Tag Archives: home economics

Getting Into Hot Water

The rain here in northwest Georgia this year has been tremendous. The crops in my garden have not. A few tomatoes and a few bell peppers and some okra. Cucumbers? Pfft. Too much rain can definitely be a bad thing. (However, I am not complaining.  I love the rain.)  What do I have the most of? Hot peppers. They are thriving. The irony is, my family, nor I, don’t really eat a lot of hot peppers. Such is life. So, what to do? Give some away and can the rest.

About a week ago, I picked 50+ peppers- jalapeños and cow horns.  The jabaneros aren’t ready just yet. I knew this was going to be quite a task, as peppers are tricky to work with. 


The beginning of the crop.

The difficulty begins in the cutting. You must wear gloves for this and remember not to touch your face or skin! The capsaicin will get you for sure.  Peppers are much like onions, giving off vapors that can affect one’s eyes and breathing. I, of course, was no exception.  After about fifteen minutes, I had to crack the windows and back door to let some fresh air in. The coughing had commenced. Once the cutting was finished, I had to wipe down every surface I had come in contact with in the gloves.  The juice and seeds had managed to spread…

The jars were ready, the peppers went in, and the water bath began.  (10-15 min)


Jars filled, ready for the hot liquid.


Into the canner!

After 5 or 6 minutes, I could really smell the peppers in the air, which I thought was odd. Then I really started to sneeze and cough a great deal.  I glanced at the pot and saw a couple of seeds floating in the water, which was not good, but, curious. I stared to remove them, and saw a jar bobbing in the water! Thinking to myself, surely I didn’t not leave that much air space in the jar that it would float.  In all my years of canning, I have never experienced the problem shown below.  Two of my jars had broken on the bottom! The peppers were continuing to cook and the vapors were filling the air. Not sure why this happened.  I had the jars sitting on a rack, so that they were not touching the bottom of the pot. Funny thing is, I rarely use a rack on the bottom and have never had a problem.  One of life’s mysteries, I suppose.



So, I cleaned the jars off under hot running water and quickly brought a fresh batch of water to a boil. Plan B was to use a vegetable steamer in the bottom.  It worked like a charm and held the weight of the jars beautifully.


Plan B!


Finished product. Beauties!

In the end, the result was beautiful.  My eyes eventually stopped watering and my coughing and sneezing subsided. The peppers were so pretty and now I have lots of gifts to give.

Have you had a disaster in your kitchen this summer? Tell me about it!

Cheers, Olivia

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Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Food, Garden, Kitchen


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Using the Coconut Oil

Ah, Pinterest, you have struck my fancy again. A few days ago, I was perusing the pictures and came across a post that I, myself, have posted about in the past. See that post here. 52 Uses for Coconut Oil started out as a list with more uses for coconut oil than I thought I could ever use. As it turns out, readers have added 70+ more uses to her list. Glancing at this made me realize that I bought a jar of it quite a few months ago and had not used it yet. I decided it was time. I will preface this list with the fact that I’m not really a coconut person.  It’s growing on me.  The taste and smell of the oil are faint, so I can handle it.


Here’s what I’ve done with it this week:
1. Facial moisturizer. After I washed my face, before going to bed, I slathered it on. It soaked right in. The next morning, I looked like a new person. My skin was very hydrated and more plump.

2. Additive to coffee.
From what I can see, others are consuming it in lots of ways. I thought I would try it in my coffee. I drink mine with only half & half. I added just a little amount of the oil, about half of a teaspoon, give or take. It added just a hint of flavor.

3. Cat food additive.
During these dry months, it’s important to keep pets hydrated so they aren’t scratching dry skin. You can lead a cat to water, you know. I melted just a little of the oil in the microwave and drizzled it over their food. They didn’t seem to mind at all and ate all of it. (Of course, cats can be finicky, so easy does it on the amount.)

4. Leather Moisturizer. I’ve got a pair of ropers (cowboy boots) that I’ve had for over ten years.  The toes were a little scuffed up and I couldn’t put my hands on my shoe polish at the time. So, I rubbed a little c. oil on it and it fixed them right up.  Not the same as a polish and buff, but definitely hydrated them and brought them to a better state.

