Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Homemade Laundry Soap Update

I told you in April that I would update you on my experience with the homemade laundry soap recipe that I posted.   Well...I tried it...and.....(drum roll, please)  I haven't seen any difference in our laundry.  With a messy 3 yr old in the house, this is a great thing! 

The homemade soap is cheap and easy to make.  When I ran out, I didn't need to run to the store (we all know what can tempt us THERE...), I just needed to make up another batch.   Our clothes are clean and smell great, thanks to the scented Dawn that I added.  

So...if you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend it!

Potato Soup anyone?

I've been very busy with my job lately, so I haven't had as much time in the kitchen.   We've been eating a lot of one dish meals and soups with bread.   So...I thought I'd share one of my favourites with you.

Willow's Amazing(ly easy) Potato Soup
(feeds approx. 4)

1 quart chicken broth
6 medium sized baking potatoes, cubed
3 small carrots, diced
1 yellow or white onion, rough chop
2 celery stalks, chopped
1T butter
2 cups milk
2T butter
McCormick's Italian Seasoning Grinder Blend
Black pepper
1T flour or 1T cornstarch

Peel, cube and cook potatoes and carrots in just enough water to cover.   Drain water, slightly mash potatoes leaving some chunks.   Add chicken broth to the potatoes and carrots.   Saute onion and celery in 1T butter.   Add all to the chicken broth pot.   Bring to a slow boil, add milk and butter, as well as black pepper and McCormicks Italian Seasoning to taste.  I strongly suggest this spice blend as it includes cayenne, which adds a very nice flavor to the soup.  Turn down the heat and let cook uncovered for about 30 minutes or so, stirring regularly.   I prefer cornstarch to thicken my soups, but know that many prefer flour.   I add cornstarch to about 1/8th of a cup of very cold water, mix well with a fork and slowly whisk into my soup.   This provides a tasteless thickener without clumps. 

This is an easy, filling, delicious soup that makes a great dinner for those with busy schedules!  I often double the recipe if I need some freezer lunches for my husband.  This also goes incredibly well with my no knead bread recipe!!!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Homemade Laundry Soap - No Grate, No Cook !!

Remember how I said I hadn't jumped into green cleaning with both feet?   Strike that....

After a seriously successful experiment with ammonia and a very icky (hey, it's a technical term!) broiler pan...I have decided to try more of the homemade cleaners.  I noticed over the weekend that my stockpile of 30 bottles of laundry soap had dwindled to a mere 5 under my husband's watchful eye, so I am going to start there.

I've found this recipe for a liquid laundry soap that does not require you to grate soap or cook on the stove. 

3T Borax
3T Washing soda (NOT baking soda!)
2T Dawn dish soap (great as a grease fighter and adds a lovely scent!)

Put these 3 ingredients into a one gallon container.  Add 4 cups boiling water.  Gently shake to dissolve.  Let cool.   Add cold water to equal one gallon.  

Since I had so many empty laundry containers that I'd saved, I filled up 2 of them from this recipe.   These 2 gallons cost less than 40 cents to make.    Reviews on this laundry soap seems to be positive web-wide...I'll make sure to share my take on it after I've done our weekly laundry!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Crafty Friday!

I have rediscovered an old friend...Modge Podge!!   There are so many cute projects out there that use this crafting favourite that I just had to jump in head first once again!

Thrift store shopping has become a favourite past-time lately and I have picked up several (very boring) glass candle holders.

A little modge podge, a piece of laser cut scrapbook paper and 15 minutes later, I had this fabulous candleholder for my dining room table.  In the picture is another of my thrifting finds, a gorgeous star dish in the same lovely blue.

After a successful crafting time with my old friend Modge Podge, another former crafting buddy made a re-appearance ---  double sided tape!!!   See what a little scrapbook paper, double sided tape and twine can do!

Approximately $8 and a half hourr, I had 2 wonderful new (frugal) candle holders for our home!  I love upcycling thrifted items and am SOOOO glad that it is finally garage sale time here in West Michigan!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Best Bread Ever!!!

I have finally achieved that pinnacle of baking ---  the "best bread" award from my husband, who was raised on what I was previously led to believe was the best bread ever of his childhood housekeeper, Mrs. Ryan, in the small village of Kenmare, Ireland.

I use a no-knead bread recipe that sits on the counter overnight raising...and then bakes in a cast iron dutch oven.  The humidity bakes it *perfectly*

Here is the recipe with my tweaks!

