Monday, September 3, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap

That's right - Mrs. Badger is going there. 

Few topics in the blogosphere have ignited the furious listing of pros and cons like homemade laundry soap has in the last few years.

Let's cut to the chase: Does it work and is it worth your time? It is for the Badger Household. 

A few seconds of searching on the internet will give you at least 379 different recipes and methods for homemade laundry soap. Most will use some combination of three main ingredients: Borax, Washing Soda and grated bar soap.

In addition to those recipes, you'll see thousands of vocal proponents and opponents of homemade laundry soap. 

I have to admit that I almost gave up on homemade laundry soap - I suffered many of the same issues that many people online complain about: Smelly washer and dingy clothes. But I wouldn't give up. I was tired of Procter & Gamble taking all of my money. I kept searching, hoping for the magical recipe. I talked to everyone I knew that also used homemade soap, and I started taking notes.

Taking notes only served one purpose: To show me that there were too many variables to pinpoint what was going wrong for some people, and what was going right for others. 

Sounds hopeless, doesn't it? It seemed that it was to me at the time. After researching the ingredients in my favorite laundry soaps, I began to learn that most of what I was paying for wasn't the cleaning action of the product, but rather all the added chemicals that stabilized the product and gave a consistent result with each wash load. This did not make me a happy Badger.

Eventually, I found a basic recipe that gave me pretty good results once I adjusted the amount used per load to compensate for my hard water and began to run the clean cycle on my He front loader with vinegar about twice as often as I had been previously.

No more dingy clothes. No more smelly washer. (Or clothes!)

But.... I still wasn't happy. I wanted something better - something that would make me HAPPY to use it beyond just how cheap it was. I wanted to fall in love with something - like I did with the all-purpose cleaner I blogged about previously. I wanted to have the fresh, glorious scent fill my home while my clothes were drying on racks. Yeah. I wanted it bad.

I ran across a concoction for a laundry detergent using dish soap here:
One Good Thing By Jillee - No Grate Laundry Soap

And I fell in love!!!!!! 
This Badger began to squeal and snort with happy delight! YES! It was easy! The clothes weren't just clean, but they smelled clean and fresh! No icky washer scent!

It was Badger Nirvana: Good and stupidly cheap!
It was so good that Mr. Badger thought I had gone back to a commercial product when he came home to a typical Badger-Chinese laundry with clothes drip drying everywhere.

Even the house smelled good!!!!

The basic recipe is
  • 3 Tbsp. Borax (like 20 Mule Team Borax found in the laundry aisle)
  • 3 Tbsp Washing Soda (NOT Baking Soda. From Arm & Hammer found in laundry aisle)
  • 2 Tbsp. Dawn Dish Soap
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. Downy Unstoppables or Purex Scent Crystals.
Add all ingredients to a gallon jug. Add 4 cups HOT water. (Not boiling) Swirl contents until dissolved. Add water to fill jug to within 1 inch of top. Swirl gently (if needed) before each use.

This has worked well for me. I have, in the last batch, upped the amount of all ingredients by 1 tsp - simply because my water isn't just hard, it's downright crunchy. I have also used Gain dish soap instead of Dawn with good results, since that was what I had on hand.

I like not having to grate soap, and I like the ease of a liquid without all the boiling that other recipes require.

If you ever want to try a homemade laundry soap, I would highly suggest you give this a try, tweaking the ingredients up or down to suit your needs. I haven't worked out the costs yet, but will do so in another update. I can tell you this: It is Badger-Cheap! I'll also update with pictures when I make another batch - I wasn't excited when I made it, so... I didn't take any pictures. Now I wish I had! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

From Scratch vs. Pre-Made

While recently shopping, I overheard another shopper say "Oh! I couldn't make this Stove Top as cheap as this!"

Yeah. I hate to tell her, but... she absolutely could.

This led me to wonder: Are all boxed or prepared foods a bad buy?

After some number crunching, I came up with some items that usually are cheaper to buy pre-made. (You convenience food junkies - take note!)

