December 21, 2014

How To Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

When you do a lot of baking (or making water kefir!), you tend to go through a LOT of vanilla.  That can get expensive very quickly, and it’s easy to make your own.  Procurring the ingredients will take you the most time – setting up your vanilla takes only a minute!

What You Need
1 bottle of vodka (750ml)
10 organic vanilla beans

I had never purchased vodka before, and felt a little silly wandering around in the liquor section of the grocery store, staring at vodka bottles.  (It didn’t help that I was pregnant and obviously showing!  Maybe this lady needs an intervention… doesn’t she know that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix?)    The employee I found was more than willing to make a recommendation for me – I wanted a decent quality vodka without spending an arm and a leg.  I think I wound up paying around $7 for the bottle and settled on the McCormick blend.

Organic vanilla beans are a bit trickier to come by.  You can pick them up at a place like Whole Foods, but I found better prices through my co-op.  You can also order them online from a retailer like Olive Nation or Amazon.

Directions
Are you ready for the oh-so-complicated directions?
1. Open your bottle of vodka.
2. Slice your beans in half lengthwise, leaving an inch or so at the top.
2. Insert vanilla beans into the vodka bottle.
3. Close bottle and store in a dark place.
4. Pull it out every now and then and shake it up a little.
5. In about 6 weeks, you’ll have vanilla!

Homemade vanilla makes a great gift too!  If you start your vanilla soon, it’ll be ready to give as Christmas gifts!


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* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257
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Review: Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker

I should have made more!  After our trial run with the Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker by NUK, we love it!  My kids devoured it, almost before I grabbed a picture!

I tried to make a lot of S’s baby food from scratch, using organic ingredients, but it was a CHORE using my old blender. It took a lot of steps since I had to cook it all till it was soft enough, fill the blender, empty the blender since I’d filled it too much and it wouldn’t puree, mash all the food down while trying not to spread it all over the kitchen, fill it again, and repeat almost indefinitely.
We had none of those issues with this baby food maker!

I decided to make applesauce, since that’s expensive to buy organic in the stores, and has previously been rather a pain to make at home.  Peeling and chopping the apples was the greatest time investment on my part, but since my little girl spits out the peel (wherever she might be at the time btw), I normally peel them anyway.   I peeled and chopped 3 small organic Fuji apples, since that’s what I had on hand, deposited them into the Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker, filled the water reservoir, and hit the start button.  17 minutes later, I had soft, steamed apples!

After letting the apples cool for a couple of minutes, I opened up the container and dumped the steamed apples onto the blade below.  I then pureed them for under 10 seconds, and I had applesauce!

Easy peasy!  Clean-up was a snap too, even though I decided not to use the dishwasher.  (Ours is rather old and melts things on a regular basis, so I didn’t want to take any chances.)

Steaming Food
I love that the Freshfoods Baby Food Maker steams the food and preserves the nutrients.  I make my own baby food for several reasons:

1. I want to know exactly what’s in it!  No mystery ingredients, sugar (high fructose corn syrup <gasp!>), or preservatives

2. Organic ingredients.  I can avoid pesticides and GMO’s, plus I can make a lot more food for a fraction of the cost of buying pre-packaged food.

3. Fresh!  I want the food to be as fresh as possible.  Doesn’t get any fresher than made at home!

I never made meat baby food at home with my first two kiddos, but I’m looking forward to trying it, now that I’m armed with a good tool!  The recipe book included several simple, yummy-sounding meat meals like Salmon with Carrots & Tomato, My First Fish Puree, Chicken with Sweet Potato and Apple, and more!

Specs for the NUK Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker:

• Dual-action function steams and blends food for quick, nutritious meals in
two easy steps
• Healthy steam cooking helps preserve vitamins and minerals
• Makes up to four meals at a time with large 32 oz bowl
• Double steamer basket separates food to help preserve flavors
• Beeps and stops automatically when ready
• With two texture options–smooth or chunky–you can use it for years as it
grows with your child
• Dishwasher safe and easy to clean
• Includes bonus smoothie blade so the whole family can enjoy
• Includes free recipe book with meal ideas from world-famous child nutrition
expert, Annabel Karmel
• BPA-Free!
• Retails for $99.99, but for a limited time, a $20 coupon is available online

Special Offer!
NUK is currently offering a $20 off coupon for a Freshfoods Cook-n-Blend Baby Food Maker for Renaissance Mama readers, and a $1 coupon for any accessories!  They offer a handy freezer tray, Mash & Serve Bowl, Food Mill, Stackable Cubes, and Fill & Freeze Pops.

Follow NUK on Facebook to keep up with special offers and new releases!

I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet SM blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinions on my blog.  My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.


