen.  Just keep some vinegar handy to pour onto anything that gets lye on it or to wet paper towels and use them to clean up spills.

If you've ever made homemade pudding, you will have no trouble figuring out what "trace" is and when it's happening.  It just means that when you drizzle the soap from a spoon, the drizzles stay on the surface a bit.  It looks like pudding that's still warm but has thickened up in the pan.  I'm assuming here that if you're crazy enough to want to make your own soap, you're crazy enough to also have made your own pudding- same idea- "I know what went into it and it's just plain better than the store-bought stuff, despite all the work".

I don't use special tools only to be used for soap.  Not saying you shouldn't, but as a very infrequent maker of soap, it just wouldn't do to have a separate getup for all of the soap making things.  I would recommend you have a wooden spoon for soap use only, as the wood will absorb things that you can't easily wash out. Other than the wooden spoon, I use all of my regular kitchen items like the stock pot and water pitcher.  I just wear gloves while first washing them with hot soapy water, then swish vinegar in them to neutralize any leftover lye residue, then wash again with hot soapy water.  I've never had lye on my tools after this washing method. If you're really nervous, you could test the surfaces with pH strips to be extra safe.      

The idea behind separate tools is that you might not rinse all of the uncured soap/lye out and end up eating lye/raw soap.  While I'm not recommending anyone out there try this, when I'm done washing the tools I touch them with my finger and touch my finger to my tongue.  I promise you'll know immediately if they still have lye or raw soap on them. 

And, unfortunately, yes, I know what raw soap tastes like.  On a school field trip to a living history farm (at the ill-advised urging of my friend) I snuck some butter from an unattended butter churn.  Do you know why there would be an unattended butter churn with butter in it just sitting outside of a log cabin on a hot summer day?  It's because it's full of soap, that's why. 

I thought it was stupid to have an immersion blender just for soap because I hate having one trick pony kitchen gadgets, but after stirring for over an hour waiting for trace, the idea of one has grown on me immensely.

Thanks to all of the meth heads out there, lye is increasingly difficult to find.  I did manage to find some at my local hardware store, though.  Just check the aisle with all of the drain openers and make sure you buy 100% lye (sodium hydroxide).  You can also buy it online.

If the steps below seem intimidating, it's just because I wanted to explain all of the steps to you. If you're like me, you want to know why, not just "don't do it".  My poor mother, I was definitely that child.  If you just want a quick run-down of how to make soap, I've put it at the bottom of this post. I put it after all of the detailed explanations so no one could run back to me with lye burns or soapy foods later and say I never warned them.

Now that I've imparted you with the knowledge that I've gained through trial, error, and personal bodily harm, I'll let you know how to make soap.


The Man and I had these while out to eat at a fancy Minneapolis restaurant.  They were amazing, but they cost $14 and there were only five of them.  What a sad number for an appetizer- you have to go through the "no, you take it", "no, you take it" rigamarole with that last, lone piece.  Nobody wins with that game.
Well, in order to avoid that (and also to get rid of that nagging feeling in the back of your mind when you ate something awesome but didn't quite get enough of it), we decided to try to make them ourselves. 
Turns out, these are really simple to make, not that expensive, and can make either a really good light meal or an impressive appetizer.
Hello, new favorite guilty pleasure snack.


On my way home from work, I stopped at a local fancy schmancy grocery store to see if they had tallow.  I ended up bonding with the butcher over the silliness of grass fed-only beef if you care about flavor (I've raised calves and know a little corn now and then means happy cattle and beautiful marbling).   Then I bought a bunch of beef fat from him.  I felt weird enough asking for it that I was glad my awkward self didn't squeak out an "I'm gonna render it and make soap!". 

I barely made it out of there without completely embarassing myself, albeit teetering dangerously on the edge.  I made it out of the store before embarassing myself, sure, but not home...

Well, I also bought a bunch of their amazing La Quercia prosciutto and couldn't wait the forty minute car ride home to have some of it.  I barely made it to the car before I opened the package, mind racing with happy thoughts of the glorious, rosy meat sheets.  I pulled out two of the paper thin goodness and, alas, had nowhere to put them while I wrapped up the package.  Coat- too fuzzy.  Mouth- don’t want to eat it all at once.  Hmm.  Steering wheel- it was practically begging me to have prosciutto hanging from it.  Just as I had lovingly decorated my steering wheel with meat and tucked the package away, I look up to see a fancy-looking lady came out of the store. 

