Mission Organization: Week 39 - Stubborn Laundry Stains

No, I'm not a research scientist, but I sure have tested a lot of laundry stain removers throughout the years. At my house my family has always seen it as their mission to supply the stains, and I see it as my mission to remove them. Recently I even had the opportunity to remove some tough stains from my grandson's school uniform pants.

It seems that my grandson only grew a smidgen taller between third and fourth grades, and his khaki uniform pants from last year would still fit him for this school year with a little hem adjustment. There was no reason to buy another stack of uniform pants that looked exactly like these. The only problem was, on closer inspection, every pair had ground in dirt and grass stains on the knees from the school playground. The hems could be easily taken care of, but would those nasty old stains ever come out?

I decided to pull out the big guns of laundry stain removal. According to Modern Day Moms, a great laundry pre-treatment for stains is 1 part original blue Dawn dishwashing soap mixed with 2 parts hydrogen peroxide. I wasn't sure this would work on stains as old and ground in as these, but I gave it a try.

The stains were large and unsightly on the light colored khakis.

The darker colored pants were harder to photograph, but they have stains on both knees as well. These two pairs are just examples of what the entire stack looked like.

No more stains! The treatment worked, and all the stubborn playground grime came out. These pants are ready for a new school year. This mixture resulted in $$ saved on school clothing.

I sprayed the stains with the mixture and let it soak in really well before washing as usual, and repeated the process several more times. I'm very happy with the results I got from this homemade stain remover, and I'll be keeping a bottle of this mixture on the washer so I can keep on fulfilling my stain removal mission in life.

The opinions stated in this post are my own. I have no relationship with the manufacturers of the products mentioned in this post, and I have received no compensation from them.

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Homemade Garlic Croutons

Last week I baked bread twice, so I had more bread than I needed. I decided to use up some of the extra bread to make homemade croutons. Any kind of bread that you like can be used to make croutons. The one that I used this time was the Healthy Whole Wheat Bread. If you have made croutons before, then you already know how easy they are and how little time they take to make, and there is just something special about having them homemade too!

Homemade Garlic Croutons

8 cups bread cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Prepare a large sheet pan by lining with aluminum foil. Trim the crusts off bread slices and cut into cubes to make about 8 cups. In a small dish, combine olive oil, garlic salt, and parsley flakes; mix together. Drizzle olive oil mixture over the bread cubes and and toss together until evenly coated. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then stir to turn cubes over. Return to oven for an additional 15 - 20 minutes, or until croutons are crispy and browned.

Trim crusts off the bread and cut into cubes.

Drizzle the bread cubes with a mixture of olive oil, garlic salt, and parsley flakes.

Bake until crispy and browned, about 30 - 35 minutes. I love these to top a salad, but I also find myself snacking on them too. If there are any leftovers they can be stored in a zip lock bag.


A Book That Made Me Laugh

Not long ago I won a book in a giveaway over on the blog Evolved Mommy. I was delighted when Stephanie contacted me to let me know that I would be receiving an autographed copy of Blacklisted from the PTA by Lela Davidson. I was tickled the day the book arrived in my mailbox, but not half as tickled as I was when I opened the book and started reading.

Lela Davidson is a young mother who has her own opinions about child-rearing, motherhood, and life in general. She writes about what she knows best, the quest to raise a family in her unique way in the midst of our conformity culture.

My children are all raised and out of the house now, so I can't relate to all of the problems that mothers of this generation face today, but as a grandmother, I have observed that raising children has become even more complicated in today's world. One current problem that Lela tackles in her humorous book is the exorbitant birthday parties that seem to be the norm for youngsters these days.

My daughters tell me that when they were young they remember that I would read Erma Bombeck's books and laugh out loud. I have to admit that I did a little laughing out loud while reading Lela Davidson's book as well.

If you are a young mother and are losing your sense of humor about what's going on in your world of sibling rivalry, pets, camping, kids' sports, and even how to keep the romance alive in your marriage, pick up a copy of Blacklisted from the PTA and have yourself a good laugh.

The opinions stated in this post are my own. I was given a copy of Blacklisted from the PTA as a blog prize.


