Friday, 28 December 2012

Waste not, want not

I purposefully bought a small piece of turkey for Christmas dinner this year.  It wasn't even a turkey crown, more like half a crown, and the intention was that it would serve four very nicely on the day itself, with a bit left over for the day after Boxing Day.

Unfortunately things didn't pan out that way.  Various members of the entire family went down with "The Bug", starting the day before Christmas Eve, and continuing until yesterday.  The big family gathering on Boxing Day was postponed several times, and Christmas dinner ended up being dinner for one!  Me!  And all in all, there was rather a lot of my turkey half-crown left over!

Apparently as a nation, the UK throws away a staggering 230,000 tonnes of food worth in excess of £275 million, over the Christmas period alone.  Not wanting to be party to this quite mind boggling wastage, I was determined to do something with my left-overs.

The answer?  Whip up a bit of pastry and make a turkey and bacon quiche, topped with some grated Cotswold cheese (the double Gloucester with chives and onions).  Thoroughly delicious, and I just remembered to take a photo of it before it was all gone :)

I also found some Bramley apples lurking at the back of the fridge, and there was enough for a couple of apple crumbles.  A good result, with no food being wasted and nothing being spent on buying more.
Until next time. x

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Frugal quilt

I've been lucky enough to acquire quite a large amount of fabric both through my own purchases, and donations from family members, including my mum.

Mum has been a fabric hoarder for as long as I can remember - probably explains where I get my addiction from!  It hit home just how many years my mum has had some of her fabric when I was looking through my stash for some pieces to use in a quilt I'm attempting to make.  I can honestly say I'm definitely no quilter!

She was obviously hoping for a girly-girl, as in amongst the bits of material were several unfinished dresses, all pink!  Either mum realised I was far more of a tomboy, or else she just didn't get around to finishing them.  Whatever the reason, they've sat in her stash for a very long time, and now at least some of the pieces will see the light of day as a quilt.

Something my mum started a very long time ago!
This quilt is very much a work-in-progress, but as my son's been complaining every time he sees that I've pinched one of the ones he was given as a baby to put on my bed, I thought it was time I made myself one. 

Until next time. x

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Bread and wine

I try, whenever possible, to make my own food.  Not only is it cheaper and healthier than pre-made processed food, I also have the advantage of knowing exactly what's gone into it.

Today has been a day of baking bread and making wine, well ok, homemade cordial actually!

A double batch of basic white bread dough, split between a basic loaf tin, a tiny mini loaf tin and around eight bread rolls/baps.  I recently discovered a tip to keeping the crusts of the bread a bit softer.  Steam!

I'm probably the last person on the planet to discover this, but adding a dish of water to the bottom of the oven worked, and the crusts stayed nice and soft.

While I was waiting for the dough to rise, I also brewed up a batch of homemade cordial.  I'm not a fan of mass-produced sugary drinks, and I refuse to buy the sugar-free ones as they're stuffed full of aspartame, which as a lot of readers will know, has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including cancer.

It's easy enough to make your own syrup or squash drink which can then be served diluted with water.  My son is particularly fond of cranberry juice, but the shop-bought ones contain a lot of added sugar to take away the tartness.  To make mine, I usually throw my fresh cranberries into a saucepan with a pint or so of water and another, sweeter fruit.  In this instance it was blueberries, as the market I'd visited earlier in the day had just reduced them to 2 packs for £1.

Simmer the fruit gently, until all the cranberries have popped.  Strain the fruit through a jelly bag or muslin cloth, and return the liquid to the pan.  If you like, the contents of the jelly bag can be used to make a fruit pie so as not to waste it. Alternatively it can go on the compost heap.

You'll need to add some sugar to the juice in order to reduce it down to a syrup.  Once the juice has simmered down so it's syrup-like, remove from the heat and pour it into a sterilised bottle.  I use an old screw-top wine bottle.  When the bottle's cool enough, put it in the fridge and dilute it to taste as you would any other cordial.

I've actually no idea how long a shelf-life this would have as it's never around long enough to go off!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Handmade chemical-free vapour rub

I've been coughing and spluttering for the past few days, my chest has been feeling very 'tight' and as is always the case with a cold, the congestion and inability to breathe properly gets worse at night.

As I'm no longer willing to apply anything containing petrochemicals to my person, I've studiously ignored the tub of commercially produced, petroleum-based vapour-rub that's sitting on the shelf in my bathroom cupboard, but haven't had the energy to attempt making my own chemical-free version. Until yesterday.

