Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Giving Up Commercial Cleaners

Commercial cleaning products can be so beguiling with their fancy packaging, dazzling promises and nowadays, uplifting scents (sometimes).  But they come with a sting in their tail.  So here are my main concerns about commercial cleaning products:

  • They are usually not environmentally friendly due to their excessive packaging, transport costs, and some of the chemicals they contain.  We can now recycle much of the packaging, but not making it and recycling it saves even more energy and resources. 
  • They often contain chemicals, including scents which are hazardous to pets, children, humans, and asthma/allergy sufferers (I have all of these residents in my home).
  • There are cheaper alternatives.  And I like cheaper.
  • Even the so-called eco-friendly cleaners have some of the problems above.
  • I have a natural tendency to rebel against relying on manufacturers for the basics in life.  (I buy packaged foods and things but certainly have the ability to knock out a loaf of bread or biscuits if I want them instead of jumping in the car).
So I have been researching the alternatives.  Searching through the Internet reveals many different recipes and tricks.  I have found that you have to be careful when looking through these.  Some recipes turn out to be quite harsh chemicals, but really cheap to make.  This is fine if it is your only goal.  Some recipes are all natural and organic and very expensive.  This is fine if very natural and organic is your goal.  I am looking for something in between.  Simple, few inexpensive ingredients, and as safe as possible.  I also hate clutter and having  ten different bottles of things hanging around.

So I will be experimenting over the coming months.  I am using up the commercial products we have and replacing them with cheaper, more natural alternatives.

Paper Towel and Disposable Wipes challenge!

I am an addict.  In the last few years and especially the last few months I have become addicted to using baby wipes throughout the house.  I use them to wipe sticky fingers, wipe messy tables, spot clean the floor and walls, and even wash myself if I am in a hurry.

Now one of the ironic things about my addiction is that I wouldn't actually use baby wipes on my son.  I used reusable wipes with a special solution made from essential oils for nappy changing.  I did use baby wipes when out in public with his cloth nappies most of the time for convenience.  I usually used baby flannels to clean him up after meals.  I occasionally bought natural eco- and baby- friendly wipes when I could afford them.  Or just ordinary wipes on sale.  But it is really since my son has been potty trained that I have become wipes mad.  Maybe I am living a busier lifestyle trying to cram in work, childcare and domestic chores...but I want to give up my addiction.  I feel that it isn't great for the environment to use disposable products or ones full of chemicals (like formaldehyde!).  And it isn't great on my wallet either.

I actually haven't been buying paper towels in the last couple of months because I have been cutting back on unnecessary expenses.  I have a number of packets of wipes around--probably in every room and in the car!  Thanks to my recent trip to Costco. 

So I am setting myself a challenge before baby comes along.  For the month of April, I am going to hide the wipes.  I will leave the ones in the car because they are so convenient.  I will not buy paper towels or wipes.  I will get out the flannels, baby flannels, dusters, and cut up some old towels to make some more cleaning cloths.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ocado Delivery! and Vegetable Box Scheme

I am so excited to be getting my groceries delivered again!  Ocado put on a deal where you can get as many mid-week (Tues-Thurs) deliveries you want for £2.99 a month.  Or was it £3.99?  Cheap anyway.  Even if I only use it once or twice a month. 

So the groceries just came and just in time too because we have been running out of basics like eggs and fruit.  I nearly had to give my son ice cream for breakfast!  (He usually refuses oatmeal). 

The funny thing is though, that I actually struggled to fill my basket with £40 worth (the minimum order).  This is because I am trialing a new vegetable box scheme tomorrow.  The company I chose provides fruit, veg, meat, dairy, and pantry items.  So I am trying out their medium fruit and veg box, eggs, milk, chicken, beef, and sausages.  As a result I didn't want to put any of those items in my Ocado delivery.  If the veg box works out well, I may not need Ocado nearly as much.  The veg box scheme people have a minimum order of £25 for their meat products, which is certainly more meat than we eat in a week.  Or rather, more than we can afford in a week.  So I will have to weigh up the pros and cons of local, organic, expensive meat, versus Ocado's meat prices from not so local farms....

I am also thinking about trying a few different veg box schemes over the coming months.  To see which companies, produce, and prices I like the most.  I chose this one to try first because they sell dairy as well.

I am not sure that we will be self-sufficient in veg this year because I am too big and uncomfortable to dig in the garden at the moment, and I don't know how much I will get done with a small baby.  The nice thing about all of these schemes is that you can order for the weeks you want and stop when you need to.

Kitchen Hints

These are some of our top hints for saving money and saving your sanity!

