Friday, July 29, 2011

Dryer Balls

Three dryer balls and a little extra yarn
I never had any intention of using dryer balls in my life time.  I’ve never used a dryer sheet (they creep me out) and I guess soft cloths don’t mean much to me.  But one day I read the description of wool dryer balls for sale on a cloth diaper website, and they claimed it would reduce your drying time by 25 to 50%, and I figured why not? 
From the looks of the thing, a dryer ball was just a ball of wool yarn that had been through the wash, I decided this would be an easy project, and an easy way to use up this pitiful knitting project I abandoned 7 years ago.  Here’s how it’s done:
1.       Make a ball of wool yarn about 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and cut the yarn.

2.       Take a crotchet hook or very large sewing needle and shove it all the way through your ball, hook the yarn, and pull it through to the other side.
3.       Repeat step 2  2-3 times till you feel confident it won’t unravel.
4.       Throw it in the wash with your next load (I put mine in with the diapers because I didn’t care if they got stained, but a cold cycle would do fine)
5.       Throw them in the dryer.
Now it’s been felted and it’s ready to use.
Balled up knitted material.
Wrap the yarn around the material, push the hook through, wrap the yarn around it the hook, and pull it back.
Materials- scrap yarn and scrap knitted wool
Alternatively, take a piece of knitted material.  In my case they’re these weird rectangles, but you could also use an old sweater that’s cut up.  Roll it into a ball, then wrap some extra yarn around it, and follow step 2 with the crotchet hook.  It’s a little misshapen, but it does the job.  To make three it took me about 20 to 30 minutes.
For the best results you should have at least 6 balls.  Throw them in the dryer with your wet clothes, and they supposedly reduce your drying time, soften your clothes, and thwart static.  I find they reduce my drying time a little, certainly not 50%.  As for softer and static-free clothes, I haven’t noticed much of a difference, but like I said, I wouldn’t be one to notice.

Try it: Free
Buy it:  $19.95 for 3 on Amazon
Verdict:  Try it if you have the supplies on hand or can find it in a thrift shop super cheap, otherwise I doubt it’s worth the price of wool yarn.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

I took a jar of sweet pickles over to my friend Matthew as a thank you for all the veggies, and when I arrived I found him in the kitchen making pepper jelly.  After a bad run with his pepper plants last year, he decided to plant 8 jalapenos this year.  Now he’s pulling in more than he knows what to do with, so he gladly shared some with me, and gave me some tips for making jalapeno jelly.

The recipe is the one straight off the Ball Liquid Pectin box.  It can be found on the Ball website, as well.
Prepped peppers ready to go.

Matt’s tips-
1. Don’t bother chopping, deveining, or deseeding the peppers.  The boiling takes a lot of heat out of the peppers, so the seeds don’t matter.  Just cut the tops off.
2. If you’re using a blender, use the second cup of cider to rinse out the blender and dump it all in the pot.  ( I found a rubber spatula to be the way to go with a food processor)
3. The recipe says it will yield 5 half pints, but he got 7.  I got 6 ½, and a giant mess! More on that later.

Foamy vinegar and jalapenos with a sugar island in the middle

This is a really simple recipe.  I had some problems with it, but they were entirely my fault.  We are currently a little pot deficient.  We have one large stock pot, and one 4 quart saucepan.  Since I was sanitizing my lids and jars in the stock pot, I thought I could boil my jelly in the saucepan.  Not so!  Let’s just say I scored low on foresight on the Johnson O’Conner exam.  Of course the jelly doubled in size once it started boiling, spilling all over the stove, burning under the stockpot, and making a monster of a sticky mess.  I ended up pulling the jars out and putting them with the water into a large metal bowl, pouring the jelly into the stockpot, heating water in the kettle, and having my very patient husband wash the sticky pot after I filled the jars so I could process the filled jars in the stockpot with the water from the kettle.  Disaster, but all’s well that ends well.  The jars sealed up nicely, and my half jar went straight into the fridge so we could eat it tonight.  Mmmm, I love pepper jelly!  Because of the spill and loss of liquid, my jelly turned out a little on the firm side, but I really don’t mind, it’s just as tasty!
Setting processed jars.
 You will need
12 oz jalapeƱo peppers, about 12 med (Free, check your farmers market for a good price if you don’t know someone with a bountiful garden)

2 cups cider vinegar, divided ($1.47 for 4 cups, $1.47/2 = $.74)

6 cups sugar ($3.67 for 5 lb, $3.67/5lb = $.73 per lb, $.73 x 2.81 lb = $2.05)

2 3-oz pouches of Ball® RealFruit™ Liquid Pectin ($3.99)

7 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands ($12.35 per doz., $12.35/12 = $1.03 each, $1.03 x 7 = $7.21)

One of my favorite treats.
Try It:
A batch cost $13.99, or $1.99 per reusable jar, or $.25/oz.

