Just when it seemed like I’d given up on blogging altogether!

I know, I’m the worst. But Christmas is coming up, and I’ll be making pretty much every gift this year, and hopefully posting about them as well. Until then, here’s the abbreviated, Instagram version of the last month or so.

I am still perfecting my Bloody Mary recipe. Some things I’ve discovered: Anchovy and HFCS-free Worcestershire sauce are almost impossible to find. Spicy Hot V8 is always a good idea. Homemade pickled green beans are a million times better (and cheaper!) than store-bought.

Grapefruits are finally in season again, and I took a picture of the first one I picked and ate about a week ago. Fresh citrus is my favorite thing about living in Louisiana.

Maxine is my best little study buddy. Now that it’s finally cooling off here, we spend a lot of time reading in bed.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

If I’d chosen a colored soap, this would probably look a lot cooler.

I’m ashamed to admit how long I’ve been meaning to make laundry detergent. One of my biggest obstacles was finding the right soap—I didn’t want to use something cheap with crappy ingredients, but I’m also in no position to use something fancy (like the $5 bar of peppermint Dr. Bronners I’ve been rationing in the shower for at least three months). So when I found a fairly affordable 3-pack of Kirk’s Coco Castile soap at Publix (while on vacation in Gulf Shores with my family, which means I still have to find a local source or order it from Amazon when I run out), it seemed like a logical choice for grating into laundry detergent. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday afternoon, following this homemade laundry soap tutorial from Clean, the Lusa Organics blog. The soap itself smells a little like Ivory, but the laundry detergent turned out fairly unscented. I tested it on a load of towels and gym clothes (the grossest load of laundry I had) and was really happy with the results.

To make your own laundry detergent, you’ll need:

4 to 5 oz soap (2 C grated)
2/3 C baking soda
1 C borax
1 1/3 C washing soda

Grate the soap using a box grater or food processor. (My sad old food processor wasn’t up to the challenge, so it was actually easier for me to grate the soap by hand.) In a large mixing bowl with a spoon you don’t plan on using for food, mix the soap, baking soda, borax, and washing soda. Store in an airtight container—I’m using a large, wide mouth mason jar for easier scooping. For best results, use 2-3 tablespoons of detergent per load of laundry, adding the detergent as the machine fills with water and giving it a minute or so to fully dissolve before throwing in your clothes.

For those of you lucky enough to have HE washing machines, this detergent is supposed to be low-sudsing and, therefore, safe for you to use as well.

Diva Cup Guest Review at Turby & John

A picture of Dawn & me, because my only other option was a picture of a Diva Cup, and we are probably slightly more fun to look at.

When I find a product whose performance I’m truly happy with, I tend to gush about it. I have been accused of working for Netflix on more than one occasion, and I’ve talked several of my closest friends into joining Pinterest just so I can look at all of their favorite things. Currently, I’m raving about the Diva Cup—in fact, I haven’t shut up about it since I bought mine a few months ago. Dawn graciously allowed me to take over her blog yesterday for the sole purpose of professing my love for the Diva Cup. If you’re dissatisfied with your current menstrual product, interested in alternative menstrual products, or just like to read about periods, then be sure to check out my guest review of the Diva Cup over at Turby and John. However, if you’re at all squeamish about periods, then consider yourself warned (also: grow the hell up).

Hot & Sweet Pickles

nine pints of homemade sweet-hot pickles

Pickles, in general, are one of my favorite snacks. But when my mom introduced me to Wickles last summer, I realized I might have discovered the tastiest pickle of all. Still, while irrefutably tasty, Wickles do have some drawbacks—not only are they around $5 a jar (making them more of a special occasion food for someone on my budget), but they also contain Polysorbate 80 and Yellow 5, ingredients I try to avoid. Unwilling to live without Wickles, I decided to attempt making my own. The last couple of summers I’ve experimented with canning (mostly tomatoes and jams), and I’ve been wanting to try pickles for quite a while anyway. So, tinkering with Emeril’s recipe for Homemade Sweet and Spicy Pickles, I came up with the following recipe:

