Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How To Clean Grout

I think I’ve finally figured it out.
I was convinced I was going to have to hire a professional steam cleaner to come and clean the grout in my kitchen. It was grossing me out to say the least. Ugh. It wasn’t even the correct color anymore, more of a dingy brown than a light grey. It didn’t matter what I used, what new idea someone came up with, it just didn’t get it completely clean. I had read ideas about Oxyclean, Borax, bleach pens, baking soda and vinegar, you name it, I tried it. Some of them worked okay, but I still felt that it wasn’t as bright and clean as it could be and it took a ridiculous amount of elbow grease to scrub all those grout lines. So much that I didn’t always finish the task before pooping out.
It was hopeless.
Until I tried one last attempt this morning.
I was reading the blogs about how a paste of ammonia and baking soda works. The problem was I didn’t have any ammonia in the house..at least so I thought. It hit me that I had toilet bowl cleaner and toilet bowl cleaner has ammonia, so why wouldn’t it work? I took a little tiny section of grout and tried it out.
WOW.
That’s all I’ve got…wow.
I’ll let the results speak for themselves…
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That’s pretty impressive, right?
Even better that it required absolutely NO scrubbing what so ever.
You just squirt the cleaner on like so…
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..and let it sit for about 5 minutes. You can actually see the dirt bubbling up during the wait time..
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Then I took a microfiber cloth and wiped it up.
Since I have children and a dog, I was very careful about keeping them out of the room while I was doing this. I also mopped my floor 3 times after I wiped up the cleaner just to be safe. The last time, I steam mopped it with my Shark and voila..
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My beautifully clean floor. It seriously looks like the day my Hubby and I laid it.
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awesome.
I used this stuff..
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..but I am sure any toilet bowl cleaner will work.
If your grout isn’t too horribly dirty, I did find that making a paste with Bar Keepers Friend and a tiny bit of water worked pretty well too..
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Just rub the paste onto the grout and let sit about 10 minutes and then scrub a little with a microfiber cloth. It takes a little more elbow grease, but it works pretty well if the grout isn’t too stained.
I think it was well worth the bottle of toilet bowl cleaner and it saved me a lot of money in the long run.
 
Happy Wednesday.
love,
Val

Monday, January 28, 2013

Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry-White Chocolate Frosting

These are good.
Very good.
I ain’t kiddin ya.
I am in no way from the South, so I’m not exactly sure why I said that last sentence, but it seemed appropriate.
Anyhoo, I made these cupcakes over the weekend and I am having a very hard time behaving myself this week while they are in the house. Luckily they are a little lower in fat than a normal cupcake, so it’s okay that I ate five of them today.
Just kidding.
Maybe.
So here is my recipe for…
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Here are the ingredients for the cupcakes..
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Take a strawberry cake mix and toss it in a mixing bowl. Then add in 1 – 5.2 oz. container of plain Greek yogurt, 2 eggs, 1 – 10 oz. container of thawed strawberries, reserving a 1/4 Cup for the frosting and 1/2 Cup of water.
Mix until just blended together and disperse evenly into two lined cupcake pans.
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Bake at 350 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes.
In the meantime, it’s time to make the naughty part…
Strawberry-White Chocolate Frosting
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You will need 3 oz. of white chocolate, 4 oz. of softened cream cheese, 4 TBSP. of softened butter, 2 Cups of powdered sugar, and the reserved 1/4 Cup of strawberries.
In a mixing bowl whip together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Then in a microwavable safe bowl, melt the white chocolate. Set the timer for 30 seconds the first time and then 10 second intervals there after, stirring in between, until all melted. Add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until all blended together and smooth. Add in the strawberries and mix until incorporated. Then slowly add in the powdered sugar until all blended together.  It should look like this..
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It’s so yummy. After you frost the cupcakes, if you have any frosting left over, it’s a wonderful fruit dip!
Once, the cupcakes are cooled, smear the frosting on and there you have it..
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Delicious! …and not too horribly bad for you..especially if you don’t eat 5 or 6…not that I did that or anything.
One thing you’ll notice; the Greek yogurt keeps the cupcakes so moist, you won’t miss the oil at all. 
Enjoy.
Happy Monday.
love,
Val

