Saturday, April 25, 2009

Herbs in the home

I'm very late with this post, mainly because we've had some trouble with our Internet connection, broke down in my car on the motorway yesterday - long story - and we've been packing for our holiday. But today's post is one I feel passionate about. I love herbs, growing them and using them for cooking. But herbs are also great to use around the home. In fact, have you seen the BBC show 'How to grow your own drugs' ? Sounds a bit dodgy I know, but it's not at all. The presenter is a botanist showing how to make basic health remedies from herbs you can grow in the garden... I've got my eye on the book, and it's on my Amazon wish list now. One of the great recipes shows how to use hops under your pillow to relieve insomnia - so simple, but apparently is works.

As you might have noticed before, I am not a fan of chemicals and generally prefer 'natural' solutions. I've gathered some great simple and natural recipes for using herbs to clean and freshen the home, I hope you can make use of them. I've not tried all of these myself, but do let me know if you use any of these successfully. And I think Spring is just the right time to try them out!

Many of these recipes include Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus is a great oil that every household should have alongside a bottle of Lavender oil. It's also readily available from supermarkets and chemists. Eucalyptus is not only a disinfectant, but will also keep pests such as moths and fleas out of your home, and it smells really fresh too.

Lavender fresh carpets
The first recipe is one I saw on the program "How Clean is Your House?" with the brilliant and funny Kim and Aggie. Mind you, it's a pretty grim program, and I reckon most people watch it to be able to say 'at least my house isn't THAT bad'. Goodness, I hope there aren't many houses around as dirty as those ones - some of the houses shown on the program makes me feel ill, yuk! This recipe is to freshen up carpets in preparation for vacuuming...

Mix some bicarbonate of soda with some fresh lavender that has been slightly bruised and crushed in a pestle and mortar. Add them to a shaker pot and sprinkle over the carpet surface. Leave for approximately 30 minutes before vacuuming the carpet thoroughly.

The lavender not only makes your carpet smells nice, but as it gets vacuumed up, the lavender scent will be spread around the room through the vacuum's air outlet... lovely!

All Purpouse Thyme Cleaner
Thyme is a disinfecting herb that can be used safely around the house.

2 1/2 cups water
1 handful thyme (fresh or dried)
Liquid castille soap (squirt)

Boil the water and then add the thyme. Simmer for 3 hours over medium-low heat, covered. Cool, then strain. Pour the water into a spray bottle, top with white vinegar and add a squirt of soap. Use as needed.

Herb Disinfectant Cleaner
This spray cleaner disinfects surfaces, kills mold, and discourages its return. Eucalyptus,
lavender, and tea tree are all known for their antimicrobial properties.
1 tsp. sodium lauryl sulfate
1 tsp. borax
2 Tbs. white vinegar
2 cups hot water
1/4 tsp. eucalyptus essential oil
1/4 tsp. lavender essential oil
3 drops tea tree essential oil
Mix all ingredients together and stir until dry ingredients dissolve. Pour into spray bottle. To use, spray as needed on any surface except glass. Scrub and rinse with clean, damp cloth.
*Source: The Herb Companion, September 1999

Lavender Laundry
A brilliant Martha tip: Add a Lavender Bag to your dryer when drying your linen and sheets. Can be used at least 25 times.

Lavender Gentle Scourer
3/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/8 cup (one-eighth) liquid castile soap
5 drops lavender Essential Oil

Combine all ingredients and add enough water to make a smooth paste. Apply to surface, then wipe area clean with a damp sponge or cloth. Rinse well.

Linen Spray
1/2 cup Distilled Water
1/2 cup Vodka
10 drops Eucalyptus oil or any other favourite essential oil

Mix the ingredients and pour into a spray bottle. Shake before use.

Tub Scrub
1 cup Baking Soda
15 drops Eucalyptus oil

Mix the baking soda and oil well then scrub onto bathroom tub and sink with a damp sponge. Leave sit for a bit before rinsing off with clear warm water. I can personally vouch for this recipe working a treat! It really does take the hard work out of cleaning a dirty bathtub and leaves the bathroom smelling clean.

