Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Cleaning dusty lampshades on a bedside lamp.

I was given many years ago a pair of matching lamps that fitted so well into our decor, that you'd think we had bought them specifically. Over the years they have served us well but since I'm on a bit of a cleaning binge at the moment and these two lamps came under scrutiny and it has been decreed that they must be cleaned...

They photographed much better stained and dirty than they looked in real life!!!

Here's what I did...

First I consulted my copy of "How to Clean Practically Anything" and decided that they way to go was to brush them with bran, a little detergent, warm water and a stiffish brush.

I sprayed a small portion of them with a light mist of warmish water...

And then rubbed a handful of the bran and a tiny bit of detergent in a circular motion on the lamp shade taking extra time on the really soiled bits. I did them both section by section so I didn't miss any parts. You have to rub quite gently as they are more fragile than they look! Pop one (clean) hand on the inside and do the rubbing on the outside so the lampshade doesnt collapse on you. Do this over the sink or a "wet" area as it got quite messy quite quickly. Oh, and you get a bonus hand scrub with this project at the same time!

Then I left them to dry overnight...

Using a stiff brush, I brushed off all the bran. It was quite hard to get off and some bran bits had to be picked off with a fingernail! But it did make a difference!!

Since I had them off the stands and they were looking quite good - I ran a line of hot glue along this seam that was coming unstuck.

And also around the top of this one that was a bit lose on the stand - it was quite tricky to do without burning myself with hot glue. A while ago I PVA glued some leaf skeletons from the $2 shop into the inside of the lamps. When they are off they look like normal lamps. When they are on they have this great leaf pattern that sort of glows.

 And this is what they looked like when they were put back together and turned on...

Much better!!

Score card:Green-ness:  Good green-ness to clean with natural products!
Frugal-ness: Excellent frugal-ness to clean and fix rather than buy new ones!
Time cost: About 15 mins to scrub lamps, over night to dry, 10 mins with the hot glue gun and 2 mins to put back together.
Skill level: Basic stuff - give it a go!
Fun -ness: When its all clean, fixed and back together, you feel great!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Compost and Chook bucket tip

We have a chook/compost bucket that all our kitchen scraps go in and then get distributed to the the various spots around the garden. The bottom of it always collects the messy sloppy stuff and things like tea leaves that get stuck to the bottom making it hard to get out.

I read somewhere (and if I could remember where, I'd put the link in for you) that if you line the bottom of the bucket with shredded paper it makes the whole emptying of the compost bucket a lot easier.

Here's what I did...

First empty and clean your compost bucket.

Fill the bottom 1/4 with shredded paper...

 Fill with scraps!

Empty onto the compost when filled. Shredded paper is a pretty good addition to the compost heap either in the bottom of the bucket or as a bucketful to soak up liquid in a soggy heap. Make sure you spread it out through the heap though. A big blob of shredded paper will turn into a solid mass if you don't work it through.

On the odd occasion that the compost bucket with shredded paper in the bottom of it ends up in the chook pen, they don't seem to eat the paper, but they do shred it even further pecking the tasty morsels off it. We usually rake up the bottom of the chook pen and pop it on the compost heap once a month - so the paper ends up decomposed one way or the other!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Making your own laundry washing powder - its easy!

I have been reading about making your own washing powder on the net for a while. There's a good discussion going about it over at Earth Garden, and Cheapskates also have a lot of information MYO washing powder as well. I talked to my husband about it and he wasn't keen. (He's a bit fussy about his washing - and that's why he does the washing in this house!) and so I left it. For a while.

One afternoon I decided that I would give it a go as we were running low on washing powder and made some and plonked it on top of the nearly run out commercial stuff in the laundry.

He didn't notice a thing!  

Until I made a batch with yellow laundry soap instead of white bathroom soap. And it was only the colour that gave it away! He decided that since it had obviously been working and he hadn't seen any adverse effects on his work shirts thus far - I was "allowed" to continue! But now he gets involved and is happy to make up a batch when we are getting low. It is defiantly cheaper than the commercial stuff, does a good job and has less perfumes and fillers in it. I'm also happy to run the washing machine water onto the gardens as I know whats going down the pipe!

