Monday, September 28, 2009

Homespun Cleaning

Some of you know I make my own soap. I love doing it, it’s incredibly cheap, and it means it’s all natural. Explaining that would take a fairly long blog, and it’s going to have to wait until I get a new camera anyway, because pictures are incredibly helpful to the process.
After I had been doing that a while, I started wondering what else I could make homemade. Since I am a research fanatic that’s what I did, and I started realizing that if you have the time to invest you can make darn near anything yourself. Time, however, is a precious commodity, so here are a few things you can make with a minimum of time, effort, and out of ingredients that are easy to find.
These are the time tested recipes that I have found to be truly cost effective, so easy it’s almost laughable, and coolest of all, it means no nasty chemicals. You know how everybody wants to go green, but then you walk down the cleaning aisle and see how expensive those eco-friendly products are? Heck, even the bad old chemical cleaners are pretty steep. Well guess what… these are the same, only affordable.
I really hope you give them a chance. They really work, and there’s not a lot of things more satisfying then saying “I made my own laundry soap today.”
Have fun!

Homemade Laundry Soap
This isn’t grocery store laundry soap, it’s much better. And at about $0.05 per load, it’s worth it. It gels as it cools, and becomes slightly lumpy, but dissolves nicely in the washing machine. Just use a plastic measuring cup to scoop it and go. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to make it smell nice, but I personally like the pure soap smell just fine.

4 bars Ivory (or any unscented pure soap), grated.
4 C Borax
4 C Washing Soda (yes washing soda, not baking soda. It works better, trust me. You can find it in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores)
3½ gallons water

Using large enamel or stainless steel canning kettle, heat the water to almost boiling. Add grated soap and stir until melted. Add washing soda & borax, stirring until well mixed. Remove from heat & cool. Pour into a container(a paint bucket with a lid works great). Makes 4 gallons. Use ¼ C per load.
To make a stain spray, fill a spray bottle about ½ full of the laundry soap, then add another ¼ worth of white vinegar. Wait for it to stop foaming, then shake until well mixed.

Note: I make this much at a time, but it’s easy to cut this recipe in half, or even quarter it. Not everybody has giant canning kettles!

Lemon Furniture Polish
This furniture polish makes wood shine and protects it. Pretty cool.

1 C. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Lemon essential oil

Mix together and use the same way you use liquid gold, e.g. wipe it on with a soft rag, wipe dry with another one. That’s it. Simple, isn’t it?

“Not-Allowed-To-Use-That-Other-Name” Window Wash
Seriously, this works just as good. Try it. I add a little blue food coloring in order to distinguish it from other stuff. Why not?

¼ C. White Vinegar
1 tbsp. Cornstarch
2 C. Warm water

Mix together in a spray bottle, shaking really well to dissolve cornstarch. Now use just like the commercial stuff.

I have tons of these, but so far have not been able to find an acceptable (in other words, working) dishwasher soap recipe. If anyone knows one, I’d love to have it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cheap Foods that Taste Good (really)
How to Eat Like the Economy Didn’t Tank

I don’t know about you, but when I’m broke my cooking imagination seems to fly out the window. Almost anyone can concoct a gourmet meal when the ingredients on hand are top quality, exotic, and perfect, but it takes a lot of imagination to make something delicious out of an onion, ground beef, some ketchup, and frozen burger rolls. Sloppy Joes anyone? Not that there’s anything wrong with Sloppy Joes, but after a few weeks of going through the cheap foods roster, I get pretty sick of the Ground Beef Hall of Fame.

Ok, so you’re really missing all those steak dinners and shrimp pastas you were eating eighteen months ago, right? At this point most of us are feeling the pinch, and it can take an enormous toll on the dinner table. When times are this tough, food at the may be one of the only enjoyable things you and your family can still afford.

I have seen more “Eat more for less!” articles than I care to remember, and they all seem to feature some variation of condensed soup, uninspired sandwiches, or cans of vegetables. In other words, completely uninteresting.

These are the recipes I reach for whenever I get the “not spaghetti again” feeling. For my first installment I’ve gone Asian, but they really are easy. They really are cheap. To top it all off, they are definitely not boring. Enjoy!

Thai Green Curry with Chicken & Eggplant
As exotic as this dish sounds, it’s really comfort food. It’s amazing how silky the eggplant gets, and the chicken seems to come out
perfect every time. My family loves it so much that it’s become almost a weekly dinner. You can make it as spicy or mild as you want, just alter the amount of green curry paste. Serve with plain white rice and set out Asian chili paste & fish sauce for people to adjust to their taste.

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 jar ready-made green curry paste
1 1lb. Package boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin across the grain.
1 large eggplant, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 cans (16 oz.) coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
6 large leaves fresh basil, torn

Heat vegetable oil n a 6 qt. stockpot over medium heat. Add the curry paste, and stir until it starts to smell good. Add sliced chicken breasts, stirring to coat. Add diced eggplant. Keep stirring until the chicken begins to turn opaque and the eggplant absorbs some of the oil. Add the coconut milk and sugar (you can add more sugar if you want); bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes. Add the basil and remove from heat. Serve in bowls with a scoop of rice.

Asian Beef & Scallions
One night when I was really craving Chinese take out and just could not afford it, I decided to try to make Mongolian Beef. Authentic it’s not, but this is the delicious result. You can replace the skirt steak with flatiron steak, top round, or sirloin, just slice it thin! Serve with plain white rice and Confetti salad.

¼ C. soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. orange juice or lemon juice
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 - 2 lbs. skirt steak, flat iron steak, or top round (whatever’s on sale) sliced thin across the grain
1 tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces

Mix together first six ingredients. Add the steak and stir to coat, then set aside to marinate for about 20 minutes. Drain steak, reserving marinade. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the drained meat, stir frying until meat is browned. Reduce heat to low and add reserved marinade. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for five minutes. Serve over rice.

Confetti Salad
Easy and interesting, this salad can turn anything into a feast. It tastes even better the next day. Just think of it as Asian coleslaw!

¼ C. Mayonnaise
1 C. bottled ginger dressing
1 bag pre-shredded cabbage
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
¼ C. peanuts, chopped coarsely

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and ginger dressing. In a larger bowl, mix the cabbage and peppers. Add the dressing and stir to coat. Sprinkle peanuts over the top.

*Note: Until my camera is fixed or I get a new ones, I will only be using stock type photos. I will do my best however to find ones that look like mine!

What's the point?

Allow me to introduce myself. I am currently a stay at home mom, which I love. However, this does leave us short one income, which conventional wisdom states in this day and age is impossible. My husband is a union carpenter (which pays fairly well for blue collar work), but due to the current economic climate he has worked very little this year. This puts us in a bit of a bind financially. I’m not complaining, just trying to illustrate the situation.
Now while I may like cooking more than your average person, I am in no hurry to start doing laundry by hand again down at the creek (my friend Kerri‘s assertions that I am a “pilgrim“ aside). I do however maintain that there are ways of making our lives cheaper, easier, and less reliant on Wal-Mart and Costco for just getting by.
So here I present to you some ideas, tested and tried, in the hopes that it will help you and your family through these rough financial times. Furthermore, I hope that others will chime in and add their wisdom. It used to be that these sort of things were imparted to you by mothers, fathers, and others in the community. In today’s tech age when the world has gotten so small, our community should be stronger and filled with more voices, rather than separatist and uncommunicative. Whether you work or stay home, have children or not, are a woman or a man; whatever race, religion, creed, or color you are, please if you have something to add, feel free.
Glad to meet you.