Wipe it Up!

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I clean my bathroom(s) once a week, and I do a pretty good job. But it takes a while to do, and I know that in a few months I am not going to have the time and energy to do as thorough a job every time. So I’m preparing in advance for laziness. These DIY bathroom wipes are a nice quick way to tidy up your bathroom on the fly and a much cheaper version of the ones you buy in the store. Experiment with the cleaning mixtures that float your boat, because everyone’s different and everyone has different things they want to clean up in their bathroom, like hairspray or toothpaste or, in my case, dog hair (there are some links to other versions below).

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To make a handy dispenser for these lovely quick and disposable wipes, I turned to the Art of Doing Stuff for inspiration. Start with a milk or juice carton, the kind that has the little screw top in it, and a roll of shop towels. You can go with regular paper towels, but pick something like Brawny and go for the extra strong – shop towels are designed to hold together well when wet and you need these things to hold up to being wet for, like, ever. You can pick up shop towels at pretty much any hardware store.

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Clean out the juice/milk carton and measure the roll of towel so that it comes up to the part in the carton where the cardboard starts to bend. Use a serrated knife or saw to cut through the towels at that point. It’s going to take a little while so be patient.

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Now you have a roll of shop towels that has roughly a third of it cut off. Feel free to use the wee roll to clean up really tiny paint spills (which is what I plan to use it for – I only make wee paint spills when I paint).

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On the bigger roll, start working the inner cardboard tube free of the towel and pull it out.

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Once you’ve done that, pull out the corner of the towel that starts in the middle of the tube. The roll of towels will dispense much easier if you go from the centre as opposed to from the outside. There’s less resistance in the middle.

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Now shove that whole roll into your carton. Your dispenser is ready!

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As for the mix, you have a bunch of options (again, see below for different mixes, or make your own). Here I used a combination of about 2 cups warm water, 2 tablespoons baking soda, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 3 tablespoons Castille soap, and then about 15 drops each tea tree, rosemary, and grapefruit essential oils.

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Give it a good stir.

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Then pour it carefully over your towels. You’ll need to let that sit for a bit to get thoroughly saturated.

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You can pull the little loose end of your paper towel through the spout of the carton and use a set of binder clips to seal the top of the carton. Don’t forget to screw the lid back on to keep things from drying out.

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It’s not super pretty but you could paint it or paper it or something. I’m keeping this in the bathroom closet so I’m not too fussed about what it looks like, but you can do with it what you will, or find a prettier container. I just liked the ease with which this one came together.

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After use, the towels can be handily dropped into my bathroom compost bin – in our city the compost handles tissue and paper towel so it makes sense to have one in the bathroom where we dispose with most of our Kleenex and Qtips and the like.

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If you would prefer a non-disposable version, then that’s easy, too. Find a nice pretty jar that you can handle having in your bathroom, maybe on the counter, and find some cheap washcloths. I picked these up at XS Cargo before they went out of business – they’re crap as washcloths but handy for wiping and dusting things. The jar is an old one I have from IKEA that is currently without a purpose.

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Roll or fold the towels (or cut up old t-shirts or rags and use those instead) and shove them in the jar.

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Make up a batch of your cleaning mixture and pour it slowly over the cloths until they’re all nicely saturated. This jar was pretty big so I doubled my previous mix and it was a goodly amount.

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The convenience of the cloths is if you flub your mixture and add too much soap (which I may have done for the cloth version), you can rinse out the cloth afterwards and rinse off your soapy surfaces. Then the cloth can be wrung out and tossed in the laundry hamper (which is conveniently located right outside the bathroom door).

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More links for inspiration:

Pop Sugar: DIY Bathroom Wipes

One Good Thing: DIY Disinfecting Bathroom Wipes

DIY Natural: Homemade Natural Cleaning Wipes that Disinfect

Live Simply: DIY Cleaning Wipes (Reusable and Disinfecting)

A Bit of Frou-Frou

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I have an empty space on the bookshelf in my office and because it’s a dark bookshelf in a dark corner I wanted to add a little bit of whimsy that would light up the area – literally.

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I had all these plastic gems I picked up from the dollar store a few years back, and a conveniently-sized plastic jar into which they could go.

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When I poured them in I shoved in a set of battery-powered LEDs as well, for – well, for the purposes of lighting things up.

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Then I re-created a version of my paper peonies that I made a few years ago.

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And I stuck them in on top.

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So now I have glowing peonies. In my office.  And I’m okay with that.

