Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No More Wire Hangers

Finding myself with an abundance of wire hangers that really aren't all that useful, I decided to turn them into something I can actually use by pairing them up and covering them with yarn. This is a craft project that I have used since I was a kid. In fact, it is a great project for kids.

With the wire hangers I found in our closets, I was able to make seven cute new hangers. This is how to do it:

1. Select two wire hangers that are the same size and shape. Match the hangers up and tape them together in 5 or 6 places. Match the size and shape of the hangers is a little harder then it sounds. From the wire hangers I found in our closets, I have as many hangers that do not match each other as hangers that do. (If you don't have any wire hangers, your friends and family probably do).

2. Select one or two yarn colors that you want to use. This is a great way to use up remnant yarn from other projects. I purchased a bunch of yarn form a thrift store for this project (25 cents a piece; yeah!). Roll a yarn ball about the size of a golf ball.

3. Secure the yarn to the hanger by tying it on in a double knot at the top of the hanger. If you are using two colors, tie the other color of yarn on just below the first.

4. Take the first ball of yarn and pull out about six inches of yarn and make a loop over the top of the hangers. Pass the yarn ball under the opposite side of the hanger and up through the loop. Then pull the yarn tight to make a knot. Pull the knot snug up against the yarn that is already tied on the hanger.

5. If you are using two colors of yarn, make a loop on the other side of the hangers, pass your yarn ball under the hanger and through the loop, and pull tight.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 to tie yarn knots all the way around the hanger. Once you have reached the end, tie off the yarn in a knot and cut.

7. If you want, decorate your new hanger with a bow or pompom.
Your new wire hangers are now sturdy enough to hang a heavy coat. Not only that, but these hangers should last for a long time. My mom has some of these that she made more then 30 years ago that are in great condition.
If you don't need any more hangers, consider donating some to your local homeless or women's shelter. I know that mine are always asking for hanger donations.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake

For the last two years, I have made this pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving. It is a great alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie and a fun way to use up fall pumpkins. Not only is this cheesecake super easy, but it makes a stunning presentation that is sure to impress your Thanksgiving guests.


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted


3 packages cream cheese (three 8 oz. packages)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree (or one 16 oz. can)
2 eggs
2/3 cup undiluted evaporated milk ( one 5 oz. can)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


2 cups sour cream (one 16 oz. carton)
1 /4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in medium bowl. Press into the bottom and sides of a 10-inch spring form pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 6-8 minutes. Do not allow to brown.

For Cheesecake: Beat cream cheese, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in pumpkin, eggs and evaporated milk. Add cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg and beat until well combined. Pour into the crust and bake for 55 - 60 minutes at 350 degrees.

For Topping: While the cheesecake is baking, combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. Once the cheesecake is done, pull it out of the oven and spread the topping evenly over the hot cheesecake. Return it to the oven and allow it to bake for another 10 minutes. I usually turn the oven off when there is about 3 minutes of bake time remaining. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool completely before removing the sides of the springform pan. Garnish with graham cracker crumbs and orange zest if desired.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gleaming Silver

With Thanksgiving coming, I have been looking for non-toxic ways to clean my sterling and silverplate for the holiday. To me, Thanksgiving is about family and traditions. I love being able to pull out heirloom silver pieces to use for the holiday. Since, silver polish is one of the most toxic household cleaners, and it is used to clean items that we eat off of, non-toxic alternatives were necessary.

I started by browsing the internet and found several ideas to try. The first method is to use toothpaste as silver polish. The second method is to make a paste out of baking soda and water to polish the silver with. I decided to try out both methods and see which worked best.

First, I gathered up some tarnished silver and silver plate items. I grabbed a sterling ring, a couple of knives from the sterling silver service, and a silver plated tray my sister reciently found at a thrift store.

I also grabbed a punch ladle with a blackened sterling handle and began the experiment.

On the back of the silver plate tray, I used toothpaste on the right side and baking soda on the left. I employed an old toothbrush to polish with.

Both the baking soda and the toothpaste acceptably cleaned the tarnish from the tray. However, the toothpaste left a brighter shine. Since the baking soda also worked well, and is both a cheaper and greener option, I used baking soda to polish the rest of my silver; with gleaming results.

