Showing posts with label Handmade - Gifts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Handmade - Gifts. Show all posts

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Candle Making

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Today my friend and I, with our nine children (between us) made all sorts of candles from beeswax - most of it from her beehives.

Firstly, we gathered materials outdoors - old tables, aprons, gas burners, old pots and bowls, jars and tins, newspaper, pop sticks and blu tack.  With so many people, mostly children, candle-making is a messy activity!  We also had blocks of beeswax, some offcuts of beeswax sheets and some wick.

Beforehand, we had a look at a candle-making book and searched online for methods to try.  We'd made rolled candles before, so that was the easiest way to begin.

While we set up the pots to melt wax, the children rolled small tapered candles from triangles of beeswax sheet.  They got the hang of it quickly and finished off the whole box of sheets in no time.

Next we tried dipping candles.  It was a slow process and the adults tired of it very quickly, but the children were fascinated by the lumpy-bumpy results of their dipping!  Some of us dipped some tapered candles, to fill the gaps in the beeswax sheets so they'll burn longer, and to give a different finish.

A sample of the results of our candle-making.

We also made a couple of candles in moulds, and it gave the neatest, fastest result.  Because we have access to a lot of wax, we'll be hunting down some more moulds for our next candle-making day!

It's great fun to make things with children.  Their focus on the process, not the product, helps us lighten up and enjoy the activity more.

Have you made anything new lately?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

We're Different And That's OK

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday, my email provider had a front page article about the biggest mistakes people make when giving Christmas gifts; totally out of my character, I clicked on the article and began to read it. Lo and behold, one of the biggest mistakes, according to the author, anyone can make is to give homemade gifts, particularly knitted items. Apparently such things are ghastly and embarrassing for the giver and receiver. Who knew?!

When I got over my initial one second check in (I had just, the hour before, finished putting together a few little handmade gifts) I enjoyed a little laughter at the hilarity of it all. Not only did the article suggest homemade things are totally inappropriate, but so is anything useful, including some items of clothing, giftcards etc. And I began to think of the hilarity of it all, one person, who came across as incredibly spoiled and pampered, a person who is probably quite young and used to having money spent on them, is dictating what is acceptable/normal/OK. Well, here's the truth, his/her norm is certainly not my norm.

And there in that little article was the theme of my life over the last few months. As I navigate motherhood and find what other parents view as normal is vastly different to our life and the norm I want for my children. As I chat with colleagues and hear their views on necessities (a family can not live in less than 2500 square feet, apparently, nor can they function without TVs in their van), I've come to really think about being different and being OK with being different.

We are all on a journey. In my teenage years I desperately wanted to fit in and truth be told, for most of those years didn't. Sometimes, when I compare "notes" with the lives others have, I fleetingly think how nice it would be to have what they have, because in the throws of it, we are all human beings with needs and emotions. But the truth is, I'd rather be different. I'd rather put thought into what comes into our home, than accept the toys a manufacturer tells me my children need. I'd rather give money to help causes, then fret over which new car/van/TV/laptop to buy. I'd rather spend a couple of hours making a dishcloth, then pick up 10 for $2 and I'd certainly rather have to shop at 4 or 5 local shops/farmers stalls, than go to one big conglomerate and feel proud of how much more I could get for the same money.

Sometimes being different is challenging. Sometimes I can feel too different. Sometimes it would be easier not to think critically about each choice, not to have to wonder where something came from, or how its production impacted others. Sometimes it would be lovely to simply roll up at a particular fast food joint and be done with dinner in 2 minutes flat. But the truth is, 99.9999% of the time, I am totally head over heals in love with this different life, bad gift giving (knitted items!) and all. My greatest hope, is that 20 years from now, my children are OK with being different too.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

No sew doily scarf

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

Well, its proven to be a cold winter here in Australia's capital. While the temps have been around the 10 degree celsius mark (about 50 degrees farenheit), freezing winds with a chill factor of about -1 C (or 30 F)have been sweeping through much of the southern east coast.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this easy, frugal (and green) idea for a scarf. Basically, grab a few doilies together.

Tie the doilies end to end with a ribbon.

And voila! A scarf.

I wish you all a fun weekend ahead. :)

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Soap Making Tutorial

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I have been making soap with the able assistance of my good lady wife Kim since January this year, and we find the finished product wonderful to use.   We have also been holding soap making workshops for our Sustainable Living Group free of charge.

