Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Achoo! Homemade Hankies

I love Spring:  the ground is warming, the birds are singing, the plants and trees are flowering.... 

Uh oh.  I mean, "achoo!"  Sometimes I think Ohio has two seasons:  hypothermia, and allergy/asthma.  We are firmly in the latter, and, in previous years, this has meant a real boon for the facial tissue companies.

In a month of allergy season, we can go through about four boxes of tissues around here.  At $1.35 a pop for the store brand, this adds up.  So this year, I've switched about 90% of my tissue useage to hankies.

I am aware of the standard complaint that hankies let you carry your germs with you; the solution, of course, is to have enough hankies to toss in the wash frequently.  They wash up with any number of loads, so you should never have to run a special hankie load.  And making them is a snap.  Try one of the below methods:

Method One:  Hankies to be Seen in Public
Take soft, used cotton and cut a square about 12" by 12" (bigger or smaller according to preference).  I have made some lovely hankies out of an old jumper that looked horrid on me but was made from a wonderful fabric.  Turn each side under a half inch twice (that is, turn it under a half inch, then turn that under another half inch).  Run a zig-zag or straight seam up the fold, or whip stitch by hand.  Embroider if you wish. 

Method Two:  Hankies for Household Use
This is my favorite:  cut old tshirts and tank tops to your preferred size.  The ones in the picture above are cut from tank tops that had outlived their usefulness as actual garments.  Since tshirt material doesn't fray, you don't have to seam them.  And since no one will see them but your housemates, who cares what they look like?  And how pretty does something have to be to be more attractive than a used tissue?

The Analysis

Fast:  Method One is for those looking for a craft project.  Method Two is for those who need hankies -- and lots of them -- in a hurry.  I can cut a tshirt apart in a couple of minutes.  Obviously, you can cut around any stains and get some extra life out of those garments, too.

Cheap:  Well-worn material makes the softest hankies, and it is free.  If you are feeling miserly doing this, think of it as "aged and distressed to make a soft finished product."  If I avoid buying three of my usual four monthly boxes of tissues, I save $4.05 a month during allergy season. 

Good:  I actually find soft cotton to be easier on skin than tissues, and it certainly creates less waste and expense.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

FC&G Challenge: Can You Do the Top 5?

Above you can see my herb bed, alive already with sage and a little cillantro.  It makes me happy, because the sage is a product of trying something new, plus being a little lazy:  Last year, when the nip of fall was in the air and I was struggling to close the garden down with my husband away on business, I remembered that sage was supposedly a perennial, so I decided to not pull the plant.  All winter long I was sure it was dead, and that I was going to have to finish my chore of cleaning out the herb bed before planting this spring.  But here we are:  it is in full leaf, and I have a quantity of sage in April that I usually don't see until August. 

To me, that fits with my mission here at FC&G:  I want you (and me!) to practice sustainable living, one small choice at a time.  So, I thought it would be good to pause and hit my top five sustainable choices that I believe almost anyone can do, regardless of budget, location, beliefs on environmentalism, or hecticness of schedule.

  1. Hang at least one load of laundry to dry each week.  To get the most bang for your buck, especially if you can hang the laundry outside in warm weather, try to hang sheets or jeans on a windy day.  The wind will make them soft, and you will avoid an hour or more of running the drier.

  2. Make your own laundry soap.  If you are feeling a little insecure about trying this trick (it is safe, I promise, but sometimes changing habits can make you nervous), use the homemade stuff on sheets, towels, blue jeans, and work clothes.  Your budget will thank you.

  3. Bake at least one batch of bread or cookies each week.  You will save money, and you will be in control of what you and your household eat.

  4. Find one way to replace something disposable you purchase with a reuseable substitute.  Here are my instructions for ersatz cotton balls; what other disposables can you reduce or eliminate?
  5. Turn waste into treasure.  Try to find at least one thing this week that you would have disposed of, and devise another use for it.
Can you do the top five this week?  Will you commit to doing them every week?  Let me know; leave a comment below!
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ham Stock

One of the most traditional ways to stretch the number of meals you get out of your meat purchases is to make stock from the bones and trimmings.  If you are a meat-eater, this is a great, low-cost way to get maximum value from your meat investment.  If you are mostly-vegetarian, as I am, then it is a good way to get a little animal protein in your diet without actually having a meat-heavy meal. 

For this batch, I took the bone and the tough "butt" of the ham from our delayed Easter dinner.  I put it in a large stew pot, covered it with water, and simmered for an hour with a diced onion, a couple of bay leaves, and some cracked black pepper.  When the stock was dark brown and smelling yummy, I strained it into some quart freezer containers and popped it in the freezer.  This batch came in at about three quarts.  I plan to use it to make a batch of my Cheesy Potato Soup.