Although these methods were effective, silver tarnish can be prevented by frequent use. Since silver doesn't break or wear out, it can be used everyday. The frequent wash and wear will keep the silver bright. If you don't want to use your silver everyday, consider making special family dinners once a week or month were you can set a formal table.

In the alternative, when storing silver, it's polish can be maintained by storing the items in plastic bags. Some of my sterling servewear came with plastic sleaves that I kept to store them in when not in use. Otherwise, plastic shopping bags or produce bags can be reused to

Note: I also found that several posts where people have used a method where they use tin foil, boiling water, baking soda, and salt to instantly remove tarnish. However, this method does
strip a layer of silver from the items and can destroy silverplate and untimely wear sterling. Since destroying perfectly good items is neither green nor frugal, I can't recommend this method.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tried and True Green Cleaning Recipes

Conventional cleaning products are some of the most toxic items in your home. Not only do they effect the health of you and your family, but they cause environmental damage when we wash them down the drain. There is an increasing number of green cleaners available on the market, but, they can cost up to four times as much as their conventional counterparts.

But, there are alternatives to both of these options that are non-toxic, healthy, eco-friendly, and low cost. You can make them at home with items you probably already have.

Your Green Cleaning Arsenal:

Baking Soda: Sodium Bicarbonate -A natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and deodorizer. You have never seen anything that cuts soap scum and leaves a sparkle like this. Bonus: using baking soda regularly to clean will help keep your pipes clear as well.

White Vinegar: This acid is excellent for dissolving mineral deposits and removing gummy substances.

Castile Soap: A mild plant based soap with some super cleaning power. I use Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, a hemp oil based organic soap.

Borax: Sodium Borate - this is a base stronger then baking soda, but with the same cleaning properties. Use when baking soda just won't cut it. Find it with the laundry detergent in your local grocery store.

Washing Soda: Sodium Carbonate - a stronger base the baking soda and borax. Use to get stubborn stains out of your laundry and to make home made laundry detergent. Find it with the laundry detergent in your local grocery store. (sometimes called soda ash). Wear gloves when handling this product.

Hydrogen Peroxide: This weak acid has strong oxidizing properties and is a powerful bleaching agent.

Lemon Juice: Filled with citric acid, this juice can do more then make your home smell good.

Olive Oil: Penetrates and conditions wood surfaces.

Rubbing Alcohol: Great for cleaning glass surfaces, cds and dvds.

My Favorite All Purpose Cleaner:

My favorite all purpose cleaner recipe comes from Squeeky Green. I actually purchased a bottle of the cleaner at the Downtown Farmer's Market several years ago and have been reusing the bottle and the included recipe to mix up batches ever since. I use this cleaner to clean just about everything.

3 1/2 cups hot water
10 -20 drops essential oil (it came with peppermint and lemon and smells amazing)
2 to 3 oz. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap)

Combine ingredients and mix by gently shaking bottle.

I use this cleaner for counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, and cleaning wood, tile and linoleum floors. I have even used it to clean a glass top patio table , clean car interiors, and to scrub out litter boxes.

In The Kitchen:

Sink: - Scrub your sink with baking soda to make it shine.
- Use hydrogen peroxide to remove stubborn stains.

Counter tops:
- Use squeeky green all purpose cleaner for general cleanup.
- To disinfect, put white vinegar in a spray bottle, spray on counters and wipe down. Some people use a mix of 50 percent water and 50 percent vinegar. I just use straight vinegar.
- Use hydrogen peroxide to remove stains. Spray on a little peroxide and let it sit for about 30 minutes. If the stains are still there, repeat.

- Make your own dishwasher detergent using one tablespoon of baking soda and one tablespoon of borax. Add white vinegar as a rinse aid. The vinegar is necessary to prevent the detergent from leaving a film on the dishes.

Stove and Oven:
- Use squeeky green all purpose cleaner for general clean-up.
- Use baking soda to clean the oven. Sprinkle heavily on the bottom of the oven. Using a wet sponge, scrub the oven until clean. Rinse to remove all baking soda and soil.
- Make a paste from baking soda and water to scrub out the oven. For really tough clean-up, use borax in the place of baking soda. Be sure to use gloves when using borax, because it can strip the moisture from your skin.
Floors: -Use 1 cup vinegar to one gallon hot water to mop tile and linolium floors. Baked on Grease: Make a paste from baking soda and water and use to scrub off baked on grease from appliances and cookware.