Mission Organization: Week 38 - Tips for Bringing Houseplants Inside for the Winter

Those unbearably hot days of summer are finally giving way to mild daytime temperatures and cool nights here in Northeastern Arkansas. It's time to change from shorts to jeans, to slip on a jacket, and to bring the houseplants inside before the first frost.

If your houseplants have been vacationing outside like mine, it's time to think about rounding them up and getting them in the house. Here are some tips I like for getting my houseplants back indoors:

  • Most houseplants need to come inside before night time temperatures reach 50 degrees F. 
  • Check the plants for insects before you bring them inside. Wash the leaves and/or treat the plant leaves on the top and underside with insecticide to be sure you don't bring unwanted guests like spiders or aphids into the house. I found a praying mantis on one of mine. Where was he last week when my grandson needed him for his insect collection?
  • Repot the plants in clean pots with new potting soil to avoid bringing pests inside that have burrowed into the soil.
  • Avoid over watering after bringing the plants inside. Plants that you watered every day while outside will not need as much water inside the house. Wait until the soil surface is dry to the touch before watering.

Many people like to repot plants in the springtime, but I find that fall is also a good time to repot if houseplants have been outside for the summer. A clean pot and new potting soil will keep pests out of the house when you bring them back inside for the winter.

Placing a couple of coffee filters over the drain hole in the clean pot before you fill it with potting soil will help to keep the soil from draining down into the tray when you water.

One houseplant that I have nurtured for a little more than a year now is my Meyer lemon tree. When I first bought this plant in June of 2011, it was not much more than a twig. It has grown new branches and lots of leaves this summer.

Another plant that I brought inside for the winter is my Sago palm. Even though I technically live in the South, I'm too far north for this plant to survive our freezing winter temperatures. This plant got huge this summer!

I also brought my creeping Rosemary inside out of the cold. I'm not sure how this plant will do indoors, but I wanted to try to keep it green and growing inside this winter.

Some gardeners recommend a gradual transition from outdoors to indoors by bringing the plants in just during the night for a couple of weeks and then taking them back outside to enjoy the sunshine during the day. Fortunately, the sunny windows in my kitchen will help my plants transition well to being indoors again, so I repotted and made the move inside all in one day.


Healthy Whole Wheat Bread

If you're a fan of whole wheat bread, you'll love these delicious loaves that have cracked wheat, flax, and sunflower seeds added for an amazing flavor and nutrition combination. I have adjusted the recipe to make only half as much bread as the original recipe found at Allrecipes, and I have also slightly adapted the recipe.

Print Recipe

Healthy Whole Wheat Bread

1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water (approximately 115 degrees F)

1 3/4 cups warm water (approximately 115 degrees F)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons flax seed
2 tablespoons cracked wheat
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons Chia seed gel, optional
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups bread flour

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand until mixture bubbles and is creamy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 3/4 cups warm water, honey, oil, egg, and lemon juice; mix well using paddle attachment. Stir in the yeast mixture. Gradually add 2 1/2 cups of the whole wheat flour, beating well to blend in after each addition. Stir in the flax, cracked wheat, sunflower seeds, and Chia seed gel, if using. Let mixture stand for 20 minutes.
Using the dough hook, blend in the remaining 1 cup whole wheat flour, salt and the bread flour, mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, then place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough so that the top is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch down and shape into two round balls. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Form into loaves and place into two oiled 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Bake in preheated 375 degree F oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Brush tops of baked loaves with melted butter.

This bread is made from both whole wheat flour and bread flour along with flax, sunflower seeds, and cracked wheat. I was not able to find the cracked wheat in my local stores, so I used the whole grain wheat and gave it a few spins in the food processor.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl to rise for about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down, and shape into two round balls; cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Dividing the dough so that the loaves will be a uniform size can be tricky. An easy way to make every loaf the same size is to use digital scales to weigh the pieces of dough.

Form the dough into loaves and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 - 30 minutes, then brush tops with melted butter.

These whole wheat loaves make great sandwich bread and tasty breakfast toast. If you make this bread once, you will want to make it over and over again.


Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

The inspiration for these muffins came to me last week when I had lunch with my grandson at his school. His mom packs a lunch for him every day, and inside his lunch box that day was a little package of chocolate chip mini muffins. They were the store-bought kind, and they looked very soft and tasty, but surely a store brand muffin couldn't be as good as a home baked muffin. I went home that afternoon intent on finding a recipe for muffins that would look like, but taste better than, his packaged muffins.

After comparing several recipes, I decided on a recipe from Wilton, and I have adapted it slightly to be more like the packaged muffins that I wanted to copy. The original recipe at the Wilton site has cocoa powder to make the muffins chocolate flavored, and there is a glaze recipe that can be added if desired.

Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 package (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a mini muffin pan by spraying with cooking spray. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat the butter into the cream cheese. Add the sugar, egg, sour cream, and vanilla; beat to combine. Stir the flour mixture into the cream cheese mixture just until combined. Gently blend in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter evenly in prepared pan, filling each muffin cup 2/3 full. Bake in preheated oven for 8 - 12 minutes, or until top of muffin springs back when touched. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes in pan. Remove muffins from pan and place on a cooling rack. Makes 24 mini muffins.

Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and place on a cooling rack.

With only 1/4 cup of sugar these muffins aren't too sweet, and the cream cheese and sour cream combination gives them a light texture with a wonderful flavor. These little muffins are great for breakfast or for a snack, and if you're lucky there will be a few left to pack as a lunchbox treat!


Mission Organization: Week 37 - Less is More for Cleaning the Floor

I have tried many different products and methods to keep my floors clean. In the past I would lug around a mop bucket filled with hot water mixed with a smelly commercial cleaning product, and I applied this to my floors with a string mop. This did a pretty good job of cleaning, but I detested mopping my floors this way. I then gave up the string mop for one of the lightweight spray mops that is battery operated and used a prepackaged cleaning solution and disposable pads.

These mops are so handy to use, but they have some drawbacks. To keep these mops going you must keep on buying more cleaning solution and disposable pads, and occasionally even new batteries. When I used this mop I also felt that I was giving up some cleaning ability just for the convenience. My floors never quite felt as clean as I wanted them to be, and I was not really satisfied, but I didn't want to go back to a string mop and dragging that big mop bucket all over the house.

After reading a ton of reviews, I ended up buying this Rubbermaid Reveal mop that has washable and reusable microfiber cleaning pads, and the solution bottle can be filled and refilled with whatever cleaner you choose to use. It has a trigger sprayer that doesn't require any batteries for use. I bought mine at a Sam's Club store, and it came with 3 microfiber pads. I love using this mop, but the best thing is being able to clean the floor with my own cleaning solution.

I have tried some different "recipes" for cleaning solutions, but I think the simplest, best all around cleaner of all is just hot water and white vinegar. To make a floor cleaning solution, mix 1 gallon of hot water with 1/2 cup of white vinegar, then just fill up the solution bottle and spray away! This can be used for mopping hardwood, laminate, or tile floors. 

I no longer have to buy those boxes of disposable pads or the bottles of cleaning solution to clean my floors. My only purchase now is white vinegar, and my floor feels CLEAN, so that's why I say, "Less is more for cleaning the floor!"

The opinions stated are entirely my own. I have received no compensation for this post.


Double Delight Chocolate Chip Cookies

If there's one thing that I absolutely shouldn't be left alone with in a room, it's cookies. I must admit that I'm a cookie muncher, and I love Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have previously shared a favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on the blog, and when I did a reader commented that the recipe was very similar to the one her grandmother always made, with one exception. She said her grandmother made her Chocolate Chip Cookies a little differently than most - she used a mixture of regular chocolate chips and white chocolate chips in her cookies. When I heard that idea, I knew it was one I would have to try. If one kind of chocolate chips is good, then two kinds of chips have to be twice as good.

I took my tried and true Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and added the two suggested kinds of chips, and the cookies are wonderful. Since the reader was an anonymous commenter, I don't even know who to thank.

Print Recipe

Double Delight Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) butter, softened
2/3 cup shortening (Crisco)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugars, butter, shortening, eggs, and vanilla; mix until well creamed. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt to the mixture; mix until combined. Stir the chips into the dough. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on prepared pan. Bake until light brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from pan to a cooling rack.

Give an ordinary cookie recipe a new twist by adding two kinds of chips.