Knockoff Wickles

3 pounds pickling cucumbers, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 cup pickling salt
6 cups water
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
10 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
24 dried cayenne peppers

4-6 sterilized canning jars with bands and lids (I like to wash them by hand with warm soapy water and then keep them in the oven at around 200º until I’m ready to use them)

Soak cucumbers in pickling salt and water in a large, non-reactive bowl for 2 hours. Transfer cucumbers to a colander and rinse well for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine the vinegars, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric, cloves, garlic, and peppers in a mediumsaucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and add the cucumbers and onions. Bring to a simmer and remove the saucepan from the heat.

Remove the jars from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, fill each jar with the pickle mixture, dividing them evenly, and enough of the liquid to come within 1/2-inch of the top. With a clean damp towel, wipe the rim and fit with a hot lid. Screw on the metal ring just until the point of resistance is met. Process the jars in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the jars, place on a towel, and let cool. Test the seals by allowing the jars to stand at room temperature overnight or until the lids pop. Remove rings and store in a cool dry place for at least 2 weeks before eating.

Because I had no idea how these would turn out, I started small, making only four pints to begin with. As it turned out, they were ready just in time for the fourth of July barbecue we had, allowing me a pretty large test audience. And they were a hit! While they were by no means exact, they were close enough to guarantee that I probably won’t be buying Wickles anytime soon (if you’re reading this, Wickles people, I’m sorry. I’m a grad student, and I just can’t afford your fancy pickles.) Furthermore, on my last trip back to Mississippi I inherited several more pounds of cucumbers from my dad, most of which went into making the second, much larger batch of these pickles.

Frumpy Floral Dress Refashion

One of my biggest summer projects is cleaning out our craft room closet. I’m a bit of a hoarder, especially when it comes to craft supplies, and most of mine has been collecting dust in our spare closet since we moved in last August (side note: how is it possible we’ve been here almost a year already?!). So I’ve given myself an ultimatum for this summer. Either I put all those materials to use, or I get rid of them. One of the first projects I’ve attempted is a refashion of the dress pictured above. I originally purchased it because of the sweet floral print and pleated skirt, thinking it would be easy to shorten the hem and do something about the sick collar and sleeve situation. However, like many of my projects, it got shoved in a box, which was buried in a closet and mostly forgotten until last weekend, when I decided I needed a new dress to wear to a birthday party. So, following this pretty straightforward refashion tutorial on I Make Stuff, I chopped off the hem and made it into a ruffle to be sewn onto the neckline. After removing the collar, I decided to sew the ruffle onto the dress’s back, turning the back into the front so that it would button down the back (because, after all, a row of buttons down the back is nothing if not classy). I also chopped off the sleeves and cuffed them just above the elbow (a length I find flattering on almost anyone), and took the dress in a few inches at the bodice and waist. The dress already had a pleat on each shoulder, and I added another to keep it from falling down.

Frilly Thrift Store Dress, After

I finished it in time to wear to the party and had Dawn take some pictures before we left the house.

While I’d hoped the tights would provide some protection for Louisiana’s monster mosquitoes, I was mistaken.

After hemming the skirt, I had a hard time getting the pleats to look right, but that might be due to my lack of patience when it comes to ironing.

Because the fabric is very sheer, I wore this vintage slip underneath. Also, a skinny brown belt makes just about anything more flattering.

After wearing the dress, I think I might go back and add a couple of darts to the bodice since it was pretty baggy even after I took in the sides, but overall I’m quite happy with how the dress turned out. Someone at the party asked if my dress came from ModCloth, and I certainly took that as a compliment.

Since completing this project, I’ve purchased a few more frumpy dresses from Goodwill (which is, I realize, completely incompatible with my goal of getting rid of things), and I can’t wait to get started on them! Do you have experience refashioning vintage and thrift store clothing? If so, please share your tips in the comments section!