Localize it: DIY lighting

This hip trick was inspired during my week in Indianapolis by Earth House Collective, the wonderful host of Indy Food Swap and other fine arts and community-building events.

Great overhead lighting is hard to come by (or can be expensive to install, a common woe for renters). Take charge of your dark corner lighting needs with a pendant light cord, a store-bought or DIY lamp shade and some fishing wire to help deflect attention from the cord. Hang the fishing wire from the ceiling to help you create the perfect hover, lifting the cord up and away from your light. Visit this post for a how-to make your own mason jar chandelier tutorial.

Roadside find alert: drawer pull upcycle

While the cabinet or dresser left out for trash might not be worth your effort to haul it home, check the pulls. Drawer pulls are a simple, inexpensive (if not free!) way to spruce existing furniture. Consider using them in other areas of the house as a creative hook alternative.

p.s. It helps to travel with tools; a small screwdriver with interchangeable heads now lives in our glove box (after I removed these using a jutted out groove of our house key and some strategic pressure).

Don't pitch that

Keep half of that cool card someone sent you! The side without writing on the back can be easily repurposed into a postcard. If there’s writing on the back of both sides, trim the card into smaller squares or rectangles, slather some glue on it and paste it to a blank card (aka a sheet of heavier weight cardstock folded in half) and you have a new card.

Grab a a plain envelope to fit it at the stationary store (or get creative and make your own) and you’re in snail mail business.

Upright members of your closet

This hip trick comes to us from Kris in Portland OR.

To help calf and knee boots both keep their shape and remain standing in the closet, weed out some of those old t-shirts or shorts you’ve been meaning to give away (or stash summer clothes just for the season, things you might not have much room to keep elsewhere).

Roll up one or more items together to match the height of the boot, and, if necessary, secure with masking tape. Insert the rolled up material into your boots and salute yourself for successfully implementing a creative improvisation/stashing tactic.

Convenience, from scratch

Yes, this hip trick might sound like an oxymoron, but hear me out. Even for a seasoned, weekly baker, pulling out all the ingredients involved in from-scratch baking can be a deterrent. Admittedly, some weeks we’ve gone without bread because I’m too lazy to pull out all the stuff.

For any regular projects with more than 3 dry ingredients, try preparing make-ahead bags. I do this for our gluten-free oatmeal millet bread, a weekly-made loaf, so all I have to do is whip up the eggs, molasses, cider vinegar and butter whenever I bake. On the occasion pictured above, I combined and stashed the dry ingredients for 4 loaves of bread, 2 pie crusts, and 1 batch of muffins, a higher yield for the same amount of mess!

Words to the Wise: If pre-making muffins, pancakes or quick breads, I’d wait to add the leavener to the dry ingredients until just before you bake. Exposure to air and moisture (in some flours) can decrease the potency of baking soda and baking powder. Also, I stash my make-ahead bags in the fridge as an added precaution as some flours and meals can go rancid at room-temp.

Organize your threads

This hip trick comes to us via the fabulous Kate at Blue Chair Fruit Co. in Oakland CA. Kate rocked my book tour stop in the Bay Area over the summer with a tea party. She had me at “let’s also embroider tea towels”.

When she pulled out her embroidery floss organizer, I knew we had a hip trick on our hands. You’re a hole punch, a ring, a manila file folder and a pair of scissors away from this dapper thread organization method.

Shortcut sifting

Who wants to clean that sifter contraption after a flour or powdered sugar explosion? Not me. This hip trick comes to us courtesy of my lovely banjo teacher (and the musician featured in my videos, Hilary Hawke.

Here’s a hip way to de-clump powdered sugar and sift small amounts of flour or spices. Place your to-be-sifted dry goods in a fine mesh strainer, give it a few shakes, and voila! Happy baking, or french toast eating, or whatever it is you’re doing with sifted stuff.

Iron out some extra counterspace

This hip trick comes to us courtesy of David Lebovitz, my go-to ice cream and dessert recipes blogger/author. He posted a Hip Trick-laden blog post a couple weeks back, and this one stood out as tres HGGH. Grab your ironing board for a small-space solution to your abysmal or non-existent counterspace situation. I like to throw an oilcloth over the top to prevent spillage or crumbs from settling into the place where we straighten out our clean laundry.

