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7 Amazing Uses for Aloe Vera Gel

I’m always on the lookout for simple, natural products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s especially important when it comes to products that I use on my skin. Skin absorbs so much. One product I’ve found that is natural, inexpensive and a great multitasker is aloe vera gel.

Aloe Vera Plant

Skin irritations

When you think of using aloe topically, you probably think of soothing a sunburn. You can also use it to sooth other burns as well as minor cuts and scrapes.

Aloe vera hand sanitizer

There are tons of recipes online for diy hand sanitizers using aloe vera as one of the base ingredients. I’m not a big hand sanitizer fan, but I like the look of these recipes from Wellness Mama. She has two different formulas. One is a gentle aloe and essential oil only recipe for home or children to use, and one is a stronger formula for when something more potent is needed.

Hair gel

Aloe gel can be used as a hair gel, too. In my experience, it provides a light hold, and isn’t stiff or sticky as long as you don’t overdo it. It also leaves your hair soft and silky afterward, unlike most hair gels which contain alcohol or other ingredients that dry your hair. To tame flyaways, I like to rub a drop of aloe between my palms and smooth over the ends of my hair.

Brows

Try aloe on your brows to keep them in shape. Since aloe gel is clear, you don’t have to worry about finding the right color to match. Dip an old, cleaned mascara wand, eyebrow brush or toothbrush in aloe and brush your eyebrows into shape. It’s also great for soothing your skin after plucking or waxing your brows.

Hair conditioner

If the ends of your hair dry, rub a little aloe on them to help smooth and condition them. I’ve also heard you can use aloe gel in place of a regular, rinse out conditioner, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Moisturizer

Aloe is a great moisturizer for your skin. It leaves your skin feeling soft but not greasy.

Skin refresher

I’ve heard that aloe gel works well to refresh your skin in situations where you may not be able to wash your face regularly like camping and traveling. Just massage it on and gently wipe off the excess.

Exfoliating with aloe vera

Mix aloe with salt or sugar for a great exfoliating scrub. When making scrubs, sugar tends to be a little more gentle, but salt is more antibacterial.

Which aloe vera gel is best?

The way to get the freshest aloe gel, of course, is to grow your own aloe plant. If you’re like me and have a hard time keeping plants alive, or you just want to pick up a bottle or two so you’ll have plenty on hand, spring and summer are good times to get it. Specialty health stores will stock it year round, but right now it’s easier to find in discount stores and supermarkets with their seasonal products.

The most important thing to look for is 100% pure aloe. Pure aloe will be clear. Steer clear of the blue and green aloe gels. They contain added ingredients to help “cool” a sunburn. These ingredients are okay (although unnecessary) for sunburns, but you don’t want to use these aloe blends for anything other than soothing a sunburn.

One brand that’s fairly easy for me to find is Fruit of the Earth. I think I paid around $5-$7 for a 24 ounce bottle. Not bad when you compare it to a comparably-sized bottle of lotion, or conditioner, or moisturizer, or hair gel, all of which can be replaced with aloe.

What aloe tips have I left out? Share yours with me.

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Aloe vera uses
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All Purpose Cleaner Recipe

We are all becoming more aware of the types of products we use everyday. Whether it’s a concern for the environmental impact, the effect they have on our health or the safety for our pets and children, we want to know we aren’t inadvertently introducing harmful things into our homes. Something I do to feel confident in the safety of cleaning products I use around my family is to make my own where possible. One such product is a simple all purpose cleaner I use for cleaning hard surfaces, such as kitchen and bathroom counters and walls. It only uses a few ingredients, all of which you probably already have on hand.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

All Purpose Cleaner Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Liquid soap, either dish soap or something like Dr. Bronner’s castile soap
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Water
  • Optional: Essential oil of your choice

Supplies:

  • Clean, empty spray bottle
  • Liquid measuring supplies if you aren’t comfortable just eyeballing it
  • Optional: A funnel might make it easier to fill the bottle.

