Make Your Own: Dishwasher Detergent

All you dishwasher-having SQ readers, this post is for you! While having a dishwasher is a total privilege, if you’re able to have one (ideally an efficient, Energy Star model), they generally use less water and energy than hand washing (not to mention they’re a time saver as well!).

We cook almost all of our meals at home, and, as a result, we create a ton of dirty dishes. Plus, we have streamlined our dish and pot collection, so we have to keep up with the dishes or we won’t have anything to use for cooking or eating. We still do a fair amount of hand washing, since we cook multiple times a day and only run the dishwasher when it’s full...so, we find ourselves using the Spaghetti Scrubbers we wrote about last month for our hand washing needs.

We haven’t yet found a suitable DIY dish detergent for hand washing (not for Kristl’s lack of trying), but we do have one we love for the dishwasher!

Our household is nearly completely fragrance-free, which often makes finding soaps and detergents difficult. When we moved into our new place in December, we went to the nearby Whole Foods and grabbed some “natural” dishwasher pods. We got them home and were aghast to find that the pods in the cardboard box were individually wrapped in plastic. This completely went against our desire to use less plastic (though, honestly, we should have done a bit of research before purchasing - nobody’s perfect!).  

Well, that was the first and final straw. (You know we don’t use plastic straws, either.) If you look in the archives, you’ll see we make our own laundry detergent (link to post). It was time to find a good dishwasher detergent recipe.

I did some research and found this fun play-by-play post by Houselogic, in which they tested six different detergent recipes against oatmeal stuck on a glass lid. I kind of wish they had also tested something greasy, but the oatmeal test was interesting to learn from.

We took the most effective recipe from Houselogic and have tweaked it a little bit.

Here’s what we do:

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 2 packets lemon aid Kool-Aid mix or 2 tsp citric acid

Before you ask any questions, here’s a couple things you should know. Washing soda is baking soda that has been heated up to change its chemical structure a little bit. It’s great at all sorts of cleaning, including removing greasy build-up and it’s just as safe and sustainable as baking soda. You can find it in most super markets in with the laundry/cleaning supplies.

Borax is sodium borate and it’s known for its ability to get stuff really fricken’ clean. Crunchy Betty did an in-depth post on borax, which we found helpful in deciding if we were comfortable using borax in our DIY detergents (clearly, we decided we’re fine with it, but you may want to check out that article for more information).

The Kool-Aid/citric acid helps with shining up those glasses and making everything smell nice and fresh. We cut back on the mix, because six packets seemed excessive. We don’t really want our stuff to smell like lemon or Kool-Aid.

To make this dishwasher detergent, mix the ingredients together thoroughly and store it in a jar with a tight lid. We use 1-2 Tbsp per wash. One other thing we do, especially if there is a lot of grease on our dishes or if we have a lot of glasses in the load, is we add vinegar to the rinse aid section of the dishwasher. Your mileage may vary with the vinegar, depending on how hard your water is, but it’s worth trying.

Sometimes the detergent does clump, but it’s nothing a few scrapes with a fork can’t fix!

Oh, and making your own detergent is totally worth the money. The pods we bought at Whole Foods were at least $0.20 a wash, now we’re paying a cent or two at most. If you make a lot of dishes and you have 10 minutes to measure out ingredients once a month, it’s totally worth it.

Have you ever made your own detergent? What’s your go-to recipe? Let us know in the comments!

Making Mustard (again)

Fast forward to early 2015, and Kristl was reorganizing the kitchen two apartments later. She held up the two, still sizable, portions of mustard seeds, and decided to give it another go. We've been eating pretty wimpy store-bought mustard recently, so I was naturally in support of her efforts.

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September 2013 Food Swap

September Swap
September Swap

It's always so exciting when it's time to start prepping for another Food Swap.  We started prepping for this swap about mid July, when we were getting a HUGE number of cucumbers from our CSA (Angelic Organics).  We don't eat a lot of raw cucumbers, so the natural decision was to make pickles. We don't like the way canned (shelf stable) pickles become less crunchy after processing, so we made fridge pickles.  The pickles we decided to bring to the swap were our second batch of fridge pickles for the summer.  The first time we made pickles this summer (and for our broccoli stem pickles), we used dill weed to make them taste like dill.  This time we used dill seed.  The difference is a deeper, but more subtle dill flavor.  We thought bringing some of these pickles to the swap would be a good idea, because it would give a couple weeks to mature in flavor and be just about perfect for our lucky swap friends to eat right up. We even used the Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars Kristl won at the last swap!

