Category Archives: unsuccessful

Homemade instant lunches: recipe rip-off edition

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Cost: Less than a dollar per serving
Success: 2/5

So I thought it would be pretty easy to rip off a recipe from a package of store-bought instant noodles.

For some weeks now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to dry soy sauce. I’ve tried baking it at a low heat to evaporate the moisture (fail), mixing it with flour and drying it (big cakey fail), mixing it with cane sugar and putting it in the oven to dry (molasses!) and finally I just mixed it with some packets of cane sugar (thank you, Starbucks!) and let it air dry. It sort of worked, I guess. I added some quick dissolve flour to keep it from being a big sticky mess.

I also roasted my own peanuts, with fairly unsuccessful results. I burnt them more than I roasted them.

I had most of the ingredients that are used in the Thai Kitchen noodle mix, minus the yeast and silicon dioxide. (Isn’t silicon dioxide the stuff that comes in packets that say ‘do not eat’?? ) I guessed the quantities. I was a little heavy on the cinnamon and cumin, and low on the soysauce. It was quite bland.

I’ll give it another try one day.

Jen makes chicken fingers

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Cost: About $6
Success: 2/5  (Taste was okay, price was high)

When I saw a recipe for honey mustard chicken fingers using only a few ingredients, I got pretty excited. The photo on the site shows golden brown chicken strips that look like they are saturated with the kind of flavour that makes my tastebuds sing and my arteries weep.

I was eager to get home and make some of my own.  Really eager. I spent a good part of the day thinking about sinking my teeth into each crunchy morsel.

I got out two fresh chicken breasts ($5.66) and my other ingredients. I followed the instructions. I made the sauce. I baked the chicken strips.

The dipping sauce was delicious. The chicken strips… not so much. The mayonnaise made them very tender, but despite that they were devoid of any character. I had to souse them with dipping sauce.

And what did these lifeless and bland chicken strips cost me? The same as they would have at a fast food place!

With a little help from my friends…

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Cost:  Only slightly less than hiring a mover
Success: 1/5 for cost, 4/5 for loving care of valuables

Most of the money-saving experiments I write about are successful or moderately successful. I know that gets boring after a while. People don’t watch American Idol just to see the good singers, and they don’t read the paper for the stories about kittens that were saved from trees.

Getting your friends to help you move seems like a really good way to save money, but in practice it only saves money if you’re a total cheap-ass, or if you have inhumanly generous friends.

It started when someone at my church offered to help me move. I was really happy about this. He helped me load up the church bus that Friday. I got him a gift card for Mr. Lube, because I knew he was due for an oil change. He tried to politely decline it, but I insisted he take it.

The next day three other people came to load the rest of my stuff into the bus and a van and my car, then move it into my new place. Each of them dedicated a good part of their day and they were ambitious and careful and really helpful.

So after a long day, everyone was hungry. And I’d be a jerk not to buy them food, right? So I did.

But food is a pretty measly thank you for people who have just given up their Saturday to help me, right? So I got them gift cards as well. The gift cards had to be worth the same amount as the one I gave to the first person who helped me.

I wanted to reimburse the gas that the church bus had used, because it’s a big diesel bus and it doesn’t run cheap. So I made a donation to cover that.

In the end, the cost was not too far off from what a mover would charge.

Growing my own herbs

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Cost: $2++ per plant
Success: 3/5 with the potential to be 5/5

Lavender

My frustration with buying herbs is that they cost about $1 – $2 a bundle, and they wilt before I can use them up.  I started growing my own because it’s pretty awesome to have a constant supply of fresh herbs.

It’s not that hard, but it’s taken me a while to figure out each herb’s preferences. Some like sun and some don’t. Some don’t mind a bit of snow, and others wilt quickly if they’re outside on a cold night.

Richmond (BC) has a temperate climate. It hardly ever gets below -5 C, and there is plenty of rain during the winter. Half of the city is designated as agricultural land, so it must be a good place to grow things.

These are the herbs I’ve grown outside so far. One day I’ll work on an indoor herb garden.

Still alive:

Rosemary
It grows quickly and can survive through winter without wilting.

Oregano (shown below)
It has flimsy little leaves, but it’s surprisingly hardy. The leaves wilted and died during the cold snap some weeks ago, but new ones started quickly reappearing once I brought it inside.

Lavender (shown above)
Lavender is a herb too. Wikipedia told me so. It has long thick leaves similar to rosemary, so it can live comfortably outside during the winter.

Lemongrass
I didn’t even have to plant it and it took over the garden last summer. I hear mint does this too.


R.I.P:

Dill
I really love dill, but it doesn’t love me back. It seems like there is an optimal time to pick dill, and after that it gets overgrown and stalky. It has to be replanted each year.

Cilantro, basil (cilantro shown below)
I was excited to find cilantro and basil plants on sale at the farm market. A couple weeks later they died because I forgot  to take them in during a cold snap. I don’t think they’ll be coming back. Basil is notoriously picky, so it would probably work much better indoors.

Parsley
It grew great in summer. Next time I grow parsley, I’ll remember to bring it in over winter.

Chives
My chives never took off, but I haven’t given up. My Mom grows lost of them every year.

I’m sorry I left you out during that cold snap, oregano. I’m glad to see you’re coming back so quickly!

Oh, cilantro. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m sorry.

Hot oil treatments – jojoba and sunflower oil

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Cost: About $1
Success rating: 2/5

Last time I got a haircut, I spent $10 on a treatment to calm down my puffy hair. Those were richer days, before I started the townhouse search. (Which reminds me that it’s time to get another haircut…)

I thought there must be a way to do things cheaply on my own, so I looked for recipes online.  There are quite a few. Like with most things on the internet, there is no lack of information, but it takes a lot of sifting to get to the good stuff. Last time I tried a mixture of oil and honey (surprisingly successful) but today I used a combination of oils, and I’m ready to go crawling back to the honey mixture.

I have a bunch of fancy oils from my soapmaking days. I used 3 tablespoons of jojoba oil and 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil. I picked jojoba because it’s closest to the oil human skin naturally produces, and sunflower oil because it’s thin and cheap. Just like not everyone has a pet tiger, I know that not everyone has a bottle of jojoba oil hanging around. That’s okay.  Kitchen oils like canola, olive and peanut are also worth experimenting with. I’d be careful with olive oil, though. That is some really greasy stuff.

What I did:

  1. Put 3 tablespoons of jojoba oil and 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a plastic microwave-safe container. I used plastic because it doesn’t retain heat
  2. Put in the microwave for a total of 60 seconds, for 20 seconds at a time
  3. Let it cool for some minutes until it was cool enough to touch
  4. Changed into my housecoat
  5. Put my head over the sink as I poured a little bit of oil into my palm at a time. I massaged it into my hair. Some sites say hair should be damp when you do this, but mine wasn’t
  6. Massaged the oil into my hair until it was nice n’ oily. You can wrap your hair with a warm towel if you want (I didn’t)
  7. Started writing this post to fill 30 minutes
  8. Shampooed my hair thoroughly. Twice.
  9. Blow-dried my hair, because I’m impatient!

So far, I don’t think this one was a success. My hair is oily rather than shiny. It looks like I haven’t washed it in a couple days. I’m glad I don’t have work tomorrow.

This is the before photo. For an after photo, imagine flatter and greasier.