How to make it:

Measure about 2 tablespoons of soap, one cup of vinegar and one cup of water into the spray bottle. It doesn’t have to be exact. I usually just eyeball it. If you would like to use an essential oil, add 3-5 drops as well. Do be aware of safety guidelines regarding any essential oils you use, especially around pregnant women, children and pets. Tea tree oil or lavender are nice for cleaning and generally safe for most people. If the soap you use is scented or if you or your family members are sensitive to scents, you may want to skip the essential oil.

Swirl the bottle to mix everything without making the soap foam up too much. 

That’s it. Now you have an all purpose cleaner that works as well as any other I’ve tried, with the added benefit of being safe enough that kiddos can help with the cleaning. 

If you like this cleaning recipe, you’ll also like my DIY soft scrub for tougher cleaning jobs. To make sure you don’t miss out on future posts, sign up for my newsletter.

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Easy, Flexible Meal Planning Lists for Stress-free Meals

Meal planning takes away the daily stress of deciding what’s for dinner. I’ve never done well with creating weekly menus by day, though. With a set schedule, I sometimes felt like I had to make what’s on the menu, rather than finish up the leftovers first. Silly, I know. Then there were the days that ended up busier than expected and I either didn’t have time to make the planned meal or I was too tired by the time dinner rolled around and needed something simpler. 

The solution I’ve found to traditional menu-style meal planning is making meal lists. Not only does it offer day by day flexibility, it makes it easier to work in sale items, saving money at the grocery store.

For us, breakfast and lunch are usually either made from the same basic staples or leftovers, so I only use my lists for dinner. You can easily use the same method for all meals, if you like.

Meal Planning Lists

Step 1: Make a Master List

Start by writing down all your favorite meals to make. This isn’t the time to pull out cookbooks or look for recipes online. You want this to be a brain dump of your go-to meals. I would aim for at least 10-14, but a bigger list gives you more variety. If you don’t have that many to start, don’t worry. You can always add to this list later.

You can leave your master list as-is, or sort it into categories such as grouping it by the type of protein, ease of prep, cook time or type of appliance used if you have lots of Instant Pot or slow cooker meals. My list is just one big list.

You could also make note of what sides you like to serve with each dish, but I usually add them later.

Step 2: Decide what types of meals you need for the week

For this step, consider things like what you have on hand that you need to use up, what’s on sale and how busy you’ll be during the week. If you know you’ll be eating out any days, make note of that, too. I don’t usually make a list for this step, but if it’s a busy week you might want to make some notes.

Step 3: Make your meal list for the week

Consider the things from step 2 and pick 5-7 meals for the week from your master list. I like to cook things like big pots of soup or chili at least once a week, so I know leftovers will take care of one or two days, so I usually make a list of five. If your meals won’t include leftovers, you’ll want to list seven, or as many days as you’ll be eating at home.

This is where I consider sides and make note of them alongside the meals I plan to make.

If you’re looking to expand your master list or just want to try something new, you can add a new recipe as one of your meals and make note of the cookbook or other source. Once you’ve tried it, if you like it, add it to your master list.

That’s my meal list for this week.

While I don’t add these to my list, I like to keep staples for one or two really quick backup meals on hand at all times. You can read more about this here. If this is new to you, you’ll want to consider picking a backup meal or two before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Make your shopping list

Make a shopping list from your weekly meal list, including sides and staples for your backup meal, if you don’t already have one. From your list, shop your pantry then grocery shop for everything else you need.

Step 5: Using your list

If one meal relies on lots of fresh produce or other time-sensitive food, you’ll want to make it early in the week. Likewise, if one day is busy and you have one slow cooker or really simple meal on the list, you’ll want to save it for that day. Otherwise, you know you have everything to make all the meals on your weekly list, so pick whichever one you like for now and one for next. Picking your “next” gives you time to thaw out or presoak anything needed for that meal. Every day, think about what meal you want to be next and do the necessary prep. If that day’s meal has lots of leftovers, you can use them as your “next” and push the rest of the week’s meals down.