  • Purchase in bulk where possible.  Good places to buy grains, beans, and tins include ethnic shops, Cash and Carry (such as Costco), and larger supermarkets.  I have also found some really good deals online by searching for "bulk whole foods."  You can purchase fresh produce, especially potatoes from farm shops.
  • It may seem counter intuitive to splash out on a lot of storage containers, but they really do help preserve food, and they keep you from losing packets of things at the back of the cupboard.  Glass is an ideal material, but I admit that most of my containers are Lock-n-Lock plastic ones at the moment.  Good places to find food storage containers are those inexpensive shops with loads of plastic items stacked up outside.  Most towns have a shop like this.  This is where I get canning jars, large plastic boxes for pet food and grains, and baskets.  Lakeland has a nice selection of containers including Lock-n-Lock, but if you really want to see a range, search the Internet.

  • Menu plan!  Not only does menu planning make it easier to shop and stay in budget, but it is so much easier to prepare dinner when you don't need to make last minute decisions.
  • Cook once, eat twice (at least).  If you roast chicken on Sunday, use the leftovers for a stir-fry on Monday night, sandwiches on Tuesday, and meanwhile make and freeze stock and chicken soup for later in the month.  Only keep leftovers two days in the fridge for health and safety.  When I make a casserole I make two.  One to eat now, preferably for two days, and one to freeze for later in the month.
  • Freeze bread before it goes off.  Even small crusts can be frozen to make breadcrumbs when you need them.  We don't eat a lot of bread in our house, so we almost always freeze our loaf and take out slices to toast when we want them.  I often buy bread and croissants from the sale rack to freeze.
  • Make and freeze your own muffins.  They are cheaper, healthier, and tastier.  I often have batches of oatmeal, blueberry, and white chocolate cranberry muffins in the freezer ready to defrost for breakfast or the lunchboxes.  Everyone in my house likes different varieties, so I could never get through a dozen of one kind before they go off. 
  • Many dairy products freeze well.   This is useful when you have a carton of cream or milk which is about to go off, but you cannot find the time to use.  I also purchase extras when they are on sale.  If I keep butter, cheese, milk, cream, and yogurt in the freezer I will never be caught out.
  • I find the easiest way to store cheddar is to buy a month's worth, shred it and freeze it.  If you pack this loosely you can easily dig a spoon in to spread over toast or over the top of a casserole.  Parmesan also freezes well once shaved or grated.  I often find these cheeses go off before I can use them up, so this method results in much less waste.
  • Embrace homemade oatmeal.  Oatmeal takes less than five minutes on the stovetop or three minutes in the microwave.  See recipes section for a few ideas.  Why spend money on little packets?  You can add the toppings you like, making it healthy with ground seeds and fruit or indulgent with golden syrup.
  • Use reusable containers for drinks, lunchboxes, leftovers, and food storage.  Disposable bags and wraps really add up over the year and do not do the environment any good--even if you can recycle them.  There are loads of plastic, metal and glass containers on the market these days.  Or save and reuse your glass and plastic containers.
  • Use cloth napkins, washing up cloths, dusters, and towels instead of paper.  They are cheaper and again better for the environment.
  • Give each member of the household a big mug to use.  Each person can use their mug for both hot and cold drinks during the day, washing/rinsing it as needed.  This saves on the washing up and if you find one left where it shouldn't be you know the culprit!
  • We also have bowls and plates which work on the same principle.  You can purchase a set of six different coloured bowls, plates or cups from most grocery stores or IKEA.  This makes it easier to prepare lunches and snacks for picky eaters and know whose plate is whose.
  • Store like things together.  Place baking supplies together in the same cupboard.  Gather small packets of sprinkles, essences, and baking powder in baskets or large tins.  Place all of the baking utensils, measuring cups, etc together in one drawer.

  • Go through your junk drawers to make room in one large drawer.  Fill this drawer with all of your barbecue stuff.  Long utensils, gloves, mesh baskets, plastic plates and even condiments.  These items are always awkward to store anywhere else and really need a home of their own.
  • I love the racks you can get to store chopping boards, pans, and trays.  They don't cost that much and make life so much easier.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle.  And get a good system going to make it easier on yourself.  No great tips---I just think this is important.
  • Save money by buying snacks in large bags and then putting them in smaller snack containers for lunchboxes.  (Reducing the amount of junk food your family eats is also healthy and better for the budget).
  • Don't buy juice.  Okay, I cannot seem to get my family to go with this one either.  Studies have shown that not only is juice really bad for the teeth, but that it does not contain very many nutrients after it has been pasteurised.  We eat loads of fruit in our family, which is healthier as it contains healthy fibre as well.  Our health visitors told us not to give the kids fruit juice or any fizzy colas, etc.  But we didn't listen and so we have an extra unnecessary expense each week.  We do water down our juice with water or sparkling water, which helps a bit.
  • Keep track of your diet for free with  You can do this on a computer or using a free app for your mobile.  You can input your daily food and they calculate your calorie intake and how much exercise you need to do to achieve your goals.  (Please check their guidelines for use and to see if you agree with their dietary advice before using).
  • Eat fruit and vegetables in season to save money.
  • Use ingredient searches on recipes websites such as to help you cook from your pantry.
  • Try buying cheaper versions of food and household goods.  Sometimes stores sell their own brands in two versions.  One has plain packaging and one as a picture on it or a pull-top lid.  The products inside are often exactly the same!  Buying the cheaper versions works especially well with items you will be cooking with and some cleaning products.  If you don't like it, go back to your own brand.
  • If you are anything like me and get tempted to throw extras in your trolley, shop online and have your groceries delivered.  I save money on petrol and by sticking to my budget even if I need to pay a bit for delivery.  I am much more disciplined with my budget and I no longer have to deal with toddler tantrums---or Mummy tantrums at the store.  See my post on my favourite UK online delivery service, Ocado.
  • I cannot live without my family calendar.  It has six columns for six people or categories, tear off to do and shopping lists, and comes with stickers to liven things up a bit.  Mine is from, but there are plenty out there if you have a look.  The one advantage to this company is that they make so many different versions.  You could have ones with fewer columns, or a desktop diary version, larger places to write, wipe off sections, shopping lists, party planner books, etc.  So you can really choose which calendar will best suit your family.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

