Monday, February 28, 2011

All-Natural & Inexpensive Drain Cleaner

This is an all-natural and inexpensive drain cleaner that really works and is good for the environment.
¾ cup baking soda
½ cup white vinegar
Several cups boiling water
 Use in the following order to clean your pipes without causing damage:
1. Pour the baking soda down the drain.
2. Immediately follow by pouring the vinegar down the drain. The drain will foam as the reaction occurs.
3. Wait 30 minutes to an hour.
4. Pour the hot or boiling water down the drain, and your drain should be clear, clean and fresh.
If the drain is still slow, repeat the procedure once more.
I do this monthly to keep the drains clean, clear, and sweet smelling.
Here is another recipe that works well and is easy to store in larger, pre-mixed quantities. Use the basic recipe and make as much as you like to store for future use.
1 part baking soda
1 part salt
1/4 part cream of tartar 
Pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of recipe into the drain and flush with a kettle full of boiling water. Run hot water from the tap for a couple minutes, then turn to cool water and run for another couple minutes. Do this monthly.
Warning: NEVER EVER mix this drain cleaner with commercial drain cleaners like Drain-o. A very nasty chemical reaction will take place which is dangerous. Make sure your drains are clear of commercial product prior to using the homemade cleaner. Once you start using the home made version, you can leave the chemicals on the shelf in the store. If you have a septic tank, you should check before using these cleaners.
Written & submitted by Linda @ Penny-wise

Sunday, February 27, 2011

DIY: Compost Bin & Rain Barrel

It's almost that time of year...time to start seriously thinking about readying our soil for gardening, time to start planning our beds, time to start preparing for a beautiful summer of growing our own produce! We are planting our first vegetable garden in our backyard this year. My husband has already planned out the raised beds, and all we are waiting on is a nice, less windy weekend to get them built. We have our seed source ready, although we are waiting just a bit longer to order seeds. And we have located an organic farmer in our area who is more than willing to share his secrets and his soil with us. 

One thing we've been stumped on is compost. I had in my mind this dreamy compost pile. I scoured the internet for the kind of compost barrel that has its own platform and handle to easily stir the compost. Well, those unfortunately, cost anywhere from $250-$800! Not in the budget this year!

That's why I was relieved when we received this e-mail from Amanda:

I am an avid gardner and have just "discovered" some inexpensive ways to have the garden I have always wanted.
I recently made my own rain barrel and compost bin out of inexpensive trash cans. I have always wanted one of those nice compost bins where you add your materials and out comes beautiful compost, but they are so expensive and I thought I would never have one. While looking at some other gardening products, it struck me that surely I could make a composting bin myself for much less. I found a few videos demonsrating how to make a bin out of a trash can that cost around $20-$30. 

Simply drill some holes for air to circulate on the sides, top, and bottom. That's it! Add your kitchen scraps, old plants, and other materials to compost. Once a week, lay the bin on its side and roll around to turn the pile. In a few weeks you will have compost for your garden at the fraction of the cost of purchasing it or buying a premade compost bin. 
The same applies to a rain barrel. Why pay $150 for a rain barrel when for $20-$30 you can make one out of  a trash can? I simply set a trash can on some bricks and inserted a spigot near the bottom to attach a hose to or fill up my watering can. 
I hope this can help some others who love gardening but don't have the finances to get the fun stuff to help make gardening easier. 

Amanda, thank you for these useful and penny-wise tips! 

Written by Lindsey @ Penny-wise, Submitted by Amanda

Friday, February 25, 2011

Simply Sugar & Gluten Free

About two weeks ago, I (Lindsey) discovered the blog Simply Sugar & Gluten Free. I've been a follower ever since.

Let me tell you what I love about this blog:

  1. Amy, the writer, tells her own personal story of how gluten and sugar controlled her life for so long that she had no freedom and lived a life of shame because of her weight and constant cravings. I love it when people are real about who they are.
  2. I have tried several different recipes, and none of them have been disappointing! In fact, I can heartily recommend the Tomato Basil Pantry Soup, the Shredded Chicken Tortilla Soup, and the Zucchini and Brown Rice Gratin
  3. In addition to fabulous, easy to follow recipes, there are also links to other gluten-free and sugar-free blogs, tutorials on how to blend g-free flours, guest blog posts, and media articles highlighting the gluten-free lifestyle.
If you have a few minutes and a cup of hot tea, take some time to browse this wonderful, helpful site. It's definitely one of the sites we like! I have also linked this site on the right side of this page in the section "THESE MIGHT BE FUN..." 