I found quite a few recipes on the web, but as I didn't have many of the required ingredients, I improvised with what I had, making just enough to fill a little jar - about the size of the ones hotels use for breakfast jams.


20g cocoa butter
7g beeswax pastilles
7 drops lemon essential oil
8 drops eucalyptus essential oil
18 drops rosemary essential oil

Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a double boiler until liquified.  Pour into a clean, sterilised jar, and add the essential oils.  Give it all a good stir with a wooden stick - the McDonalds coffee stirers come into their own here! - and Voila!

Leave to set, and apply as required.  It works really well.

Note: This did end up a little too solid, more like a lip balm!  The original recipes I saw called for coconut oil, which I can't use anyway as I'm allergic to coconut.  I think if I made this again, I'd probably leave out the beeswax as the cocoa butter sets solid at room temperature anyway, or alternatively either add in some shea butter as well or use a half-half blend of cocoa butter and a liquid oil of some sort, probably apricot kernel.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Going a little further

I've been chopping up soap again.  This time it was some creamy-coloured castile soap for which I have a range of intended uses.  This is just a quick tip, but one which came as an interesting discovery to me.

I grated up two bars of Knight's Castile soap, which costs around 90p for 5 bars at Home Bargains or similar, and the bars aren't individually wrapped.  The first bar I grated had been sitting in the cupboard minus its outer pack for a while.  The soap was very firm and grated up into lovely small bits, even on the 'big' part of the grater (the one you'd use for cheese).

Needing a bit more grated soap, I opened up a new pack and noticed that the bars that had been sealed in the wrapping felt a lot softer than the one I'd just grated.  It also started grating just like cheese when I used the 'big' grater, very large, curly bits.  To get the same nice consistency of really small flakes, I ended up having to grate the new softer bar on the garlic grater.

Interesting!  Obviously by exposing the first soap bar to the air, it had continued to cure and became a lot harder, which in turn means it would last a lot longer.  The soft, newly opened bar wouldn't last nearly as long!!

In future, I'll be opening my soap packs as soon as I get them home, and leaving the bars 'naked'.  They'll last longer and go further. :)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Homemade liquid antibacterial soap

My bottle of shop-bought antibacterial liquid soap finally ran out, giving me the opportunity to try making my own.

I haven't been brave enough to try making soap from scratch yet; I'm waiting for next summer when the required ventilation doesn't freeze me to death and small child can be outside when I mix the lye!  I let someone else make the soap base I used, a pure olive oil soap that's still made the traditional way in Greece, and tried something I'd read elsewhere on the internet to produce the "liquid" soap - chopped up soap, and water :)

I chopped up half a bar of soap and put the pieces into the newly cleaned out empty bottle, and filled it up with water.  To this I added ten drops of Thyme essential oil, great for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and ten drops of Rosemary oil because it has a nice clean, herby aroma.

Leaving the soap bits to "dissolve" in the water for 24 hours, and giving it a good shake every time I passed it has resulted in a surprisingly nice liquid soap.  OK, it doesn't look particularly pretty, it looks totally revolting, but I wasn't making it for its aesthetic appeal!  I wanted an antibacterial soap that cleans my hands and smells nice.

More importantly, I know exactly what's in this soap and am happy that not only is it chemical-free, it's also very frugal, having cost about 60p to make against the £1.99 or so for the original bottle of anti-bacterial soap that's full of unnecessary chemical crap.  Result!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Smelly cat

Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?!

A couple of quick tips if your cat uses a litter tray and leaves less than pleasant odours:

Firstly, make sure you remove the offending objects as soon as possible!

Second though, which combats the ammonia smell from urine, is to sprinkle a little bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into the tray.  The soda absorbs the nasty niffs and keeps the tray a lot fresher smelling :)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chemical-free fabric softener

Continuing on from yesterday's post on homemade laundry powder, I thought I'd offer up my attempt at homemade fabric softener.

One of the most popular versions on the web seems to be one which uses hair conditioner (for the scent), mixed with varying amounts of water and vinegar.  As the whole point of this exercise, for me anyway, is to become as chemical-free as possible, this one certainly isn't for me. Especially when you consider some of the ghastly chemicals that are stuffed into conditioners!