  1. Macaroni & Cheese - Yep, that cheap, powdered stuff in the skinny boxes are cheaper than you can possibly make it yourself. The cheese, butter and milk alone to make the sauce will set you back more than the 49 cents or so at Aldis.
  2. Complete Pancake Mix - I don't mean Bisquik or Aunt Jemima. I'm talking the cheapest, store brand  complete pancake mix. (Complete means just add water)  To make pancakes from scratch, you have to add eggs, milk, oil, and for most, baking powder. Let's assume you have the baking powder - you cannot make as many pancakes as the box of complete pancake mix can once you add in the other stuff. You can't do it. Unless you have your own eggs and dairy cows, it isn't going to happen. The complete pancake mix from Save-A-Lot in my area costs me about $2.29, and makes about 60 pancakes. 1 egg, 3/4 c milk and 2 Tbsp. oil added with flour, baking powder, etc, will make somewhere between 6-7 pancakes. Let's assume you have baking powder, flour, and the other ingredients - start adding up those eggs and calculate how much milk you'll need to make 60 pancakes. More than $2.29, isn't it? Yep. 

 I'm sure there are more things that are cheaper to buy than to make yourself, though I can't think of any at this time - these are the two that I can prove with numbers are actually cheaper. I'll keep Badgering around to see what else might be a good buy!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Badger Scum Removal

Badgers sometimes can be messy little creatures. We don't mean to be, but it happens.

Today I'll be canning strawberry jam, strawberry-blueberry jam and some green beans. This means I'll be making a sticky mess with sugar and fruit all over the kitchen.

The best way to combat what we refer to as *Badger Scum* in this house (Mr. Badger's affectionate term for my little piles of messes I leave when I'm working on something) is a sweet cleaner I learned to make from my good friend over at The Penny Wise. No - I'm not just plugging her blog again. I really LOVE this cleaner - and once you've made the initial investment for the liquid Castile soap, it really is stupidly economical.

Here's the link to her article about it - The Penny Wise Homemade Cleaner

Here's the basic recipe:

1 tsp. Dr. Bronner's liquid Castile Soap
1 tsp. Washing Soda
3 tsp. White Vinegar
2 cups hot water
Spray Bottle.

Put everything in the spray bottle (it will foam up a bit)

Use on everything!

I kicked this recipe up with a few drops of tea tree oil for more antibacterial fighting properties when me and Mr. Badger kept passing a nasty flu bug back and forth - it worked like a charm!

Let me be clear - this cleaner isn't just for counters. It does work well as a de-greaser also. I've also used this basic recipe for mop water, and have been stunned at the results on my kitchen tile.

If you like a fresh smelling house without all the harsh perfumes, this cleaner is for you. You can choose the scent of Castile soap (I like the peppermint and the lavender) or you can get the scent free. The peppermint makes the whole house have a very light, crisp scent. I actually LIKE cleaning with this stuff - no burning eyes or lungs, and I also don't have to worry about using it around my cats. I trust that in general, animals are inherently smarter than humans on some things - this cleaner passes their test. By that, I mean whether I'm spraying it on the counters or mopping the floor, they don't flee the room as they did with my other favorite cleaners. (Previously Clorox Clean Up for the bathrooms and Green Works for the kitchen)

It does NOT smell noxious or take your breath away - yet it gets the job done beautifully. What more could you ask for?

I'm off to start my canning. I have to make another bottle of the cleaner this afternoon to keep in the bathroom - I'll add pics of the ingredients then! (and of the canning debacles that are sure to come!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Target Price vs. Sale Price

I've talked a lot about buying things in bulk at my target price, rather than using coupons. In reality, this is known as Badgering the Sales.

This can be confusing, so I will give some examples.

But, before I go any further - let me state: You *could* get some of these sales even more cheaply with coupons, if you take the time to coordinate sales and coupons.

I know that my target price for a staple item such as butter is about $1.75/lb - regardless of the day, week, or month of the year. I know I can get it for that price at Sams Club. I shop accordingly, and buy a couple month's worth of butter at a time when I go. Butter freezes tremendously well. I also save gas by not needing to constantly replenish our supplies.

The price I get at Sams club at any time: (Also the same for salted butter)

This week, Kroger is running their butter for $1.99/lb - on sale:

Needless to say, I don't wait for Land O' Lakes coupons - I buy my butter from Sams year round.

Let's look at another item of Sams club vs. Kroger Sale.

Here's the Sam's Club price on a 48 oz loaf of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. This is my year-round target price of the equivalent of $1.08 per 8oz bar. I can guarantee I'll get this price any day of the week, year-round.

