Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Aid Kit for the Car

On my to-do list is to check the first aid kits in all our vehicles. I cannot tell you how many times these small plastic boxes filled with just the right things has come to our aid during our travels! But they're only useful if they actually contain what you need.

You can keep quite a lot of useful first aid items in a small plastic school container, often available at Walmart and other such stores in the late summer when school supplies are on sale. Here's what I purchased for 50 cents apiece:

To this box I have added the following, in no particular order of importance:

  • Various sized Band-Aids
  • Alcohol prep pads, latex gloves, safety pins, sewing needle
  • Burn ointment, hydrocortisone cream, triple antibiotic cream
  • OTC meds, like Advil Cold and Sinus, Claritin, Doan's, Sudafed, ibuprofen, aspirin, Pepto Bismol tabs, Rolaids, Dramamine, as well as any prescription meds we need
  • Tweezers, scissors, antiseptic swabs (they are plastic and you snap them and the antiseptic runs down into the cotton tip, very handy!), Liquid Skin or New Skin
  • Q-tips, cotton balls
  • Small bottle of hand sanitizer (can be refilled from a larger container if needed) or package of wipes
All of the OTC meds I put in separate snack-size Ziploc bags and write the expiration date on the bags so I know how long they're fresh. Band-Aids, swabs, cotton boalls, etc., are also kept in snack bags, for the sake of keeping things organized. I keep the lid in place with a heavy duty rubber band, just to make sure things don't spill out all over the place when I'm trying to grab it from under the seat.

You also want to make sure you have these tools onboard your vehicle:

  • Fully charged cell phone (you can use an old cell phone that is no longer on your plan, as by law, cell phone carriers must complete all cell phone calls dialing 911; make sure you have the charger in your glove box as well), or, at the very least, a prepaid phone card
  • Jumper cables
  • Wind-up LED flash light so you don't have to fret about batteries; or a Maglite, which also doubles as a weapon so you can clobber a would-be carjacker if you need to
  • Roadside flares and reflective triangle
  • MREs and/or power bars (cuz you never know how long you might be stuck in your car!)
  • Warm blanket and an empty tuna can with a votive and matches (you can keep yourself warm for an entire night with a simple candle)
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • 2-3 gallons of water, for you and for your radiator
  • Tow strap, rubber bands, bungee cords
  • Folding shovel and small fire extinguisher
  • Life hammer (good for shattering the windshield and cutting the seat belt strap in case, Yah forbid, your care ends up in the water or you are involved in a rollover and can't get out of your car)
  • Portable air compressor, which you can get for under $30 and may save you the hassle of changing a tire when all you really need is for it to be filled with air for a short time)
  • GPS and charger, because who really likes to be lost?
  • Multi-head screwdriver, adjustable wrench, pliers, hammer, duct tape, work gloves, and a Leatherman, kept in a small toolbox
  • Pen and notepad
  • Spare credit card and cash
You may think of other things you could keep in the car for emergency purposes, or you may think some of these things are a little ridiculous. But they are handy nonetheless.

Finally, you might want to consider keeping a go-bag in your car, which I'll write about in another post.

p.s. My friend Thomas mentioned that I should add a can of Fix-a-Flat to my list for the car, for obvious reasons. Thanks, Thomas!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vitamin D3 in Your Milk

Recently a friend brought to my attention that Vitamin D3 fortified milk may be unfit to drink for those of us who keep the Biblical food laws. The source of that information can be found in an article here.

Of course, I was alarmed by this and immediately went to my refrigerator and checked out my half gallon of organic Horizon milk. I was somewhat relieved when I found it stamped with a kosher-approved symbol from  the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, New York, NY: 

Not one to be easily convinced, I contacted Horizon milk to get some answers. From the article my friend had sent me, I knew that the source for Vitamin D3 could be either from a cow, a sheep, or a pig. My question to Brandi, the perky young lady who answered the phone when I called Horizon, was could she verify the source of the Vitamin D3 that Horizon used in its vitamin-fortified products? At first she read to me from a script, but I politely told her that it was not really answering my question. I wanted to know, from them, what was their Vitamin D3 source? She had to put me on hold for a bit, but she did come back to tell me that the Vitamin D3 source they use comes from lanolin, which is found in sheep skins (lanolin is also used in beauty products, among others).

