Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Anyone that knows me and my cooking, knows that I’m really not good at or disciplined in the area of cleaning as I go. For dealing with this, my husband must be commended, because the dishes often fall on his shoulders. For these, and many other reasons, I like to make one pot/pan meals to cut down on the mess & stress.

Since we haven’t been eating out inside of restaurants since COVID began and we only really order out for pizza, we have cooked at home A LOT and I never thought I’d say it, but… it’s getting old. I’m at the point where by 3 PM, I am wishing food would just appear for my family and that a fairy godmother would come take care of cleanup. I can’t be the only one feeling this way, right?

With the first day of winter right around the corner, I’ve been digging out some hearty soup recipes that we all love and trying to develop some new ones that we can toss into the instant pot, “set and forget”. That said, the groceries are packed with the holidays coming up and I’m finding that they are having a hard time keeping things in stock. Lots of the meats and ingredients I need for the week, when I’m meal planning, seem to disappear before I can put them in my online cart at Walmart or my husband returns home half empty-handed when I send him on a run for my specifics. That was the case this week, which I what lead me to coming up with the soup I’m sharing here today.

The weather is getting colder. A lot of days around here have been highs in the 30s and snow has shown it’s face more than once. A comforting bowl of slurp worthy goodness was just what I knew we all needed. And, if you’re feeling that way too, then this soup recipe is for you! The ingredient list is simple and the tastes are familiar; they marry together in a way that is delectable. Plus, served with 60 minute dinner rolls… midweek, supper time heaven. Disclosure: It does have a bit of heat to it. It’s delightful, but if you’re sensitive to spice, maybe omit the red pepper.

Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Ingredients:

1 Lb ground Italian sausage

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/2-1 cup chopped celery leaves

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 cans navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup white wine

3 cups water

2 cups chicken broth

Salt + pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Set your instant pot to sauté and drizzle the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Cook your italian sausage and onion together until the sausage is brown & onions are mostly translucent. Add red pepper & minced garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.

2. Stop sauté and add the rest of the ingredients to the pot one by one. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.

3. Serve, topped with mozzarella cheese. And, preferably, with your choice of bread. Bon appetit!

Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

GUEST POST: Fulcrum Farms’ Chicken Paprikash

I am so thankful for Instagram and the people it provides to you at the right time. Amber @ Fulcrum Farms has always been super sweet and supportive of my page so it just felt right to reach out to her and ask if she would write a post for the blog. If you talkto her, it just felt like a natural fit. She came up with such a great post and one of my fave comfort foods to write about for you. So, without further adieu…

FULCRUM FARMS, Amber:

When I was contacted by the lovely Quin, to write a post for her blog, I was kind of caught off guard. What could I possibly say that anyone would want to read? I’m new to owning land, I don’t have experience with real farming, and I’ve never officially raised an actual farm animal (aside from chickens, which most people start out with anyhow). So what could I write about that people might be interested in?

Then I decided – well, I could just share a quick recipe, something perfect for cool weather, and comforting after a long day of work. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a good recipe for that! Everyone that I have shared this with has enjoyed it immensely. It’s super simple, but it is also absolutely delicious. Handed down from mother’s side of the family, I make this many times through the fall/winter months to fill all our tummies when we are running on low. I hope that you like it as much as we do!
Chicken Paprikash

4 Bone in Skin on Chicken breasts (or thighs or a mix)32 oz chicken broth1 large yellow onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, crushed1/2 C flour1/4 C Hungarian PaprikaSalt and Pepper, to taste 16oz sour cream
Heat and oil a large skillet or pot with a lid. Cook chicken until browned on all sides, it will finish cooking through during braising.  Remove to a plate and cover.  Lower heat. Add onion and garlic to the skillet, pour more oil if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and onions turn translucent.

Meanwhile, mix together flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Once onion and garlic are soft, stir in the flour/paprika mix.  Increase heat to medium and stir, it will be VERY thick – you just want to cook the flour for 30-60 seconds to remove the raw taste. Whisk in the broth, be sure to stir it very well to remove clumps. Once the broth has been mixed into the flour, bring pot to a boil. Return chicken, submerge and lower to a simmer.  Cover with lid. 

Allow to cook several hours, I usually leave mine on low for 4-5.  Or, if your cooktop likes to burn things, put into an oven at 250* for 3-5 hours (optionally a slow cooker and/or instant pot would work wonderfully for this recipe too!). Check every so often, if you’re using an oven or cooktop, to make sure the it isn’t boiling hard – you want to braise the meat slowly in plenty of liquid. 

About 60 minutes before you plan to eat, put sour cream out on counter to come to room temp.  30 minutes before you plan to eat, use a colander and drain the chicken, onions and garlic.  Wipe out pan, then add liquid back into pot, keep off heat. Separate the onions and garlic from the chicken, discard. Debone, remove skin and shred or chop the chicken, set aside.  Whisk sour cream into pot, turn heat to medium low.  Add in chicken, stir, and keep warm until serving.

