Monday, November 29, 2010

The Homemade Gift Round-up

Christmas is only a few weeks away, but I don't feel that panicked about it because we have a very manageable gift regime in my extended family. We all get assigned one person and one person only to get a gift for. The budget is around the $10-or-less mark, and home-made or second-hand are perfect. I tell you, we are all as thrifty as eachother and it's a thrill to see what we can get for the smallest amount of money. With that in mind, I thought I'd do a wee 20-item round-up of ideas that might interest you if you like making home-made stuff. Some of it you may have seen before if you read this blog regular-like. I apologize for that, but this pony only has so many tricks. Are you in? Cool! Let's go.
1. A panettone to show off your homemade candied peel.
2. Some dried herbs from your garden.
3. A homemade apron, maybe this one, all packaged up with a wooden spoon and a nice recipe.
4. Some homemade lip balm.
5. A jar of lemon or passionfruit curd.
6. A jar of tomato relish or beetroot relish.
7. Make some labneh.
8. A bottle of homemade vinaigrette or herb vinegar.
9. An offer to do something, like babysit or clean the oven.
10. Sew some pillowcases.
11. Some homemade pancake mix and instructions how to cook it.
12. Homemade jam or jelly (it's the tight-wad's friend!).
13. Sew a cute reversible purse, or a lunch bag
14. I like this idea to make a trivet using old linens- doilies, tablecloths, commemorative teatowels...
15. Make some cucumber pickle
16. Print some lovely retro paper dolls on magnetized sheets, cut them out, and put them in a biscuit tin, all ready to be played with.
17. Print a little village onto some cardstock, all ready to assemble the little houses and shops as great accessories for a small person's trainset.
18. Give a christmas gift to a local conservation project,
19. Or, give something to someone who has nothing?
20. Or, ditch presents altogether and all pitch in for Christmas dinner instead.

What are your favourite homemade gift ideas? Go on, leave a link or two, I'd love to see what you'll be making.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Candied peel and Grandma's Currant Buns

It is a very lovely evening outside tonight. The sky is blue, the week is finished, and I have another *homemade* adventure to report. This combines all of my favourite things; frugality, resourcefulness, a degree of retro, a family link. Yep, it's all here.
I'm talking about candied peel. As soon as I saw these amazing lemons at the farmer's market I knew those peels were too darn good to throw into the compost heap. I knew, straight away, that they would have to be turned into the star of the show.
Now, if you're not a candied peel person I urge you to give it another try. When it's homemade out of beautiful lemons and oranges it's sweet and citrusy and better than anything you can buy. And did I mention cheap?! You'd be throwing the skins away otherwise, what better starting material can there be? Here's how to make it:
1. Score the skins of your citrus fruit in nice long cuts down the length of the fruit so that it will peel off in nice neat sections. I used two NZ navel oranges and two lemons for this trial batch. Then pull off the skin leaving a big thick layer of pith on it because this will make it thick and juicy when it's candied.
2. Put the skins in a saucepan and cover with cold water, then simmer for about 40 min until they're really tender.
3. Meanwhile make a sugar syrup with 2 parts sugar and 1 part water (1 cup sugar, 1/2 c water) and put it in the slowcooker. Then, drain the peels, slice thinnner or chop into small pieces if you like, and put them in the sugar syrup. Leave the lid off the slow cooker and give them a stir every half hour or so. They won't burn in there, and they need a good long time to soak up that syrup. In my slow cooker there is a very gentle simmer around the edges of the bowl when it's on high, this was perfect for cooking the peel in the syrup.
4. Cook for 3 or so hours, maybe more, until there's only a very small amount of syrup left. It took about half a day in my slow cooker. Spread the peels on baking paper to dry, this could take a few days. I like mine sticky so I didn't bother with this step. If you like, you can roll them in sugar while they're sticky and warm to get that nice sugary coating. 
Now, a recipe starring candied peel. These are currant buns with peel in them. I was asking my Mum about these this morning and she said OH YES I KNOW ALL ABOUT THOSE! GRANDMA USED TO MAKE THEM, DON'T YOU REMEMBER? As it happens I don't, because both Grandma and Grandad McLean died when I was very little. I don't know what her recipe was but I went through my old old old cookbooks till I found one that was probably similar. If you don't mind, I'll call them Grandma McLean's Currant and Peel Buns, because now that's what they are in my mind.
Grandma McLean's Currant and Peel Buns
1 and 1/2 c flour
2 t baking powder
3 T sugar
40 g butter
2 T candied peel, chopped fine
1/4 to 1/2 c currants, raisins, or sultanas
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c milk, plus 1 or 2 T if required
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius (or 400 degrees F). Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, rub in the butter with your finger tips. Add the sugar, peel, and sultanas, and mix to break up the lumps of peel. Mix the milk and egg together then add in and mix gently until you have a soft dough, adding more milk if you need to. It should be just a little softer than scone dough. Pat out into a circle on baking paper, then mark the circle into wedges. If you like, brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 min. Perfect with a strong cup of tea and a nice sit down.
And now I'm off for a nice cup of tea and a sit down. Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Frugal, nerdy, and proud.

