Tuesday, January 27, 2009

make your own cleaning products

this blog post is a confluence of several streams of thought for me; one is my continued attempt to tread lightly on the earth and reduce toxics in my own life, another is my concern with treading lightly on my pocketbook, especially in this economy and with my (soon to be over) long stint of unemployment. so in all my unemployed leisure time spent cleaning the house, i've been bothered by having to shell out a lot of money for cleaners that are likely giving me - and moreso whomever is bottling them and living next to their factories - cancer.
that said, i'm also not one to suffer salmonella in my kitchen or mildew in my shower.
so with the energy of new years resolutions to get cleaner and more organized, i offer my efforts at making your own non-toxic cleaning products.

i started with laundry soap, because our house was recently graced by the presence of laundry machines (thanks, sele!) that have changed my life and made me smile daily. i've been filling the washer with buckets of water collected from the drip in our shower - which is really just a stop-gap measure until the landlord decides to prioritize fixing the leak. i'm not holding my breath. but what's really been irking me is how much laundry detergent costs at the store, and how i have to sort of shut out my conscious consumer mentality to just buy whatever's cheapest because i can't afford the luxury of nontoxic. so when my friend harold suggested that i could make my own laundry soap i was intrigued. it took me a while to compile all the requisite ingredients, so let me detail them here for you.

Fels Naptha: it's a laundry bar soap meant for treating stains. i've read that some people say you can use any kind of bar soap for this (as in ivory, lever 2000, etc) but i found fels naptha in the laundry aisle at my drugstore and it was under $2 so i got it.

Borax: a kind of scary-sounding, though apparently non-toxic, chemical compound that's useful for all kinds of around-the-house things like cleaning and making things less smelly and maybe warding off ants. also found easily in the laundry aisle. i love that it's called "20 mule team."

Washing Soda: this is potentially the hardest ingredient to find - i found it at the giant Longs instead of the down-the-street Longs, but i've read several comments online saying people have a hard time finding it at their local supermarket, so best of luck with this one. you can buy it online, but i couldn't justify the shipping cost. it's sort of like baking soda, as you can see, but a little different - so don't try to substitute. specifically, washing soda is sodium carbonate, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate (one less sodium and one more hydrogen atom). i'd never heard of it before, but apparently it is also useful in laundry and household cleaning.

other than that you'll need a big bucket, a grater, measuring cup, and big pot, and potentially a blender, but i'll get to that later.

there are several recipes out there for laundry soap, all basically using the same ingredients. i chose to go with this one because it used less washing soda and i heard somewhere that it can be harsh on your clothing to use a lot of washing soda. but i found this one today and it has prettier formating on its website, so i'm likely to try it next time. plus that recipe didn't really work out for me (details below) so i'm in the market for a new one.
i'll let you follow one of those recipes if you're going to make your own laundry soap, since my process went astray somewhere, but here's the general idea:
you grate the bar soap into cute shavings.

you boil this in water until they dissolve and then add the washing soda and borax, then you add a lot more water and leave it in a bucket overnight.

after 24 hours you are supposed to open up your bucket to find a laundry soap gel resembling egg noodle soup consistency. however, mine was a solid block of gel, more like cosby sweater consistency. here's what it looked like after i tried stirring it:

the guy who maintains the website i got my recipe from says that this has happened to other people where their soap turns into solid gel, but doesn't offer any advice further than it's not supposed to happen. he does offer that it still works fine, but i didn't want to have to take a bite out of my laundry soap every time i do a load, so i decided to blend it.

this resulted in a more watery-frothy consistency, which i decided was better than a solid, so i went ahead and filled an empty laundry detergent container and left the rest in a covered bucket, because this makes a LOT of laundry soap. which makes this a super economical way to do laundry. this guy has done a full cost breakdown analysis and says it comes out to about two cents per load of laundry, which is great even considering your own labor costs since the process is pretty quick and only involves grating and boiling water.

i haven't done laundry yet to tell you how the soap works, though that guy also has a case to make about that that involves spreading mustard on his shirts (i'm not about to go that far).
i hear you can put essential oils in your soap once it cools to make it smell however you want, though i couldn't find a scent on hand that both marty and i would want our clothes smelling like.

in addition to laundry soap, i also found this tutorial on making your own household cleaners. she has simple recipes for glass cleaner, furniture polish, air deoderizer, floor cleaner, and the two i made:

All Purpose Cleaner
1/2 tsp washing soda
1/2 tsp liquid Castille soap
2 cups hot water
10-15 drops essential oil
Spray Bottle