I thanked Brandi asked her if she could send me something in writing for my blog, but she said unfortunately she could not. Today I received email from them, which I've pasted below:

Thank you for your recent e-mail to Horizon Organic®. We appreciate your interest in our products. Vitamin D is sourced from lanolin (a substance produced by wool-bearing animals) is used as a raw material for producing our D3. Thanks again for contacting the Consumer Affairs Department.
Jose Avila
Consumer Response Representative
Ref: N1310315

So, I was feeling a little better after talking to Horizon, but I really want to hear it from the source. So, I contacted Rabbi Michael Morris, the milk expert at the Orthodox Union who oversees the Horizon account. He assured me that the source of "all the ingredients is investigated on a regular basis," and that I should have no worries about consuming their milk products. He suggested that I write to Horizon to get verification from them, because they were his client and he could not release their specific information. But we had a brief discussion on how important it is for consumers to be able to trust the OU symbol, and I thanked him for helping to make it easier to feed my family in accordance with Biblical law.

Seeing that I had just gone grocery shopping before I recieved my friend's email, I checked the kefir and the buttermilk I had brought home. Yikes! I never in my life had seen buttermilk with gelatin in it! I had grabbed the Kroger store brand because it was on sale and I needed it for cornbread. In fact, I had made the cornbread the night before and it was staring at me from the countertop! If you have ever made the mistake of not checking labels before you bought something, then used it when you shouldn't have, you will know the sinking feeling I had in my tummy. Alas! There it was, on the bottom of the label on the front of the bottle, the kosher symbol I had been hoping for. It was not the one from the Orthodox Union, but the one from the Organized Kashrus Laboratories:

Then I looked at our delicious Lifeway peach kefir, and did not immediately see the kosher symbol. I picked up the phone, and just about the time someone at Lifeway answered, I found the symbol. It was on the same part of the label that the buttermilk label showed it - front of the container, bottom right side.

So when I went to Trader Joe's this week, I picked up a gallon of their store brand milk because I am getting ready to make my own kefir and yogurt from scratch and wanted some decent organic milk that wasn't overpriced. Trader Joe's milk also carries the Orthodox Union symbol. Their kefir (as well as Lifeway's) carries the kosher symbol from the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which looks like this: 

For those of you who shop with kosher in mind, here's a place where you can find a wide variety of kosher symbols used on products in the US: However, the most common are the circle K and the circle U and the CRC, so far as I have seen in my kitchen.

If you buy Vitamin D3 fortified milk or milk products and you do not see a kosher symbol on the label, you should consider switching brands to one that has the certification. While the source could be cow or sheep, without that symbol, it could also be from a pig. Yuk!

Thanks to my friend Carol for bringing this to my attention. Happy shopping!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Butter-based Challah for Shabbat

Yesterday at the assembly, there was some discussion among the ladies after our Shabbat meal on the differing textures of challah bread. I concluded that there were likely two reasons: one, the recipe I make uses butter instead of the traditional olive oil; and two, it could be the bread was "overworked."

There's a Jewish dietary law that does not allow the mixing of dairy with meat products. If you were going to have someone at your dinner table or at your assembly who followed the Jewish dietary laws, you would want to tell them if the bread was made with butter, so they could decide if they would rather eat the bread or the meat ;-) But you could also make challah with olive oil, and there would be no restriction for them. However, you are going to get a very different textured bread if you make it with olive oil. Both kinds are excellent, if you make them right.

Here's the butter-based Challah recipe used by the ladies at the House of David in Gloucester Point, VA (I'll post my olive oil challah recipe at a later date):

Ingredients (for two medium-sized braided loaves)
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 stick butter
1/2 c. milk
1 T honey
2 large eggs, plus two more for the wash
3 1/4 c. bread flour
1 tsp. salt
3 T sugar
3/4 T active dry yeast

Using a small glass bowl, add 1/4 cup of warm water and then whisk in 3/4 of a tablespoon of active dry yeast and a pinch of sugar. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, add 1/2 cup of milk and half a stick of real butter, and heat on low until the butter is melted.