As I said, back in January we embarked on the giddy world of lye, vegetable and essential oils, with half a hand of botanicals thrown in. We bought a cold press soap kit from a local soap supplier for $45 that had everything in it to make the first 20 odd bars.  I am a bit of a kit bloke, mainly because I like to have everything supplied to start with and then find the cheap alternatives afterwards.  This is similar to my cheese making hobby.  I started off with a simple kit and it grew from there. 

There are two types of soap making methods that we researched, melt and cold press.  We choose cold press because you do not have to keep going back to a specific supplier to get the necessary ingredients.  Most of them you can buy from local suppliers, like the supermarket in the case of oils and the lye, or caustic soda from the hardware store. 

I have had such a fantastic response on my own blog that I was encouraged to make a video tutorial on the process we used.  We utilise various sustainable harvested vegetable oils and lye to make the soap.  The good thing is that we have the raw materials readily available that are grown in Australia and it is cheap to make as well.  Here is our recipe;

Gavin and Kim's Bubbly Cream Soap Recipe
makes about 1.2kg

300gm Olive Oil
300gm Rice Bran Oil
300gm Coconut Oil
100gm Sunflower Oil
140gm Sodium Hydroxide (lye/caustic soda)
380gm water
25gm Fragrance Essential Oil (the choice is yours)
Soap colouring to your personal preference.

So sit back and enjoy our soap making tutorial.  I hope everyone including those who already make soap in this method gets a tip or two from it.

Part One;

Part Two;

If anyone has any questions, please let me know via comment.  Also, if anyone has any other soap making tips using this method, I am more than happy for them to share.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Easy Candied Nuts

by Kate
Living a Frugal Life

Originally uploaded by elana's pantry

I'm a pretty do-it-yourself kind of woman when it comes to food. If something tempts me at a farmer's market, grocery store, or on a restaurant menu, or if I sample something delicious that a friend has made, I'll usually take a stab at making it myself at home. There's a lot to be said for intrepid experimentation in the kitchen. This winter I seem to be coming across candied nuts everywhere I turn. They're quite trendy at the moment, commonly paired with dried cranberries in a spinach salad. Of course, they're also perennial mainstays in the bowls of nibbly appetizers at holiday parties. 'Tis the season, I suppose.

So I decided to try candied nuts at home too. Nuts are generally expensive enough on their own. No need to pay even more for a little superficial processing. What I found out is that making candied nuts is surprisingly easy to do. And the amount of sugar in standard recipes can be drastically reduced if you're not aiming for a super-sweet party treat, or if you simply don't need lots of extra sugar in your diet. The recipe I've given below makes for somewhat sweet nuts, but even less sugar can be used and the "candy" coating will taste mostly of the spices with only the faintest sweetness.

Start with a small egg if you can get one. You'll only need one egg white to make a fairly large batch of candied nuts. Also start with raw nuts, preferably whole or halves. They don't need to have the skins removed. You can mix them in whatever proportions you prefer. I like a mixture of pecan, almonds, and hazelnuts, but many other types will work nicely. The spices can be tailored to your own tastes, but I've listed a combination I like that doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the nuts themselves.

Easy Candied Nuts

1 egg, preferably small
1/4 cup sugar (~60 ml)
a scant 1/8 tsp. cayenne powder
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
10-12 ounces raw nuts (280-340 g)

Preheat the oven to 300 F/150 C. Line a large baking sheet, or two smaller baking sheets, with baker's parchment, or grease them well.

Separate the egg and set aside the yolk for another purpose. Put the white into a small mixing bowl and beat it with an electric mixer just until it becomes opaque. Add the sugar and spices and beat for another minute or two until it is quite foamy. Mix 10 ounces of the nuts into the beaten egg white mixture, stirring well so that all surfaces of the nuts are well coated with the liquid. If there is an excess of the egg white mixture, add the remaining 2 ounces of nuts to the bowl and stir to distribute the coating over all the nuts evenly.

Arrange the nuts in an even layer on the baking sheet, separating them as well as possible. Bake them in the oven for 35 minutes. If you are using two smaller baking sheets, reverse their positions top to bottom and also rotate them 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature after baking. When fully cooled, store them in a tightly sealed jar in a cabinet. They will keep for two weeks, if they last that long.

If you want a really festive and indulgent version of these nuts, double the sugar. Play around with the spices, substituting nutmeg for the cardamom, and cloves for the cayenne. Or try adding vanilla seeds scraped from inside a vanilla bean for a decadent treat. The egg yolk from this recipe could go into a lovely homemade garlic aioli for crudites or polishing off the holiday roast in sandwiches. It could also be used in a batch of lemon curd, in ravioli filling, rice pudding, or even tempera paint!

