Thursday, July 30, 2009

30 minutes to Cheap Laundry Detergent

Is anyone else amazed at how much it costs just to keep your house and clothes clean these days? I mean, we have our dish cleaners and laundry cleaners and floor cleaners and sink cleaners and toilet cleaners and carpet cleaners and window cleaners, not to mention all the gadgets that go with them (mops, dusters, brushes, etc.). Up until a few months ago, I was probably spending somewhere between $250 and $300 a year on laundry care alone with detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets.

But last winter, my friend Allison had a wonderful idea: homemade laundry detergent! She figured out that it cost her about 75 cents for 2 gallons. The idea intrigued me, but I didn't try it out right away -- I had a full bottle of detergent that I'd just bought and wanted to use it up first. Then when it ran out, I just didn't have the time that week to commit to making some myself (or so I thought), so I bought another big bottle. The next time I went to buy some, Meijer had raised the price on my favorite brand, and I was going to be paying 50 cents more for a bottle. By that time I'd had enough. It was time for me to give it a shot. So I bought the "ingredients" that Allison's recipe suggested, and took another baby step.

The recipe calls for a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap (*NOTE:  I now use Castille soap. I found this next to other bar soaps and hand soaps in the household products portion of Meijer's grocery section.)  It also calls for Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and Borax, both of which are in the laundry section of the grocery store.
To make the detergent, you first grate 1/3 of the Fels-Naptha bar (saving the rest for other batches) into a large stainless steel or aluminum pot, like this:
Then you add 6 cups of water and heat over moderate heat until the soap is dissolved. Next, add 1/2 cup of the super washing soda and 1/2 cup of Borax and cook for about 15 minutes, or until it's the consistency of honey.
Stir occasionally to keep the soap from sticking to the side of the pan. Smile and enjoy the lightly soapy scent wafting through your house!
Put the soap mixture into a bucket and add 5 1/2 quarts of water (that's 22 cups), and stir until well-blended. Here, I added a few drops of lavender extract for extra scent. Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a gallon jug or old laundry detergent bottle. It makes about 1 1/2 gallons of detergent, so I have to use two different bottles. Here, I used an old vinegar bottle (I'm sure I'll blog about my new love affair with vinegar sometime, as well):
When you do laundry, shake the bottle well, and use about 1/2 cup for a regular-sized load.

As it turns out, it only took about 30 minutes to make, and my first batch lasted me 2 months! That batch did only cost about 75-80 cents, so it was definitely economically friendly. Plus, it reduces the waste going out of my house since the ingredients make so many batches (I've only used 1 cup each of the soda and Borax, so there's a lot left!) and I can reuse old laundry detergent bottles. Then the boxes from the soda and Borax can be recycled. I haven't researched yet as to the environmental-friendliness of the detergent itself, but both the Super Washing Soda and the Borax claim to be natural. And the Fels-Naptha soap is such an old product, I'm thinking it's probably not too processed. At the very least, I'm saving on containers by reducing, reusing, and recycling, while saving money at the same time! Double score!

For an extra bonus, you may be interested to know that we've been very happy with the performance of this detergent and have noticed that it possibly even cleans better than the stuff we were previously using (Purex Natural Elements). I've even formulated my own stain fighter using an old Spray'n'Wash spray bottle filled with a solution of the detergent and some more water (so it doesn't get stuck in the sprayer). So happy and so cheap!

So what kinds of things is your family doing to save money?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Look what we grew....

Tri-color beans from seeds given to us by our friend Cary. Aren't they pretty? I can't wait to blanche and saute them with some almonds!


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Collaborative Effort

Did you know we have a garden this summer? It's not at our house, but on some unused land that we (and some other faculty and staff) are borrowing from Bethel just a few blocks away. For some odd reason, I planted four large mounds of zucchini plants. Yeah, we're overloaded with zucchini right now. I've already made 4 loaves of zucchini bread and a huge batch of zucchini-filled enchiladas, and as of Sunday, I still had a stack of zucchini in my fridge. So in addition to shredding and chopping some up, then freezing it in zip-lock baggies for more bread and enchilada fillings later, I made a soup out of about three pounds of it (recipe to follow).

As I was making my menu and grocery list on Sunday night, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what to serve with the zucchini soup I was planning on making. Thank goodness, my ever-thoughtful and creative husband came up with the idea of grilled tomato and mozzarella sandwiches. Yum!

Whole-wheat bread, Roma tomatoes, sliced button mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella were the orginal ingredients planned for our summery sandwiches. But it felt like something was missing. Enter an arugula pesto with herbs from the little herb garden outside our kitchen window. Fantastissimo! And so easy, too!

While Eric expertly grilled the sandwiches out on the deck, I finished assembling the soup inside. A recipe from this month's Food and Wine magazine, this chilled zucchini soup is simple and fresh. Although, next time I make it, I'm going to use less water than the recipe originally called for; it was a little too thin for my taste. The flavor, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected: fresh, herby, and summery. Perfect with the hot grilled sandwiches.

Chilled Zucchini Soup (with modifications)
from Food & Wine Magazine, August 2009

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
8 small zucchini (or 3 pounds), thinly sliced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 c. water
2 T. finely shredded basil
2 c. baby arugula
1 c. ice

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil; add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; discard the bay leaf and stir in the basil and arugula. Puree the soup until very smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the ice. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Grilled Tomato Sandwiches

10 slices whole wheat bread
15 Roma tomato slices
5-6 button mushrooms, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 cup baby arugula
1 tsp. each of fresh basil, sage, thyme, and chives
3-4 T. chopped walnuts or pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
2-3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
more olive oil for drizzling on bread

Prepare bread, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese. To make the pesto, combine arugula, herbs, nuts, garlic, crushed red pepper, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food chopper or small processor, and puree until as smooth as possible. Brush one side of each piece of bread with olive oil. Spread about 2 tsp. of pesto on the other side of 5 slices of bread. Place mushroom slices, tomato slices, and cheese on top of the pesto. Grill the sandwiches open-faced, until the cheese is melted and the grill sides of the bread are golden. Place the tops on the sandwiches and serve immediately.

