Friday, 27 January 2017

Making home made Ghee from butter!

After reading a lot about the benefits of eating real foods, I decided to go a bit more "natural" with my cooking oils. I have come to realise that a lot of vegetable oils are made using all sorts of awful chemical processes that I couldn't hope to replicate in my kitchen - making them so altered from their natural state they couldn't come under the heading of real food anymore.

Olive oil has been a standard in our house but its not so good at high temperatures, so I needed something that was able to withstand the heat of a stir fry for example, and then I remembered Ghee.

Its just clarified butter. Butter is nice and natural and can be made in my very own kitchen so therefore its not a complicated industrial process. Ghee is even simpler and quicker to make than the actual butter itself.

The reason butter smokes and burns is that its full of dairy "solids". Once you melt the butter and start to heat it, those solids start to burn, turning your butter black and burnt in a few seconds flat at high temperatures. Clarified butter has those solids removed and leaves you with just the butter fat that doesn't burn and can be used at nice high temperatures.

Once I understood that, it was a case of making a batch of clarified butter to use when I wanted to fry at high temperatures.

Here's what I did...

Make or buy a block of unsalted butter and pop it in a pot and melt it. Let it come to a bubble and then you will see a layer of lighter coloured solids come to the surface. Don't let you butter get too hot or it will burn and you will have burnt butter not glorious ghee!

Once the solids have all come to the surface you can skim them off or you can just filter the melted butter through a sieve or funnel lined with a few layers of muslin or a clean Chux cloth like I do. I use the funnel as it directs the ghee where I want it. I find the sieve tends to spread it out and splash the butter about a bit more.

I filter mine straight into the container that I store it in in the fridge. Carefully pour the butter from the pot into the funnel making sure that the ghee is going onto the cloth and not pouring over the edge as the idea is to remove the solids from the liquid.

If you think there is still some solids in the ghee restrain it through a smaller sized filter or double the layers of cloth and pour very slowly. If it burns when you use it, it definitely did have some solids in it still!

The ghee should be a nice bright clear yellow not a cloudy opaque yellow like normal butter. If the solids rise to the top when your ghee is cooling just scrape them off and use them in garlic butter. Its especially tasty if its salted butter that you used! Make sure you still keep the ghee in the fridge like you normally do with butter though.

My "after" picture wont load today so I'll post one next time I make some ghee so you can see the difference between butter and ghee. There are plenty of ghee photos on the net if you cant wait though, if you need to see the before and after shots sooner than I can post them!

Ghee allows me to have an oil/fat to fry at high temperatures without having to put a highly chemically processed substance into my body. Ghee also tastes much better than any vegetable oil that I've ever had before! It cuts down on another bottle of "stuff" I need to buy and takes a few minutes to make. If I'm desperate, I can make enough on the fly to get dinner sorted because its so quick and easy to make. I melt the butter in the frying pan and filter it back into the pan rather than a container and just keep going!

What are your ghee making experiences like? Let us know by posting in the comments section!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 especially if you use home made or organic butter!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for making your own!
Time cost: About a minute and a half!
Skill level: Melting butter - almost as easy as boiling water!
Fun-ness: Good to know its one less bit of rubbish going into my family body!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Homemade dog treat toy!

We have an Australian kelpie called Tia. I think she is a red kelpie crossed with a normal kelpie but at any rate - she is a kelpie through and through. She gulps her food like she has never been fed and also like to bury bones and other bits and pieces to the delight of the chickens who promptly dig it up and eat it themselves.

In order to give her a treat that she cant bolt down in a half second and also to be able to leave something for her to find later - we created a time lapse capsule dog toy for her!

I had seen something like this at our dog sitters place but it was free standing on a frame and moveable. I didn't have the skills, time or patience for something like that so decided we could use the same principals and make something similar with what we had.

Once you've seen it - you don't really need instructions but I'll run you through what I did so you at least know the pitfalls to avoid and the improvements to make!

Here's what I did...

I fished a couple of soft drink bottles out of the recycling bin and gave them a wash. I started by using a craft knife to cut holes in the sides and then when the husband caught sight of this activity, he got out the power tools and cut nice neat-ish holes the right size with a mouse hole drill bit.

As long as the holes are more or less opposite each other on the side of the bottle, it should be all good.