Here's what I did...

For this batch I used (just) 2 bars of old laundry soap (that were stuck together until after I took the photo!) 1 kg of washing soda (not crystals, these dissolve quicker) from the laundry isle of the supermarket (top shelf - about $3.50) and 1/2 packet of bi-carb.

 First - grate your soap - it looks like cheese... don't let the kids pick at it...

Then crush the soap into a fine powder with the bottom of the grater. The finer the soap powder, the easier it will dissolve, especially if you use cold water for your washing. The older the soap the more dried out it is likely to be making the crushing easier. If you use new soft soft, it can be grated into beautiful curls - that mash rather than crush.

Here you can see the difference between curls and crushed soap.

 If you think the soap is to soft and not crushing into a powder - simply dry it out. Here I have crushed it as fine as I can, spread it out on a board and then left it in the sun for the day on the picnic table. If you put curls rather than crush into your mix, you will get undissolved soap curls stuck on your clothes when you pull them out of the wash. Not a current fashion look I've been told!

 That's all the hard work done! Now you simply put all your ingredients together in a suitable container (an ex-cake box with a broken lid in our case)

 Mix together!

And use in the normal manner!I know other people add fragrances, borax, and other bits and bobs to their mixtures but I keep it simple so that its quick, easy and replicable.
The soap powder is what does the cleaning - as soap does in its usual application. If you use a scented soap you will get that scent through your wash. The bi-carb is the deodoriser and the washing crystals are the water softeners that help to remove stains and grease spots.

We have been using this recipe for a few years now with no problems. The grey water goes into the garden beds and even the plant seem happy with this mixture!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for making your own without the extra unnecessary ingredients.
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for making it much cheaper than the commercial stuff.
Time cost: About as long as it takes you to grate the soap - for me, about 3 minutes.
Skill level: Super-duper easy!
Fun -ness: Great fun to make something that looks bought, acts bought but isn't!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Easy to make - Plum sauce

Have you noticed that plums are in season at the moment? Maybe? Have you noticed the price plummet? Yes? Me too! My Mom made plum sauce from our own plum trees when I was a kid and I know I used it like you would normally use tomato sauce. On meat sandwiches, on my sausages, in a burger. We always seemed to have some in the pantry. 

I remember one year Mom had us kids up on the roof of the garage picking plums off the tree out the front almost in the dark as she frantically tried to water down the 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper (instead of 1/2 a teaspoon) that she had put into this years batch of plum sauce! As I said, we always seemed to have plum sauce in the house.

I was flicking through my Edmond's cookbook - a New Zealand classic - and found a recipe for plum sauce - and it has 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in it so I bet its the same one my Mom used! I decided that since plums were under $2 a kilo, I would give it a go... 

Here's what I did...

Halve two and a half kilo's of plums and pop them in a large pot with 4 cups of malt or red wine vinegar.

Add 3 cups of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, I teaspoon of ground cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground pepper, 8 cloves of garlic (finely chopped) and one teaspoon of ground ginger and give it all a good stir. The recipe also calls for 1 teaspoon of mace - but I didn't have any...

Let it all bubble away until the plums lose their shape and you have loose pips floating around. Stir it occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom. The kitchen will smell really good - open the windows and let the neighbours have a whiff of home made plum sauce in the making...

Then the pips need to come out. I started just fishing the  out with a spoon but that was tiresome. Then I started using the mouli but it just jammed on the pips so in the end I sieved them out with my trusty colander and a soup ladle. Messy but effective! I got the pips out and managed to mashed all the pulp into a thick mess!

Boil the pulp back up and give it a really good stir. Adjust the seasonings if you think it needs it at this point - be careful - its HOT. Don't burn your mouth when you taste it! 

Sterilise your bottles by microwaving them on high with an inch of water in the bottom for 2-3 minutes. (Have a look at my tomato sauce making post for pictures and better sterilising instructions!) Then pour your hot sauce into your hot bottles using a funnel, pop the lid on, wipe down the outsides of the bottles and pop on the window sill to cool.

