Friday, August 31, 2012

Photo Friday :)

It occurred to me that I have not shared any of my photography with you recently.  I have been loaded down with distractions, and have not photographed much recently.  I do have some photos to share with you though!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Budget Friendly, Household Solutions

There are so many Make Your Own this and that recipes all over the internet these days.  Like many people, I am trying to cut my grocery bill by making my own household supplies when I can.  I want to share with you, not ideas for make your own, but "recipes" that I have actually tested and found to work.   I will tell you in advance, these are not my own ideas, just things that I learned by word of mouth and researching online.  I have, however, tried these and found them to work!

Laundry Detergent

The biggest money saver for me is my laundry detergent.  I do not have an HE washer, so I use powdered detergent.  I found several instructions for making your own, and I was SO not interested in counting out 40 plus cups of various ingredients!  After some math and some "close enoughs" here is what I came up with.
You can find all of the ingredients in the laundry aisle of your local Wal-Mart.  Borax, Washing Soda, Fels Naptha and baking soda.  I use baking soda because of my hard water, if you have soft water just leave it out.  You will also want to get a large bucket with a lid, approximately 3 to 5 gallons should do.  I used an old store-bought detergent bucket.  Not counting the bucket, the supplies cost me around $20.

I strongly suggest that you add ingredients to the bucket gradually and mix as you go, otherwise it because difficult to mix. 

  • Grate the bars of Fels Naptha.  You can do this by hand, your arm may fall off making it difficult to do laundry OR you can use a food shredder or processor.
  • I use 2 - 4lb boxes of Borax, 2 - 3lb boxes of washing soda, and 1 3/4 - 4lb boxes of baking soda to 4 bars of Fels Naptha.
  • The original recipe called for 12 c Borax, 8 c baking soda, 8 c washing soda and 8 c Fels Naptha.  If you REALLY want to measure all of that out ... go for it :)  I did do some math to come up with the directions that I use.
  • I really like the fragrance of the Fels Naptha, but if you want a different scent you can add about 10 drops or so of essential oil
  • Make sure to store tightly covered!
  • For a normal size load, I use approximately 1 tablespoon of detergent.  This recipe, that cost me $20, lasted about 9 to 10 months in my house doing about 5 to 7 loads per week.

Liquid Hand Soap

This is such an awesome "recipe"!  Hand soap is ridiculously expensive, but bar soap is pretty cheap comparatively.  You can make liquid hand soap from a bar of soap very easily.  You will not believe how fast and easy this is to do!

The only thing you need to purchase, other than the bar soap, is glycerin.  I found it in my local Wal-mart next to the first aid items.  It was just under $4 for a 6 oz bottle which is enough to make 12 batches of this recipe.  That works out to over 120 cups of liquid soap.

  • Grate your bar of soap.  It can be any brand that you prefer, I like Ivory.
  • In a large pan, combine 1 cup of soap shavings, 1 tablespoon of glycerin and 10 cups of water.
  • Melt over low heat until all of the shavings are melted and the mixture is smooth.  Stir often and do not walk away ... it melts very quickly.
  • Once it is all melted, remove from heat and allow it to cool completely.
  • After it is cooled, whisk until smooth and transfer to your storage container.

Disinfecting Wipes

Disinfecting wipes are great to have on hand in a household with children.  You will need a large, air tight container to store them.  I actually have a photo for this one!
I strongly recommend that you do not buy the cheapest paper towels for this.  My paper towels are the POM brand from Sam's Club. 
  • Cut the roll of paper towels in half with a serrated or electric carving knife.  After doing it this way, I decided that my wipes were too small for my purposes and will use a full roll next time.
  • Next, decide on your solution.  Which disinfectant do you want to use?  Options:  Rubbing Alcohol (1/4c Alcohol to 1 3/4c Water), Citrus Cleaner (1/4c Citrus Cleaner to 1 3/4c Water), Bleach (1 1/2T bleach to 2c water), Vinegar (1/4c vinegar to 1 3/4c Water), Ammonia (1T ammonia to 2c water) or your other favorite ie. Mr. Clean etc. (1/4c disinfecting cleanser to 1 3/4c Water). 
  • Pour your solution into the container, set the paper towels down into the container and then cover.  Let it sit for approximately 30 minutes, until all of the solution has been absorbed.
  • After the solution has been absorbed, the cardboard tube will slide right out.  Find the center most towel and pull it loose (as seen in photo).
  • Make sure that which ever solution you choose, you only use a total of 2 cups for the 1/2 roll of towels!

Stain Remover (for laundry)

This is a simple and effective laundry stain remover.  It works very well on most stains, some may need to be treated a second time, and like most stain removers it is not 100% fool proof.  Some stains are just too stubborn!  This has been very effective for my normal, daily stains.
  • In an air tight container or spray bottle: combine 2/3 cup dish soap, 2/3 cups ammonia, 6 tablespoons baking soda and 2 cups warm water.
  • Combine well and you are good to go!
  • The ingredients may separate as it sits, just stir or shake and it's as good as new!