Thread the bottles onto a piece of dowel that you find lying around in the garage looking lost and alone. If you cant find an orphaned piece of dowel, a broom handle or a straight-ish stick from the garden will work just as well.Check that the bottles spin freely - although now our dog has got the hang of getting the treats out, I wish I had made some of them a bit firmer so they didn't spin quite so easily.

I then found a couple of small star pickets, also looking lost and lonely, and banged them into the ground so that they were positioned as far apart as the ends of the stick. I used a cable tie to hold the dowel in place but a piece of wire or string would work too. It will need to be fairly firm as the dog isn't going to be gentle with this toy!

So now you have a string of bottles that will spin along a stick that is held off the ground by the star pickets. And that's it - you've done it! Now the really fun part! Put some small biscuits, like cat biscuits (Tia raids the cat bowl for these all the time) or broken up dog biscuits into the bottles and show them to your dog.

Even though Tia watched me put the cat biscuits in the bottle and could smell them, it took her about ten minutes of sniffing around and looking at them before she worked out how to get them out.

I pushed the bottles and made them spin a few times. She saw the biscuit fall out and finally twigged how to get them out and started pushing at the bottles with her head and paws to tip them up.

Once she had the hang of it she was away and seemed to enjoy making the biscuits tip out. The chickens can see the biscuits but can get at them even though they peck at the bottle from all angles for ages!

Since then I have cut holes in the sides of two of the bottles and put the lids back on those ones to make it a bit harder for her. I leave one bottle "easy" so she gets an instant reward and wants to stay for more, but the other two are harder to get the biscuits out as upside down isn't enough anymore. She has to balance them or tip them slowly so the biscuits slide over the holes to fall out.

I cant say it takes her longer than a few minutes to get them out, but it does make for a good way to distract her when you need her out of the way for something. I often put a few biscuits in the bottles on my way out the door so she gets something fun to do when we leave the house.

I've seen her wander over and have a sniff to see if the biscuit fairy has been at all, which usually triggers the biscuit fairy to put her book and cuppa down, get off her backside and deliver said biscuits!

This doesn't replace not walking your dog or paying attention to it but I see it as an activity that she can do by herself and uses a bit of brainpower to get the reward. We don't feed her exclusively from the bottles - Its just where most of her treats go now. It hasn't stopped her from begging at the table nor stopped anybody for falling for the big brown eyes and slipping a titbit under the table to her.

Maybe I should serve dinner to the family in one of the devices!? ;)

If you have one of these or know of something similar, pop a link to it in the comment section and share it with us all!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for creating something new with what you have already 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a cent!
Time cost: About 15 minutes all up.
Skill level: Cutting round holes in the side of slippery plastic bottle - so not that easy!
Fun-ness: Great fun to watch the dog snorting and snuffling around for the treat when it finally falls out of the bottle!


Monday, 9 January 2017

Making a Terrarium out of an old Moccona jar!

I have always loved terrariums! The whole concept of an ecology system in a jar on my bench really appeals to me!

There was a workshop at Capalaba Nurseries on making Terrariums for Christmas and so I went along to see how it was done. It was a fabulous hands on workshop with a great instructor called Emma who is unflappable and full of hints and tips as well as really knowing her stuff.

After I attended this workshop I tried making my own at home for Christmas gifts and was really really pleased with the results... Here's what I did...

Starting with a largish jar (the Moccona on the right is about a 2 litre capacity) I gave them a good wash and clean to make sure I wasn't locking any nasty moulds or bacteria in with my plants.

Next comes a decent handful of rough rocks and gravel for drainage. Since these are going to be seen, its good to make sure they fit with your overall colour and/or theme. When I went to buy gravel for this project, they guy handed me a gravel menu!!! It turns out there is blue, pink and green gravel along with brown and grey - as for the sizes - A Chinese meal menu would have had a smaller selection of choices! There is a lot of gravel choice out there people!

The next layer is a sand layer. Both the gravel and sand are for drainage so your plants don't drown. While there isn't as much variety in the sand department, there is still a fair bit of choice. If you know what your finished product wants/needs to look like then you'll know if you are after rough coarse brown sand or silky smooth white sand. To add some interest we made our sand layer a bit uneven, just like in the real world, rather than have it all in perfectly straight layers.

An important part of the terrariums structure is the big spoonfuls of activated carbon that goes in at this point. It soaks up the impurities and keeps the terrarium smelling good. We put a couple of decent tablespoons on top of the sand layer.

Next is a layer of good quality potting mix with a bit of fine compost in it. This is the layer that your plants will be getting all their nutrients from so it needs to be full of goodies for the plant rather than fillers for the manufacturer to make $ from...