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Join us for a live essential oils class in Kansas City, Dallas, or Houston! Contact us to find a class near you!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257
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The Most Incredible Hot Chocolate Drink Ever Made Recipe

Last day (12/24) to enter RenMama’s $25 Amazon Christmas Giveaway!

We’re visiting family for Christmas, and my mom greeted me this morning with the MOST INCREDIBLE Hot Chocolate drink I’ve ever had.  I savored every drop, and couldn’t wait to share it with you!  This is a drop-everything and dash to the grocery store kind of recipe, even on Christmas Eve!  :)   (Please note that nowhere do I say this is healthy.  But it’s Christmas. :)  )

Without further ado, may I present:

The Most Incredible Hot Chocolate Drink Ever Made Recipe
original recipe made in the crockpot
Serves 7-8

Ingredients
2 cups heavy whipping cream
14 oz sweetened condensed milk (link to make-your-own healthy version)
pinch salt
2 c semi-seet chocolate chips
1/2 c cocoa
6 c milk
2 tsp vanilla

Instructions
Add heavy whipping cream, condensed milk, chocolate chips, salt, and cocoa in a pot on the stove on low.  Carefully melt (you don’t want to scorch it!).
When well-incorporated, add 6 c milk and bring to drinking temperature, being careful not to boil the milk.
Add vanilla.
Serve and enjoy!

Need stocking stuffer ideas?  Non-candy Stocking Stuffers!  


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* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257
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Non-Candy Stocking Stuffer Ideas

Do the brightly colored bags of candies call to you when you walk through the store, looking for stocking stuffers?  I have to admit, they call to me!  Even though I know their ingredients, and I don’t want my children eating them, years of buying (and consuming!) them don’t fade easily.  To help us all leave those bags on the shelf, I’ve compiled some suggestions for candy-free stocking stuffers!   Don’t see one of your ideas?  Add it in the comments!

Craft Supplies!   My kids LOVE to do crafts.  New crayons, watercolors, markers, glitter, glue sticks are just the start!

Slinkies can provide hours of entertainment, particularly if you have stairs around your house.  I found one for only $1 at the Target Dollar spot.

If you have a little princess in your life, new hair bows are always a hit!

For slightly older kids, Legos are ever-popular.   I found the smaller sets in the Target stocking stuffer area (next to all those aforementioned candy bags!)

Light-Up Bouncy Ball!  My kiddos are younger, and a light-up bouncy ball will keep them entertained for a while!

New underwear with characters like Angry Birds, Cars, Hello Kitty, or whomever your kid’s favorite character is!

Kid flashlights!

Magnets or stickers!  (Magnets for older ones – my little dropped a set of refrigerator magnets on my computer yesterday – ahh!)

My kids LOVE little craft projects!  I can often get a fabulous deal on little projects at Joann’s with the coupons that come in the mail.  (Sign up here if you don’t currently receive them.)

Fruit leathers are great little snacks to tuck into a stocking.

Fruit!   Apples, oranges, tangerines

My dad always stuck lottery tickets in our stockings.  I think I won $20… once?

Merissa found cute little musical instruments at the thrift store!

One of my favorite tips comes from my friend Makenzie.  She puts tickets in her kids’ stockings for things like staying up 15 minutes later, ice cream date with mom, movie with dad, etc.

Those suggestions ought to get you started!  What do you do for your kids’ stockings?


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Join us for a live essential oils class in Kansas City, Dallas, or Houston! Contact us to find a class near you!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257

Is Sucralose Hiding in Your Hot Chocolate? + Recipe!

 

Hot chocolate is one of my favorite wintry treats.  Not that it’s very wintry here in Texas – we’ve had t-shirt weather days lately!  Nonetheless, I love hot chocolate and Christmas provides the perfect opportunity for indulgence.

We’re staying with a family who has a Keurig, and I was excited about the possibilities.  Insert a cup, push a button, and a hot drink appears, ready to go!   My sweet hubby made a Walmart run for hot chocolate K-cups for his pregnant wife, (because the baby needed hot chocolate, you know <G>)  I cooked up a cup, and it tasted good overall, but I kept tasting this strange aftertaste.

“Surely not.  Surely there wouldn’t be artificial sweeteners in the hot chocolate.”

Sure enough.  A quick read of the ingredient label revealed that it was sweetened with sucralose.  So sad.  It’s not limited to the K-cups version, either.  Even the regular Swiss Miss hot chocoate- the old standby at my house – is sweetened with sucralose.

Thankfully all is not lost.  It’s super easy to mix up your own hot chocolate mix (not to mention cheaper!)  If you want to pick up a ready-made mix, the Ghiradelli store-bought version, as well as the Trader Joe’s version, is also sucralose-free.