All-Purpose Cleaner

My daily use, all purpose cleaner is probably one of those ideas that is so simple that you don't even think about it.  After working in a day care, parent helping at preschool and teaching Sunday school, I learned the 3 step cleaning method.  First you wash with soap water, then you rinse with straight water and you finish with bleach water.  It is simple and effective, but you have to keep getting out 3 spray bottles and spend a lot of time going through the steps.  I made modifications to this method for my own personal home use, and I am pleased with the results.
  • You will need 2 of those spray bottles that you get from the household cleaners aisle at the grocery store.
  • In one bottle pour 1 tablespoon of bleach and then fill to the top with tap water.  Make sure to clearly label the bottle!
  • The second bottle will be a 50 / 50 mixture of white vinegar and water.  You can also add a little squirt of dish soap for an extra boost.  
  • I use the vinegar/water/soap for most cleaning and when it's an area known for germiness, I use the bleach water afterward.

There are a couple of other ideas that I am working on but have not fully tested.  After I have had a chance to try them for a while, I will share those too.  Also, if you have a tried and true method ... tell me about it!!

Wild About Cake!

My daughter is completely obsessed with animal prints, mostly zebra stripes.  For her birthday, she chose a theme with bright pink and purple zebra stripe patterns.  I always like to make her cake myself to match her theme.  After a lot of thought, I decided that I would win the "Awesome Mom" award by making her cake zebra striped ... not the icing, but the cake itself!
I used one cake mix here, and divided it into two bowls.  One has cocoa added for chocolate and one has purple food coloring.  You can also use pureed fruit to color your cake.
The initial instructions depend on how big your cake is going to be.  If you are doing a large cake that requires more than one cake mix, use two different flavors or put food coloring in one mix.  If you are doing a smaller cake, divide the mix into two bowls.

Make sure to grease and flour your pan or baking dish so that the cake comes out easily, and don't forget to preheat your oven!
FYI ... if you try this, purple and chocolate become very similar in color after it is baked.
Start by drizzling one color/flavor into the pan in a stripe pattern.  Some "globs" are ok, because zebra stripes are not perfect, but try to keep them at a minimum.
Continue layering in stripes of batter, alternating colors/flavors.  Make sure not to put too much per layer.  The amount that you see here works very well.
This one is ready for the oven!
After you have layered all of your cake mix, bake according to your mix/recipe instructions.  After it is baked you will immediately see the stripes.
This is a different cake than the one that you saw in "batter stage".  Remember me saying that purple and chocolate are almost the same color after baked?  This one is chocolate and strawberry.
As if it doesn't look amazing enough already, do you want to see what the inside looks like?  Hold onto your hat!
Have you ever seen more beautiful zebra stripes in your life!?  :)

Simple Side - Roasted Veggies

Oven Roasted Red Potatoes
I know the title says "veggies" and the photo is of potatoes.  Blame it on my kids' picky palates!  I titled the post "veggies" because, although I show potatoes in the photo, any veggies would be super yummy!

You Will Need:

  • 2 cups veggies, choose your favorites (I like to used red potatoes and carrots)
  • 1 to 2 T olive oil (approximately, enough to coat)
  • 1 t. onion powder
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 T dry rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make It:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees (remember that all ovens cook differently, 425 is what works with my oven)
  2. Wash and cut up your veggies, making sure to keep them consistent in size.  If you are using baby carrots or new potatoes, you may choose to leave them whole.
  3. Place your veggies in a bowl and toss them with your seasonings and olive oil.  Adjust seasonings to fit your taste.  You may want to add your favorite or omit one that I use. 
  4. Spread coated veggies in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until veggies are tender.  Halfway through cooking, I toss them around a bit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I'm A Stonyfield Food Superhero!

By going to Stonyfield Farms website and creating a fun Superhero Profile (for free and only takes less than 5 minutes) you can help children have healthy food to eat.  For every profile created, they are donating $1 to Food Corps.  What is Food Corps?  Here it what they say about themselves:
FoodCorps places motivated leaders in limited-resource communities for a year of public service. Working under the direction of local partner organizations, we implement a three-ingredient recipe for healthy kids. Our Service Members:
  • Deliver hands-on nutrition education
  • Build and tend school gardens
  • Bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias

Our Mission

Through the hands and minds of emerging leaders, FoodCorps strives to give all youth an enduring relationship with healthy food.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Little Mama's Pasta Bake

Baked pasta is so yummy, and is a refreshing change from the standard, stove-top spaghetti.  I have tried many different recipes, and discerned what I liked and did not like about each one.  I will list simple ingredients along with ways to make them a little healthier in parentheses.