At this point make just a thin layer as once you have the plants in, its easier to fill up a bit more then than to dig holes now. I was aiming for a jar that was 1/3 soil/gravel and 2/3 plants and air as I thought those were good proportions. Step back from the jar occasionally and check to see how much of the jar you are filling. Remember, you are trying to make a terrarium not a pot plant!

If you haven't already, now is the time to select your plants. The smaller the better! I've always loved the "wet" look in the terrarium, some people love the succulent desert thing, some love the beach theme and some love the fairy garden, so I chose a fern as my main plant.

I put him in a bit off centre so I could put a contrasting plant in next to him. At this point I pushed the plant into the soil but not too much as I don't want the roots down in the drainage area.

See how the fern is a little off centre leaving room for another plant or "decorating element"!

For my second plant I chose this little red veined Fittonia to sit next to the bold green fern. I thought it was a nice contrast. The Fitonia will out grow the jar - but as long as you are happy to cut it back or replace it sometime its not a problem. Once you have got the plants where you want them, add some more potting mix and tamp it town with your fingers or a stick so that the potting mix is firm around the plants.

To get the potting mix where you want it, try using a piece of card as a funnel and direct it where you want it. The less mess you make the easier it is to clean up later. Once the potting mix is more or less in place, use a stick or your hand to tamp it down around the plants firmly.

The next layer is a small decorative gravel (like what you often find in a fish tank) that is used as a mulch to help the surface stay moister longer. Its easer to put it in using a piece of card as a funnel than to try and spoon it in or use your hands to scoop it in.

I made a slope in my jar to add a bit more interest. I used each layer to exaggerate it all a little more. Its a bit more interesting than straight lines!

I also really like being able to see some of the gravel at the bottom of the jar. It also allows you to see how much water you have in the terrarium and if you need to leave the lid off for a day or two to dry out a bit or if you need to add some water.

We used the squirty bottles you can see in the background to dampen each layer to make it sit well and to wash down the sides of the jar when we flicked dirt or gravel onto it.

Next you get to play with the non-living decorative elements like rocks, wood, trinkets and anything else your heart desires! I decided on a rock and a piece of old wood with a bit of moss on it.

My final terrarium had two plants, one rock and an old piece of wood in the background.


To get the water off the sides of the jar, I used a bit of loo paper to wipe the water off with. For the bits you cant quite reach...

roll a bit of loo paper around an old gardening fork and push that down the inside of the jar to dry up all the water that's been squirted around.

A close up of my finished terrarium!

For my second terrarium, I used contrasting plants and went for the "wet" look again. I used a few more rocks and made a "pile" rather than having just a single specimen and used the wood more like a log this time.

I really enjoyed this project!

I ended up making a few for Christmas presents for my friends as I found a spice shop shutting down and selling 2.5 litre jars with lids for a dollar each! The gravel, sand and potting mix can be had at any soil supplier or even a good nursery. The activated carbon is the same as the stuff used in fish tank filters and the decorative gravel can be found in nurseries, cheapy shops or in pet shops in the fish section.

Make sure you get really small but healthy plants as the stress of putting them in to your terrarium might be too much for a plant that's not so happy to start with. I was continually surprised at how big a small plant really is!

If you aren't sure what type of terrarium you want to make, there are a few really good websites around to help you with ideas for your terrarium. Click on the images or links to go to the websites!

il fullxfull.775268983 qdoa The Urban Grow   Terrarium

Image result for terrarium


There are a at least a million and one, and probably more, ideas for terrariums out there! If you have one you'd like to share, pop the link in the comments section and let us all see it and be inspired!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for repurposing jars and for using things you already have! 
Frugal-ness: ?/5depends wether you have a lot of the bits needed and if you can resist buying all the wee knickknacks to go in a terrarium or not...
Time cost: Once you know what you are doing (after the first one that is) you can make them in about 15 minutes from go to whoa if you have all the bits to hand.
Skill level: Basic gardening knowledge!
Fun-ness: So much fun to be able to create a world to sit on your desk!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Dying a red dress purple!

I have this amazing fire engine red dress that I bought to go to a graduation. The young man I was supporting had a black suit with a red tie and wanted me to wear the same colours. I found this dress for $10 at the local op shop and managed to pick up a pair of shoes, a scarf and a clutch bag all for the princely sum of $20 in total!