Why Avoid Sucralose?

While toted as a ‘natural’ sweetener, there is nothing natural about sucralose (Splenda).  Cane sugar is used in the initial manufacturing process, but it’s long gone by the time sucralose is finished.  Instead, you’re left with chlorine atoms bound together with dextrose and maltodextrin.  Our bodies don’t know what to do with this chemical, and while some of it is excreted, the rest (40%, according to the Japanese Food Sanitation Council) accumulates in our kidneys, liver, and intestines.

Researchers at Duke University studying rats determined that Splenda actually contributes to obesity, destroys “good” intestinal bacteria, and can prevent prescription drugs from being absorbed.

So, let’s skip the sucralose and just enjoy a little real sugar in moderate amounts.

Favorite Hot Cocoa Recipe (slightly modified from Hershey’s)
(Six servings)

1/2 c organic cane sugar (or your choice of sweetener)
1/4c Hershey’s Cocoa
dash salt
1/3 c hot water
4 c raw milk
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Mix sugar, cocoa and salt in saucepan; stir in water.
2. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; boil and stir 2 minutes.
3. Stir in milk and heat.  Do not boil.
4. Remove from heat; add vanilla.

 


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* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257
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Back From Brazil!

Hello!

It’s been rather quiet around here for the last few months.  We spent an amazing and challenging 10 weeks in Brazil and just returned home a few days ago!   We were privileged to spend time with a couple of different Amazonian Indian tribes and hold a month of training for leaders in a smaller town.   We also had a few days off to play in a Brazilian river (that did not have anacondas, crocodiles, or piranhas), and to feed some small monkeys!

I thought you might enjoy a few pictures from our adventures!

Schoolkids from a Terena tribe

My husband (on right) with a friend & a Terena chief

D sharing with the schoolkids

A house in the Terena's where we stayed

 

Toucan!

We’re happy to be back and I’m looking forward to having time to post for you again!  Coming up: a 2 ingredient recipe for cough syrup, essential oils for winter health, “Green Friday” sales, Amazon deals for you, and a couple of new series!


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* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257

High-Yield Gardening Strategy

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Whitney Farms. All opinions are 100% mine.

Advertisement

Have you started your garden this year? I wish I could say the beautiful garden pictured above was in my backyard, but there’s no way. My poor garden is currently bare – things are crazy right now because we’re getting ready to move, so planting hasn’t been on the priority list.
BUT, I would love to have a high-yield garden like the one above. This picture is from Organic Gardening. They’re serious when they say high-yield too – they harvested nearly 1/2 a ton of produce from a 15×20 plot.
Keys to growing a high yield garden
Keys to growing a high yield garden, according to Organic Gardening, include building up your soil. You can do this by building raised beds, to give the roots plenty of room to grow. Carefully mixing your organic soil, and including organic plant food is important so your plants will have all of the nutrients they need to grow. If your plants have good nutrients, that means they will provide good nutrients for our bodies too! (Too many of our foods are grown in poor, worn out soil these days, so their nutritional quality is lacking.) I would choose only organic plant food, like from Whitney Farms®, that will help make up for any deficiencies in the soil.
Make sure to use soil and plant food with organic ingredients to keep our food free from chemicals! Conventional plant foods can carry all sorts of chemicals, while organic plant food has easily accessible, chemical-free nutrients.
Your local Ag Extension can also help you plan for the ideal soil for your area.
Maximize your space by paying attention to how your seeds are planted. If you plant in a triangle, you can get approx 10 to 14% more plants in each bed!
Planting vertically will also greatly help increase your yield. I grew green beans along our fence, and they took up much less space than if they’d just spread out throughout the bed.
Planting different plant combinations also saves space.

Consider the classic Native American combination, the “three sisters”—corn, beans, and squash. Sturdy cornstalks support the pole beans, while squash grows freely on the ground below, shading out competing weeds. This combination works because the crops are compatible. – Organic Gardening

Succession planting is a very strategic way to produce more crops in a small space. For example, plant a winter lettuce, then your first crop of corn. Then you can plant more greens or another plant, all in the same space! I like to plant the first round of a crop I really like, wait a couple of weeks, and then plant again. That yields a longer harvesting season!
109103_1.jpg (6 documents, 6 total pages)
If you’d like to try Whitney Farms organic plant food, they’re offering Renaissance Mama readers a $3 printable coupon!
Whitney-Farms-Logo_Banner_New_C.jpg (6 documents, 6 total pages)
This is a sponsored post on behalf of Whitney Farms. All opinions are mine.

Visit Sponsor's Site

Join us at Frugally Sustainable!