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Kumquat Marmalade

This recipe was so STUPID.  SO STUPID, in fact, that it took me two tries to get it right, and I only got it right after ignoring all the previous instructions.  So in fact I will not even link you to this stupid recipe that I used for fear of it tainting me with its idiocy.  I take full credit for this, seeing as I had to fix it.  MANY TIMES.  What I present below is the CORRECT way to do it, and should produce about 4 pints of marmalade.

If you’ve never had a kumquat, you should try one.  Sweet and bitter at the same time, it’s definitely an experience.  I like to think of them as tasty breath-fresheners.  Your first bite will be sweet, then as you crunch through the skin, the citrus oils will clear out your palette.  Quite refreshing, actually.Make sure you pick kumquats that are firm and don’t have any squishy spots.  Use them soon after you buy them because they go quickly.

Wash and remove the stems from 24 fresh kumquats

Slice them thinly across the middle, and remove the seeds.

Make sure you keep the seeds.

This is where all the pectin-y goodness is. 

There’s pectin in the pith as well, but not as much.

Slice 2 oranges across the middle as well. 

I used Navel oranges.  This seedless fruit is neat because it reproduces by growing a new orange in its belly button (or navel), which is that thing you see at the opposite end to the stem.

This orange reproduced another whole orange inside.  How cool.  I bet it would have been confusing to eat had I peeled it normally.

I found it was easier to can the marmalade if you make cuts in the orange peel so it breaks apart and is therefore smaller.

Toss the orange slices and the kumquat slices together in a measuring cup and see how much you have.

Chuck them in a large bowl and add 3 cups of water for every cup of fruit you measured.  I had 5 cups of fruit so I added 15 cups of water.  Leave that to sit overnight.

The next day, pour your fruit and water into a large saucepan (this is why I love our maslin pan so much).  You may find some jelly-like stuff at the bottom of the bowl.  I’m not sure what it is but I think it’s important, so scrape that stuff off and put it in the pan as well.

Bring the stuff in the pan to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer it until the rinds are very tender and you can squish them with your spoon.

Juice 2 lemons.

Pour that lemon juice, together with 9 cups granulated sugar, into the maslin pan.

Tie up your seeds in a bit of cheesecloth and add that to the pot as well.

Bring the mixture to a boil again, then simmer on low for a couple of hours.

The mixture will cook down, reducing in size, getting thicker and darker.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, and keep stirring it.  When it starts to foam, you are nearing your gel point.

You can tell if your mixture is ready to gel by putting a plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  Remove the plate and drip some of the liquid across the plate.  Once it has cooled, give it a push with your finger.  If it wrinkles up, your marmalade is ready to go into the jar.

When you have reached the stage where your foamy marmalade goo is wrinkling on your cold plate, you can can it according to your canner’s instructions.  Check out our tips here.

Etching Glass

This project was probably one of the most enjoyable that we did this past Christmas.  Hazardous, yes, because you are dealing with a caustic liquid and its attendant dangers, but fun nonetheless.  This is NOT a project you can do with children.  You need to work in a well-ventilated area and you need to wear rubber or latex gloves as well as safety goggles while you are doing it.For etching glass I used Armour Etch, a glass etching cream that I picked up from Lee Valley.  You can get it at Michael’s as well, if you are prepared to pay about three times the price for it.  It’s good stuff.  Keep in mind it does not work on plastic and most Pyrex.

First, however, you need to create your stencils.  I printed out some images from the internet and then traced them onto clear vinyl masking (also from Lee Valley).The tracing and cutting out is really the hard part in all of this.Next, carefully peel the backing form the mask and apply it firmly to your clean and dry glass.  Make sure there are no bubbles or gaps.You can also use masking tape to outline certain areas.Next, very (very) carefully paint on the etching cream in a thick layer in the area you wish to be etched.  If you accidentally get cream anywhere else than you intended, it will leave a permanent mark.The instructions say to leave the cream on for 5 to 10 minutes, but I found it worked better if I left it on for 20.  In some cases you may also find that a second application is in order.When your time is up, rinse the glass object thoroughly in warm water.  I found the cream came off best if I brushed it with the paint brush.  As a side note, do not rinse off the etching cream in an enamel sink — only rinse in a metal or plastic sink or you will find yourself without an enamel sink …Peel off your masking and throw it away.  You may have to rinse the glass again if there was any cream caught in the crevices of the stencil.  Dry the glass thoroughly and you’re all done.  This is a jar for my brother-in-law Rusty to keep his keys and phone in so he doesn’t lose them.  If you don’t recognize it, that’s the Rebel Alliance insignia from Star Wars.I also used the cream on a vase for my sister-in-law Meg:Some cups and saucers for the Mtree Duo:An AT-AT jar for my brother Ando (in keeping with the Star Wars theme):And a coffee jar for the ever-caffeinated Cait, among other things:This was so much fun the Pie and I agreed we would try to think of new glass objects to give people for Christmas next year.  You can pick up glass items from pretty much anywhere for relatively little: IKEA (where I got the jars), Winners/Home Sense (where Rusty’s and Meg’s vases came from), and let’s not forget second-hand shops (Mtree duo’s cups and saucers came from there).  Get creative!