I hope you enjoy and try out some of these - do let me know how you find them in comparison to the usual chemicals in brightly coloured bottles you can buy? I still get sidetracked and end up buying some, but I'm always sorry when I smell those nasty smells.

I found many of the recipes from this fabulous website, take a look for some more:

And a great website to buy bulk cleaning basics such as borax and castille soap in the UK is Summer Naturals.

I'll be away for two weeks - we're off to Egypt! It will be our first ever visit there, and I'm ridiculously excited about it, walking around the house singing 'walk like an Egyptian' over and over. It also means two weeks to get me out of my cleaning routine, so I'll need to remind myself how to do things by the time I get back, so right now I'm off to clean the house before our holiday. Getting back from holiday is always a bit of a downer, but less so if you return to a clean and fresh home. Have a great couple of weeks!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The best Steak Salad...

We've had some internet troubles at home, so I've not been able to post this recipe on Monday as I hoped. But better late than never.

My sister owns and runs a Medical Spa and Guesthouse in South Africa. At the restaurant they serve the most delicious salad I've ever had, and I am genuinely not a fan of salads in general (lettuce is for rabbits!). But this steak salad is filling, tasty and healthy and would probably be enjoyed by most men too. I've been dying to make it myself and got my mum to interrogate the chef about how he makes it. So shh, don't tell my sister I'm sharing this recipe with you. It is actually a very simple recipe and can easily be adapted, but I think it's the sauce and dressing together that makes this work, so pay attention to those bits!

Steak Salad
Makes 2 large portions to be served as main meals

2 Sirloin steaks - fat removed
1 Diced onion
Mixed salad leaves (I used spinach leaves, and a mixed bag of lettuce)
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Red/Yellow Pepper, cut into strips
2 Rounds of feta cheese, cut into cubes
1 Carrot grated
1 Lemon
Olive oil
BBQ Sauce
Salt & pepper

Prepare the fresh salad by washing the salad leaves, slicing up the peppers and tomatoes, and grating the carrots. Mix in a bowl adding the feta cheese and olives.

Fry the diced onion gently until slightly soft, then add the steaks to the frying pan cooking them to your preferred taste. Add the BBQ sauce to the pan covering both the steaks and onions with the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat, slice the steak into smaller strips and toss the steak strips again so that they are covered in the sauce.

Top the salad with the steak and onion. Now squeeze the juice from the lemon into a separate bowl, add some olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. Mix it up, and drizzle over the salad to serve.

This is such a perfect recipe for a warm summer's evening - the warm steak goes surprisingly well with the cold salad, and the lemon and BBQ sauce is a great taste!


Friday, April 10, 2009


Happy Easter everyone! I hope you are all having a wonderful Easter weekend. We are definitely relaxing a bit this weekend, but we've also still been busy with our spring cleaning. This morning we did a quick 10 minute tidy downstairs, and 20 minutes upstairs using the timer - it worked great and means I can put my feet up for the rest of the weekend. As promised however, here is my post about scrubbing a floor...

I'm not sure if I should admit this or not, but here goes... I have never in my life scrubbed a floor. Mopped, yes of course, I have mopped my floors many times, and may I just add that my floors are mostly pretty clean because I sweep them with a hard bristle broom before mopping. But since it's spring and I've kind of always wanted to try this (probably because I watched the Cinderella movie too many times as a child), I decided to try it myself and blog about it. The majority of our house downstairs has laminate floors, and they don't need scrubbing. Our bathroom floor is a shiny tiny tile floor that I simply wipe clean along with the rest of the bathroom. But our kitchen floor is a lovely uneven slate floor. It's probably about time that it has a 'deep clean'. So I'm on a mission to find out what all the fuss is about scrubbing on your hands an knees, and will it really leave my floor cleaner, undamaged and sparkling?