The other two items we brought were very different from pickles.  We brought homemade organic vanilla marshmallows and curried pumpkin goat cheese dip.  We made marshmallows for the first time earlier this summer with my friend Tracy in North Carolina. (It was part of an all-from-scratch s'mores project, which was really delightful, even though the chocolate making kit's directions didn't make any sense.) They are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer.  We used organic corn syrup, because we really try to avoid GMOs in our food, and Kristl used a real vanilla bean to flavor them.  We were, however, up against a lot of other marshmallows at the swap today, so even though they came out perfectly, they didn't go very quickly.

The curried pumpkin goat cheese dip is a recipe we came up with a couple years ago as a last minute dish to bring to a party.  Kristl was like, "Oh pumpkin goat cheese would be like pumpkin cream cheese!" And I said, "Yeah, and if we add curry it'll be nice and savory!" And a delicious fall party dip was born. (I'm pretty sure those aren't the real words we exchanged, but you get the idea.)  It's a ratio of about two to one, cheese to pumpkin, with curry to taste (probably around a tablespoon), a little salt, a little honey, and a little lemon.  I can't really give you a whole lot more direction than that, as I did a lot of mixing things in, tasting, and mixing a little more of honey or curry to taste.  It was our most popular item at the swap, and unfortunately, we only had three 1/4 pint jars to give away, and the sample jar (which we gave to a friend at the end of the day.)

Before I go into what we got, I will say that this swap was really overwhelming.  It was held at the Petersen Garden Project's office, which is pretty similar to other previous swap spaces, if you include the outdoor area.  Unfortunately, it was raining, and the backyard had limited tenting, so a few poor folks were set up outside, but the majority of the 50ish (I'm not actually sure about numbers, sorry) swappers were crammed inside the building. It was pretty chaotic, and you could definitely see some folks were overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  I am the more extroverted between Kristl and I, so I was on deck for the majority of the bartering and squeezing around other swappers to find the people and items I wanted.

One new aspect of this swap was that it had sponsors! Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy provided abundant (and delicious) cheese samples for swappers, as well as providing cheese to two swappers to create an original recipe with! We volunteered to be one of the lucky swappers, but were too late. We did use goat cheese in one of our swap items anyway! We're curious to see how things work out with future swap sponsors.

Our bounty
Our bounty

We ended up getting a nice collection of items, regardless.  I was heading out of state on business for most of the week, so Kristl wanted to make sure we didn't get too many perishable/sweet things.  The majority of our swap items were in the realm of the savory.  The only thing not pictured is Chris's sprouts, which were lovely, fresh, and our snack on the way home from the swap.  Most of the items are untested at this point, but Kristl  told me the brussel sprout salad was delightful and the brownish saran-wrapped item, a Filipino rice dessert, was a sort of like stickier version of butter mochi (a sticky rice dessert popular in Hawaii which may make an appearance at a future swap).

It's just amazing to me how creative our fellow swappers are and how different the offerings are at every swap.  Kristl and I try to strategize what is best for each swap, what types of dishes will be popular, and what will get us a diverse collection of items to take home.  Sometimes we are spot on (we think August was our best swap to date) and sometimes we make similar items to everyone else.  That's what happened with marshmallows this time around; who knew so many people would think to make them?  We have follow up plans for marshmallows (think chocolate and graham cracker creations), but for the September swap we still managed to walk away with inspiring items and delicious food.

You know we can't post a swap recap without adding at least one tip for swappers. This one's an important one. Be sure to thoroughly label your swap items.This is the first time we received multiple items with absolutely no labeling. I realized after the swap that we hadn't included a date made/use by date on our swap items.

Here are some things to absolutely include on the label:

1. What the item is. 2. Whether it is shelf stable/should be refrigerated/etc. We usually just throw everything we got from a swap in the fridge, because we don't know if something has been properly canned or not (unless it's labeled or the swapper told us otherwise). 3. Date it was made/canned. 4. Estimated "Use By" date. 5. Instructions for use (if necessary).