Yumm!!! Enjoy, just the way you would tomato sauce! Making this sauce has inspired me to make pork ribs in plum sauce for dinner later this week!

I got just over 2 litres out of this recipe. It should keep up to a year but will need refrigerating once it is  opened!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for making your own food from cheap, in season fruit bought locally!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying cheap plums and preserving them for future use!
Time cost: About an hour all up!
Skill level: Not so hard - Try it and tell me how you went!
Fun-ness: Love filling the kitchen with yummy smells!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Upcycled or recycled can - Pencil pot for my desk!

I went to the Lifeline Book Fest last month in Brisbane - Ahhhh book heaven! A very dangerous place for me. The library always demands their books back sooner or later but the ones in the unpriced section I can keep forever and at $1each, I may have come home with more than I needed!

 One of my little gems was this book on paper craft. When I spotted the pencil pot - I knew I had to make me one. I had the perfect paper. Gift wrapping paper from a birthday present that I love - from a great friend to boot and since it was a rainy day (they are all rainy days in Brisbane at the moment) and the husband was tucked up in bed with a coffee and a book still, it was the perfect opportunity to turn the dining room table into a craft zone for minute or two!

Here's what I did...

First I cleaned the can thoroughly and dried it well. Check that it doesn't have any sharp bits on it and cut them off or push them down if it does. (Sorry the photo's aren't so great - its so dark with the rain all the time and the flash photos looked worse...)

Then cut a piece for the inside that will overlap and stick out the top.

Glue the back of the paper and then stick into the can. Then cut the top into tabs (like in the picture) and  glue them down on the outside. If you like, cut a circle and glue it to the inside bottom of the can. I didn't.

Then cut a second strip to go on the outside of the can - making sure that its too big again so that we can cover the bottom of the can.

Glue the can and then roll the paper slowly onto it taking out the wrinkles as you go.

Upend the can and cut tabs in the paper again and glue each one down so that you cover the bottom of the can.

Voila! A cute wee pencil pot!

I cut strips of paper and used them to cover some pencils as well - More cuteness!

This would make a nice present for someone to put by their phone or for kids for their desk I think. Hmmmm.... I see fun, personalised Birthday presents coming up!

Score card:Green-ness:  5/5 Using 100% used items rather than sending them to landfill - much green-ness!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Using 100% items I got for free - much frugal-ness!
Time cost: 15 minutes from woah to go including clean up time!
Skill level: Super easy - might be a good holiday craft with the kids.
Fun -ness: Good clean fun! Yum!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

How to make a great pot of tea!

I have always been a tea drinker. Cant stand the taste of coffee in a cup. I like coffee cake with coffee icing and have even been known to munch on the odd chocolate covered coffee bean - but to actually drink the stuff - Yuelch!

When I got married my mom started bring my grandmothers Noritake dinner set over from NZ in drips and drabs and encouraged me to use the setting rather than store it and pass it on. Of the whole dinner set the tea cups and saucers were the easiest piece to use - and so I did. About the same time I started using "real tea cups" I discovered a tea stall at the markets that sold flavoured black tea's as well as green and herbal concoctions and so my tea drinking took a giant swing upwards!

Its one of my only indulgences - especially when I don't smoke, don't drink a lot of alcohol and don't even have have a TV to blob out in front of! So I like to enjoy my tea. Made in a proper tea pot and sipped out of a nice cup forces me to slow down and relax, especially on a busy day! 

Here's what I do...

First I heat the kettle with nice fresh water and bring it to a rolling boil.

Then I choose a nice tea and put a teaspoon for each cup I am making in the pot. This time I am having a cup  of Duchess Grey from Tea Therapy in Stones Corner, Brisbane. The old adage of one spoonful for each person and one for the pot was perpetuated by the tea companies to get you to use more. Of course if you like a strong tea - put more in!

Once the water is boiled, pour the water from the kettle into the tea pot remembering only to fill the pot with as much water as you need to fill the cups you intend to make. If you pour into much you will have a weak tea and if you don't put in enough then you will only get 1/2 a cup of tea!