Operation stovetop recovery

You survived the holiday gathering, but how did your stovetop fare? Not so well? Shake some baking soda directly onto the burner area and give it a scrub with an old sponge or rag. Dab rag with white vinegar to remove the soda residues and polish your work.

If necessary, degunk your metal burners by removing them and soaking in hot water and a splash of Citrasolv, and then wash normally with dish soap.

Spruce up your holiday table without breaking the bank

Turkey day and the season of holiday gatherings is fast upon us and it’s easy to lose track of our expenses when hosting (and sometimes even just attending).

Give your holiday table and entire house a bit of low-cost pizazz by selecting one or two inexpensive bouquets and placing individual or pairs of flowers in cute soda bottles or mason jars. Bring color and unique style to lots of areas of the house for under $10. Check out this video to see Kate in action demonstrating this hip trick!

DIY hand soap

This hip trick is along the same lines of the dish soap diluting trick on page 7 in the book. Stop spending money on hand soaps! Buy a refillable pump (there are even cute ones to be found out there, too) and fill it halfway or even a quarter of the way full with the Castile soap of your choice. Top it off with water, give it a shake and feel good about not putting extra chemicals down the drain, for cutting out unnecessary packaging and keeping toxic perfumes out of your home.

Windy City outdoor entertaining tip

This hip trick comes to us courtesy of Jennifer in Chicagoland, the host of my recent houseparty there who dazzled me with her clever home ideas. Here’s one of them, which is also featured on her blog.  

Fall is here, snatch up these last few weeks for outdoor entertaining. Create ambiance by using old lamp and light bulb domes as outdoor candle holders. Wind protection, fire hazard protection and possibly some pretty kaleidoscope action, depending on your dome. Be sure to re-purpose domes that have both a top and bottom opening (or be sure the flame is allowed to vent out of the single opening).

Non-gross ceiling fan cleaning technique

Thanks to Phillip from Austin, Texas for this fab hip trick!

If you’re anything like me, the ceiling fan is that last place you think to include in the weekly (ahem, or monthly) dusting adventure. Well, by the time you do think of it, the task of de-gunking this kind of scenario is just gross.

Here’s where a thrift store pillowcase and a bit of water come into play. Simply slide each arm of your fan inside the slightly dampened pillowcase, pulling off eons of dust accumulation and capturing it all inside the pillowcase. Give it another swipe with a half-vinegar-half-water spritzed cloth and proceed to forget about the fans for another few months.

Low-tech food dehydrating

Break into the exciting world of food dehydration with this low-tech method using your oven. As a general rule, you’ll want to slice up your fruit or veg to no thicker than 1/4-inch and arrange on a cookie cooling rack which is then placed on top of a cookie sheet to catch any drips or fruit goo. This allows warm, dry air to completely envelop the food and allow for maximum successful drying potential!

A note on temp: Turn the dial to the lowest heat setting possible; most ovens won’t go below 160 or 170 degrees-F, so just keep an eye on whatever it is you’re hoping to dry. (A food dehydrator achieves your ideal fruits/veg drying temp of 135 degrees-F.) For drying herbs and spices, try using the ambient heat of your gas oven or turn your electric oven on to 200 degrees-F and switch it off when it comes to temp (then place drying tray in after 5 min).

Lone ranger sock dusting

This hip trick comes to us via Liz, owner, repurposer and all-out queen-of-furniture-design behind the fab Northampton MA shop, sticks and bricks. As we prepped for our event a couple weeks ago, Liz whipped out a cute, mate-less sock to dust off the drinks serving tray. What a great way to repurpose your lone ranger socks and maybe get inspired (or trick your kiddos) into dusting few shelves or other surfaces in a new way.

Warming milk without scorching your pan

This hip trick comes to us courtesy of Sophie in Brooklyn. She wrote me from summer camp to share it after making ricotta with her camp counselors!

Take an ice cube and rub it along the bottom surface of your pan. Pour in your milk and heat according to the instructions for whatever you’re making. Be careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan or you’ll remove your special anti-scorch seal.