Each meal you make gets checked off the list. At the end of the week, if there’s anything not checked off, add that meal to next week’s list.

Customize Your Meal Planning Lists

Planning one week at a time works best for me because that’s about the longest we can go without needing to restock staples. If two weeks at a time works for you, make your list 10-14 meals instead of 5-7. Repeats are fine if you want or need.

If you want to be super organized, turn your master list into index cards with one meal and all the ingredients listed on each card. You can even make them full blown recipe cards, which is helpful if someone else does some of the meal prep or it’s a new recipe. Sort them into whatever categories work best for you, then pick out your 5-7 meal cards for the week. Now your grocery list is as simple as copying the ingredients from the cards.

Background image by Goumbik from Pixabay
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Sausage Potato Soup for the Electric Pressure Cooker

I love the slightly spicy, creamy Zuppa Toscana soup from Olive Garden. Since going gluten-free and dairy-free, Zuppa Toscana and pretty much anything Olive Garden are out of the question. With the cold weather, though, I really crave soups. I made some potato soup a few days ago that was yummy, but just not the same. Today I realized I happened to have everything I needed to attempt a sausage and potato soup very much like Zuppa Toscana.

It doesn’t have quite the same creaminess due to substituting almond milk. Cashew milk is a creamier substitute, but I didn’t have any on hand. For a first dairy-free attempt, it turned out pretty darn close.

I made my sausage potato soup in my electric pressure cooker. You could easily make it in a slow cooker or on the stove top, but I like how the pressure cooker really develops the flavors, similar to cooking in a slow cooker but without the long cook time. I also love that I can use the saute function on my pressure cooker to brown the sausage. This prevents having to dirty a skillet, like I would if I used a slow cooker.

Sausage Potato Soup

Dairy and gluten free sausage potato soup inspired by Olive Garden's zuppa toscana. I prefer making it in my electric pressure cooker but it could easily be done in a slow cooker or on the stove top.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Soup
Keyword: dairy free, Electric Pressure Cooker, gluten free, Instant Pot, simple
Servings: 6 people

Equipment

  • Electric Pressure Cooker, unless cooking on stove top or slow cooker.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Ground Sausage
  • 3-4 Largish potatoes, sliced
  • 1 medium Onion, diced White or yellow.
  • 2-3 cups Kale, torn or chopped. Could substitute spinach or other greens.
  • 6-8 cups Chicken broth (gluten-free if desired) You want enough to cover the rest of the ingredients in the pot without too much over.
  • 2 cups Almond or Cashew milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Crushed red pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Select the "Saute" function on the pressure cooker.
  • Add the olive oil and brown the sausage.
  • Add the onion a few minutes before the sausage finishes browning to soften.
  • When the sausage is browned, turn off the "Saute" function.
  • Add the potatoes, kale, broth and seasonings. Do not add the almond or cashew milk yet.
  • Lock the pressure cooker's lid in place and select the "Soup" function. I used the 30 minute function.
  • After the cooking is complete, either wait for pressure to naturally release or CAREFULLY do a manual release. Soups spray and spatter if you immediately try to release the pressure, so I recommend waiting at least ten minutes if you are going to manually release the pressure.
  • Add the almond/cashew milk and stir. The soup should be hot enough to heat the milk addition without additional cooking.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

I don’t really measure recipes like this, so most measurements are approximate.
The stove top instructions are basically the same. Brown the sausage in a big soup pot, add the ingredients except the milk and simmer for around thirty minutes. Add the milk and serve. 
For the slow cooker, brown the meat on the stove, add everything but the milk to the slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Add the milk and serve.

Please leave a comment if you try this and let me know how it turns out. If any of my instructions need clarification, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, too.

