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Tips for Going Gluten Free on a Budget

Many people eat gluten free (g-free), either by choice or need. For those with celiac, eliminating gluten is an absolute necessity. Others find that, for one reason or another, they feel better when they avoid it. In my case, I kind of accidentally discovered that joint pain in my hands and feet go away and I’m less brain foggy when I avoid gluten. Other family members suffer from breakouts and rashes that flare whenever they eat something with gluten. I strongly believe that if you feel bad after eating something, you should probably stop eating it, so we do our best to avoid gluten all together.

Eliminating something that is such a big part of your diet is daunting at first, but there are a few things that can make the transition easier and less expensive. These tips focus on gluten, but many will also help if you need to eliminate other foods.

Start with real foods

Processed foods often have hidden fillers and ingredients, and specialty gluten free foods are expensive. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, beans, eggs and dairy are naturally gluten free in their pure forms. Rice is a grain that does not contain gluten. Starting from scratch with real food ingredients that you know naturally don’t have gluten is often easier and definitely cheaper than scrutinizing food labels and buying special gluten free versions of normally wheat based foods.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Go simple with seasonings

For the most part, single herbs and spices are gluten free. Certain spice blends may have gluten, though. Making your own blends is the safest bet, but if you have a spice blend you love, most manufacturer websites list whether their products contain gluten.

While not technically an herb or spice, most soy sauce contains gluten. La Choy is a major brand that is made without gluten. Bragg’s liquid aminos are another form of g-free soy sauce.

Most vinegar is g-free. Malt vinegar is not. You’ll also want to check the label on flavored vinegar to be sure.

Cooking oils don’t have gluten unless seasoned with something containing gluten.

Find your current gluten free staples

Look at the foods that currently stock your pantry. What things that you buy are already gluten free? For us, we usually keep a box or two of cereal around for snacking or a quick breakfast. Most cereals are made with wheat and therefore have gluten, but some that we already bought, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Rice Chex are gluten free. Knowing that, I can continue to keep a box or two of cereal we already liked on hand.

Likewise, we keep tortilla chips on hand for snacking or nachos. Most tortilla chips don’t have gluten and inexpensive. Since gluten free crackers are both hard to find and usually expensive, tortilla chips are an easy cracker substitute as well.

Look for the easy substitute

Like substituting tortilla chips for crackers, there are other easy swaps. Corn tortillas usually don’t have gluten and can be substituted for flour tortillas. Rice is often a good substitute for pasta, or substitute rice noodles. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find rice noodles there for cheaper than a mainstream supermarket, as well as leafy greens and spices for cheap.

Make it yourself

It’s fairly easy to find gluten-free flour now, so making your own gluten free cookies, pizza crusts, pancakes, breads, etc. is a good option. I love Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. With it, I can continue to make my favorite deserts just by substituting it for wheat flour. There are other good gluten free flours on the market, too. The most important thing is to know if it is blended to be an exact 1 to 1 substitute or if you need to add something like xanthan gum to give it the stretchiness and rise that you usually get from gluten. For example, Bob’s Red Mill has an All Purpose Gluten Free Flour that is not the 1 to 1 blend. It is a little denser and does not have xanthan gum already blended. I like blending it with tapioca flour, which adds some stretchiness. That works well for things like gluten free flour tortillas. For things that need to rise, though, like cakes or breads, I also add xanthan gum if I’m using the all purpose and not the 1 to 1 blend.

When buying gluten free, shop around

Sometimes you really just want to get some gluten free penne pasta or a g-free bagel. More and more grocery stores regularly stock g-free pastas, breads and desserts, but they can be pricey. If you find them on sale, stock up and freeze the extras. Alternative grocery stores sometimes offer better prices, too. Aldi has a decent selection of g-free breads, pastas, and baking mixes at a lower price than most other stores. I even found some gluten free donuts there recently.

Locally, we have a surplus/discount/closeout grocery store called Town Talk. They frequently have udi’s bread in the range of two loaves for $3.00. I periodically stop in and stock up when I can.

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Tips for going gluten free

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How I Make Soap: An overview of the hot process soapmaking method

tea tree oil soap: no more lye

Making soap is like magic. Seriously, think about it: You take stuff that makes things feel greasy, mix it with stuff that would eat your face off and, if you do it just right, the end result is a wonderful bar of non-drying, skin-loving, fluffy-lathering soap.

Soapmaking is fun, but safety is a priority when dealing with sodium hydroxide, aka lye, aka the eat-your-face-off stuff. This is just a brief overview of the soapmaking process I use. Please do not use this as a complete how to guide. If that’s something you’re interested in, please, leave a comment and I will direct you to some more thorough resources on soapmaking.