I wore it again to an 80th birthday party but decided that it was a bit bright for me and never wore it again. I love the dress but found bright, bright red to be a little (a lot, really) too bold for me. I toyed with dying it but didn't want to ruin it and so it hung in my wardrobe.

I was reading some books about clothes dying and one author pointed out that if I tried to dye it and it didn't work, I wasn't going to wear it anyway so what difference would it make to try and fail???

I couldn't refute that logic and decided to give it a go!

Here's what I did...

I researched on line for the right kind of dye for the material. The dress is a poly-cotton and I thought it would be better to dye it a darker purple than a lighter one and so looked for dyes that would dye that material. The dress has an underskirt that was tulle and I knew it wouldn't dye with this dye and decided that a flirty red petticoat was bold enough for me! In the end some of the stitching must have been done with nylons or other materials and they didn't change colour either.

Darker colours dye better if you use a hot water dye and so I looked for that in my dye as well. In the end I chose a royal blue high temperature dye. My reasoning was that the red wasn't going to wash or bleach out. It was going to be part of the new colour. If I went for a purple, I thought I would increase the red component of the final colour, rather than reduce it. I could also live with a blue dress if I was wrong! We all know that red and blue make purple and so I went for the bluest blue I could find to go with my red red.

These two packets cost me $11 each online (with free postage) and arrived in two days from the manufacturer, Tintex. I used these dyes when I dyed my faded bath towels a few years back.

To know how much dye to get I weighed the dress and used the Tintex online guidelines to assess how much dye I would need. As each garment is different and each dye requires different things its not so helpful to explore all the variations here.

I boiled up my biggest pot with fresh water and guessed how much room the dress would need.

I mixed up one sachet of dye to the manufacturers instructions and added it to the pot. If you look at the picture you can see dye granules sticking to the edge of the glass jug. Make sure they dissolve. I have granule marks on my dress as I didn't dissolve them properly. Its not obvious unless you look closely but I wish I had taken the extra minute or two to dissolve them or to sieve them out.

Add the dye to the pot and reboil it.

Wet the dress thoroughly - move it around and make sure its all wet as they dye wont dye evenly if its got dry patches in it. wring it out enough to transfer it to the pot with out drowning you and the kitchen.

Gently lower the dress in and as quickly as possible submerge the dress into the dye and keep it moving gently so it dyes evenly. I used both sachets for this dress as I wanted it to be as purple as possible.

I used gloves to move it around and lift parts out and turn it over trying to get the dye evenly into all the creases and crevices.

Once I had exceeded the manufacturers times and quantities, I took the pot off the heat. They assured me that It wouldn't get any darker or make any difference after 20 minutes. (I was pretty bored by it all by then anyway!)

I tipped the whole pot (very carefully) into the sink and let the dye drain away. You can see the colour of the dye compared to the dress in this image.

Then I turned on the cold tap and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the dress until the water ran clear. I wrung it out by hand as best as I could and put it back in a bucket to take outside.

I hung it on the line in the shade (it was an overcast day) and left it to drip dry. It was really heavy and so I folded it in half. Once most of the weight of the water was gone I put it on a clothes hanger to finish drying.

The tulle part didn't dye at all even though when it was in the pot you couldn't see any red. Some of the stitching didn't dye either... You can get dye that will dye these materials but I didn't think it was really worth the extra time and expense. It adds detail and charm to the hand made product to have red stitching and a red underskirt!

All in all I think it was a success. I have a half baked thought to dye it again with the same royal blue dye to see if I can make a more blue purple that I prefer rather than the maroon reddy purple that I've got... but I haven't done anything about it!

I'm glad I did it. I wore the dress on Christmas day and I love it! If it hadn't worked, I wouldn't have worn the dress if it had been red - so it wouldn't have made any difference. I could have just given it back to charity and bought a new dress but this one fits really well and is lots of fun - it was just bright red!

If you have dyed a dress successfully or otherwise, pop a comment or a link in the comment section below and let us know how you dyed a dress new!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for being able to continue to wear a dress. 3/5 for water consumption - it took a lot of water to rinse all the dye out... I'm glad I'm not on tank water!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for getting a new Christmas dress for $22 and not having to leave the house!
Time cost: About an hour from who to on the line. A days drying and a weeks worth of anticipation of wearing a new dress on a special day!
Skill level: Just follow the instructions! Pretty basic as long as you do do what they say!
Fun-ness: great fun to have a new dress in a colour I love!
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