Category Archives: Greener Living

I Guess it’s Something

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Hi all! I sort of don’t know where to pick up, where we left off. My last few posts haven’t been of the food related nature, not that we haven’t been eating but because we haven’t been eating anything that I felt was worth sharing, you know? I’m trying to fine-tune a new series of shop once, cook ahead, prep while you can sort of posts, but they’re a lot of work and I need to get a few in the bag before I can start sending them to you. Also, I need ideas for these posts, so I know what you all do on a busy weeknight (other than grab some take away box from somewhere): What is your favorite go-to dinner? What do you make when you are fresh out of anything, when you’re depending on your pantry to do the talking? For some it’s spaghetti, others it’s eggs, but I really want to know what you throw together when you want something quick, tasty and satisfying? Doesn’t need to be healthy, either, it just needs to be dinner.

Please, help a food-obsessed sister out. And I promise you, I’ll have some food coming at you soon.

For now, though, I have a homemaker-y bit. We all like to save money, but live a convenient life. A lot of us are also concerned with our effect on the planet juxtaposed against our consumerism and quest for convenience. What I mean is, I love the Swiffer wet pads, especially since we have laminate and tile floors in our house. What I don’t love is that they are full of chemicals and that the pads aren’t exactly Earth-friendly. Nick and I have always been recyclers and composters and try to be more green in our every day lives. But regular old sponge mops do nothing but spread the nastiness around (I promise), and the Swiffer pads aren’t part of my reasonable expectations of myself to watch my carbon footprint. Also, after we found out that the cat is Hyper Allergic to Everything he touches this summer, I’ve further embraced a green-cleaning lifestyle since it’s cheaper than a bi-weekly trip to the vet. Enter this idea.

A trip to my local Dollar Tree netted me a some microfiber cleaning cloths (for the low, low price of $1!), which I brought home and washed. These are just about the perfect size for my dust mop base, so I didn’t trim them. Observe:

You could cut them, though, and stitch up the edges, if you’d like. I mixed up a bottle of green floor cleaner (I’ve provided the recipe below) and got to work.

One thing to keep in mind with the microfiber pads: don’t use fabric softener with them. You want them to be clingy and staticky, that’s what makes them so genius in this application. Buy putting fabric softener on them, you’re adding an unnecessary oily layer to them, which is going to get all over your floors and decrease absorbency. We don’t use fabric softener at all anymore, but if you do, avoid using it with your cleaning cloths, dishtowels and bath towels. You’ll see a noticeable difference in them.

My method here is to sweep and vacuum up the little bits of whathaveyou off the floor, lightly spritz the floor cleaner in a small area, and mop away, repeating the spritzing and mopping throughout the house. The floor cleaner is streak free and smells pretty great, and this bottle lasts a pretty long time. Also, the essential oils I’ve chosen are naturally antibacterial for you germ-phobes out there, and mask the vinegar smell (which doesn’t bother me and fades really fast, but some people don’t want their house smelling like a pickle barrel for even one hot minute). And once your done, you pull the microfiber pad off the mop, drop it in the washer, et voila! you’re done.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water (I use bottled because we have hard water in our town)
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup isopropyl alcohol (regular old rubbing alcohol)
  • A couple drops natural dish soap (I use the Safeway Bright Green orange scent, but use your favorite. I’ve heard not-so-green Dawn is a homemaker’s dream)
  • 4-5 drops lavender or tea tree or peppermint essential oil
  • 24 oz. fine-mist spray bottle (my Dollar Tree has these too, or you can get them at the hardware store. Don’t re-use one from an old cleaner, though, you’re aiming for a green cleaner here and leftover chemical residue sorta subverts that whole thang.)

Pour all ingredients into your spray bottle, and shake, shake, shake. Lightly mist your swept floors, and mop ’til your heart’s content and your floors are sparkling.

Knock it Off: the Cinderella Story of a Coffee Table

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Yesterday was a harrowing day around our house. We had to take poor Ted to the vet for an undisclosed aggressive something that was causing him to chew his feet to ribbons. Poor Ted! Turns out that it is most likely an allergic reaction (what we all narrowed it down to without having to give him expensive skin testing). The worst part of the whole thing was having to stuff him in the crate and drive him the 10 minutes to the vet. He and I both cried the whole way there, it was not pretty. The ride home, though, only he was crying. Well, him and the credit card, that is.