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Get Your Book On: Post 2

 
Get Your Book On: The Fault in Our Stars & The Art of Racing in the Rain
It’s time once again to Get Your Book On! I am going to try to review a book or two every two weeks if all goes according to plan which always happens in my life (note the sarcasm).
First though, I need to take care of a few minor details. At the end of my last post, Valerie wrote a cute little biography for me. The only problem is that she said my dog Phoebe is a French Bulldog when in actuality she is a Boston Terrier. Not a big deal but I think Phoebe got wind of this and now she is acting all hoity toity, won’t clean up her own vomit, and is demanding high quality dog food, not the stuff made from horses, saw dust, and duck feet. What a diva.
Ok, now that’s out of the way, on to the business at hand. This week’s first book is titled The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I was perusing Amazon trying to find something that looked interesting and that would hopefully not be awful and a total waste of money and I stumbled upon this. It was an Editor’s Choice Pick for 2012 and the reviews looked promising.
The narrator is Hazel, a 16 year old girl with terminal cancer. It’s a comedy. Ok, it’s totally not a comedy but it is light hearted in enough places that you don’t sob all the way through it. On the surface, it’s a sweet book about two sick kids falling in love but the writing is clever, the characters quick-witted, and the author touches on some pretty weighty topics like what happens to us when we die.
The book was a quick and easy read and I did cry, but only once. If a book can make me laugh out loud or make me cry, it means I care enough about the characters to actually emit an emotion and those books usually get two thumbs up from me.
The other book I read was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The neat thing about this book is that it is written from the viewpoint of a dog. Have you ever had a dog that seemed to have an old soul? Or, felt like your dog was listening to what you were saying? If so, check yourself into the nearest mental hospital or just have another cocktail. I kid, I kid!
The book is about Enzo and the life of his owners. His human dad (Denny) is a budding race car driver and the book is peppered with racing lingo. I’m not really a fan of racing but I did find even these sections entertaining and the author gives a great metaphor about how racing in the rain (“spinning the car before the car spins itself”) is similar to life. “That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves”. Needless to say, this isn’t just a dog book.
P.S., this book also features a character with cancer. Next time I promise to pick books about unicorns and rainbows.
SarahSarah Nixon is a full time Social Worker and Mother and part time blogger (thanks to her friend). She lives in Illinois with her Son, a neurotic cat, Tess and her BOSTON TERRIER, Phoebe.










Saturday, January 26, 2013

Craft Dungeon 2

I’ve done a little more work to my craft dungeon in the last few days.
I actually was working on the wrapping station area and came up with a few neat ideas and some ideas I ripped off of Pinterest.
The first idea was this..
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Take a 97 cent curtain rod and turn it into this..
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It works out great as a wrapping paper holder and I can just roll it right out onto the work surface and cut off what I need to wrap. Perfect! Now I just need to install a couple more for the rest of my wrapping paper.
Then I did this…
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Just two peg board hooks and a dowel rod I cut to length and I now have a great place to store my ribbon. Now I have to go round up all the ribbon I have stashed all over so I can have it all in a  central location. Wish me luck.
The next idea was kind of a fluke, but it worked.
I had a plastic shower organizer that was supposed to suction to the wall of the shower. “Supposed to” is the key phrase here, and one day while cleaning the shower I had had enough of it falling off on my head. So, I violently grabbed it up and started to march it to the trash can when I was struck with an idea….
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It would make a great little plastic bin for my craft area. It’s now happily holding tape near the wrapping station and it works like a charm.
So here is the wrapping station so far…
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It’s looking more like a craft area and less like a dungeon everyday. I have another curtain rod to hang and possible another dowel rod, now that I have gathered my ribbon, but I am well on my way!
This weekend I am tackling the work surface and adding a couple more things to the wrapping area.  Wait until you see what I came up with, I think it’s going to work out great.
 
Happy Saturday.
Love,
Val

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let There Be Light

I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. I live in a really old house. It’s a beautiful home, built in the mission style with lots of built-ins, pocket doors and all the original woodwork. For all the beauty, sometimes it’s lacking in modern updates.My hall closet has always drove me a little crazy because it has one of those lights that you still have to pull down on the cord to get it to turn on. Now, I know what you’re thinking…just call an electrician and get a new light. Well, I want to but I always think that if I am going to pay an electrician for a house call, I kinda need more than just one little light to fix. ….I know, I’m weird. So, because of my weirdness, I am constantly playing “catch the swinging pull-cord in the dark closet” …it’s a game I never win. Then one day I am walking through Sam’s Club and all my problems were solved. Okay, maybe not ALL of my problems, but definitely one that was slowly driving me insane. Sam’s had a pack of 2 lights that are battery operated, LED & motion sensored. I immediately thought of that closet and how my life would soon change. So I brought them home and installed one.

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Here it is….and it is awesome!  I find I don’t even turn on the over head light anymore because it is so bright. Also, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I left the light on in the closet because I simply forgot to turn it off. Not anymore! It comes on when I open the door and turns off when I am done. I love it! I want to marry it! Hallelujah!