House Rules

These are a collection of house rules I have gathered from family and friends.  The ones in bold are the ones we try to follow in our household.  What about you?  What gets you through?

  • Any food leaving the kitchen must be on a tray.
  • Food and drink must be consumed in the kitchen.  Adults can bring drinks elsewhere in the house.
  • Story time is 7:30 pm.  If you have tidied your toys, brushed your teeth and put your pajamas on you can join in.
  • Snacks kept on a certain jar/shelf/bowl are free-for-all during the day.  For any other food, children need to ask permission.
  • Everyone is in charge of putting their dirty clothes in the hamper and hanging up their own towels.
  • Everyone needs to brush their teeth at least twice a day.
  • Sharp knives are never placed in the sink to prevent nasty accidents.
  • All knives are placed facing down in the dishdrainer.
  • Cats are not allowed on the dining tables or countertops.
  • Toys are not allowed in the living room.
  • Toys must be tidied before bed.
  • Everyone does their own laundry (I did this from age 7)
  • And ironing (I did this from a slightly older age)
  • Crafts, painting and play dough are done at the kitchen table (which is wipe-clean)
  • We do not do punishment in our family.  We believe in natural consequences.  We do not use the naughty step.  We do not threaten with consequences that we will not actually carry out.  We do not insult, name-call or belittle children. 

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Homemade Ginger Beer

I am a big fan of ginger ale and ginger beer and ginger tea...ginger biscuits.....  This version of ginger beer is a  bit fizzy because it is lacto-fermented using whey.  It is full of natural ingredients and probiotics.  It is very easy to make and lasts for a while in the fridge.  You can add some homemade natural sugar syrup or stevia if it is not sweet enough to your taste.

The recipe is from Nourishing Traditions, and I found it on one of my favourite websites, The Nourishing Cook

You will need:

3/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped/grated
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup Rapadura (I used demerara because Rapadura is hard to find here in the UK)
1/4 cup whey
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 quarts filtered water

Mix all of the ingredients together and place in a 2 quart jar, leaving an inch of room at the top.  Cover and allow to ferment on your countertop for 2-3 days.  Store in the fridge.  According to Nourishing Traditions you can add some fizzy water to serve.  It is meant to be used slightly warm and consumed in small quantities at a time.  It will keep in the fridge for several months.

There are loads of other, very similar recipes available online.  There is one on which makes one quart if you feel that you want to make a smaller batch for your first efforts.  It uses honey, but needs 3-7 days to ferment.  This could produce too much CO2, so might need to be opened every couple of days.  And there are several recipes out there which do not require whey, which would be handy if you don't have any on hand.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Half a Lamb

Yesterday we took delivery of half a lamb from the guy who rents one of the farm fields for his sheep.  I admit I am still squeamish about eating lamb I watched grow up--especially after being vegetarian for ten years.  Never mind the the ten years of eating meat since!  I still struggle with the idea of eating meat and rather like the packaged stuff we get from the supermarket.  Ideally I prefer organic or free range meat because I am nervous about the hormones and things fed to animals these days.  I am also concerned about animal welfare and prefer to eat "happy" animals if that is possible!

I love that this lamb is local and that it tastes so good!  Here is the UK most of our lamb is imported from New Zealand.  And although I know that New Zealand is well known for its lamb, the taste just does not compare to some of our local stuff.  In fact, during my last pregnancy I couldn't eat lamb because I thought it had too strong a flavour.  Whereas I have managed to eat plenty of our last half a lamb and I have been looking forward to this delivery. 

It cost us £45 for half a lamb, which was butchered and wrapped ready for the freezer.  This lasts us a few months if we are careful.  Our first chops (my least favourite cut) last night were great. 

Finding a small, independent supplier like I have might not be easy, but you can always check your local butchers for prices.  A good option is salt marsh lamb  It is a bit expensive, but some of the most delicious we have had.  Go in with a friend and you may get an even better price.  Sheep are free range anyway, so if the organic aspect does not matter to you, then you can save a bit. 

