Don’t believe everything the internet tells you

When I saw instructions on Flickr for making Apple Cider Vinegar from apple scraps, it seemed too good to be true. And I said as much. Apparently you can just stick apple cores in a jar with some water and it will magically turn into lovely ACV after a couple of months.

Well, I stuck my cores in water–organic cores, tap water–and now I’m waiting. Every once in awhile I sniff the jar, and PHEW!! it stinks to high heaven! It just smells like mold, disgusting putrid immune-busting mold. It’s been over a week now, and it ain’t getting better.

Now, against my better judgement, I’m going to keep this thing around just in case it MAGICALLY transforms into vinegar. Which I doubt. But if it does, I’ll be sure to tell you.


Going for Straight As

According to the WWF, only 10% of Canadians give themselves an “A” when it comes to being green. The irony is that with this self-grading, the more you know, the less of an impact you feel like you’re having. I’m pretty damn green: no car, no dryer, cloth diapers, pee wipes, etc. but still I don’t give myself an A.

What could I do better?

– eat more local, less imported stuff

– buy less packaged food

– get Bullfrogpowered

– a miriad other small things,

and . . .

– recycle greywater.

I’ve always just sortof assumed that since I’m in an apartment, there is no realistic way for me to recycle my greywater. I can’t change plumbing, and I don’t have a garden to receive the rescued greywater. Plus, we don’t pay the water bill–the landlord does–so the motivation isn’t quite as high as if it would actually save us money. (I’m into enlightened self-interest here!)

But this weekend, watching the water empty into the sink from our portable washer, I had a brain wave: how easy would it be to catch this water, reserve it in a 5 gallon bucket, and use it to flush the toilet? Turns out, very easy.

Recycling GreywaterIt’s astonishing how much water we use. Watching it go down the drain, you just don’t get the sense of how much water we use and waste every day. Catching it in a bucket, you see: here are 5 gallons of almost clean water flushing down the drain. Using that water to flush the toilet, you realize: I’m using a couple of gallons of greywater to flush, but normally that would be drinking water.

Argh. So I’m a bit obsessed with this water thing at the moment. The only problem, it’s a damn pain in the ass. I mean, we already have a diaper bucket and a diaper bag hanging out in our tiny bathroom. Now I’ve added a 5 gallon plastic bucket of greywater, just waiting for my daughter to accidentally knock it over and cause thousands of dollars in water damage to our downstairs neighbour’s apartment. We just don’t have the room . . . and yet . . . it’s like using hankies and cloth diapers. Once you stop throwing something away, it just feels so wasteful when you use the disposable version.

So, for now the greywater bucket stays. But for how long?????

One Ton of Mayo

According to a friend, we’ve made what constitutes “a typical Costco miscalculation”. The exact size of the miscalculation: 1.8 L. Of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

This means:

100 toasted tomato sandwiches, or . . .

7.5 chocolate cakes, or . . .

30 hair treatments, or . . .

15 each tuna, salmon and egg salads, or . . .

. . .  what else?

I’ll admit it: I have been making a lot of “Emergency Chocolate Cake” (my own cupcake version with chocolate chips), but this stuff expires in April of this year, and I don’t know if I can make enough cakes by then!

So, the question: what would you do with one ton of mayo? Or 1.8 L of the stuff, to be exact. Any ideas I’m missing for fabulous uses for mayo?

Freezing our Assets (off)

Yep, it’s damn cold here in Ottawa, leading to a lot of staying indoors and cooking. Which is leading, somewhat ironically, to some good use of my freezer. My hubby is out, and the kids are miraculously both asleep, so I thought I’d write a little post about how things have been going with that particular new appliance.

First of all, I will reiterate just how happy I am that I bought it back in August. I probably haven’t put it to ideal use, but it has been a wonderful tool for organizing meals. With the freezer, I can cook when I have the time, and put stuff away for when I have less time. It’s been a wonderful way to save money and time, not to mention the brainwork involved in planning meals.

Over these past few months, I’ve learned some things about what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve discovered it’s true: potatoes don’t freeze well. They turn sortof mealy and mushy and unappentizing. Beans also go a bit weird in the freezer, acquiring a strange spongy texture. I’ve also discovered that anything dry in chunks tends to get drier and freezer burnt.

But there are many things that have been great in the freezer, especially meaty saucy things like spaghetti and chili. Chicken broth is great because I usually make big quantities and then freeze in 2-3 cup packs. When I need some for soup or a sauce, I just defrost what I need. For all of these liquidy things I’ve fallen in love with Zip-Lock baggies. Just fill up and squeeze all the air out, then lay flat on top of one another and they take up so little space. Not very eco-friendly but you can re-use the baggies.