The nice thing about these nuts is that I can rip off those fancy restaurant presentations by including them in my salads at home. For next year, I'm also adding candied nuts to my list of homemade goodies that can be given as holiday gifts. And there's still time to use these at a New Year's party. Just about everyone can enjoy them since they're vegetarian, gluten-free, and can be integrated with either meat or dairy kosher meals. For those watching their sugar intake, you can cut the sugar back even farther from the 1/4 cup I listed in the recipe above. Enjoy!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Tasty candied popcorn

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I posted on my regular blog about my memories of eating Cracker Jack popcorn as child. Not really liking the taste of the commercial version as an adult, I started tweaking recipes for caramel corn until I finally came up with a tastier version. Commonly molasses is used, along with high fructose corn syrup. I was looking for a different flavor and definitely a way to leave out the HFCS. Besides the obligatory popcorn, you will need popcorn, nuts, butter, brown sugar, salt, cream of tartar, honey, espresso powder or instant coffee, and baking soda.

This is pretty tasty, and makes a great last minute gift. Easy to make with ingredients on hand, you may want to make a double batch.

Instead of peanuts, I substituted filberts because they are locally grown, and I love them. Any nut will work. Or leave them out. I chopped mine coarsely.

Add nuts to unseasoned popped corn. Mix. You will need 6 quarts of popped corn. To make the mixing easy, I divided it between two large bowls. Have this part ready before making the candy part.

In a deep, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, honey, salt, cream of tartar and espresso powder.

Bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent scorching. If you like to use a candy thermometer cook the mixture to 260 degrees F or to hard ball stage.

Remove from heat and add baking soda. The mixture will foam up.

Divide the mixture between the two bowls of popcorn, and stir quickly to distribute the candy on the popcorn.

Bake at 200 degrees F, in 2 well oiled jelly roll pans, or lipped baking sheets for 1 hour. Stirring 2 - 3 times during the baking.

Cool, and break into small clusters and store in an airtight container.


6 quarts unseasoned popped popcorn
2 cups chopped nuts (optional)
2 cups brown sugar
1 - 2 Tablespoons espresso powder (optional)
1/2 cup honey
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Divide popcorn and nuts between two large bowls. Oil baking pans and set aside.

In a deep, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, honey, espresso powder, cream of tartar and salt. Bring mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. If using a candy thermometer cook until thermometer reads 260 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. The mixture will foam up with the addition of the baking soda.

Pour the syrup mixture over the popped corn, half in each bowl. Stir the popcorn and caramel together quickly to mix. Spread the coated popcorn evenly on the baking pans and bake for 1 hour, stirring about 3 times and swapping pans if you need to, to ensure even baking. Remove from oven, cool and break up large pieces if necessary. Store in airtight container.

Warning: It's hard to make just one batch - Happy Holidays!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Crafting Christmas decorations

by Francesca

I bought our first artificial Christmas tree five years ago. It wasn’t an impromptu purchase: I’d already decided on it 11 months before, when, as had happened every year, our Christmas tree once again died before I could transplant it. I’d always bought trees with a root ball, planning to transplant them after the holidays, but I only succeeded once, and even that lone survivor died inexplicably several months later, during the summer. And in my part of the world, a dead Christmas tree creates waste: it produces minimal firewood, and you can’t compost it very easily unless you own a proper shredder.

At first, my husband objected to the idea of an artificial tree, saying he’d miss the natural feel and scent of a real tree. And although, living at the edge of the woods with three kids coming in and out of the house all day, I feel like I’m spending most days trying to keep nature out of our house, I could see his point: the Christmas season is also about celebrating the dormant and yet living nature around us. But the idea of not killing a tree every year did appeal to him, and eventually we struck a balance between nature and, well . . . the unnatural (aka a plastic tree).

Nowadays, when we decorate our house for Christmas, in addition to our artificial tree, we also cut a few boughs from the local umbrella pines and drape the hearth with them, or hang them like wreaths on our doors. It never ceases to amaze me how long these branches stay fresh: they continue to emanate their fresh, green, aromatic scents for weeks. And whereas our old Christmas trees, which had roots and soil, would hardly survive until the end of the holiday season, despite regular watering, these fresh-cut boughs never seem to die.