Buy It:
Braswell’s Hot Jalapeno Jelly is $2.99 for a 10.5 oz jar, or $.28/oz.

I say Try It!  As long as you have two large pots this recipe is a cinch, and the results are delicious! 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pickles- Sweet and Dill

Yesterday the heat index was 120!  As awful as that was, it also means that we are at the height of summer, and overproducing gardens.  Since I live in the woods and don't have enough light, I rely on my generous friends (and the farmers market) for fresh veggies. 
Recently my friend Matthew gave me 7 lb of cucumbers from his garden.  The logical thing to do:  make pickles.  My husband is partial to Claussen’s dill pickles, and I prefer Claussen’s bread n’ butter sweet pickles.  I’ve been told that pickling is an ordeal, but Claussen style are not.  They have to be refrigerated, and don’t have the shelf life of the weird neon ones, but they’re very tasty.  I did a lot of reading recipes online, and a little listening to veteran picklers.  Based on all that research, here’s what I did:

Sweet Pickles:
My "untidy" sweet pickles
2 cups apple cider vinegar ($1.47 per 32oz, $1.47/2 servings = $.74)
¼ cup kosher salt ($2.75 per 48 oz, $2.75 / 23.6 ¼ cups = $.12)
2 cups sugar ($3.25 per 5 lb, $3.25/ 5lb = $.65 x .875 lb = $.57)
½ tsp turmeric ($4.99 per lb, $4.99 x .01 lb = $.05)
1 tsp whole yellow mustard seed ($4.99 per lb, $4.99 x .01 lb = $.05)
2 lb cucumbers (free, check your farmers market for a good price if you don’t know someone with a bountiful garden)
2 small or medium Vidalia onions ($1.99)
3 quart mason jars (preferably wide mouth) ($13.49 per doz., $13.49/4 = $3.37)
In a small saucepan, combine the cider, salt, sugar, turmeric, and mustard.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to avoid burning the sugar, and boil covered for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the cucumbers and onions (I made semi circles of the onions and long-way slices of cucumbers).  Distribute the cucumbers and onions evenly between the mason jars.  When your syrup is ready, distribute it evenly over the cucumbers and onions.  Fill the mason jars the rest of the way with water, screw on the lids, and shake gently.  Place all three jars in the refrigerator, and let them sit for 24 hours. 
For some reason, I didn’t expect to like these.  Don’t laugh, but they just looked so… untidy.  Thankfully, they were delicious.  They were crisp and sweet, and just punchy enough, and everyone loved them!
Try It:
$6.89 for 3 quarts, or $2.29 per 16 oz (reusable) jar, or $.14/oz
Buy It:
$3.99 for a 20 oz jar, or $.19/oz.
Try It, they were really easy, cheap, and tasty.  
Fermented Dill Pickles:
5 lb pickling cucumbers (free, check your farmers market for a good price if you don’t know someone with a bountiful garden)
¾ cups kosher salt (as I understand it, any non iodized salt will do) ($2.75 per 48 oz, $2.75 / 23.6 ¼ cups = $.12 x 3 = $.36) (NOTE: I recommend ½ this amount of salt)
¾ oz fresh dill ($1.99)
1 bulb garlic ($.50)
2 tsp black peppercorns ($2.49 per 2.37 oz, estimated 10 servings per bottle = $.25)
4 quart mason jars (preferably wide mouth) ($13.49 per doz, $13.49/3 = $4.49)
In a large pot, place your four mason jars and rings (set tops to the side).  Fill with water so that the jars are all fully submerged.  Bring the water to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes. 
Meanwhile, slice your cucumbers into wedges (or your preferred shape), and peel the garlic.  When your jars are done, take them out of the water with tongs (I used regular kitchen tongs that I put in the boiling water with the jars for a bit).  Distribute the peppercorns, dill, and garlic evenly between the mason jars.  Then fill them with your cucumbers. 
Use 1 gallon of your jar water and bring it to a boil with the salt.  In the remaining jar water, simmer your lids.  Pour the salt water over the cucumbers within a ¼ inch from the top of the jar.  Pull the lids out of the simmering water and place them on the jars using tongs.  Screw the lid rings on leaving a good amount of play in the lid so that gases can escape during the fermentation process.
Leave them on the counter for 4 days.  If they are to your liking, put them in the fridge.  If you want them to be stronger, leave them out for up to a total of 10 days. 
These had a good flavor and texture, but they were so salty I could barely get one down.  With a rinse and some fresh water, I think I can save them, but overall, I wasn’t impressed.  I would recommend cutting the salt in half if you try this one.
Try It:
$7.59 for 4 quarts, or $1.89 per 16 oz jar, or $.12/oz
Buy It:
$3.99 per 20 oz jar, or $.19/oz.
Sadly, I have to say Buy It.  The recipe could be good, but I don’t have the love of dill pickles to try countless batches tweeking it