Not only that, from a frugal perspective, it makes no sense to me to buy a bottle of 'cheap' conditioner at around £1, plus the cost of the vinegar, when a bottle of chemical fabric conditioner can cost as little as £1 by itself.  Until recently, these are the ones I've been buying and as they're concentrated, have been decanting a one litre bottle into a larger three litre container, and topping up with water.

My homemade solution? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Actually, this formula contains no lemon at all - although a good dollop of lemon juice in the softener dispenser works wonders with a white load, especially if you're able to line dry in nice bright sunshine. The lemon juice combined with sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent for sparkly whites :)

No, my fabric conditioner consists of nothing more exotic than a vinegar and water mix.  I used a 568ml bottle of white vinegar (around 49p at ASDA), topped off with around 2 litres of water, to which I added 15 drops of essential oil.  My preference is for the woodsy aromas and I might actually up the number of drops a little next time around.  I'll leave it up to you which essential oil you add, or you could create your own blend of two or more oils for your own unique aroma.

Just remember (having of course first made sure you've screwed the lid on tightly!!) to give the bottle a good shake before each use to disperse the oils evenly throughout the mixture.

Don't worry that your clothes will come out stinking of vinegar; they don't.  And as an added bonus, using vinegar in the final rinse gets rid of any soap residue on both your clothes and the innards of the washing machine as well.  A definite win-win solution :)

As well as being a great natural softener, vinegar is also a good machine descaler, an absolute must if you're in a hard water area like I am.  

Unlike me, you did remember to tighten that lid before you shook the bottle, didn't you?!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Chemical-free washing powder

Walk down any supermarket laundry aisle, and you're instantly overwhelmed by the various artificial chemical aromas of "fragranced" washing powder, liquids and softeners.  Sometimes simply standing next to someone whose clothes have been washed in one of these toxic concoctions is enough to send me off into a coughing fit and wheezing breathlessness.

Not only do many of these products contain chemicals that are extremely harmful to the environment, they also contain chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic in humans.

There are some supposedly green alternatives out there, and indeed many of them do contain biodegradable ingredients, but a great many of them aren't as green as they claim to be.  What the manufacturers don't tell us on the label is that even the "green" detergents often contain hidden nasties, such as 1,4 dioxane.

This seemingly prettily named chemical is a byproduct and a 'contaminant' of the manufacturing process and is therefore not required to be included on any labelling.  A known carginogen, and linked to breast cancer, I certainly don't want 1,4 dioxane anywhere near me or my son.

The answer? Make my own laundry detergent!

Not only do I know exactly what's gone into my washing powder, it also works out considerably cheaper per load than buying the commercially produced powder, costing roughly £3 for around 40 washes.


1 x 500g box borax substitute
500g washing soda
300g Granny's soap flakes

Mix ingredients together in a box, tub or jar and add one tablespoon to your wash.  For particularly troublesome items, add a further tablespoon to the pre-wash cycle.

Both washing soda and Granny's soap flakes are available at Home Bargains in the UK, and I believe the borax substitute is available at branches of John Lewis.  I haven't found anywhere local to me yet that sells it so I bought mine online.  For info, borax itself is no longer available for purchase in the EU, but is still available in the USA and elsewhere.

You could of course make your own soap flakes by grating up a bar of unfragranced castille soap; in the USA I think it's called ivory soap.

And there you go! A green and natural product that does just as good a job as any commercially produced washing powder :)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

A new blog, a new way of living

Welcome to this new blog, where I hope to chart my progress and my endeavours to live a more self-sufficient, healthy and especially chemical-free life.

I have a 3-year old son, and there's something about having children that makes you take a different perspective on life. I only wish I'd started doing some of the things I'm now trying to do a lot sooner, but I guess it's never too late to start!

These days, I often find myself doing things my parents have always done, (and vocalising the fact that I've turned into my mother!) and I suppose I've now completed my journey down the path of living in a completely different way to them and instead have come full circle back to the ways I grew up with.

I also hope to take my efforts further than my parents, and as well as living frugally and making as much of my own stuff as I can, I aim to become as chemical-free as I possibly can, to the extent that I plan to make my own household cleaners and personal care products wherever I can.  Better for me, better for Small.

I don't suppose I'll be a very frequent blogger, but friends have been trying to get me to start one for years and so I hope to post recipes, household hints, along with ideas for making stuff as often as I can.  I hope you enjoy reading my posts and perhaps becoming a little bit frugal too! :)