I make homemade spatzel to go along with this and serve with a side of fordhook Lima beans or baby peas. Egg noodles and rice are both good options as well. 
This makes enough to serve my family of 6 – with seconds and usually some leftover. It’s also easy to adjust to your taste – add or remove ingredients to your preference. We like a lot of paprika, so my recipe calls for a large amount. We prefer white meat, so I use bone in skin on breasts. We don’t like the onions/garlic floating around in our liquid so I strain and remove them. 
If I can give 2 recommendations –

  1. Use bone in and skin on chicken, any pieces will work or just take a whole chicken and cut it up to fry and continue with the recipe as written.
  2. Purchase Hungarian paprika. The better quality you have, the better your dish will taste. You can use the store brand paprika, but if you can splurge on a container of real Hungarian paprika – do it!

Enjoy!

A Soulful Autumn: Savory Butternut Squash Soup

Every year I end up trying a bunch of new soup recipes. My hubby loves soup in the fall and winter and, with unlimited sourdough, could probably eat me out of house and home during those cooler months. I used to HATE soup, until we got married. Now, I too, look forward to the nights being a little chillier, and the mornings being more brisk. Not just because autumn is my favorite season, but because soups and chilis and chowders are on the menu as regulars once again.

Thankfully, recently, we have had the fortunate circumstances of being able to receive boxes of food provision from friends. They contain lots of different things, from milk and yogurt, to veggies and meat. And we couldn’t be more grateful that, especially during COVID, we are able to share our abundance and be the recipients of others’ generosity as well.

In these boxes recently have been lovely, large butternut squash! I was so excited when I saw them, because, for years now, I have been dying to try making butternut squash soup. But, for some reason, I never have. So, yesterday was finally the day! To use these beautiful veggies before I forgot about them and let them turn. The result was one of the creamiest, savory soups I’ve made in a long time!

My family ooh’d and aww’d their way through dinner and the kids must’ve thanked my husband and. I a million times over for making dinner- like we don’t every other day. Haha. But, needless to say, this was a family favorite and I’ll be making it again and again. This recipe also makes a TON so I’ll be freezing some as well, because, honestly, (ask my husband) cutting these butternut babies is a tad laborious.

You may wonder why I make large batch recipes… and, the short answer is, because I have six mouths to feed. But, the better answer is that lots of recipes get better the next day, once the flavors have married a bit more. Also, I can store them for eating later; whether by canning them or putting them in the freezer. Not to mention, large batches are meant to share! Even though we are currently observing social distancing, I often drop off food to friends or family so that they feel loved and thought about. It’s a great way to spread a little joy in these weird times.

The best news about this soup, is that once all those lovely squash are cut, the recipe is SO simple. So, here it is! Hope you LOVE it and find it as delish as we did. Let me know if you recreate it and what (if any) additions or substitutions you make. 🙂

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

5 lbs butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cubed

6 cloves of garlic

2 medium yellow onion

8 cups vegetable broth

2 cups of water

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 medium carrots

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 cups heavy cream

*fresh parsley, sour cream, and nutmeg for serving

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil/butter over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Then, add garlic and brown sugar. Saute another 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in vegetable broth and water (scraping the bottom of the pan for the yummy bits).
  3. Add squash and carrots, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until squash is very soft. About 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in heavy cream. Puree with an immersion blender.
  5. Serve warm topped with whatever toppings are desired.

YUMMY, Batch Sourdough

I have been baking sourdough for a bit over a month now and, while I’m not expert, it’s become one of my favorite pastimes. It’s become a ritual I perform at least once a week, preferably on Saturday/Sunday and I usually bake more than one. Now, I don’t know everything is to know about hydration and everything , but I know that I’ve never had my bread turn out bad. And that means a lot.

What also means a lot, is that I’ve had people from other states beg me to make them bread because they think it’s so beautiful. I’ve had a friend text me and tell me I need to host a Zoom cooking class. And, I’ve had internet acquaintances give me encouraging words. All of that means to me, I must be doing something right with my sourdough boules.

I’ve taken to making between one and three loaves per week and giving away a lot of them as “covid care packages”. So, I thought I might share my bulk batch recipe in order to give you an easy, no-knead recipe you can literally sleep on and come out of it with perfect looking loaves.

I learned basically everything I know about baking sourdough from following along with Sylvia from Feasting At Home. This recipe was adapted from hers and the tips and tricks I picked up along the way. She has an amazing, broken down timeline on her blogged recipe, equipment to have on hand, and some special tips she finds helpful too– head over and check it out!

In the meantime, I’ll let you know that I got my [live] sourdough starter from Breadtopia because. wanted a jump start on the process. And when I say “jump start”, I mean mine was ready to bake in like two days! Wowza! You can purchase from the Breadtopia website or from Amazon; live or dry. If you go this route, I HIGHLY recommend that you follow the directions for care provided by Breadtopia for the best results.