Oh, please don’t be coming this way. 

Oh, crap. 

You parked right next to me, huh. 

So there I was, meat-coated steering wheel out there for all the world to see and probably dashing the hopes of a brighter, better upcoming generation for this dear elderly fancy lady. 

My momma would be so proud.

Moral of the story: If you ever feel awkward or like no one else is a weirdo, take heart.  I guarantee everyone is a bit of one at one time or another.

Also, I'm going to post some recipes later in the month of how I rendered the suet and what I did with the tallow...


Men are super hard to buy for.  I'm always completely uninspired when it comes time to give a gift to my Dad, my brother, my two brother-in-laws, or even my hubs.  This year, I've vowed to try out all sorts of man-friendly DIY gifts and to remember to take pictures of them and write about them so all of you wonderful people out there can have some ideas about what to make for the men in your life.  On a side note, this cutting board was sort of a gift for me, too (of course women would love this gift, too).

This cutting board is really easy to make, easy to personalize, and easy to use.  You don't even need to get out your power tools.  Just some elbow grease.

p.s. The lovely patina achieved on mine is because I accidentally (okay, on purpose because I'm really lazy sometimes) put mine through the dishwasher.  This is not recommended, although it did a lovely job of sort of spalting the wood.


I've been pretty slow to jump on the kale train.  Not because I don't think it's healthy for me, but because I thought it was gross.  I did try kale chips awhile back, but I think brussel sprout chips are much better. 

Anyhow, this recipe changed my kale-hatin' opinions.  The texture is nice, the flavor is fresh and good, and it's so darn pretty! To top it all off, it's so simple that you'll hardly know you took the time to make it.


I have a dirty little secret.  I made candles for Christmas presents this year and I used something unspeakable to make them.  Something that I don't even allow into my pantry.  Something buttery and vegetable-y and shelf-stable.  Want to know what it was?


Crazy, huh?  Well, it turns out that's not too crazy if you burn soy candles already.  Crisco's ingredient list includes soybean oil and palm oil, along with a few preservatives.  These are the same ingredients as most soy wax candles, so it's not such a shock to use Crisco in place of pricey soy wax flakes for your candle making adventures.  To harden it up, I used a bit of paraffin wax.

I used to be quite the candle junkie until I started taking a good, hard look at what chemicals I was using in my house. It wasn't until I started to research what those fancy scented candles had in them that I decided to back off on my constant burning of them. With articles like this one popping up even in mainstream media telling of the dangers of synthetic fragrance oils and chemicals, I decided it was time to ditch the candles.  These are also some good journal articles on research into indoor air quality: This one (regarding infant and maternal health when exposed to the VOCs in air fresheners) and this one (which focuses on VOCs from cleaning chemicals).

There is also concern among many that the paraffin in candles is very dangerous stuff, too. While I won't disagree with them, I thought that it was more important to focus on getting rid of the synthetic fragrances and carcinogenic compounds than to get rid of the paraffin. It's the fake scents and sprays that make my eyes red and my throat swell up, not paraffin.  Maybe someday I'll be able to afford beeswax candles, but until then, I'll compromise with soy-based candles with natural and essential oil scents instead. One step at a time!


These flaky, buttery, sweet-tart bundles of joy won't disappoint at a party.  I promise you.  At Thanksgiving, it was all I could do to keep the guys out of the cupboard that I'd hidden these in.  Despite my efforts, only half of them made it to the Woman Cave. 

Oh, yes, the Woman Cave.  Every year at Thanksgiving, my huge family (by huge I mean over forty people) gets together for football, fun, and food.  The guys go into the Man Cave- a cold, garage with nothing but beer, a deep fryer, and, I assume, lots of farts.  The women have the Woman Cave in the warm kitchen with fancy treats and cheeses and wine.  And no farts.  I think we get the better end of the deal.  All of this eventually leads to treaties between the caves where we trade fancies for their fried goods.  These were a hot commodity.

So, if you're looking for something delicious and deceptively fancy, these are a great go-to.  With pre-made phyllo dough, you can't go wrong!