In the past month I've been struck by the simple, creative ways that other bloggers have found to use nature to decorate their houses for Christmas. I've asked a few of them to share their projects in this space (all photos by the authors).

Trinsch, a Danish mom of three who lives in Israel, used a red wool sweater that was mistakenly put into a hot wash and got felted, to make felt hearts, and decorated a striking branch for the holiday season. I'm fascinated by the contrast between the red felt hearts and the stark, bare branch.

I love how Nicola salvaged some wood from fallen eucalyptus trees at her daughter’s school in Northern California and used it for crafting. Among other projects, she used the eucalyptus bark and a repurposed glass jar to make this amazing Bark Vase.

In cold and snowy Poland, Isabelle, who is French, made a wonderful garland by stringing mandarin peels together with pine cones she'd bought at a local market. It’s a garland that grows, because her family of four adds the peel of each mandarin they eat to the garland - until they use up the last of their pine cones!

Gardenmama in rural northeastern US used beeswax to craft sculpted figures and candles. She also made these beautiful beeswax ornaments, and in her tutorial she describes the intense incense-like aromas they gave off during the making.

I was very inspired by these handmade ways to decorate our houses for the upcoming holiday season, which turn simple, natural and repurposed materials into beautiful, artistic decorations.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Gift Tags From Fabric Scraps

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I'm not really much of a crafter. I don't spend much time accessorizing my house, and I don't like to spend money unless there's really a good reason. But. I also don't like to waste things, so I put effort into finding a use for things that most people would consider scrap or garbage.

During my recent sewing competence project, my sewing mentor encouraged me to tear the edges of the fabric I had purchased in order to start with more or less straight edges. This just about killed me as it both made my gift wraps smaller and produced small pieces of fabric that weren't going to be good for much of anything. Still, I went along with her meticulous approach to sewing, fully aware that she was teaching me the proper way of doing things. But I couldn't bear to throw away the scraps, so she sent me home with a small bag of narrow remnants, including some of hers which she otherwise would have thrown away.

I decided to find some use for the scrap pieces. Some of the really narrow pieces I think I will use to bind up bundles of herbs or flowers for drying. They'll look nice hanging from the beam in our dining room. But the scraps that are about an inch wide, I'm using to make decorative gift tags. Since they're made out of some of the same fabrics that went into the gift wraps, I will have gift tags to match, if I wish. Or I could mix and match swatches as suits my mood.

All I needed for this project was a piece of cardstock, the fabric scraps, scissors, a piece of paper (in a contrasting color) to write on, and some glue to assemble all the elements. When the gift tags were done I used an office hole punch to make a hole in each one. It took very little time to assemble a large assortment of these tags. If I were being really, really green I would put the gift recipient's name on the tag in pencil, so that it could be erased and the tag re-used.

If you pursue sewing projects, or know someone who does, perhaps you can use this idea to personalize your holiday gifts this year, and prevent waste at the same time.

What creative uses have you found for fabric scraps or other waste materials?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Make a Pillowcase Apron

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Once you start getting into the simple lifestyle, sooner or later you're going to want an apron. So make one - they're a perfect project for beginning sewers. I have a favorite granny bib-style, H-back, one that I usually wear. But I like having a couple extra aprons around too - guest aprons, you might say. My sister and her family usually visit for Thanksgiving. She loves it when I offer her an apron to wear too. It just makes her feel more "in the spirit", she says.

As well as for yourself, and maybe your guests, consider making an extra apron or two for Tie One On Day. Started by EllynAnne Geisel, it's a way to put the "give" back in Thanksgiving: "Participation is simple. On the day before Thanksgiving, November 25th this year, pause in the preparation of your own meal, wrap a loaf of bread or other baked good in an apron, tuck a prayer or note of encouragement in the pocket, and deliver the wrapped bundle to someone without your bounty - a neighbor, friend or family member in need of physical or spiritual sustenance, a bit of recognition, or just a kind word."

A quick and easy way to make a cute half-apron is to start with a pillowcase. Nice ones can usually be found at your local thrift store for $1 or less. I look for ones with some kind of different print or decoration around the opening end. That end makes the skirt of your apron - cut it between 16 and 20 inches long for a nice length. I measure where I want to make my cuts, making little snips in the edge. Then I fold and smooth the pillowcase over at a snipped place, slipping my scissors inside the fold and cutting across to make straight cuts. The middle cross-cuts make the waistband and ties. Cut two equally sized strips 3-4 inches wide (I'm using a King case here, so I had enough material to cut three. I used one as a center piece and then trimmed half off the other two. Using all three would make ties long enough to wrap around and tie in front - would be cute too). Cut the sewn side seam off the skirt and waistband/tie pieces, and open them up at the fold. The closed end will make the two pockets, so don't cut the pillowcase seams on that piece.