 

Pantry Sanity

I am a highly organized person.  My mother?  Not so much.  Adventurous and willing to try something new, yes.  But organized?  I think not.  Some day I will show you her studio.  It’s truly frightening.

While my parents were away I ransacked their cupboards in an attempt to make sense of the chaos that reigned within.  I’d like to share with you three simple tips that will make negotiating your own spice cupboards or pantries a little bit easier.

#1: Bags are Bad

As I have said, my mother is always willing to try new things, and as a result I’m pretty sure she owns every spice imaginable.  Some of them she keeps just for the jar they came in.

The problem is that all these bags (and boxes) clutter up your space.  You push them aside when looking for something else and the next thing you know, they have been shoved to the back of the cupboard, upside-down, and have emptied their contents into the crevices of the shelf.

The simple solution to this is to put all your stuff in jars.  Think of it as recycling.  That pasta sauce jar you just emptied would be handy holding your collection of pinto beans, yes?  My mother has a vast collection of vintage glass jars, as well, so it was worth it to put them to good use.

I prefer glass jars for the obvious reason that the contents are always visible, but also because glass cleans easily and doesn’t absorb odors.  This means that when you transfer the contents of one half-empty jar into a smaller jar so you can use the bigger one for something else, all you will need is a quick rinse and you’re set.

#2: Label EVERYTHING

As I mentioned before, my mother likes to try new things, and we have a myriad of spices in the cupboard.  You can trust me on this: you may think you’ll be able to identify something later on by smell and taste and colour alone, but you’ll be wrong.  You’ll be very wrong.  Remember that spices lose their potency over time and more than once I have mistakenly added ground oregano when I meant to add corriander.  It does happen.   So make sure you clearly label all your little jars.

Mystery items are never fun.

Glass jars also lend themselves very well to my labeling technique.  Instead of using adhesive labels that peel and which eventually need to be soaked off when the jar is empty, I write on the glass itself with a permanent marker.  I don’t have to worry about peeling or tearing or fading, and when I’m ready to re-purpose the jar for another spice, a quick rub with the scrubby side of the sponge and it’s gone.

#3: Arrange with Purpose

When it comes to your cupboards, you have to accept the fact that your Martha Stewart prowess in kitchen aesthetics does not apply to what goes on behind closed cupboard doors.  While it may seem like a good idea to organize your things alphabetically, or even by colour (I’m looking at you Cait), this will not do you any good when you are cooking for twelve people and you can’t find the yeast.  Most of us just don’t have the space to be THAT organized.

Organize your items by usage.  This means that the stuff you use most often should be in front, even if it’s the biggest item.  Things you use all the time can even be kept on the counter, ready to go (see our Salt and Pepper Dish).  The stuff you don’t use as often can be shoved to the back — but not to fret: if it’s nicely labeled in a clear glass jar you will be able to find it any time!

Bread and Butter Pickles

One summer when I was young, our kitchen was filled with cucumbers.  We made them into dill pickles and bread and butter pickles and there wasn’t a single counter that wasn’t packed with shiny, hot jars of the stuff.  The whole house smelled of vinegar.  It was great.

We made two batches of bread and butter pickles on this particular day and it took a long time, what with the sterilization and the soaking and the canning, so make sure you have a free day and plenty of space when you’re going to do this.

One batch of bread and butter pickles yields about six 1-pint jars and uses 3L (about 4lb) of pickling cucumbers.

Wash your cucumbers.  Scrub them and all their knobby bits well.

Cut the tops and bottoms of the cucumbers off (the bloom and stem ends).Using a mandolin or a food processor, slice the cucumbers into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Please do not cut off any of your fingers.  Mandolins are vicious.

This will take a while, especially if you are doing two batches.

