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Archive for January, 2010

 

As you’ve probably heard me say before ad nauseum, I like to think that I have a DIY gene, especially when it comes to domestic tasks.  I’m always trying to figure out how I can do things on my own, bringing things down to a basic level as a challenge to myself, but more importantly as a way to tread lighter on the earth and as well as on my wallet.  There is no doubt that making your own things, whether it be your own body butter with coconut oil and olive oil, furniture polish with oil and vinegar or your own bread reduces the need for packaging and is certainly cheaper when bought as individual ingredients. 

Now it goes without saying that this is certainly not a convenient option and requires more time which is a commodity in many households, but is incredibly rewarding.  Nothing like knowing that your soft skin is from all-natural ingredients, sans preservatives, that you made yourself (and a heck of a lot cheaper than the prepackaged natural/organic ones and a heck of lot healthier/chemical-free unlike those in conventionals and drugstores).  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve seen that I’ve discussed making your own laundry detergent, mittens, even bagels.  I’m really trying to reduce my spending and choose what ingredients go into what I use/consume; therefore, making the convenient options that I used to buy in the store is one way to do it.

Last week, I had the opportunity to watch Food, Inc. – a movie that I’ve been wanting to see for some time, but knew that it would nothing new to me.  I’ve worked in the natural/organic food and products industry for 8 years and know a lot about where conventional food comes from and the chemicals and preservatives that are in everything we buy.  I was especially pleased that this movie was discussed in yesterday’s Oprah – who we all know has unmatched influence around the world.  Michael Pollan, a contributor to the movie and best-selling author on books exploring the food industry, talked about the importance of cooking at home using real foods (not food-like substances), learning where your food comes from and sourcing it from responsible growers and making the convenience foods you love.  He mentioned that he loves french fries, but that they are time-intensive to make, so he may only make them once or twice a month but with potatoes and oil – not from a bag sitting in a freezer for months.  It made me realize that I’ve been doing this along the way, trying to utilize raw ingredients to make things from scratch – as aforementioned, it requires less packaging, extends your dollars much more and gosh, have you tasted what fresh bread tastes like?

Now let me say this again, because I don’t want to sound preachy: I realize that this is not the convenient route, that I am home full-time, don’t have kids and can dedicate a good portion of my day to cooking from scratch and most people are in the complete opposite situation as me.  However, I’m hoping that if you see something you like, you’ll maybe take a Saturday off from shopping (aka retail therapy) or hours on the couch (aka TV therapy) and spend an hour in your kitchen, creating something that you never knew came any other way than in the bottle or bag you’ve always bought it in.  Everything we use/consume has to be made, so think about the items you buy often and see if you can make them yourself using the raw ingredients you can usually find in bulk.

At the risk of being labeled a hypocrite, I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m no angel and don’t make everything from scratch.  There are still some conveniences that I simply don’t feel like making or haven’t tried (i.e. I buy juice in cartons, pasta in boxes and yogurt in plastic tubs), but I’m taking baby steps and challenging myself to learn how to make something new each week that I used to buy as a convenience.  Usually it works and I’m a convert (mmm, homemade bagels), once in a while it doesn’t (homemade dishwasher detergent failed miserably!) but overall, I’m whittling down my reliance on the Heinz’ and the Krafts’ of the world.  I don’t have a cow, so I still need to buy dairy products, but have found a local woman who keeps chickens and will be purchasing my eggs from her, have sourced a local bison farm and plan to purchase a quarter buffalo in the coming weeks for all our beef needs and have identified the CSA I want to join this year for local fruits/veggies and chicken.  Because making these choices requires money up-front and takes a chunk of our food  budget each month when spread out, it’s forcing me – now more than ever – to sacrifice some of those conveniences we used to purchase, but it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make.

So long, Doritos and Pepsi…was nice having you in our lives, but I’m thinking we’re better off without ya!

Our "bulk" cabinet; I stock up on items (flour, rice, beans, etc.) in bulk at my local health food store (which I then store in old pasta jars or Mason jars found at the thrift store); especially handy for the DIY cook!

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I had a great opportunity last week to “photo mentor” a high school student who is the daughter of a friend.  By the discussions we had, it sounds like she is enrolled in a very creative, free-thinking high school that encourages students to be open-minded, wordly and expressive of their personal pursuits.  Every Wednesday she is allowed to attend school or not in lieu of working on a project that helps her discover her passions.  She was interested in learning more about photography so her mom asked if I would be interested in showing her a few tricks.  Me?  A photo mentor?  I was honored and thrilled! 