Before we get started, let me just say that even my Martha Stewart Homekeeping Handbook mentions that scrubbing is not something that needs to be done on a regular basis... phew, I almost started feeling guilty. Secondly, never scrub a surface that cannot handle being waterlogged, or is prone to scratching (eg. wood, laminate, vinyl).

Some people claim that scrubbing a floor on your hands and knees is therapeutic, and having literally just finished I can kind of agree, but I'm more impressed with the amount of calories I must have burnt doing that - bring on a slice of Easter cake!

Let's get started with the supplies, and of course, please do let me know if I have got any of
this wrong, I am after all just a novice at this.

You will need:
  • Floor scrubbing brush
  • Knee pads or a kneeling cushion (even if you are young and spritely, knees are sensitive things - I used an old cushion that I popped into a plastic carrier bag)
  • 6 or 7 drops of dish soap in a bucket filed with a gallon of hot water.
  • A second bucket filled with clear water
  • Absorbent sponge, an old towel or a big floor cloth
  1. Starting in a corner and working your way towards the entrance of a room, dip the scrub brush in the soapy water and scrub floor in a circular motion paying particular attention to grubby bits and grooves.
  2. Dip the scrub brush in the bucket with plain water before re-dipping it in the soapy water to repeat step 1 as you move along the floor.
  3. When you've covered all of the floor surface, rinse both buckets and fill one with fresh clear water. Roughly go over the floor surface again using long circular strokes, dipping the scrub brush every so often.
  4. Use an absorbent sponge, old towel or a floor cloth to mop up excess water to allow the floor to dry quicker.
This is me having a go....

So what's the verdict? I'm pleasantly surprised how quick it was (okay, so my kitchen is quite small), and that I didn't feel at all like Cinderella, boo. The kitchen floor does however look cleaner for it, but once again, I don't think this is a task I would add to my weekly cleaning routine (I love my mop too much), but it sure was a great spring clean task. Now, with a stronger back and a distinct lack of guilt I can go have an extra Easter egg for my effort.

PS: I might just share my new favourite recipe with you on Monday - the best Steak Salad ever!!! Yum.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Today's to-do list

I hope you are all having a lovely weekend with a bit of sunshine. It's nice and sunny here in Oxfordshire, but it's still a bit on the cold side for my liking.

I have a big to-do list for today. Now I'm not much of a fan of to-do lists, maybe because I don't like the disappointment if I don't do all of it, and because I'm a bit forgetful and end up forgetting to look at my to-do lists. But seeing as today is Sunday, and I have plenty of things I'd like to get done before the start of another week, I've written out my list. Here's how it goes:

1. Gardening
  • Weed front garden
  • Plant seeds
  • Dig bed in front of Shed
2. Food
  • Plan weekly menu
  • Write grocery list
  • Do grocery shopping
3. Cleaning
  • 20 minute floor clean downstairs
  • 15 minute vacuum downstairs
  • 10 minute kitchen wipe-down
  • Water house plants
  • Put on dark washing
It's not too bad actually. As you can see I've given myself time limits on my cleaning, because it's easy to get carried away or overwhelmed by tasks at the weekend, and if I use my timer to do a quick clean I don't feel as bad about doing cleaning on a Sunday. I've also not written the list to do in that particular order, but it does help to clearly define the three main areas I'll focus on today (other than relaxing that is - that's my main focus!).

One of my tasks is to water all the houseplants today, and I thought I'd share some handy tips I've learnt about feeding your plants as you water them:

  • When you boil or steam veggies, use the left-over water to cool down and use it to water your plants - a lovely nutritious treat for them.
  • You can use cooled down chamomile tea to water young plants if you would like to prevent mould.
  • If you own a fish tank, don't throw away any of the smelly water when you clean the tank - the water is full of nutrients that your plants will love.
  • Nettles growing in the corner of the garden? Half fill a bucket with nettles and add rainwater. Cover the bucket and leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks. Drain the water (which should have a strong odour), and dilute to 4 parts water for watering roots of plants or to enrich the soil - voila! A nettle manure.
I'll be back soon with a post about scrubbing floors! Watch this space...
Have a great Sunday!

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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