5. Lip moisturizer.  Works just as well as it did on my face.

6. Scalp conditioner. With the air being dry lately, My scalp around my forehead  has been the same. In the morning before my shower, I rubbed some on my scalp and let it soak in for about ten minutes, then just washed as usual.  Worked like a charm.

What have you been doing with it?

Cheers, Olivia

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Posted by on January 11, 2013 in 3 Ways, Food, House, Pets


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July Harvest

When I was home at the cabin a couple of weeks ago, I saw lots of progress in the garden. The plants were bigger, the colors more vibrant, and the harvest was definitely underway. Okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, eggplant, squash, mystery vines, plus lots of herbs and flowers abounded. Seeing the fruits of one’s labor is so rewarding, especially in a situation like this.  We get to enjoy my family’s work for a year at a time.  Dad’s tilling and smoothing of the ground with the tractor, the work of mom’s planting, the excitement of the seeds peeking out of the ground, the joy of seeing color for the first time as the plants grow, the harvest, the preservation, and the best part- eating it all!


Here’s the picking from that day.

I’m excited to see the mystery vines getting bigger. These still look like pumpkins at about 6-7″ across. However, one of the other vines has one fruit that has turned a peachy blush color. Any ideas on these? They squaty tiny gourds have since disappeared, so I imagine that they grew into the pumpkins.


The mystery white pumpkins.


Oh wait! They’re getting darker! A peachy tone is developing on this vine.

We’ve had tons and tons of tomatoes come in. I took the ones that I picked that day and canned them. In all it was a quart, plus two pints. Not a huge amount, but I will be glad to have them in the fall come chili and vegetable soup time!


I love the rays of sun coming through this tomato vine.


Tommy Toes!

Having flowers in the middle of the vegetable garden is a nice addition.  Zinnias are a staple in our gardens and have been as long as I can remember.  They grow tall and proud and abundantly! It is one of the best flowers to keep handy for a quick bouquet.  With a mix of colors, you can go with warm colors or cool ones to compliment whatever setting you have.  They just make you smile!


Fuchsia has taken over this corner of the garden! Pretty, pretty tones.


My mom has always had zinnias in her gardens over the years.

Ah, my faithful garden friend, Willie.  Like many cats, he likes to know what you’re up to and get underfoot.  He’s always nosing around out here and loves to dig.  He often comes back to the cabin a much darker color than when he left.


Here comes Willie through the okra.

The turkeys were one of my favorite sights this weekend.  I see them on the property a good bit, but not usually right near the cabin.  Friday morning, there were two of them right outside the front of the cabin about fifteen or twenty feet away, clucking softly and scratching around. They stayed close for about three hours, but kept out of sight for the most part.  On Saturday morning, there were two families that came by.  Below is the first one.  It was a pair with six chicks! the picture is not dynamic and I wish it was better, but you can get the idea.  About three minutes later a mama and three chicks (a little older) walked by quickly into the trees.


Morning visitors! A pair and six babies.

Below are some jars of the tomatoes I picked.  I mixed the red and yellow together and think it turned out to be a good batch. I’ve also put up a ton of the cucumbers and will post separately about the experience with those.


What are you growing this year? Show me or Tweet me a pic @LifeSkillsLivi


Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Food, Garden, Pets, Plants


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Homemade Window Cleaner

Here’s a quick recipe for making your own window cleaner. Give it a shot! Works like a charm.

1 cup isopropyl alcohol
1 cup water
1 tsp. white vinegar

Put in a squirt bottle and you’re all set! Be sure to label the bottle! Let me know how it goes.


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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in House


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Spring Cleaning

Spring seems to be peeking over the fence a bit early this year, but winter will surely rear its head one more time within the next month. While the weather is so nice (albeit there is a high pollen count), my doors and windows are open and spring cleaning is underway. Time to get some projects started around the house. Yesterday’s chores included some yard work, cleaning out a pantry and replanting a Philodendron. Mission accomplished.


The finished product. He is much happier.

