Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DIY Dish Washer Detergent Recipes

I recently ran out of dishwasher detergent. Sit there and re-read that and imagine a well oiled machine (family) that comes to a grinding halt when the dishwasher gets back-loaded. As the saying goes, an army marches on it's stomach.

We found ourselves in this very situation and being the person I am, I couldn't take that as a final answer. I could run the machine without detergent and hope for the best, or I could do a little research and see what might work while not destroying our almost brand new dish-washing machine. Okay, we might have done the dishes by hand a few times, but with two very needy small ones the chances of an adult being able to stand in front of the sink for 30 minutes at a time was pretty slim while they're awake, so it didn't happen often!

We're a rural home, with well water that is run through a softener prior to being delivered to taps and appliances. I should get a kit to confirm the hardness at the tap and when I do, I'll update this section of the review.

I allowed the oatmeal caked dishes to dry on the counter for 60 minutes before loading them into a half-full dishwasher and running the normal cycle, using a Whirlpool Gold Series dishwasher on the normal cycle with no other settings enabled. 1 tablespoon of the DIY recipe was used in the dispensing compartment. I used Seventh Generation rinse aid in the rinse compartment.

Recipe #1: Borax, Baking Soda, Citric Acid

A lot of people swear by this recipe, but honestly I find that it leaves some residue on the dishes. I think the Borax either isn't dissolving completely or is causing the build up. I don't think I'll use the recipe frequently and I'll probably have to run a cleaning cycle between this test and the next recipe.

I ran this a second time with a full load of dirty dishes and I had to run about 15% of the pieces a second time because they weren't properly cleaned. Additionally, the dishes came out smelling 'burnt' for lack of a better descriptor, so in this second run I used some *Lemon essential oil, which helped.

*We prefer this particular brand because of their green footprint, fair trade and sustainable growing practices, and that all of their oils are guaranteed organic. We've looked at a lot of companies in the past 3 years and we feel this one is the safest, most ethical, has the best money back guarantee and has the best customer service. We would also be honored if you were to enroll for a wholesale membership on our team!

Recipe #2: Borax, Washing Soda, Citric Acid, Salt

Hands down, the winner! This came out smelling much better than recipe #1 above and did a far superior job of removing stuck on oatmeal! Proof is in the pictures! Cost, about 5 cents per load.. compare that to Cascade Platinum at $9 for 20 loads!

*We prefer this particular brand because of their green footprint, fair trade and sustainable growing practices, and that all of their oils are guaranteed organic. We've looked at a lot of companies in the past 3 years and we feel this one is the safest, most ethical, has the best money back guarantee and has the best customer service. We would also be honored if you were to enroll for a wholesale membership on our team!

Recipe #3: 3 Drops Dish detergent, Baking Soda, Salt

This one left residue on the dishes and just didn't get them scrubbed as clean as the previous two recipes. Not recommended!


Recipe #2 not only smelled great, but was easy to mix, stays in powder form a long time (others tended to clump in humid weather, even in a sealed tupperware container) and did a fantastic job of cleaning the dishes.

I'd definitely recommend using a commercial rinse aid, I know a lot of people who swear by vinegar, but when you put something that strongly acidic into your machine, you risk causing damage to seals and might end up seeing problems with leakage much earlier than you normally would. I run a vinegar wash ONLY when I need to clean it and I never put it in the cup dispenser or rinse aid compartment. I throw it directly in and run the machine immediately.

Cheers, and enjoy the cost savings and knowing that there is nothing better than homemade!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Smoking Shoulder Bacon

Thinking about smoking some bacon? Put down that cut of pig belly and follow these directions for a perfect piece of smoked pork that will have your guests begging for more!

What you'll need:

Back before home smoking became popular, one could find pork belly in your local (or perhaps not so local) asian food markets for under two dollars per pound. That just simply isn't the case anymore, with most stores selling slabs of the pristinely marbled meat for no less that $4/lb and higher if you're in a bigger city. Fortunately, you can still make excellent bacon for a lot less, using a quality cut that, very fortunately, most people avoid due to it's long cooking time. Of course, I'm talking about the pork shoulder roast.