Hydrogen Peroxide
10-15 drops essential oil
Spray Bottle

i used dr. bronners (magic hippy soap) for my castille soap, and though i was skeptical that 1/2 a teaspoon of soap was going to do anything for my cleaning purposes, i have to say that my bathroom sink never looked so sparkly.
as you can see from the photo, i covered my disinfectant spray bottle with opaque tape, since hydrogen peroxide loses its effectiveness if exposed to sunlight. and i used tea tree oil in both of these for its antiseptic qualities.
i believe you can also use castille soap to make your own dish soap, but it doesn't seem to be any more cost effective to me so i haven't tried it.
if this post inspires you to try making your own cleaning products or you have any money- and earth-saving tips to share, please comment.

Monday, January 26, 2009


an update from the candied citrus peel project. as previously mentioned, i started some candied grapefruit peels while baking the citrus cake, which weren't done in time to contribute to the cake, and after realizing through taste test that the lady from smittenkitchen was absolutely right about them being wickedly bitter, i left them "drying" on my countertop for two days. i took all the advice of boiling them three times in water before boiling in sugar water, and scraping as much of the pith off as i could to reduce bitterness, but those suckers are still face-scrunchingly bitter.

finally this morning i was able to conquer my chocolate hangover enough to proceed with the orangette-ifying of the grapefruit peels and based on my taste-as-you-go method, the dark chocolate was just what they needed to turn delicious. they're drying again now, and i think we have success.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

sugar high of the month

we have a lot of citrus in our lives right now in northern california. i went to the farmers' market when we got back from hawai'i to see what's in season around here these days and that was about it: lots of citrus.

and because i'm on this kick of trying to use things i'd otherwise be throwing away, i got the idea to make candied citrus peels. with the help of smittenkitchen, i made a batch of assorted blood orange, grapefruit, and meyer lemon peels last week. they turned out really tasty, but i think i miscalculated on how thin to cut them and they were a little mushier than expected. i had intended to make orangettes out of them to serve to guests, but they lacked enough of a backbone to hold up to that intention. marty thought they'd be great paired with a dark chocolate cake, and i'm never one to say no to chocolate cake, but it took me a while to muster up the energy to actually make one. until last night, when my chocolate cravings were insatiable. i searched around the internet for a proper recipe; we were thinking something along the lines of a flourless chocolate cake was the way to go, but i didn't have enough eggs in my refrigerator for that, and i wanted to use my new cake pans (thanks, mom!). so i landed back with smittenkitchen for her double chocolate layer cake. i read that at first as "double-layer chocolate cake," but really she means "double chocolate" layer cake - as in not for the faint of [chocolate] heart - but who wants to hang out with those people, anyway?

i did a whole lotta substituting in the cake recipe in a desperate attempt to not walk to the store in the rain. the good news about that is: it's fine to use three different types of milk (and by milk i mean heavy cream, coconut milk, and powdered milk) instead of buttermilk in this recipe (just add a splash of vinegar and it's all good). and it's fine to use olive oil instead of vegetable oil in chocolate cake - i used to only use olive oil when i was baking a lot of cakes in high school and people love it. the bad news is: it didn't save me from eventually having to run to the store 5 minutes to closing to get more cream and chocolate, because there is no substitution for good chocolate. i used scharffen berger's semisweet for this and the results were fabulous.

i filled and frosted the two cakes with the chocolate ganache from the recipe along with a layer of the candied citrus peels, and i think they pair together quite nicely. i was trying to make another batch of candied grapefruit peels while the cake was baking - because i guess i have a hard time sticking to just one task - but they weren't done in time for decorating the cake, so i have them drying this morning. i cut them a bit bigger this time for another go at the orangette idea. but for now i can't think about any more chocolate.

here's a quick tip about cake storage: if you are like me and don't have a proper carrying container to keep your cake in and you don't want to have your tin foil or plastic wrap ruining your frosting- my go-to method involves cocktail umbrellas. yep, i use them to test if the cake is done baking (because strangely i have a lot of cocktail umbrellas but no toothpicks) and then they double as a festive tent poles for my tin foil wrapping.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

solidarity crafts

e ala e - israel kamakawiwo'ole
[click that play button, this is the soundtrack for this post]

to wrap up the series of hawai'i reportback posts, i offer a different kind of craft: activism.
marty and i are both involved with creative direct action, and when we're home visiting kaua'i we do what we can to stand in solidarity with kanaka maoli - native hawaiian people - and support the struggles for self-determination, cultural revival, and environmental preservation.
on our previous visit to the islands, we talked about direct action, social movements, and roles for allies in solidarity organizing with katy rose, host of kaua'i community radio's show, out of the box. You can listen to our interview here.

