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Archive for May, 2011

It’s been a mission of mine to compile tested, effective recipes for general household products. There’s lots of good ones all over the internet, but it can sometimes be quite a task to find them, gather the ingredients, test them out, and tweak them to your liking. And even then, sometimes the recipes aren’t good, are too complicated, just don’t work out, or aren’t worth all the work. My goal seems like convenience. I do the research, I do the testing, and I share the pros and cons of the recipes so that we all might benefit. But there’s another reason I do this. It’s kind of a long story, and it’s the reason I got started with all this in the first place.

It all started with the food pantry/food stamp system. My mother is the head volunteer for a local food pantry that gives distributions to qualifying families to bridge the gap between when their food stamp funds run out and when the next month’s funds begin. It’s more complicated than that (is anything ever simple?) but that’s the essence in a nutshell, at least for the food pantry my mom works at. It’s a pretty good program when paired with the food stamp program, but any state-funded food stamp program is for just that: food. The funds are only applicable to food items. That means qualifying families who participate in the program, while they receive funds for purchasing food, can’t buy any non-food items with these funds. And realistically, they don’t often (or ever) have extra money for items like toothpaste, laundry soap, cleaners, deodorant, shampoo, diapers, wipes, and other non-food items. Food pantries sometimes provide these things, but with increasing cuts, it’s become even harder just to meet the needs for only food. And all that other stuff is expensive.

So when I started playing around with making household products, my main goal was to primarily use edible ingredients. That way, someone participating in a food stamp program would be able to have easy access to things like deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, or toothpaste and not have to choose between these items or go without them. And with easier access to the ingredients, recipes and products, the level of personal hygiene expected for job interviews or attending work is more attainable for low-income people and families.

So in short, I compiled and tested these recipes for the benefit of food pantry organizations and the people they provide for. But it’s not only for them. I use them all myself, I believe they are at least as good as or better than commercial products, they certainly contain less chemicals, and are all-around better for everyone involved. I use them to save money, to impact the environment less, and so that I’m exposed to less chemicals. But I also share them as an empowerment tool.

I realize that the people who need to access these materials the most are the least likely to have a computer or internet access. That means just posting them here is missing the people I’m most hoping will benefit.

With these things in mind, I’m asking for some help from my readers. If you’ve used any of these recipes, if you enjoy even one of them, share them with your local food pantry. Even if you don’t have a relationship with them, even if you’ve nervous about where to take them, how they will react, or if they’re interested. Mail them in. Send an email. Drop off an anonymous packet. Just print them off and do it. You have no idea the kind of impact it will have.

To make it even easier, I have a handy word document where I’ve already cut and pasted the recipes all into easy to print recipe-sized cards, four to a page. I’d be happy to send it to you to distribute, if it would make the difference between doing it and not doing it. Just drop me a line in the comments. And if you’re interested, share your experiences in the comments. What food pantry did you take recipes to? How did they react? Do they already have a program like this in place?

Also, I’m running out of ideas for what to experiment with next. Is there something you wish I’d experiment with? What recipes do you like? What have you tweaked about any of the ones I’ve shared? Let’s improve them together.

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Journaling

I suck at keeping a journal. I’ll get one as a gift from someone and the cover is beautiful, the blank pages look all inviting, and I make a new resolution to write in this one. “This one won’t be like all the others. I’m really gonna write in this one,” I tell myself. I write in it every day for about two days and then the entries drop off. A few weeks go by before another entry. Then a few months. Then a year or so. Then I just give up.

I recently unearthed one of these past books (mostly blank of course) and started this cycle all over again, but a little differently. I’ve decided to stop being so nice and neat with it. That doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but I’m probably one of the most organized, neat people in the universe, so it’s a big deal to me to let go and not think about sentence fragments, run-ons, paragraph structure, or in general if my entry will make any sense. It’s also been hard for me to break out of the conventional journal entry and feel like it’s ok to include sketches, doodles, scribbles, stickers, programs from events, to-do lists, pressed leaves, rubbings, etc. Keeping these things in mind has been so completely freeing, both to my mind and my personality, and has helped me to really value my journal time and get something meaningful out of it.

But what has helped me the most in my new commitment to writing every day was this post about keeping a logbook. Nothing too detailed, just a simple, no-frills list of daily events. I’m not just limiting it to the list though, so when there’s something I really want to expand on I do. And I also have taken time for traditional journal-type entries as well, but I enjoy keeping a log of my day. I’ve always felt that my journal entries should distill meaning from my thoughts, activities, or things in my day, and maybe that’s why I always give up on writing them: I can’t always attach some deep meaning to what’s going on in my head. It takes some of the pressure off just to list what I did. And I can always write more if there’s more meaning behind it.

I do have to say it’s really helping. At least for the last 39 days (!) I’ve been able to keep this going. And that’s definitely a record for me. Also, this journal is exceptionally pretty, so I don’t mind carrying it around. And it smells nice. I’ve never had a journal before that’s smelled nice.

My journal is now a completely messy but well-loved and essential part of my life. I like to think of it as the ONLY place that chaos and mess exists for me. Something to strive for, right?

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Vanilla extract is expensive, but it’s super easy to make your own. And not only is it super easy, but it’s cheaper, and absolutely wonderful too. There are only three things you need: vanilla beans, high-quality high-proof alcohol, and a jar to store it in.

With the vanilla beans, the best bet is to order them online. You can get a surprisingly good deal even through places like Amazon. Just doing a quick internet search for vanilla beans will bring back some good results on where you can get a good deal. Don’t fall for buying the overpriced ones at the grocery store. If you’re going to get them at a place like that, definitely make sure you’re getting a good deal first. And if you buy in bulk, this vanilla extract makes great gifts too!

I started with a 16-oz pasta sauce jar and 7-8 vanilla beans. Slice each bean open lengthwise and place them in the jar. I also had to chop some of them in half so they would fit. Then fill up the jar with alcohol and let it steep for 6-8 weeks, giving it a good shake maybe about twice a week or so. For the alcohol, vodka or bourbon works well. I imagine you could also use rum too. Just make sure you get the highest proof you can. For this one in the picture, I used vodka, and it worked just fine. It should be a deep caramel color after steeping and will smell absolutely amazing. When it’s ready, just spoon out what you need. I even leave the beans in there; no need to strain them out when the extract is ready.

UPDATE: I’ve been using the same vanilla beans for about 2 years now, just topping off the jar when it gets about halfway down. There’s no need to replace the beans any more often than that. I’ve heard other people say they can go up to 5 years without changing the beans. All I can say is I must go through a lot more vanilla than that, I think my beans could use replacing soon. The best advice I can give is feel it out. After about 2 years or so, you might want to think about replacing the beans, depending on how much vanilla you use.

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