Friday, January 24, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

So I have of course heard of people making their own laundry detergent but I never really felt like I was one of those people. I'm not sure why exactly;I make my own yogurt and bread and other stuff frequently to try and be frugal, but I guess that's partly it. I feel like there are a lot of diy options out there but I'm not going to do all of them for want of time/energy/etc, and for some reason grating a bar of soap and cooking up some brew of chemicals didn't make it to the top of my to-do list. However, that was before I heard a woman I admire and trust swear by the stuff, show the amazing cheapness of it all and provide a recipe that requires only 3 ingredients and no grating involved. So this week, when my last drop of store bought detergent ran out I tried it, and you know what? It's awesome. Easy as pie, my clothes are clean and it costs next to nothing. And, as if that's not enough, I love that I can always have these 3 ingredients on hand because they last forever and they take up no space. Stockpiling laundry detergent was never really an option because it's so bulky and costs a lot, so normally I'd have to buy it every couple of months, but now I'll only have to replace the 3 ingredients every few years. Sweet.

1/2 Cup Washing Soda
1/2 Cup Borax
1/2 Cup Dawn Liquid Dish Soap

Here's what you do. Get a gallon-ish container- I used a gallon juice jug. Add the washing soda and borax. Add 1 quart (4 cups) hot water. Put the lid on and shake until it dissolves completely. Now add the dish soap and fill the rest of the way with cold water. Shake to combine. Voila! 

A few notes, tips or tricks:
- This is a fairly concentrated recipe so I use about 1/4 of a cup for a full load of laundry. ( I use a measuring lid from an old bottle of detergent.)
- Everything I've read from other users says it works great in regular or he washing machines: very little suds.
- It does tend to settle a bit upon sittng so just give it a good shake before each use.
- It doesn't seem to make any difference what kind of dawn detergent you use; regular, ultra or scented. Some people even use different detergents, but I was told to use Dawn for it's grease-fighting abilities so that's all I've tried so far.
- If you do a lot of laundry, my friend makes hers in a 5 gallon bucket and just quadruples the recipe. (She says she keeps a big spoon on hand to give it a stir after it's been sitting a while)
- For whites, this may not keep them as white as you may like so adding a booster (any brand of laundry booster or you can try adding vinegar to the rinse cycle) on white loads is recommended.
- I've heard adding a little vinegar to the rinse cycle works as a fabric softener and also helps remove any possible soap residue. It's also supposed to work as a laundry booster. Haven't tried it yet, but thought I'd pass it on.
- If you're in to having scented laundry: Add a few tablespoons of Downy Unstopables to your recipe or just a teaspoon to each load. Other people say they use essential oils for fragrance.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Recover a chair? Yes, you can!

My husband and I got married while we were still in college and had no money. We went to school full time, worked part time, and had a lot of fun making do with what we had. Our second apartment was a "furnished" basement--the living room had formerly been a laundry room and had a large drain in the middle of the sloping, concrete floor--and the furniture was scary to say the least. I got permission from the landlord to recover the seat and back cushions on the two wooden arm chairs which were upholstered in orange burlap, and my career as a very amateur re-upholsterer began. (I should note that we couldn't afford to buy fabric, so I dyed some white, wide wale corduroy that my mother had given me--blue, if I remember correctly, to match the raveling, un-padded shag carpet remnant that was thrown over the drain.)

My most recent attempts at recovering furniture were making new covers for two glider rockers, one that belonged to my parents. . .

DIY: Recover a glider

. . . and another that Laurel picked up for free on Craig's List for her nursery. If you are interested in trying an upholstery project, this type of chair is a good one to begin with because the cushions are removable, and you don't have to deal with stretching fabric over a frame. I will try to walk you through it. I'm not sure my instructions will tell you absolutely everything you need to know; mostly it involves taking apart a fabric puzzle and putting it back together again. My goal is to urge you to give it a try. You can do it!

