Archive for Kitchen and Cooking

Testing for Washing Soda – The Failed pH Test and the Unexpected Discovery

I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for a few months now.  Our clothes are clean and soft, and we are enjoying both the money savings and the absence of perfumes and unnecessary chemicals in the wash cycle.

Many of the recipes for laundry soap use washing soda as an ingredient.  In my main recipe, I use baking soda.  Lately, though, I’ve wanted to experiment with washing soda to see if it might be a cheaper alternative and also if it might add noticeably to the cleaning power of my laundry soap.

As I was searching for where to find washing soda, I found many people were claiming to make their own washing soda by heating baking soda in the oven.  While I could find a general consensus that the baking soda would be heated for 1-2 hours in a glass (not aluminum, since washing soda is caustic to aluminum) dish at 375 to 400 degrees F until it turned uniformly from fine-sand white to a grainier, slightly greyer powder.

I wondered, did that really create washing soda?  Or just warmed-up baking soda?  Researching did not really help me until I found a scientific site with a formula for creating sodium carbonate (washing soda is 100% sodium carbonate).  In one of the steps of the formula, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda is 100% sodium bicarbonate) was heated until it released carbon dioxide and water, leaving – ta da!  – sodium carbonate (washing soda!).  However, the heating temperature in the formula was 300 degrees C, which translates to 575 degrees Fahrenheit.  Way too hot to be safe in a home kitchen, or with most kitchen dishes, pans, and ovens.  Downright dangerous, I’d say.

So, now I wondered if heating the baking soda at the lower temperatures for longer time periods would indeed create washing soda.  How could I tell?  Sure, it looks a little different.  But how could I be more certain?

I realized that washing soda has a much higher pH (much more alkaline) than baking soda.  So I decided to heat up a batch of baking soda and test the pH of the resulting powder.

To make a long story short, my pH test was fatally flawed.  I found out mid-experiment that my pH tape was not rated to test over 9.0 on the alkaline scale.  Washing soda has a pH of 11.6.  Baking soda is 8.4.

By the way, it’s that extra alkaline property that makes the washing soda a better water softener and cleaning agent than the baking soda.  So being more alkaline is a laundry detergent plus, even though it also makes the washing soda a hazardous chemical as far as it should not come in contact with skin and should never be eaten.  Don’t even taste it! Ok? Ok then.

But, I did make a really interesting discovery that made the experiment worthwhile.  Here is what I found:

The jar on the left is baking soda and filtered water.  The jar on the right is the “homemade washing soda” and filtered water.




Note that the baking soda did not completely mix.  It still has a thick layer of unmixed baking soda on the bottom of the jar, and this is after observing it and vigorously mixing it again.  The jar with the “washing soda” and filtered water is crystal clear and was only mixed once.

Thus I discovered that, at the least, heating baking soda dramatically increases it’s ability to dissolve in water.  Actually, that is one of the superior properties of washing soda: it is more soluble than baking soda (ie it dissolves in water faster and stays that way longer).

I do think I created washing soda in my oven, but still have not been able to prove it.  But I did discover the reason why I occasionally get a white powder on the clothes when I add baking soda directly to the rinse water, instead of taking the time to dilute it in water and dissolve it before adding it.  For some reason, the agitation of my washer must not be enough to completely dissolve and redistribute all of the baking soda.

As far as the costs?  In my particular experiment, including the oven heat, it costs 3 TIMES as much to make my own washing soda as to buy it in the store.  I have ideas on how to cut back on the oven heating costs, but for this little batch of “washing soda”, I would have been far better off to simply purchase it at retail.

For all the details of the experiment, and several photos, please visit our site for the full article Make Washing Soda From Baking Soda – The (Seriously Flawed) pH Test .

Here’s to scientific discovery,



Please note: Heat baking soda at home at your own risk! Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is a very alkaline, caustic chemical that can cause skin and tissue damage. It can also damage your aluminum pans. I don’t know enough about the properties and heating process to advise on the safety of heating baking soda. The Fat Dollar does not take responsibility for any damages if you try this at home!



The Microwave Muffin Experiment

I found a recipe for baking microwave muffins in one of my favorite muffin recipe books (Another 250 Muffin Recipes by Esther Brody). Finding the recipe made me wonder what a microwave muffin would taste like and how much money would be saved by using the microwave instead of my regular gas oven for baking.


The calculated cost savings were $.24 total for this batch of muffins.  I was not impressed with the texture and color of the microwaved muffins. For me, the savings were not worth it for this particular recipe.

The muffins were perfectly good, though.  All of the muffins were eaten within the next two days. I just personally prefer the moist-tender crumb texture and the slightly crisp crust-top of an oven baked muffin.