Then, I realized that I had one more light in the pack. I started mentally thinking about all the dark, irritating places that I could lighten up and the one that takes the cake is my kitchen cabinet that I keep all my pots and pans in. It’s a deep cabinet that is so hard to see in that I find I don’t utilize all the space it has.  So I did this…

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It rocks!! You can’t tell, but the cabinet goes back to the left quit a ways. This light was the answer to my prayers. I open the cabinet and it comes on immediately and now I can see the things way in the back, like that lid I had been looking for since 1942. I love these lights and if you need a place lit, they are awesome. Also, because they are LED, the battery life is awesome. I’ve had mine for a few months and I have yet to change the batteries.

If you want to know more about these lights click here.

Sam’s Club did not pay me to say this, they have no idea who I am, I am just a big fan of these lights man!!

Get some. Your life will change. Amen.

 

Happy Thursday.

Love,

Val

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Craft Dungeon: Phase 1

I’ve been hard at work the last couple days. Trying to turn this..
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into a craft room. This is in the basement of my 100 + year old home and the basement has more of a dungeon feel than a craft room feel right now. So, I started lovingly referring to it as my Craft Dungeon. My Hubby said that the name fits because if he was trapped down there with all the craft stuff, it would be pure torture.
Men are weak creatures.
 
When we first moved in, I was so excited about the work bench in the basement. I was immediately thinking up all the cool things my Hubby could build me down there. I soon realized that he wasn’t as excited as I was and he definitely didn’t think all my projects were cool. However, I wouldn’t be deterred from my goals and over the last few years I have started acquiring my own power tools and equipment, but I had no where to put my things because my Hubby had laid claim to the work bench and it was working hard holding up the stacks of stuff that he had taken down there and set on it. You couldn’t even find a place to do work if you wanted to.
The wheels began turning and I knew I had to take over that work bench. So, earlier this week I marched down there with my Hubby reluctantly following and started cleaning it off and reorganizing. I am about to finish phase 1 of my take over which consists of building a craft table, painting the peg board and bench and a couple other things. Here is what I’ve got done so far…
Craft Table
I saw an idea similar to this on Pinterest and it got me thinking how I could do the same thing.
I think this table cost me under $40 and here’s how I did it..
Materials:
2 white bookcases ($16 at Wal-Mart)
1 plywood board (I already had this, I just cut it down to size..5’x 3’)
1 roll of black damask wrapping paper ( I already had this too)
Mod Podge (32 OZ.)
paint roller (small one, for the mod podge)
4 screws
electric drill/screwdriver
 
Assemble the bookcases by following the directions. Then, place the plywood board on top, centering the board over the bookcases..
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Then, use the drill and screw down the board to the bookcases..
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I used 4 screws for this. I didn’t want any more incase some day I want to change the board.
Next I “painted” the board with Mod Podge and then carefully started to lay the wrapping paper over it, making sure to have enough over hang on the sides to cover the whole board..
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I then “wrapped” the edges and cut off any access. Then I applied more Mod Podge over the top of the paper, rolling it over the whole thing. Once it dried, I did another coat of Mod Podge..
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Ta Da…My craft table.  Notice I took the backs off of the bookcases. I decided I like it that way better so I don’t have to walk around if I need something from the ends.
One thing I love about it..it’s tall enough for me to stand or sit.
After I had been painting the work bench all day, I decided I needed to do something crafty. My Hubby had a bunch of old boards he was going to throw away and I saved them. He gave me a weird look, but I explained that I may need them for something..sure enough I did. 
I took an old board..
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and painted it. I have a bunch of paint samples on hand because I have been trying to decided on a new color for my dining room, so I used one of them..
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This is a color that I had already eliminated and I didn’t want it to go to waste.
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Then, I used my handy dandy Cricut cutter and did this..
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and now it is hanging on the brand new painted peg board..
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Yay! I love it and can’t wait to show you the whole finished project soon!! I’ve got a lot more to do, but it’s so fun making something ugly into something pretty and functional.
I’ll give you one more little peak..
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Hehehe..the drill is mine, the electrical socket turned out great, but I can’t wait for my Hubby to see his hammer!!
I think it’s safe to say that he’ll be thrilled.
Happy Wednesday.
love,
Val

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ludwig Farmstead Creamery

I wasn’t sure where to start this post to be quite honest. I’ve started it several times in my head over the last few days and every time I do, it’s different. So, I’ve decided to start it from the heart….
A lot of people want to say we don’t have anything in East Central Illinois. I guess they are right in a way, we have a lot of corn and bean fields and not much else. Things don’t change around here too often and I have friends that come back home after being away and say that it’s almost depressing. I don’t agree. There is a beauty in the fields and flat land here, a peacefulness if you will, and there are some extraordinary things here if you take the time to look. Ludwig Farmstead Creamery is one of them. Last Wednesday I got the chance to visit the creamery and I am ever so glad I did. So, to those that think we don’t have anything around this rural piece of the Midwest, prepare to be impressed.