Melting the Oils

Creating soap takes two basic things: oils or fats and an alkaline solution. In order to combine the oils and alkaline solution, the oils have to all be in liquid form and uniformly mixed. So, step one is measuring and melting the oils. For precision, all measuring is done by weight. Since I use a Crockpot for my hot process soapmaking, I add all my weighed oils to the Crockpot, then melt and mix them in the pot. For soapmaking, I generally use the low setting, but if I need to jump start the melting process I will start it on high then turn it down after a few minutes. This Crockpot is similar to the one I use.

Melting the Oils
Melting the Oils

Measuring the Lye

While the oils are warming in the Crockpot, I weigh the lye. It is important to be very precise when measuring the lye. Too little and the soap will be too soft. Too much and the soap could burn your skin. This is also why you need to be very careful about the soap recipes you use. If they are not correctly formulated, the end result could be dangerous.

Before I measure the lye, I measure the water or other liquid for the lye solution, also by weight. I do that first to limit the time I have the lye out.

Weighing the Lye
Weighing the Lye. Gloves and goggles on.

Lye Safety

I make sure to measure the lye into glassware and all containers and utensils that come into contact with lye or the lye solution are reserved solely for that purpose. Once the lye is out, I never leave it unattended. Lye crystals resemble table salt, which would be a potentially deadly mix-up. That’s also why my soap production has slowed since Thaddeus was born. Until they are old enough to understand the importance of staying out of the room and can be trusted out of sight but in earshot for the time it takes to get the soap cooking, I only make it when they are either out of the house or asleep with Chris there to tend to them if they wake up during the process.

Mixing the Lye Solution

Once my lye is measured, I add the lye to the water and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Lye fizzes up when mixed, so it is important to have the liquid in a container with plenty of room. The solution with also get really hot and put off fumes, so be prepared. I like to have a window open or fans and the vent a hood running. Some soap makers mix the solution outside, but I like to stay close to my work space to limit the chance of spills.

Blending the Oils and Lye Solution

For cold process soapmaking, it is important to have the oils and lye solution at about the same temperature. With the Crockpot hot process method I use, I find I can mix the lye solution into the warmed, melted oils without having to measure the temperatures first.

When you first add the lye solution to the melted oils, the color will change from clear to opaque. In order to properly combine the lye and oils, I use a handheld stick blender. You can stir by hand, but it is much harder to get everything properly blended and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I have had a stick blender die in the middle of making a batch of soap and it is a crazy long arm workout. I do not recommend it.

Adding the Lye Solution
Adding the Lye Solution

Goal of Blending

The goal for all the hard mixing is called “trace”. Basically, I’m wanting to be able to lift my blender out of the mixture and trace a design on top. With cold process, there are various stages of trace that guide when to add any fragrance, essential oils or other add-ins. Since I use the hot process method, I add almost everything after the cook. Because of that, I can mix my batches to a full, hard trace where my traced design doesn’t melt back into the mix. This limits the possibility of a false trace, or the mix seeming to quickly come to trace when it isn’t thoroughly mixed. When that happens, it might separate or have lye heavy spots.

Hard Trace
Hard Trace

Once it is at a hard trace, I stop mixing and put the lid on the Crockpot. If the mix seems too hot, for example, I had a false trace that I had to stir through, I will either turn the Crockpot to warm or off for a few minutes. Otherwise, I make sure it is on low and busy myself with cleaning up, lining my soap molds, and preparing essential oils and other additives.

Cleanup

Any lingering lye solution or soap mixture on the blender is still a risk for lye burns, so I’m cautious with the cleanup. For the whole soapmaking process, I keep a good amount of water with vinegar and a bit of dish soap ready in the sink. The vinegar helps neutralize the lye, so anything that comes into contact with lye goes directly into the vinegar solution, and I use a similar vinegar solution to wipe down my soapmaking area, just in case.

Stages of Saponification

During the cooking, the soap mix will change from an opaque, milky color to a shiny, translucent gel like texture. A pool of liquid also forms on top. that pool of liquid is glycerin, a byproduct of the saponification process. This transformation starts at the edges of the pot and happens in a wave moving towards the center. I find it really fun to watch.

Soap Waves
Soap Waves

Finishing the Batch

When the entire soap mixture is translucent and the consistency of mashed potatoes without lumps, I turn off the heat and stir the soap by hand for just a couple of minutes to let it cool. At this point, if done correctly, the mixture completely transformed to soap. I don’t want it to cool too much, or it would be hard to add the essential oils, but too hot and it will burn off the scent.

Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle
Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle

I then add any essential oils blended in my chosen carrier oil and any other add-ins I’m using in that batch, stir thoroughly by hand, and plop it into my molds. Since it is thick, I generally have to tap my molds on my counter firmly to eliminate air pockets.

Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil
Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil

Curing the Final Product

Because the saponification process is completed during the cooking, the soap is totally safe to use as soon as it is cool enough to touch. It needs to cool in the molds for 12-24 hours or so to hold it’s shape, though. Once it is firm enough to cut, I cut and wrap the bars. While not necessary, hot process bars still benefit from curing for at least a week or two to allow excess moisture to evaporate. As I discussed in my Proper Care and Feeding of Your Bar Soap post, the firmer and drier a bar of soap is, the longer it will last. That’s one of the reasons I wrap my soap in cloth rather than plastic. Cloth allows the soap to continue to harden for a longer lasting bar.

Soap Log in the Mold
Soap Log in the Mold

The batch I photographed for this post is my Tea Tree Oil Soap. Find it and my other handmade soaps for sale here: https://subearthancottage.com/product-category/soap-bath-beauty.

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Easy DIY Talc-Free Body Powder

DIY Body Powder SubEarthan Cottage

With all the concerns in the news surrounding talcum powders again, many people are looking for a talc-free alternative to their favorite body powder. While you can purchase talc-free powder, making it yourself is simple, allows you to customize it, and is super inexpensive. Better yet, you probably already have everything you need.

Body Powder Recipe

Ingredients:

3/4 cup of Cornstarch

1/4 cup of Baking Soda

10-ish Drops of essential oil (optional)

Make it:

Combine the cornstarch and baking soda in a bowl or jar. Give it a stir or shake to mix. If you’re using an essential oil, add it now, then stir or shake some more to distribute.

Use it:

I keep mine in a jar and use a fluffy makeup brush to dust it where I need it. It works great as an all-over dusting powder, deodorant and shoe deodorizer. You can also dust a little in your hair in place of dry shampoo. For that, I like to put it in my hair at night and then brush it out in the morning.

Customize it:

The basic recipe is 3 parts cornstarch to 1 part baking soda, so you can use that 3:1 ratio to make as much or as little as you need. 

Add more or less essential oil based on your preference. You can also use your favorite perfume to make a coordinating dusting powder.

If you find this formula too drying, reduce the amount of baking soda, or omit it all together.

Not a fan of cornstarch? Try using arrowroot. I personally haven’t tried it, so if you do, let me know how it works.

For babies, I recommend just plain cornstarch as baking soda might be too harsh. If you want to scent it, add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Essential oils aren’t generally recommended for babies under six months, so take that into consideration. 

If you like using this as a dry shampoo and have dark hair, you can add a little bit of cocoa powder to the mix to make it less noticeable if you don’t get it brushed out completely.

Re-purpose a shaker jar, such as a spice or Parmesan cheese jar, rather than using a brush or puff to dispense.



Find more of my tutorials here: Tutorials.

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Sewing Chores: Tips to maximize sewing time

Even if you love sewing, there’s some parts that can be a chore. Ignoring those tasks or leaving them for later can result in wasted sewing time and money. Here’s a list of chores I try to tackle when I have a few minutes so that my real sewing time is spent actually sewing.

Bobbin winding

If you have a Side Winder, bobbin thread running out mid-project might not be a big hassle. If you rely on your machine to wind bobbins, though, running out means stopping your work, re-threading your machine to wind a bobbin and then setting it back up to sew. To prevent this headache, when you have a few spare moments, wind a few bobbins in your most commonly used colors. If you have a project in mind, wind a couple of bobbins in the needed colors. Keep extra bobbins on hand and wind at least one for every different thread color you have. 

Pre-winding extra bobbins makes this notice less annoying.

Clean your machine

Lint, threads and dust build up over time and can cause poor stitch quality or even damage your machine. It’s a good idea to make a habit of brushing the debris out at the end of each project, or during projects with linty fabrics.

If the inside of your machine looks like this, you should probably clean it more often.

Periodically you’ll want to vacuum out your machine to really clean it. Vacuum attachments made for cleaning computers work well for this. Some people use canned air, but that’s not recommended. It pushes some of the debris deeper into your machine.

Oil your machine

Once your machine is thoroughly clean, take a moment to oil it according to your manual. This will keep it running smoothly and reduce the need for costly repairs. If you don’t have the manual, you can usually find one online. 