Because the day was overcast/chilly and not so great for landscape photos of the omnipresent mountains in Colorado, I decided to take her to the Denver Botanic Gardens – a place where, I’m ashamed to admit, I have never been.  I’ve always wanted to go, but never trekked out, was always too busy with work that I just wanted to crash at home on the weekends and not to mention this place is a good hour away from where we live.  But now that I’m home free, I really want to take advantage of all the things/places around me.  I knew that this place would be a great spot and it did not disappoint.  It was certainly smaller than I expected, but then again, it’s the middle of winter and about 1/8 of the place is indoors, the rest outside where things are a crispy, uninspiring brown.  Didn’t matter…we spent a good 3 hours photographing the garden entrance (a waterfall/pond adorned with tulips and greens) and the rain-forest inspired dome.  I felt like I was in Costa Rica again and recognized many of the plants/flowers from my trip there this past summer.  The best part was that it was mid-week and we only came across a handful of other visitors so we were allowed to spread our tripods out, take our time and photograph to our hearts content.

One of the things that I informed my mentee is that you often times have to take a hundred pictures until you find one that you really like and this was no exception – I took over 500 photos and only ended up with a handful of keepers, but even that is a success in my book.  The above pics are representative of some of those keepers…the rest I’ve posted on my site: www.greenearthimages.com

I really enjoyed myself that day, sharing my knowledge and techniques but at the same time being brutally honest about the fact that I’m self-taught and still have a LOT to learn, that I still don’t understand my camera entirely, that I’m still learning about lighting and composition and that I’m, well, still a student.  But I guess that’s the best part, because if you know it all, isn’t that when you get bored?  Better to leave the door open so that you can continually learn and extend yourself. 

By the way, I learned that the Botanic Gardens as well as many other museums offer free admission once a quarter (or even once a month) to allow those on a budget the opportunity to engage in the beauty and art around them.  I encourage you to check out your local spots to see if they offer similar programs (or go on regular days and consider it your contribution to the arts!)

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I really enjoy a cup of hot chai tea (a spicy milk-based tea) every now and then…but David downright loves it and can drink it everyday.  He especially likes the kind that Tazo makes that comes in a concentrated liquid mix ($3.99 for a 32 oz. container, which breaks down into 8 servings of 4 oz. each – not to mention the other 4oz. of milk to add to it to make it a complete chai).  David can easily go through two of these containers and 1/2 a gallon of milk in a week for his chai tea fix.  Starbucks uses this same exact product for their chai’s but charges like $4 for one drink!  Since I’m keeping a mindful eye on our food budget and the DIY gene in me is alive and kicking, I decided to try to learn how to make it myself and for much, much cheaper.

I scrolled through various recipes and kind of mishmashed different ones to come up with a recipe that tastes great (and can be mixed with hot water in lieu of milk and still taste uber creamy).  Here’s what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. dry milk powder
  • 1/4 c. powdered non-dairy creamer
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened instant tea
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper (black pepper, though not as aesthetically pleasing will work too)

Preparation:

Add the vanilla extract to the sugar; allow to dry and use a fork to crumble the mixture.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the vanilla sugar mixture.  Blend batches in a coffee grinder if available, food processor otherwise (can be dusty, be aware!).  When reconstitued, this mix will leave some sediments in the bottom of the mug, so if you rather not have this, sift mixture after blending to remove any larger pieces.  Store in a pint-size Mason jar or other similar-sized container.  Use 1/4 c. of mix to 8 oz. hot water. (Yields 8 servings and can be doubled or halved according to your needs) 

This is a cheap alternative, is non-perishable and means that no large Chai packaging will go into the trash.  As a sidenote, I buy most of the ingredients listed above in the bulk department of my local health food store which is also cheaper and reduces packaging.

This makes a great homemade gift especially if paired with a coffee mug or a side of cookies!  Enjoy!