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Graham Crackers

My son is a graham cracker fiend.  We usually buy the Nabisco classic red box, but I decided that this might be something easy enough to make instead.  I searched for a while, and ended up coming up with a recipe based off a few that I found:
All the ingredients, except (mysteriously) the butter
1 Stick organic salted butter ($4.79/ 4 sticks = $1.19)
¾ cup brown sugar ($1.77 per 2 lb, $1.77/ 18.917 ¼ cups in bag = $.094 x 3 = $.28)
1 tsp vanilla ($5.65 per 2 oz, $5.65/ 11.98 tsp per bottle = $.47)
2 cups stone ground organic wheat flour ($1.39 per lb, $1.39 x .75lb = $1.04)
1 cup organic all purpose flour ($1.39 per lb, $1.39 x .34 lb = $.47)
1 tsp baking powder ($1.59 per 10 oz, $1.59/ 59.06 tsp per box = $.03)
½ tsp baking soda ($.67 per lb, $.67/ 188.75 ½ tsp in box = $.004)
½ cup organic milk ($5.99 per gallon, $5.99/ 32 ½ cups in gallon = $.19)
Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter a few cookie sheets, set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar, then add vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.
Mixing the dry ingredients
Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk to the sugar mixture. On a floured surface, roll the dough out about 1/8 of an inch, and cut into whatever shape you want (I went with the standard graham cracker rectangle).  Put your crackers on the cookie sheets, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Well mixed and ready for rolling
Fresh out of the oven.  I didn't pay too much attention to the shapes, but in retrospect the regular rectangles are more even and better tasting than the crazy edged ones.
These are better if you don’t let them get too thin or too dark since it is a sweet cracker.  They should be lightly brown and shouldn’t be springy if you press on them.  And they taste FANTASTIC.  They are sweeter than commercial graham crackers, so you could tone down the sugar if you want.  They have a light buttery taste that I can’t resist, and my son gobbled his up.
Enjoying the fruits of his labor
Time: 30 minutes, start to finish, even with your kid’s “help”.
Try It:
A batch came to $3.67 for about 21 oz (I can’t tell exactly because my son ate a chunk of the dough and we ate 2 before I could weigh them!), or $.17/oz.
Buy It:
The red Nabisco box is $4.29, or $.30/oz.
Try It, they’re really good!  I’m not sure that I’d use them for a s’more, though, because they might be a little too dense and crunchy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Graphic T-Shirts

My sisters and I go on a trip every year to a surprise location that only the organizer knows.  The organizer is responsible for planning the whole thing, providing goodie bags, and t-shirts, and generally making the trip as awesome as possible.  This year it was my turn to plan things, and partly because our budget was so low, and partly because I wanted to try it out, I made our t-shirts myself.  I thought for a long time on how to do this without investing in a silk screen which would blow the budget, and I was all set to make a stencil out of cardstock and spray paint the things when I happened to mention the project to my very crafty friend, Em.  She told me of the wonders of freezer paper, and set me on the right course.
1.       To make a graphic t, first find a graphic.  I found a clip art set of dice on Google Images. 
2.       Tape your image down and tape a piece of freezer paper over it, tracing the lines.  I did this four times for my four shirts.  I also wanted to add lettering, so I used letter stencils I already had to trace those on.  You could just print that out and trace it as well. 
My four stencils at various stages.
3.      Next, I got out my cutting mat (but a regular cutting board from the kitchen will do), taped the freezer paper down, and cut out all the letters and dice lines with an X-acto knife .  Because I had some floating parts, I used tiny pieces of scotch tape to hold them in place. 
4.       When I had done all four, I took the shirts and the paper to the iron and ironed the paper onto the shirts.  They stick wonderfully, and I managed to get all those bits of tape off without too much damage to the iron (oops).  
Ironed on freezer paper, ready for paint.
5.      Once the freezer paper is nicely stuck, put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt to protect the back, and brush on the paint.  I used two coats.  Let the shirts dry like that for a few hours, or overnight. 
6.       Carefully peel off the freezer paper.  The bottle for paint told me to steam the paint with the iron, and Em told me to iron the paint with a cloth over it, so I did both for good measure.  The results were fantastic!  No one knew that I had made them myself, which I considered a win. 
Showing off the finished product at Tupelo Honey in downtown Asheville, NC.