Potato Pancakes

Dad used to make banana bran pancakes every Sunday.  But every once in a while he would make potato pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes from the night before. 

I like to make a variation of these and serve them for lunch or dinner. They are a lot like Bubble and Squeak, a classic British leftover dish.

You will need:

Leftover mashed potato (mine usually has milk, butter, salt and pepper in it)
fresh or frozen spinach or greens--or leftover cooked greens
pinch of flour (optional)

butter or oil for frying

1.  Warm the potatoes with a tablespoon of water if you need to.  (Microwave or stove top). 
2.  Meanwhile prepare your greens.  If using frozen spinach I usually place a chunk of spinach in a mug of boiling water (from the kettle) and place in the microwave for a minute.  Or let it sit for a five minutes.  If using fresh greens then I chop and shallow fry in water or a touch of oil.  When using leftovers I just pop them in the pot with the leftover mash to reheat.
3.  When the potatoes are soft, mix in the greens, nutmeg, flour, and additional salt and pepper if needed.
4.  Heat the butter or oil in a frying pan over medium/high heat.  Dollop spoonfuls of your mixture onto the pan.  Fry until browned on one side, flip and brown the other side.  This may take 3-5 minutes per side.  They should be able to hold their shape when flipped, but they will remain mushy in the middle.
5.  Serve on their own or with just about anything.  (They go perfectly with an egg or two).

Sourdough Starter Failure!!

I have been wanting to do this for years!  I love sourdough bread and it is both hard to find and expensive here.  Tescos does a nice white loaf, but it currently costs £1.79.  I think that I can make my own which will be healthier, cheaper, organic, and not too difficult.  I already use my bread machine a fair bit because I have arthritis which makes kneading dough difficult for me.  The AGA is also really unreliable in that it cooks unevenly and you can't control the temperature.  So, although AGAs are known to be great for baking, mine definitely is not!  I hope this starter will add a new and healthy dimension to my breadmaking.

In researching how to make sourdough starters I have found dozens of different versions.  I have settled on one I found from Hubpages.

You will need:

Organic rye flour
Organic bread flour (I am using spelt)
plastic wrap

Day 1  Mix together one cup of whole wheat or rye flour with 3/4 cup of water.  Make sure all of the dough is wet.  It should make a ball.  Keep in a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave at room temperature for one whole day.  (Mine was more wet and did not make a ball.  Most of the recipes I read said to make a soupy mixture, so let's hope this works out ok!)
Day 2  Mix together one cup of bread flour with 1/2 cup of water.  Add this to the bowl and mix well.  The mixture may be softer, without any rise.  Cover again and leave for another day.  (I used rye again.  Hope this is ok!)
Day 3  Mix 1 cup of bread flour and 1/2 cup of water.  Discard half of yesterday's dough.  Mix in the new mixture.  Cover and leave again.  It should be rising a little by now.
Day 4  Repeat Day 3.  Wait a few hours until the dough has doubled.  Take one cup of starter and mix with 3 1/2 cups of bread flour and 2 cups of water.  Mix and cover with plastic.  After 6 hours it will have doubled and become bubbly.  You can now use this starter in a recipe. 

Store this starter in the fridge.  It should last forever with proper feeding.  Feed the starter every three days and every time you use it.  (If you use it every 2-3 days for breads, pancakes, etc this should be easy).  To feed, take away half of the culture and mix in equal flour and water in a 3/2 ratio.

OK, so this worked really well on days one, two and three.  Then on day four I followed the directions and waited for it to bubble up.  And waited and waited overnight because it was getting late.

And nothing.  Now I have had a look on the Internet for other recipes and guidance.  I can only guess as to what has gone wrong.  I think there are a few possibilities.  Firstly, I used organic rye flour on days one and two, then organic spelt flour on days three and four.  Not sure if this is that big a deal really.  Secondly, I used a metal spoon to stir on days three and four.  This did not affect the mix on day three, but could well have done by day four.  (I read that you should avoid using metal after the fact).  And thirdly, although it was a warm day, my kitchen was suddenly much colder on the fourth day.  And apparently the starter needs to have a fairly warm temp to get going. 

So fortunately flour is cheap and I have enough to have another go.  I am now trying to decide which methods and which flour to use, because there are so many!  Rye is supposed to work very well, so I will likely stick with it.  So here I go again.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Two Months Left

So I am due to have a baby in seven weeks.  Well, I think due dates are so approximate---my first was three weeks early.  This one could technically come a couple of weeks late...though I would prefer a teensy bit early of course!

I am not sure how ready I am.  In my typical fashion I have made an enormous, insurmountable, unachievable, pipe dream to do list involving cleaning, sorting, gardening, sewing, making all of my own homemade toiletries and cleaning products....well, ok I am realistic enough not to have put that on my list.  But there is something that happens when a new person is coming along which makes you want to have a clean, welcoming home.  And loving family traditions.  And natural, eco friendly products, a want to stop swearing and arguing so much, create an oasis of calm and order.  I even want to get rid of half of the toys we already have--even though they will come in handy soon enough!