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Sausage Potato Soup Electric Pressure Cooker Instant Pot

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Potato Ham Soup for EPCs Dairy and Gluten Free

In my Tips to Save Money on Food post, I mention buying ham on sale after the holidays. I love cooking a ham at the beginning of the week. It provides sliced ham for a few meals. Then I cook a pot of red beans or pinto beans with what’s left of the meat and the ham bone for lots of flavor and richness.

Sometimes that gets boring, though. After cooking a ham on Sunday, I wanted something to use some of the ham that was different but easy. I also needed something that used ingredients I already had on hand. A quick internet search found this delicious Potato Ham Soup shared by Sandy at Simply Happy Foodie. It’s written for one of my favorite appliances, the electric pressure cooker, and uses basic ingredients that are common kitchen staples.

Since this isn’t my recipe, I’m linking to the original at Simply Happy Foodie. I made a few changes to the original to make it gluten and dairy free. I also had to make a few adjustments to make it work with what I had on hand. Those I will share here.

Potato Ham Soup hacks

  • In place of milk or cream, I used coconut milk to make it dairy free. Almond or cashew would probably work well, too.
  • For the flour, I subbed an all-purpose gluten free flour blend. Cornstarch also works well as a gluten free thickener. I would recommend reducing the amount of cornstarch to 1-1.5 tablespoons, though, because, to me, cornstarch gives things a different flavor.
  • I had russet potatoes on hand, so that’s what I used.
  • The recipe called for thyme. I’m out, so I added poultry seasoning instead.
  • The original recipe suggested cheese as an add-in. To add a little cheesy flavor without dairy, I sprinkled in about a tablespoon of nutritional yeast.

That’s it. This soup is a great way to use up leftover ham. With an electric pressure cooker it’s done in under an hour, start to finish. Check it out at Simply Happy Foodie, and if you need a gluten-free or dairy-free option, use the adjustments I’ve shared here.

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Potato Ham Soup
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DIY Colorful Sugar Sprinkles

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

A few days ago, I thought it would be fun to make Christmas cookies. Then I remembered that my Christmas cookie cutters had disappeared, we were out of any sort of sprinkles for the cookies and I really didn’t want to make decorator frosting or go to the store for supplies. My solution? DIY sugar sprinkles!

DIY sugar sprinkles side view

Ingredients

  • Granulated sugar
  • Food coloring

Supplies

  • Jars, plastic containers or sandwich bags, one per color. (Ideally something with a shaker top, which I didn’t have)
  • Spoons or shakers
DIY sugar sprinkles top view

How to make the sugar sprinkles

  • Measure about 1/4 cup of sugar into each container. 
  • Add 2-3 drops of food coloring to the sugar. 
  • Shake or stir until the color is evenly distributed. 
  • Let air dry. I just left the lids off the jars and set them on the stove while the cookies baked, stirring occasionally. If you use bags or plan to store it for a longer period of time, you may want to spread it on parchment or a cookie sheet to make sure it is super dry.  
sugar cookies
Mom tip: If your cookie decorating skills are not Pinterest-worthy, just let your kiddos do the decorating.

The recipe I used for the cookies was the sugar cookie cutout recipe from my trusty red and white Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. To make them gluten free, I substituted Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. If you are new to gluten free baking, it is a great flour to start with. I have had lots of success making all my old recipes gluten free with just that simple substitution.

My solution for not having cookie cutters was to use a round glass to cut out “ornaments”. We dusted some of the cookies with the sprinkles prior to baking. For the rest, I made a simple icing that got dusted or caked with sprinkles, depending on who was doing the decorating.

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Patching Denim with an Embroidery Machine

Finished sewing

I love wearing denim blue jeans, but chasing my boys and taking care of my small zoo, they get lots of wear and tear. One of the worst things is having to scrap a favorite pair because of one too many rips. I’ve repaired rips in a utilitarian way in the past. This time I thought I’d try patching denim using my embroidery machine. I haven’t done much applique, so I learned some things along the way.