Now, your first attempt may not be perfect. Mine certainly wasn’t! (See above) However, I feel like, in this technology driven society, it’s nice to practice slow living by taking your time to really develop a craft/hobby or two that takes you away from your phone and computer. Something that makes you feel like you’ve spent you time well. Makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

So, here goes, guys! The recipe is below and it’s a good one! Yield is three boules (or batards), 75% hydration. Whichever you prefer. Bon appetit!

YUMMY, Batch Sourdough

Ingredients:

12 cups (leveled) of bread flour (personally, I do not weigh)

6 tsp salt

5.5 cups water (filtered is preferred)

1 cup of sour dough starter

(I love to add sesame seeds, rosemary, parsley, oregano…etc to season when I’m in the mood.)

Directions:

  1. At least 8 hrs before mixing your dough, feed your sourdough starter and leave it out on the counter.
  2. When ready, add your flour to a large bowl. Mix in spices, seeds, flavorings at this time. Add your starter and water next. (I, personally do not dilute my starter in the water first for this. However, if you are more comfortable with that method, you can mix the starter with your water until the water is cloudy before adding it to the dry mixture.)
  3. Mix all ingredients with your hands (or a wooden spoon if you prefer, but to me the hands are the best tools for this) for a minute or two until you have a shaggy, sticky dough. Make sure the flour is completely mixed in, without overworking and ‘tidying’ the dough. Messy is okay! cover with a wet kitchen towel and let rest 15 minutes. It will loosen up as it rests.
  4. Do the first set of stretch and folds.  With one wet hand (put a bowl of water next to you) pull the dough from one side and stretch it upward, then fold it up and over to the center of the dough.  Turn the bowl and repeat until the dough gets firm and resists. This helps strengthen the gluten. Cover, rest, and repeat the process  15-20 minutes later. (I do this 3-4 times total, but only two is “required”.)
  5. Proof overnight, at room temp. Cover with plastic or wax wrap or a damp kitchen towel and place it on your counter for 8-12 hours. (68-70F is the ideal temp. according to Sylvia.)
  6. Check the dough in the morning. The dough should have flattened, expanded, with a slight dome to the top.
  7. Flour your Banneton basket (if you have one). If you do not have one, line. high-sided bowl with non-stick parchment paper.
  8. Loosen the dough from the all edges of a bowl with using your wet fingers. With both hands, carefully pull the dough straight up, in the middle and lift it, stretching straight up in the air until it hangs down 12-24 inches and place it back down, gently folding it on top of itself. It will firm up as it stretches and folds. Do this at least 3 times. The third time you lift and stretch, lift it all the way into your parchment-lined bowl/banneton seam side up.
  9. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for uncovered which will firm up the bread, make scoring easier and help boost  oven spring. Preheat the oven (for 1 FULL hour)  to 500F with your dutch oven inside and lid on.
  10. Score the bread in the bowl, using a very sharp knife, lame, or razor blade & bake.
  11. Place in the middle of the oven for and immediately drop heat to 450F and bake 25 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and it should be puffed and just lightly golden. Lower heat to 450 F, Continue baking 18-20 minutes until deeply golden. Keep an eye on it!
  12. Let it cool for 45 min to 1 hr before cutting and serving. Enjoy! With butter, honey, jam, olive oil & balsamic… any way you choose!

***When you put one loaf into the oven, rotate your next loaf into the fridge. Also, when you go to put the second and third loaves into the oven, don’t change the temperature! Start out at 450 and bake for a little longer time, if needed.

Charlie’s Chocolate Bundt + Lavender Vanilla Glaze

Lately, I have been craving rich, yummy comfort foods. Especially sweet ones! I’m currently trying to break that habit because my jeans don’t really like it, but man! do I love a good slice of cake or decadent pastry. And my passion for baking has only shown itself more in the past few weeks.

I wanted to share this recipe because is a refreshing take on the typical chocolate cake, but it’s also very moist and indulgent. Kudos go to my daughter, or this recipe would have never been born- so it’s named after her. She requested a chocolate butterfly cake a while back, which I obliged with this recipe. However, her cake was slathered with vanilla buttercream and then decorated with a trillion sprinkles.

After making her cake, I started thinking about ways I could make it again, but in a more sophisticated, simple, and elegant way. I have also been trying to use as many unexpected herbs in my cooking as possible, recently. While chocolate and vanilla are classic flavors (and what my daughter picked), I wanted a twist and ultimately decided to add lavender.

I also made a large batch of lavender lemonade to serve with it. YUM! Which my husband eventually turned into a cocktail with gin and ginger beer. Basically, we’ve been living in a lavender heaven!

In my opinion, this is a wonderful cake to bring to a spring or summer gathering or share with family on a special occasion. However, in my case this was just for fun, and I ended up sharing it with my sister-in-law and family. I was glad they loved it- enough to even enjoy it for breakfast! Haha! ( I apologize for not having more photos!)

If you decide to try this out, I truly hope it brings you as much happiness as I had making it.