4 C King Arthur Bread Flour                                
1 t active yeast
1 t salt
2 T sugar
1T olive oil
1 2/3 C warm water
(good  additions - thyme, oregano, rosemary, parmesan cheese, sundried tomato)

Mix dry ingredients together (i use a wooden spoon), add warm water.   Mix together, dough will have a sticky consistency.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, leave on counter for approx 18 hours.

Using floured work surface and hands, gently work the dough into a loaf by folding over and tucking the ends underneath.  Do not knead, it will make the bread tough!  Flour the bowl and then carefully lift the loaf and pop it back into the bowl.  Cover with a floured towel.  Let rise for 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.   After oven is preheated, put your covered dutch oven or deep casserole dish (i use cast iron, but i've heard that other types work too as long as you cover tightly with a lid)   to heat.   After 15 minutes remove, pick up dough and move to the dutch oven.  Dough will spread out and cover the bottom of dutch oven.  Re-cover, put into the oven for 30 minutes.   Remove lid, bake for another 3-5 minutes to brown the top.

Easiest and best bread i've ever tasted!  Makes a perfect "artisan" type loaf every time!

Monday, April 22, 2013


I finished my first project tonite and couldn't wait to share it. I found this Simplicity hat and purse on clearance at Joann's today for just $2 ea!!!!   My sewing skills are extreeeeemely rusty as I found out over and over again tonite.  I wouldn't choose to use this trim again, but i adore the crochet flowers!

My husband and I have 8 children between us, only one girl (his) who I was never blessed enough to meet before she passed away.  These are meant as a gift for a coworker's daughter.  But I have NO idea what little girls and not so little girls like. She's a little sweetie, I so hope this makes her smile!

is it cute or cutesy?

Crafty Plans....

Today has been an absolutely fabulous day!  After I made the world safe for foodservice equipment dealers everywhere... I snuck out to the craft stores!  I've been itching to glam up some of my recent thrift store finds and tomorrow, I'll have pics!   Along with the need for spring cleaning, i've also had this redecorating need.  I'm not the worlds most savvy decorator, though...so I've been scouring the frugalista sites and pinterest and crafty blogs for ideas.   Tomorrow, I hope to transform a tray for my dining table, make some terrific candle holders and fancy up some candles for our living room.     I am also working on a purse for a co-workers daughter (shhh, don't tell!!!)   This is more up my alley, though...I love working with fabrics and yarns and have been embellishing items for..um...decades (did i just age myself???)  I'll also spend some time with our little guy tomorrow making fridge magnets!! (pics forthcoming!)  He loves to craft and will be home with Mom every Tuesday and Thursday through the summer.  

tune in tomorrow for photos of our crafty day!!!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A little more spring cleaning...

While I have not fully embraced the idea of green cleaning,  I am currently experimenting with a few homemade cleaning recipes.  Right now, the only one I am using on a regular basis is an all purpose cleaner.  I have to use it with the windows open or my husband has a fit (he hates vinegar!)

Mix into a spray bottle:

1 C white vinegar
3 C water
enough essential oils to mask the vinegar smell (!)

I used a combination of bergamot and lemongrass (2 of my faves!)

A few sprays onto the counter or the sink and it wipes up nicely with a rag.  You could probably also use paper towel, but I don't like paper towel or paper napkins and have not used either for many years.  I cut up old clothes, towels, whatever to make up my rags.  

The only thing I don't like this for really is cleaning my cooktop.   Baked on messes are best cleaned with a paste of baking soda and water - leave it for about 15 minutes or so and then rub with a wet rag.   The ick comes off but the baking soda will often leave a residue that you want to rinse again.  I will occasionally go ahead and use some of the all purpose cleaner above but find that i often have to go back over with a microfiber cloth to get the streaks off my glass cooktop.

If anyone has green cleaning tips that they love, please share!  I will try them out and post about my experience!

Weekend Splurge....

We splurged yesterday when visiting a fabulous local cheese shop called "The Cheese Lady" .  They have a FABULOUS irish cheese.  The hubs, being from Ireland, misses the sharpness of farmstead kraft cheese.  Paul picked up the Irish Cheddar (apparently their best seller!!) and some amazing blue cheese.   I spoiled myself with an amazing fontina and some herbed water crackers.  

Obviously, I can't eat the crackers without a wonderful dip or snack...so I am making one of my favourites --  tabouli!   As you can see, I make this flavorful middle eastern dish with cous cous rather than the traditional bulgar.  I've adapted this recipe to our taste... I have also substituted quinoa for an added protein burst!  I often eat this for lunch with a pita or with crackers. It has a fresh from the garden taste that i love!    I hope you enjoy this as much as our family does!