I believe the ham took less time to make a decent stock because it is already seasoned and cured.  Beef and chicken will probably take closer to two hours, based on my research, so plan ahead to do this on a weekend or a day or evening when you want to be in the kitchen to smell the great smells.  Depending on the meat you use, you may have to skim fat (or schmaltz, in the case of chicken) off the stock before you freeze it.

I have started a "stock bucket" in the freezer for DH and I to throw meat trimmings and bones; when it is full, we will make another batch of stock.

The Analysis

Fast:  Although this took an hour, there was nearly no prep time, so I just needed to find a time I was near the kitchen doing something else so I could keep an eye on the stock pot.

Cheap:  For the price of an onion and some spices, I took a chunk of ham that would have been wasted and made the basis of a future meal.  For reference, a quart of Meijer Organics chicken broth, which I usually use as a soup base, is $2.27 a quart.  So, my little project saved $6.81, minus the inputs.  I would say this netted me $6.50 in savings.

Good:  The smell alone was worth the time investment; I can't wait for the soup!
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

In (Painful) Pursuit of Knitting

Knitting just seems like something a frugal girl like myself should be able to do.  While I first started learning to crochet at my mom's knee at the age of 5, gaining some proficiency by grad school (not a quick study, am I?), knitting always confounded me.  But this year, I decided, was my year to learn to knit.

You see, canning season is soon upon us, and every canning season usually sees the loss of a few dish cloths as a kind of sacrifice for all of that yummy put-up food.  I'll lose one to blueberry jam, a couple to chili sauce and canned tomatoes, and another to simple fatigue and overuse.  Summer is always my time to replace some dish cloths, and I thought this year I would knit them.

So, I picked up the pair of shiny blue needles I bought years ago, grabbed a ball of cotton yarn and Stitch 'n Bitch, and started to knit.

Oh, my heavens.

At first, it was like trying to eat with chopsticks after a lifetime of forks.  I was perfectly convinced that millions of people can do this successfully, but I just felt like I had too many implements.  I have suffered through dropped stitches, faulty tension, and far too much concentration.  You can see one of the intermediate steps above.

But, fairly soon, I was able to do the simple garter stitch without laser-like focus and while watching TV.  I started to like the click-click of the needles and the softness of the "weave" of the fabric, so different from the relatively solid result from the ribbed crochet stitch I prefer.  Full disclosure:  I declined to learn to bind off properly, but instead crocheted off the top when I was done.  My mind is full of ideas for a knit/crochet hybrid project.

After five decreasingly-painful nights, I have a dishcloth.  Hopefully, the next one will go much more smoothly, and I'll have a new textile hobby!

The Analysis

Fast:  Oh, you're kidding me, right?  Somewhere, there's a kindergarten class that is knitting faster than I am now.  But I'll get there.

Cheap:  Since you asked:  The cheapest dishcloth that wasn't see-through I could find was at WalMart, where a bundle of six would set you back $12.  I can knit a dish cloth with one 2 oz. ball of cotton yarn, which I get on sale for $1.29.  Savings:  $0.71.

Good:  I will get bettter at this, and I think I will enjoy the new hobby.  Score!
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Monday, April 12, 2010

Walking the Walk

Just a couple of weeks ago, I snapped this shot of the daffodils coming up; today, they are past the full bloom point and making room for the tulips.  Spring is finally here in Ohio!  And spring is the very nicest time for a walk.

Today, I walked the 1.6 miles (3.2 miles round trip) to my part-time job as a local college administrator.  It was a warm day with a cool breeze, and I loved the chance to destress before going from job to job to job.  What a change from the days when I go straight from my Hilltop Communications desk to my college office to an evening commitment. 

Walking to work sounds like just the kind of granola-crunchy enviro-move that I shy away from.  Most of the time, I think of it as something akin to composting toilets:  fine, if you're into that kind of thing, but maybe not for me.  However, the fact that I now have a very local job suddenly made walking to work seem not just do-able but actually silly not to do.

My goal is to walk to work at least one day a week as long as it is not opressively hot (that is, asthma/allergy weather for those of us in the Midwest) or oppressively cold.  I'm going to burn a few calories and release a few endorphins while avoiding putting miles on the car or emissions in the atmosphere.  I know not everyone lives in an environment that allows a walk to work or on an errand, but for those who do, will you join me on my quest? 

The Analysis

Fast:  Just the opposite, actually.  My walk took me a half hour each way, while driving takes about five minutes from garage to parking space.