And now for the hard bit - waiting for the tea to draw! Get your cup ready. I have a bit of a collection of odd tea cups as well as my grandmothers set. Pick one that suits your mood.

Let the tea draw for about 3-5 minutes depending on the strength of the tea and how you like it. Finely cut teas will draw a lot quicker than whole leaf ones because of the surface ratio. I often check the tea an give it a bit of swirl with a teaspoon while its still in the pot to help things along a bit.

While you are waiting for the tea to draw, pop in some sugar (if that's how you have yours) I put the sugar in first so that it dissolves quicker with the hot tea splashed on to it than if I add it later.
The milk in first (MIF) and milk in last (MIL) debate still rages on after many centuries. I did a bit of Internet research when the argument hit our house and it seems that there is a is difference with the milk protein if you add it first. its something to do with the heat of the water in the tea when you first put it in the cup. I can't taste the difference - so really, its a personal preference sort of thing in the end. Pop some milk in now if you are a MIF or wait till you have poured the tea if you are a MIL!

Once you think the tea is about the strength you like it, pop your strainer over the top of your cup and start gently pouring your tea into the cup. If you don't have a strainer, you will end up leaving a small bit of tea in the bottom of your cup when you are finished your drink, allowing you the opportunity to "read your tea leaves!"

Now, some people like a slice of lemon in their tea. If that's you, dive right in! But I'm a milk and sugar girl from way back. I had milk and sugar in my tea as a child and I liked it well enough not to mess with it! Maybe I have never really grown up!

Add as much or as little milk as you like - you're the one drinking it and its all about feeling good, so don't bow to pressure. Have it the way that you enjoy! Give your tea a decent stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the milk is evenly distributed through the tea.

Add a biscuit, find a nice place to sit, sip slowly and enjoy!

Score card:
Green-ness: 4/5 Loose tea generally has less packaging and less processing!
Frugal-ness: 4/5 Often seems more expensive than Generic brand tea bags - but its a cheap indulgence overall!
Time cost: 6 or 7 minutes from filling the jug to taking the first sip
Skill level: I made my first pot of tea when I was at Brownies. If you can boil the jug, you can make a great cup of tea!
Fun -ness: A nice ritual that grounds me as it demands that I slow down. You cant make a pot of tea quickly. Fun things sometimes take a bit more time...

Friday, 10 February 2012

How to smoke your own salmon at home! mmMMmm!

For Christmas I wanted to do a whole baked salmon as the food centrepiece for a cold seafood buffet. Whole salmon are not cheap and I didn't want to stuff it up on Christmas Eve and have no amazing centrepiece on the day. So I called my little brother, who at 6' something isn't quite so little anymore, but happens to be an ex-chef and a seafood lover. I figured he'd  know the best way to cook it.

"Smoke it," he said. "Oh for goodness sake," I replied, " I'm a home cook not a trained professional like you". "Its easy and I guarantee even you can do it" (He lucky he lives on the other side of the country is all I have to say about that!) "I'll email you the instructions" and in due course a list of instructions arrived filled with expletive's - You'd think he taken his apprenticeship with Gordon Ramsey from that email - and I gave it a go. Its a GREAT way to cook salmon and I'm telling you, any home cook can do this successfully. I know. I've done it. Twice!

Here's what I did...

First purchase your salmon. I get mine from a family owned seafood house that is open 7days a week, smells like fish, is wet underfoot and has really friendly staff who take the time to talk me through what I'm buying and what I'm going to do with it. I have started buying whole fish as these guys cut it up, scale it, gut it and what ever else you do to fish and present me with the fillets or steaks at a much cheaper price than the already cut ones on display. I don't understand the logic but I do understand the economics - its cheaper to buy the whole fish that fillets! For this method, I use fillets but I suspect you could smoke the fish  as a steak - I just haven't tried it.

If  you have to buy more fish than you need for this meal, simply pop it in the freezer and feed your family another fish dish or entertain some other friends next week. Obviously we can't eat a whole 4 kilo salmon in one hit but we do in a month!