Ingredients:

Cake:

3 cups flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup cooking oil (I used coconut)

1/2 cup hot water

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 pkt instant chcolate pudding

1/2 cup sour cream

Glaze:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp dried lavender buds

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. For the Cake, mix all dry ingredients, by hand or in a mixer. In a separate bowl, combine pudding mix, eggs, buttermilk, water, oil and 1 tablespoon vanilla. In large mixer bowl, combine dry ingredients and wet, by slowly pour in the wet ingredients while whisking with electric mixer on low/medium speed for up to 2 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Pour into greased bundt pan.

Bake on 350° for 50-60 minutes. Cool in pan 20-30 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack or plate. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, for the glaze, Bring cream just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, in a small saucepan over medium. Remove from heat, and stir in dried lavender; let stand 10-15 minutes.

Pour lavender milk through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. 

Whisk together powdered sugar, salt, 1/4-1/2 of the lavender milk, and 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Whisk in up to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (However, because I didn’t want the lemony taste to take away from the lavender I ended up adding a little bit of water instead, to thin out the glaze. Don’t add so much water, though, that you dilute the taste or make your glaze so thin it sinks into the cake.)

Sprinkle with dried lavender buds, if desired. Enjoy!

Hopefully you whip this up, post a picture, and tag me on social media @lone_birch.

Bohemian Oil DIYs

I’m so excited about today’s post! I have loved essential oils for a few years now, and I’m (finally) taking big time advantage of using them again since we moved into this house. They were in a storage box for far too long!

My Aussie, insta-acquaintance, Sinead (who is AMAZING at essential oil DIYs, by the way) inspired me to do a few projects of my own. After seeing her pretty little posts and projects, I thought I’d come up with some new blends to bottle; for a few different uses.

Now, I admit that I am not an essential oils expert. It’s just something I enjoy and find helpful in my day-to-day. I also understand that what oils and brands people choose to use are highly personal, and sometimes controversial. So, I won’t delve too deeply into a spiel, trying to get you to use what I do.

I will only mention that I’ve been using Eden’s Garden oils forever and I LOVE them. I’ve found them to not only be affordable, but effective. I LOVE that the company doesn’t recruit distributors! They are a family/woman-owned business, and their products are 100% pure. That being said, I encourage you to use WHATEVER oils you are comfortable with. Every boho babe has her own groove!

Today, I’m going to be sharing five easy, oil “recipes” you can start with for these diy projects. But, if you’re familiar with, and love, oils already- feel free to experiment and add to what I’m blending here! I’d love to know about your fave oil blends and creations!!

Here’s what I used for these 5 projects, besides the oils themselves:

NOW Solutions Vegetable Glycerin

Thayer’s Witch Hazel Facial Toner (w/ Rose Water)- I chose this product knowing that it was alcohol free, it contained aloe, and I liked the added depth of the rose water component. I also will use this product alone in future. I also really like THIS brand that also comes in unscented.

Carrier Oil- Carrier oils are very important when it comes to formulating your oils for application to skin. Read this great article from HelloGlow, to find out more! I used this particular “coconut oil” product because it’s specifically formulated for skin + absorption, I’ve been using it for a long time and knew it wouldn’t cause irritation, and it also has percentages of safflower oil, jojoba oil, cotton seed oil, almond oil, argan oil, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, and avocado oil. Holy hydration!!

However, I can no longer find this one in stores or online. Therefore, no link available. But, I encourage you to use whatever you have handy and what works for you! It’s so important that you don’t feel pressured to go out and buy a bunch of fancy, expensive products to do this. Find what’s cost effective and easy to obtain, and what might be the best for your skin type. Not everyone will choose the same combination; that’s what makes it so fun & experimental!

Dried Flowers- This part is totally optional and unnecessary, but I love the way it looks! Adding dried flowers can help you identify which oil is which and add to the artsy vibe of the whole thing. You can get dried flowers in a number of places, online, or even dry your own! I got my lavender from Amazon and have been using it for everything imaginable. The lovely chamomile came from Sage Hill Botanicals via their etsy shop.

Vessels- Besides the blends themselves, choosing the vessels to put them into might be my favorite part. Sinead uses The Vessel Collection (as do I) because they have all beautiful, glass containers you could want. I went to place an order from them immediately, BUT then I saw the $40 shipping to the USA and knew I’d have to do something different. So, I searched for something I loved, US based, and found these gems from Karma & Cosmo. They are SO GOOD!!

I also have a monthly subscription to Grove Collaborative and received another one of their perfect, spray bottles in my box last month. Similar HERE. Or you could reuse/repurpose a container from home.

Funnels- I reccommend getting funnels for besically any project that requires dumping liquid from one container to another, but especially for small/narrow necked bottles like this. I got a pack from Amazon (linked), a lot of times they come with a bottle when you buy them, or you could probably find them at the dollar store.