In the Bathroom:

Sink and Bathtub: I like to sprinkle my tub and sink with baking soda and spray with squeeky green and scrub. Either one will get the job done, but nothing cleans soap scum like baking soda. It will make your porcelain sparkle.

Counter Tops: Use Squeeky Green to for general counter top clean up. To disinfect, spray down the counter top with vinegar and wipe clean. Some people use a mixture of 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water. I just use straight vinegar.

Mirror: Use white vinegar and spray on the mirror. Use a clean cloth to wipe clean. Some people use some mixture of vinegar and water to clean glass, but I found that it leaves streaks. Using straight vinegar leaves a streak free shine.

Add one cup vinegar to one gallon of hot water. Use to mop floor. It will clean and disinfect at the same time. Toilet: Spray the top, sides, and seat with vinegar and wipe clean. This will clean and disinfect the surfaces. For the bowl, sprinkle some baking soda on the sides of the bowl, then scrub with a toilet brush.

Mineral Buildup: Use straight vinegar to remove mineral buildup. Spray on vinegar and mineral deposits usually wipe clean. For more stubborn mineral deposits, soak in vinegar until the deposits dissolve.

Mold and Mildew: Baking Soda is naturally anti-fungal. Use baking soda to scrub away mold and mildew and prevent it from coming back.


Add several squirts of castile soap in hot water and use to wash away dirt and grime.

Dust and polish wood furniture using a mixture of 50 percent lemon juice and 50 percent olive oil. The lemon juice will clean dirt and grime away while the olive oil with polish and condition the wood. I like to put this mixture in a spray bottle


To deodorize, kill mold spores, and get a better clean: Sprinkle baking soda liberally on the carpet. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes and vacuum.
Note: I discovered this trick when my parents had black mold in their basement. After removing the effected materials, the black mold spores still gave us headaches and made us sick. I looked at the EPA website to find what will kill black mold, and found that baking soda had natural anti-fungal properties that would kill the mold. I sprinkled baking soda on the remaining carpets throughout the basement and let it sit for 30 minutes. I then vacuumed and was amazed. Not only were we no longer getting sick from the mold spores, but the carpets were deodorized and the cleanest we had seen in years. I discovered that the baking soda was also binding to the dirt in the carpet and allowing more of it to be picked up by the vacuum. I also used this trick to get the smell out of the carpets when my cat brought a bird in the house which died under the sofa.
Spots and Stains: Sprinkle borax on the spot and scrub the carpet with a dry scrubbing brush. Let stand 30 minutes and vacuum. Repeat if necessary. If the stain still remains, use a mixture of water and borax then rinse with water.

Wood Flooring:
Sweep with a broom to remove loose dirt. Use several squirts of castile soap in warm water to mop. Rinse with warm water.

Tile and Linoleum:
Sweep with a broom to remove loose dirt. Add one cup vinegar to a gallon of hot water to mop.

In the Laundry Room:

Conventional laundry detergents offer a myriad of environmental and health concerns. To start with, the cleansing soaps are petroleum based (ew!). Not using them can reduce our use of oil. Also, laundry detergents are full of phosphates. They are of concern after use when they enter waterways and prompt water plants and algae to overgrow choking out other aquatic life.

A couple of eco-friendly laundry detergents that we have found that are price competitively with conventional brands are:

Arm & Hammer Essentials Liquid Laundry Detergent - uses baking soda and plant based soaps. Phosphate free.
Kirkland Signature Laundry Detergent - Available at Costco this detergent is made without phosphates, dyes, or bleaches. Uses plant based soaps.

Laundry Enhancer - add 1/2 cup of Borax to your laundry loads for boosted performance

Rust Stains
- use lemon juice to remove rust stains from fabric. Soak the stained areas in lemon juice and allow to sit until the stain disappears. When I tried this, it took about an hour for the stains to be fully removed.

Blood Stains - use hydrogen peroxide to remove fresh blood stains from clothing. Pour hydrogen peroxide on the stained area and let it bubble. When the bubbling stops, wash out the clothing with hand soap and cold water. Repeat if necessary.

Sugar Scrubs - From the Kitchen to the Bath

So, lately I have been looking for safer and cheaper alternatives to the health and beauty products I use every day.

