Sunday, 30 June 2013

Changing the colour of a canvas school folder!

Recently I needed to separate out some paperwork into two areas. Both area's needed two folders each for them. My vision was to have Blue ones for one area and Green for the other (actually, the colours wouldn't really matter but the colours went with the logos making it easier to remember which was which!)

I was volunteering at the LifeLine Book Fest and thought I would grab some cheap folders (at 50c each I was unlikely to ever get a bargain like that again!) and I managed to get two green folders but only one blue one... I found a purple one and in the interests of having everything match (and not spending a penny more than I had too) I bought the purple one and bought it home with the intention of changing its colour to blue...

Here's what I did...

This folder is one of those ones that feels like its made out of canvas but I suspect hats its a woven plastic of some sort really. :

Changing the colour was as easy as simply painting it with water based acrylic paints that I had lying around!

I chose to just paint the coloured bits and not the black for this project.

I gave the folder a decent wipe over with a bit of vinegar and let it dry in the sun

And then simply painted it the colour that I wanted!

There is no reason why you couldn't have painted pictures, done spots or stripes or what ever took your fancy. I just wanted a block colour so I knew instantly which folder to put the receipt's in and which one had the contracts in it at a glance.

Once I had painted the outside, I left it in any airy nearly sunny spot to dry. If you were careful, you could use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process - just be careful you don't melt the plastic!

Despite what this photo looks like - I only painted the outside. For some reason the purple inside has come out blue in this image! And again, there is no reason that you couldn't paint the inside once the outside is dry.

So now I have my matching set - Blue for one lot of paperwork and green for the other. As my two folders are different, I know instantly which of the four I need to grab for each piece of paperwork without having to label them!

As I was doing this I had this vision of doing kids school folders from year to year with new colours, pictures and designs on them! I thought it would make really cool folders for school. Or am I out of touch and only the licensed characters are cool these days... :(   

It would certainly be the way to make a one of a kind present for some one starting school! I don't know if it would work on the plastic folders at the top of the photo, but it would on the paper based cardboard-y ones that are out there!

Let me know how you go if you try this! - K xx

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for buying second hand from a charity instead of new!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for donating folders I didn't need and purchasing new ones for $2
Time cost: About 10 minutes to paint and 1/2 and hour to dry
Skill level: kindergarten painting - and maybe, staying in between the lines!
Fun -ness: Great fun to get what i wanted at such a low price!

Friday, 28 June 2013

How to make peanut butter at home!

We love peanut butter in our house! When I was a kid, I was the peanut butter girl, my sister the Vegemite girls and my brother allegiances changed daily depending whose side he was on that day!

I decided a while ago that the list of ingredients on the side of the peanut butter jar was getting a bit long for me... I mean what do you need all that other stuff for - just how long does it need to sit on a shelf for???

And then I discovered that it was so easy to make at home! This one is a good "cooking" project for the kids.

Here's what I do...

I buy my peanuts from Food Connect so that they are "good local peanuts" that have only traveled a hundred kilometers or so to me for about $6 for 500gms. These are biodynamically and organically grown as well as being local!

Then 1/2 of the packet goes into the blender (I have a VERY small blender!) and I add olive oil as they are being mushed up to get a peanut butter consistency.
Stop the blender every minute or so to check your consistency. Also have a taste and if you think it needs a bit of salt (or sugar - just a teaspoon can make a big difference) add it now so that it has time to meld through the whole mixture.

I boil up a jar 1/2 filled with water for 3 minutes (These ones are tomato paste ones - about 400 mls) in the microwave to sterlise them (and pour the boiling water on the lids in a bowl to sterilise them as well - don't put the lids in the microwave...bad things happen!) before putting the peanut butter in.

When I'm making home made peanut butter - I never get the smoothness that you get from the store bought stuff. I don't have the patience to wait that long for the blender to crush every single nut so my smooth is probably very crunchy and my crunchy has whole nuts in it... (makes really good satay sauce too, by the way!)

And voila - one jar of organic, biodynamically grown, low food kilometre peanut butter for $3!!!
Easy as!

Or one jar of crunchy and one of smooth for $6!
Not too bad at all!

This is one of the easiest things to make in the kitchen. Good for snacks - a little of this peanut butter goes a long way on a cracker or two! With a glass of cold milk - its almost like coming home from school all over again!

I like a bit of salt in mine but if you don't - you simply don't need to add it. You could experiment with different types of oils, but be warned, some may change the taste of your peanut butter so I tend to go for bland ones. Just add enough to keep the nuts moving or more, if you like your peanut butter smoother.