Ludwig Farmstead Creamery is located in Fithian, IL, a town so small that if you blink, you may miss it. It sits on Feathercreek Farm, a 150-acre, fifth-generation family farm originally settled in 1866 where the Ludwig family raises Holstein dairy cattle. The creamery was founded in 2009 by Jake Ludwig, a University of Illinois graduate with a love for cheese making. Jake studied for a year in Pennsylvania learning the art of cheese making and developing his own recipes before bringing his new found knowledge back to the family farm and began planning the creamery. Unfortunately, before his vision could be fully realized, Jake tragically lost his life.
Wanting to fulfill Jake’s dream, in 2010 the Ludwig family hired this guy…
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His name is Fons Smits and he has been in the dairy industry for 19 years. His credentials will astound you. I’m taking his bio directly from their website because I know I will not get anything wrong that way, so in their own words..

Born and raised in the pastoral dairy region of Holland, Fons Smits studied food technology for seven years at the Van Hal Institute in Bolsward, Netherlands, specializing in dairy technology, and holds engineering degrees in food science, biotechnology, and water purification. He further honed his skills as an international dairy consultant, traveling the world to establish and improve small scale dairies in developing countries including Tanzania, Mongolia, Uganda, China, Ukraine, Brazil, and Malawi. Because of these experiences, Mr. Smits' approach to developing cheeses and other dairy products brings a uniquely broad creativity blended with efficient simplicity.
He has won extensive awards and kudos for his aged and fresh cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams. He uses only pure, simple ingredients, eschewing artificial flavors, colors, stabilizers, and additives. His products are imbued with traditional, European characteristics which have been very well received. In 2004 he created a pourable, European-style yogurt, sold in bottles, which was later imitated by leading dairies, large and small. Smits is drawn to the physically demanding, meticulous art of hands-on cheese making, and the science and alchemy of the process. His passion is evident in the products he creates.