Monday, July 20, 2009


At the beginning of the summer, I had this goal of visiting several U-pick farms in the area and loading up my deep freezer with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cherries to snack on and cook with all winter long. Well, last week, I realized that I somehow completely missed strawberry season here in northern Indiana! Not about to allow myself to be complete failure, I vowed to go blueberry picking this week. So that's what we did this morning, bright and early.

At the recommendation of several of my Facebook friends, we went to the Blueberry Ranch nearby, an organic farm that grows five different varieties of blueberries for the community to pick. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day -- both in terms of weather and the ripeness of the blueberries. The sky was a bright, clear blue, a heavy blanket of dew was covering the blueberry fields, and thanks to this chilly summer we're having, it was so cool we hardly broke a sweat. And forget about those minuscule, bitter, shriveled berries you can buy in your local mega-mart for a premium price: in an hour and a half, we picked over 30 pounds of plump, succulent, candy-like fruit for a mere $1.50/pound!
Of course, Ian ate waaaaay more blueberries than he actually placed in his little bucket, even though we tried to deter him by playing counting games with the berries, but he had a blast. One of his favorite parts (according to him during our nightly "What was your favorite thing today" game) was riding on the tractor to and from the field where we were assigned our bushes. On the way back, though, he and Eric initially missed getting on the trailer before the tractor started moving with me on it, and had to chase it down a bit. This was a little traumatizing for Ian. I'd like to think he was worried that the tractor was taking me away, but it's probably more realistic that he was upset at the thought of not getting to ride on it himself!

We all made it safely back to the barn, though, where we paid for our loot and were enticed by all sorts of organic blueberry yumminess: blueberry jam, blueberry blossom honey, blueberry BBQ sauce, and blueberry salsa.

I think we're going to try to go back later this week for another 10 pounds or so, just to make sure we have enough to last us through all the cobbler, pie, sorbet, ice cream, pancakes, and muffins I'm going to be making, let alone the frozen blueberry snacks! Yum!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wedding in a Midwest Paradise

I love weddings. Not just because I'm a sappy girl who gets teary-eyed at anything romantic, but mostly because marriage in general can be a picture of our relationship to God and the beautiful love that is possible with Him. The wedding we went to this weekend exuded love: the kind of love that God instills in us and created us to share with one another, even though we don't always realize it.

Our friends Carley and Stefan got married during a small ceremony of close friends and family at a rented beach house on the east shore of Lake Michigan. Eric and I took the liberty of camping out on the beach for three nights (we bought ear plugs after the first night of stuffing t-shirts over our heads to muffle the crashing waves), and we just generally hung out with our friends who treated us like family. We ate a lot, read a lot, laughed a lot, and watched a lot of sunsets. We celebrated Eric's 30th birthday in our own style: chillin' at the beach, then driving home for dinner and an Ian-exchange with my parents, followed by cake and ice cream with his parents. The next day, we went back to the beach and were able to catch up with Carley and Stef on a sailboat sunset cruise, during which Ian declared that the sun was "swimming." Today, we returned home for good, back to our normal lives.

I'm not typically a big fan of going somewhere on vacation to "get away" -- mostly because my life is just so good I don't usually feel the need to leave it. But this past weekend was truly a breath of fresh air to my soul. The setting was beautiful, the company enjoyable, and the experience all-around pleasant.

Our tent, the stairs, and some mini-orchids on the side of the dune

Stef & Carley

Eric kayaking

Sunset watching from the lake house

Sunset from the sailboat

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer T-shirts

You know how pretty much every summer you have that one t-shirt that you absolutely love and wear practically everywhere, to the point that it almost defines the summer for that year? And then later, you see yourself in that shirt in all sorts of summer photos: out with friends for lunch, at a 4th of July party, standing in front of some random statue on your random vacation, bumming around at the beach. All the while wearing your fav T. For me, last summer's T was a stretchy brown one from Old Navy with all sorts of white road signs on it, except instead of the road signs saying their normal things, they say things like "GO" and "Right Way" and "Speed on Ahead" and "Hurry" and "Do Not Hesitate." A shirt with a positive attitude. Love it. And those of you who spend a lot of time with me are currently nodding your heads because you've seen me wear that shirt, like, a thousand times. It's my Summer of 2008 Shirt.

My Summer of 2009 Shirt is super cool, too. It was given to me by my good friend Sheri for my birthday...a few months late (love ya, Cheryl!), but it's here nonetheless. It rocks. Take a look.

What is cooler than Audrey Hepburn??? She was the epitome of grace and chic-ness. I obviously love her; I even named my car after her (see my post on March 6th). And I'm going to be wearing this shirt all summer. Look out, world.

And here's a close-up of Eric's fav T for this summer. It always makes me giggle.

So what's your Summer of 2009 Shirt?

PS: Lots to blog about, but we're having so much fun this summer, we just haven't taken the time to do it. Here's a sneak preview into what we plan on filling you all in on sometime soon:
  • Nick, our house guest for the summer
  • Making granola from scratch - Yum!
  • The never-ending project of painting the outside of our house
  • Ian walking with a cane, "Just like Papa"
  • Concocting homemade laundry detergent
  • Discovering Kiva