The addition of a teaspoon of sugar (that you cant actually taste) seems to balance out the flavours a bit as well - I don't understand why that would be, but I tried it one day and swore it made a difference... Let me know what you think!

I keep blending until I'm bored, think it looks ok or cant stand the noise of the blender anymore - there isn,t a specific time. If you are a peanut butter connoisseur, you will know when its right. If you are not - just taste it and if its good, its done!

Happy Peanut Butter creating! - K xx

Score card: 
Green-ness: 5/5 for organic, bio-dynamic, low food kilometer home made peanut butter in a recycled jar!
Frugal-ness: at only $6 for 2 400 ml jars?? That's real frugal!
Time cost: About 10 minutes from whoa to go!
Skill level: Blending, tasting and eating skills!
Fun-ness: Great fun to look at $9 jars of commercially made organic peanut butter in the shop and know you have 2 bigger and cheaper jars at home!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Evening lights

New-to-me brass candlesticks cleaned up and filled with scented candles burning low into the evening...
Very relaxing!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

How to clean tarnished brass candlesticks, naturally!

I bought these cute wee candle stick holders at the local markets on Sunday - all 3 for $5! I was happy! They looked like they were probably brass but it was hard to tell as they were totally green. I figured that they were either the real deal and I had got a real deal... or they were some cheap and nasty thing and I had bought my self a set of three green tarnished cheap candle sticks.  I thought I'd have a go at polishing them up and see what happened.

Here's what I did... First I used a magnet to see if they were solid brass or brass covered steel. The magnet will not stick to solid brass and WILL stick to brass coated steel. If you use this method on brass coated steel you will probably remove the tarnish AND the brass and be left with an uncoated steel object -  you might not want that!

These ones seemed to be solid brass as the magnet wouldn't stick in the slightest...
Then I pulled them apart (the stick unscrewed from the base) and soaked them in a 50/50 white vinegar and water mix for about 20 minutes.

Depending on how precious the item is - scrub off the tarnish with a pot scrubber and an old toothbrush or maybe a cloth if it is something precious or expensive. I found the tarnish came off quite easily on the large area with a cheap green plastic pot scrubby thing.

For some of the harder to get at area's like the edges and the dips in the bases I soaked it a bit longer and used a toothbrush and a bread and butter knife to scrape away at the tarnish - remember if your item is something precious, this may not be the way to go!

I cleaned up two and then photographed them for comparison - what do you think??

I thought they came up quite well!

As these weren't anything precious or expensive, I wasn't too worried if they got scratched or marked. If you are cleaning up a family heirloom, it may pay to have a chat to a specialist before you dive in with the vinegar and a scrubbing brush! When you have finished getting all the tarnish off, give them a good soak and rinse in fresh water to get all the vinegar off and to stop any reactions so that your brass is not eaten by the acid in the vinegar.

I'm enjoying the candle light and the ease as to which they can be moved around.Most of my candles are in glass holders and once you have lit the candle they are hard to move as they get hot. These ones with the built in handles are great - I have seen them in nursery rhyme books and movies but never possessed one myself! Its fun!

In the week since I have cleaned them up, they have dulled a little. I suspect they need to be "oiled" or varnished to retain the gleam. I have a friend with brass taps in her bathroom and I know that she cleans them with furniture polish each week to keep them shiny. She said that they came with a laquar on them and as it wears off with use, she needs to keep the polish on them to keep the tarnish at bay. The ones in the guest bathroom don't tarnish so quickly as they are not used so much she tells me.

So maybe I need to have a look at oils to put on them to keep them shiny... or maybe I let them gently tarnish up a bit. Certainly the worn and used look would go much better with my worn and faded decor than bright and shiny would!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for buying second hand and refurbishing with items in the kitchen cupbourds
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for getting a bain and for buying second hand!
Time cost: Not the fastest thing you will ever do - especially if you want to get every last scrap of green off the item. Maybe an hour to do all three.
Skill level: Just soaking and scrubbing - maybe detailing if you are so inclined!
Fun -ness: Great fun to see them all shiny and filled with burning candles!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Introducing baby chickens to the rest of the flock!

In recent times I have added four baby chickens to my flock which can be a bit traumatic for both me and the baby chickens at times. I don't buy day old chicks as the cat and dog cant resist them and thinks I am buying them dinner that's able to flap rather than in a dinner in a bowl for a change. I spend weeks if not months worrying about the babies getting out (highly likely) of the big pen or the dog getting in (possible but not probable) or the cat getting in - probably - as soon as I turn my back!