After oiling, always sew a few rows on scrap fabric to soak up excess oil. That way, you won’t risk ruining a project with oil spots. 

Tidy up

The best practice is to put away tools and excess fabric as you go. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, though. Taking a moment here and there to run through your sewing area to tidy up when you aren’t working on a project can save sewing time later.

Keep a shopping list

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop work because you ran out of a necessary supply. Make note of supplies that are low or that have run out on a notepad to take on your next shopping trip.

Prewash fabric

Unless you know your final project will never be washed, you should always prewash your fabric. One way to make sure this happens is to wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store. You could also work it into your usual laundry schedule. Having a prewashing routine prevents delaying a project or worse, giving in to the temptation to make something and have your final product ruined in the wash.

Tip: Serging or zig-zag stitching the cut edges will prevent excess fraying in the wash.https://subearthancottage.com/random-sewing-tip-painless-prewash

These are the chores that, for me, are the biggest sewing time-wasters when neglected. Please share your dreaded sewing chores and tips to keep them from becoming time-wasters in the comments.

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Gluten Free Biscuits (Dairy Free, Too!)

Biscuits are one of the hardest things to make gluten free. Most of my gluten free biscuit attempts turn out flat, hard and dry. After much searching, I finally found a recipe that yielded something like the fluffy biscuits we’ve craved since eliminating gluten.

You can find the recipe at Mama Knows Gluten Free here. Audrey at Mama Knows Gluten Free suggests using Pilsbury gluten free flour. I haven’t found it nearby, so I used my preferred Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 flour. It does result in a wetter dough, so I use a little different technique for shaping the biscuits. She also gives some info on different gluten free flours and how to make ahead and freeze.

Recipe adjustments for gluten free biscuits

Single biscuit

Xanthan gum

In the original recipe, it says to only add xanthan gum if your flour doesn’t already have it. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 flour does have xanthan gum. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that for fluffier types of breads, it doesn’t seem to be enough. I want light, fluffy biscuits, so I added the full amount of xanthan gum anyway.

Dairy free

The original recipe gives instructions on how to make it dairy free, so I didn’t have to make my own adjustments. I used unsweetened almond milk and vinegar in place of the buttermilk as suggested. For the butter, I used vegetable shortening. If you have a kitchen scale, one trick to making shortening easier to measure is to use weight instead of measuring and scraping out one tablespoon of shortening at a time. One tablespoon of shortening is equal to 0.42 ounces or 11.94 grams. Multiply that number by the number of tablespoons you need to get the weight amount.

Shaping the dough

In order to limit handling the dough and overworking it, I shaped my dough on the parchment paper. Since my dough was pretty wet, I generously dusted the paper and my hands with flour. Like the original directions state, I patted and folded rather than rolled out the dough.

Instead of cutting with a biscuit cutter, I just cut straight lines with a sharp knife to form square biscuits. That way, I wouldn’t have to reshape the dough to cut more biscuits. Less handling is better. I also trimmed a tiny amount from the edges so that all the edges were cut like they would be with a biscuit cutter. This allows the biscuits to rise evenly. If you do it this way, the trick is to cut with a straight up and down motion, not a sliding motion. Sliding the knife would seal the edges and prevent them from rising.

Gluten free biscuits in a big block
Double batch of gluten free biscuits before I separated them.

Baking

Rather than move the biscuits by hand to a greased pan, I slid the whole parchment paper with the biscuits onto a baking sheet. The parchment provides a nonstick surface. If you’ve cut through the dough completely, they will bake perfectly like that. I had a little healper this morning, so I can tell that we didn’t quite cut all the way through in some areas and the biscuits stayed a little doughier in those areas. To help with that, I separated them when they were almost done and baked them for a few minutes longer.

My biscuits did take a about 25 minutes to bake, so just a bit longer than the original. I’m not sure if that is because of how close together they were or just my oven. I usually set my oven a notch lower than the suggested temperature because it bakes hotter than it says. Sometimes I overcompensate, though.

All in all, these biscuits satisfy our biscuit cravings and are good enough to serve to my non-gluten free friends and family. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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Homemade Watercolor Paints

Thaddeus loves to paint. I like letting him paint, but store bought watercolors run out quickly. The colors also get mixed to some shade of brown. A few weeks ago, he really wanted to paint, so I decided to give making our own watercolor paints a try. 

The nice thing about homemade water colors is that you can make larger amounts, and putting them in a muffin tin or ice cube try keeps the colors separate. This recipe made fifteen slightly more than half-filled mini muffin cups worth of paint. The mini muffin tin I used is similar to this one.