If you are (and even if you’re not) new to essential oils, I HIGHLY recommend getting a book like “A Beginner’s Guide To Essential Oils”. It’s a helpful and quick reference to remember what each is helpful for, their uses, and what they blend well with…etc. I use this one regularly to maintain knowledge of what works well for me.

Let’s get down with the blends!

Cloud Nine Room Spray:

Unscrew the top of your glass bottle and add essential oils.

4 drops lemongrass

4 drops clary sage

4 drops patchouli

4 drops pine

Fill the glass halfway with distilled water, then fill the other half with witch hazel. replace the lid and shake the bottle to combine the witch hazel, oil, and water. (If your glass bottle is clear instead of colored, you could also add some dried flowers or greenery to add beauty and also- if desired- show the scent.)

This blend helps to energize, reduce anxiety, support mindfulness and concentration, as well as boost air quality. Perfect for literally any time of day and any room in your home.

*For the roller balls, drop essential oils in, fill the rest of the bottle with carrier oil. Be sure to leave a little space at the top so there is room to drop in any dried flowers and put the roller back on. My rollers here are 7.5ml.

Tranquil Slumber Roller

4 drops lavender

2 drops vetiver

2 drops ylang ylang

2 drops australian sandalwood

This roller recipe is great for treatment of insomnia or sleep disorders, promoting calm & relaxation, and overall easing restlessness. As someone who suffers from insomnia, I LOVE THIS BLEND! And can attest to it’s soothing qualities.

Lifegiver Roller

5 drops tangerine

1 drop spearmint

3 drops lemongrass

3 drops lime

This roller is designed to boost mood, refresh, and alleviate the blues! Everyone needs this one in their life. And all my kids even loved how it smelled (not that they need more energy lol). Eucalyptus would’ve been a great addition to this, even replacing the lime. (However, my 2 year old dumped out all I had left before I could make these!!)

Look Lively Roller

3 drops pink pepper

2 drops frankinsence

2 drop bergamot

1 drop rosemary

Loving this roller for those days when you just need a “pep talk” to get you through those late afternoons when you’re so badly craving a nap. Good for invigoration, emotional support, and increase alertness.

*For body spray, add your oils, then one tablespoon of vegetable glycerin, one tablespoon of witch hazel, and fill the rest with distilled water. The perfume bottle I’m using here is 50ml.

Nature’s Child Body Spray

12 drops patchouli

12 drops bergamot

10 drops myrrh

8 drops tangerine jasmine blend (if you don’t have this blend you can use 4 drops of each, separate oil)

8 drops australian sandalwood

6 drops lemon

This is a very subtle scent, but I love it for after the shower. It’s got a sweet, earthiness that’s extremely pleasant and uplifting. It improves feelings of contentment, enhances meditation, intensifies attentiveness, & supports overall well-being. Keep in mind though, it’s a body spray, not a perfume, so the scent does fade with time.

Okay, that it for me. I hope you guys try some of these out, or, as I mentioned, I would love to hear some of your creations you think I should give a whirl!

Stay groovy, friends,

Who Else Wants To Be Successfully Vulnerable?

You might’ve just read the title of this post and thought, “Successfully vulnerable? She’s gotta be kidding.” But, I can assure you, while I’m pretty sarcastic with my humor, I’m totally serious about this concept. C’mon! Aren’t you just a little curious?

Recently, when I wake up while the house is still quiet or I’m laying in bed before my meds knock me out, I have been listening to TED talks. Honestly, it’s a habit that I’m not sure why it started. My husband was really into them a year or two ago and I would try to just tune it out. Maybe, it’s because I’m running out of CV19 entertainment or because I’m looking for insight and perspective… either way, I’ve run across some pretty great ones. In particular, the one I’m sharing with you all today, featuring researcher/storyteller, Brené Brown.

First off, let me say- everyone wants their readers to blog to read fun content. But, sometimes it’s necessary to broaden your topic and find more depth in the story you’re telling. Color in more of the picture you’re painting of yourself. Given current world conditions and the emotions they can evoke- the emotions that I’m feeling more of lately- it seemed appropriate to post something relatable and relevant. Dare I say solemn?

I have struggled (and still do) with self-esteem and insecurity issues, as well as being an extroverted introvert. It’s messes with my human connections and relationships, as well as my mind and how I view my ability to be considered and loved. As you will see in the video, this is basically referred to as feeling a lack of worthiness.

While I suffer from bipolar disorder as well as anxiety (not to mention PMDD), COVID 19 has, at times, exacerbated my emotional state. Regardless of my status involving medication stability or visits with my therapist. Don’t get me wrong, though. There have been moments during this pandemic crisis that I have been extremely grateful. Especially for the safety of my family, and the higher level of togetherness we’ve achieved. However, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

The opposite, in my case, is having my short span of happiness or thankfulness replaced with phases of sorrow, longing, or angst. At times, I have felt as if I’m morning the loss of the life that was before Coronavirus. And I thought some of you might be feeling that too; in big ways or small.