If you are making a larger number of shirts, I would suggest investing in some thin mylar (a method I found in my research but was too cheap to try).  With that you only cut out one stencil, then tape or lightly glue it to the shirt to paint it.  A six pack of 8 ½ x 11 sheets is $5.99 from Joann Fabric.
T-shirts: Merona basic Tees from Target, on sale for $5.50, down from $8.00 (5.50 x 4 = $22.00)
Paint: Bottle of Tulip Soft White Velvet $5.99 at Michael's.
Freezer Paper: Em gave me some, but Reynolds Aluminum 391 Reynolds Freezer Paper  is $3.37 on Amazon or the grocery store.  
X-acto knife: We had one laying around from my husband’s college days, but as long as it’s sharp, a utility knife would do, too.  X-actos are  $3.99 at Staples.
Time:  It took me around 6 hours to do the whole project start to finish for all four shirts, most of it spent tracing and cutting.
Try It:
4 shirts would come to $44.97 ($11.24 each) if you had to buy everything at full price (which I doubt you would!).  They cost me 27.99, ($6.99 each)
Buy It:
Last year my sister found a silk screener that would do four shirts for $12.00 each, coming to $48.00.
Try it if you have the time.  It took a whole evening and a morning to make them, and my hands were pretty cramped from cutting everything out, but I was very pleased with them in the end, and I had fun doing it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Toaster Waffles

I used to be hooked on Eggo Nutri Grain Waffles.  Since I’m making an effort to reduce the packaging I bring into my house, I had to nix the frozen goodness.  Luckily, a toaster waffle is just an undercooked waffle, and I own a waffle maker.  I felt a little silly for not thinking of this years ago, but so it goes.
Here’s my recipe:
1 ¼ cups stone ground organic wheat flour ($1.39 per lb, $1.39 x .469 lb = $.65)
½ cup all purpose organic flour ($2.99 per 5 lb, $.598 (per lb)x.172 lb = $.10)
1 Tbsp baking powder ($1.59 per 10oz, $1.59/ 19.6875 Tbsp = $.08)
1 Tbsp sugar ($3.67 per 5 lb, $.734 (per lb) x .0293lb = $.02)
½ tsp salt ($.47 per 26 oz, $.47/ 61.375 ½ tsp = $.01)
3 organic eggs ($4.49 per dozen, $.37 x 3 eggs = $1.12)
6 Tbsp organic butter, melted ($4.99 per lb, $.16(per Tbsp) x 6 = $.94)
1 ½ cups organic milk ($5.99 per gallon, $.37 (per cup)x 1 ½ cups = $.56)
Feel free to add whatever you like- chocolate chips, bananas, berries, nuts…  about a ½ cup will do.
Mix the dry ingredients together.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients together.  Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in the wet mixture.  Mix everything together just till it’s all wet (it will look lumpy).   Pour in the waffle maker then remove it before the timer light/beeper goes off and it’s barely browning.  
Once they're cool, layer them between waxed paper in a freezer safe container (the paper is important, the first time I didn't use it and I had to chisel them apart, and then they were such a mess I couldn't put them in the pop-up toaster).  Voila, frozen waffles, ready for the toaster!

I have the round kind of waffle maker, and my son eats a quarter of a waffle for breakfast, and I eat a half.  They last a while.
Try It:
$3.48 for a batch of 6 waffles (24 oz) or $.15 per oz
Buy It:
$2.86 per 10 waffles (12.3 oz) or $.23 per oz
Try it.  They’re better tasting, mostly organic, and it’s fun to pull out the waffle maker once in a while.