Fold the raw side edges of the skirt over twice to the wrong side, press, and sew down.

Make the pockets by cutting the top corner parts of the case into two equal squares or rectangles (discard the center piece). Turn the corner inside-out, flatten, and stitch down the remaining two open sides, leaving a couple of inches left unstitched to be able to turn right-side out. Clip off the tip of your corner, just beyond your stitches, turn right-side out, (then use a crochet hook or unclicked click pen to push the corners out to a nice point) and press flat, tucking the unsewn part evenly to the inside. Repeat for the other pocket.

Lay the skirt out flat and position the pockets an inch or two on either side of the center, 4-6 inches down from the top. Try different positions until you have something you like best - maybe with the pattern running perpendicular to the skirt's or putting the pockets on an angle. Just make sure that the unstitched part of the pocket edge isn't part of the top edge (top-stitch it to close it up if you just have to have it on the top part). Pin in place, then sew down three sides close to the edge of the pocket, leaving the top open. I like to spin the pocket around and run a second line of stitching just inside the first (reinforcement - don't want to be losing anything through a hole in your pocket). You might like the look of using a contrasting color of thread too.

Join the ends of the waistband/ties, sewing with right sides together. Press the seam edges open, and then fold one long side over towards the wrong side, and press. Find the center of the long piece, then lay the long piece right-side UP on your work surface with the folded side farther away from you.

Lay the skirt, also right-side UP, on top of the long piece, matching centers of both pieces and the raw edges closest to you, and put a pin in the center through both pieces. You can just pin the pieces together flat, but I like to gather or pleat the skirt a bit. If you want to gather yours, measure out equal distances either side of your center pin on the long narrow piece, and pin the outside edges of the skirt there (4-8 inches closer to center is usually good). Keeping the narrow piece laid down straight and flat, then make the skirt part lay flat by making up the slack pinning down pleats or gathers, keeping the raw edge of both pieces even. Mirror what you do to one side of center on the other side too. Sew skirt to band (I find it easiest to have the skirt part up when sewing too, so that I can do any final adjustments to my pleats or gathers - just keep the band part underneath lying flat).

Fold the bottom edge of the waist ties up and press. Fold the top edge down, matching the folded edges together on the ties, and covering the line of stitching on the front of the skirt, and pin. Tuck the raw ends of the ties to the inside and pin them too, making a nice corner.

Top stitch the end of a tie, along the folded edges, across the top front of the skirt, along the folded edge of the other tie and across the end. A final quick pressing and you're done!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Wanted: Simple, Green and Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone!

With only 8 weeks till Christmas, it seems to me that talk everywhere is starting to turn towards gift ideas. There seems to be one major difference with the talk this year (at least in my part of the world). It seems to me that more and more people are starting to think more mindfully of presents and wanting to avoid over-consumption.

Whether its the GFC or its a heightened awareness of environmental issues, it seems to me that more people are wanting to make more of an effort to have a more simple, green and frugal Christmas.

So I thought this community here would like to compile a list of simple, green and frugal gift ideas!

I'll start!

1. Give a Charity Gift - This is my personal favourite and first choice for Christmas. You've probably heard of this type of gift as "gifts of hope". This is when you buy a cow or school books for those in dire poverty and you get a card about your gift and you give that card to someone as their Christmas gift. These type of gifts range start from around $10. My charity of choice for this type of gift is Oxfam Unwrapped. Perhaps all the adults in your family would like to go in together to buy something "big" and have the card as part of a communal Christmas photo album/journal? The idea of the album/journal is that every year, you have the Charity Gift card and everyone who put in for it writes down their hopes for that year and their general thoughts about Christmas. This album/journal then gets passed around every year and everyone can review their hopes and hopes together.

2. Use saltdough to make figurines, game board pieces or air fresheners. Salt dough is something the kids can help make as well.

3. Hamper of homemade recipes. This can range from the edible biscuits/cookies or jams to non-edible. I especially loved Heather's idea of giving an all natural cleaning supplies basket as a gift!

4. Make paper. You can give this as stationery or use the paper for cards. Its easy and a great use for all those spare bits of paper lying around in the house!

Homemade Stationery Pack I gave as a gift to a friend.

I'll turn this post now over to you.