My latest acquisitions - a lavender Aracana (right) and a Aracana Cross (Left). They both have the same Dad but different Moms. The lavender Aracana will lay a green blue egg and the cross - probably an olive-y colour - I hope!

However once the babies are about two to three months old they look more like the rest of the chickens, who can certainly defend themselves or at least draw my attention quite loudly which usually results in a firm talking to that neither the cat or dog are fond of being on the receiving end of!

As interested in them as the dog is, she wont get too close as she has discovered that baby chicks in pens can throw buckets of water at her and she really didn't like that at all! (Ok, so I may have been in the vicinity, with a bucket of water at the time - but she really seemed to think it was the chicks not me!)

Anyway, when you have a few new chickens - old or new - to introduce to the rest of the flock,

Here's what I did...

The black one has been called "Tempest" due to her feisty nature and the grey one "Rain".

I popped my babies into the isolation pen in the back yard and don't let the big chooks out at all.
This is so if the babies have any diseases, I wont pass it through the flock. In this time I worm the whole flock including the babies, put lice powder on them and give every one a dose of antibiotics - again a precaution as a lot of chicken maladies are seemingly symptom-less and very quick to kill. The breeder that I got these ones off recommended that I keep them separate for two weeks

I use a 2 litre bucket for their water. Its big enough and heavy enough for them not to tip over and lasts them all day. I do have to clean it out and fill it up again each day but that's no real problem as I'm checking on them a few times a day anyway.

These ones were really keen to dust bath and so after a few minutes of thinking, I converted the cat box into a dust bath (the cat may never speak to me again!) I took the dirt from the big chooks favorite dust bowl and these two got into it big time - it was very cute to watch!

I have a ceramic vase thing that I use for their food. (left) Again, its heavy enough to stay upright when they stand on it - note the chicken demonstrating this very feature in the above photo! I find if I use flat bowls they tip them up when they stand on it or simply scratch all their feed onto the ground and them cry that they are hungry! By using a deep heavy bowl, they have to peck it out rather than scatter it everywhere.

They will, however, poop in any bowl that you give them so you'll have to check on them a few times a day so they always have fresh food and clean water - they eat sooooo much when they are growing!

I also move the pen each day - a bit like guinea pigs or even a chicken tractor - so that they don't damage the grass underneath too much. These ones like to climb up on top of the grass catcher at night to roost so I raised it up so that the inside that was nice and warm became attractive. I also covered them with a tarp each night in case of rain but also to protect them from the morning dew.

"Breeze" the adult Aracana checks out the baby aracanas one afternoon about 10 days later.

After a week or so when I was convinced that there were no diseases amoungst any of my chickens, I let the big girls out for a run and leave the babies in the pen. The big chooks come for a look and some times try to peck them on the head through the mesh.Its distressing to watch but its the packing order being established and a really good reason to leave the babies in the pen for another week.

When my big chooks go to bed, I let the babies out for a quick run. I have noticed that the oldest chook goes to bed the earliest and the youngest go to bed last. I think this is so the young ones can get at the food and water and make up for the rest of the time when the older, more dominant chooks get the first and best of whatever food is available. The babies don't go far - its a bit scary for them - and soon decide to go back to their roost and snuggle in for the night!

I move the isolation pen closer and closer to the big chooks pen and eventually into the pen so they can all see each other and get to know each other without the big chooks being able to bully the smaller ones. At the end of the second week, I open the isolation pen and let the babies out. They do get pecked and chased - its all part of being a low ranked chicken - but not to the extent that they would if you just threw 'em in with the others sight unseen.

I leave the isolation pen in there so if there is real trouble, I can lock up the bullied chook or even the bullier if I think that's a better idea for the rest of the day - leaving water and food in the isolation pen too, of course! I let the babies sleep in there until I think they have all settled in a bit and then take away the whole isolation pen and let them go in with the big chooks into the coop. The babies will want to sleep on the floor until they are getting ready to lay and then they will start to roost off the ground - that's one of the signs that they are getting ready to lay. So I try to put some straw on the ground for them to sleep in in a place where they wont get pooped on in the night. Apparently chooks poop about 10 times a night!!! If you have more than one roost, make sure they are level and not one above the other or they will poop on each other all night!

"Dusk" My older Barnevelder, making sure the babies aren't getting any of her food!