  • 1 cup couscous (white or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantri
  • 1 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 small cucumber, diced small
  • 3-4 T fresh diced garlic  (to taste)
  • 1/4 C feta w/sundried tomato (optional)


 Cook couscous per directions. Set aside to cool, fluff with a fork.  In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic  and  olive oil to make a vinaigrette. 

In a large serving bowl, mix together the couscous, parsley, cilantro, mint, tomatoes, feta, cucumber and scallions. Toss with the vinaigrette and season to taste. Refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can marry

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ammonia Trick

Spring Cleaning has arrived at our house once again...

One of the things that i desperately needed to do was clean our oven and our stove, including the burner pans.  I used a trick i found on Pinterest to clean the burner pans and thought I would share it here.    I put each of the pans in their own ziplock baggie with about 1/2 cup of ammonia, sealed them up and put them out on the deck for a few hours.  I just rinsed and photographed.   The Pinterest tip said to leave it over night...given that my results were not as positive as hers were, next time I will definitely try leaving overnite.   There i still some residue on the pans, as you can see by the photo but overall this was a fabulous tip!

Back in the land of the living...

A case of strep throat that morphed into a serious asthmatic bronchitis, several antibiotic courses, a number of steroids, breathing treatments and three doctor visits later...I am finally feeling somewhat like myself!    Our little guy came home sick several weeks ago and shared with both Mommy and Daddy.   I can't remember when i was last that sick...sheesh!

My bloggy plans were derailed, but we'll get back on track in no time!   Over the next week or so, I will be sharing some of our favourite recipes and tips for spring cleaning!

Spring?  Did someone say spring?  We saw Spring here in West Michigan for 2-3 days last week but since then, we've felt temperatures drop into the 40's and had snow on the ground.  (really???  argh!)
But, its the time of year that prompts the need to clean and reorganise, not the warmth and sun. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thankful on a Tuesday

Today i'm thankful...
              1. for 3 yr olds that love to share chocolate graham crackers with frosting in between....
              2. that i haven't ordered a dress for my 2nd oldest son's wedding next month
                  (see item 1)
              3. denim pencil skirt find at Goodwill for $3.99
              4. warm soup on a chilly day...
              5. little bits of green herbs and veggies inside when we can't see it outside yet

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Menu Plan

Yesterday, I mentioned that we've achieved our fabulous grocery savings by having a meal plan, making a list of ingredients from there and then matching up items we need to local sale fliers.

I thought I'd share my weekly meal plan today!   I've already looked in our sale fliers to see that boneless chicken is on sale, as are round roasts.   I have ham for soup, veggie burgers, steaks and bacon in the freezer.   I will look for low cost replacements for our freezer.  If you buy most of your  main ingredients ahead of time and buy the rest from what is on sale that week, you can assure that you are always paying the lowest price you can.

When you create your meal plan, work around your weekly schedule.  For instance, my husband teaches at the local university on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  By the time he gets home, it is almost 9pm and he does not want a big heavy meal.  I typically try to have a soup, stew, or light meal of some sort for him.  Friday nights, we take our little to kids gym, his class starts at 6:30 so we have to have a quick dinner.   To avoid dinner stress and increased costs associated with eating out --  plan around your weekly schedule.  It makes for a smoother mealtime and happier family



Scrambled eggs






Paul – soup from freezer

Willow - salad with cucumber, shredded cheese, croutons, ranch



Baked chicken breast

Roasted potatoes

Broccoli & cauliflower (1/4 each…fresh)





French Toast

“Hot dog” sausages





Paul – soup from freezer

Willow - salad with cucumber, shredded cheese, croutons, ranch



Ham and Bean Soup  (freeze 2 servings of leftovers)

Homemade bread








Paul – leftover soup from freezer

Willow - Boca chicken sandwich, raw carrots



Swissed steak

Mashed potatoes

Fresh green beans





Scrambled eggs w/cheese

Greek Yogurt




Paul –   lamb stew from freezer

Willow –  tabouli & pita, fruit, greek yogurt



Spinach quiche

Homemade bread









Paul – sandwich & chips

Willow –  tuna pita, chips



Veggie burgers

French fries

Baked beans




Pancakes w/fruit or peanut butter

"hot dog" sausages




Bacon sandwiches

Leftover baked beans

Cut up apples



Steaks on the grill w/blue cheese butter

Roasted baby potatoes

Steamed Broccoli







Greek yogurt w/berries




Sunday Dinner

Crockpot roast


Carrots & parsnips


Yorkshire pudding




Cut up apples (with and without peanut butter)

Graham crackers

Homemade granola

Stick pretzels

Nuts & raisins

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Devil is in the Details, eh?