Step 1: Take pictures of the chair as it is so that once everything is torn apart you can refer back to what it is supposed to look like. Snap pictures from all angles, especially if there is something about it that is unusual--eg. the padded arm cushions on Laurel's rocker. Here is the "before" picture:

Step 2: One piece at a time, carefully unpick the old covers. Be sure to save every piece; these will be the patterns for your new covers. I actually pinned a label to each piece--"seat cushion bottom," for example. (The labels came in very handy on the tricky arm cushions.) Be sure to note and mark any pleats or places where you will be sewing in a zipper or sewing on ties or buttons--anything that is unusual. Then you can transfer the markings to the new fabric when you cut it out. Laurel's chair has both ties and buttons. Check out zippers, piping and other accessories; you may be able to reuse them. I was able to reuse all of the foam cushions.

Step 3: Using the old pieces as a guide, figure out how much fabric you will need. Basically, just measure the pieces, do the math, and add some extra (because my math is sometimes sketchy). Upholstery fabric is typically between 54 and 60 inches wide. We had a little left over, and Laurel plans to use it to accessorize the room. If you are nervous about how much to buy, there are on-line guides, and often the cutter at the fabric store can be helpful if you show her a picture. If you are a beginner, I suggest you use a solid fabric or a print that doesn't require matching. Avoid stripes and plaids, for example. The fabrics I used for both rockers were outdoor upholstery fabrics. Outdoor fabrics work well in nurseries because they are heavy duty and clean up easily.

Step 4: Spread out your new fabric--I usually do it on the floor--and carefully pin the old pieces on to the new, the wrong side of the old piece on top of the right side of the new fabric. Carefully cut out the pieces and transfer any markings you have made. (You can buy tailor's chalk for this purpose, but I often use a white or colored pencil depending on the fabric.)

Step 5: Unpin your pattern pieces; don't throw anything away yet.

Step 6: Using the ones that you have unpicked from the old covers as a guide, cut and sew the fabric ties for the cushion seat. Pin them to the cushion and sew them in place. Pin the two seat pieces together, right sides together.

Step 7: Make sure that you have an upholstery needle--size 16 for my Viking--in your sewing machine. I used regular thread, but I double stitched all my seams to reinforce them. You should be able to tell from the old pieces how wide to make your seams. Mine were about 5/8". Starting at an unobtrusive place at the back of the seat cushion, begin sewing around the cushion cover. Back stitch at the beginning and end of the seam and sew most of the way around the cover but leave a large enough gap to insert the cushion.

Step 8: Make tiny clips into the seam, but not through the stitching, around curves. Trim off the extra fabric on any corners. When you turn the fabric, this step will make the seams smoother and the corners sharper.

Step 9: Turn the cushion cover right side out, smoothing out curves and poking out corners for a crisp look.

Step 10: Stuff in the cushion and squoosh it around until it looks nice.

Step 11: Pin the gap closed and stitch it shut. This is probably the most difficult step. My parent's rocker had zippers, but this one was simply sewn across the gap. I just had to manhandle the cushion back far enough to squeeze the fabric under the presser foot. You can sew it by hand if you prefer.

Step 12: Repeat steps 6-11 for the back cushion.

Step 13: Laurel's chair has button detailing on the back cushion. We could have purchased buttons, but we chose to cover our own. You can buy metal buttons that come with the all the tools you need as well as easy-to-follow instructions. I sewed them in place using a lot of thread and a long upholstery needle.

Step 13: Tie the cushions in place.

One of the fun features of Laurel's glider is the detached footrest.

All that we had to do was remove the staples on the underside (harder than it sounds--we broke a couple of tools), use the old fabric as a guide to cut new, and re-staple it. Having two people made it easier to stretch the fabric taut. Note how we gently pleated the fabric around the corners:

Unlike my parent's chair, Laurel's glider has arm pads and pockets which gave us some additional challenges. The original ones attached to the chair with snaps that were actually part of the chair frame, and we couldn't find fabric snaps to match them. So we ignored the snaps and used upholstery tacks to attach the pads and cover the unneeded snaps on the frame. Here are a few pictures of putting the arm pads together:

Step 14: Sit down and enjoy!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter Shake