And on the ride home, I saw a coffee table with a sign on it that said ‘Free.’ The magic word! I just had to get the cat home and comfortable, and beg the universe to keep that table there for me to go back to inspect. Lo, it worked. After some inspection as to structural soundness (yes, that was me standing on top of a coffee table on the side of the road) and funky stains or smells, into the hatchback it went. It was really heavy, really solid oak and oak veneer. I should have called Nick to clear it first but, well, there was a suburbanite in a minivan circling the perimeter, and there was just no time. I could dumpsterize it if need be.

I’ve been in the market for a new coffee table for a couple months now. I got one when we first moved in to our new place; it’s of the ottoman persuasion. I really like it but it’s a little too small for our living room layout, and visually it’s a BRICK. I wanted something that was open underneath so the light could come through it and make the room feel more balanced. The roadside attraction was the right size, with nice mission-style lines. The only crap thing about it was it was that horrible, honey-colored blond wood. Lookee here:

So, I got out my waterproof drop cloth (an apartment painter’s best friend) and my paint pod. Have you seen these? My hardware store has them for about $3, and they’re the perfect size for small projects like this. Just enough paint to get the job done without having to invest in a whole quart. Located my brushes and my sandpaper and got to work.

I knew I wanted the legs to be dark so they’d recede into our darker rug, so I painted those first. The wood for the top and bottom shelves, though, was actually in pretty good shape, but again with the ugly color. What to do? I considered staining them a nice walnut color, but sanding is inconvenient here and I didn’t want to buy a whole quart of stain for the 4 tablespoons I needed. I considered covering them in some upholstery fabric and adding finishing nails to the sides, but didn’t like that idea either. What to do, what to do? I stopped at this point and made a call to my mom, the original furniture reformer. (Pssst… that’s the paint pod on the lower shelf.)

She told me about a paint and rag technique that she has used, but the idea scared me, even though she swore I couldn’t screw it up. Luckily she grabbed a rag and did that part for me. After a couple of tries, we both really liked a more worn and distressed look, rather than the nice light stain we originally set out to achieve. I think the result is awesome. A nice, solid table for sitting around and playing games, something that we can still put our feet on, that we don’t have to worry about using coasters with (it’s getting a clear varnish today). It lets the light through and has storage underneath for my millions of magazines and books. It came out really pretty, and looks like I paid a lot of money for it. You’d never know it was a ground score, it looks like it came from Pottery Barn. I can’t believe I knocked it off so well! See for yourself:

I have a stack of side tables that I’ve been meaning to repaint or re-SOMETHING that are of the same blonde wood, but they’re pretty hidden so they’ve survived in their original color. Not for long, though. After the paint and dry brush treatment of the new coffee table, those babies are going under the brush and will match this table. So excited!

Happy Wednesday everybody! Halfway to the weekend!

Over it

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I’m sure a couple of you opened the fridge this morning and said the same thing I did: ‘You’re still here.’ Four days ago you couldn’t imagine being tired of turkey. The prospect of the glorious steaming bird and sides for dinner, compounded by an endless need for bottomless turkey sandwiches piled Dagwood-high with all of those sides played tricks on your mind. We gave thanks, we tucked in, and ate turkey dinner and turkey sandwiches with reckless, waist-expanding abandon.

Today, though, most are over it. And I can’t say I blame them. Most Americans aren’t the type that can eat the same thing over and over and over again. Our society has beaten us into thinking that leftovers are second-class citizens, not first-class lunch fixin’s. Right now though, times are tight for a lot of people, throwing the rest of the leftovers away is a wasteful option, if an option at all. And getting the biggest bird you can lift at fire sale pricing is a huge boon to a lot of families, giving thanks or not.

So today, resist the urge to be done with the bird. Thank him one last time for being such a tasty treat, and use every morsel of what’s left. It sounds daunting but I’ll help us all out.

Turkey Leftover Compendium
Surfed from the Web and complied by Yours Truly (me, folks)

Turkey Pot Pie  – this one will use up leftover vegetables and mashed potatoes too, if you have them. Triple Word Score!
Tuscan Turkey Soupy Noodles – makes short work of the bottoms of the boxes of pasta on your shelf – you don’t have to use the prescribed noodles
Turkey Porcini Tetrazzini – savvy homemakers could whip this up ahead of time to have it ready for dinner later this week
Baked Pasta with Turkey, Tomatoes and Mozzarella – Buon Giorno Bird!
Cobb Salad – this one doesn’t list poultry, but chop up some of that turkey breast and add it to the salad. And the lemon yogurt dressing is such a bright, fresh flavor after a weekend of heavy eating
Moo Shu Turkey – tired of Thanksgiving flavors all together? This is your recipe.
Turkey Hash – Sub in what pleases you here: if you don’t have stuffing or don’t want potatoes, don’t add them. Throw in some extra vegetables or diced sweet potatoes instead. But whatever you do, be sure to top it with a fried or poached egg. You’ll thank me later.