A lot of the time, you can get a shoulder roast for somewhere in the order of $1.29 - $1.49 per pound. Factor in a 10 to 15% loss when you remove the shoulder blade and this still works out to much less than $2/lb for your own homemade bacon!

The first step of the process, once you've acquired a shoulder or two, is to de-bone the roast using a sharp knife. Start at the ends of the roast and slice inward as if to cut the piece into two thick slabs. Feel for the bone and slice up and along it and then around as best you can to remove it while leaving the bulk of the meat intact. This might take a little practice, due to the bone being somewhat T shaped.

The second step of the process is figuring out how salty you'd like your bacon. Most of the time, I recommend brine that is 60 degrees of salinity. You can achieve this by looking at the following chart or by adding 1.567 lbs of pickling salt (it's important to not use iodized salt) to one gallon of warm water. This won't produce a fully saturated solution by quite a long shot (actually about 15.8% while fully saturated is about 26.4%) but if the water temperature is really cold, it may take a long time to stir into solution.

Salometer Degrees Percent of Sodium Chloride (Salt) by Weight Pounds of Salt per Gallon of Water Pounds of Salt per Gallon of Brine Pounds of Water per Gallon of Brine

For other products, you can find a quick reference chart right here:

Brine Strength Product
0 - 20, too weak
20 chicken
30 poultry, fish
40 chicken
50 spareribs
60 bacon, loins
60 - 80 hams, shoulders
80 fish
80 -100, seldom used

Once you've dissolved the salt into solution, you have a basic brine. Adding other things like brown sugar or spices like black pepper are optional - experiment, have fun! Start with small quantities and work upward - I would never recommend using more brown sugar than you use salt, stick to a few ounces and figure out what sweetness you like. I prefer that the sweetness somewhat offset the saltiness of the final product, not be the major player on the taste profile.

You may also want to use a curing salt to prevent bacterial growth. You can find a pretty good list of them here: Pink Curing Salts

Use a ratio of 5oz / gallon of water to maintain approximately 200 ppm nitrite.

Find a spot that is somewhere around 38F to 44F - a refrigerator is great but if you don't have the room, the workshop during cold months or a root cellar might also do. Use either food safe (#2 HDPE) plastic buckets or one gallon zip lock bags and make sure your piece is completely covered with brine.

On average, it takes about 11 per inch of thickness to cure most cuts, however, you'll want to brine your shoulder slabs approximately 1.5 - 2 days per pound. Experiment a little!

When your cut is cured, take it out and soak it in clean water for at least two hours, changing the water every 30 minutes. This will more evenly distribute the salt from the brine throughout the cut. Dry off the piece with paper towel and get your smoker or BBQ lit.

What I typically do is pile the lump charcoal into a pyramid and use charcoal lighter fluid to get it ignited. Once you have a good pile of coals, push them into a corner and spread them out a little, but you don't want coverage across the bottom of the BBQ like you would if you were cooking. You just need a spot to throw the wood chips and you want to keep a lot of the heat away from your pieces to prevent overcooking. 

After you've soaked your wood chips "a little", make sure most of the water is off of them and pile them high on the hot charcoal. Again, don't use easy light because it contains parafins and other fuels that might lend off flavors to your bacon.

Put the bacon in with the wood chips and coals and close it up as best you can to prevent the chips from igniting into flame, but not enough that they go out completely. Let your piece smoke 3-4 hours and if you have a digital temperature probe, check to see what the internal temperature is. It takes 30 minutes of 147F to kill parasites, and a little higher for some of the nastier bacterium. I would still advocate slicing and frying the piece to be sure.

When you're done, you will have something that looks like this!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Family Cow

Our family cow is simply awesome.

We bought Aspen, a registered Jersey heifer, in June of 2012. Although the going advice is to look for an established and proven cow, we were extremely lucky to find a 4H heifer that was very well handled and really, an ideal family cow for our family with young children. Additionally, she was less than half what a proven cow would cost us, so we took the gamble that things would turn out alright.