I baked part of the batter in a regular gas oven so that I would have a good comparison of the difference between baking methods.  For more detail, including the recipe I used and more photos, see The Fat Dollar article Using the Microwave for Baking – Is It Worth the Savings?

The experiment did show me that regular use of the microwave instead of a regular gas (or electric) oven could result in substantial savings over the course of a year.

For example, if we assume that we could save $.25 in energy costs just once a day, in a year we would save $91.25.  That is a simple way to save money and conserve energy, all while spending less time cooking.  Now, that’s the Fat Dollar way!

I invite you to share your experience with baking in a microwave.  Any success stories?




Using a Dime to Save a Dollar – Inexpensive Bag Clips Keep Food Fresh

Keeping food tightly sealed while stored on the shelf is an excellent way to stretch your food budget.

I bought a set of plastic clothespins (see photo on the left) for less than 10 cents each.  These pins do a great job of keeping plastic and wax bags sealed tightly.  I simply fold the liner and hold it in place with one or two clips. They are colorful and easy to use.

Cereal stays fresh and crispy up to 3 months longer when the liner is folded and sealed after each use.  They can be used for sealing bread, chips, crackers, pet food, and even in the freezer for items such as french fry bags and frozen fruit bags.

I’ve tried using the clips designed and sold specifically as food bag clips, but they don’t work as well for me as the clothespins.  In addition, the regular food bag clips are dramatically more expensive.  I’ve seen them listed for as much as $6.99 for one food bag clip (check online at

I’ve posted a longer article on The Fat Dollar website. See How to Use a Clip to Seal a Box of Cereal or a Bag of Chips – Saving Money on Food

Wooden clothespins work, too, but they don’t seem to be quite as durable as the plastic clothespins.  The plastic ones also have the advantage of coming in a variety of colors and they look more attractive on the food bags.

This is a good example of finding fun and inexpensive ways to save money on food.  It also makes for fewer trips to the grocery store to replace food that has gone stale while on the shelf, so you are saving time, too.

It’s nice to use and enjoy what you already have. Knowing that you already have plenty of something is a way to expand your feeling of abundance. Now that’s the Fat Dollar way.









Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Fresh as Long as Possible

Freshly Picked Blueberries

My garden has gone into overdrive with peppers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, and a dozen herbs all ripening at once.  I’ve started freezing the excess tomatoes (refer to the article Freezing Fresh Tomatoes – The Quick and Easy Way on the Simple Life website) and I will soon begin making tomato sauces.  This year I’m going to try to make ketchup.  We’ll see how that turns out.   Whenever I’m cooking something in the oven, I also put a tray of fresh herbs in the oven to dry.  It’s the time of the season for harvesting and storing .. and enjoying!

I’ve just read a great article at Mother Earth News which has many tips for keeping produce – fruits and vegetables – fresh and crisp.  One that I will try soon is to wash berries in water with just a bit of vinegar before storing.  I’m going to try this with strawberries, as I always have a hard time keeping them fresh for more than a few days in the refrigerator.

Another tip I’ll try is to rub a little oil on butternut squash before storing … could this really make them last several months?  It’s worth a try.  Last year I had dozens of butternut squash, but many of them ended up spoiling before I could use them.  This year, I’m also going to bake, scrape and freeze as much butternut squash as possible.  I discovered that I can substitute the butternut squash for pumpkin in my pumpkin bread recipe and it tastes absolutely wonderful.  The bread freezes well, too.  Double bonus.

Here is the link to the Mother Earth article:  Just a Little Bit Longer:  How to Keep All Kind of Food Fresh.

A few other hints from the article for keeping produce fresh:

– Store apples away from other foods to prevent spoiling, as ripening apples give off thylene gas

– Store sour cream tubs upside down in the refrigerator. (My note:  make sure that lid is on tight!)

– Rub butter on the cut parts of hard cheese to keep them from drying out.  (My note:  I press the original plastic wrapping or new plastic wrap tight against the slab of cheese to keep it from drying. It stores for months this way.  I’m going to try the “butter” method, too.)

– At the end of the season, pull up the whole tomato plant and hang it upside down in the basement or other out-of-the way location.  Tomatoes will continue to ripen.  (My note:  Really?  Fascinating.  I will definitely try this one.)

– Soak wilted lettuce, other salad greens, and peppers in ice water to re-crisp them.

I also use the “green containers” and “green” bags that claim to prolong the life of your produce.  They do work!  For the foods I store (strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and other fresh fruits) the green containers prolong the storage by at least a few days and up to a week.

