Thursday, March 31, 2011

Empty Egg Cartons

Since I bake a lot, there tends to be a lot of empty egg cartons in my house. I have come up with some creative ways of using them so that they serve a practical purpose rather than just making some kids craft that will sit around until I think the kids won't mind if I threw them away. 

For the most part I simply went with the idea that these things are disposable and go in our city compost trash bin. 

One of the most common uses I have for the empty carton is to use the lid to hold our table butter. My family uses this to put on their bread or biscuits, and I've always found it handy to have softened butter out. I like to keep the butter in its wrapper to keep anything gross out of the butter. The beauty of using the egg carton as a butter holder is that you can clean your knife on it to prevent crumbs from getting into the butter and if it gets nasty then there is no need to worry about washing it out.
The next purpose is probably more common, and that is to use the egg cups as a paint palette. My youngest has just gotten into finger painting, so this works great. If it gets really nasty we can just throw it away and get a new one.  
Another common practise is to use the cups for seed starters for your garden. I love this idea because the cups compost easily. Once your sprouts are ready to plant then you can just pop them in the ground. For certain plants you can even keep the cups in place, but for larger plants you may want to separate the cups. The egg carton is strong enough to hold the seeds for about a month before they get too weak, so for anything that requires a longer germination then it is best to start your seeds between two wet paper towels until it sprouts and then put it in a cup of dirt in the egg carton. 

After researching on the internet I found a few more interesting ideas for empty egg cartons. Here are my top five picks:

1. Fire starter - place either dryer lint, charcoal briquette, sawdust, ect in the egg carton, then take some melted paraffin wax to seal up the open end and keep the fuel in place. 

2. Christmas ornament organizer and cushion - this one seems self explanatory. There is a lot of things you can use these for organization, but none are quite as practical as Christmas ornaments. These would work best for those small bulbs or hand made treasures. 

3. Packing material - this could serve as a cheap and more environmentally friendly alternative to styrofoam packing peanuts. 

4. Coin separator - perhaps it is because I haven't figured out the money system over here, but you can use the cups to sort out your coins.

5. Tiny portable compost pile - the lid to the egg carton works well to hold your food scraps you want to compost. Since the egg carton is compostable there is no bowl to empty, just put all your scraps in the lid and toss the lid in the compost bin. 

I am continuing to find new ways to reduce or reuse our everyday trash. Stay tuned as I look for new ways to reduce our trash output. We have recently been informed that starting in June our already tiny trash bin will only be picked up fortnightly (that means every other week). So we need to reduce our trash to just one white kitchen bag a week. For a family of five that will be a challenge, esp since the baby is still in nappies (diapers).

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fluffy Pillow

I only know a handful of people who really love their pillows. The problem is that it seems nice and fluffy at the store. Then over time it gets flat. In the past I have washed my pillow to fluff it back up, but after awhile it doesn't help as much. Typically this means it is time to buy a new pillow, but since we moved to London we have to be careful about what we throw away. Admittedly it has created some inconveniences, but the situation has started some great new habits and creative ways to make things like new.

Anyways, the typical pillow is filled with polyfil stuffing which causes the standard pillow life cycle as described above. Then there is the foam pillows that your head sinks into, but it bounces right back up in about a minute. The problem with these pillows is I just find it uncomfortable to have my head resting in a mold of my head. Perhaps I'm slightly claustrophobic. 
As you can see in my pictures, I took some craft foam and cut it up into cubes. To cut the big block of foam I use a bread knife. I keep one around just for craft purposes. When I got all the cubes cut up I put them in the center of the pillow as shown above. Then I just stitched up the side of the pillow, and my pillow has not gone flat since. Keep in mind there is various firmness levels of craft foam, and the thickness of the foam makes a difference as well. I like a really thick and firm pillow, so the foam I used here is for a chair cushion but I didn't use very much of it. However, I made my husband a travel pillow with a similar technique and used the type of foam you'd find on top of a mattress. Its all a matter of how much give you want your pillow to have.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Duck Egg Cookie Experiment

Living in London we have the chance to buy various foods that we would not normally have access to back in the States. On our last visit to the farmers market I purchased duck eggs. I knew nothing about them, but I was excited about playing around with this new ingredient.