I love being a cheapskate, really, I do. I also love to make things, not just crafts and sewing but food and other stuff too, so it was only a matter of time before I had to have a go at making homemade laundry liquid.
There are about a zillion recipes for homemade laundry detergent on the world wide interweb. Here's 10 right here, and more here. For my first batch, I used this recipe on recommendation from my friend Nicola. Here is how I made it.

1/2 bar of sunlight soap, grated
3 T borax
1/2 c washing soda
1.5 L boiling water (i.e. one kettle full).

Put the grated soap into the bucket, add the very hot water and stir until the soap melts (almost straight away in my experience). Let the mixture cool a little, then add in the borax and washing soda. Top up to 7 L with warm water and give it a good stir, then add in essential oils if you are so inclined (I used eucalptus oil because that's what I have). Pour into bottles and let it gel overnight. Give it a good shake before you use it, and use 1/2 c per load (being a natural cheapskate I tried using less, but 1/2 c made the best job of the washing). I've been using it for a week and I can tell you that the clothes are clean and they smell nice.

For my next batch, I looked into using just washing soda and soap, and leaving out the borax altogether. This is not only because borax is the most expensive ingredient, but also, I'm a little suspect about discharging so much borax into the drainage system. I just don't think that lots of boron is a good thing in the environment, whereas washing soda, well that's just sodium and carbon and oxygen and those things are pretty harmless. So...reformulated recipe follows:

1 bar sunlight soap, grated
1 c washing soda

Dissolve the grated soap in about 2 L boiling water. Let it cool a little, then add in the washing soda and another 5 L of warm water. Let it cool, then add essential oils if you like (about 1 t eucalyptus oil). Pour into bottles (I use old 2 L milk bottles) and let it gel overnight. The gel on this batch was quite firm, so you might want to add some more water if you find it difficult to get it out. I left some shaking room in each bottle, so I could get it pourable by giving it a good shake. Like the other batch, use 1/2 c per load. It seems to work just as well.
And...because I am both frugal and nerdy I also worked out the exact costs to compare the price per load with commercial washing powder:

Sunlight soap ($2.79 per 500 g: supermarket): 62.5 g per recipe = 35 c
Washing soda ($4.08 per kg: supermarket) 125 g per recipe = 51 c
Borax ($9.99 per kg: Bin Inn) 45 g per recipe = 45 c
Eucalyptus oil ($5.50 per 50 ml: supermarket) 5 ml per recipe = 55 c
Electricity to boil the kettle = 2 c per recipe
TOTAL: $1.88 per 7 L. At 1/2 c per load that's 3.4 c per load.

Sunlight soap, 1 bar =70 c
Washing soda: 250 g = $1.02
Essential oil = 55 c
Electricity to boil the kettle = 2 c
TOTAL: $2.29 per 7 L. At 1/2 c per load that's 4.08 c per load.
Comparison: 1 kg frontloader powder (Ecostore) 9.19 used in 64 washes = 14.3 c per load
Okay that's enough nerdiness from me. Have a great week!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween (Past, Present, and Future)

Halloween past: Some time in the 1980s
My Dad answers a ring at the door, and outside are some trick or treaters dressed in spooky costumes
Dad: Hello, what can I do for you?
Them: Trick or Treat!
Dad: What?
Them: Trick or treat!
Them: You're supposed to give us a treat, you know, something good to eat.
Dad: Oh, okay then, hang on.
Dad went the kitchen and made them each a honey sandwich.
That is a true story.

Halloween, last night:
Me: Oh, okay then. (I open the door, there are 4 trick or treaters. They say nothing)
Me: Aren't you supposed to say something?
Them: Trick or treat
Me: I guess it'll be a treat then, here you are (a chocolate frog to each person)
Me: No, we give them lollies.
Sylvie: (Tears of disappointment about how unfair life can be.)

Halloween in the future:
I want to ditch NZ next Halloween and head to Canada because I was there on Halloween in 2006 and it was awesome. Look at these great pumpkin installations in Quebec City.
And this house, which I thought was spooky any day, let alone on Halloween.
What about you, did you have an awesome Halloween yesterday? Comments from Canadians are most welcome.
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