The Philodendron I was re-potting belongs to my landlord.  He lives in the house next door, but has some plants on my back patio.  This plant is from an older one that he has had for years.  He prefers to leave this plant out all year round, but that is not my choice.  Frost and cold weather are not good for tropical plants, by the way. He had no problem with me taking care of it for the winter.

It has been in my guest room and I have watered and misted its leaves regularly.  However, the leaves seemed to be dropping a little bit.  The time for re-potting has been imminent.  So, yesterday was the day.  Once out of the old pot, it was evident as to the decline in health of the plant. Root bound for sure.  The poor plant had eaten up almost all of is nutrients/soil. So, after the dead leaves were pulled off and new pot was in place, it got a good watering and fertilizing.  Currently, this is about 4′ tall in the pot.

 The next step was cleaning out one of my pantries in my kitchen.  My house was built in 1921, so storage is limited and awkward.  The kitchen set-up is terrible, but I do have a pretty good pantry for non-food storage. Shelves go all the way up to the high ceilings.  The problem lately is that I have been lazy in putting things away and it’s just gotten cluttered at the bottom.  Everything needed to be moved up and given a proper home.  As you can see from the picture, there’s a chest-of-drawers in the bottom.  (Got it from Craigslist when I moved in and it’s made all the difference.)  At any rate, everything has a better place now and it feels much less cluttered.  This took about 40 minutes to get it back together.  (The lighting is terrible, but just wanted to give the idea.)


The last project was the yard. This is a whole ‘nother post in itself. I will spare you the gruesome details, but I worked for a couple of hours trimming ivy and holly bushes. (Insert holly and ivy joke here.)

So, what is spring cleaning all about? With spring comes new life, growth, warmth, and renewal. As the Earth refreshes itself, so should we. Open the doors and let the fresh air in, getting rid of the stale winter atmosphere in your house. It works wonders.

Following that, here are some typical chores that are done for spring cleaning:

  • Cleaning your bed. This includes washing all linens and vacuuming the mattress.  Rotating the mattress and cleaning the pillows as well.
  • Vacuuming/shampooing rugs.
  • Wiping walls and baseboards down.
  • Cleaning off bookshelves and their items.
  • Cleaning/washing windows and their treatments.
  • Heavy duty cleaning to your floors.
  • Cleaning out closet, swapping winter for summer clothes.
  • Thoroughly vacuum all furniture cushions, underneath, behind, etc.
  • Clean and freshen up you outdoor spaces- patios, decks, porches.
  • Clean out attic or basement.

The list can go on and on depending on your home.  The process is not a quick one, mind you.  Give yourself quite a few days to complete these tasks.  The important thing is to stay motivated.  You will be thoroughly rewarded.

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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in House


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Green Tomatoes, but Not Fried

Carrie  from Chamblee, GA wrote to me about green tomotoes. “Can you do a blog (and on FB) for what to do with green tomatoes – besides frying them.  HELP!”

Sure thing Carrie.

I will admit that  I am certainly not an expert on green tomatoes.  It’s one of the few foods that I don’t really care for.  I don’t cook or serve them, but I see them all over here in the south.  When they are fried, people put them on sandwiches, salads, and appetizers.  It always seems like they are fried, right?

Well, here are some suggestions to use the last crop from your garden.

Being in the South, my first suggestion will be a relish.  You mentioned that you can food sometimes, so this should be an easy one.

Green Tomato Relish

Makes about 10 pints

  • 15 pounds green tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 pounds onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup salt
  • 6 cups brown sugar
  • 4 green peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup celery seed
  • 1/3 cup mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 4 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice
  • cider vinegar

Preparation: Remove the stem end of the tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into fine
dice. Alternate layers of tomatoes and onions in a large pot or bowl, sprinkling
each layer with salt. Leave overnight.

The next day, drain off juices and place in a large
preserving kettle. Add sugar, green peppers, celery seed and mustard seed. Tie
the cloves, cinnamon and allspice in a cheesecloth bag and add to the pot. Pour
in cider vinegar to cover and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 2
1/2 hours. Remove from heat and discard cheesecloth bag. Pour relish into hot,
sterilized preserving jars, cover and seal.