So before I go into the experiment, I thought I would share my research about duck eggs. Duck eggs:

  • have a thick but fragile outer shell.
  • should replace two chicken eggs in a recipe.
  • have a larger yolk, but the whites are less watery than a chicken egg.
  • got a bad rep for salmonella, so make sure you cook them throughly (runny yolk).
  • yolks have more fat in them than a chicken egg and the whites have more protein.
  • take longer to whisk to a peak, but once you do they get fluffier than chicken eggs.
If you are like my family you are dying to know: Which is healthier? Well that is hard to say. The duck egg has more fats from the yolk, more protein from the whites, but also more vitamins compared to the chicken eggs. So I guess it is a trade off and depends on how you define "healthier."

Now, on to the experiment.

As you see in the pic above, the chicken egg and matching cookie is to the left and the white duck egg is to the right. The size of the duck egg is slightly bigger than the large chicken egg. Let me first start off by everything I controlled. I  made two batches of cookie dough at the same time. I have a cookie dough scoop that makes sure the same amount of dough is in each cookie. I baked them both at the same time with two separate cookie sheets that I rotated half way through the cooking time. 

The results:
As you can see the chicken egg cookie is more flat. This is what I expected since all of my cookies turn out like this. The duck egg cookie maintained some of its height, which I hear is common when using larger eggs in general. After making everyone in the family taste the two cookies, most of us agreed that the duck egg cookie was better in both taste and texture. The duck egg cookies had a smoother texture and a richer taste. The only opposing view was from my son who didn't taste a difference, but was happy I made two batches of cookies. 
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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Organizing Coupons

I have always had the intention of using coupons, but honestly it seems like so much work. I can get over the time I take at home sorting through them and putting them into categories. I've never had anything against coupons. My mom used to use them all the time. I recall her saving $25 regularly on her groceries. She was very frugal with our food budget as she dragged me to two or three supermarkets on Saturday, which was the only day I'd go because it was free sample day. My mom then took the money she saved and we went out to eat at Friendly's.

The problem comes when I am at the store. I have kids in tow, I'm tired, and I just want to get out of there as soon as possible. See I have the problem where the longer I am in the store the more money I spend on groceries. I'm not sure if the food just jumps off the shelf into my cart, random people walk by and place their unwanted goods into my cart, or if my groceries simply reproduce like rabbits. The problem is always made worse when I have coupons. I always THINK I have a coupon for everything I am going to buy. Then I get to the checkout, pull my cart to the side, sort through my coupons, and then realize half my coupons wouldn't work because I picked the wrong size, a brand with deceptively similar packaging, or I had to get two or more of something.  As I mentioned at this point I'm tired, so it is no wonder I gave up on any hopes of saving money with coupons...well until now.

What changed: two things really. #1. Right before we moved to London my neighbor, who seemed to have very similar shopping habits as me, went on a coupon kick. She saved a shocking amount of money and her kids didn't complain; they were actually bragging about how much money she saved at Target. #2. Well we moved to London and food is outrageously expensive. Sadly when I arrived I was all ready to start couponing here in the UK, but I realized their coupons (or vouchers as they call them) are not really what we are used to in the US. Its more like entering a discount code to get free shipping. I've come to the conclusion it is because they do not really manufacture many of their foods here in the UK.

Fortunately I found out that the commissaries over here except coupons 6 months past their expiration date. So I asked said coupon clipping neighbor to send me her old coupons. She gladly did, but then I had to find a way to actually use them. I decided that if I could see every coupon and easily flip through as I went shopping it would help elimatate the dreaded end of shopping coupon search. So I decided to use a photo album. This lets me see each and every coupon I have, the exact details, terms, conditions, and I'm added a pocket on the front to store my coupons as I go through the store. I'll keep you posted on my saving.

So here is how I made the pocket. I cut out a rectangular piece of fabric. The size depends on the size of the photo album you select. I cut out a piece of iron on stabilizer just less than half the size of the rectangle. 

As I iron down the stabilizer, I turned the corners down and ironed them down as well. I then just put a small line of fabric glue on the three sides of the pocket and glued it down to the front of the coupon book. I then just wrote the word COUPONS in white puff paint on the front cover. 

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