Written by Lindsey @ Penny-wise

Apple-Cheese Muffins

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt, if desired
3/4 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup sharp cheese, grated
1/4 cup milk
1 cup apple pie filling, chopped apple, or applesauce,
1/2 cup nuts

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees. Grease or line muffin tins.
In a large bow,l cream the margarine and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. In another bowl sift the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Then stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the oats, apple, cheese and nuts, and mix well. Add the
milk last and mix in well. Spoon the batter into prepared pans and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until done.

Makes approximately18 muffins.

Submitted by Linda @ Penny-wise

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Nit-Picky Checklist

I don't know about you, but I catch a cleaning bug every once in a while. It's not just any cleaning bug; it's more like a rampant virus. I'll start dusting the living room and, before I know it, I'm washing windows, vacuuming curtains, and scrubbing tile grout with a toothbrush. And I had this bad habit of overwhelming my entire family with cleaning checklists, honey-do chores, and slave-driving behavior.

Well, I decided several months ago that I was tired of being overwhelmed {and tired of dragging my husband and kids along for the ride} with all the nit-picky cleaning and organizing tasks around my house. You know the ones I'm talking about: the dust bunnies under the couch, the accumulation of dust on the bathroom light fixtures, or the funny smell coming from the fridge. The every-day chores like vacuuming, sweeping, and laundry are easy. No one has to remind me to do those. It's those nit-picky ones that cause me to become the Wicked Witch of the West, when they all catch up to me.

I created this monthly checklist for myself. It has 30 tasks, one for each day of the month. If a month happens to have 31 days, then I get that 31st day "off" in a sense. February is the only tricky month. I simply try to double-up on tasks for two or three days to make sure everything gets done. My list is printed off and hangs on my fridge, right next to our dry-erase calendar, so I'm sure to see it everyday.

I wanted to share my checklist with you. And please, feel free to adapt it to your own home and family, if you find it useful. It's numbered and each number corresponds with that day of the month.

1. Clean microwave (sometimes I have to do this more than once a month).
2. Clean inside windows and windowsills.
3. Organize pantry.
4. Organize/inventory cleaning supplies.
5. Sweep front porch.
6. Vacuum/dust mop under my bed.
7. Straighten my closet.
8. Dust picture frames throughout the house.
9. Clean oven.
10. Check the linen cabinet.
11. Clean off washer and dryer.
12. Clean out fridge.
13. Go through the junk basket.
14. Straighten a child's closet.
15. Move and dust mop under couches.
16. Iron.
17. Organize/inventory craft closet.
18. Deep clean kitchen sink (I like to make a paste out of Borax and let it sit in the sink for a while, then scrub.)
19. Vacuum curtain tops (we don't have blinds.)
20. Change A/C filter.
21. Dust light fixtures and ceiling fans.
22. Straighten a child's closet.
23. Wipe down couches (we have leather, so I use special leather wipes).
24. Go through the deep freeze.
25. Organize/inventory spice cabinet.
26. Organize school shelves and baskets.
27. Clear and dust computer desk.
28. Straighten my husband's closet.
29. Clean out inside freezer.
30. Clear and dust nightstands.

We are family of four, so everyone's closet gets a good organizing once a month. We also have wood floors throughout our entire house, so there's lots of dust-mopping in our house. And, I should point out that my children are fairly young (5 1/2 and 7). As they get older, many of these tasks, such as straightening their closets, wiping down the couches, and dusting nightstands, will be passed along to them. In fact, my son swept the front porch by himself today, and did a fabulous job!

I share all that, not to make you feel overwhelmed, but hopefully to show how easy it can be to keep all those jobs done that can sometimes go neglected. Most of these tasks, with the exception of cleaning the windows, oven, and light fixtures, take 10 minutes or less. The only one I dread monthly is ironing, but alas, I can no longer ignore it. At least it's not piling up like it used to!

Again, please feel free to adapt this list to your specific needs, if you have found it helpful. 

Written and submitted by Lindsey @ Penny-wise

Mexican Seasoning Mix

Here is a recipe for homemade Mexican seasoning mix. It's much less expensive than buying envelopes of pre-made mixes, and you can make as much as you like to have extra for other meals.


