Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Homemade window glass and mirror cleaner

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Make your own glass cleaner, and get beautiful, streak-free windows for little money.

You will need only two ingredients and one further item:
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • A spray bottle
You fill the spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water and then you use it as you would any other glass cleaner.

The benefits of using vinegar as a glass cleaner are that it inexpensive, contains no harsh chemicals or fumes (though the smell of vinegar is not everyone's cup of tea), it effectively removes fingerprints and other window grime and it does not leave streaks.

It is generally recommended that, for safety, you do not reuse empty cleaner bottles, as the vinegar can react with the residue of the chemicals that were in that bottle previously. Ideally you should buy a new bottle for your glass cleaner. I must say here though that I just thoroughly wash such a bottle and then use water in it a couple of times before I use it for anything else. I, fir instance, have used such spray bottles for use with washing up liquid for black fly and such on beans, etc.

Also, always label the contents of your cleaner bottles, regardless of what cleaner they may contain, and always keep out of the reach of children and pets.

A special word of warning here: Many recipes for glass cleaners that can be found on the Internet contain ammonia and/or isopropyl alcohol. Those ingredients are, so it is said, poisonous when swallowed or inhaled in large quantities. Ammonia is a very nasty substance that, while it has been used in cleaners for a long time, inhaled or ingested is poisonous, as said. Not something that is very safe to have around and definitely not safe for the environment.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008


  • Plastic sandwich box sales up 36% and sandwich bag sales up 25% at Sainsbury’s as DIY lunches increase in popularity
  • Trend reflects increasing tendency to check and use what’s in the fridge to make financial and environmental savings
  • National poll shows collapse in household expenditure on the £5.2 billion takeaway sector, with 52% of us cutting back or no longer buying them
British consumers are embracing the art of the “bring-your-own” (BYO) lunch culture in an effort to save money during the working week.
Sales of plastic sandwich boxes at Sainsbury’s are up 36% year on year and sandwich bag sales are up 25%.
The figures are released as evidence suggests that we are turning to our fridges and store cupboards in an effort to economise and reduce unnecessary food waste, and this certainly is not a bad idea.

Alison Austin, Environmental Manager at Sainsbury’s, said: “The cost of a homemade sandwich, using ingredients from the fridge and bread from the breadbin, is substantially lower than the prices at sandwich chains. Buying the ingredients on the weekend and planning ahead or using leftovers can save a huge amount.”

It is about time that people came to realize that they are being ripped off by the sandwich chains and sandwich bars and cafes. The cost of £1.90 and more for a simple Cheese & Onion Sandwich to me is not just excessive; it is daylight robbery.

A block of Basics Full Flavor Cheddar at Sainsbury's costs about £3.00 from which I can make an awful lot of cheese sandwiches. Add to that the cost of two slices of good quality bread and a couple of slices of onion and each sandwich would be probably less than 50pence, if that.

Britons who buy their lunch each day are likely to be spending as much or more as they would if they made their own lunches for a fortnight. For less than the cost of a £2.95 sandwich and £1 fruit juice, it is possible to buy enough food to make sandwiches for two for a week, as the following table shows. If leftover ingredients are used, the price effectively falls to zero.

According to the most recent available figures from the British Sandwich Association the market for commercial sandwiches in the UK is worth nearly £5 billion, with approximately 2.7 billion sandwiches bought outside the home each year.

YouGov research for Sainsbury’s also reveals that the Friday and Saturday night call to the takeaway is becoming increasingly rare as the DIY trend extends to other eating habits as the credit crunch bites. Instead, Britons are using what they have, supplemented with bought ingredients to make “fakeaways” - homemade curry, Chinese or pizza.

More than half (52%) of those polled for Sainsbury’s said that they had reduced significantly the amount that they spend on takeaway food or stopped entirely since the beginning of the year. More than a third (37%) have cut back their expenditure and 15 percent said that they have stopped buying takeaways altogether. The most recent ONS statistics revealed that Britain spends nearly £100 million per week on takeaways.

28% said that they now routinely use leftover meat and vegetables in curries and 26% use leftover vegetables in Chinese-style stir fries. Around one in four (22%) is more likely to make good use of leftovers as a direct result of the credit crunch and 20% said that they now throw away less food.

Sales of key ‘fakeaway’ ingredients are up at Sainsbury’s this year as households try to emulate Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurant tastes for a fraction of the cost. Vindaloo curry paste sales are up 33% year on year, plain poppadums are up 47%, light coconut milk is up 14% and Peshwari naans are up 16%.

Alison Austin added: “Fakeaways are here to stay. They’re created for a fraction of the cost of traditional takeaways, you know what’s going into them and they use up food that would otherwise be chucked out and sent to landfill.”

Alison continued: “A staggering third of all the food we buy is thrown out, according to recent research, so what tastier way is there to tackle an environmental problem and save a lot of money? Leftover vegetables and meat are ideal ingredients for curries, and pizzas lend themselves to a huge range of toppings. Cooking fakeaways at home is great fun and is the perfect way to love your leftovers.”

Better value Indian and Chinese ready meals, which were recently praised for their relatively low fat content by Which?, are also growing in popularity, reflecting the savings they offer over conventional takeaways. Sales of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference pizzas are up 513% year on year.