Are you on a budget? Trying to save money off the monthly grocery bill? I've cut our bill by more than 65% over the last two months. We are eating so much healthier by cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.  Here's how:

Now that Mama is working from home, there are no more quick runs out to dinner because everyone is too tired or too stressed to cook! I have found that having a weekly meal plan is imperative.
Make a list of your meals for each day of your shopping period and then stick to it! Planning in this way helps you to purchase all of the ingredients at one time that you will need.

Additional trips to the grocery add to grocery costs in a huge way (can you say...impulse buy?) Not sure about this? Read the book "Why we Buy" from Paco Underhill This amazing book explains the science and psychology of shopping. Stores capitalize on a number of strategies to get you to buy more...(don't think the candy shelves at the checkout are accidental!) It's a daily struggle not to fall into their trap!   With smart planning and smart shopping, you can beat them at their own game!

If you are just starting with menu plans, as i was just a short time ago...you may want to start with just your dinner plans. Living a more frugal and simple life requires more time spent in planning but so much time and money savings on a day to day basis that we'll never look back!

I start with my grocery fliers....what is on sale right now? Do i have any coupons or store rewards that I can use to plan my meals around? I then go to the cookbook where I keep my family's favourites recipes. What meals will fit the items on sale at my local stores this week?   I try to incorporate a new recipe or two each week. 

As I decide which recipes I'll make, I make a list of ingredients required for each. I try to make sure that i have a couple meals each week that include the same on-sale ingredients. For instance, if we have spaghetti with a bolognese sauce, I will also plan hamburgers or a beef stroganoff. Casserole type dishes typically work best for our family, as the hubs takes leftovers for his lunch. Our little guy is still very picky, so I try to make sure I offer at last one item that I know he likes (green beans go down a lot easier with spaghetti, you know....)

Once I have a list of meals and ingredients, I start going through ads and coupons matching up sale prices with our needs for this week. I typically shop at 2-3 stores to maximize my savings. The trick to saving money is that once you've gone for your time period (whether you shop weekly, bi-weekly or monthly)...you don't go again. I cheat here a bit,  as I set aside money to buy bread & milk every 3 days. We do not currently have a second freezer and our fridge is quite full on a regular basis.

When you've made your list, matched up your sales and your coupons...Shop Baby Shop!!!


Little Sickie

I've meant to share a lot of recipes and craft ideas over the last couple of days, but our 3 yr old Sammybug has bronchitis and strep throat.  ugh!!!!  He's been down for three days now, no playing, very little eating...not even much talking.   NO FUN!!!   He is curled up on the couch with not one but TWO blankies and his favourite stuffy - Doggie.   Things should be back to normal in a couple days here, as he starts the antibiotics today.  The Dr explained that there is a lot of this going around right now that typically leaves by spring break week.  Due to our rather late start to spring, the infections seem to be increasing rather than decreasing.   

We have a new chant at our house...spring,spring,spring,spring,spring.....
even our Sammybug can get behind this one!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring,Spring...Oh Wherefore Art Thou Spring?

Since spring has decided not to visit our little corner of Southwest Michigan for yet another week...it is a soup day at our house.   I have been making pots of soup, chili and stews every week.  While I'm not a fan of soups and stews, my husband (being from Ireland) definitely is!   So the first recipe I'll share is for his favourite Beef Barley Soup!   I will be serving this today in homemade bread bowls.  I hope to share my bread recipe tomorrow with photos of our bread bowls!

                                                               Beef Barley Soup

1T olive oil
1 lb beef (i like to use top sirloin if i've been able to get it on sale)
   trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
Approx 45 oz of beef broth (this can be from bouillion, canned broth or
   stock that you've made and frozen)
4 medium potatoes peeled and cubed
15 oz canned tomatoes (again, homeade canned or store-bought--your choice)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
1T cider vinegar
2t dried marjoram
2t dried thyme
2t dried basil
1t salt
1/2t black pepper
1 1/2 cup green beans - cut into bite-size pieces

***Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.  Brown the beef on all sides. 
***Add beef to the broth, potatoes, tomatoes, onion, carrots, barley, vinegar, marjoram, thyme, basil, salt and pepper in a large soup kettle.   Bring to a boil over high heat.
***Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours until the beef is tender.   Remove cover and add green beans - cook another 30 minutes.  
***Warm the tummies and the smiles of your family with this hearty soup

Monday, April 1, 2013

location, location, location

Do you ever find yourself getting so frustrated knowing that you have a bag of dried split peas somewhere for soup but just can't find it?!?!?!     I recently tacked this situation head on....