Cheap:  My walk gave me time to do the math:  My car gets about 24 MPG, and I covered 3.2 miles today.  Walking saved me 1/8 of a gallon of gas, or $0.23 at the most recent local price of $1.86 a gallon.  However, if you have been following me, you know I'll gladly spend an hour of work to save $0.39 a month, so a quarter a week is looking pretty good right now.

Good:  Too often, we have to rush here and there, and then we read advice to "take a 20 minute walk after dinner."  Walking to go nowhere makes me crazy; walking to go to work seems productive to me, and I got exercise and did something small that was good for my budget, my car, and the environment.  I'll take it, on a lovely spring day.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

One for the Guys: Shaving Soap

(Thanks to DH for the suggestion for this post!)

Gentlemen have a lot of choices when it comes to shaving.  While most guys who came of age in the past fifty years probably reach for the can of shaving foam and the disposable safety razor, there is an option that is better for the planet and, more important, infinitely sexier:  shaving soap.

DH suggested I take a look at shaving soap as something that is FC&G.  We looked at prices and waste, and here is what we found:
  • Pricewise, there is not a bunch of difference between shaving soap and shaving foam.  In our local grocery, any brand of shaving soap (and there are Williams, Colgate, and others) comes in a few cents less per cake than a can of the cheapest shaving foam.  However, you do have the start-up costs of a shaving mug (I got DH a pretty one, but you can certainly demote one from your kitchen cabinet for free) and shaving brush (which seem to last almost forever, but you'll have to replace them occasionally in your lifetime).  DH estimates a cake of soap probably lasts about as long as a can of foam, although I think it is easier to accidentally use too much foam and be wasteful.
  • As far as solid waste, the soap wins.  A new cake of shaving soap comes in a small cardboard box.  Shaving foam comes in a large metal can with plastic parts.  No contest.
  • DH says the soap gives a better shave than the foam.
  • And this one is key:  watching a man shave by foaming up with a brush and mug is undeniably hot.  Think about it, guys.

The Analysis

Fast:  I don't believe it takes any longer for DH to lather up with a brush than to spray foam in his hand.  If so, we are talking a very small amount of time.

Cheap:  You won't be winning this one on money.  Lifetime shaving expenditures are probably the same whether you use soap or foam.  Any financial impact you realize will have to come from using razors with disposable blades and reuseable handles and caring for them well to make them last.  (Has anyone priced using a straight razor?  Is the cost savings worth the hassle of learning to shave without killing yourself?

Good:  This tip is all about impact.  A switch to shaving soap will mean less solid waste, a better shave, and perhaps an intrigued wife.  Your call, guys!
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tortellini and Four Cheese Sauce in the style of La Trattoria

And we're back from vacation in Key West, a week that was too fast and not at all cheap, but very, very good.  One thing I brought with me is inspiration for delicious and inexpensive recipes.

Possibly my favorite Italian restaurant in the world is La Trattoria, located on Duval Street in Key West.  They have a wonderful Tortellini alla Romana with tomatoes, peas, and smoked ham, that I have to have at least once per trip "down island."

My own version is, well, not theirs, but it is enough to keep hopes alive for the next trip to Key West.  And, if I do say so myself, it is pretty darn good.

Tortellini and Four Cheese Sauce
1 c. whole milk ($0.37 at Trader Joe's)
8 oz Quattro Formaggio ($2.86 at TJ's)
1 package pesto-filled tortellini ($2.99 at TJ's)
1 pint tomatoes (canned from last year's garden)
Scant cup ham (frozen leftover from previous holiday meal)
Diced carrots (overwintered in garden; I don't have fresh peas yet)

Cook tomatoes, ham, and carrots together until carrots are tender.  Meanwhile, boil pasta until just under al dente (it will cook more when combined). 

Melt 8oz. of cheese in one cup whole milk until sauce consistency; you may have to add a tablespoon or two of flour to thicken to your desired thickness.  Season with fresh cracked black pepper. 

Combine all ingredients in saute pan and cook until blended. 

The Analysis:

Fast:  The recipe took less than a half an hour to make.

Cheap:  At $6.22 total outlay plus rading the pantry, freezer, and garden, I have a recipe that compares favorably to the $17 La Trattoria version (in taste, not ambiance!).  You could further cut costs by waiting for a cheese sale at a non-TJ's store and opting for a non-filled pasta.  However, this created at least 5-6 servings, so I'm not feeling too badly about the price ($1.25 per serving if you figure five healthy servings).

Good:  Nothing is La Trattoria, but with some careful savings and yummy pasta dishes, I should be back "down island" before I know it!

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