during this last visit, we were called to action by the incredible attempt of hawai'i's governor, linda lingle, to steal and sell lands belonging to the native hawaiian people. governor lingle has filed a u.s. supreme court appeal to overturn the moratorium her own supreme court has put on selling off lands that were held "in trust" for native hawaiians since the illegal overthrow of the hawaiian government in 1893. these lands are commonly referred to as "ceded" lands, though they were "ceded" to the u.s. government by the very people who called for and supported the military coup that deposed queen lili'uokalani and then instated themselves as the new "provisional government," under the leadership of lorrin a. thurston and sanford b. dole (yes, Dole as in pineapples).

as if kanaka maoli aren't suffering enough from displacement, occupation, cultural and physical genocide, this is governor lingle's attempt to once and for all dismiss any claim that native hawaiians have any rights to their own land. really, that's what she's saying.

marty and i joined the kaua'i alliance for peace and social justice for a sign-holding demonstration on the main highway in lihu'e, kaua'i, supporting native rights and calling on lingle to withdraw her supreme court appeal. we made a number of signs for the demonstration, and a banner featuring the first flowers marty has ever painted on a banner (they look good, right?) these are some photos of the signs we painted.

that last sign aunty nani is holding refers to the akaka bill - a congressional bill introduced by senator daniel akaka of hawai'i that would give native hawaiians the same recognition as native americans. this might sound like a good thing, since kanaka maoli don't have any recognition right now, but it in fact would quash the claim for sovereignty and obfuscate the fact that native hawaiians never gave up their sovereign rights. and as marty and other native americans say of native recognition by the u.s. government, "you do not want to be treated like an indian in this country."
many see the "ceded lands" attempt by the lingle administration as paving the way for passage of the akaka bill, especially now with a democratically controlled senate and the support of president obama. read the open letter to president-elect barack obama, urging a moratorium on the akaka bill - written by kanaka maoli kupuna - elders.

our signs made a reappearance this week at another sign-holding demonstration on kaua'i - marking the 116th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the sovereign hawaiian government. an estimated 5,000 people demonstrated in waikiki on friday, with the same message of opposition to the governor's attempt to sell "ceded" lands.
more to come this year, as the state prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of "statehood."

Friday, January 16, 2009

imu cooking

next in the series of hawai'i reportback is the imu.
imu is the traditional hawaiian pit oven, dug into the ground and filled with hot lava rocks. traditional foods cooked in the imu include pua'a - pig, 'ulu - breadfruit, and 'uala - sweet potato, which are wrapped in ti leaves and placed in the pit with the hot rocks, on top of juicy mai'a - banana stumps, leaves, and burlap and then the pit is filled in with dirt to seal the baking process. one of my favorite dishes is laulau, where your pork or fish is wrapped first in lu'au leaves - kalo (taro) leaves, and then wrapped in a ti leaf package.
we dug a pit into some friends' yard this year around the holidays to do an imu. we prepared breadfruit, sweet potato, kalua pork, and pork laulau, as well as a bunch of turkeys that were bought in a sale frenzy, some rice pudding, and coconut stuffing.

since it had rained every day for weeks, the wood was a bit wet and we had some difficulty getting the fire started to heat the lava rocks. however, using new technologies such as the leaf blower and some hardwood pallets snagged from a local business, we were able to get up and running.

word to the wise: don't get too involved in your firestarting to notice if your hair has started burning off.
as the rocks were heating, we were chopping and crushing the banana stumps, which are very high in moisture and provide the steaming effect for the imu. this is a great material to use because bananas reproduce asexually from suckers that shoot off the side of the plant, so when a banana tree bears fruit it must be cut down (or it dies on its own) to provide room for the next shoot to emerge.

once the fire burned down and the rocks were sufficiently hot we covered them with the banana stumps and then laid our food on top of them. as you can see the steam is working its magic already.

from there the food gets covered first with banana leaves.

then with palm fronds.

usually the next layer is burlap, but we used a couple of tarps.

from here the edges first get sealed shut with dirt.

and then the whole thing is buried.

and then you leave it cooking for several hours while you go fly kites.

and when you get back you do the process in reverse.
you dig out the dirt.

and peel back the tarps.

and it looks like a crazy sea organism.

and then you check the turkey to make sure it's done.

and shred the meats.

and the feast is on.

thanks to my stepmom, kat, for the photos.