Or maybe you haven’t been tossing and turning at night wondering if you’ll make it through this weird period of time. Have you enjoyed the slow down? The time to reconnect? But, maybe you’ve dealt with feelings involving your inadequacy, or heartbreak, shame…etc, because of some other reason. Perhaps, at times, it feels like it’s catching up with you.

A point I really appreciate from this talk is that life is messy. Spontaneity and fragility are a part of it. A lot of times they are the part we try to get rid of and hide away because they feel “bad” or make us anxious/uncomfortable. But, we fail to realize that we can’t shut out the bad without shutting out the good. And what consequences does it have for us to numb these parts of ourselves? Does it affect how you love and let others love you? Does it have a bearing on what kind of friend you are? The way you parent? The way you LIVE?

I don’t know about any of you, but it’s been incredibly hard for me to ask for any kind of help or encouragement when I have feelings like this. I feel embarrassment when it doesn’t seem like I “have it together”. If you’re anything like me, you probably want to have your life fit into a neat little package where everything is taken care of and no variables come into play. Unfortunately, (and with the help of a therapist), I’ve realized that that’s unrealistic. But, it doesn’t make the desire stop. Are you trying to fight these feelings alone?

If you have ever felt rejected, excluded, embarrassment about who you are, fear about who you should be, the need for affection and tenderness from those around you without knowing how to express that need, feeling like you don’t deserve a particular relationship or that you aren’t enough, lack of compassion…etc., then this talk might be for you.

We’re only human. We can only do the best we can with what we have. A lot of times that might mean exposing who we are on the inside, showing up unguarded, and finding/accepting the comfort and closeness we are worthy of. I’m working on this in my own life. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m learning.

I hope this finds you well. And I hope you know, you’re not alone.

Blackberry Ginger Cake w/ Peach Apricot Filling + Barely There Cream Cheese Icing

Where do I even start with this cake? It’s pure magic. It’s perfect for any occasion. And, if possible, it’s even better the second day.

I developed this recipe on a whim, in the middle of the night (no surprise) and probably annoyed the crap out of my husband by constantly asking, “Does this sound good? Do you think this goes together?” I wanted so badly to have some originality to the flavor combo, but also have it taste cohesive.

I saw a cake on Pinterest that was honestly the inspiration for the whole process. It was no only pretty, but it melded together incredible flavors. It inspired me to do the same, but with my own imaginative blend. I tend to like making things multidimensional because I like the challenge of it.

Since COVID, I have seen people turn into serial bakers. But, I had managed to avoid it, for the most part… until I made this cake. I bake when I’m stressed, and the longer this pandemic lasts, the harder it is to resist making anything that pops into my head. It’s so satisfying to see creations come to life.

My whole family, kids included, ranted about how great this was! I have to admit, even though my kids aren’t picky eaters, I wasn’t sure this would be their taste. In hindsight, I think this is probably a very generally liked mixture of ingredients.

We ate on this for days and I swear it got better with time! It has a nice, warm gingery taste but, with a bit of depth from the blackberry. The peach and apricot give the cake a nice punchiness without being tart. And, the cream cheese icing- reminiscent of carrot cake- is to die for. No one thing overpowers the other. They all just work together to create something delicious!

While I initially made this in late spring, when all the fruity ingredients could be found fresh locally, you could use canned fruit for this as well. Or, even frozen. However, keep in mind the water content in thawed frozen fruit will be higher so you may end up with a runnier filling; you may have to add a thickening agent, such as xanthan gum or gelatin.

I hope, if you make this, you enjoy it as much as we do! And if you care to share, tag me on social media @lone_birch so I can see your version!

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE:

10 tbsp butter

3 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp backing powder

1.5 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 cup finely grated, fresh ginger

1 1/4 cup pureed (strained) blackberries

2 tbsp lemon juice

FILLING:

1/3 cup pureed peaches

1/3 cup pureed apricot

FROSTING:

10 tbsp butter (softened)

12 tbsp room temperature cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp vanilla

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

8 ripe apricots

1/2 cup honey

INSTRUCTIONS:

CAKE:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F (170° C).
  2. Butter two 6-inch (15 cm) cake pans.
  3. 4. Beat eggs and sugars until fluffy and lighter in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Add melted butter and vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, then stir into the batter until just smooth.
  5. Peel and grate the ginger. Put the blackberries in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Strained through a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Add grated ginger and all of the blackberry puree to the batter and stir until combined. Batter will look bluish/gray. Divide batter between the two cake pans.
  7. Bake for about 40-43 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

FILLING:

  1. Put both the apricots and peaches together in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Set aside in the refrigerator until time for cake assembly.

CREAM CHEESE ICING:

1. Beat butter until pale and fluffy. Add cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until just smooth.
2. Put the bowl in the fridge until time for cake assembly.