This tutorial makes use of an embroidery machine and serger. You could also adapt it to use a sewing machine or applique by hand and embellishing with hand embroidery.

Items needed

  • Denim jeans or other item to repair
  • Interfacing
  • Thread in colors of choice
  • Seam ripper or similar tool
  • Scrap of fabric at least 4 in x 4 inches
  • Stabilizers: Cut away or tear away, water soluble optional
  • Floral denim patch applique design file

Step 1: Open the side seam.

Since I’m repairing a ripped knee, I needed to take out one of the side leg seams on my jeans. Using a seam ripper made this easy, but you could use small scissors, too. I left the seam intact at the hip and ankle, only removing what was necessary to lay the ripped area flat in the hoop without risking sewing it to the back. Leaving a little intact makes it easier to resew the seam at the end.

Step 2: Prepare the rip.

Iron the area around the rip so it’s smooth and flat. If there’s a lot of loose threads around the rip, trim them. I caught this rip before it frayed too badly, so no trimming was needed.

Before photo patching denim
Side seam removed and jeans ironed flat.

I wanted the embroidered area to be solid, so I applied some interfacing to the back of the rip. I used some medium weight interfacing, but any should work, since it’s job is just to hold it together while the jeans are embroidered. This is a perfect project for using whatever scraps are handy.

Interfaced rip
Back of rip with interfacing applied.

Step 3: Hooping.

For denim, tear away or cutaway stabilizer is best. I chose cutaway for the most stability. It’s stiff, but it should soften in the wash. If not, I’ll switch to tear away next time.

I tend to float projects and only hoop the stabilizer whenever possible. This project seemed like it would work better tightly anchored in the hoop. It took a few tries to center the rip in my hoop so that all edges would be covered by my design. My machine has a 4 in x 4 in embroidery field, so the rip just barely fit. Smaller tears will be easier to fit in my small hoop.

Hooped denim
First attempt. Once I put it in my machine and had it circle the embroidery field, I saw it needed re-positioning.

Step 4: Embroidering the patch.

Once it’s properly hooped, it’s time to sew. On my machine, the first color stop said “Applique Material”. I haven’t done much machine applique, but the ones I am used to usually follow the sequence: placement stitch, tack down the applique (then trim excess), sew the final applique stitching. So, confused I just put the applique fabric and a water soluble stabilizer (optional) on top of the rip and pushed start.

stitching denim patch

What my machine was telling me to do was to just hoop the applique fabric so I could remove it from the hoop and cut it neatly. The second color stop was the positioning stitch. That would be stitched on my jeans and then my neatly trimmed applique could be placed in position and the stitching completed. Since I did everything at once, my applique isn’t as tidy as it could be. I will definitely listen to my machine next time.

Finished sewing, but still has water soluble stabilizer on top.
Finished sewing.

Step 5: Remove from hoop and cut away excess stabilizer

I also steam pressed over the back of the patch to start softening the stabilizer.

Patch from the back.
Patch from the back with stabilizer trimmed.

Step 6: Sew the leg seam.

To repair the leg seam, I used a lock stitch setting on my machine. You could also sew the seam twice to reinforce it or just use really heavy thread. I then serged the raw edge. If you don’t have a serger, an overedge stitch or zig-zag stitch would also work.

Finished!

Finished patching denim
Finished patch. Next time I will use heavier thread so the embroidery shows better.

Not bad. I wish I had used heavier thread so the embroidery would show up better. Listening to my machine and cutting the applique fabric to size before I sew it on to eliminate the raw edges peeking out is another improvement for the next time I’m patching denim.

If you’d like to use this applique design, you can download the file here. You can use the design on items you make to sell as well as for personal use, but please don’t sell the design file.

Floral knee patch applique
Floral knee patch applique design image.

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