I think this "nesting" instinct is a great thing and I think this is a great time of year to do it.  I have been going through boxes of papers which were meant to be filed etc over the years only to find that I could recycle half of them.  I have purged the kitchen cupboards getting rid of stale flours and making room for new healthy and wholesome foods.  I have emptied out the airing cupboard and gotten rid of extra sheets, blankets and pillowcases I will never use.  I have been sorting the old baby clothes and donating the boy stuff to people who can use it (I hope).  And I even managed to convince my Other Half to get rid of a whole bin bag full of clothes, which is quite an accomplishment let me tell you!

I have no idea how much of my list I will get through.  Still feeling so sick each day makes it difficult to do much of anything for more than an hour or two at a time.  And I think that digging in the garden will have to wait until I am not so cumbersome and my lungs are not being squashed by a creature the size of a honeydew (currently).

But I also worried abut being emotionally ready, both personally and as a family, to make room for a new person.  We need to get through sleepless nights and extra laundry, but also adjust to the attention a little one demands.  How will the older siblings manage having to adjust to parents with yet another distraction?  While I hope that we have raised loving and understanding kids, I won't hold my breath! 

I hope that we will continue to grow through the experience.  Both as individuals and as a family unit.  I believe that having children is a very good way to learn about yourself, to develop an even deeper understanding of love, to improve communication, to practice tolerance, to promote life skills, and deepen our spiritual connections.  And so I plug away at my list, hoping to complete some of it before she comes, and full of hope for a happy future for our family.

My AGA and Me

The AGA and I have had an interesting relationship over the last ten years.  This item which symbolises country living, wholesome family life, and comes in an array of colours is at once my best friend and noble adversary.  I was actually really excited when I found I was moving in to a house with an AGA.  I felt like I was in a Rosamunde Pilcher novel--until I tried to cook with it!!

This particular AGA was installed in 1942, two days after my Great Aunt's Wedding.  They needed special permission to have one made during the war years because they required so much metal.  It was fuelled by a special treated coal, called coke, until the 1990s when it was converted to oil (thank goodness!).

I have heard rumours that they make the best cakes, they are great for canning, and they make the best toast.  Well, the toast is good.  Made with the "tennis racket."  You need to watch it.  Most people do burn the toast at least the first time they try it and many times after that!

But here are some of the things you have to know about using an AGA, or at least this one:

  • You need to be really flexible when cooking with an AGA, because you cannot really control the temperature of the hotplates.  There are two burners, the boiling plate and the simmering plate.  These are names which I find don't mean much.  In fact my boiling plate has not boiled properly in years.  Having said that, it is just a bit too hot for pancakes.  But the simmering plate is too cool for them, need to keep on top of your cooking and remove pans from the burners as needed to get the job done.  I sometimes feel like those chefs in the restaurant kitchens you see on tv, chopping and changing and stirring, etc. 
  • You cannot smell anything cooking in the oven.  The smoke goes right up the chimney.  And without glass doors to see inside, you need to check to see if you are scorching your meal.  There have been many a morning when I find a lump of charcoal which used to be a steak, which my Other Half has put in the night before for a late supper and forgot about.  I have also regularly burned both biscuits or cakes--especially if I am on the phone or trying to multi-task.  Invest in a kitchen timer you can carry with you or clip to yourself.
  • This oven cooks things unevenly.  It burns everything at the back long before items at the front are done.  So everything needs turning around halfway through cooking.  This is OK for biscuits, roasts, and vegetables.  This is not as good for cakes, Yorkshire puddings and probably not good for souffles (haven't bothered trying.)
  • The AGA is hot all of the time.  So some people have a regular stove to use in the summer and turn the AGA off.  My house is cold all year round, and so I don't mind having it on.  But you cannot easily cook items which say to start with a cold oven.  Or do ceramic painting which usually have this instruction as well.
  • The bottom oven is a great slow cooker.  Pop a casserole in there in the morning and you come home to a hot meal.  It also makes great slow overnight stock or soup with minimum effort or pot watching on my part. 
  • The AGA is great for drying clothes and nappies very quickly.
  • It is also really useful for drying plastic containers, tins, or any dishes really.  (The instruction manual says not to put some of these things on top, especially on the boiling plate lid, but I have been drying things on it for years)
  • It works best with heavy pots and pans.
  • You need to remember your AGA measurements when buying baking pans to fit inside, because they are narrower than normal ovens.
  • There isn't a temperature gauge on the old ones.  I occasionally buy oven thermometers to put inside and they eventually stop working or get smashed up when I put heavy baking trays in.  So everything is a guess.  See my first point above.
  • The bottom warming oven is great for leaving in a plate of food for latecomers. 

Great as a Drying Rack!

