24 February, 2012

Green Cleaner Recipe Update

Inspired by a reader's letter about having a bit of trouble finding the recipe for a cheap, effective make it yourself all-purpose cleaner, that I first posted the recipe for years ago while I was in Japan, I decided to do an update post in case you might have missed it.

Kudos to the great book Clean House Clean Planet by Karen Logan, one of the best buys I ever made. Filled with lots of do it yourself ideas for cleaners, it got me off expensive, chemical-filled and noxious smelling cleaners and onto the path of mild, natural-smelling and good for me and the environment home-made cleaners I've been addicted to ever since.

Yes, I have been using these cleaners almost daily for the past five years in three different households, so I can tell you that they work. What you won't get is lots of suds and bubbles (you don't need them); what you will get is safety, good cleaning, and no stickiness or slime that those commercial cleaners often leave behind unless they are thoroughly rinsed off.


1. Get a spray bottle -- I always re-use old spray cleaner or Windex bottles.  You can keep filling them up forever; they are made to be very sturdy and certainly shouldn't be thrown away after one use.

2.Get dish detergent of any kind, preferably unscented and biodegradable. I use Down Home detergent, a locally made one with no fragrance. Put about two or three fingers in height (hold your fingers horizontally to measure) of detergent into the bottle.

3. Add about 1/4 cup of vinegar and

4. 1 small capful of peppermint essence or about 10 - 20 drops of tea tree oil or other essence of your choice. I think eucalyptus would also be nice. You can also go unscented, if you prefer.

5.Fill the bottle with water and put on the cap. Turn it over a few times to mix and it's ready to use.

I put a spray or two on a cloth, put several sprays into a bucket of warm water for floor scrubbing, spray once or twice into a pot and fill with water to soak overnight if it's hard to clean. One caveat: a reader reported that Doctor Bronner's doesn't work with this recipe because it turns solid. I think that's because it is soap, not detergent. If you want to use Dr. Bronners, and I love it for shampooing and showering, I would just dilute it with water on a cloth, not use it in this recipe.

To add to the cleaning party, I recently discovered the Japanese tawashi. Originally a tawashi was a scrubbing brush made from tough hemp fiber but now they are often made of yarn. I remember I was shown one in Japan by a homemaker who said you didn't need to use detergent with it. She called it an eco-tawashi. I admit I was not a fan then or now of using no detergent, but am a definite proponent of using just a little. The tawashis I made are not of natural yarn, but acrylic, so that they slide over the dishes and pots and shed water like a duck, and they are long-lasting and machine-washable in cold or warm water. I don't put mine in the dryer, as I don't want them to melt and fuzz too much. I just add a string and hang them up to dry.

I have tried these in cotton but they just get soggy and don't ever seem to dry well. I do like the idea of making them from something natural though so I'll be testing hemp as soon as I can get some. Bamboo yarn might also work well.

If you are a bit handy with a crochet hook, you can whip one of these up in about an hour or so, once you figure out the instructions. Try this design by Judith Prindle from Crochet Patterns Only.  If you're like me you might have a bit of puzzling to do when you make the first cloth, as it is made flat and then sewn together to make the spiral shape. I found  this video by Donna  that helped a lot.

If you find this spiral style too hard, then you could crochet a plain square cloth or a mesh style. Try this one from Rachel of Crochet Spot. This mesh style does work well with cotton as it is open-work and dries well hung over the faucet or on a hook.

Thanks to the generous folks who put their designs on the web, so we can be more self-sufficient and have the satisfaction, and savings, of making cleaning cloths at home. A tawashi or dish cloth and green cleaner makes for happy cleaning!

14 February, 2012

Last Minute Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

It's always nice to have something homemade for Valentine's Day, but it's not always easy to find the time or energy for that, especially when it falls on a week day. Maybe you feel like treating yourself or your sweetie but not with a long sweaty kitchen session. You'd rather have a nice bite and a glass of something relaxing, a glass of wine, cup of tea or coffee.  These cookies will do the trick if you like chocolate and coconut.  If you're gluten-free it's no problem because they don't contain flour. They do have egg whites but you can make them without them, too.

They are sweet, so you'll want to have that drink near-by, but they are also small, so you won't tip over if you have a few, even after that romantic, or not, dinner. Yes, I know it's Valentine's day and this is a last-minute recipe, but if you have coconut (the moist kind), chocolate, and sweetened condensed milk or any of the milk substitutes and sugar, you can make this pretty quickly. And I think they are good. And easy. What more could any chocolate lover want? Except another cookie.


3 cups moist flaked coconut 
1/3 cup shaved dark chocolate
1 cup sweetened condensed milk or 1 cup soy/rice/almond/coconut milk and 1 cup sugar 
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp  salt

For the sweetened condensed soy/rice/almond/coconut milk:

Take 1 cup of the milk and 1 cup of sugar and stir them together in a saucepan. Put the mixture on medium heat and let it bubble and reduce to almost half. If you use the thicker coconut milk from a can, you might not need as much and you won't need to let it cook as long. Stir occasionally as you put together the cookies.

For the cookie "dough":

Whip two egg whites until stiff and put aside.

Measure 3 cups of coconut in the bowl and shave/chop with a good heavy knife about 1/3 cup of dark chocolate. (I used Belgian 74% cocoa chocolate - but use what you have.) Put the chocolate on top of the coconut in the bowl and add the egg whites, if using. Stir around to distribute the egg whites evenly, then add the finished sweetened condensed milk, about 2/3 of a cup or less, just to moisten the mixture until it comes together. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla, and the salt.

Grease a baking sheet and drop tablespoons of the mixture to form cookies, patting bits that fall off back on. (In the picture I have the cookies on waxed paper but that didn't work as well as putting them on a greased pan.) Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until nicely browned. You must let the cookies sit until they firm up to remove them from the pans.

The cookies are a bit hard to remove from the pan, but don't get frustrated. Just get a thin-bladed knife and work/scrape them off the pan. Since they are loosely held together and sticky you can squeeze them back into shape and no-one will be the wiser.

Because the chocolate in the cookies has been chopped you will get nice little bits of pure chocolate flavour as you bite into them. Have some happy bites, lovely people, and happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Note:  These were adapted from the recipe for Coconut Macaroons in Joy of Cooking, my all -time favourite cookbook, and highly recommended.