Enjoy your garden and enjoy your fresh produce! If you have a tip for longer storage of your fruits or vegetables, I’d love to have you post a comment.






Save Money on Breakfast Cereal by Recrisping Stale Cereal

While rearranging a kitchen shelf, I discovered two boxes of half-empty, slightly stale cereal.  The cereal was purchased just a few weeks earlier and I did not want to waste the cereal.

Cereal on a cookie sheet


I was getting ready to cook a dish in the oven, so the oven was already preheated. I decided to recrisp the cereal with the oven method.


I spread the cereal in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and baked it in the oven at 425 degrees for five minutes.  It turned out crispy, crunchy, and fresh-tasting. It was a quick and fun way to save money on cereal.

See the entire article with detailed steps and photos:  Crispy and Crunchy Again -How to Make Stale Cereal Crisp

I did have other options for using stale cereal:

– They could have been used to bake cookies.  Here is a link to a good Cereal Cookie recipe:

Cookie Madness also has several good cereal cookie recipes:

– The cereal can be crushed into crumbs and used as a topping for other baked desserts, such as bread pudding.

– After re-crisping, crush the cereal and use as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.

– Depending on the cereal, use a food processor to finely grind the cereal and use it as a substitute for some of the sugar and flour in one of your baked goods recipes.  Read the cereal box label to see if your cereal contains mostly rice, oats, or wheat.

– After re-crisping, mix the cereal with bits of fruit, nuts, and other small treats, such as crackers or other cereals for your own custom made trail mix.

– A half-cup to a cup of colorful cereal can be crushed and stirred into yellow or white cake batter before baking to make rainbow bits in the cake.

– Unsweetened cereals can be crushed and used as a substitute for bread crumbs in a recipe, such as meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffing.

– Colorful, shaped cereal such as Fruit Loops, can be used to make crafts, birthday decorations,  or Christmas decorations.  Remember that crafts made with food items will not store well (think ants and bugs!), so they should be tossed as soon as the event is over.

– Put the cereal in your compost pile

– Some cereals can be fed to the birds outside, but don’t feed the birds highly sugared, flavored,  or salted cereals.  This probably eliminates most ready-to-eat cereals.


Have a great breakfast!  Breakfast tastes better when you’ve started the day saving a dollar or two. That’s The Fat Dollar way!







Saving Money on Beef Cuts by Knowing What to Buy

I just found a great reference for cuts of beef steaks (round, sirloin, chuck, New York Strip, T-bone, etc).  The site gives a description, a photo, the natural tenderness of the cut, and best of all, the alternate names that the cut is sometimes called.  For example, a Round Tip Steak might also be called a Sirloin Tip Steak.  A Flank Steak might also be labeled London Broil.

While  going through the grocery store ad, I wondered which cuts of beef (that were on sale) could be interchanged for a recipe I was going to use.  The chart answers my question and shows which beef cuts are best marinaded first, which can be pan-fried, grilled, broiled, and which ones become tough when overcooked, and which ones are best braised.

We don’t eat red meat too often, so having a guide to help me pick out the right beef cuts is perfect. This chart was so helpful that I set my printer to print two pages per page (to save paper) and printed the chart so that I could take it with me to the grocery store.  I’ve put it in my coupon book.  Now when I see a type of beef meat on sale, I can glance at the chart and decide if it will really be a good bargain and make a good meal for my family.

Here is the web address of the chart:–340/beef-steaks.asp

The site is from

Here’s to good cooking at great prices!  That’s The Fat Dollar way.




Saving Money with Printed and Online Grocery Coupons

Woman clipping coupons from a magazineA few years ago, a grocery store coupon was just that: a rectangle of paper that was printed with the product details and cost savings.  They could be found in newspapers and newspaper inserts, in magazines, and sometimes inside of or printed on the box of a grocery product.

While those are still good places to find coupons, another major source has emerged: online grocery coupons.  Today, there are multiple sources for free online grocery coupons, both electronic and online printable grocery coupons.

I’m working on a more detailed article about saving money with grocery coupons, but in the meantime I’ll share some of the resources for coupons that are available to you.

Traditional (and not so traditional) offline print coupons:

Most Sunday newspapers have one to four different inserts each week:

Proctor and Gamble (P&G)
Local store or regional inserts of coupons

Many magazines have coupons:

All You (my personal favorite – a multitude of coupons)
Better Homes and Gardens (usually a handful of coupons)
Good Housekeeping (handful)

Grocery St0res:

Most grocery stores will have a flyer featuring specials and coupons good in their store only
In the aisles of the stores, watch for display boxes that dispense coupons for nearby products.