I started using the Basic Sugar Scrub recipe I found on Condo Blues. To that recipe I added a few drops of lavender essential oils and some dried lavender blossoms. Simple enough? Then I packed the scrub into reused glass jars and gave it to family members for birthday gifts.

I also tried some out. Now, I have purchased a lot of different scrubs of various sorts over the years and have used them all. None of them compared to this one. The felt nice to use, not to scratchy for my skin. It rinsed off easily and left my skin silky smooth and very soft. I usually use lotion on my legs after a bath to restore moisture, but after using this sugar scrub, my skin was moist enough that I didn't need any.

The best part is that I exfoliated and moisturized my skin without exposure to parabens, phthalates, or other toxic chemicals and without the use of any petroleum products.

I Quit Shampooing My Hair - Update

It has now been 12, almost 13, weeks since I quit shampooing my hair. Until I quit using shampoo, I didn't realize how much damage it was doing to my hair and how many other products I was purchasing and using to correct the damage. Seriously. I used to think that my hair was naturally very dry and needed a lot of moisture added in order to tame the frizzies and bring out my natural curl. I used to shampoo daily, then condition with a conditioner for dry hair. After my shower, I would use a daily leave in conditioner, an oil based hair serum and another hair serum to tame the frizz. Now, I no longer consider my hair to be dry.

What's Changed:

Everything has changed. Since I last posted about my no 'poo choice, I have started using a vinegar rinse on my hair. I use about 10 parts water to 1 part apple cider vinegar and pour it over my hair right before I get out of the shower. It leaves my hair sleek, shiny, and as detangled as a conditioner. Because of this, I have been able to ditch my daily conditioner and all of my styling products. That is something I never expected to happen. Not only that, but my hair looks and feels better then I ever did with the shampoo, conditioner, and styling products. It is moist enough on its own to not need daily moisture therapy. Instead, I have been using a hot olive oil treatment on my hair about once a month to keep the moisture.

My hair had also gotten less greasy. Now my hair is to the point that I only need to use the baking soda scrub on my scalp once per week. The rest of the time, I will rinse my hair in the shower and scrub my scalp with my fingers to get it clean. This leaves my hair looking freshly washed.

What I am Saving:

I calculate that I am saving about $25 per every six weeks or so on hair products. I calculated this using the cheaper grocery store brands of shampoo and conditioner. I am probably saving much more money than that because, in recent years, I have been purchasing increasingly expensive hair products to try to get my hair to look the way it does now.

I am also saving about 4 plastic bottles from the waste stream every six weeks. A few more because I am reusing some of my old plastic conditioner bottles for my vinegar rinse.

I am also saving my health from exposure to the toxic ingredients that were in my shampoo, conditioner, and styling products.

I am also saving the water ways from dangerous toxins from my products as well.

Since going no 'poo is better for my hair, better for my health, and better for the environment, I see no reason to go back.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


This applesauce is our preferred method for preserving apples. It is a great way to use up fallen or wormy apples. It is an excellent anytime treat and can be substituted for oil in cookies and cakes to make a yummy lowfat treat without altering the texture or flavor. I also love serving applesauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

This is how you make it:

Wash and quarter your apples. Remove stem and any bad spots. Core any wormy apples. Fill the biggest pot you can find with apples. When we are canning applesauce, we fill four big pots to make enough sauce for a batch.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot. Bring the water to a boil over high heat then reduce to medium and allow the apples to steam for about 45 minutes or until very soft. The apples with give off a lot of juice while they are steaming, so your pot will be about half full of liquid. Process the apples and liquid through a food mill. The food mill will remove the peels, seeds, and cores. Discard these on your compost pile.

Bring the applesauce to a boil and fill sterilized canning jars and seal with canning lids. Process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Tips: The color of your applesauce will depend on the type of apple you use. The pink color of the applesauce pictured comes from our beautiful black baccara red delicious apples. Golden Delicious apples make a pretty bright yellow sauce. Our other red delicious apples with a much lighter peel make a tan sauce.

Hot Olive Oil Deep Conditioning Treatment

Stop paying outrageous prices for deep conditioning treatments at the salon or for high prices deep conditioning products. You can deep condition your hair at home for pennies by using a hot olive oil treatment. Not only that, but olive oil is a completely non-toxic, eco-friendly, and good for your hair.