My friend Carole recommended a salsa. Here’s a link to a quick one: Green Tomato Salsa

Also, check out this article from NPR.  Its a good one with lots of suggestions.

I hope this helps.  Let me know.


Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Food


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Baked Flounder with Tomatoes and Basil

Trying something new today.  There’s inspiration all around me for new dishes- my magazine subscriptions, my work in the restaurant industry, meals when I eat out, and people telling me what they are cooking.  In this category, I will share some of these ideas that I put into use.  I’ll start with Baked Flounder with Tomatoes and Basil.  This came to me through this month’s Bon Appetit (The Restaurant Issue Sept 2011). 

Link to Bon Appetit’s recipe here 

This is truly one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever tried. It is a reminder of how very simple things can be very delicious.  It turned out to be marvelous in taste and a crowd pleaser. 

This is BA's photo of their meal.

I used fresh tomatoes from my friend Carrie’s garden and fresh basil from my own.  Toss everything but the fish in the baking dish and bake for 5 minutes.  Then place the fish on top and return to the oven for ten more minutes.  There you have it! 
Here’s a step in the process.  We were so excited about the dish, that I forgot to take a picture of the final product.  Such is life.  Here it is midway. 

To complete the meal, I decided to add haricot verts and polenta.  I blanched the beans and left them with a crunch and a bright green color.  I had never cooked polenta, so I decided to keep it simple.  It cooks in one minute and the taste was so good. I substituted half of the water with chicken stock. At the end of cooking, I added a little butter, half & half, parmesan, and salt/pepper. 

The end product was an incredible meal.  Definitely a keeper. 

Final product and all its beautiful color.


Posted by on September 1, 2011 in What's For Dinner?


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As the gardens are producing their final batches of fruits and vegetables, everyone is enjoying the benefits of their love and hard work that has been put in all summer. I am certainly no exception to this rule. However, I am celebrating the fruit of others’ labor this year. Not having a garden of my own here in the city, I’m lucky enough to get some good veggies elsewhere. I worked at the Brookhaven Farmers Market a couple of weekends ago. Andrew, from Noring Farms in Covington, had some beautiful heirloom peppers. The colors were so gorgeous- a light lime green, deep purple, and a soft, light yellow. I bought three pounds.

A few days later, I went home to Summerville to see my parents and spend some time at the property. After visiting with my neighbor, Mr. Evans, I came home with an abundance of peppers- bells, jabaneros, and cayennes. So, at that point, I had a huge amount of peppers and had to figure out what to do with them.

I started with a batch of pepper jelly. The color was a glassy light green and so pretty. Bad news- it didn’t set. Re-cooked it and still no luck. 0 for 1 and batch thrown out. The next decision was to make a pepper and onion relish. Vidalias are peaking right now and I figured I couldn’t go wrong. After chopping veggies for 2 solid hours, I was on a roll.


Veggies in! Off I go!

Through this process, I decided it was time to buy another canning pot. This amount of peppers was almost too much for my standard pot to handle.


This was the first time that I had made a pepper-onion relish. It turned out nicely. I would have liked a little more heat, but wanted to stick to the original recipe to start with. The colors are good, the texture still has a bit of a crunch and the flavor is mild. I can’t wait to try it over a dog with some fresh buns from Bakeshop.

Noring Farms 200 Glass Springs Rd Covington, GA 30014


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Dinner Party Pointers

Karen T. from Alabama emailed me recently with a couple of questions. I answered the first one regarding RSVP etiquette. Now, on to the second half. She wanted advice on throwing a dinner party. There are a lot of deciding factors that go into throwing one of these dinners. Use these and you will be able to figure out what works best for you.

1. How much space do you have? How many people does your table seat? My table seats up to ten people comfortably, so I usually stay between 6 and 8 for this.

2. How big is your kitchen? Do you have enough space to get all of this food together? My kitchen at the moment is a resemblance of a NYC apartment. Very little cabinet and countertop space, tight quarters, and doors that all bang into each other and don’t allow for opening more than one thing at a time. Frustrating, but I make it work. The more space you have, obviously, the easier it will be.

3. How much do you feel comfortable cooking? Do you feel that you can cook for 10 or would it be better to start with a smaller number? Do you have the cookware to accomplish this meal? Whatever you feel you can take on, go for it.