BUT - here's the Kroger sale on Philadelphia cream cheese this week:
Yep - it's cheaper at Kroger - this week, IF you buy ten of their sale items. And, if you have access to coupons, you could, of course, get this more cheaply than 99 cents. However, most of us won't have access to a coupon on Philadelphia cream cheese at the same time a sale is running on the item. It happens, sure. But here's what I've learned from talking to people who work at the grocery store: Most grocery stores are well aware of what coupons will be coming out in upcoming circulars. Food manufacturers let them know so that if they choose to, they can run a sale in conjunction with the coupon.

Most rarely choose to do that anymore (in my area, at least) because of extreme couponers that have taken them to the cleaners. It is also for that reason that the local grocery stores in my area have seriously altered their coupon policies, and reduced the amount of coupons they will take.

It's the same reason manufacturer's coupons are now issued with very short expiration dates, unlike a decade ago when coupons were good for several months: Manuacturers and stores no longer want to take the chance that you will hold on to coupons and combine them with a really good sale - the same good sale they need to run in order to get people who don't use coupons into the store.

This Badger tracks prices, keeps a target price for items, and buys at that target price or below. Once again, I'm NOT advocating against using coupons - quite the opposite, really. If you are organized and diligent, you can grab some amazing prices with coupon use. I'm just showing the way that works for how the Badger household buys and uses items, and how we shop accordingly.

Mr. Badger does NOT prefer frozen Hot Pockets over Mrs. Badger's homemade calzones that she stuffs the freezer with. But, those with kids may find just the opposite is true.

Do what suits you, your family and household budget best.

Badgers and Coupons are like Bleach and Ammonia

Mrs. Badger doesn't use many coupons - not because they aren't worth the time, or that they can't save you a BOAT LOAD of money. For most people, coupons are worth the time, and they do save you boat loads of money.

The reason you won't see Mrs. Badger using many coupons is for one simple fact: They almost never have coupons for what Mrs. Badger uses and buys frequently - and Mrs. Badger ends up buying all kinds of stuff she doesn't really need when she uses coupons. There's a whole lot of "Mrs. Badger don't care! Mrs. Badger sees she doesn't have to pay shit for this premium steak marinade. Who cares if she doesn't need or want it?"  ..... Yeah... Mrs. Badger does that a lot  when she uses coupons. Ahem.

I know I can get many things almost free, if not completely free by using coupons. My good friend over at Penny Wise is a phenomenal couponer. Given enough time, that woman could get you a year's worth of groceries, personal products and everything else you could ever want for virtually free. 

This isn't too far from the truth with Penny Wise!

But, Mrs. Badger isn't quite that organized, nor that diligent with couponing. There are also only two of us in the Money Badger Household, making shopping easier for Mrs. Badger. And, as I said, there aren't many coupons put out for what Mrs. Badger uses: flour, sugar, canning supplies, fresh vegetables, etc.

So, what coupons does Mrs. Badger routinely look for and use?
- Pet supplies (litter, food, treats, etc) There are five cats in the Badger Household. They're fussy little critters, too.
- Non-food items (Mostly seasonal things - back to school/office supplies, special baking goods at the holidays, etc)

And... that's mostly it. I make most of the cleansing agents used in the home, including laundry soap. (We'll cover those soon)

There is nothing wrong with buying convenience foods and pre-packaged items (most of what you will find coupons for in my area) if your family desires them, and you have the time to coupon for them; with diligence you can get most items free or pretty darn close to free.

Mr. and Mrs. Badger have health and dietary needs that dictate we have to be very careful with what we eat - boxed foods are loaded with many things we shouldn't have. Making them from scratch, however, allows us to eat more of what we'd like, yet avoid all the bad stuff we shouldn't have.

This, of course, goes back to one of the basic Badger principles: You either spend time, or money. 
Badgers spends a lot of time in the kitchen - that's her choice.

I will never advocate this is the right way for everyone; but it is the right way for us. Frozen hot pockets are not a viable option for us, but homemade versions of hot pockets with low sodium ingredients are. Therefore, it's worth my time to skip couponing and just make them from scratch. But.. once again - how often do you see coupons for flour, or yeast? Maybe at the holidays, but I've learned that buying flour and yeast in bulk at the lowest possible price yields me far more flour and yeast for less than the price of the coupons put out at the holidays.