3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 tsp. onion powder.

Combine everything and store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag. For every pound of ground beef (like for tacos) use 1 Tbsp. mix. The recipe above makes about 1/3 cup.

This recipe is gluten-free, assuming your spices do not contain gluten- or wheat-based additives or preservatives.

Submitted by Heather @ Penny-wise

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mouse Repellent

Here's an interesting one for you: make your own mouse repellent.

I know. I kind of raised one eyebrow too. Who makes their own mouse repellent??

Well, you do. If you're looking for even the weirdest ways to save money, here's one of the most unique we've ever offered. Or, if the thought of your two-year-old accidentally ingesting mouse poison freaks you out like it does me, then this is for you. OR, if the thought of a dead mouse in your house (or elsewhere on your property) gives you the willies, then wouldn't you rather REPEL the mice than trap them, poison them, or worse, find one dead? (Cue horror music from the movie, Psycho.)

{Funny side story: I actually called my husband home from work one day and insisted he, dispose of a dead mouse I found in our laundry room. True story.}

So, it's pretty simple:

All you need is peppermint oil. Not peppermint fragrance or extract...peppermint essential oil. The good stuff.

Put 5-10 drops in a spray bottle and fill with water. Thoroughly spray the rodent's access and travel points (ie. that mysterious hole in the sheet rock in your garage counts).

That's it.

Phew. That was easy. And I bet it smells pretty good too.

Submitted by Gaeleen. Written by Lindsey @ Penny-wise.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

G-free Pizza Crust & A Cookbook Review

Learning to cook and bake gluten-free has been a bit challenging. I am sure it's that way for anyone who's used to doing something a certain way all her life, only to have to abruptly change it. Thankfully, the learning curve is generous, and I've had some great friends give me a good handful of g-free resources and recipes.

My sweet friend Linda, who helps tremendously behind the scenes here at Penny-wise, sent me a wonderful cookbook: The Gluten-Free Kitchen. This cookbook, written by Roben Ryberg, doesn't have any recipes in it that might seem daunting or weird. It's just plain ol', simple, kind of cooking. I have already made the pizza crust (recipe posted below) and the traditional pie crust; and both were easy and tasty. In fact, I made two pizzas, and there were no leftovers! A few of the recipes contained in this cookbook are:

  • Fried Chicken (YUM!)
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Pancakes
  • Gravy
  • and of course, pies, cakes, and even streusel!
I plan on trying many more recipes. Linda, thank you AGAIN for this invaluable resource!

And now, The GF Pizza Crust (which is, by the way, much less expensive than buying a mix or a pre-made, frozen crust...very penny-wise!):


1 packet yeast (about 1 Tbsp.)
3/4 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup potato starch (not potato flour)
3/4 cup cornstarch*
1 Tbsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shortening

Preheat oven to 375.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and milk. Stir to dissolve yeast and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients and mix well. (I used my KitchenAid mixer, and it worked very well.) To these ingredients, slowly add the yeast/milk mixture and mix well. Dough will look wet, thick, and pasty but is quite workable if you spray your hands with nonstick spray or keep your hands damp with water. This is a soft dough.

Roll or pat out dough onto a lightly greased baking tin or pizza pan. For a thick crust, pat out to 1/4 inch thickness. For thin crust, pat out to 1/8 inch thick. A 12-inch circle will produce "hand-tossed" thickness.

Top as desired.

Bake 15-25 minutes, until crust is lightly browned. Use a spatula to lift up the pizza to check for light browning on the bottom of the crust the first time you make it.

This crust is freezable! Bake the crust and freeze it without toppings. Then you only have to thaw, top, and bake briefly.

*Lindsey's Note: I made this crust exactly according to the recipe the first time. Then, I wanted to see if I could add more nutritional value by using other flours in combination with the cornstarch. For my second crust in place of 3/4 cup of cornstarch, I used 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup brown rice flour, and 1/4 cup sweet white sorghum flour. The taste and consistency were not noticeably different from the original recipe, so I will probably use this method in the future.

Written & submitted by Lindsey @ Penny-wise

Morning Muffins


2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt, if desired
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup coconut
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 cups grated carrots
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 grated apple
1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together.
Fill paper lined muffin tins 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 35 minutes. These freeze well.