I was surprised to find out that my pizza packages worked really well. I made pizza dough and sauce the other day and decided to make one and put 2 in the freezer. So I portioned out the dough and slipped the 2 extras into baggies with a little oil in them. I then put 1/2 cup of sauce in a baggie for each pizza. For the cheese, I shredded a whole 500 g block of mozzarella and divided it into 3 portions. For the 2 extra pizza packages, I put the 3 smaller baggies-dough, sauce and cheese-together into a larger zip-lock. The other night I tried one of the pizza packs, which I had placed in the fridge overnight to defrost, and was thrilled with the result! Tasty crust, fresh-tasting sauce and melty yummy cheese, just like day 1.

Another good find was regarding the tomatoes I froze in the summer. Late in the summer I got a big bunch of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I used some and froze some whole in zip-lock bags. I had read somewhere that all you do to skin them is dunk the frozen tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and the skins peel right off. Tonight I realized I had no canned tomatoes for my veggie chili, so I grabbed a bag of frozen ones. Luckily it worked like a charm!

Some other slightly stranger things I’ve got stowed away in there include crabapple juice and pulp which I intend to make into jelly and butter respectively; spinach and blueberry puree, sweet potato puree and acorn squash puree, waiting to sneak their way into some food  some day soon; baggies of wine which I will use for cooking . . .

But the strangest item of all requires a word of warning: If you come over to my house, don’t get tempted by that ice cream container sitting in the freezer. It’s not ice cream. It’s a placenta.

And then there’s the breastfeeding

The other day I wrote about my many frugality failures, and a few of my wins, over the last month or so, leading up to and following the birth of our son. One key thing I forgot to mention–probably because it is already so much a part of my life–is the breastfeeding.

From a frugality standpoint, there is no question that breastfeeding is the best choice for feeding your baby. No powders to buy, no bottles to buy & sanitize, no containers to throw away, no water to heat, and it’s often a fantastically effortless way to lose the weight you put on during pregnancy. What a miracle worker that Mother Nature is to design such an elegant system!

But there are also benefits for my nursing daughter who turned 2 1/2 just before Nicholas was born.

Having “mokies” calms her when she’s having a meltdown; it puts her to sleep, and back to sleep in the middle of the night; it allows us to keep our physical closeness, even when the new baby is attached to my body for 90% of the day; and most of all, I can see it helping her to start bonding with the little guy as her little hand (big in comparison to his) plays with his foot, strokes his belly, holds his hand.

While this isn’t strictly about frugality, continuing to nurse my girl is helping me keep things together in these crazy newborn days. And that is a cornerstone of keeping the house running well.

Urban Foraging, Experiment #2: Black Currants!

Today while walking . . . well, somewhere in . . . a city . . . I noticed something dark purple and shiny calling out to me from some shrubbery.  It was . . . it couldn’t be . . . no, it really was a blackcurrant bush!  And there were ripe purple berries dangling there just begging to be picked. (photos to come)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune, that such a treasure had not already been gleaned by another observant forager like myself.  I filed the location and vowed to return at a more convenient time to collect my treasure.  X marks the spot 🙂

So I returned under cover of dusk, wearing a green dress so as to blend in with the shrubbery, and spent a good half-hour picking.  Oh, the smell!  I was in cassis heaven as I plucked the juicy berries from the branches.

I brought my treasures home and marched through my little girl’s bedtime routine all the while thinking about the jam I could make with my find.

Well, after getting her into bed, and chatting with my mom on the phone I got down to the serious business of microwave jam making . . . at 11 o’clock.

First, I found a recipe seemingly from a Four-H club (?) for making small batches of microwave jam.  Aha!  Perfect.  For what I had was the makings of a small batch.

I knew that when I started out, even before I had measured my one-and-almost-three-quarters cups of picked berries.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cut up fruit, but I was willing to go a little on the lean side.  I even included all of the “blemished” fruit, hoping that it wouldn’t spoil the flavour too much.

Then I topped and tailed them, and washed them.  In the measuring cup full of water, several of the more blemished ones floated to the top.  “That can’t be good,” I thought, and took a peek inside. Nope, not good.  It was a dried-out stinky worm-bed inside my beautiful berries.

There was no denying the fact that they most certainly would spoil the flavour, so I went through them again, discarding any berries sporting what looked remotely like a worm hole.  Down to . . . a very respectable 1 cup of washed, sorted, topped and tailed berries.  Sigh.

So I decided to halve the recipe.  “At least I’ll get one jar of jam,” I reassured myself as midnight struck and my dear partner (who had stood by me during the sad, sad culling process) went to bed.

The recipe calls for:

1 1/2 cups of chopped fruit

flavourings and lemon juice (this refers to a mysterious unlinked “chart”)

1 1/2 cups sugar

So I halved the sugar and added a bit over a tablespoon of lemon juice for good measure, and set about following the instructions.

