Bug Bites & Sun Burns – Summer Home Remedies

Time by the fire pit, watching fireflies, endless hours working on the garden on the quest for the perfect tomato – these are the hallmarks of summer; the things we spend day after winter day dreaming of. We have a selective memory in the dark days of winter. Those halycon summer days are bright and calm and pain-free. There are no bug bites or sun burns in the memories stored away in our minds.

But of course, in the real world, there are. This year is no exception. It’s been rainy and wet here in the midwest, so the mosquitoes and no-see-ums are out in full force. They are a downright nuisance. And when the sun does come out, we’re so unprepared for it that we forget the sunscreen when we head out to enjoy it. Bug bites and sun burns – summer.

So, once you’re hiding out indoors bitten beyond belief and the color of a lobster, what do you do? Of course, I try to think of natural home remedies to give a little relief, and these remedies frequently mean essential oils in our house. I’ve been building a nice library of reference books thanks to the fine folks at Robert Rose Inc. who have been kind enough to send me several excellent volumes for review. The tome I’ve reached for recently to alleviate our summer ailments has been The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oil Handbook For Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele.

It’s a comprehensive encyclopedia of essential oils and how to use them in aromatherapy and topical applications, including both the treatment of specific ailments (listed by type), personal care preparations (like shampoos and soaps), home cleaning recipes and massage blends. But of course in the Remedies section in Part 2, I made a beeline to – you got it – bug bites and sunburns.

The Insect Bite Paste (page 168) is a preparation some of us may remember from our childhoods – I know I certainly do. It’s simply baking soda, a little filtered water, and a drop of lavender essential oil mixed together to form a paste. You can then apply it to the affected skin to help soothe the itchiness and discomfort. I like to use well chilled ingredients when using a paste like this, as that adds to the soothing affect.

For sunburn, lavender is the star again. On page 314, a suggested topical application for sunburn relief is to mix a little aloe vera gel with lavender essential oil, and apply a thin film to the burnt skin. If you have an aloe plant, you can just cut off one of the leaves, slit it open and scrape out the gel – it’s such an easy plant to grow. They thrive in a pot in a sunny window and have minimal water requirements. There’s really no reason not to have one. But a commercial aloe vera gel will do – just be sure to purchase one that is pure aloe vera. Many store-bought gels have added alcohol (not good on burnt skin!), preservatives and fragrances – the last things you want on delicate, injured skin. And of course, well-chilled ingredients make the preparation even more soothing.

So – when summer gets the best of you, consider turning toward a home remedy to find some relief. And I would highly recommend grabbing this book if you need some guidance on recipes to use – for a variety of things.

The 7 Minute Egg

To be honest, we don’t eat a whole lot of eggs in our house, because husband has a sensitivity to egg yolks. So in the interest of making one set of baked goods everyone can eat, as well as not spending twice our intention on eggs, we usually end up buying egg replacer and calling it a day.

But every once in awhile I get a hankering for hard boiled eggs, so I’ll buy a dozen. It took me ages and ages to figure out how to make a good hard boiled egg. I often ended up with woefully dried yolks with a nasty green halo about them and rubbery whites with zero flavor. Yuck.

So when I discovered the seven minute egg, it was like an epiphany. A perfectly tender, yet firm, white with a creamy – creamy! – yolk without even a trace of green muck on it. Beautiful, delicious and fantastically simple.

The method is straight-forward – place your eggs in the bottom of a sauce pot, and cover with an inch of cold water. It needs to be cold, so it heats gently. Bring the water just to a boil, cover the pot and turn off the fire. Let the eggs sit for exactly seven minutes (though another minute or two won’t break the bank if you lose track of time – it’s forgiving). Fish the eggs out of the water with a slotted spoon and let them cool.

They’re marvelous barely warm, and dipped in a little salt and pepper. And they’ll keep for about a week in the fridge, so you can boil up a dozen on a Sunday and have a week’s worth of breakfasts made in under ten minutes! Add in a little fruit and an oatmeal breakfast cookie and you’ve got a complete meal.