If you have additional space, you can also include the following:

1. Your name. 2. A way to contact you if there are questions (email, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone number, etc). 3. Ingredients.

The next swap will be held on Sunday, October 6, at 4pm, at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. The swap sold out really quickly, but if you're interested, you can add your name to the wait list! Spots always open up, so there's a good chance you'll still be able to get in. Jill Houk (amazing chef) and Angie Garbot (fabulous photographer) will be at the space at 3pm to sign their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. We'll do our best to get there early to see them, since Kristl randomly knows both Jill and Angie.

The November swap will be held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, November 10, at 3pm. The last swap of the year will be on Saturday, December 7, at 3pm, at Enerspace Chicago. I believe the capacity for both swaps will be relatively large. Be sure to follow Chicago Food Swap on Facebook to be notified when the swap registration opens. Unfortunately, we have conflicts on both of those dates, so the October swap will be our last for the year. Hope y'all don't miss us too much!

Make Your Own: Laundry Detergent

Wow, has it really been over a month since our last post? Apparently life got in the way of blogging in August. We've been busy ladies - gardening, cooking, traveling, getting engaged (!!), y'know. We have a few posts in the works, but we're jumping back on the blogging horse with this simple one about homemade laundry detergent. I don't know about you guys, but I get sad when I think about the plastic containers used for laundry detergent, plus the fact that if you use liquid detergents (which we used to) you're mainly paying for a lot of water. We tried soap nuts about a year and a half ago, but didn't have great luck with them. I like to wash in cold water, so I'd make a batch of soap nut soak and then use that. Our clothes smelled fine, but everything started to take on a dingy look and it just didn't feel like it was working well. I think we'd have gotten better results had we washed in hot water, but washing on cold is more energy-efficient.

We went back to Method Free+ Clear ultra-concentrated laundry detergent. Even though it's ultra-concentrated and they sell refills so you don't have to buy a new container all the time, it still felt wasteful to me. Plus, I didn't recognize a lot of the ingredients and that makes me uncomfortable.

A couple of friends had mentioned making their own laundry detergent a couple of years ago, but I didn't decide to take the leap until a few months ago. I knew I didn't want to make a liquid because a) it takes a long time to make, b) it requires more storage space, and c) we live in a 3rd floor walk-up and I will do anything possible to lessen the load I have to carry up and down those stairs. I looked around the internet and finally settled on this recipe.

Mixing up the laundry detergent
Mixing up the laundry detergent

I went out to pick up the ingredients (which are rather easily found in your local grocery store) and I grabbed a bar of Fels Naptha soap (a traditional laundry soap). I didn't think to look at the ingredients, but when I pulled it out of the bag when we got home I almost gagged because of the scent. I don't deal well with fragrances. I looked at the ingredients, and sure enough, it was chock full of stuff I'm sensitive to and would rather not deal with. So, I set out again, this time to get a bar of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild soap.

I was worried that grating the soap would take a long time, since my experience grating beeswax for skin creams has been rather difficult, but the soap was super easy! Plus, since it's soap, it washes right off the grater (unlike the super sticky beeswax, which has led to one of our box graters being labeled "NOT FOR FOOD," which is quite the conversation starter when we have guests over).

I put the grated soap in a bowl with one cup each of washing soda and Borax and mixed thoroughly. Then I transferred it to a wide-mouth quart mason jar and labeled it. I generally use 1-2 Tbsp. at a time (1 for most loads, 2 if they're especially soiled). So far it's been working GREAT. I even used it one some really dingy whites and they came out pretty darn shining white. We still have probably half of the original amount left, so it lasts a long time (I do 2-4 large loads of laundry/week). I'd highly recommend making your own laundry detergent!