How to do it:

I take about 2 tablespoons of olive oil (you only need one for shorter hair; mine is really long) and heat it until it is warm to the touch. It can be heated in the microwave or by putting it in a small glass jar and setting it in a pan of hot water.

Once the oil is hot, I apply it to my hair and work it through. Then, I will twist up my hair and secure it with a monster clip and leave it for about 10 minutes. Deep conditioner should only be applied to the same parts of your hair that you apply a daily conditioner to; anything you can gather into a ponytail.

After 10 minutes, I wash out the excess oil. Since I stopped using shampoo on my hair, I use a mild baking soda mixture to remove the excess oil. I use about a teaspoon of baking soda about 1/3 cup water. I then follow up with a vinegar rinse.

Since I have very dry natural curls, I have been applying a hot olive oil treatment to my hair about once per month. I has left my hair moisturized and shiny. I don't think I will every pay for another deep conditioning product again.

Apfelkuchen (German Apple Cake)

I discovered this recipe years ago in an apple feature in Country Living magazine. It has quickly become a family tradition and a well loved treat during apple season.

4-6 medium sized apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fresh or dried cranberries (optional)

Select apples without bad spots. Peel apples, then slice in half and remove the core (I like to use a melon baller for this). Score the each apple half several times. Sprinkle apples with the lemon juice and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until it is light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Gently fold fold flour into the batter. Spread batter into a greased 10-inch round cake pan or similar sized pan. Arrange apples decoratively on top of the batter and sprinkle with cranberries. Bake for one hour at 325 degrees. Enjoy.
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dried or fresh cranberries

Apple Cake

This recipe is a family favorite during apple season. It pairs excellently with tea and can be frosted with cream cheese frosting if desired.

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
2 cup chopped, unpeeled apples
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine flour, sugar, soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Stir in buttermilk, butter and egg just until combined. Fold in apples and walnuts. Spoon into a greased tube pan or Bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes until turning out onto a serving plate. Can be eaten plain or frosted. Enjoy!

Apple Crisp

This super easy recipe originally came from a children's cookbook and is simple enough that anyone can make it.

4-5 large apples - Red Delicious or Golden Delicious work well
1/2 cup packed Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Peel apples and remove cores and any bad spots. Thinly slice them and spread evenly into a greased 8x8 (or similar sized) baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, butter, and cinnamon with a pastry blender until crumbly. Stir in the oats and nuts and sprinkle the mixture over the apples. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until the apples are tender.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stress Free and Waste Free Holiday Wrapping

About 12 years ago, my mom and I were discussing the hassle and waste of holiday gift wrap. My mom wanted pretty presents under her tree that matched her color scheme, but, she hated the stress of gift wrapping. We also lamented the waste and the difficulty in reusing wrapping paper and finding boxes from year to year. In addition, we were looking for a way to store blown glass Christmas ornaments that I had recently brought from Germany.

Thinking about these issues, I came up with an idea. That year, I took the boxes we had and wrapped the top and bottom separately in silver and white paper to match my mom's Christmas tree. I then attached wired ribbon to the box lids with staples. This way, the box lids could be removed without undoing the gift wrapping. We wrapped our Christmas presents in the boxes and stored our ornaments in them, ready to pull out the next year.

For the last 12 years, we have reused these boxes; adding a few every year. I love to bring them out and see my favorites. Most of my family brings their unwrapped gifts to my parent's home to wrap in our Christmas boxes. Eventually, I added some homemade gift tags I made from reused card stock and gift wrap scraps. Since the family exchanges gifts with each other every year, we can reuse the same gift tags. We attach the tags to the gifts by tapping them to the ribbons. That way, the wrapping paper doesn't get damaged.

Although the Winter Holiday season is not here yet, I thought I would share this idea with enough time to plan your own stress free and waste free Holiday wrapping.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bavarian Apple Torte

This super easy torte is quickly becoming a family favorite.

1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour

Combine and press into the bottom and about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of an ungreased springform pan. ( My springform is MIA, so my photo shows this torte in a 10 inch, extra deep, pie dish).


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and beat until smooth. Spread over the crust.


4 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup almonds

Combine apples, cinnamon, and sugar. Layer over cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle almonds over top. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Cool before removing the sides of the springform pan. Serve at room temperature.