Let me start by saying that in my college days, I drank a lot of Jamba Juice. In the beginning, I preferred the fruit smoothies but I had a friend who would always get their "Peanut Butter Moo'd." It sounded disgusting to me so it took me a long time to be coaxed into tasting it. But after my first taste, I was hooked. It was something akin to a chocolate shake with a hint of peanut butter. Then, on one of my first visits to my husband's childhood home, my mother-in-law made us chocolate banana shakes. Basically, you blend up some frozen bananas with milk, cocoa, and sugar-and voila! Magic. I liked it. I liked it a lot. So much so that I started making them on a regular basis for me and my husband. For some reason, however, they were never quite as good as I thought they should be. The cocoa makes them taste kind of chalky. And I never understood why I was adding sugar when the bananas were definitely sweet enough on their own. Then, I remembered those "Peanut Butter Moo'ds" of yesteryear and I knew what needed to happen. So I omitted the sugar and added a spoonful of peanut butter. To be honest, I like this recipe better than the jamba juice version. Maybe it's because I can make them as thick as I want to. Maybe it is because I don't have to pay 4 bucks for them. Who knows. I've seen similar versions of this recipe online so apparently others have figured out the goodness, too. But for those of you who haven't, here is a delicious, cold, chocolaty treat that is relatively healthy and wonderful if you can't have dairy and/or soy:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Shake

1 very ripe banana, frozen
1 cup milk (or almond milk)
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon peanut butter (if you are going soy-free, check the peanut butter labels. There are some that don't have soy.)

Blend everything in a blender and enjoy.

Tips: This recipe is for one serving. However, the size of the banana really does make a difference. There are  some bigger bananas (and I'm not talking about plantains) that I have purchased that make almost twice as much as a normal sized banana. For those, you will want to add more milk and a little extra cocoa. Also, it helps if you peel and break apart the banana before you freeze it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Make a cake and eat it too! Even though it is dairy and gluten-free...

Four months after my baby girl was born, she started filling her diapers with neon green slimy poop.I could always feel bubbles in her tummy and no amount of burping seemed to eradicate the problem. Lucky for me, she was a sweet, easy-going child, despite any stomach discomfort she might have felt. The pediatrician told me she had a dairy allergy which meant if I wanted to keep breastfeeding, I would need to take dairy out of my diet. No problem. I could go without dairy for the next 7-8 months. Easy breezy. I mean, we live in a world with dairy substitutes like almond milk! Unfortunately, taking dairy out didn’t fix the problem. So then I read that a percentage of babies with the dairy allergy are also allergic to soy. So out went the soy. This turned out to be MUCH more difficult because as those of you who have tried to live without soy will testify, soy is in EVERYTHING. I went to open a can of tuna—it had soy in it. I wanted to have some peanut butter—it had soy. My pre-natal vitamins had soy listed as one of the ingredients.

Taking soy out of my diet definitely helped the problem but she was still occasionally pooping green. So then, I decided to take gluten out of my diet as well, to see if that would fix everything. And it did. The problem was, now I had to come up with meals that were dairy-free, soy-free, and gluten-free.

Why am I telling you this? First off, I am in no way a scientist, nutritionist, or food expert—but it seems to me that when it comes to things that your are ingesting, too much of one thing isn’t great for your body. The fact that soy was listed on the ingredients of almost everything I put my hand on in the grocery store was rather disconcerting. There are probably just small amounts of it in most things—but still! It is in EVERYTHING! 

Secondly, for those of you who are breastfeeding babies with a dairy allergy (and if they have soy and gluten allergies too...), there is hope! My little girl's digestive issues were pretty much fixed by the time she was 11 months. So I happily integrated dairy and gluten back into my diet again. Until you reach that point with your child, here is a recipe that will help when you are craving chocolate. It is dairy/soy/gluten-free. And it is fast and easy and delicious. (And I will post a few other recipes this week that are dairy/soy/gluten-free and that saved me from going crazy while I had these eating restrictions.)