By the way - Penny Wise  has a  fantastic homemade hot pocket recipe!

You Know You're Shopping in the Midwest When...

There's no doubt about it - Shopping in the Midwest is very different from most places in the United States.

There's a real emphasis on down-home, homey-feel-good feelings for shoppers.
There's also a real emphasis on many of the lost arts (for lack of a better word) that I have rarely seen women outside the American Midwest practice. Like... canning and preserving food.

I know that many women around the USA do can foods and use other methods of preservation. Most of the women I've talked to around the nation fall into one of two categories:

1) They grew up canning, and never stopped
2) It's a recently learned skill - learned with the *Canvolution* that has swept the nation.

Even with the rise of food preservation across the US, I've noticed that few stores around the nation cater to food preservation. One lady that I talked to while out in San Clemente California said that she "didn't know people still did that sort of thing".  While there's nothing wrong with that view, I want to tip my hat to shopping in the Midwest.

Where else are you likely to find an ENTIRE aisle devoted to canning supplies, like this?

Yes - all those green cases and boxes are Ball canning supplies. With sugar bags conveniently within reach. The other side of the aisle was also all canning supplies. And... so was the NEXT aisle. 

The other way you know you're in the Midwest?

There's a great deal of trust and *help yourself* attitude. Like this at the front of the store: 

That's right. Free popcorn and free coffee while you shop. Notice the pallet of green canning jar cases in the background.  Yes.. you are in the Midwest, my friends, otherwise known as Badger Territory.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

This Little Badger Went to the Market...

A Saturday morning in the Badger's Midwestern hometown means going to the Farmer's Market.

Heavy rain this morning kept many of the normal vendors away, but Mrs. Badger doesn't mind the rain.
In fact, Mrs. Badger likes the rain.

Many people have been very busy telling Mrs. Badger to skip the Farmer's Markets in her area - she can get the food cheaper at the grocery store - And it's true. 

But Mrs. Badger don't care about paying less for vegetables in this one instance. What is important to Mrs. Badger is supporting the local small farmers - most of whom are families with less than 20 acres of farmland.

Take for instance Jericho Run Farms. One family + 15 acres of farmland in Oxford, Ohio = A Way of Life.

I would much rather pay them more per pound on vegetables than some grocery store. I know where the food was grown, I can go see their farm anytime I want and purchase from them, and I can talk to them personally about what methods used to grow their food. I look right in the faces of those who grew it and harvested it.

Badgers are solitary animals, that's true - but we recognize the need for a good, strong, local economy. Helping the local farmers is an important step. I want them to keep their farms running. I do NOT want that farmland sold for more cookie-cutter cardboard housing. (Which, sadly, is exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Badger live in - bought long before they understood the ramifications of their purchase)

There is also something to be said about walking around the old courthouse square, and interacting with the merchants. I'm reminded a little of my time in Europe when every Saturday was a big market day, and the cathedral square was teeming with vendors selling everything from food to curtains.

The old courthouse and some of the vendors in Badger's hometown

So what did Badger buy?
- 6lbs of green beans - $2.00/lb
- Silver Queen White corn - $1.25/4 ears

The green beans were certainly cheaper at the grocery store ($1.28/lb) but I want to can these green beans, so I wanted the freshest possible - and I wanted to know that what I was canning wasn't loaded with pesticides and fertilizers. Call me a nasty, political badger, but I also wanted to support an American farm-family - not agriculture using illegal immigrant labor.

Not everything a Badger does will be based solely on money; sometimes it's based on doing what the Badger feels is right. And the Badger feels supporting local families making a living as they hold on to their farms is the right thing to do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Strawberry Heaven!

With strawberries running $3.98 for 3lbs at Main Street Market, it's time to pull out the canner!

If you haven't tried canning before - don't be intimidated. Women have been canning for hundreds of years quite safely, and they didn't have the advantages of a modern kitchen, precise methods, and the USDA looking out for them.

If you are afraid of canning because you've heard a horror story, let me ask you: Do you not drive because you've heard about people dying in car accidents? What about using electrical appliances in your bathroom? Do you still take showers and step out of the shower all wet?