I headed to Meijer - $2 off coupons for SnapTite storage containers in hand and VOILA!  My new pantry cupboard.   The spice cabinet better beware...i'm on the rampage!!!

Thrift Store Serendipity

I was sitting at my desk ... working like crazy, needing a break from the complexities of foodservice equipment quoting....when it hit me!  Today was a fabulous day for a trip to our local thrift store!  I have been planning to head that way for the last week, since our little guy will soon need jackets.  I typically try to have one good one that is worn only when we go out and several "play" jackets that can be rolled around in the grass and dirt in.   What better place to pick up play jackets than the thrift store!?!?  

This is new thinking for me, by the way.  Six months ago, I think that Kohls and Old Navy were dedicating new wings of their stores to me.  Convenience and availability, however, are no longer an option if it isn't a good value for our family.

As i am browing the aisles, I note several nice toddler boy jackets --$2.99 ea!!!!  I picked up 3 of them...  I look through the dresses to see if there is anything appealing that I could alter for myself -- nothing.   On top of a rack of clothes I see dress shoes for men -- a brand new pair with the tags in my husband's size for $14.99.  Typically this brand would retail for about $45.   SCORE!!!!   Now I just have to convince my ThriftStorePhobic husband to wear them!!!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

holiday hoopla....

It was a quiet day at our house --  quick visit by our 20 and 18 yr olds (long enough to eat and run).   Our 3 yr old. Sam very much enjoyed his basket and the egg hunt!!!!  He found them all and ate more candy than he's had in the entirety of his life thus far....  I purchased the candy with coupons and special deals....

We had a fabulous dinner or leg of lamb, roast potatoes, peas and flaky biscuits....I was able to provide our entire dinner for less than $15 thanks to sales and coupons!!  It never bothered me before that lamb is so expensive.   It may have taken me a whole lot of years to shop effectively for our family, but i think i'm getting the hang of it.

Easter eggs we coulored Saturday - most are shades of brown, as we used brown organic farm eggs.  oops!   Sam repeatedly asked what colour would taste best for breakfast...

Apparently green tastes best!!!!

Masked duo celebrates the day in true super nerd style!!!!!

A new direction

I started this blog several years ago to showcase my handmade jewelry (which can be found at http://simplywillow.etsy.com) but i was never able to decide who my audience was - fellow jewelry artists or potential customers.    As it became harder to find the time to write and without a clear direction, I lost interest (hence the lack of posts since 2010).

About seven weeks ago, I left the position I'd had for 11 years as a foodservice equipment estimator specializing in major league sports stadiums to work part time as a Mfg's Rep in the same industry.  I can already hear you --  "You went part time?....in this economy...?"   Over the last several years, my schedule had become hectic and as responsibilities increased, so did my work week. I had been working 50-70 hours a week with little time left over for my very large family, our home, my jewelry business, my hobbies and the love of my life. Stress was destroying my health and my marriage

With my new position has come the ability and the need to take a closer look at how we spend our time and our money and the opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.  

Our lives have changed dramatically in a short period of time...and I hope to share with you every day a bit of our journey in this new direction.

I'll be changing up the look and feel of these pages over the next couples weeks, adding recipes and photos, craft ideas, thrify tips, thoughts and feelings.   I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy living it!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Art and Beauty

I read something very thought provoking today that made me wonder....

Is it art because its beautiful....or is it beautiful because its art.

Many artists look at 'beautiful' as a dirty word as it relates to their work. They want their pieces to be edgy, provocative or sensual. Beautiful seems almost a criticism. WHY?

Honestly, I have to think beautiful is what we all strive for in one form or another. Maybe it is in how you define beauty. I look at beauty as the emotional response a piece evokes in you. Something must pull your heart in some way. I don't believe that beauty is defined in terms of how "pretty" something is, but rather in your response to it.

Have you ever seen something so intensely ugly or wrong...that it is beautiful? Some of the photographs taken during hurricane Katrina have this intense beauty. You know that it caused extreme hardship, death and destruction and yet...the photos of the storm itself had a strength and intensity and darkness that pull at you.

I am going to keep thinking on this and would love to hear your comments.


Sunday, February 14, 2010


Back by popular demand...my Steampunk Collage Pendants! Out of the studio and listed on etsy.

I'm trying to work on them in small batches, as we've had a very fussy little man lately. Sam's been diagnosed, at 6 weeks old, with reflux. He hasn't been sleeping well so that means very little studio time for me!

I will spend the next two weeks finishing up my spring line and getting ready for our first show. Maternity leave ends on 3/1, so I'm trying to get a jump on everything!