Monday, April 18, 2011

Homemade & Natural Laundry Detergent Powder


Okay folks, I may be Una Mamma Italiana, but I am NOT Susie Homemaker, nor will I ever be. But because of my oldest daughter's extremely sensitive skin and eczema, I have to be very careful with the chemicals/scents I use on her skin. I have thus found myself exploring all sorts of homemaking tricks that were used by those perfect housewives generations ago. You know, someone like this:

I'm working on it, but this is a bit more accurate for me:

Honestly - who wants to separate each kid's laundry just to save $$$ on the fancy, organic stuff? (Who wants to separate laundry period?) I, as is common in my role as the mamma, have had to take matters into my own hands and figure out a cost effective, EASY solution so as to not lose all of my hair before the age of 30.

I have to admit its kind of liberating to be able to create something on your own without needing the grocery store brands to pull you through these types of obstacles. No matter how likely premature baldness may be, having four (and a half) kiddos does not need to mean the end of all simplicity in life. In fact, just look how SIMPLE I am becoming right before your very eyes:

No, Really - give it a try, it is actually super easy, and totally worth it:

NOTE: The following recipe requires no pot, no stove, not even a wooden spoon (unless your kids aren't folding the laundry, in which case I would suggest you DO have a wooden spoon readily available. Tying one onto the strap of your mammarella apron works quite well....not that I know anything about that...

Powdered Formula

1 bar natural soap, grated*
1 cup Washing Soda**
1 cup Borax***

Grate the soap using your food processor or hand grater. Combine with the Washing Soda and Borax and Pulse in a food processor (or blender) until a fine powder is formed. (You'll want to cover the top of your food processor with a wet kitchen towel to avoid all the dusty powder flying everywhere. Also, it is okay if the soap bits are slightly larger in the fine powder.)

Pour into a sealed container and use 2 tbsp per load. I use this for all my loads and I have an HE washer. I have heard the same dosage is fine for regular washing machines as well. This really ends up costing me less than 17 cents a load, making me the perfect, stereotypically frugal housewife.

*I use a brand without Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates or Parabens, which although very common in domestic soaps, can be carcinogens! HELLO people! You can pay a pretty penny for these "handmade" soaps or find them online in bulk. I get mine from (quite possibly one of my favorite sites! They sell all sorts of paraben-free and SLS-free baby shampoos and stuff like that. But not EVERYTHING on there is organic or completely natural so watch the ingredients carefully.

**I buy the Arm & Hammer Brand in the Laundry Detergent Aisle at the grocery store. Baking Soda is a different chemical compound entirely and will NOT achieve the same result. Although it is a good odor neutralizer if your sensitive skinned child is smelly.

*** I buy the 20 Mule Team brand from the Laundry Aisle at the Grocery store. If you have problems finding any of these at your store/walmart, check Ace Hardware.

Also, mine smells especially yummy since my soap of choice is Lavender & Wildflower, with little bits of dried lavender in the soap! I am in love with my new found Susie Homemaker-ness. Aren't you?

Next thing you know, I'll be using my homemade detergent and merely a wooden washboard - down by the Spokane river......

Okay, no. Never.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grandma's Garden - The Next Generation

My March Article for La Voce Newspaper! Just click on the image to enlarge it and read about our version of my Grandma Rose's garden!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini

You don't need a whole lot of fancy ingredients to make a delectable, fresh tasting, from-the-garden treat like Stuffed Zucchini!

For this recipe, choose some fresh, firm zucchini, and adjust the fillings to your liking.

I used:

3 medium sized zucchini, sliced lengthwise
4 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 - 2 lb. Italian sausage, removed from casing & cooked
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 big handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 - 1 cup Seasoned Italian bread crumbs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
minced garlic to taste

Scoop out the pulp from the zucchini with a spoon. Roughly chop & place in a large mixing bowl. Combine with the all other ingredients and enough extra virgin olive oil to moisten the entire mixture. Add salt, pepper, garlic to your liking. Fill each zucchini half with the mixture and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes.

I did a lot of mixing & adding by eye, so these measurements are approximate. Experiment to find out what works best for you. Add some hot pepper, or sauteed onions and garlic. You simply cannot go wrong when you're working with such yummy, simple ingredients! And THAT is my kind of recipe!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Italian Mammas Put Meals on Wheels!

Check out this awesome article from the WSJ: original article here.

Italian Mammas Put Meals on Wheels, Say 'Mangia!' to Faraway Offspring


On a recent Sunday in Rome, Daniela Varano and some friends lunched on eggplant parmesan whipped up by the 33-year-old publicist's mother.

Mom, meanwhile, was 500 miles away in Bovalino, a small town in southern Italy. Despite the distance, she does what it takes to spoil her grown daughter with home-cooked fare.

"The umbilical cord was never cut," says Ms. Varano's 61-year-old mother, Lina.