ASSEMBLY:

1. Cut both cake layers in half with a serrated knife so you end up with four cake layers.
2. Put the first cake layer on a cake board or directly onto a plate or cake stand. Spread a layer of frosting on the first layer, then spread a layer of the peach/apricot puree over. Repeat this until you’ve used up all layers.
3. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and put in the fridge while you prepare the topping.

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Arrange the apricot halves, sut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Spoon 1/2 tbsp honey onto each apricot half. Brush with melted butter, if desired.
  4. Broil the apricots for 3-4 minutes, until bubbling and caramelized.
  5. Place around the cake as decoration and/or serve on the side of each slice. Vanilla ice cream optional.

Spruce Up with Amazon Home

A curated home is something a lot of us desire. It’s made to look easy in glossy magazines and on home decorating shows. But, what’s often not shared or focused on is the amount of money it generally takes to afford the appearance of a professionally designed home.

While I don’t live in a fancy house and I don’t have an unlimited budget, I do have expensive taste. My husband can attest, especially after many impulse purchases he found out about later… Oops!

That being said, my style, particularly as I’ve gotten older, has heavily gravitated towards all things bohemian farmhouse. Think, Stevie Knicks meets Joanna Gaines. Patterns and colors merge with clean black and white. When you throw in hints of mid century and my husband’s more traditional vibe, we truly have an eclectic taste! And it has taken time to find ways to make all of that mesh and look cohesive in our 1940’s Cape Cod style home. Of course, as usual with an older home that needs updating, we are not past the “work in progress” point yet.

Honestly, it’s probably a good thing I have my hubs to reign me in during the design decisions, or everything would probably end up like this…

Picture courtesy of Pinterest

…and yes, I would feed cows in that outfit. HAHA! And don’t ya think this vibe would go great with the Highland portrait I have in my dining room? Just kidding! Or am I?

In all seriousness, though, as if all of the animals and outside projects weren’t enough this summer… we decided to tack on a few indoor spruce ups as well. It began with things like finishing paint in the kids’ bedrooms and, somehow, we ended up in the area of ripping out our bedroom wall and installing a door, connecting it to an outside porch, building a swing, and screening it all in! Oy vey!

While my parents were in town, (as referenced in a previous post) Jon and my dad worked vigorously on the door and porch aspect of the plan. Maybe, one day, I’ll do a little home tour of sorts but, for now, I will just show you how far they got…

Unfortunately, since lumber is in high demand for contractors in this area right now, we weren’t able to get all of the boards needed to finish out the porch. We have a friend who works at Home Depot and promised to text us when they come back in stock! Until then, we are planning how we will finish out the inside, and I will share pics once it is done. I think it’ll be super cute.

Before all this work was done, like an idiot, I went ahead and painted my bedroom. I guess I was on some sort of manic spree and couldn’t be stopped. Nevertheless, one of my lovely walls got completely destroyed right when I thought I had everything looking the way I wanted. (Minus, the little detail of the wallpaper still not being done… I swear I’ll get around to it one of these days.)

Side note: Like a couple of other areas in our home, the color used in our master is called Silos White by Magnolia. I had previously ordered a sample of this color from Magnolia, had Home Depot color match it, and painted my youngest daughter’s nursery in it. Now that we are living in Ohio and my daughters share a room upstairs, I stole a little design style from my original game plan for her room. I’ve included a photo below, and you can see her entire room on HERE on Project Nursery and get a better idea of where I’m coming from. (Wallpaper used here will also be what goes in our room.)

Tulip’s finished nursery before she was born.

Anyway… the point of today’s post (finally getting there guys) is that I have gotten some really affordable small items from Amazon that I felt were very stylish, yet affordable. Nothing crazy; just a few things that gave it a more “lived in” feel. Because, being honest with you, our dressers have either been bare or covered with a combo of clothes, random screws and measuring tapes, decor items that never got hung up/that we didn’t want anymore. It was time to get a little more streamlined and attractive in there.

Like, I said before, I will share photos of the entire room once it’s completed. For now, I’m gonna share a brief list of recent purchases I love and link a few from the past; just finishing touches really. I also just wanna preface this by saying that Amazon home decor is my go-to when I see pieces that I love but can’t afford or I don’t can’t find what I’m looking for anywhere else.

  1. RISEON Plant Hanger

I have gotten other plant holders from Amazon. In the past when I needed something quick, because I normally buy plants without thinking where I’m going to put them first, I went online immediately and had something cute in a couple days. Being a plant mama, like a lot of you, I always want to get the perfect home for specific plants.

I own this cool geometric one, this cute mid-century planter, and these macrame hangers are great too– I have ivory and black. But, I think this awesome, black metal one by RISEON is my fave.

It’s very lightweight, but sturdy. It fits my new blue star fern perfectly, and it gives a nice pop of character in a rather boring corner near my closet. It’s not huge or overkill; just a very simple statement for a small, otherwise meaningless, area of your home. And now, it looks like a plant has always been hanging right in front of the window/closet corner in my room! Also, it comes in an oval shape as well as a gold finish so, OPTIONS!