I like to bake on parchment paper, but these cookies can be baked on an ungreased baking sheet if you prefer.

Be sure not to over bake, let cookies cool for a few minutes, then remove from pan to a cooling rack.

This recipe will make more than 4 dozen yummy cookies, so if you don't want that much temptation around, the recipe can be easily halved (but I never do!).


Mission Organization: Week 36 - A Cleaning Schedule

A clean house makes me happy. I love the feel of an immaculate tile floor underneath my feet and the smell of a sanitized bathroom. I want my laundry to be washed, dried, folded neatly, and the ironing done and hung in the closets.

Photo from: My Mom was Right: Clean House Clean Mind

There are several ways to approach the cleaning and housekeeping chores to achieve the results you want for your household. One way is to attack the chores all in one day and work in a non-stop marathon fashion until everything is completed. That can get the job done, but it makes for a very tired housekeeper.

Another way to deal with housekeeping chores is to tackle whatever is most needful at any given time. For example, when all the clothes are dirty, it's time to do laundry. With this method things can get quite messy before the clean up is started, and this can cause more than a little family chaos.

There's also the "company's coming" method, where the housekeeping chores are frantically done when the announcement is made that guests will be arriving soon. This can lead to problems later, such as forgetting that you stashed that stack of dirty dishes in the oven or threw the kids' homework in the trash by mistake.

Photo from Lets Clean OurHome Regularly!

The method that I think works best is to plan a daily cleaning schedule for the household chores. I function quite well with lists and get a lot of satisfaction in checking off chores that I have completed for the day. My cleaning schedule is a fairly individualized plan that works for me in my particular house, and it suits my purposes. My daily plan might not work in your house, just as your plan probably wouldn't work for me.

To make a cleaning plan that works for you, start very simply. Decide on the basic chores that MUST be done to keep the household running, and list those first. Some chores must be repeated daily, others can be performed only once or twice a week, still others are tasks that come around even less frequently.

The important thing about a cleaning schedule is to make it your own. Make it work for you and your household. A helpful tool for me is the app for iPad or iPhone called Housekeeping List. This app comes with a list of household chores for different areas of the home, but the most helpful part for me is that it can be customized with my own personal checklists. I can save these lists for everyday chores or create new ones for special events like holiday entertaining. Making a list for each day of the week keeps me on track for that day and keeps me from putting off chores that I'd rather not do.

I'm far from a perfect housekeeper. I find cobwebs in the corners, and dust still accumulates, but having a daily schedule certainly does help to keep me working to stay on top of what needs to be done, and the house looks much more presentable on a daily basis. I think the daily schedule actually saves me time in the long run. By completing what's on the list each day, I know that I'm staying on track for a more organized home.

The opinions stated in this post are entirely my own. I have no relationship with Jimbl Software or Apple and have received no compensation from them.


Spelt Bread with Chia Seeds

The bread that I baked today is made from spelt flour, a sweet, nutty-tasting whole grain. Spelt is a distant cousin to our modern day wheat, but it is a non-hybrid form of grain. Not only is spelt easier to digest than wheat, it is also higher in protein and B complex vitamins. I also used Chia Seed Gel in this recipe for some extra nutritional boost.

Print Recipe

Spelt Bread with Chia Seeds

2 cups water (approximately 115 degrees F)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
about 5 cups whole spelt flour, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Chia Seed Gel, optional

Place the water in a microwave safe container and heat until the temperature reaches 115 degrees F. Mix the yeast and honey into the warm water; let stand a few minutes until it bubbles and looks creamy. Pour the yeast mixture into a large bowl and add 2 1/2 cups of the flour; stir until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Stir the mixture down, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes. Add the olive oil, salt, and chia seed gel; mix well, then gradually stir in remaining 2 1/2 cups flour. Dough should become stiff and ready to knead. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead several times until the dough is elastic. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, turning to coat the top of the dough. Let rise until doubled in size, about one hour. Form the dough into loaves and place into two oiled 4 x 8-inch loaf pans. Let the dough rise again until doubled in size, about one hour. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 25 minutes. Cool bread in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to a cooling rack.

Spelt flour costs a little more than ordinary wheat flour because it is more difficult to process. It is a very tasty flour, and I believe worth the extra cost for some delicious bread.