If you're going to use a Kitchen Aid mixer, the rest is done in the mixing bowl for that wonderful tool. But if you're mixing by hand, add the milk/butter mixture to a good-sized mixing bowl and add about a tablespoon of honey. Whisk it with a wire whip until it has cooled off enough to not cook your eggs (the temperature should be no warmer than 100 deg F on a candy thermometer, or an instant read, if you have one).

Crack each egg into a small bowl and check for any blood or other specks of stuff you don't want in your bread. This is especially important if you have roosters or if you buy local fresh eggs. Add one egg at a time to the milk mixture and mix well with the wire whisk.

Next add 3 tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of salt to the milk mixture, mixing well, and then add the yeast mixture, which should by now be good and frothy (if it's not, your yeast is bad and needs to be dumped in the toilet if you have a septic, as it's good for the septic system, and you'll need new yeast). Add bread flour a cup at a time until you have three cups incorporated. By now your dough should be very soft and probably still sticky. Keep adding flour about 2 tablespoons at a time and keep working the dough until it's either pulled away from the bowl (if you're using a dough hook on a Kitchen Aid) or until it's able to be handled without sticking to your hands.

Knead the dough no longer than ten minutes. You want to activate the gluten but not so much that it gets overstretched. Place the dough into a buttered bowl, get the bottom side of the dough covered with the butter then flip over the dough and coat the other side. This helps the dough stay soft and not develop any crusting due to contact with the air. Cover the bowl with a towel (I use a flour sack towel as it's light enough to lay on top of the braids as they rise) and set in a warm place until it's doubled in bulk. Punch it down and let it raise another 45 minutes to an hour (you can skip the second rising if you're pressed for time, though your bread won't be quite as light as it would be if you gave it the second rising).

Punch the dough down again and get all the air out of it. Using a sharp knife, cut the ball of dough in half, then each half in thirds, so you can make your braids. Roll each ball into a rope about 12-15 inches long. Lay three out on a clean surface (I use a wooden cutting board) and make your braid. Pinch the ends together. Do the same with the remaining dough. Place the braids on a cookie sheet that's been sprayed with Pam or some such. Cover with a towel and let raise until doubled in bulk.

Using a pastry brush, cover each braid with an egg wash made of 1 egg and 1 egg white and a tablespoon of water that's been whisked thoroughly. Don't forget to inspect the eggs as you did when you added them to the dough. If you like, you can sprinkle poppy seeds on your loaves and then pop them into a hot 350 deg F oven until they're nice and golden brown.

I let mine cool, use one for erev Shabbat dinner, and then wrap the other one in foil to either take to a neighbor or to the Shabbat assembly the next day. If you wanted to put one in the freezer for another time, I'd wrap it first in a layer of freezer paper (make sure the coated side is turned toward the bread) then wrap it in foil and then put it in a plastic bag before freezing it. The longest I've kept homemade bread in the freezer is a couple of weeks, as it's too tempting to leave in there for long ;-) But when you let it thaw, you can take it out of the freezer paper, put it back in the foil and then pop it into a 350 deg F for about 10 minutes and it will be almost as good as the first baking.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Heavy Cleaning and the Preparation Day

Recently we have been battling a flea infestation at our house, as our German Shepherd and our Labrador Retriever are in-out dogs. You would think this deep into the winter it would not be a problem, but the Shepherd's undercoat seems to have been not carefully attended to by me, and the little buggers got a foothold. It's been nearly two months, with constant combing and weekly baths and finally (I have to admit, it took me a while) daily vacuuming and sweeping. Washing their bedding every other day has been a chore. Searching out the best, least toxic route to kill the critters has taken up hours. It feels as though I've turned into a full-time flea eradicator. Ask me anything about cedar oil!