And if worse comes to worst and you just can’t fathom another bite of that poor bird, pick off all of the meat, chop up the big pieces into bite-sized ones, and freeze it in 1 or 2 cup portions in nice heavy freezer bags. Use it in the same way you would use rotisserie chicken in almost any recipe. Toss the bones and wings into a pot and make stock out of them, which you can also freeze in small or large portions. By just doing these two things between football games today, you’re making dinners for upcoming busy nights. Now, get out there and get some exercise! Ours will be in the form of hanging lights on the house ~ I can’t wait a minute longer.

A Promise is a Promise

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I’ve been promising for ages that we would have a conversation about chicken stock. Well, hopefully you haven’t been holding your breath but if you have, today’s your lucky day.

This isn’t really a recipe per se, it’s more of a method. There are many ways to make chicken stock, including using whole chicken, roasting a whole chicken and then making it into stock, buying chicken wings or parts and making stock, et cetera. Honestly, there is no ‘right’ way to make it, despite what some folks will tell you, though there are a couple of things you need to make it taste the way you’re used to.

The Standard for making stock is the use of celery, carrots and onions, also known as mirepoix. Having these aromatics is the most important part of stock making. In fact, if you have no chicken at all, you can use these items to make a very simple and tasty vegetable stock.

You get big rewards for something so easy. Your stock will be flavorful, lower in sodium than anything you’ll find at the grocery store, you have a frozen insurance policy for a quick dinner most nights of the week. If you remember to take a container out of the freezer before you go to work and plop it on the counter, you’re more than halfway there. You’ll also be saving yourself about $2 a quart by making your own and since you’re making it out of something you were going to throw away anyway you’re almost making money back.

So, about twice a month we will have a roast chicken. One big fat chicken will feed the two of us for at least three meals and up to a whole week if I play my cards right. Nick knows that when we’re having a roast chicken all of the bones go in a bag in the fridge or freezer because I’ll make stock. Who am I kidding – our friends know this too, and they all pool bones after dinner to go into a bag (they know they will be rewarded with dessert, I think). Once we are done with picking the meat off the chicken a day or two later, the whole carcass goes into a big pot and stock making ensues.

You want to use your biggest heavy-bottomed soup pot for this, one that is at least 6 quarts but it should be more like 8 or 10. You want to give everything enough room to move around and mingle. And since this takes a few hours, you want to make enough to have it be worth your while. Mine also has a built in strainer that makes removing the solids at the end a breeze.

Don’t bother peeling your vegetables, or taking the skin off the onion, or even really chopping them. They do their job in this application the same in big chunks as they do if you take 10 minutes to chop them all uniformly. I personally save my chopping skills for when they count but if you’d like to cut your vegetable smaller by all means. Sometimes wielding a very sharp knife is cathartic after a long week so chop away if the mood strikes.

Here’s the rundown of stock making:

Chicken bones, skin and fat (from one large chicken or sometimes two smaller ones)
Two carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1″ hunks
One huge onion, cut in to quarters, with the skin on
Two large celery stalks, with leaves if they have them, cut into 1″ hunks
A couple of garlic cloves, unpeeled and roughly chopped (I usually use the ones that are too shmeensy to peel and futz with)
A couple of parsley stems if you have them, if not no big deal
8-10 whole black peppercorns
One bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons of salt (your choice, I usually add closer to 2 teaspoons)
5 quarts of cold water

Place all items listed above in an 8-10 quart stockpot, bring to a boil, and reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours.

Pour stock through a fine meshed sieve, straining out and discarding all of the solids. From here, I cool the stock to room temperature and refrigerate it for 24 hours, skimming off the fat that rises to the surface and congeals. Makes about 10 cups.

Stock can be frozen for months and stored in freezer bags, frozen into ice cube trays for quick use, and frozen or refrigerated in jars It can also be kept in the fridge in a container of your choice for up to a week. I have deli-style containers that hold one, two and four cups each, and I separate the stock into a a couple of sizes for freezing.