As the babies get bigger they will find their place in the flock and develop their own personalities. They will be able to defend them selves and unless the old chooks are drawing blood on the new chooks, I tend to let them do their own thing and sort out who is who in the flock. By introducing them gradually, I think you lessen the trauma for both the chickens and for you who has to watch them bully the new chook as they all find a new place in the ranking. Generally the new chook ends up at the bottom, but depending on the personality, they may end up further up the ranks in a bit of time.Its another reason I try to introduce them two at a time and not singularly.

My black hybrid layer (aptly named Thunder) is the top chook in our pen. Her 2IC is a white hybrid layer (Cloud) and the oldest chook (Sunset) is content to just tag along. There are chooks who are much bigger than Thunder and Cloud but these two have the most aggressive personalities and are always at your heels if you are in the garden - just in case there is food involved!

My bantams have their own personalities and often tell the Barnies (who are by far the biggest chooks in the pen and still have a lot of growing to do!) exactly where to go when they are not happy. My leghorns are bigger than hybrid layers but not as big as the Barneverlders and they are happily in the middle of the flock waiting for the aggressive chooks to have their fill before getting in and chasing the really placid ones away.

Having chooks is great fun and waaaaay more fun than watching TV!

Score card: 
Green-ness: 5/5 for owning chooks in the first place!
Frugal-ness:  5/5 for not having to buy eggs - but we wont go into the cost of chook food....
Time cost: About 2 weeks to introduce new chooks to old chooks - the slower the better
Skill level: Observation and patience!
Fun-ness: Its great fun to watch - a soap opera in your own back yard!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Cheap, easy labels for marking kids or visitors bathroom space!

We have been hosting international students for the last couple of years which we really enjoy. They all stay for different lengths of time and as they come and go I have developed a system to help them figure out what is their space easily and to know that its ok to use it.

Here's what I did...

I went to the local $2 shop and bought an Australian animal sticker book - you know the ones with a page of stickers that is repeated over and over on each page and also a set of coasters with corresponding animals on it as I need a single larger picture for this project.

To make the tags for the bathroom - I cut up a take away container lid...

Like so...

And stuck the stickers on to each piece.

The ones that were going in the showers got a coat of PVA glue on each side to waterproof them and then got a hole punched in them to hang off the shower hooks 

The stickers were a bit small for the drawer markers but I stuck them to a piece of card with a bush scene on it and gave them a coat of PVA glue as well since the bathroom is a damp place for paper and card board.

So I ended up with a set of Koala, Kangaroo and Kookaburra labels to mark their beds (the big picture coaster blu-taced to the wall behind their beds)  

So as each student moves in or out they just have to find the label that matches the one above their bed - handy when their English is not so good and easy for them to understand!

Their shower holder tag

A drawer each for all their bits and bobs.

You cant see the stickers very well in this picture but it also works on their school time table board I made as well. The names are blu-taced on and sometimes fall off. Even if they do - we know who each animal is anyway!

It works really well as we have some students here for weeks and others for months. Once they spot their animal or tag they know that this is space that they can use without having to ask. I have baskets in the pantry so they can buy their own food and every one knows not to eat it as well.

Using a similar naming system, my husband has proposed that we change the internet connections from each student name to the animal names!

I imagine this would work not only for people with a number of visitors coming through their house but simply as a way of identifying each child or teenagers space as well!

The book of stickers set me back $2 and the coaster $2.50. Having a few extra animals up my sleeve would be handy if we were to have more students than the three we currently host - but if nothing else, it gives you a back up if one goes missing or gets ruined somehow. If you have a printer you could always print off a load of the same animal pictures and glue them on instead of using stickers. That way you could size them and get exactly what you need.

Quick cheap and best of all, easy for everyone!

Score card: 
Green-ness: 3/5 for using some items I ready had but lose marks for buying new stuff...
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for spending less than $5 on this project
Time cost: about 1/2 an hour
Skill level: cutting and pasting as usual!
Fun -ness: Great fun and I think the students like the animal motif!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Making just a small amount of Rosella Jam!

I managed to grow a couple of scrawny rosella bushes in the backyard this year! Not only did they no actually die in either the scorching heat or the flood waters that regularly visited my back yard in recent times but they also survived the chickens, a bunch of weird looking  caterpillars and a rather large grasshopper!

So Im pleased!

I managed to harvest a bucketful - ok it was a very small bucket - ok it was a very, very small bucket but I was determined to get some sort of food from my garden to my table so I decided to make a batch of jam... that might extend all the way to two jars!