Perhaps we have turned a corner, now that I have found the rhythm that doesn't interrupt the flow of my Shabbat preparation day, which starts Thursday night and ends, ideally, a few hours before sundown on Fridays. The early part of the week, instead of bumming around thrift stores, are now spent engaged in doing laundry, the heavier cleaning such as carpet shampooing and move-all-the-stuff-out-of-the-way dusting and stripping the bed and scrubbing the bathrooms. We have beautiful oak furniture which David bought for us when we got married, and it needs a good oiling every now and then. We do very little eating out, so my kitchen gets a workout, and I cannot believe the junk that makes its way down the front and sides of my stove! And what a mess in the refrigerator! Plus the extra work of cleaning up after the dogs ;-) I've had to move shopping and running errands in town to Thursdays, instead of easing into the preparation day with a little cleaning here, a little there. This flea infestation has made me take a hard look at how I allocate my time and what my responsibilities are here in my home, and how can I get it all accomplished so I can be ready to spend Shabbat evening in quiet, cordial companionship with my beloved.

I have found a useful chart which I've modified that helps me stay on track with my cleaning, which I've posted in a googledocs folder you can access by the link under "Pages." Maybe you can modify it for your own use, and what's better, get your daughters to help you out while you teach them what it means to be a homemaker.

Recently we studied the subject of what it means to "work" on Shabbat, particularly in the context of cooking. Early on in our marriage, David asked me not to run the dishwasher on Friday nights, and to move our big breakfast to Sunday morning, so that I could rest on Shabbat. It took me a good long while to obey him in this, nearly five years! But after carefully studying the commandments around Shabbat, I now see his point and have had to rethink food preparation for Shabbat as well. It has been good to have some extra time on Fridays to 1) prepare the erev Shabbat meal, 2) prepare an appropriate dish to take to the assembly the next day, and 3) prepare something simple that doesn't require cooking for our breakfast on Saturday morning. Now, when we light the candles on Friday evening and enter into the set-apart time, our house is clean, our food is prepared, and there is a feeling of true shalom in our midst.

I do believe these fleas have taught me a good lesson!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Four Thieves Vinegar Immunity Booster

A while back a friend of mine was promoting the idea of misting what she called "Four Thieves" throughout her household during the winter months. She said it was an essential oil formula that she purchased from a well-known essential oil company that was promoting it as a cold and flu preventative. Supposedly the formula came from a group of men caught stealing from those who had died in the bubonic plague, and when they were finally caught, were forced to "cough up" their recipe. It's an interesting story, but I'm not sure if it's true ;-)

So after some research, I decided that it was better to make a vinegar infusion instead. When our immune system is congested, it makes it hard for us to stay well. As you know, keeping our immune system strong requires that we keep our digestive tract working properly. Herbal vinegars have had a long history of use in the home medicine cabinet, and are sometimes more useful than water infusions (teas) because the acid in the vinegar helps to extract the beneficial minerals from the plant material. I made up a batch according to a recipe I found here that included equal parts of the following:
  • lavender - antiseptic properties, useful against putrefactive bacteria in the intestines
  • sage - good for eliminating mucous congestion in the respiratory passages and the stomach
  • thyme - commonly used for throat and bronchial problems and effective at killing intestinal parasites
  • lemon balm - good for chronic bronchial catarrh (inflammation and mucuous) and some forms of asthma
  • hyssop - good for coughs and sore throat due to colds; nose and throat infections; and mucous congestion in the intestines
  • peppermint - good for poor disgestion and coughs
  • handful of raw garlic - stimulates the activity of the digestive organs, useful for intestinal catarrh and for killing intestinal worms
I used about 4 ounces of each herb, plus the handful of raw garlic, tossed it all into a half-gallon glass jar and covered it with Bragg's raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother). Today, after four weeks, I strained it and squeezed out as much of the liquid from the herbs as I could, strained it again, then collected it in this nice bottle from Ikea. It smells marvelous and quite strong. Since my beloved started complaining of a stuffiness in his head last night, I'm going to start giving him a teaspoon of this in a glass of water when he comes home, and put some in the drinking water he takes to work. I'll be posting later to let you know if it really works.

p.s. The herbal information came from Dr. John Lust's The Herb Book, a classic.

UPDATE:  We're at the last day of February and we have been well all winter. Praise Yah!