I've added a widget below so you can post directly on to this blog post. Where it says "Link Title", just type in your simple, green and frugal Christmas gift idea. You can add your blog or a link to more information about that item as your url.

So, what is your simple, green and frugal Christmas gift idea?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

L. L. L. Limoncello!!

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

Exerpted and edited from two previous blog entries. Autumn is around the corner here in the Northern hemisphere, but I thought a nod to Spring was in order for my friends in the South. Cheers!

I tried a new experiment yesterday. It's something that I've wanted to do for some time and yet, somehow, after I brought home the fresh Meyer lemons from my moms tree a couple of months ago, I didn't think of it.These, I'm telling you, are the best damn lemons I've ever had! Every time I've cut them, or used them for anything I am over whelmed with the sheer lemoneyness (is that a word? It is now!) of them.

So as I was saying, I brought home a big bag of these from my visit with the folks 2 months ago. I love them so much I wanted to make sure that I used them for something that would really capture the essence of them. The problem was, I mostly use lemons in the Summer with our fresh fruits and veggies and they just aren't there yet.

Then, last week, while A~ and I were at the liquor store we were talking and joking and then mentioned Limoncello and BANG! Brainstorm! I can't think of anything that would better capture the sweet lemoneyness (yeah, there's that new word again...feel free to use it anytime...) than some delicious homemade Limoncello. I found a pretty easy recipe online that even I could do on my own and that I needed nothing special to do.I used a regular potato peeler to peel the rind off the lemons into thin but wide strips of the zest from 10 lemons.

I later made sure that I juiced the lemons so as not to waste any of the lemons whatsoever. That will be getting concentrated with some sugar into a special summer treat to make some lemonade with.I added all the lemon zest peels into a large bowl and poured a full new 750 ml bottle into the bowl on top of them. Next I used a potato masher to give the peels a light pressing, not enough to crush them just enough to make me feel like I did a little work you know?

The recipe is as follows:
10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

You can see that there's a good bit of water and sugar added after the lemons have had a chance to steep in the Vodka for 4 days. I'll need to make a simple syrup from the sugar and water in a couple of days and then cool it completely before adding it to the strained out Vodka. Then I can refrigerate it for easily a month.

I have to add to this that I did give it a little "one day" test tonight by adding a bit of it to a little sugar and water just to check if it's doing anything. Oh man I can't wait!! It was soooooo goood! Wish I could have you all up for a visit and a sample. Oh yeah, and by the way in case you were wondering how these lemons held up for two whole months in the fridge. They were literally no different than any fresh lemons that I may have picked up in the store the day before. It truly was a testament to how long fresh lemons can last. Hmm? makes me wonder how old those lemons in the store are?

By the power of the blogoshpere, let's jump forward to four days later....

Yes, that fast, it is completed. I steeped it for four days, then strained and added the cooled simple syrup mixture and voila. Limoncello. I decided to take the pictures outside to really give you an idea of the beautiful irridenscent glow of the finished product. It looks deeply golden indoors, but with some light turns the most pale, fragile yellow. It really is a liquor made just for spring.
Drink it chilled, whether just refrigerated or nearly frozen, and you have a treat for after dinner that you'll truly enjoy. Particularly if you're a lover of all things lemon like me.
Here's to life.
Here's to Spring.
Here's to you!!


Wednesday, 15 April 2009

All Natural Cleaning Supply Basket - As a Gift!

Beauty That Moves
Spring has sprung here in the Northern Hemisphere! I think in my next post I will share a little bit about our vegetable garden attempts on this little urban homestead. You may have noticed most of my writing here at the co-op reflects the simple life within the home. For me, it is important to embrace and work with what I have rather than to ignore simple living until the right plot of land comes along. So I tend to bring a lot of topics from the kitchen, the laundry room, and the craft room. These are the areas where I can make the most difference in the simplicity as well as the vibrancy of our day to day living.

This time of year always seems to bring with it many invitations to gatherings that gift giving is a part of. It always makes me feel so conflicted. While it is wonderful to give something special, I have a really difficult time with the stuff that takes over these sort of occasions. As I was restocking my own cleaning supplies over the weekend, I thought... what a lovely Bridal Shower, Birthday, or Mother's Day gift a homemade, all natural cleaning supplies basket would be!