I like to have these muffins for breakfast or a mid-morning snack. They are delicious and healthy!

Submitted by Linda @ Penny-wise

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hummingbird Feeder Solution

This week has been a beautiful change of scenery and temperatures from last week's Blizzard-fest 2011. We have been out-of-doors everyday this week, playing basketball, going to the park, walking, and cleaning up a little around the outside of the house. 

I couldn't think of a better time to post this recipe for a little snack for our friends, the hummingbirds. I know winter won't be over for another month, but this just makes me giddy for the spring that's right around the corner. Unfortunately, we don't get many hummingbirds here in West Texas, but I'll try this solution anyway and hope for the best!

Here's how it's done:
Dissolve 1 part granulated sugar in 4 parts boiling water. Cool. Refrigerate until needed. Red food coloring is not necessary.

*Note from Linda at Penny-wise Women: I use this recipe myself in my feeders and never use food coloring. It works great, and we always have loads of neat to watch. I also highly recommend a DVD called First Flight: A Mother Hummingbird's Story. It is a nature documentary by Noriko and Don Carroll based on their book of the same name and published by Andrews McMeel. I highly recommend the hummingbird solution, the documentary, and the book to all you nature lovers.

Written by Lindsey & Linda at Penny-wise. Submitted by Gaeleen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gluten-free Flour Mixes

Here is a basic Gluten Free Flour Mix that I like to use. This works well for using when a recipe calls for flour. You can mix this up ahead of time and store. You can double or triple it. Then when a recipe calls for flour, just sub in the same amount of your GF flour mix!


1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup tapioca starch or potato starch
1/3 to 1/2 cup almond meal, buckwheat flour, millet flour or quinoa flour (whichever I have on hand)
1 tsp. xanthan gum

If you want a self-rising GF flour mix use this one below! Again, make extra ahead of time and store.

1 cup of the GF flour mix (from above recipe)
1 1/2 TSP baking powder
1/2 TSP salt

Written and submitted by Carrie

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spider Control

Does the ingredient list on your can of spider spray remind you of a horror movie? Ingredients you can't spell or pronounce, chemicals that could possibly wreak havoc on your mind or body--all included in that can of Raid you've got in your garage. And, if you have a chemical-sensitive or autistic child, forget about pest control of any sort. Those chemicals can cause numerous reactions in their little bodies.

Our friend Gaeleen has come to the rescue again with yet another all-natural pest control option:

Soak 1 package chewing or pipe tobacco in 1 gallon boiling water untilcool or overnight.  Strain into container.  Combine 1 cup tobaccojuice with 1/2 cup lemon dish soap.  Pour in spray bottle.  Spray downcorners and dark places.

No scary ingredients. No harmful chemical smells. Just inexpensive, all-natural spider control.

Submitted by Gaeleen

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Home Remedy: Garlic and Lemon

Our family began a journey toward natural health three years ago. One of the all-natural, home remedies we have implemented is fresh garlic and lemon juice.

Garlic is one of nature's own antibiotics. Garlic, especially organic garlic, has a high sulphur content, making it perfect for destroying bacteria, fungus, and free radicals in the body.

Fresh lemon juice has many benefits as well. Lemons are naturally antiseptic and are full of magnesium, calcium and potassium. Like garlic, they are an alkaline food. {If you are not familiar with the importance of having an alkaline diet, please read this article.} The combination of garlic and lemon is a powerful one.

Our family has gotten over a variety of illnesses, including strep throat, stomach viruses, bladder infections, and upper respiratory infections with nothing but garlic and lemon. No antibiotics, no expensive trips to the doctor's office, no harmful over-the-counter medications; just garlic and lemon.

One easy and tasty way to experience the benefits of lemon is by drinking water with lemon in it. I love to pour myself a huge glass of cold water, add the juice of one lemon, and a packet of stevia. It's the best lemonade ever! You can also add fresh lemon juice to smoothies or squeeze it over buttered pasta.

Garlic can be a little trickier. Unfortunately, raw garlic isn't exactly known for it's taste or it's ability to make your breath smell nice. But, if you're sick or feel like you're getting sick, it's worth it.