I could go on. You can either be a scaredy cat all your life, or you can Badger-Up, and go get what you want. In this case, that would be delicious good home-canned with none of the chemicals and preservatives you find in store items.

Take a gander at the ingredients on the back of this jar of Smuckers Raspberry Preserves:  (I didn't have any strawberry preserves from Smuckers on hand to compare - this was left over from making a Linzer Torte, and I had no raspberry preserves left!)

 Yep. Lots of Corn Syrup in there. You won't have that when you can at home.

Now... here's Mrs. Badger's Strawberry Jam:

And... here's Mrs. Badger's list of ingredients:
     8 cups hulled Strawberries
     6 cups Sugar
     1 tsp. Lemon Juice

Yep.  Not a drop of corn syrup or added pectin anywhere.

To can strawberry Jam
  • Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy stainless steel pot. (Do not use aluminum, teflon, etc) 
  • Bring slowly to a boil, making sure all sugar is dissolved. 
  • Cook rapidly until thick (about 30 minutes - do spoon gel test)
  • Skim off as much foam as possible. 
  • Pour into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. 
  • Clean rims
  • Seal and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes
How do I know the home-canned jam recipe is better for me than the store bought stuff?
Easy - I'm a diabetic. And, while sugar isn't good for me, in moderation it doesn't wreck my blood sugar. (Carbs are harder on me than sugar. Don't know why - it just is!)

Let me have a Tbsp of the store bought stuff spread on a sandwich, and my sugars skyrocket.
That doesn't happen with the home canned jam.

So... you tell me - which do you think the body processes better?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Badgers Like Chicken!

I know what you're thinking. Yeah, I do.
You're thinking: "WHOAH, BADGER! That's A LOT of Chicken!"

Annnd... you'd be right. That IS a whole lotta chicken. But Badger likes chicken. Better than cobra.

Especially when the chicken is at the Badger's target price of $1.99/lb for boneless, skinless chicken breast, as it was this last week at Kroger's.

So what is the Money Badger going to do with all that chicken?
Let's see....
  • Marinated Grilled Chicken
  • Chicken Shishkebobs
  • Chicken Parmigiana
  • Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Creamy Chicken Pockets
  • Grilled Chicken Strips (for salads and lunches)
  • Italian Crock Pot Chicken
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Cordon Bleu Casserole

.......Just to name a few.

This amount of chicken might seem insane to some people, but it is how this Badger rolls! 

As soon as I get home from the store, the chicken is put into portion sizes and vacuum-sealed to be frozen. If you don't have a vacuum-sealer, use ziploc freezer bags. This way, you only pull out the pieces you need for whatever you're making that day/week. 

Now that I've bought this amount of chicken, I will begin inserting it into the menu plans over the next couple months. This means that next month I won't have to buy any chicken, which in turn means I have more liquid funds to buy something else that is at my target price. 

And what if nothing is at my target price? The Money Badger snaps her wallet shut,  and saves the money for when things do hit her target price. (and they almost always do!) The other point is that I've bought enough of many different items that I shouldn't be forced to buy anything because I've run out.

That is how we Money Badgers stick it to the man. The Grocery Man, that is! HA!

Poor Man's Feast

Growing up, it seemed as if my steelworker-father was always laid off from work, on strike, or off due to injury. I won't hand my mother many kudos, but I will say she could make a penny scream keeping us all well-fed.

This was a favorite standby in our house, and was known as Poor Man's Feast. It's VERY filling!

  • 6-8 good-sized Idaho Potatoes
  • 1lb. smoked sausage
  • Misc cheeses
  • Crisco
  • Salt and Pepper
Peel potatoes, and soak in cold water.
Drain after 20 minutes
Put in enough Crisco to cover bottom of pan when melted.
Fry potatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, turning periodically until potatoes are almost completely cooked.

Here's what they look like as they begin frying:
Slice smoked sausage - add to potatoes when potatoes are ALMOST done. (see Pic)
Continue cooking until both sausage and potatoes are thoroughly cooked.
Add any cheese you have right before serving. (optional)
 Here's my finished dish using smoked sausage:
This is the basic recipe - I have modified this to fit whatever I have on hand.

No smoked sausage? Hot dogs or Spam will work.
No meat at all? Then I'll just add a lot of onions and more cheese.
No Cheese? We'll just have fried potatoes and meat.