You will need:

  • 1lb cooked pasta, any variety you like, al dente (use whole grain or whole wheat)
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce (make your own pasta sauce with this simple recipe)
  • 1lb ground beef, browned (use ground chicken or turkey)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (make this simple substitute from A Simple Frugal Life)
  • 1/4 milk (use water if you prefer to leave out the milk or can't do dairy)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese, approximately (you can omit the cheese if you like)

Make it:

  •  Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine milk (or water) with soup.
  • Layer ingredients in a casserole dish or baking pan as follows; sauce, pasta, soup, cheese, pasta ... repeat.  Or, if you prefer ... just mix it all together and dump it in. 
  • Bake, covered for 30 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with shredded cheese and parmesan cheese.  Bake, uncovered, a few minutes more until melted and bubbly.  (I prefer to add the cheese topping at the end so that it doesn't stick to my foil cover.)
  • Serve with side of garlic bread and steamed veggies for a delicious meal!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

YOUR Favorite Pasta Sauce

Making your own pasta sauce is very simple, and the "recipe" can be varied in so many ways that you really can't mess up.  There are no set ingredients or amounts of this and that ... you just use what you like.  My kind of recipe!  I know that the idea of not having a structured recipe can be scary, so I will give it some structure.  Remember, it's YOUR sauce ... make it the way YOU like it!

You will need:

  • Tomato Puree; this can be canned or fresh, the amount is based on how much pasta you are making so for the sake of having a "recipe" to follow we'll say 3 to 4 cups.
  • Your favorite diced veggies; suggestions - carrots, celery, green pepper, onion, zucchini, yellow squash, mushroom, garlic, maybe you like it spicy so add some chili pepper - Let's say about 2 cups
  • Herbs; you have options here too, perhaps some herbs are too strong for you or you just don't like them.  The basics are parsley and basil (for me anyway), but you can also use an Italian Seasoning blend.  About a teaspoon or so depending on how strong you want it ... remember though, dried herbs tend to be stronger than fresh.

 Make It:

You have two options here, slow cook or quick cook.  Let's start with the slow cook method:
  • Place all ingredients in a crock pot or stove top pot and simmer on low until veggies are tender and flavors are blended ... saving the herbs to stir in last.  Pretty simple!
And now the the quick cook method:
  • Melt 2 T of butter or use your favorite cooking oil (such as virgin coconut oil) in a pan over medium low heat. 
  • Saute veggies until tender.  Start with the firm veggies first (like carrots) and add the softer/more delicate ones closer to the end (like mushrooms).  A hint on this step ... garlic becomes very bitter if over cooked, so add it in a little later.  Also, remember that we want to gently saute the veggies not fry them, so make sure to control the heat.
  • Stir in the tomato puree and simmer over low heat until warmed through.
  • Add herbs, simmer for just a few minutes more then toss with pasta.
  • If you need to thin your sauce, use a little of the cooking water from your pasta ... it will help it retain it's richness.
  • Puree in blender or food processor if you do not care for chunky style sauce.
Now, in case you were wondering, here is what I put into my sauce:
  • 1 large carrot, 1 medium green pepper, 1 stalk celery, 1 small onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 large mushroom, 1t. Italian Seasoning (I didn't have fresh on hand) and 1 pound of browned ground beef - 3 1/2 c. tomato puree.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Simply Healthy Snack

Have you ever read the nutrition label on a package of microwave popcorn?  Go do it now if you have some on hand, I'll wait ...

Are you back?  Gross, huh?  I won't tell you the brand that I am looking at, but it has partially hydrogenated oil, artificial flavor and color and propyl gallate (a preservative that according to has been tested on rats and may have caused cancer and has also been know to cause skin and stomach irritation.  It is banned in some countries).  Moving on ...

I found a blog that is a new favorite called Once a Mom Always a Cook.  I love her posts and I follow her on Facebook too!  A few days ago she posted on Facebook how to make your own microwave popcorn in a paper lunch bag.  You know I had to try it!  I love my Whirly-Pop, but it is a pain to get out and then clean for just a snack.

She suggested placing 2T of kernels in a paper lunch bag (fold over the top) and microwaving on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.  Then add your favorite seasoning. 

I have a super power microwave and kids that LOVE popcorn, so I have been using 3T of kernels for not quiet 1 1/2 minutes.  It turns out perfectly!  Ingredient list:  popcorn, a dash of sea salt and a kiss of REAL butter (which contains cream only).  Sounds much better, right!?  Guess what!  You can make way more microwave popcorn out of a bag of kernels that costs a few bucks than you can out of a box of the pre-packaged kind that usually costs $5 depending on brand and store.

Enjoy!  And while you are at it, go say "hi" to Audra at Once a Mom Always a Cook ... you won't be disappointed!