4.  How much time will you have? Will you cook everything at the last minute or make some things that require some early prep? I recommend spacing out the time. If you start early, then you will have time to spend with your guests when they arrive and won’t be a slave to your stove. That’s why they call it entertaining. Also, something to think about is having extra help. Guests always ask what they can do to help. By all means, let them! Or maybe you have someone that could come by your house and give you a hand in cooking. A sibling, a parent, your child, perhaps a neighborhood child is looking to earn a little extra money or maybe you have a weekly house cleaner or helper that might be willing to help. (Asking a friend to help would be left to your own judgement. Make sure that person is not involved with the group at hand as to not hurt someone’s feelings for not being a part of the party).

5. Do you have enough place settings and serving pieces? Just make sure you have enough dishes to serve all of your guests the same thing. I.E. plates, bowls, glasses, stems, flatware, etc. If you don’t have enough serving pieces or enough room on the table, serve the plates from the kitchen and deliver them to your guests. A little pre-presentation effort is always a crowd pleaser.

6. Decor is something to think about, too. If you want a full table setting with cloth, flowers, candles, etc. By all means, do it. If you want to go simple and just use placemats, that is just fine also. Just make your table look put together and nice. Guests feel special with a warm touch to a table.

7. Meal plan. This is as broad as the Chattahooche River. (This should be a post on its own). Lots of factors to consider here besides the aforementioned. Budget, tastes, allergies, vegan/vegetarian, occasion, etc. What’s the occasion- just a Sunday dinner or holiday? How much can you spend on this meal? Are you on a chicken, rice, and salad budget this week or are you shooting for swordfish, pearl cous cous, and lots of vegetables? What about drinks? Alcohol or not? Who’s coming to dinner? Know your guests special needs. If you would like some menus, I can provide some.

8. What can someone else bring? Unless you’re doing potluck, it’s probably best to refrain from asking your guests to provide anything too complicated. Have them bring a bottle of wine or an appetizer or a loaf of bread to accompany the meal. However, there’s always an exception- if someone insists on preparing a dish, you are at total liberty to accept. It will save you time and money.

9. One last point to consider is level of difficulty. I recommend keeping some dishes easy. Having all the components at a high level of difficulty will make for a strained host and hostess. Let some dishes take center stage and have others as a support to the meal.

Let me know how your dinner parties are coming! What worked and what didn’t? Cheers. Olivia

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Food, House, Kitchen


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Baking Soda 3 Ways (for summer)

This weekend I had a request for baking soda 3 ways.  There are probably about 75 ways to use baking soda, so how do I narrow it down to just three??  Here’s a good starting point.  Summer uses for baking soda. 

1.  Body scrub.  I’m sure you are out in this beautiful summer sun and soaking it all up.  Oops! You got too much sun and now you’re skin is peeling.  Baking soda to the rescue.  When you get in the shower, sprinkle some soda on your wash cloth and gently rub your skin.  It will help to exfoliate all the dead skin off the surface. 

2.  Jellyfish sting aid. As a child, my friend and I got stung all over our legs by jellyfish.  I still remember the pain being helped the most by basking soda paste.  My mother mixed a little bit of water in some baking soda to make a spreadable paste.  She spread it all over our legs and then allowed it to dry.  You can brush it off and reapply as much as you like.  There’s not really any measurement to it.  Just pour some soda in a bowl and add water a few drops at a time, mix, and you will get a pasty consistency.

3.  Laundry booster.  With all the outdoor activity of summer, clothes seem to get more dingy with dirt, sweat, sunscreen, etc. Baking soda can help clean it all away.  Add 1/2 cup of soda to a load of laundry.  It will balance the pH and make the detergent work much better.  Your clothes will be fresher and brighter. 

Here’s a bonus use! When in the shower, sprinkle a small amount (a teaspoon or two) in your hand with your shampoo.  Wash your hair as normal.  It will help to get rid of any built up reside you have from activity or hair products. 

More to follow.  Let me know how baking soda is working for you!


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Posted by on June 5, 2011 in 3 Ways


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