Archive for the ‘live cheaper’ Category

DIY eco-friendly Kindle case

A while ago our library started to charge a fortune to borrow books from outside their system. Then, I ran out of bookshelf space. Then I ran out of space for a new bookcase. Then I bought a  used kindle from a friend. Refurbished kindles are available for under $100.

What I didn’t buy was a cover for the kindle. That’s because it’s pretty easy to make your own e-reader case!  Here’s how:

1. Cut out two pieces of cardboard that are just barely larger than your kindle.

2. Use duct tape to make the “spine.” Tape the two pieces together, leaving about 3/4″ between the two pieces of cardboard. Use the duct tape on both sides of the cardboard.

I used cardboard from an office paper box, but an old ring binder cover works great too.

3. Cut two pieces of fabric the size of your kindle, with a half inch seam allowance on each side.

4. Now, make a kindle pillow! Put the good sides of the fabric together and sew three of the four sides.

You can insert the cardboard while you sew to get a perfect fit. A binder clip holds the cardboard while I sew (in very crooked lines)

three sides done

5. Turn the pillow inside out and insert the duct-taped cardboard.

6. Fold in the edges of the open side and sew them closed.

7. Position your kindle on the case. Use chalk or a pencil to mark where the corners will be.

8. Cut four pieces of elastic, approximately 2.5″ long.

9. Now here’s the tough part. Fold the elastic pieces into triangles and position them flat on the case. They need to be flat so that the elastic can hold the kindle in the case tightly. Using a very, very strong glue, glue the elastic to the cardboard. Don’t worry, no one will see this part behind the kindle! Don’t use too much glue or it might bleed through to the back. Let the glue dry thoroughly.

10. Sew a button onto the front cover.

I used an a button maker kit I bought in middle school to make a matching button.

11. Make a loop from an old ribbon and sew it inside the back cover.

a little glue can help it stay attached.

12. Insert kindle and read!

ahhhh, FDR's Fireside Chats.


What do you do with 25 pounds of peaches?

You learn to can them!

Last week our CSA offered 25 pounds of peaches for $30. Last year we skipped out because we didn’t know what to do with that much food. This year friends of ours were nice enough to get us a canning kit as a wedding gift. Canning is really easy and safe, just follow the USDA’s home canning instructions. Your tax dollars at work, right?

It takes some time but what better way to wait out Hurricane Irene than to make jam and peaches in syrup? Most canning recipes also work for “fresh preserving,” or storing your food in the fridge for up to two weeks without actually canning in hot water.

Here’s our frugal recipe to try: peach jam is fantastically easy and so much better than any store brand. The initial investment is a little pricey (take the Ball Canning Discovery Kit for $11 if you’re not sure if you’ll like canning, or the Bernardin Canning Starter Kit for ~$60).

Peach Jam for canning and fresh preserving

Fresh peaches! 4 cups peeled, chopped, and mashed

4 1/2 Tablespoons fruit pectin

3 c. sugar

3 Tablespoons lemon juice

The Ball canning company makes it clear that you should  NOT modify the proportions of these ingredients or the canning process won’t work right. Leave out the lemon juice and you might even give yourself botulism. How exciting! You can, however, use strawberries, or another highly acidic fruit safely instead of the peaches.

Bring the fruit and lemon juice to a boil that won’t go down when you stir it.

a rolling boil that won't go down when it's stirred (foam optional)

Add all of the sugar and pectin.  Return to a boil that you can’t stir down. Stirring constantly, boil for at least 2 minutes.

If you’re canning, ladle the contents into sterilize jars and process according to the USDA directions.

Cool for 24 horus, then check the seals according to the USDA directions. Store them in a cool, dark place. We’ve picked our old TV stand/DVD case in the bedroom, which used to be a record cabinet!


A bottle of Gatorade for 25 cents!

Yes, there is a catch. You have to make it yourself. But it’s easy, I promise!

This one is a request from my dad, who just finished his first 100 kilometer ride (yay Dad!)

I’m also training (ha) for the Jayna T. Murray 5k run this fall, plus I like to bike. It’s a lot more pleasant to run 3 miles on your lunch hour in August in DC when you have some Gatorade. However, I’m not willing to pay $1-2 per bottle. Here’s how to do it for much, much, less!