Here's what I did...

First gather your harvest!

Photograph it from many angles to get the best shot of your harvest - you simply cant make good jam if you miss the step!

Hmmm - not much light in my kitchen....

Give 'em a bit of a rinse in the sink and then sort out the ones that went rotten during the mammoth photography session.

Now rip open your rosella. There should be a green seed pod inside - keep that we need that.
When you rip off the calyx its should be crunchy. That will make sense when you do it.
If the pod is brown and discoloured - discard it but keep the red calyx if its still crunchy. 

Keep your seed pods separate and choose a few really nice looking ones to keep and replant for next year. There is about 30-40 seeds in each pod.

Pop the seeds that you aren't replanting next year into a pot with a cup of water and boil them until they are translucent.

 The idea is that we are going to get the pectin out of the seeds and use the pectin filled water in the jam and discard the seeds. They will go dark brown and see through when they are done.

Pop all the red calyx's into another pot (or wait till the seeds are done and use that one to save on the washing up)

Add the juice of one large (or two small) lemons - again we need pectin as rosella's are very low in it along with the water the seeds were boiled in.

Add a chopped and peeled green apple as well for a bit of body and a bit more pectin.

Boil until everything is soft and mushy. I had to add more water to stop it from boiling dry.

Up until now, the quantities have been fairly vague, but now you need to measure your pulp. I had very little due my minuscule harvest so I measured mine with a soup ladle. 3 scoops was my pulp volume.

Pop your pulp back in the pot and add the same amount of sugar as your had pulp - in my case three soup ladles but you may have a litre of pulp so you will need a litre of sugar.

Gently simmer until the sugar has dissolved and then boil away until setting point has been reached.
The boil will double the volume of the pot - make sure you have enough room left in the pot or it will over flow. If it looks a bit "dry" you may need to add more water or reduce your boil a little. Its more of an art than a recipe, I find...

To see if you are at setting point, I use the method that I watched my Mom use when I was a kid. I put a saucer in the freezer and when I'm ready to test the jam I pull it out of the freezer and blob a small puddle of jam onto it. Wait about 30 seconds and poke the jam on the saucer. If it "wrinkles" ie it forms a skin, then its ready. If not, scrape off the jam with your tongue spoon and pop the saucer back in the freezer for another 5 minutes or so and try again.

I was reading that the setting point is not water evaporation caused by the boiling but a chemical reaction between the sugar, pectin and acid... and apparently if you miss the setting point it will never set and just be a    runny mess... ( Ah so that's what I do wrong sometimes....)

Once you have reached (or missed) your setting point. Turn off the jam so you don't burn it and pop a couple of clean jars 1/2 filled with water in the microwave for 3 minutes. Use a tea towel to get them out with. Tip out the water and immediately fill with hot jam. Pop the lid (that you boiled in hot water for a few minutes (don't put metal lids in the microwave)) on top and wash the sticky jam off the outside of the jar. Sit on the bench and admire.

Listen for the "pop" of the lid to know it has sealed for you and Voila - 2 jars of rosella jam!

This would have been a better ending if I had taken a picture of said Jam instead of rushing out the door for fish and chips down at the beach for one of our students last nights in Brisbane!

Rosella are not usually grown commercially so you wont find rosella jam on the supermarket shelves. Its a backyard jam or sometimes you see it at some boutique place, handmade, for some astronomical figure! Rosella's are the native hibiscus that you see in jars that are sold as champagne flavor-er's! ($7 for about 5 of them boiled in sugar and popped in a jar!)

I have found rosellas fairly easy to grow (considering I can only grow caterpillar and grasshopper food normally) and I have a friend who lines her hot sunny driveway with them each spring and harvests 20 bushes each Autumn here in the suburbs of Brissy. Her jam is just great! They are a tropical plant and there is lots of information about them on the net.

I used a variation of this recipe for my jam and got lots of information about Rosella from this blog.

Have fun rosella jamming! - K xx 

Score card:
Green-ness: growing your own food and popping it into recycled jars - Bright Green!
Frugal-ness: Growing free food and popping it into free jars - very frugal indeed!
Time cost: About an hour - larger quantities will take longer to reach setting point.
Skill level: Rosella may not be the best jam for the beginning jam maker if you haven't got your head around pectin and setting points but then if you have rosella's in great quantities and plenty of time - why not give it a go!
Fun -ness: Great fun, smells wonderful and such a pretty colour!
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