August Food Swap Recap

Yesterday we attended our third Chicago Food Swap and I can definitely say that it was our favorite one yet. Our host was Green Home Experts, which is an awesome store that I will make sure stop by whenever I'm in Oak Park. They have all sorts of eco-friendly items for the home, which you know is right up our alley. This time we convinced some friends to come along, which I'm sure added to the fun for us. We also decided to take it easier with our swap items to ensure we wouldn't be in a mad panic right before the swap. I, for one, am an excellent procrastinator AND an overachiever, so the last two swaps were pretty hectic for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to bake all of the things, even though Rachel gently told me it might be too much, and I forged ahead and ended up being super stressed. The swap shouldn't be stressful! So we stuck with things that we had made slowly over the past 4-6 weeks and didn't bring anything that would require last minute baking or cooking. We brought more pineapple-infused vodka, since that was such a hit at the last swap. We also brought cherry-infused vodka, some of our raw fermented strawberry vinegar, and sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter Escape
Sourdough Starter Escape

We picked our friend Jess up around 2:20 and headed to Oak Park. We arrived at 3pm on the dot and went inside; Rachel and Jess found a place to set up our goods while I filled out our nametags and raffle entries (yep, there was a raffle at this swap!). We saw our friend Sarah and her friend Amara, of Eat Chic Chicago, and oh my goodness did their table look amazing! Sarah's a professional chef and Amara is a nutritionist, so they totally brought it (in the form of roasted corn and feta salad, cherry fig infused balsamic vinegar, and peach lavender infused white wine vinegar - we ended up swapping for ALL of their items).

We ended up sharing a table with Chris, of the delicious organic bean sprouts and just-spicy-enough (for me, at least) olive dip. Jess outdid herself by making whole wheat croissants, both with and without chocolate, brown butter rice krispie treats, and vegan granola. Once everyone was set up, Emily ran through the instructions and then we started checking out the goods. I really liked the variety at this swap. I immediately saw a few items I needed to have, as did Rachel. Amazingly, we were able to swap for all of our "must have" items!

Once the actual swapping started, things moved so quickly! Rachel is definitely the most extroverted of the three of us, so she blazed her way into the swapping arena and did the majority of the actual swapping. Jess came and went, getting a taste for how the swapping works (I'd say that the actual swapping is the most nervewracking part for newbies!). I mainly stayed at the table, fielding swap requests. It was all over relatively quickly and I was really pleased with our haul. We came with 14 items and left with 16 (it helped that Sarah and Amara gave us the sample jar of their peach lavender vinegar!). Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

Swap Haul
Swap Haul

Not surprisingly, the sourdough starter was our least popular item. We probably won't be bringing more to future swaps, but if you are in the Chicago area and want to try your hand at using a starter, let me know and I can hook you up with some! Also, for those of you brave souls who swapped for the starter, this is the recipe I used to make the sample bread. That link also has information on how to feed and care for your starter. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention! This time there was a raffle with 6 Heritage Collection Pint Jars from Ball and the Desserts in Jars cookbook. Everyone put their name into a basket and Emily drew a winner towards the end of the swap. Guess what? I won! I've already got my eye on a few recipes to try out for future swaps.

We've come up with a few more tips for swappers (in no particular order)! Check out our recap of the June swap for more swap tips.

1. Try not to overdo it. As mentioned previously, I went a little overboard at the previous two swaps we attended. Food swaps should be fun events. If you're going to make something that's really time consuming, flesh out the rest of your swap offerings with some easier items.

2. Wear something eye-catching. Our friend Jess wore a t-shirt the color of a brand new tennis ball to the swap and it made it SO easy to point her out to other swappers who were looking for her.

3. Realize what you're willing to spend. The swap itself is free and how much money you put into your swap items is completely up to you. Some people put time and money into creating labels and getting cute jars, some people put their stuff in a Ziploc and label it with a Sharpie. Some people will use a lot of fancy, high end ingredients, others won't. All of those options are totally valid for your swap items, just be aware that not everyone is going to choose the option you choose.

The next swap will be on September 15 at the Peterson Garden Project in Ravenswood Manor. Registration opens on August 18. The October swap will be on October 6 at the Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. (Please note, the September and October locations have switched since our June recap went up.) The November swap will be on November 10 at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart.

If you want to read more recaps of the swap, you can find some here, here, and here.

Make Strawberry Vinegar

On our quest to prove that you can make basically everything in your own home, we discovered that it is deceptively simple to make your own fermented fruit vinegar. If you have used Braggs Apple Cider vinegar, you know the type of product we are going for here. (If you click through to that site, please note how awesome Patricia Bragg looks.) From start to finish, we used the instructions from Kate over at Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking. We thought, at first, about doing it with peach skins, once peach season comes around, but a friend who was staying with us for a few days bought a five pound bag of strawberry seconds from the Glenwood Sunday Market and left us quite a few of them. (I'm not the world's biggest strawberry fan, but I think I'm starting to come around to them this summer.) So, we had very many strawberries, which we made into all kinds of delicious desserts and snacks, and the scraps we saved for vinegar.