Now, I know you are all a pretty easy audience, each of you would be thrilled with such a gift! But what about other people? Not everyone spends their afternoon searching the web for green and frugal living ideas, hard to believe but true! Here's what I think... I think people from all walks of life are waking up. I think even your girlfriend with her weekly pedicures, who has the perfect haircut and correct handbag is becoming tired of overspending, over consuming and exposing loved ones to harsh chemicals. I think such a person would actually appreciate the help in getting started on this path. And I really do believe we each start with one single step. Why not let that first step be cleaning supplies? It'll cost you next to nothing to put this together. I had the basket already on hand (I tend to pick up extra baskets when thrifting to keep on hand). I made the labels with permanent colored marker and covered them with clear packing tape for extra protection. Of course something created on the computer would be great too.

Don't forget to include all of the recipes with your cleaning kit, this is the most important part! (I happened to have some very old self-laminating supplies here at home, so these are laminated.) By doing so, you have not only provided a friend with the inspiration to be a little greener, you have empowered them with the simple tools and information to carry on with this practice for years to come. Maybe you could even include your favorite list of simple living resources on the web!

All of my recipes are variations of the ones Rhonda provides on her website. I add essential oils to my supplies, a personal preference.

I hope you find this idea useful, and perhaps it'll produce a few spin-off ideas of your own - do share!! I always appreciate your ideas...

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Healing Cottonwood Salve

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

A well stocked medicine cabinet should include some homemade soothing, and healing ointments and salves. Making your own salve allows you to control the ingredients, and keeps the expense down. A common salve that is easy to make is Calendula salve, but I'm going to show you how to make Cottonwood Salve today.

Supplies needed:
Dormant Cottonwood Buds
Olive Oil (organic, extra virgin is best for your skin)
wide mouth jar to make infused oil
assorted small jars and lids for salve
double boiler or a small and large kettle and canning rings

A popular European and Native American remedy for burns, it is just as useful today. Containing salicylates (think aspirin) it is also useful for pain, sprains and inflamation. Known for its natural antiseptic properties, it also helps with tissue regeneration.

Commonly known as Cottonwood or Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera, Populus trichocarpa.
A tall vigorous tree, look for it next to rivers, lakes and streams or in any moist area. If you are not sure if you have found the right tree, rub a leaf between your fingers, and an aromatic sweet scent will tell you if you have hit paydirt. But, mark the location, as the buds need to be gathered while the tree is dormant, in late winter through early spring.

How to gather buds from a 100' tree? Let Mother Nature help you. With cottonwood being a somewhat brittle tree, winter wind and ice storms will take their toll, and bring down limbs for you. I am not too keen on widespread wildcrafting, because if everybody is out foraging, the natural landscape will suffer, but Cottonwood trees are prolific and can take losing a cup of buds here and there. Look for tight, pointy buds that haven't started to open yet. They should be a little sticky and very aromatic. The scent is heavenly.

There are many ways to make infusions. The easiest is to place your buds in a wide mouth jar and completely cover with oil, so the buds do not mold. I prefer not to use heat, and I leave the buds in oil for a year, in the dry pantry. If you are in a hurry, you can heat the oil and buds gently and strain when the oil smells strong enough to you.

Cottonwood buds are antioxidant so no vitamin E or gum benzoin is needed. Good olive oil also is not prone to rancidity, so this infused oil keeps at least a year or more and is useful in itself. The addition of beeswax adds to the keeping qualities of the cottonwood, so you can expect this salve to keep several years.

Cast of characters: Beeswax, and infused cottonwood oil.

Decanted oil, I used wide mouth pint canning jars. That way I know at a glance how much oil I have, so I can measure my beeswax accordingly.

I wanted to make a firm salve, and the general salve recipe is 1 oz of beeswax to 5 oz of oil. Firm salves form a protective barrier, softer salves (less beeswax) will allow for more absorbency of the herbal properties. If this is your first salve making experience, use half the recommended amount of beeswax, when the wax and oil have melted, pour a little into one of your containers and let it set up. If you like the consistency, you're done. If it is too soft, reheat and add the rest of the beeswax and continue.
To get my beeswax down to a manageable size, I chopped it with a hatchet. I use beeswax in my some of my soap recipes too, so I can eyeball 1 oz sizes. I do weigh the beeswax though, after I have it in smaller pieces.

I made a double boiler with a large kettle, and some canning rings. The oil and beeswax should be gently heated to preserve the herbal qualities of the cottonwood.