Building a Classical Library With Dover Books

I have long adored Dover Thrift Editions. At a few dollars per book, it’s a great way to build up a classical library of books – for a $50 investment, you can instantly build a collection of fiction or non-fiction greats. Some of my favorite editions are –
















Gardening, In Between Rain Storms

It’s really starting to feel like we have a monsoon season  now in northern Illinois; it rains nearly every day. The day started cloudy and overcast, so much so that I packed our rain jackets and umbrella in the wagon for our weekly walk over to the farmer’s market. Today was the first day that the abundance of early summer made itself known. Prior to today, the farmer’s market has mostly been scallions, spinach, overwintered potatoes and onions, and vegetable starts. Today – every kind of green you could want, fresh herbs, leeks, young onions, rhubarb and tons of other things I can hardly remember. It was a good market day – we came home with cider, kale, scallions, bread, a parsley plant and two basil plants.

After we came home for the afternoon, the clouds cleared and the sun actually came out, so we seized the opportunity to get out into the garden and attend to the plants. The third raised bed we finally topped up with soil, so we today we planted out cabbage, squash, watermelons, and two varieties of pumpkins. The tomatoes, pepper and beans we already planted are also doing well. And we planted the parsley and basil in a planter up on the deck.

And it’s a good thing we did – the rain is back in full force. As I type, I hear the pitter-patter of a steady rainfall, punctuated periodically by terrific crashes of thunder. But at least now this means that tomorrow I won’t have to water!

Favorite Things: Summer 2015

It has been ages since I’ve done a favorite things post, so it’s high time. Here are some highlights of products, ideas and things that I’m really enjoying as we move into summer.


Ceramic Compost Keeper

Now that we have our own garden and compost pile at home, having a compost keeper in the kitchen is incredibly convenient. We keep ours underneath the sink so it’s accessible, but doesn’t take up valuable counter space. It looks nice enough that you could leave it on the counter if you wanted to though. The great thing about this particular keeper is that it has a charcoal filter in the lid to help mitigate any smells that may occur, and it certainly works as we haven’t had any issues with foul odors or fruit flies or any other problems. We empty it onto the main compost pile once or twice per week, and  having it has reduced what we throw away in the trash, which is great for us and the garden.

Downton Fabric

Downton Abbey “Downstairs” Fabric Collection

One of my favorite “modern historical” periods is the late Edwardian era through the early 1920s, and I’ve recently started to branch into garment making. This fabric collection perfectly embodies the style I like to wear – a little bit understated and muted, but still feminine and interesting. There are a lot of other Downton collections as well, but this one is my favorite by far.

Mason Jar Bag

Insulated Mason Jar Bags

I love all of the mason jar lunch bags that are out there, but with a long commute I’m not the type to carry one more bag with me on a long train ride. I like to toss my lunch into my main backpack so I can carry one bag on my back with all my gear and be done with it. So until now, I’ve chosen lunch containers that were less potentially breakable than mason jars. Then I came across this great tutorial for sewing individual mason jar bags with a drawstring – just the solution I need. And it’s a really great way to use up leftover fabric from other projects too.

Water bottle

Lifefactory Glass Water Bottle

In my renewed quest to minimize plastics in our life, I recently picked up one of these glass water bottles with a silicone sleeve. I love it. I don’t worry about breakage since it’s got the protective cover on it, it’s got a great bail handle for easy carrying, and straw-style cap for sipping. So far I think it’s great, but I’m the guinea pig for the family right now – if it holds up on my crazy commute and is relatively spill-proof, then we’ll upgrade the rest of our water bottles to these as well.

Getting Started with Herb Gardening

Late spring/early summer is a great time to start thinking about the herb garden. In my kitchen, herbs are indispensable, and they are best when they’re fresh. And what’s the easiest way to get your hands on fresh herbs? Grow your own, of course. My favorite culinary herbs are thyme, parsley and basil. You can make a variety of amazing dishes with these three, and they’re a great trio to get get started with if you’re new to herb gardening. And if you don’t have a yard or outdoor garden space, don’t worry – herbs are fantastic in pots, provided they receive enough light. And what better way to cook than to just pick something fresh from your kitchen windowsill?

If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a great one-stop-shop book available called the Homegrown Herb Garden by Lisa Baker Morgan and Ann McCormick (and yes, I did receive a complimentary review copy). Part growing guide, part cookbook, this book showcases 15 different herbs, discussing how to grow, harvest, preserve and cook with each one. It’s filled with gorgeous color photographs, and is well organized.