I think that when I leave this house I will miss the AGA very much.  And even if they are supposedly not great for the environment, if I had the funds I would be tempted to get one.  (Since we don't have central heat here, it is nice to have a stove which emits some amount of heat).  There is something especially comforting about coming in from the cold, lifiting the lid to put the kettle on and warming your hands with the blast of heat.  Having said that, I would also try to have a normal oven with temperature control and even cooking as well!

Bathroom Top Tips

  • Each family member, and the guest room, have their own colour towels and face cloths.  This way we know which towel to use---and also who left their towel on the floor.
  • Each family member also has their own cup or mug.  They can store their toothbrush and toothpaste in it (we use regular, sensitive, baby, and children's in our house).  Older folks are also responsible for rinsing out their own cup and keeping it clean.
  • The best way to remove soap scum from the tub is by using soap!  So we use a squirt of shower gel and a flannel which is heading for the laundry basket to give a quick clean every couple of days.  And the best thing is that I am no longer afraid to pop the kids in after in case their is a chemical residue from the traditional chemical cleaners.
  • I love face scrubs and body scrubs.  I even like to make my own.  But I hate scrubbing the grains out of the tub.  So we have a collection of loofah pads, scrubbing washcloths and the like.  They are cheaper overall and last for ages.  Some of them warn against washing in the washing machine, but we do anyway without a problem.
  • Keep bath toys tidy using a plastic basket or net.
  • Hang more towel racks.  It is amazing how many people don't do this!  If they really can't fit in the bathroom, you can hang them in bedrooms, perhaps on the back of the door. 
  • I like my bathroom to be an oasis of calm.  So I minimise the toiletries by placing any extras in the cupboard.  And by trying to get most members of the family to use the same shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion.  I pop my razor in the cupboard to declutter and keep it out of reach of youngsters.
  • Always leave out hand towels for guests to use.  There is nothing more embarrassing than going to someone's house and having to dry your hands on their bath towel.  Even among friends I don't consider this hygienic!
  • We keep a basket of toiletry samples, cheap spare toothbrushes, and hotel freebies at the ready for overnight guests.  I am amazed at how many of my cheap toothbrushes I go through each year with guests forgetting theirs at home.  And if we run out of anything we always have a few things to get us through until we get to the shops.
I would love to hear from others about their top tips!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Homemade Deodorant

If you are looking to take the plunge and try a natural, cheaper deodorant, then this has to be the easiest recipe around.  Effective, too.  Now, this deodorant will not stop perspiration, like your store-bought antiperspirant.  But the antibacterial action in the virgin coconut oil plus the odour fighting bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) really help this product do its thing.

I must admit that over the years I have been disappointed by some of the natural deodorants on the market, both because of the high price and poor performance.  So I was a bit dubious about this one.  But I figured, it was inexpensive, I had read some good things about it on the Internet, and I will be on maternity leave for a while----so have a good chance to test it out.  I am not willing to go to work with sweat stains or odours.  It just isn't that kind of place.  I am almost always a dedicated Mitchum girl (with all of the supposed risks of aluminum and chemicals, etc).

You will need:

A jar or old deodorant tube
1/2 cup Virgin Coconut Oil (this has to be virgin, because the more processed versions have lost their antimicrobial properties)
1/4 cup baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
1/4 cup cornstarch/cornflour

I warmed the coconut oil enough to make it easy to work with.  Then mixed the three ingredients together.  Store in a jar or put in an old deodorant container.  Unless you live in a very hot place, you can store this on the shelf.  If it gets really warm and the deodorant gets too soft, then store it in the fridge.  Apply as needed, preferably to clean, dry skin.

This is working well after a day.  I am wearing an acrylic jumper, which is a good test for it.  I like the gentle coconut smell.  You can add some essential oils of your choice.  I might experiment in the future.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Hindu Lemonade

This lemonade is naturally fermented with a little fizz.  It is really easy to make, and has natural probiotics from the whey.  It is apparently safe for the whole family because there is very little alcohol in this type of fermentation. 

This is my first attempt, so I will have to see if I would like to adjust my proportions over time.

I used the recipe from  This is one of my favourite websites and a great resource for information on whole foods and Nourishing Traditions. 

You will need:

A 2 quart glass jar
juice from 6-8 fresh lemons and/or limes
1/2 cup whey
1/2 cup sucanat (I used demerara sugar we have here in the UK)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 quarts filtered water

Combine all of the ingredients in a jar, leaving at least an inch of air at the top (I used slightly less than two quarts of water to achieve this.)  Seal with the lid.  Place on the countertop for two days.  Transfer to the fridge.  The lemonade will continue to develop its flavours over time, and can be stored in the fridge for a "while," whatever that means.  You can add some homemade natural sugar syrup or stevia (if you like it) for a sweeter taste. 

I need to put mine in several containers because I have a typical (read small) European style fridge.

Again, pictures will come later when I have sorted out my phone wire!

