Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring Cleaning Economies

As the snow relinquishes a little more yard each day, our severe cabin fever has hubby and I excitedly calculating days until spring and making plans for the new season. Topics like gardening, foraging and geo-caching crop up frequently. Before heading outdoors, though, spring cleaning needs doing. And this year its usual schedule has been pushed up by wild asparagus, which sprouts early in this area. Geo-caching, too, is more enjoyable during the spring.

We never look forward to spring cleaning. It's an arduous process, but the spanking-clean results always satisfy. Time and effort aren't the only expenses, either. Greater than normal use of cleaners and towelling – and their environmental impact – add to costs. There are ways to economize, though. Here are ten handy hints that spare labour, time, money and/or the environment:

1)            Some of the most effective and inexpensive cleaners are household products you probably already have:  dish soap, white vinegar, baking soda, toothpaste, salt, and lemons, to name a few.  Alone, diluted, or mixed in varying combinations, these items clean as well as many commercial products, have little or no environmental impact, and leave the home smelling fresh, not chemical.

2)            A couple tablespoons of ammonia mixed with a little dish soap in a 5-quart pail of water, cuts grease and makes glass and metal surfaces sparkle.  While ammonia is a naturally-occurring substance, its many industrial uses have overloaded environments, so home-use should be sparing and cautious – chlorine gas, formed by mixing ammonia with bleach (or products containing bleach,) can be fatal.

3)            There’s no better re-purpose for used toothbrushes than to spend their final days scrubbing the myriad tiny crevices and hard to reach places found during spring cleaning.

4)            Newspaper polishes windows better than paper-towelling or rags.  Flyers with coloured pages don’t work but any black and white newsprint, dried a few days, polishes glass without leaving behind streaks or lint.  Afterwards, the paper can be recycled as usual.

5)            For most cleaning, a good supply of rags helps keep costs down.  They stand up better than paper to vigorous scrubbing action, especially in wet conditions, and rags rarely end up in the landfill.

6)            Save future labours with preventative maintenance.  For instance: (a) after cleaning ceiling fans, shine their blades with furniture polish to prevent dusty build-up and ease cleaning in the fall; and/or (2) rub a little mineral oil on defrosted freezer walls, prior to re-freezing, to enable quicker de-icing when cleaned next.

7)            Schedule tasks requiring heavy labour days apart to avoid over-exertion; easier tasks during the interim periods.

8)            In general, clean one room at a time to minimize household disruptions and ensure thoroughness.  However, some chores need less time and other expenditures when done altogether.  For example, cleaning all light fixtures or all window blinds at one time usually requires less water and cleaners, fewer rags to launder, briefer overall allocation of work-space, fewer clean-ups, and equipment like ladders or tools can be stowed sooner to prevent clutter.

9)            Clean from ceiling to floor to avoid repeating tasks.

10)          Improve efficiency by applying production-line procedures to certain tasks, like those necessitating wet and dry hands, or separate dis-assembly/assembly and cleaning processes.

Spring cleaning usually takes us three to four weeks to complete so, by our hopeful calculations, if we start this weekend, the yard should be ready for preparation by the time we're done. A few weekends of yard work and, with luck, wild asparagus will be beckoning us afield!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sublime Valentine

Valentine’s Day is always a welcome occasion.  One of the most romantic days, it occurs here during the bleakest and (often) coldest time of year.  What better way to warm body, mind and spirit than with a little romance?

Popular ways of setting the mood include fine dining, lingerie, or gifts of jewellery.  All these can be lovely experiences but, when budgets are tight, stressing about over-spending can easily dampen the passion.  Yet extravagance isn’t necessary.    With a little creativity, there are ways to express your love without breaking the piggy-bank.

One our favourite Valentine treats is chocolate.  In better years, we’ve enjoyed some of the fancier delights from our favourite Chocolaterie, but when life must be lived more frugally I make homemade truffles.  They can’t compete with the professional’s fare, but they are scrumptious and we get more seductive chocolate (by pound) for significantly less dough.

I have two recipes.  One is truer to the traditional recipe -- a ganache made with dark chocolate and heavy whipping cream -- and results are always light and luscious, though heavy in calories.  The second recipe (shown below) is a little more firm, like a soft caramel, but rich in dark chocolaty flavour.  It also flirts outrageously by having 16% fewer calories, 35% less fat and 25% less cholesterol than the original recipe!

Chocolate Truffles (reduced fat)
½             cup          Butter, unsalted
½             cup          Cocoa, powder, unsweetened
9               oz            Sweetened condensed milk (300 ml)
2               tsp           Vanilla extract

Melt butter in heavy saucepan on low heat.  Add cocoa and stir until smooth. Blend in sweetened condensed milk, stirring constantly until mixture is thick, smooth, and glossy (about 5-10 minutes.) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Refrigerate a few hours (approximately 3-4) or until firm. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in your choice of topping: cocoa, espresso powder, salt, icing sugar, and/or nuts.

(The nutritional comparison provided does NOT include toppings.)