Heat in microwave about 6 minutes, or until boiling–mine took much less time. Stir well, and then cook in microwave 10 to 13 more minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Mine went faster here too, and I was done after about 6 minutes.  It says at this point you should chill a spoonful in the fridge for 15 minutes to test the consistency, but I was pretty sure mine was jelling, so I jarred it*.

And this is what I got:

Approximately 2/3 of a one-cup jar of black currant jam.  Sigh.

Well, what this experiment taught me was respect for two things: 1, the price of high-quality blackcurrant jam, and 2, the value of pesticides.

I’m going to bed now, but at least I can look forward to some tasty jam tomorrow morning.

* Microwave jam is not processed, so it must be refrigerated immediately and will last for about a month in the fridge.

DIY Deodorant

I’ve been reading so much lately about commercial deodorants and antiperspirants: how bad they are for you, how many nasty chemicals they contain, how blocking your sweat glands is actually a bad idea, and how easy it is to delete it from your life.

Now, I’m not talking about quitting cold-turkey and walking around reeking like a hippy.  Not for me, thanks.  But perusing my favourite blogs over the last few months, I have found several diy options that the blogger claim work miracles:

Cheaplikeme has a recipe that includes cocoanut oil, baking soda and corn starch, scented with essentail oils

– a very fancy one on Angry Chicken that contains shea and cocoa butters, vitamin E capsules, baking soda and corn starch, scented with essential oils

– and somewhere, in someone’s comments feed, I saw that someone, somewhere uses just a dusting of baking soda.

So, I’m starting an experiment.  This morning in the shower I shaved my arm pits, which was a mistake.  Normally I only shave in the evening so that I won’t be applying deodorant to broken skin.  So with freshly shaven pits, and a humidex of 28 and long walk ahead of me, I went with the simplest of my diy options and dusted on some baking soda.  It’s also the most frugal choice, and the only one I had on hand at the time.

And what happened?  Well, I’ve been smelling fresh as a daisy the whole day.  I re-applied in the mid-afternoon because I was a bit sceptical, but it may not have been necessary.

So easy.  So cheap.  So non-toxic I even let my little daughter try some on herself after she saw me applying and wanted to do it just like mommy.

I’ve read in some places that people’s bodies “get used to” their natural options, so I might end up trying Cheaplikeme’s recipe too.  Especially seeing as I’ve already bought the cocoanut oil and all.

I was going to use up what I have before starting on this experiment, but since this morning’s first foray, I’m going to stick with it and see how it goes.  I’ll report back soon but so far I’m optimistic.

But don’t worry about bursting my bubble.  If you see me and I’m smelling something fierce, please let me know!

Re-Usable Toilet Paper

Home-Made Toilet PaperMy husband thinks I’ve lost it.  He says I’ve crossed a line.  The line between “frugal eco crafty mom” and “I raise my own pigs and recycle my grey water.”  Frankly I would LOVE to be the latter, but maybe that makes him uncomfortable.  If there is a line, I think I crossed it long ago.  But this?  This is just a natural extension of some other trends in my life.

First trend, cloth diapers.  We started using cloth when our daughter was almost a year old.  Our reasoning before that had been that we don’t have a dryer, and we don’t have a house with a separate laundry room so it seemed inconvenient.  But when I saw a friend’s baby with her bum hugged by soft cotton instead of scratchy noisy plastic, I was touched, and inspired to go cloth.  I’m so happy we did!  It’s been amazingly easier than I thought it would be, and it has saved us SO much money (not to mention environmental karma!).

The second trend is my Lunapads.  I did some reading online and got scared of what they put in tampons, and what happens when you put those tampons in you.  Also, after switching to cloth diapers for the baby, I thought, “Why not switch to cloth for myself?”  I did it, and I loved it!  It felt like a little treat for myself each month.

So, see?  This is just the next step in a long progression of reusable cloth products to replace disposable ones.

I first read about cloth wipes on the Lunapads blog, where they linked back to a Crunchy Chicken article about her experiment switching to cloth.  I was inspired!  But I was also lazy, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks later, with my TP supply rapidly diminishing, that I decided to sew some up.  So yesterday, armed with a template, some scissors, my sewing machine, and some super cute flannellette I bought a few months ago, I set to work.

I wanted the wipes to be about the same size as 2 squares of toilet paper, so I made a little cardboard template in that size and drew a bunch of rectangles on the cloth.  Next I cut them out, and then I zig-zag stitched all around the edges.  I got 19 from what was left of the 1/2 yard piece of cotton (I had also made some doll sheets & pillow case out of the fabric).  And voila!  The cutest darn pile of toilet paper you’ve ever seen!  Don’t tell me it’s not!

My plan is to use these just for pee . . . at least for now.  We wash our cloth diapers anyway, so this won’t cause any extra laundry in our house.  I’ll report back once I’ve tried this out for a week or two and you can let me know if you think I’ve completely lost it!  In the mean time, I’ll be singing “You can feel the cottony softness . . . .”