As you can see, if you look at the instructions, all you need to make fermented strawberry vinegar is strawberries, sugar, water, a splash of vinegar (with the mother), a vessel, some semipermiable vessel cover, and the patience to basically ignore this slow but profitable process.

The Cliff Notes version of the process is this:

1. Put the strawberries in the water with the sugar, cover, and stir every day for a week.

2. Strain out the strawberries, add a splash of vinegar (like Braggs) to get things started. 

3. Let it sit on your counter for 2-3 weeks until a mother forms and the whole room/house smells like vinegar (it's not that bad).  

4. Strain again, rinse the mother, and package it up because you just made vinegar (in about a month).

Here's what our process was like, in more detail.

Strawberry parts soaking in sugar water
Strawberry parts soaking in sugar water

The first thing to do, obviously, was to put the strawberries in the sugar water and let the natural yeasts in the air do their work.  We had strawberry seconds, so they were not super fresh, and I did have to battle some mold in the first week.  I solved the problem by keeping the strawberries submerged under a plate.  Regardless, a straggler or two would float to the surface, succumb to the effects of oxygen, and start to decompose. Those bits were promptly discarded. Towards the end of the week, when I took the cloth off the top, I would be greeted with a view like the one below.

Now we're cooking with...alcohol?

Now we're cooking with...alcohol?

Delicious, right? Under that weird stuff is a plate and some strawberry bits. We had enough strawberries to have two bowls going at once. When we strained out the strawberry parts and put the substances back in the bowls, they were smelling pretty much like strawberry beer. I'm pretty sure it would not have been pleasant to drink, because it was wild yeast and the process was pretty crude. If you wanted to actually make strawberry beer, you would go about this in a very different manner. It was cool to walk by and catch a waft of beer-y berry scent. Every time I stirred them, also, a lot of vaguely alcoholic bubbles would rise to the surface. Oh, food science.

Anyway, we strained out the chunks, put the liquid back in the bowls, and added a splash of "starter" vinegar to each bowl. We did use Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar for one of the bowls, and for the other we used a locally made blueberry cherry vinegar from CO-Op Sauce. Then we swirled the bowls every 2-3 days, and largely left it alone. Within a week, the beer-y smell had turned to vinegar and a vinegar "mother" was starting to form on top of each bowl. What the heck am I talking about when I say  "mother?"  Well, the mother is where the bacteria live that turn the alcohol into the super acidic vinegar most of us love. So, a little vinegar mother is what you need to get that process started, just like yogurt needs a starter and kombucha needs a SCOBY.  Vinegar will generally start to form its own mother eventually, but a splash of already established vinegar with mother-bacteria totally moves things along. I'm not going to lie, the mother is kind of a snotty, gelatinous goop that sits on/in your vinegar, and it could gross you out. Brace yourselves. However, homemade vinegar is worth touching one goopy thing, for us anyways.

It's just one goopy thing, you'll be fine.

It's just one goopy thing, you'll be fine.

She's so pretty.

She's so pretty.

You can see how dense the mother in the one bowl was in the pictures on the left. The other bowl's mother was more viscous and didn't drape across the hand quite so nicely. It was more snotty. Different starter, different mother, maybe.

After two weeks of sitting and being swirled on occasion, our vinegar was ready to be strained and bottled. Per Kate's instructions, we removed the mother from the top and rinsed it out. Then we poured the vinegar over a strainer with a thin cloth on top and strained out the sediment.

Strain, baby, strain

Strain, baby, strain

We put a little bit of mother back into each container and called it good. The vinegar has a pretty mild flavor, but it definitely tastes like strawberries. The bowl with the Braggs vinegar had the thinner mother and the vinegar was cloudier. Otherwise, there does not seem to be a discernible flavor difference. Basically, the point is, if you want to make your own vinegar, all you have to do is be willing to stir a bowl of water and fruit scraps semi-regularly for three weeks. Delicious!

Final product!
Final product!