 Chocolate Cake (Dairy/Soy/Gluten – Free)

*You will need 2 ramekins (I found my ramekins in the dollar aisle at Target) or 1 oven-safe wide-mouthed cup or mug

·   1/4 cup granulated sugar
·   3 tablespoons white rice flour (This is my preferred non-gluten flour)
·   2 tablespoons cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
·   1/8 teaspoon salt
·   1/8 teaspoon baking soda
·   3 tablespoons almond milk
·   2 tablespoons vegetable oil
·   1 large egg
·   1 tablespoon dairy-free chocolate chips, optional
·   powdered sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease each ramekin with non-stick cooking spray. In small bowl, mix dry ingredients. Then, add milk, vegetable oil, and egg. Whisk until smooth.
2. Divide batter evenly between two ramekins or use all batter in one large wide-mouthed mug. Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick can be inserted and removed cleanly. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over cake and serve warm with almond milk! Yum!

Adapted from:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

UPDATE 10/10/2018: Soup season is upon us! Huzzah! This soup is just the thing to ward off any autumn chills from a drizzly day like today. As I whipped it up, I realized I should perhaps change the directions to reflect how I actually make it. The biggest change is to add the milk at the end; boiled milk does weird stuff, n'est pas? Back to the original post...

1/5/14: I am on an epic quest to consolidate my favorite recipes into one spot. They are all over the place: cookbooks, Pinterest, my bookmarks bar, saved to my computer, and in the oh-so-cute recipe box Elin made for me.   

Yet along with my efforts of organization, I am also in desperate need of actually writing down my recipes the way I like them. You see, I will cook a delicious meal to perfection, only to find out that I never documented what I tweaked, added, or left out that made the dish so magical. I'm also notoriously bad at actually measuring, which only makes the problem worse.

So I am determined to repent of my haphazard ways, starting with this Chicken and Gnocchi Soup recipe. I hesitate to call it an "Olive Garden Copycat Recipe." I mean, I love Olive Garden's chicken gnocchi soup, and I love this recipe, but they certainly don't taste identical to me. You be the judge. Anyways, there are several versions of this one out on the internet, but here's the way my husband and I like to eat it.

The primary differences from the other recipes out there? 

1) More chicken. My non-soup-loving husband really does like this recipe, partly because the extra chicken helps actually fill him up. 6'4" guys need a lot of protein, I'm starting to realize. Most recipes I see call for 1 cup cooked, cubed chicken. I made it with 4 small breasts, which is closer to 2 cups.
2) Whole milk. The recipes I found usually used half and half. They made very yummy soup, but it was just a touch too creamy. By a happy twist of fate, I was out of half and half and had to substitute whole milk in a pinch, and the results were perfect. Do not, do not use anything less than whole milk. It's worth buying the half gallon at the store rather than using skim or 1%, because it does not taste nearly as delicious. You have been warned...
3) Chopped carrots. A bag of baby carrots is a staple in our fridge, so I always slice them rather than using the shredded carrots called for in most recipes. This means they need to cook a little longer, so I add them earlier in the recipe than some of the other versions out there.

Without further ado...

Chicken Gnocchi Soup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery (I never remember to buy celery, so this ingredient is sadly often omitted)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth or 1 3/4 cup water with 1 3/4 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
  • 1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 quart whole milk (may use half and half)
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken breast
  • 1 16-ounce package gnocchi
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

  • In a large stockpot, melt the butter into the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and saute until the onion becomes translucent (5-10 minutes.) Don't cheat here; no one wants crunchy onions in his or her soup! Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Stir in the chicken broth and carrots. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender.Once the carrots are soft, add the spinach and cook for a few minutes until it is slightly wilted. Add the milk and cooked chicken and warm until heated through and just about to simmer. 

  • While the soup is heating, cook the gnocchi according to package directions (typically, I add the gnocchi to boiling water, stirring to prevent stick-age. After boiling 2-3 minutes, the gnocchi will float, a sign that they are cooked through. Huzzah!) Add the cooked gnocchi, salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley flakes. Stir well, and add additional seasonings to taste. Serve with delicious rolls or homemade bread! Mmm...