2. Nearly Natural Dracaena Decorative Silk Plant- 48 inch

So, while I’m on the subject of plants… I am a FIRM believer that, if you can, and you love plants, you should have as many real ones as possible. It’s something that I feel like you will never grow to regret (no pun intended). However, fake plants have come a LONG way and people my age are now getting a little obsessed with them. Read more about that via Refinery29.

I chose to go the route of mixing real and fake plants in my room because (even with a new, huge door and two windows) the lighting is funky and that end of the house faces North, which is typically best for climbing plants, ferns (which I mentioned I have, above), and various, low growing/flowering plants. So, in places like the corner by my dresser, a non-artificial plant would do poorly.

Problem solved, by Nearly Natural via Amazon! I was extremely skeptical about having a silk plant, but the reviews were so good on this four-foot beauty that I decided to give it a try and… I’m SO glad I did! It’s perfect and no one would ever know it’s not real, unless I brought it up. It’s so detailed that it even has “new shoots” coming out of it! I bought this belly basket for it to live in and it’s a match made in heaven.

3. Afloral Set of 3 Multi Matte Glazed Bud Vases

I probably saved these vases on my wishlist and then deleted them three times. But, I don’t know why, because they are absolutely the right ones for my room. But, I searched and searched- scrolling past them- and looking for some unknown idea. In, the end I decided on these because A) they don’t have a glossy finish and B) they match the tones in my bedroom rug perfectly.

Turns out, my hesitation was for nothing and I would legit recommend these to EVERYONE. They’re gorgeous with the perfect amount of boho flair. But, they don’t look a bit out of place sitting on my very mid-century, second-hand dresser. The earthy tones are beautiful and the varying heights make it far more visually pleasing than say, one large vase, which I had considered instead.

This trio is also the perfect size for a small, accent flower or green stem. In one of these photos you’ll see that I currently have baby blue eucalyptus in mine. They are fairly lightweight, but not so much that I question the quality. And a whole set of stoneware vases for under $40 is a steal!

I’m also loving this large and small face floral vases by Afloral.

4. Vosarea Rattan Storage Basket

I got this adorable little rattan basket (more like a box) on a whim when I realized that for months I have been skimping on using my essential oils because they have been in a moving box, shoved under my side of the bed. I’ve only really reached for them when I was really feeling desperate. But, when I started rearranging my room and found a better spot for my diffuser, I realized that I needed to get a better storage option so that I could keep my oils more accessible.

This has fit them all with room to spare and is quite handsome looking, sitting out in the room. I’m actually considering getting a few more of them for a large shelf of cubbies in my room which may need further organization depending on what things end up needing to be hoarded over there. Or possible even my bathroom since this is described as a makeup organizer and I own enough makeup for like seven people. Haha!

Either way this is a durable little basket as far as I can tell and I love that it could be used with all types of decor from bohemian to coastal to farmhouse to minimalist. Run and get this if you need stashing options!

5. Primitives by Kathy Wall Hanging

First of all, this is described as “Gypsy Home Decor”. If that phrase alone hasn’t sold it to you, I don’t know how! I have three wall hangings from Primitives by Kathy via Amazon and there is no stopping me now!

I currently also own:
This one for my living room- Woven Wall Hanging, Pink and Grey

This one from my daughter’s bathroom & now needs a new home- Cotton and Metal Woven Wall Hanging

The designs and quality that Kathy’s company puts out there, accompanied with the affordability of product, makes me stand by the goods that are created by Primitives. This particular hanging is a nice pop of color and texture on the wall when you walk into our room. (I fudged the pic by moving furniture and accessories around for visual interest lol. But, honestly, it looks so good on it’s own!)

BONUS

I have gotten TONS of pillow covers in the time span of my marriage and decorating our homes. My husband is probably appalled by the amount. I learned early on though, that getting them from Amazon is an inexpensive and smart decision. My kids are SO hard on throw pillows in the living room and, even ones in other rooms, I like to have the ability to take them off and wash them. While we were giving our porch a little bit of a cleaning this summer I realized that our seating could look a bit more cozy.

(Yeah, I know this doesn’t have anything to do with my bedroom…) We have a great second hand bench, and hubby found a $10 seat cushion for it! I got some awesome pillows at Marshall’s, too. But, our rocking chairs were looking left out. So I got these embroidered pillow covers from Amazon and I am THRILLED with how amazing they look!

Truthfully, they are even better in person! I was looking at similar ones on another site that were $60 per pillow! These covers + the inserts only cost me about half that! Now, technically, they aren’t “outdoor” fabric so I try to keep them under the porch roof or inside a trunk out there whenever it’s gonna be a rainy day/at night.

I wasn’t home the other day and they caught in a rainstorm. But, I tossed them in the dryer and everything was a-ok! Check out this brand if you’re looking for some funky fresh ideas for a big bang when it comes to your exterior [or interior] design.

That’s it from me today! Hoping you guys had an amazing weekend! Let me know if you did anything fun 🙂