 You probably never thought that little Fithian, Illinois could have a Creamery, let alone someone so accomplished at the helm, huh?  Fons’ passion was definitely evident from the moment I shook his hand. He began telling me about his 1 1/2 year experience of developing recipes and then testing and tweaking those recipes to produce the raw milk cheeses that the creamery makes today. Cheese making is a perfect clash of science and art and I had no idea how intricate the craft of making cheese truly is. Everything effects the final product. Things like a slight variation in the amount of salt to what time of the year the milk is taken from the cows can totally change the outcome of the cheese. The aging process of the cheese can drastically change everything about it and the environment has to be kept at certain specifications to produce a consistent product. Things like humidity and temperature are kept tightly controlled. One thing I found intriguing was when he told me that you may taste a cheese at 3 months and really like it, then go back and taste it at 4 months and think it’s terrible, then go back yet again and taste it at 5 months and have a wonderful product. Fons said that you never throw out anything in cheese making because tomorrow it could be totally different. The process that he went through was just amazing to me, and I think I am glad I am not a cheese maker because I am pretty sure I would be bald. I would have pulled my hair out a long time ago.
 Just like anything else, the science behind the craft means nothing if you don’t have a love for what you do and there is certainly a lot of love for making a great product at Ludwig’s. Soon after I arrived Fons pulled out a tray of cheeses for me to try.. DSC_0002 copy ..cheeses that he developed himself and as I tasted each one he gave me a background of how they came to be.  One of the things I really love about Ludwig Farmstead Creamery’s cheeses are the names. If you’re from around East Central Illinois, you know what all the names mean as most named after local rivers or places.  I could tell you my personal experience of tasting each cheese, but I think I’ll just say that there wasn’t one I didn’t think was delicious, with my favorite being Feather Ridge. If you would like to read all about each of the flavors of cheeses click here. A cheese that is not pictured here but I got to taste was Vermilion River Blue. If you think you do not like blue cheese then you really need to try Vermilion River Blue. I was so impressed with the taste of this cheese because I was expecting that blue cheese bite of bitterness. What I got was a slightly smoky, slightly sweet blue cheese with not a wink of bitterness. It completely changed what I thought blue cheese should taste like and I strongly urge everyone to try it, it’s a game changer. 
I also got a little bit of special treatment during my visit because I got to try a brand new cheese, that Fons made himself, that isn’t even out on the market yet. I don’t believe it has a name yet, but it’s called a Friesian Cheese and is traditionally made in the region of Holland where Fons grew up. It has a creamy texture with spices like clove and cumin in it and it is absolutely delicious. I told Fons that it tasted like Christmas, I can imagine it on a cheese plate out during the holidays and I cannot wait until I am able to buy this cheese! Holidays or not, this cheese will definitely become a favorite of mine any time of the year.
During my tour of the creamery, we made our way into the room where the magic happens..
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The first thing you’ll notice is how unbelievably clean everything is. Fons takes sanitation very seriously and you can definitely tell. I could almost see my reflection in every surface. …and with a hair net on, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
I met Paulo..
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Paulo is an intern from Brazil and Paulo doesn’t really like our winter temperatures…I asked him. Evidently he’s willing to brave the cold to learn some of Fons’ vast amount of knowledge. Smart guy.
He’s also very sweet because he put up with me and my camera leaning over his shoulder most of the morning. Paulo was making Jake’s Wheel Mustard that morning, which I already knew was delicious, and I got to watch most of the process.
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Here is the fresh milk being heated and stirred.
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These are the three ingredients that will soon go into the cheese. From L to R: Ground Mustard, Salt and Rennet (the enzyme that causes the curds to separate from the whey). There is not one thing on that table that you can’t pronounce or know what it is..I love it.
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Here is Paulo adding the rennet and it doesn’t take very long before the milk looks like this…
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Now Paulo cuts the curds..
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Paulo made this look easy when it’s really anything but.
Now he continues to agitate the curds to break them up smaller..
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You can really see the curds now…
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Next, about half the whey is drained off and water is added. The curds sit in the water mixture for a predetermined amount of time before the flavors are added, in this case mustard and salt, and then they are pressed into the cheese molds. Once the cheese has been pressed it will go into the next room to rest or brine..
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Once it had rested it has to be aged, so off it goes to the aging room..
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Here is Fons talking to me about the Vermilion Blue. He actually took a sample straight out of one of those wheels you see and let me taste it. 
Heaven.
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This is also where I tasted the Friesian Cheese. I kinda wanted to hide a wheel of it in my coat, but I think he may have noticed my sudden weight gain.
Next, we went outside about 25 yards or so and saw exactly where the milk comes from that makes all that delicious cheese…
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What a beautiful girl.
One of the things that makes Ludwig Farmstead Creamery so special is that they are Humane Certified. That means that they have met rigorous standards from the Humane Farm Animal Care Program. The standards include a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones and the animals are raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. If you would like to know more about what it means to be Humane Certified, click here. Needless to say, they take wonderful care of their animals and it shows. As Fons pointed out to me, it was super quiet in the barn. You could here the birds tweeting and the huffs and puffs of the cows and that’s it. It’s known that happy cows are quiet, no mooing, and as we’ve all heard…happy cows make wonderful cheese.
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After seeing these gorgeous creatures, I told my Hubby I wanted a cow.
I won’t tell you what he said because it’s not appropriate blog material, but I will say I won’t be getting a cow anytime soon.
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Here is where these pretty girls give their milk..
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..and here is where it all goes..

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From this tank it is piped straight to into the creamery where it is …you guessed it…made into cheese. There is something very refreshing about seeing exactly where the product comes from, start to finish. It’s amazing.
Now you know why I saw all of these on the walls..
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If there is one thing I hoped to accomplish, is to show you this extraordinary place and the people who run it. It started out as a dream of Jake Ludwig’s and has turned into quite the legacy of his life’s work  due to Fons Smits and his amazing talents and hard work. The delicious products they make are a testament to the love behind them, and you can definitely taste the love.
I want to extend my sincerest thanks to Fons Smits for taking his time and answering all my questions…sometimes two or three times…he had admirable patience with me. Also, a thank you to Ludwig Farmstead Creamery for allowing me to visit.
If you live in the East Central Illinois area, I urge you to visit the farm and see for yourself what an amazing place it is. If you don’t live near East Central Illinois and would still like to purchase some of the wonderful cheese that the creamery as to offer, or just want more info, please visit their website.  http://www.ludwigfarmsteadcreamery.com/ There is information on purchasing online and where their cheeses are sold. If you live near St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Chicago, you’re in luck because there are several places that carry their products.. http://www.ludwigfarmsteadcreamery.com/new-where-to-find-our-products/
Now you know, we aren’t just corn and beans in East Central Illinois.
Happy Monday,
Love,
Val