Show me the Whey and Homemade Cream Cheese

I just dropped my phone cable in my coffee, so I will be posting photos for this post when I get a new one!  (When I exclaimed that my cable was all wet, my 4 year old very helpfully told me, "that's because you put it in the coffee.")

When attempting to create your own lacto-fermented foods, you need to begin with whey.  What is whey?  You have heard of it, but might not have tasted it.  Whey is the liquid leftover when milk is drained to make cheese. In years past, people made their own cheeses and used the whey in their food preparation.  With modern conveniences we have left whey behind.  That is until recently when body builders have taken to supplementing with whey protein powders.  (I cannot recommend them as I am suspicious of dried milk powders and processed foods in general). 

In an effort to return to more natural foods I have decided to make some whey, which will feature in a number of upcoming recipes.  The recipe makes whey and cream cheese at the same time.  The whey can be added to beverages or soups, or used in a number of recipes.

To make whey you really need to have raw milk.  It just cannot be done with pasteurised milk from the supermarket.  Since my nearest source of raw milk is a two hour drive, I am making my whey with organic yoghurt.  This yoghurt has been made with pasteurised milk, but the beneficial bacteria which has been reintroduced will make sufficiently nutritious whey.

This is probably one of the easiest recipes I have ever done.  You will need:

Organic yoghurt (large tub)
cheesecloth or a clean tea towel (no bleach or fabric softeners)
strainer/sieve (optional)
rubber bands or string
two clean storage jars

1.  Place the sieve over the bowl and then lay the cloth in the sieve.
2.  Pour the yoghurt into the cloth and tie up the corners with string or a rubber band.
3.  You could leave this in the strainer, but it is best if you can hang this from a hook or cabinet knob overnight.  The whey will drip out.  I used 500 g of yoghurt and got one cup of whey and maybe 3/4 cup of cream cheese.
4.  You can store the whey in the fridge for up to 6 months.  For the cream cheese, you can add salt to taste and store in the fridge for a month.  You can add some fruit or herbs to make flavoured cream cheese.  This may not last as long, so it is best done as you want it.  (Garlic and artichoke is quite nice.)  With these small quantities I will be using both the whey and the cheese by the end of the week.  The cream cheese has a yoghurty taste, but is very nice. 

Whey protein (Wikipedia)
Making Whey from Yoghurt

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Homemade Nappies

As I explained before, I started using prefolds (Bambino Mio) when my son was about a month old.  We did nnot get along with them very well.  Then I switched to Motherease one size which were great.  But for my daughter I would like to have something to use in the beginning because the one size are so bulky! 

I have been searching out small sized nappies, using all in ones, like Bumgenius, or Charlie Banana...but they all seem like such expensive options when I have such a great set of nappies already.  And since I have been on Statutory Sick Pay for a few months my budget just dwindled to near nothing. 

So I figured making a few nappies would be the best option overall.  I do intend to buy small ready made covers from Babykind.  I could make them cheaper by buying PUL and binding, etc, but the fit has to be just right and I don't think it will be cheaper if I make loads of mistakes.

The inner, shaped nappies, however are EASY!  I used a cheap fleece blanket from IKEA. some old t-shirts, some of my old terries from my son, a few old towels and flannels.  This made my set free, because these were all in my house.  I even used the elastic from an old, ripped, fitted bedsheet.  Though if you are going to purchase anything, elastic is probably a good choice.

There are plenty of suppliers who can provide a number of suitable waterproof, natural, fleecy, colourful etc fabrics which are suitable for making nappies.  And many are suitable for making your own all-in-ones, which could save you money.  I feel that my sewing skills do not reach this far and that buying nappies is actually a money/time saver.  But needs must, so here are my homemade nappies.

I will include links to other websites with great directions.  Mine are a bit haphazard as I was experimenting quite a bit.  I am very happy with mine and I really hope that they will be suitable when baby arrives.

1.  I needed them to be much smaller than my motherease one size, so I took a newborn disposable nappy (an eco-friendly free sample), and traced it out on some fleece.

2.  I kept experimenting with this until I tapered it enough, had long enough tabs to fasten around the front, etc.  This was tricky without an actual baby.  Plus I don't know what size she will be when she comes out!  So I actually have a few slight variations on this design.

3.  I cut out my patterns in fleece and t-shirt or flannel.  I decided to use fleece on one side and cotton on the other.  Fleece wicks away moisture from baby's skin, so results in a drier nappy for baby.  But some babies find synthetic fibres irritating to the skin or just too hot in summer, so my nappies are effectively reversible.  I will use nappy pins and nappy nippas (which I don't get on with really) to begin with.  If I find a side she likes more I might attach velcro or snaps later.  If you are confident in your choice of materials then go ahead and attach velcro or snaps at the end of these directions.

4.  I cut out two to three rectangles of terry/towel/flannel depending on thickness.  I sewed this down to the centre of the fleece. 

5.  Then I sewed about 5 inches of elastic (stretching it out as I sewed) on either side of the terry right in the middle where the nappy will wrap around the legs. 