Next - remove all the little bones from the fillets. You'll need a pair of tweezers (pliers don't work, I tried it) and if you run your finger along the white dots you can see on the fillet you will find the bones. They take a bit of getting out (once you get the right angle they slide out) but it will make the eating nicer (you can take bigger mouthfuls - and you'll want to!) if you can get them all out now.

Sorry - the one handed lowlight pictures arent the best... but Im sure you get the idea!

Then we need to marinate the salmon for at least 4 hours. The marinade that my brother recommended, as both easy and the best, is a 60/40 mix of brown sugar (60%) and salt (40%). Rub it on the all sides of the fillet/s, cover and pop in the fridge for as long as you can. Overnight is good.
I had to cut this fillet up to fit both in the dish and on the "smoker".

It will leak fluid (I think that's a reaction to the salt) but as you will need to dry the fillets anyway don't worry to much about it. Turn it a few times to get the marinade well and truly into the fish.

When you are ready to smoke your salmon - and I do this as part of the entertainment now cause its much nicer hot than cold - grab a wine or a cold beer and start smoking!

Warning: Although this is easy to do on your stove top - DON'T. It smokes out your house and you spend the next week living in a house that smells like a burnt out shell. Its the hardest scent to get rid of! (I know, cause I did it!)

We use our camping gas burner and an old frying pan out on the verandah with the house well and truly shut up. This is going to almost ruin your frying pan so choose it carefully. Line your frying pan with a layer of alfoil to help with the cleaning up process. If you are anti alfoil cause it gives you Alzheimer's - buy an old pan from a second hand shop. It will be worth the investment.

Add to the bottom of the pan, a couple of handfuls of rice (any kind) and about 5 green tea bag contents any flavor) (throw the bags out) or spoon in 5 teaspoons if you have it loose. This is what is going to smoke and flavor your fish. Throw in rosemary sprigs or whatever herbs take your fancy at this point too.

Next put an oven rack across the pan for the fish to rest on. The fish doesn't go in the pan.

Dry your fish with paper towel or old tea towels. The first time I did this I didn't dry the fish enough and the sugar melted, driped and burnt to the bottom of the pan. It makes a hell of a mess and took my husband about a week to get it off. The pan was ruined for anything but smoking after the first go (Oh well silver linings and all that stuff!) 

Place the fish on the rack. You are best to do this all before you turn on the gas - especially the first time. Its easier to get it all set up the first time when everything is cold rather than blistering hot!

See the rice and geen tea in the bottom of the pan?

Then cover the whole thing with a wok. This is to keep the smoke in and circulating around the salmon.

Turn on the gas and light it. As long as you can see a little bit of smoke - its doing the right thing. You don't need billowing smoke to get this to work. You'll also have the neighbours calling the Fire Brigade if you have too much smoke. (And you wont want to share this with seven hungry fire men and a dozen neighbours!)

It takes about 15 minutes to cook through. Its not going to be like the smoked salmon on the little gold trays in the supermarket. Its going to be a indirect heat cooked fish with a smoky salty sweet flavor that is very addictive! If its quite a thick piece, turn it part way through the process to make sure you smoke it all the way through.

Poke it with a fork to see if its cooked the way you like it and when its ready, serve immediately!

Sorry... bad photo again. Fairly dark and maybe a champagne or two by this time!

I serve this verandah smoked salmon with a spinach, dried cranberry, cracked almond and feta salad with berry vinaigrette, fresh plain bread and baked sweet potato's with a honey glaze...

Does it for me! Happy smoking!

Score card:
  4/5 Local sustainable fish - good green karma! (Is Tasmania local to Brisbane?)Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying in bulk, freezing it and saving money!
Time cost: 10 minutes to make the marinade, 4 hours fridge time and 15 - 25 minutes to cook. One week to soak and clean the pan...
Skill level: Much easier than you think - Honest!
Fun -ness: Spectacular way to cook for friends - Excellent way to entertain - Much fun-ness all round!
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