And there you have it. Investment cooking is some of the most worthwhile and satisfying cooking imaginable. So next time you roast a bird hang on to the bones and parts you think are trash, because they will make a jewel of a soup someday.

Bear with me

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This post is going to jump around a bit, but I promise the whole story will come together in the end. Bear with me.

First, let’s talk yogurt. One of the oldest cultured foods in society, it’s been called the stuff of life for more than a couple of centuries. In 500 BC, an Indo-Indian culture gave a shout out to yogurt mixed with honey as ‘the food of the gods.’ Americans, for the most part, have skewed vision of what yogurt really is. What it isn’t is those cutsie little strawberry- or lemon- or (god forbid) Boston cream pie- flavored sugar bomb cups that are in your nationwide grocery chain’s refrigerated section. Those, my friends, are most certainly NOT yogurt. I don’t care if someone wised up and actually started keeping the live cultures in them or not; there’s too much crap in them for them to be good for you. Yeah, I said it. If your yogurt comes in flavors like Creme Brulee, German Chocolate Cake or Dulce de Leche, odds are they are more chemical than healthful. And personally I like my yogurt plain, tart and Greek.

Chapter Two, a while back I stumbled onto a great blog called Little House in the Suburbs, which is one of my favorite places to camp out. These ladies are homesteading in ways that haven’t been popular in years that are suddenly becoming, dare I say it, trendy again. I try to live a simpler life, making what I can and being frugal about the rest as much as I can, but these two make me look like an amateur. And they’re so INSPIRING. Go have a peek at their place and stay a while. You’re going to love it.

Anyway, one of these amazing gals makes her own yogurt and it looked and sounded so damn simple I had to try it. For the price of a quart of milk and a container of plain yogurt I could have a monster stash and potentially unlimited supply of my own tart yogurty goodness. She had me at acidophilus.

So I tried a couple rounds of making my own yogurt and, well, she didn’t work out so good. This is one of those things, like baking, that is so simple that the cat could do it with the right equipment, but not if he doesn’t thoroughly read the directions. Which I didn’t. I killed 2 sets of yogurt starts by 1) mixing in my culture while the milk was too hot, and 2) keeping the mixure too hot. So I pitched the lot down the sink, stomped around for a bit (stupid yogurt) and conveniently forgot about it.

OK, this will all come together soon I promise. Hi, my name is Cadi and I am a small appliance addict. I have a blender, a hand mixer, two stand mixers, a waffle iron, a coffee maker, two cuisinarts, a toaster oven, a bread machine, a wine fridge, a beer fridge, a counter top dehydrator, and an ice cream maker (and I know this goes against my whole simple thriftiness mantra but half of them were gifts and honestly I use all of them regularly). And that’s just the crap that lives in my kitchen. If I had my way and the space I’d have a yogurt machine and two juicers too. The other day I was shopping for said yogurt maker on the ol’ interweb and, one click leading to another, I came across someone that used their dehydrator to make yogurt. Well, I’ll be. I dug around a little more and apparently this isn’t a recent discovery. And why not? It holds a perfectly low temperature and some nice squat jars (which I already have). And while I’m an admitted small appliance addict I love when one of my currently owned appliances has a parlor trick.

Which brings us to the home stretch of this post. Jars washed, milk cultured, and dehydrator plugged in, I set off on my final mission of making yogurt without a yogurt machine. I nervously checked the temperature about every 5 seconds for the 4 hours it sat in the dehydrator, it was like watching paint dry. Was it a success? You tell me:

That’s yogurt if I’ve ever seen it. SUCCESS! Next time I’ll let it run for more like 6-7 hours, this wasn’t tart enough for my taste buds and letting it hang out longer will make it more so, but damn if it didn’t work! Also, it’s a little more runny than I’m used to so next time I will make it in a big bowl and strain it for a bit before I jar it, instead of individually jarring it from the get-go. And this yogurt? It’s going to be strained to spoon-standing thickness and made into garlic and herb yogurt cheese, so stay tuned for that one because it’s going to rock.

Cleaning Solutions

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Let’s take a break from camping talk for a bit to have a conversation about distilled white vinegar. In my local large chain grocery store, I can get a gallon of this stuff for less than $5 on any average shopping day. While this may not create excitement for many folks unless they are going on a pickling spree (and more on that later this summer when the garden is going crazy) it’s a nifty thrifty way to cut back on spending on a lot of household cleaners and laundry additives. I know we are all trying to do our part to use less chemicals in everyday life for our health and well being, and vinegar is pretty much a one-stop shop in the world of Home Care Arts.