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* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257

Kashi Making Progress On Eliminating GMO’s

I am excited to report that Kashi is making progress on eliminating GMO’s from their products.   Seven of their products are now verified non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project:

  • Autumn Wheat
  • Cinnamon Harvest
  • Island Vanilla
  • Strawberry Fields
  • 7 Whole Grain Flakes
  • 7 Whole Grain Puffs
  • 7 Whole Grain Pilaf

Kashi has had some backlash lately for claiming to be healthy, yet including GMO’s in their foods, so this is a GREAT step!

Several of their products are also certified organic: Autumn Wheat, Cinnamon Harvest, Island Vanilla, and Strawberry Fields.

You can read more on Kashi’s website.  You can also find some nice deals on Kashi on Amazon right now!   35% off Kashi Products on Amazon!


Want to learn more or get stated using essential oils? Learn more or join today!
Join us for a live essential oils class in Kansas City, Dallas, or Houston! Contact us to find a class near you!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257

Memorizing a Deck of Cards? Super Foods That Make it Possible!

Did you catch the Dr. Oz show where the guest, Dave Farrow, memorized a deck of cards?  He’s featured in the Guiness Book of World Records for memorizing 59 DECKS of cards.  That’s mind-boggling!

He attributes his success to the food that he eats!   I’m encouraged that he eats simple foods that would be easy to incorporate into our diets.

His #1 food is Beets.  Beets have been shown to lower blood pressure and increase the flow to the brain.  Beets can be delicious to juice along with an apple and a couple of carrots.   You could also chop up beets finely, toss them with coconut oil and seasonings, and bake them in the oven.  They come out nice and delicious!  Add some sweet potatoes to the mix for extra yum and health factor!  (Eclectic Institute also offers freeze-dried Beet Juice in a capsule if you’d rather go that route.)

#2 on the memory champion’s list is Cashews.  Many people with memory problems are low in thiamine; cashew are a great source for it!

$3 is Avocados.  Eating avocados has been shown to reduce the hardening of the arteries.  Hardening of the arteries has been correlated to decreased brain function.  Avocados are a great source of Vit K, good fats, Vit E, and folate.  Dave Farrow recommended starting with 2 per week to introduce them to your diet.  He eats them daily now.  Guacomole is a favorite way to eat avocados.  Dave suggested using avocado in place of mayo in tuna or chicken salad.  Yum!

Dr. Oz also recommended Bacopa Extract.  Bacopa extract is an herbal remedy from India that has been shown to dramatically increase brain function and concentration in studies.  Have you ever tried it?   Do any of you watch much Dr. Oz?

What’s your favorite thing to eat to boost your memory?


Want to learn more or get stated using essential oils? Learn more or join today!
Join us for a live essential oils class in Kansas City, Dallas, or Houston! Contact us to find a class near you!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257

Yogurt Success! {Cultures for Health Review and Giveaway!!}

I FINALLY made yogurt!!!  Well, yogurt that I like anyway.  I’ve made plenty of yogurt, but 99% of the time, it came out runny.  Really runny.  And I like my yogurt thick.

A friend had an extra gallon of raw milk that was going to go bad before they could drink it, so I volunteered to turn it into yogurt.  This was the perfect opportunity to try out my direct-set yogurt cultures from Cultures for Health, and I am thrilled at the results!

I used the Healthy Home Economist’s method for making yogurt with raw milk.  She heats the milk to a max temperature of 115 F, just enough to help the cultures set.  Then she adds the culture, mixes it up, and places the jars in the microwave, wrapped in a towel for 24 hours.  The microwave is turned off, just in case you wondered.  I followed her directions, using Culture for Health’s cultures, and voila, thick yogurt!

I’ve tried various other methods in the past including heating it on the stove for hours on end (and checking the temperature every 5 min and then readjusting the heat on a gas stove…it was annoying!), the crockpot, and wrapping it in a towel and sticking it in an ice chest.  Using these direct-set cultures made yogurt-making a slam dunk for me.  It took only a few minutes to make, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

I also like that Cultures for Health offers both a traditional yogurt flavor and a mild flavor.  I’m not a huge fan of the plain yogurt taste, so the mild flavor was right up my alley.

Cultures for Health is so awesome that one of you will win THREE of your own direct-set yogurt cultures!!   You get to choose your own 3 varieties!   Enter the giveaway by signing up for their email newsletter!  This giveaway will close next Thursday, March 15th at 11:59pm CST, so get your entries in!

Disclosure: Cultures for Health sent me the cultures to review, but all opinions are solely mine. 


Want to learn more or get stated using essential oils? Learn more or join today!
Join us for a live essential oils class in Kansas City, Dallas, or Houston! Contact us to find a class near you!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please read our testimonial disclosure under our Disclosure tab. I am an independent distributor for Young Living. #1325257
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