Like thousands of other mammas across the southern Italian region of Calabria, she relies on Domenico Martino, a 39-year-old truck driver who has made a career of ferrying lasagnas, raviolis and other traditional dishes over long distances.

Every Saturday afternoon, Mr. Martino picks up hundreds of meals from kitchens across Calabria, drives them overnight to the bustling capital of Rome, and delivers them to children's doorsteps in time for Sunday lunch.

Whenever she gets a package, Ms. Varano calls up her friends for an impromptu feast. "Everyone postpones their plans just to have the lunch," she says. "Although it seems weird, I'm maintaining an emotional link with my family."

Rocco Rorandelli / TerrraProject for The Wall Street Journal

Michela Natale, with her daughter, unwraps her mother's latest dishes.

Mr. Martino's is one of a dozen such services thriving on Calabrian mothers' steely determination: to cater, literally, to their far-flung adult children. While Mr. Martino only serves Rome, a wave of other trucks depart each week from Calabria to cities across the rest of Italy.

"They don't want their children doing anything. Even getting up and going to the market is overdoing it," says Mr. Martino, hoisting a crate of oranges into his truck on a recent Saturday afternoon. "And that's good for me."

For generations, Calabrian women have poured their maternal love into Sunday lunch. They labor to produce sumptuous meals of fresh pasta, long-stewed meats and homegrown greens to lure their grown children back to the nest every week. It was easy when the children lived nearby or—as was often the case—in upstairs apartments built or bought by their parents. But today, the Sunday lunch tradition has fallen on hard times.



Jobs for young Italians are scarce—particularly in Italy's poorer south—forcing people to migrate north to big cities, leaving their mothers behind. In Calabria, on the toe of Italy's boot, 52% of Italians between the ages of 15 to 64 were "inactive," or not working or studying during most of 2010, according to Italy's official statistics agency ISTAT. Authorities say Calabria is also home to the 'ndrangheta mob, a drug trafficking syndicate that maintains a stranglehold on the region's economy, starving the area of jobs.

Mr. Martino's career got rolling in the late 1990s when he delivered chocolate and pasta to supermarkets around the region. He launched his current enterprise a decade ago, after a handful of mammas asked him to help them make a gastronomic connection to their faraway kids. As more family members scattered across Italy, Mr. Martino's business boomed.

Eventually, some 3,000 mothers came calling, each with a set of special requests, Mr. Martino recalls. Many wanted a discount on what traditional couriers charged; others wanted meals to arrive in time for lunch. Some have asked him to linger at the delivery site to gather intelligence on their children's new lives. Others demanded his cellphone number.

"I needed someone who would take it seriously," says Annamaria Careri, a silver-haired 69-year-old, as she welcomed Mr. Martino into her home on a recent Saturday afternoon and handed him 165 pounds of food she had prepared for her three grown children in Rome. Like other customers, she doesn't bristle at the price, which is relatively low compared to other courier services. Mr. Martino charges €15, or about $21, for a 55-pound package.

Timely delivery is crucial, added Lina Varano, as she waited for Mr. Martino to call on her. Mrs. Varano puts days of preparation into her packages, combing her garden for fava beans, citrus fruit and scarlet-colored tomatoes that she presses into tomato sauce for freshly made ravioli.

On this occasion, she had prepared lightly breaded artichokes, pork cutlets and stuffed eggplants one night with the help of her 90-year-old mother-in-law. A tube of salami, from a recently slaughtered pig, was wrapped into tin foil for its journey to Rome.

"I have to give it my all. Everything, everything, everything!" said Mrs. Varano.

Mr. Martino and a small crew of associates spend the whole morning navigating Calabria's streets to collect packages. It's not easy. Many lack signs; others are pocked with potholes or give way to dirt roads that wind through olive groves and cacti. On his way, he fields calls from mothers seeking updates or speedier deliveries.

"There is raw meat in there, and I don't want it to spoil," said one mother, pressing for an early delivery to her child.

"Signora, all the packages are created equal," Mr. Martino replied.

The cargo is then brought to a warehouse in Calabria and packed into a semi-truck that Mr. Martino drives to Rome. Arriving in the capital at midnight, he sleeps in the truck and rises at the crack of dawn on Sunday to make the deliveries before lunch.

Anna Bianchi, 68, says Mr. Martino's marathon goes a long way in easing the stress her daughter faces as an architect working in Rome. "She's absolutely suffocated by work," Mrs. Bianchi said after entrusting a casserole of baked fish and a freshly made meatballs to Mr. Martino.

Antonio Natale, Ms. Careri's 37-year-old son, padded up to the door in sneakers and a blue track suit to collect the latest haul: slabs of vacuum-packed chicken meat, jars of olives, homemade almond-paste cookies, fish stock. "You see, the separation has been traumatic for her," he said.

A high-school teacher, Mr. Natale has been receiving Sunday deliveries for eight years. He deeply misses his mother, he said, but "there is no going back."

Write to Stacy Meichtry at

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