And, indeed they did! In June of 2013, precisely 279 days after artificial insemination, Aspen gave birth to a little heifer calf we named Chloe! We were fortunate enough to observe the birth from about fifty feet away - you don't want to be too close to the action because it will induce stress into the cow which could slow and complicate her labor, and things went perfectly.

We did have a short bout of panic when Chloe didn't immediately nurse, but once we briefly intervened, she got the hang of things and did her own nursing.. on the sly to make it seem like she wasn't so we stressed a little over that, but she was energetic and urinating so in the end, we came to the conclusion that no more human interference was needed.

Owning a family cow is extremely satisfying. For one, you get to build a relationship with an animal that really wants to be your best friend. They are far more laid back and food driven than most horses I've even known, and possibly the most dog like, enthusiastic, curious and playful of creatures.

We have approximately an acre of grass set aside for her and her calf, but we still have to buy grass hay and some alfalfa for them to eat during the winter months. Three things I learned the hard way:
  1. Cows are incredibly strong; if you build something, build it three times as strong as you think it needs to be and it might last a year.
  2. Cows are incredibly cold hardy; we thought we'd need a barn, but this cow seems to prefer a simple lean-to or the shelter of the pine trees in her pasture when it gets windy. Cold doesn't seem to phase her, down to about -10F. You don't need to panic and lock them in when it's cold, as long as it isn't windchill and rain.
  3. Hand milking is brutal in a first year cow, or at least, in Aspen. Undersized teats and copious milk production are perfect ingredients for repetitive strain injury of the hands and wrists! I built a milking machine within 8 weeks, which I'll write about on it's own, in another post.
Milking your cow is a pretty simple process but you need a list of things ahead of time:
  • Some small 2 gallon food safe buckets with lids if you're to be hand milking
  • Iodine based teat dip & teat dipping cup (this can be a pint mason jar)
  • Iodine based teat wash and a bucket with 4 rags (one per teat)
  • Some litmus paper or mastitis detection strips/cards
  • A bucket or belly milker if you're going the automated way
  • A surcingle (strap to hold the belly milker if you go that way - it's worth it)
  • Dairy soap or other sanitizer for your milking equipment
  • A roll of paper towels (a week)
  • Glass jars to hold the milk and a refrigerator that can hold the milk just above freezing (ideally).
  • A filter (gold coffee filters make excellent reusable ones), funnel and a pouring decanter


Before you get too excited and run out to the pasture with milk bucket in hand, there are a couple of things you're going to need to consider. The first, what do you plan to do with all of that milk? Our cow Aspen produced over 4 gallons a day during prime summer conditions and is still producing around 2.5 gallons per day as of this writing. Are you going to make cheese with it, or feed it to pigs you're growing? Do you plan to pasteurize the milk yourself, or will you drink it fresh (some people still call this raw milk, which seems a bit silly to me because you don't distinguish between most other fresh and cooked foods - but I digress)?

If you're planning to put all of the milk into growing the calf or feeding your pigs, you probably don't need to invest a lot of mental energy into considerations like milk handling or what you feed your cow. If, however, you want to enjoy the absolutely best tasting milk on the planet, that is packed with nutrients and healthy fats, read on.

Milk got a bad rap prior to the advent of pasteurization because farmers didn't understand pathogenesis (in simplest terms, the development of disease). They were trying to produce as much milk as they could, as quickly and with the least amount of effort, and when you combine those two things you don't often get a product that is very good. My grandfather had a saying and I'll stick by it; good, fast, cheap. Pick two and whichever you didn't pick, you won't get.

In today's dairy, we have modern approaches to pathogen containment that start with what goes into the cow's mouth. A cow's rumen works by using micro-organisms to break down cellulose (grass), synthesis amino-acids (protein building blocks) and producing b-complex vitamins. The micro-organisms who live here are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Many of the enzymes needed to break down foods work in a very narrow spectrum of temperature and acidity or alkalinity. 

Normally, a purely grass fed cow's rumen is very close to neutral to very slightly acidity (ph 6.5 - 7.0). It usually only becomes acidic if the cow eats a lot of something that doesn't agree with it. In this environment, most pathogenic bacteria are out-competed by the good gut flora that is in the rumen.