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Thrifty finds

So with making mittens and coffee sleeves (aka cozies) and even paper bows, I’ve been using lots of buttons and have taken especially to old, reused or vintage ones.  However, when I started looking into sourcing them online, many batches of 100 or so were going for $50+.  Well, that took the wind out of my sails!  I hemmed and hawed for a couple weeks and then remembered that my mom who used to sew all the time and rarely does now had tins of buttons.  I asked and she happily agreed to hand them over to me for free!  Some of these are vintage buttons from my grandmother’s era in the 40′s!  Most of them, however, are the funky chunky ones of the 60′s and 70′s.  They are quite fabulous especially housed in this vintage tobacco tin my mom kept them in for eons:

There must be hundreds of them in that tin:

Then today the local Arc Thrift Store sponsored a 50% off sale off everything in the store and that’s when I knew it was time to go and stock my fabric cabinet.  I bought about 10 wool sweaters that I’ll felt to make more mittens and coffee cozies (and I’m sure other projects I’ll come across).  Furthermore, David found 2 great sweaters, one an Eddie Bauer sweater, both for $4 each (and for someone as tall as him, it’s hard to find clothes that fit those long arms).  This thrift store in particular is really neat and well-organized and even has a craft area (oh yeah!) and I found some more thread, felt and tightly-wound kraft paper that will work just great as handles for the paper gift bags I’ve learned to make.

Since I am also doing my food blog at http://www.myyearofcookinglight.com and have been concentrating on improving my food photography, I decided I needed just a couple decorative plates/bowls to photograph my food on and was pleased to come across some great finds, including these plates:

As well as this great Mikasa bowl for $1.50:

Don’t knock the thrift stores in your area!  And be sure to check out any promotions, such as 50% off sale, like the Arc and Goodwill thrift stores on regular occasion.  Be green and save green!!!

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Okay, so I’ve mentioned the new sewing machine in my life and how I was trying to get used to it so I could start making things.  You probably remember the mitten incident as well?  Finally, I figured out how to sew mittens the right way and I even lined them with polar fleece.  I actually did this the week of Christmas and never took pics (it was a present for my sister in exchange for the free sewing machine) and she liked them so much, she’s been taking them with her every day.  Luckily she left them behind today, so I was able to take pics so I could share with you all.  I’m very proud of my first successful sewing project!

My sister wanted grey mittens, so I used this reclaimed/upcycled grey sweater and hand-sewed a pink cashmere heart on top to give a feminine touch - also from a repurposed sweater

The underside; the funny thing is that when I first completed this, I was horrified to find that I made the wrists too small that you couldn't fit on, so I had to cut the bottoms and put in the ribbed part of the sweater which has extra stretch and lucky for me, it worked wonderfully (and save me from having to start all over again!)

 

To give extra warmth and softness, I lined the mittens with polar fleece which I was able to get at the thrift store, in the form of a queen-sized blanket for only $4.50! That blanket will probably make me another 50 liners! Good for the wallet and environment!

I’m excited to get back home and start making more of these.  Although this pair took me about 4-5 hours to complete, I know that once I get the hang of it, I can probably get these done in about an hour and plan to sell them on Etsy, the online marketplace where I’ve decided to set up shop.  If you’ve never been, please check it out: www.etsy.com - it’s a great place to support artists/crafters and there is some amazing stuff to be found!

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Ay-yi-yi!  Time is passing by so rapidly!

Well, to give you an update, I’m still at my sister’s house…finishing up week 2 and going into my last week here.  Trying to lighten her load, make family meals and help with trucking around the kids.  Anything that can help them out.  But boy am I homesick and miss my hubby, dogs and house!  At least I have the companionship during the quiet days of her loyal dog, Buddy:

So I admit, I’m kinda having writer’s block.  It’s tough writing about simplicity when you’re spending 3 weeks in someone else’s home.  And simple this home is not.  It’s like Grand Central Station and convenience foods/gadgets/etc. are a requirement in this time-starved household since not everyone can/wants to slow down.  I get that.  And as much as I’d love to impart lessons on how to save money, enjoy some downtime, forsake materialism for simple pleasures, it’s just not my place to be preachy right now.  So I will continue to support while leaving tiny nuggets of wisdom in my wake; perhaps in someone’s subconscious, it will be picked up.

Meantime, I’ve started another blog.  I know, strange if I’m having trouble writing here, but it’s timely and is charting something I’m trying to work on anyway.  It was inspired by the movie Julie and Julia…I’m not gonna lie.  But it’s called “My Year of Cooking Light” and is at http://myyearofcookinglight.wordpress.com – also listed under my blogroll.  So check both these blogs out, one of them is bound to have something good to read.

Once I get home and since the holidays are out of the way, I know I’ll be writing more on this site, so don’t give up on me yet!

Hope everyone’s 2010 is off to a calm and peaceful start.

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