This is all you need:

sugar, lite salt, and a package of unsweetend kool-aid mix.
Your ingredients:
1/2 c. sugar or honey
1/2 teaspoon lite salt (the half sodium and half potassium kind)
1 package unsweetened kool-aid mix
2 quarts of water

it's not blood I swear

And it’s a great day for a ride.
or a run. 
You can substitute 1/2 c. orange juice plus 1/4 teaspoon regular salt for the lite salt, if you don’t have lite salt.
If you don’t want two quarts of sports drinks on your hands:
-use 1 quart or even just one pint of water
-pour it into ice cube trays
-drop a few of your sports drink ice cubes into a bottle of water before a run.
If you drink a bottle of Gatorade twice a week you can spend between $100 and $200 on sports drinks a year. This recipe could save you $75-$150 a year. Oh, and you don’t end up with 104 useless plastic sport drink bottles at the end of that year. Score.

jersey blueberry explosion = the best blueberry muffins. EVER.

It’s the end of blueberry season and our fridge is loaded with berries from our CSA. What better way to use blueberries than blueberry muffins?

I love blueberry muffins but I couldn”t ever seem to find a recipe that makes them taste blueberry-y enough. That is, until I stumbled upon a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen called, simply, The Best Blueberry Muffins. I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe to make it less cloyingly sweet, but I promise it’ll be the most intensely blueberry-flavored muffin you’ve ever had (minus the pricetag and artificial flavoring of store-bought muffins). Here goes:


  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 c. blueberry jam
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 ½ cups AP flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2.Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a bowl.

3. Mix eggs, butter, and oil together. Add these ingredients to the dry ones.

4. Fold in the buttermilk and vanilla until all ingredients are moistened.

5. Fold in the blueberries. Do not overmix or the muffins will be tough and chewy!

6. Fill a greased muffin pan with the batter.

7. Spoon a teaspoon of blueberry jam into each muffin, submerging the spoon so the jam goes all the way through. Use a chopstick or skewer to swirl the jam.
(okay, so I didn’t get the jam as submerged as I wanted it. Oh well. And cute owl chopsticks courtesy of Sayaka!)

8. Mix the sugar, salt, and lemon zest together and sprinkle it over the muffins.

9. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

The end result? These last very well in the freezer. They’re a lot of work but definitely worth it.

frugal recipe of the week: homemade mayonaise

I lived in Spain for a while and I adore Spanish cooking. Spanish food has nothing to do with Mexican. Its flavors are incredibly subtle. This week I wanted to try my favorite Spanish potato salad recipe (Ensaladilla Rusa) from my favorite local chef, Jose Andres.

The key to this recipe is a really good mayonaise which means NOT using the stuff from the store. You can make a better mayo yourself quickly and easily at home.

1. Pasteurize the eggs. Bring a pan with enough water to cover the eggs to 150-160 degrees F. When it reaches this temperature kill the flame and place *room temperature* eggs into the water. Cover and let stand for 3 minutes. That’s it!

2. Combine one egg, 2 T. water, 1 T. lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. salt, a pinch of white pepper, and just under 2 cups of olive oil (or vegetable oil if you don’t like the fruity taste of olive oil) into a a blender (I use a tall container and an immersion blender).

3. Blend on high speed until the mixture turns thick and white. You can blend in a couple drops of vinegar if it doesn’t have enough bite for you.



Tastier and better for your health than the store-bought versions. Depending on what kind of oil you use it can also be cheaper than buying it at a store. And no useless plastic jar in the end!

Oh, and that Ensaladilla Rusa?


home depot freebies

Big box stores throw a lot away. What they don’t tell you is that some of the stuff they throw away is pretty useful, and sometimes they’ll give it away for free.

A while back I decided to try container gardening. We live in a high rise and don’t have a patio. There’s no community garden in the area. What we do have is a super sunny apartment. This weekend we went to home depot to buy some soil and plant pots.

tomato plant in pot

Our happy tomato plant in our free home depot pots!

At Home Depot I noticed some huge stacks of empty black 12″ pots by the register. I asked how much they were, and lo and behold, the answer was FREE!  The pots were used for trees, and the trees had sold. Home depot was just going to throw out the containers. Next time I need pots I’m definitely going to ask around my local home and garden stores.

So now it’s home to carrots, a tomato plant, and our rubber tree. Hopefully in a few months we’ll have some tasty, organic things to eat, no expensive grocery store required.

Anyone know of any other stores that give away leftovers for free?