6.  Next I sewed the cotton layer to the wrong side of the fleece, almost all of the way around.  Then flipped it through to the right sides and sewed the gap. 

7.  Wash your nappies without fabric softener three times before use.  Fleece is particular become less absorbent when the soap isn't rinsed out enough.  So an extra rinse cycle is helpful if you find they leak a bit.  I will be trying out my new soap nuts with these nappies and see how they perform.  (I used Fairy and a hot wash with my motherease)

Look for my other posts on cloth nappies for more information on using them.

How to Make Cloth Diapers--basically the pattern I used above (adapted)
clothnappyforum---UK based forum
diaperjungle of patterns including for making covers and converting prefolds to fitted

If you are looking for materials and can't find what you like above, I would search using the terms "buy PUL fabric in UK" or "buy diaper materials in USA" or similar.  I did get several websites, but chose not to go down that route so cannot endorse any particular company.  My mother purchased some PUL from her fabric store to make me some wet bags to store wet nappies in while I am out and about.  I will post on this when she gets here in the summer.

Button Quilt

I made this quilt with the help of my mother.  Or maybe to help her out!  She was making a cull of her fabric stash and decided to cut tons of them up into squares.  She also had some fabric samples, so we made all of the squares the same size.  Then we made a number of quilts intended to go to charity.  For some of the quilt tops I made elaborate trees, some hearts, all sorts!  This one was just a mix of pleasing colours.  Mom finished it off tying it with a button in each square.  (I am terrible with sewing buttons on!).  This one came with me to the University of New Hampshire and sat on my bed for four years.  For a young child I would skip the buttons in case they are a choking hazard.

Oh, to make sewing squares easier I used the method from my Quilt in a Day--log cabin pattern book.  It is superquick!  I will have to write a post on it the next time I use it so I can illustrate with photos.

Blue Baby Quilt--Cottage Quarters

I love this method of stacking the deck.   You basically cut the number of squares required, stack them up.  You then cut the pattern in the squares.  Then shuffle the squares according to the directions.  And next you sew the bits together.  It is easier than it looks!

This is a baby size quilt made mostly from old shirts and a few blues.  The batting is a lovely cotton and it is hand tied to finish.

Barn Raising Quilt (Log Cabin)

I made this quilt using Eleanor Burns' Quilt in a Day book on making log cabin quilts.  OK, maybe a day is exagerating, but not by much.  I love this method and would love to have more of her books.

Log cabin quilts were traditionally made using a small red square in the centre to represent the hearth.  Then three dark strips and three light strips were added around the hearth in an alternating pattern to make up the house.  Each square could then be sewn together in a variety of patterns.  I love Barn Raising, which is square. 

For my quilt, I adapted her basic Barn Raising pattern by a.) making more narrow strips, b).  using four light and four dark colours, and c). by using all of the same fabric for my light strips.  I think it has quite a pleasing effect and it made cutting and piecing that much easier to not have to deal with too many patterns.  The Quilt in a Day methods are so great, and with rotary cutting, quilts are really quite easy to make. 

Once you have learned some of the basic rotary cutting methods, piecing methods for making the blocks, AND piecing methods to sew your squares together in a jiffy, you can use these techniques for life.  I have made several other quilts, designing them myself once I learned these basics. 

The way this quilt is made gives you a couple of leftover squares.  This is handy in case you have made a mistake.  But it is also handy to make some additional cushions to match your quilt or use as gifts.

These have been jumped on a fair bit!  I added more strips as borders to these two using leftovers.

Red Baby Quilt

I made up the design by cutting equal width strips from scraps (using a rotary cutter).  Then starting in the middle and sewing on strips until I reached the size I like.  The method is used to make log cabin quilts as well.  It is such a great way to use up some scraps without being too fussy as well.  I hand tied it to quilt the top and bottom together.  This is probably the quickest quilt I have ever made.  I meant to sell it or use it as a gift.  But it ended up on the hall bench one Christmas and I love it there now.........

Mosaic Angel Tray

I made this a few years ago with a group I was teaching.  No instructions this time, just a photo for inspiration.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Donate your unwanted bras

With the upcoming arrival of a new member of the family, it is a great time for a massive clearout.  I need to make room for more toys, lots of pink clothes, and another little person.  I also need to make room in my routine for washing nappies again, spending quality time with each of my loved ones, and somehow make room for me.

I think that decluttering is quite helpful for making room physically and mentally.  So I am bagging up things for charity, to give to friends, and maybe even to sell if I get around to it.  Now bras are always a bit awkward.  The only thing worse is socks.  You can only make so many sock puppets and dusters from holey socks, and who darns these days...

So there are a few options of what you can do with your unwanted bras and here is what I will be doing with mine this week.

Simply attach a little label with the bra size on each bra with a paper clip.  Then post to: Appeal
P.O.Box 71
Craven Arms

They will distribute bras here and abroad while raising money for breast cancer.

There are other charities out there and most charity shops accept bras as well.