Drug and discount stores:

CVS stores frequently have a scanning station where you can scan your CVS card and the scanner automatically prints coupons based on  your spending patterns.  CVS also issues flyers with store-only coupons.

Walgreens also issues flyers with store-only coupons and sale items

To spend the least amount of time and get the most benefit from coupons,  the Sunday paper inserts are your best bet. Most likely your grocery store will have sales that coordinate with the Sunday paper coupon inserts.

Online Grocery Coupons:

There are two types of online coupons- printable,  the kind that you can print on your printer and take to the store, and electronic, the kind that you can load onto your grocery  store card,  such as a Kroger card.  Another type of electronic coupon, the cell phone coupon,  is also emerging, but the coupons tend to be mostly for restaurants and big-ticket items.

Free printable online grocery coupons:
(Note:  you will likely have to download a software program that allows you to print coupons.  Be cautious and use only trusted sites.)

Some stores will not accept self-printed grocery coupons.  Be sure to check ahead on the policy at your local grocery store

Some of the more popular sites:

If you have a favorite brand, you can also try going directly to their website to print coupons.

A few examples:


Electronic Grocery Coupons:
For electronic grocery coupons, you will need a participating grocery store card, such as Kroger’s.  You register your grocery card and select your coupons which are loaded onto your card.  Very convenient to use, although a little awkward to know which coupons you have loaded on your card while you are actually in the store. (Proctor & Gamble)


I hope this list gives you a good resource for printed and online grocery coupons.  With just a few minutes each week, you should be able to easily save $10.00 to $25.00 a week on groceries.  If you enjoy working with grocery coupons and matching them to store sales and double coupon days, then your savings can be much higher.

A few minutes of time and a good amount of grocery money savings.  Now that’s The Fat Dollar Way.






A Juicy Tip for Saving Dollars – and Pounds, Too

Orange JuiceI like to take my vitamins with breakfast.  I also like orange juice with breakfast.  I pour the  sweet, lovely- colored juice into one of my favorite stemmed glasses and drinking it is just a luxurious experience.  At one time, I used to drink orange juice to take my vitamins, but eventually realized that with this method, my orange juice glass was soon empty and I hadn’t really been able to enjoy it.  To compensate,   I developed the habit of pouring extra orange juice into my glass to allow for taking vitamins.

Of course, me being my usual frugal self, I wondered how much I would save if I used a glass of water instead of orange juice to take my vitamins.  A little research revealed some surprising numbers, along with medical cautions for taking medications with fruit juices.

My calculations showed that switching from orange juice to filtered water for taking vitamins saved about $64.00 a year.  That was a nice savings which would be even larger if I paid more than Sam’s Club prices for orange juice (or other juice) or if I drank more than an extra 4 oz of juice for taking vitamins.  Yes, to both of those sometimes, but I’ll stay with the conservative savings figures for now.

While the dollar savings was a little anti-climatic, I found another savings that really was dramatic:  calorie savings.   Switching to 4 oz of water from 4  oz of orange juice created a savings of 20,440 calories a year.   That translates to 5.84 pounds of body fat.  Wow!  That is certainly a more powerful motivation than the money savings.

Read the entire article, along with some of the medical cautions, at




It All Started With A Bag of Stale Marshmallows

As I was cleaning out the kitchen shelves – part of my quest to declutter the entire house – I almost threw away a bag of stale marshmallows.  As I carried them across the kitchen, the image of the dried little marshmallows in the boxes of hot chocolate mix came to mind.  So I saved the bag and did an experiment by making myself a nice mug of hot chocolate and then putting a small handful of the stale marshmallows on top.  It was delicious!  I was so glad to have saved the bag.  I wondered what other uses I might have for these marshmallows. Thus began my quest for uses for stale marshmallows.

You can read more on the article I posted on The Fat Dollar – Uses for Marshmallows.  Did you know that stale marshmallows can be softened?  Yes – just put a piece of soft, moist bread with them in a plastic sealable bag for a day or two.  Or put the marshmallows in a dish and heat them in the microwave with a cup of water on the side for about 10 seconds.

I also found recipes for making your own marshmallows, and lots of other uses.  My favorite tip was to use them to keep the plastic wrap or foil from touching the icing when you are wrapping a cake.  (Put the marshmallows in strategic places on the cake and just remove them when done.  And yes, your stale marshmallows work just fine for this one. )

Marshmallows are inexpensive, so the savings are not huge – $.99 to $2.50 for using a bag of stale marshmallows instead of throwing them away – but it’s fun and the research was interesting and there was money savings, too – so that makes it the Fat Dollar way.