While the oil and wax is heating, wash and dry your jars and have them ready for pouring. For this batch, I used an assortment of jars: 4 oz jelly jars, wide mouth 1/2 pint, recycled mustard jars (for the barn) and a real salve jar so I can share some salve as a gift. Always try to have a extra jar or two, I always do this when I am canning too, just so I don't have to go looking for one more jar when I have hot food waiting. Put down some newpaper too, if you pour like I do.

Pour the warm oil into your jars...

While the salve is cooling, you can wipe your pan to clean it. If the salve in the pan starts to harden just put the pan back in the water bath to remelt and wipe again, and then you can wash with warm soapy water.

When the salve has cooled, you can scrape the paper, (if you're as messy as me) and the jar threads and add the cleanings to your jars. Let cool overnight, or all day and wipe the rims clean and put the lids on for long term storage. Too soon and it may sweat and add moisture to your jars.

Once you have made and used some of this salve, you will love it!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Handmade gifts for little children (for those of us who aren't naturally crafty).

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

If you have small children like me, the pressure to buy the latest and greatest "whatever" can be irritating to say the least when you are trying to live more simply. Adding birthdays for their little friends into the mix can present an even trickier situation - or at least it is for me. Having my obviously home made gift opened in amongst a plethora of expensive plastic whatnots was quite confronting for me to begin with - not because I was worried what the child thought, but what the other parents thought of it! I needn't have worried though because the response has been overwhelmingly positive, in part I suppose because handmade gifts are so rare these days and in part because they have reminded the other parents of similar (cherished) presents they received as a child.

I am not a gifted artist or crafter by any stretch of the imagination (I have already posted a number of homemade children's' gift ideas here which don't require sewing skills), but I have been surprised by how many projects are available for free on the internet that even a sewing dummy like me can make. The hardest part really, is finding out what the likes and dislikes of the birthday child are; anything tailored to his or her likes are pretty much always going to be a hit with the child, and I have found that the parents genuinely appreciate the time you've taken to make something specifically for their child.

A cookie jar, apron, spoon and recipe for a 6 year old boy (and Dr Who fan).

One of the biggest hits with littlies I've had is with sets made up of customised, simple aprons and a few accessories, depending on the child. I've made up several cooking kits: an apron appliqued with their favourite character or their name, a small wooden spoon, and a laminated print out of a simple cookie recipe, presented inside a cookie jar as the "wrapping". I've made gardening kits: an apron, a small set of gardening gloves, a small trowel and a packet of flower seeds presented inside a terracotta pot (with a note asking them to decorate the pot). I also made a tool set for one little boy: a utility apron with pockets for tools, a second-hand hammer and tape measure, a packet of nails and timber offcuts presented in an inexpensive tool tote. You can find a simple child's apron tutorial by clicking on the link.

I customised the recipe by including a picture of Dr Who as the background and called it "Doctor Who's favourite chocolate cookies". It was laminated for added longevity.

What about a simple embroidery or sewing kit? Soulemama suggests in her (fabulous!) book, The Creative Family, supplying children new to sewing or embroidery with an embroidery hoop, a square of hessian, a blunt embroidery needle and some floss in their favourite colours and letting them go for it! Hessian comes in a range of groovy colours too now, so these items make for a great gift set, and you can adapt the idea to cross-stitch and so forth for older children.

My daughter's current project - she tells me it's a mermaid and who am I to argue?

Another really simple sewing gift is a pencil roll or crayon roll, or a notebook and pencil holder (there's another one here). They are simple, straight line machine sewing and very quick and easy to make. I've been making them lately for older children, and filling them with a sketch pad and pencils. My 16 year old niece has also requested one, which I will fill with a watercolour pad and quality watercolour pencils for her upcoming birthday.

I've also made several useful water bottle totes, such as these ones I made my my daughters (I used this pattern, but made one long handle instead of two little ones, so they can sling it over their shoulder).

What about some simple felt play food? As I said, my sewing skills are limited and I am a beginner to embroidery, but I managed to make a set of felt donuts and cookies which my daughters adore playing "tea-parties" with. There are a plethora of patterns and tutorials on the 'net for felt play food. Here is a tutorial for the donut or make some assemble-your-own sandwiches or pizzas (ideas here). One Crafty Mumma has tutorials for eggs and orange slices, ravioli, lemon and tomato slices, and icecreams, or be inspired by the felt food Flickr group.

These are just a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing amongst the non-crafters amongst us, there are hundreds of other ideas to be found on the 'net, and I can assure you that the sense of satisfaction in handmaking gifts is well and truly worth the effort.

For those of you who have been making gifts for years, what are your favourite easy-peasy handmade children's gifts?