Sainsbury’s five step guide to the fakeaway habit:
  1. Curries by their nature are a mixture of meat and vegetables. This makes bowls of leftovers from the fridge a perfect source for curry ingredients.
  2. Many leftovers are perfect for pizza toppings – leftover cheese, tomatoes, peppers, onions and mushrooms are perfect toppings, as are most meats. Always keep a box of ready-made pizza bases in the freezer.
  3. Most vegetables are also great ingredients for a Chinese-style stir fry.
  4. Keep a jar of stir fry sauce and pasta sauce in your cupboard for easy suppers on the go.
  5. Freeze any leftover tomato-based pasta sauce – it makes a great pizza topping.
by and Michael Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Grow your own small vegetable garden

Even the smallest space can produce plenty of vegetables, even a patio can

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I am no market gardener, that's for sure, and I have varied success with my own small garden in that fashion but that is due to the location and the fact that I get overrun by slugs and snails and also the squirrels and pigeons think that my garden is a feeding station for them. Well, it is not but try telling them that.

Also, I must add that I am not the most consistent home gardener, as I am often too busy with writing material for the many magazines that I own and edit.

However, while I doubt that most families could become entirely self-sufficient (then again, is complete self-sufficiency even possible?) in the suburbs on their patio and/or small part of garden that they are often only willing to sacrifice for food growing, the food thus grown can go someways towards reducing food miles and costs.

Obviously, the bigger the area the more food you can grow. But, having said that, lots can be done in a small space. This was shown at the “Grand Designs Live” exhibition with the small garden that was shown there and also in other places. It is possible.

If you do not want to build raised beds with timber, bricks or whatever, then there are nowadays a couple of companies that produce “clickable” plastic siding that make then up a raised beds. But be warned! They are not cheap but they will last nigh on forever, unlike timber.

However, there are many other options for building a small garden – I mean other than digging up the ground. On a patio you would not and could not do that anyway. So, here comes “container gardening”.

There are containers and there are containers for gardening, obviously, From the old style terracotta put and tub to the plastic ones and everything else. You do not even have to go and buy such containers, as they can often be found thrown away. Old washing-up bowls can be used, the pots that contained trees from nurseries, the barrels that contained cooking oils – cut in half makes two – and many more. In addition to that there are the large bags in which building sands and the likes comes nowadays. Fold over the sides and – voila – one square raised bed of rather some depth.

The tubs presently mentioned all – bar the containers that once will have had trees in them – will require holes for drainage drilled into the bottom. I handle that quite simply and quickly here; a few shots of target practice with a .22 air rifle and, well, drainage holes. Who said they had to be x-amount of millimeter in size and perfectly round?

That is container gardening on the cheap, basically. It beats – in cost at least – any store bought tubs for plastic tub/container gardening.

In addition to that there are other containers that can be employed as well. Know of an old bathtub, whether iron (well, they are worth money...) or fiberglass? They too make great planters for vegetables.

There have been articles around about the advantages of growing your own vegetables and in them it is pointed out that not only do people waste less food by being able to go pick fresh vegetables when they need them, but the cost of having a small garden compared to buying fresh produce from the grocery store can save us all a lot on food.

So, what's stopping you?

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Growing potatoes in biodegradable cardboard boxes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Growing potatoes in raised beds works well but building a raised bed can be costly and requires hard work. An easy to build, inexpensive, useful and attractive alternative for growing of potatoes can be had by using cardboard boxes.

Because of the hard work of building raised beds and the cost of it I decided to use the existing beds for other crops rather than potatoes and left growing potatoes out for a couple of years.

However, this year I came up with the idea of cardboard boxes, in lieu of the potato patio planters which are rather costly to the tune of about US$35 around these parts of the world. I am thinking, though, of maybe building my own (oar maybe I can find a manufacturer who would like me to review a couple of them). So, I have took two boxes that I had lying about, lined them up in the garden and planted potatoes in the bottom of the box using a soil mixed with mild potting compost. As the potatoes grew, I have added more soil. So far they are growing beautifully but we don't know as yet as to how good they are producing and as to whether it works at all, though there seem to be some small potatoes already to be had.

Such boxes are free, can be quite attractive and will bio-degrade and compost at the end of the season. New ones can be set up the following year and years in different parts of the vegetable garden to help rotate the crops. The top flaps of the boxes can be closed to protect the tender plants from a late frost. It is easy to build up soil around the growing potatoes; harvesting is also easy. You can either reach in for new potatoes, or you can peel the rotting sides away at the end of the season.

It is important to consider that as with all container planting you may need to check a little more on the watering.

So, why not grow your spuds in cardboard planters? No cost (for the planters, I mean) and at the end of the useful life of the “planter” it will compost to soil.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008

Birthday party snub sparks debate

Another good reason for, where it is permitted, to homeschool.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

An eight-year-old boy has sparked an unlikely outcry in Sweden after failing to invite two of his classmates to his birthday party.

The boy's school says he has violated the children's rights and has complained to the Swedish Parliament.

The school, in Lund, southern Sweden, argues that if invitations are handed out on school premises then it must ensure there is no discrimination.

The boy's father has lodged a complaint with the parliamentary ombudsman.

He says the two children were left out because one did not invite his son to his own party and he had fallen out with the other one.

The boy handed out his birthday invitations during class-time and when the teacher spotted that two children had not received one the invitations were confiscated.

"My son has taken it pretty hard," the boy's father told the newspaper Sydsvenskan.

"No one has the right to confiscate someone's property in this way, it's like taking someone's post," he added.

A verdict on the matter is likely to be reached in September, in time for the next school year.

Sweden has, as we all know, a very strange set of laws in this department and tries to be so advanced that it is in fact making a mockery of itself.

© M Smith (Veshengro), July 2008