Homemade watercolor paintss

As for colors, you’re only limited by the food coloring available. Gel food coloring gives a more vivid result and dries quicker. Liquid food coloring works fine, too, but with a less pigmented result.

The original recipe called for corn syrup. That’s not something I regularly keep on hand, so I improvised by making a simple syrup with sugar and water. To make simple syrup, combine two parts sugar to one part water. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture thickens. Simple syrup is great for sweetening iced tea, lemonade and other cold drinks. It’s easier to fully mix in the syrup than trying to dissolve granulated sugar in cold beverages.

Homemade Watercolor paints

Homemade watercolor paintss

Homemade watercolor paints

Make these long lasting watercolors for your kiddos with common household ingredients.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Drying time 1 d

Equipment

  • muffin tin or ice cube trays to hold the finished paints

Ingredients
  

  • 8 tbsp baking soda
  • 4 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp light corn syrup or simple syrup For simple syrup, mix two parts sugar and one part water. Heat until sugar is melted and mixture is thickened.
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • food coloring in desired colors gel works better, but you can use liquid

Instructions
 

  • Combine baking soda and vinegar in a medium bowl or measuring cup. Be sure it's big enough to contain the fizzing.
  • Add cornstarch and corn syrup or simple syrup. Mix well.
  • Pour into the sections of your muffin tin or ice cube tray. I used a 24 count mini muffin tin and half filled 15 sections. The empty sections are great for holding water while painting.
  • Add food coloring a little at a time and stir until you get the desired color.
  • Allow to dry for about a day. You could also put it in the oven on the lowest setting (my oven's lowest is 150 degrees) for about 20 to 30 minutes to speed up the process, but the paints may get a little bubbly. Watch it closely if you choose to bake it dry.
  • To use, wet a paintbrush and swirl over the paints.

What fun at-home activities do your children enjoy? Share them in the comments to help others needing ideas while we’re all sheltering in place.

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Embroidery freebies

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 30. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

This post contains an Amazon Associate’s link. Purchasing through that link will give me a small commission at no cost to you.

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Simple DIY Rainbow Cupcake Crayons

rainbow cupcake crayons

I originally shared this tutorial for rainbow cupcake crayons almost ten years ago when Finn was my little preschooler and I made rainbow cupcake crayons for him using all of our broken crayons. It’s easy, and you can get little ones to help with peeling the paper off of the broken crayons, and they get fun new crayons to play with once they have cooled.

Unfortunately my photos of our project got lost, but a quick Etsy search shows lots of examples of similar multicolored crayons in fun shapes. If you like the idea but don’t have tons of broken crayons around, consider supporting one of the shops on Etsy by purchasing from them.

rainbow cupcake crayons
Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

DIY Rainbow Cupcake Crayons Tutorial

  • Line a muffin pan with foil or a double thickness of cupcake liners. (Note: The wax will likely melt through, so you probably want to use a pan that you reserve for non-food projects.)
  • Remove all the paper from your crayons.
  • Break into smaller pieces if needed. I just broke them as small as I could with my fingers. Most pieces were about an inch long or smaller.
  • Sort the pieces into the lined cups. I sorted by color, but you could also mix for super swirly crayons.
  • Fill the cups to the top but don’t overfill.
  • Melt in the oven at about 200-250 degrees F. I recommend setting a baking sheet under the muffin pan. You really don’t want to have to scrape melted crayon off your oven.
  • Check about every 10-15 minutes. I let them cook until there were just a few solid chunks in the middle. Then I gently swirled them with toothpicks to sink the chunks and blend the colors.
  • When they are sufficiently melted, turn off the oven. You can carefully remove them at this point or let them cool in the oven. I didn’t need my oven, so I let them cool in there overnight.
  • Once they’ve cooled completely you can remove the papers and color away.

Mask Update

I made a few of the fitted masks I mentioned in Wednesday’s post. Overall, I think they fit well, but they are a little tedious to make, particularly if you have lots of interruptions.

Awkward photo of me modeling a fitted mask.

I looked into it a little more and found that it seems more hospitals are asking for a more simplified mask, so I’m switching to ones made by this tutorial. With batch cutting and then sewing two or three assembly line style, I can make 3-4 in a hour, even with interruptions.

Shop update: Freebies and a sale

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 7. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

My full shop is still open, and will be as long as everyone in my household is healthy. I’m using extra care with handwashing and using hand sanitizer before coming into contact with products and packaging as well.

All of my handmade soaps are currently on sale for 20% off. You can find them here.

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