In cows that are fed grain, the rumen becomes progressively more acidic as the quantity of grain increases. Feeding a little during the coldest winter months probably won't hurt your animal, but if you raise your family cow the way a dairy would, you put a lot of grain into it in order to increase the protein intake and ultimately, the amount of milk that is being produced. This has a side effect of killing most of the good bacteria and micro-organisms in the cow's rumen, and allows pathogenic bacteria - such as the infamous e.coli 157:H7 - and you have the possibility of infecting your milk with something you don't want to drink.

Next post will be on the milking machine that we built and the milking ideology we follow.


Goodbye to a Friend

It's a typical winter day here in NY State; single digit cold with clear blue skies and enough sunshine that it would make you think that winter was on the way out and spring was around the corner and that things might be heading in the direction of cheerful.

Unfortunately, our friendliest rooster, Inigo, was found in such a bad state that we had to euthanize him today. The worst part about it was that a few days ago, he seemed a little off so we brought him in the house and fed him - he acted like a normal chicken - so we chalked it up to being a little paranoid and put him back out with the other birds. Obviously, that was a big mistake and we should have listened to our intuition.

It's exceptionally hard with chickens, because they are such friendly birds, to see one go downhill that quickly and have to take care of sending him on his way, yourself. It's the one last gift we can give them, but still very hard nonetheless.

Good bye, Inigo Montoya.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Peck of Pickles! - Fresh-Pack Style

There is nothing like a fast-coming fall to keep one busy on a farm!!!

I know this pickle series was supposed to be back-to-back, but time can sure get away from you when there's lots to be done! There are many updates to come so hang in there! Alot has happened in the last couple months and I'll update as soon as I can. We had our first frost the other night and had a swirl of activity to prepare for it!

So, onward with the pickles! I actually made these over a month ago but am not just getting the time to sit down and update the blog!

This is part two of the pickles series. See Peck of Pickles! - Fermented Style for the other half :)

Fresh pack pickles vary in character from the fermented pickles in various ways. The fermented pickles are best for those that like a sour pickle: garlic and dill type flavors. You can also do those in fresh pack, but they are healthier as fermented due to all the wonderful flora from the fermenting process. Fresh pack are a must for a sweet pickle: bread and butter, sweet midgets, etc. You can't achieve those flavors with a fermented process - as far as I know anyway! Please comment if you've done it as I'd like to try that!
Also, a major difference is that fresh pack can sit room temperature in a pantry and not take up fridge space whereas fermented have to stay in the fridge until consumed. So if fridge space is a concern, fresh-pack may be better for you.

So, here are the steps for a Bread and Butter flavor fresh pack style pickle recipe:

1. Fill water canner pot about 3/4 full of water and set to the highest setting. Put in your jars and lids (but not rims while it's still cool. Do not boil them as it can ruin the seals on the lids. Just simmer. Basically you turn on the stove with the pot of water, add jars/lids, and set off to do the other steps while keeping an eye on the pot to make sure the water doesn't boil. A magnetic canning wand is best to get those lids out!

2. Mix your ingredients into a medium saucepan. You can find a nice recipe in a book or online, but being it was the first time we made this style pickle we used a package of spices. Add vinegar and sugar and good to go! Easy!

2.b. For CRUNCHY pickles (yes, this is THE trick) use Ball's Pickle Crisp product or one of their mixes with it in it. I've tried every other trick and this is the only one that works so far!
3. Heat mixture to boiling. Stirring often. mmm...smells good already!

4. When the jars are ready (have been simmer for a little while), pack fresh spears (or slices) into them.

5. When mixture reaches boiling pour it over the cucumbers in the jar. Fill it about 3/4 of the way and then tightly squuueeezzzeee in more spears/slices until it is packed to the max! Then top off the liquid to cover all the cucumbers and leave a tiny bit of headspace before the lid. 
6. Pop on the lid and hand-tighten the rim piece. Place jars on the metal rack for the canner and lower in. Process for the amount of time specified by your recipe (account for elevation if you live in an area requiring it). 

Yummy pickles!!!