Distilled white vinegar goes beyond making neato volcanoes for a science fair experiment, and far beyond using it to clean windows. You can use it to deodorize and unclog drains, keep your cat off a windowsill that you don’t want him on, and clean spots on carpets. In fact there’s a website called 1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar that lists a litany of things you can do with it. Below is a sampling of my favorites from the site. I hope you find a couple of ‘Huh! Who knew?’ ideas on here that help you to not only make your home cleaner and greener, but simplify your life and green your wallet as well.

Laundry

Prevent lint from clinging to clothes by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the wash cycle. (Meaning, you don’t have to use a dryer sheet. Love it!)

To remove soap residue that makes black clothes look dull use white distilled vinegar in your final rinse.

Before washing a mustard stain, dab with white distilled vinegar.

Attack spaghetti, barbecue, or ketchup stains
with a white distilled vinegar and water solution.

Remove perspiration odor and stains on clothing, as well as those left by deodorants, by spraying full-strength white distilled vinegar on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine.

Forgot that you left wet laundry in the machine and it now smells moldy? Pour a few cups of white distilled vinegar in the machine and wash the clothes in hot water. Then run a normal cycle with detergent.

Get cleaner laundry! Add about 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalis in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

Bring out bright colors by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Household Cleaning

Make your own scouring cleanser by combining 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 tablespoon liquid detergent. Add just enough white distilled vinegar to give it a thick but creamy texture.

Clean and deodorize a drain by pouring in 1 cup baking soda, then one cup hot white distilled vinegar. Let this sit for 5 minutes or so, then run hot water down the drain. (Got kids? Let them do this, it’s a boatload of fun and a good lesson on acids and bases and how they work. Science in action!)

Deodorize and clean the garbage disposal with white distilled vinegar ice cubes. Make them by freezing full-strength white distilled vinegar in an ice cube tray. Run several cubes down the disposal while flushing with cold water.

Clean the microwave by mixing 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Bring it to a rolling boil inside the microwave. Baked-on food will be loosened, and odors will disappear. Wipe clean.

Cut the grime on the top of the refrigerator with a paper towel or cloth and full-strength white distilled vinegar. (Also works on fan hoods over your range!)

Get rid of lime deposits in a tea kettle by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the water and letting it sit overnight. If more drastic action is needed, boil full-strength white distilled vinegar in the kettle a few minutes, let cool and rinse with plain water.

Remove mineral deposits from coffee makers with white distilled vinegar. Fill the water reservoir with 1 cup or more of white distilled vinegar and run it through a whole cycle. Run it once or twice more with plain water to rinse clean. (Check the owners’ manual first.)

To clean tarnished brass, copper, and pewter,
use a paste with equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and table salt.

To remove a label, decal, or price tag, cover with a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar. Leave the cloth on overnight and the label should slide off.

Kill germs all around the bathroom with a spray of full-strength white distilled vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

To remove grime, mildew, and scum from the tub, tile, shower curtain or door, wipe with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Rinse with water.

Mix up an inexpensive tile cleaner by adding 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and 1 cup ammonia to a gallon of warm water.

Get a shining finish on a no-wax vinyl or linoleum floor by cleaning it with a solution of one cup white distilled vinegar for every gallon of water.

Some carpet stains can be removed with a paste of 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar and 1/4 cup salt or baking soda. Rub into the carpet stain and let dry. Vacuum up the residue the next day. (Always test on an out-of-sight part of the carpet first).

Create your own window cleaning solution by combining 1/2 cup non-sudsy ammonia, 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a gallon of water.

Clean woodwork and walls with a mixture of 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup ammonia and 1 gallon warm water. Wipe on with a sponge or damp—not wet—towel.

Remove wallpaper easily by using a paint roller to wet the surface very thoroughly with a solution of equal parts white distilled vinegar and hot water. Or spray on until saturated.

Get decals off walls or doors by letting undiluted white distilled vinegar soak into them for several minutes before trying to peel them off. Repeat if necessary.

Remove fireplace soot and grime with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Use a brush to scrub and a towel to blot up the wetness and dirt.

To kill germs, spray full-strength white distilled vinegar on doorknobs and then wipe them dry.

Never use white distilled vinegar on marble. The acid can damage the surface.

To clean and disinfect baby toys add a good-sized splash of white distilled vinegar to soapy water.

Clean vinyl baby books or board books by wiping with white distilled vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp sponge or cloth.