There are three stand out recipes in this book that I can’t wait to try, one of which is the basil wraps (page 51). They’re basically little bites of mixed green and herb salad, dressed lightly with balsamic vinaigrette, rolled up in slices of proscuitto with a leaf or two of basil. Doesn’t that just sound amazing? Think of pairing that with some nice marinated olives, tiny dill pickles and some mustard pretzels – an amazing appetizer plate or light lunch.

Duck confit with herb salad (page 62) and lamb chops roasted on thyme (page 150) would also make a great lunch and would certainly put your home grown herbs to good use. And if these tasty-sounded recipes aren’t enough to make you want to get a few pots in your windowsill, I don’t know what is!

Building a Homestead Library

Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I still love bound paper books. And if the Kindle isn’t charged or accessible, physical books are even more of a must have. Sometimes technology fails (even if that failure is me chronically forgetting to charge the e-reader).

Having a reference library for all things homesteading is a really good idea, because keeping all of the information about household and garden management in one’s head can be a daunting prospect. I like to focus on five key areas – cooking, gardening, home-keeping, health/beauty care and DIY/building. Some of the classics in my reference library are –

Home Herbal Remedies

Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects

The Organically Clean Home

Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book

Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever

The River Cottage Bread Handbook

All New Square Foot Gardening

The New Organic Grower

The Backyard Homestead

The Milk-Free Kitchen

I’ve also had on my shelf for many, many months three titles by Robert Rose Inc. that I think are worthy of permanent addition to my personal library. I did receive complimentary copies for review purposes, but even if I hadn’t of I would’ve sought these titles out. Like the other Robert Rose book I’ve reviewed these books are all well-organized, comprehensive, have clear instructions/recipes/text and pictures that are both beautiful and informative.

The first of the three is The Best Natural Homemade Soaps by Mar Gomez. I’ve recently really gotten into soap making, and the step-by-step instructions in this book are great. The tone of the book is relaxed, like getting to chat with an expert one-on-one. And I really like the sidebars on most recipes with detailed information about specific ingredients, and explanations about why they work the way they do. The olive oil soap (page 51), lavender soap (page 111) and the oat soap (page 171) are all great recipes for the beginner soap maker to get started with. But with 40 recipes included in the book, there’s something for everyone, including those that have been around the block with making soaps from scratch.

The second book in the trio is The Complete Root Cellar Book by Steve Maxwell and Jennifer MacKenzie. I have spent year and years in mid-rise apartments dreaming of having a root cellar and now we finally own a house with a basement! When we were house hunting, I wouldn’t even consider places that didn’t have at least a partial basement – that’s how much my heart was set on creating a root cellar of my own. And what I thought was a complicated just-beyond-reach major construction project is actually quite doable, thanks to the clear options presented in this book. There are five basic root cellar options presented (in great detail, so you can actually build it and use it) – cold room, walk-in basement style, walk-in stand alone style, outdoor cellaring, and options for condos, town homes and those residing in warm climates. There are also sections on the practice of actually storing food in the cellar (including an entire chapter on pest control) as well as recipes so you can effectively cook from ingredients you’ve stored. The book is loaded with detailed diagrams and cutaways, so it’s very clear to see how to frame in walls, install ventilation and organize the room. I can’t wait to build – if we’re lucky, we’ll have our cellar situated by fall when it’s time to start storing the bulk of the harvest for the year.

The final book on the shelf is The Complete Homebrew Beer Book by George Hummel. We’ve been into home brewing for a few years now, but we haven’t done any since we moved. This book on my bedside reading table is my inspiration to pull out the brew kettle and get back in the saddle. It’s broken into three sections – beginner recipess, intermediate/advanced recipes and an entire section on “extreme” beers and other fermented beverages, including spiced beer, smoked beer, mead, cider and soda. The pumpkin ale (page 290) from this section really caught my eye – especially since I have a lot of pumpkin puree that is at it’s “best by” date that I need to find a use for. I think I just found a good solution, and now is the perfect time to start thinking about early fall brews. It only needs to condition in the bottle for four weeks before drinking, but personally I like to give it a bit more time so the flavors really develop.

So, now that I have a few weekend projects lined up for myself… I highly encourage you guys to pick up copies of these books and do the same. They’re great reads and excellent additions to any homestead library.