Check the temperature of the water before adding yeast. 

For this recipe add about half the flour to the yeast mixture and let rise for about 30 minutes, stir down, then let rise again before adding the remaining ingredients.

The spelt flour makes tasty golden brown loaves. This bread can be used for sandwiches or for breakfast toast. The flavor is wonderful and the health benefits are many!


Chia Seed Gel

A few months ago the only thing I knew about chia seeds was that they were used to grow "hair" on those adorable Chia Pets. I found out that chia seeds are also a wonderful part of a healthy diet. They can be added to foods like oatmeal or smoothies without changing the taste, and they contribute so many health benefits. Chia seeds contain Omega-3 oil and antioxidants, and they can help prevent digestive problems like diverticulosis. These little seeds are not only high in calcium, they are also the most complete plant based source of protein. Chia seeds supply a steady source of energy, and they help to balance blood sugar throughout the day.

I have been looking for more ways to incorporate chia seeds into my diet. One thing I have wanted to do is to add these wonderful little seeds when I bake bread. The drawback to doing that is that chia seeds absorb a lot of water, so I have been hesitant to just toss them into a bread dough, knowing that it would probably throw the liquid proportions of the recipe off.

In looking for a way make my bread baking and the chia seed compatible, I came across a recipe for Chia Seed Gel. This is the perfect solution for adding chia to a bread dough! By mixing the seeds with water in advance and letting them gel, they can be added to a recipe without affecting the measurements.

Recipe source The Fresh Loaf

Chia Seed Gel

2 tablespoons chia seeds
8 ounces water

In a small container, combine chia seeds and water. Stir with a whisk or fork every 5 - 10 minutes for a half hour. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours before using. May be stored in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To use when baking bread:
Add 2 tablespoons Chia Seed Gel to bread recipe of your choice.

Mix 2 tablespoons chia seeds into 8 ounces water.

Stir every 5 - 10 minutes for a half hour. The seeds will become suspended in the water, and a gel will form.

Cover the container and place in refrigerator for 12 hours before using.

The chia seeds will have formed a thick gel and may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 
Add 2 tablespoons of the gel to your favorite bread recipe.

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Copy Cat Oreos (Gluten free and Casein free)

This weekend we had some family visiting from out of town, and one of the children is restricted to a gluten free and casein free diet. I don't have a lot of experience with gluten free and casein free cooking, but I know how important it is to be very careful when a diet like this is necessary. One thing I wanted to do was to make a special dessert treat that was acceptable for our little visitor. These Copy Cat Oreos turned out great and were surprisingly similar to the real thing. The Frugal Farm Wife posted the gluten free version of these cookies, but I needed to modify the recipe slightly so that it was casein free as well.

Print Recipe

Copy Cat Oreos (Gluten free and Casein free)

1 1/4 cups all purpose gluten free baking flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup unsweetened dark baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 large egg


1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a sheet pan by lining with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, xanthan gum, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and Crisco, beat together until fluffy. Beat the egg into the mixture. Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the Crisco mixture, blending well with a spoon. Sprinkle gluten free flour on a rolling mat and roll the dough to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out with a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 9 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Prepare the filling by combining the shortening, powdered sugar, and vanilla; mix until smooth and well blended. Apply the filling to the bottom of a cooled cookie, then place another cookie on top to make a sandwich. Makes 24 sandwich cookies.

Since I don't have a lot of experience with gluten free cooking, I didn't have all the ingredients on hand for this recipe. When I went to shop for supplies, I was disappointed to find that my regular grocery store doesn't have a gluten free section. I went to a second grocery store and was able to find the flour that I needed, but ended up at a third store before I found everything on my list. It must be very frustrating to have to routinely shop for gluten free products and not to find them readily available.

When it came time to line my baking sheet, I realized that I was out of parchment paper. I had to improvise with some parchment triangles.

Roll out the dough and cut out with a small cookie cutter.

Place cookies on the baking sheet and bake 9 - 12 minutes.

Spread a cooled cookie with filling and top with a second cookie to make a sandwich. These cookies have a crunchy texture and the filling is creamy and sweet - a very good copy cat!