Now you have a helluva lotta cucumber slices.  Put some on your eyes and take a rest for a while.

Just kidding.  There’s work to be done.

Now you have to slice some onions.  Use about three medium onions per batch of pickles.  Peel the onion and slice it in half lengthwise, then use a mandolin or food processor to slice them the same thickness as your cucumbers.

I like to use the Onion Goggles here to avoid bloodshed.  Or tearshed.  Or both.  If I’m weeping uncontrollably I may slice off an appendage on the mandolin.

Put all your cucumber and onion slices in an enormous bowl and sprinkle them with kosher or coarse pickling salt.  Cover with ice water (or water with ice cubes in it) and leave to soak for three hours.

Now you can take a break.  Or make something else while you wait.

You know what, why don’t you cut up two sweet red peppers, sliced thin on the mandolin again, and add them to the pile?  They make for a nice colour contrast in the jar.

Drain the vegetables after their three-hour soak, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and then drain them again really well.

At this point you should probably start preparing your jars and lids.

Put your lids and rings in a pot of water and set that to boil. 

Plop your jars in your canner and set that to boil as well.  This will take a while.Now you can prepare your pickling brine.

The key spices here are celery seed, turmeric, and yellow mustard seeds.

In a small bowl, put 2 tablespoons mustard seed, 2 1/2 teaspoons celery seed, and 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric (the turmeric is what turns everything yellow).  Set it aside for now.

In an enormous pot (we used the large maslin pan from Lee Valley), put 5 cups granulated sugar (I know, it seems like an awful lot).

Add to this 4 cups pickling vinegar.  My grandmother insists that all pickling (unless otherwise stated) must use pickling vinegar.  It’s about twice as strong as regular distilled white vinegar.

Add in your pickling spices and give it a stir.

Bring it to a boil and dissolve the sugar.

Now plop in your vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are tender and yellow and the liquid is once more boiling, about fifteen minutes. 

Once your jars have been boiling for ten minutes, you can haul them out of the canner.  Turn off the heat for now to allow the water to cool slightly.

Drain the jars carefully using a jar gripper and put them near your pickle pot.

Using a canning funnel, carefully ladle pickle mixture into your six jars to within a half or quarter inch of the top of the jar. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you, your counter tops, and everything around you will become extremely sticky at this point.Make sure there is plenty of liquid in the jar as well, but be careful to leave some space at the top.

Use a wooden skewer (don’t use metal) to poke around and remove the air bubbles from amongst the pickles.

Remove your lids and rings from the heat and carefully place the lids on the jars. 

Twist the rings on to fingertip tightness and return the jars to your canner. 

Dunk them under and bring the water to a boil for fifteen minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and allow to cool.  As they cool they will seal with a lovely POP sound.

You can eat these pickles right away, but store opened jars in the refrigerator.  Serve as a side to your dishes, put in sandwiches, or just eat straight from the jar.  Your choice.Our two batches left us with some extra pickles, which we put in a jar in the fridge. 

The rest we saved for you!You know you want one …

Using a Canner

You may or may not find this particular post interesting, but if you like to make your own jam then you should hear about this ancient invention my mother and I have just discovered called a canner.

When I was a kid we used to make jams and pickles all the time, and we would get the jars to seal by baking them in the oven and relying on the laws of physics as the jars cooled to do the rest.

But with this canning gizmo you can ensure that all your jars pop, every time.  And actually, Vicious Sweet Tooth pre-empted me on this one and was featured in Freshly Pressed.  I am totally trying her vanilla and nectarine preserves.

So you boil your lids as usual.But instead of sterilizing your jars and heating them in the oven you can do both steps at once in the canner.  It’s basically an enormous pot full of water, and the jars sit in a handy little cage you can lift out by the handles.So you boil those, and while they’re doing their thing you work on your jam.

Bring your goo to a boil.  In this case we’re making grape jam.  Once it’s boiling you add your sugar and pectin and make it go all foamy and thick.Once you remove it from the heat you scrape off all the foam.  You can eat it.  It’s yummy.So when it’s ready for canning, you pull your jars out of the water and drain them.Fill the jars with your jam up to 1/2″ from the top of the jar.Clean off the tops of the jars.  They have to be super clean.  Be careful not to burn yourself.Put on the lids and tighten them so they’re “fingertip tight” — this means that they are on but not tightened as far as they can go.Then you pop them back in the canner and bring the water to a boil once again.  Leave ’em about five minutes.Then you bring them out, and as soon as they cool a little bit, hey presto — POP.