We simply take a clove of garlic and mince it as finely as possible. Then we add it to about half a cup of apple juice and chug it down. It's not the most pleasant thing in the world, but we're able to get it down even our five-year-old. Then we take it just like a doctor would prescribe an antibiotic: two or three times a day for four or five days.

The benefits of taking garlic are numerous:

  • You're not putting chemicals into your or your children's bodies.
  • The cost is extremely minimal, especially compared to over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
  • Garlic builds the immune system, rather than destroying it as an antibiotic will do.
You can easily add lemon and garlic to your everyday routine. Start the day by drinking a big glass of lemon water, and take your garlic in the morning along with your other vitamins and supplements. 

Of course, if you feel like you or your children need to go to the doctor, please do so. It never hurts to be safe!

Written and submitted by Lindsey @ Penny-wise

Monday, February 7, 2011

G-free, Granny-style Cornbread

Our friend Gem has sent us yet another gluten-free recipe. 

She apologizes in advance for the "haphazardness" of this recipe. "That is how they get after you have made them a million times," she writes.


1 cup cornmeal (Gem prefers stoneground cornmeal.)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
(Note: I usually crack an egg into my measuring cup, then add milk to make 1 cup--1 cup dry to 1 cup wet ingredients)
1/4 cup hot melted butter or oil

Now, I have a certain enameled cast iron skillet that I use to make cornbread; I think it is a 9" skillet. This quantity fits well in that skillet. You could use an 8x8 square pan, I am sure. You can also double the recipe for a larger skillet-maybe not quite double the salt, though (3/4 tsp. perhaps).

I mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then mix the egg/milk in the measuring cup. I heat the butter in the skillet till very hot and foamy. Add the wet to the dry and stir just to combine, then add the hot butter (you can swirl it around in the skillet first to grease the pan). Stir in the hot butter, then pour the batter into the hot skillet. This is what forms the crust on the bottom of good southern cornbread.  

Bake in a hot oven, around 425 degrees, for about 15-20 mins. If you like sweet cornbread, add a bit of sugar.

Submitted by Gem

Thursday, February 3, 2011

G-free Pantry Essentials

This whole gluten-free thing has, in a small way, created a bit of an inconvenience in my day-to-day cooking and grocery shopping. It's not that I mind our family going g-free. After all, it is for the health of my baby (who will turn seven in two weeks!), therefore totally worth any extra effort or expense. It's just that I was really comfortable in my cooking and shopping before. I rarely ever had to look at our favorite recipes; they were all neatly tucked away in my brain, ready for preparation on a moment's notice.

Not so much anymore.

Late last week, I went through our pantry, fridge, freezer, and deep freeze. I gave every, single food item containing gluten, including my favorite Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour, to a friend--half-joyfully at how I was helping her family and half-wincing over what I felt like I was losing. 

I then took a step back, looked at my mostly empty pantry and fridge, and wondered how in the world I was going to fill them again with things that wouldn't make my boy's tummy upset anymore. 

Then, like a bolt from heaven, we received an e-mail from our friend Carrie. She has apparently been doing this g-free thing a lot longer than I have. She sent us her own list of gluten-free pantry essentials!

Not only am I excited to share it with you, but I am also pumped to begin stocking and using these ingredients in our meals too.

Carrie says, "These are items which I find necessary to keep in my pantry. They help in my day to day gluten-free cooking--basic essentials, if you will, for gluten free cooking without all the pre-made mixes!"

Xanthan Gum
Baking Soda
Baking Powder
Brown Rice Flour
Potato Starch
Potato Flour
Sorghum Flour
Tapioca Starch (a.k.a. Tapioca Flour, it's the same thing)
Buckwheat Flour
Almond Meal
Pasta Joy brown rice noodles
Imagine soups 
Corn meal
Sea Salt

And if you just have to have a mix, Carrie highly recommends Pamela's Products.

Thanks, Carrie! I have a feeling this list is going to make my life a lot easier!

Submitted by Carrie; Written by Lindsey @ Penny-wise

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Applesauce Bran Muffins


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup All Bran cereal
1/4 cup milk
1 cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour two 12-cup muffin tins or line with paper liners.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Next, combine bran cereal, applesauce, oil and egg; mix well. Add the bran mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing just until moistened. Fold in nuts and raisins, if desired. 

Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until muffins test done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Makes a great addition to breakfast or a wonderful any-time snack!

Submitted by Heather @ Penny-wise