Upcycled Milk Carton (Scarf) Organizer

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  I actually don’t mind that most things in Europe are small – tiny cars, itty bitty apartments, skinny streets.  But one thing that drives me bonkers is the fact that milk is only sold by the liter.

I know this is totally a first world problem, and I realize that there are more important things to complain about.  But, week after week of getting “the look” from the grocery cashier just wears me down.  No, I am not nursing an army of baby cows back to health.  I’m just trying to keep up with my milk-chugging boys, thankyouverymuch. 

After said boys have consumed the liters, we then have the litter to look after.  I obviously know by now to put it in the correct trash bin.  But, all those cartons really add up, and I find myself annoyed and inevitably putting off the dreaded trip to the dumpster.

What to do?  Well, in the spirit of Real Simple, find new uses for old things, of course!

I’ve collected a zillion and one scarves since moving to Germany, and the horde is getting a little to rambunctious for my OCD tastes.  As part of my biannual deep clean, I wanted to make the menagerie into a pretty, neat grid that would facilitate my appreciation and usage of all the options.

But, even if you’re not a neck wear nut, you could use this upcycled milk carton doodad to corral any number of other loose items like jewelry, makeup, hair accessories, toiletries, ties, office supplies, etc.

Since I can’t seem to make anything without giving it the topographical treatment, you know there will be maps involved in this project.  If you don’t have this same addiction, er I mean problem, you could use high quality wrapping paper or decorate simple brown paper.  A nice hand-stamped design would be totally fab.

My apologies in advance for the poor lighting and creepy fingers.  A hand model I am not, and my only time to get creative is well after the sun and sons have gone to bed.  How else can I swipe my kid’s Lightning McQueen ruler without him knowing and obviously objecting?

All right, let’s git ‘er done.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!


  • Clean, dry milk cartons*
  • Box cutter or razor blade
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Clear packing tape
  • Serious craft glue like E6000 or Uhu Kontakt Kraftkleber (optional)
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Electrical or washi tape
  • Old map, heavy duty wrapping paper, or decorated brown paper

*A note about the milk cartons… Rinse and dry them as soon as they’re empty.  However, you still might discover some brilliant fuzzy friends when you open them up.  No problem – just wash and dry again.

Also, the number of milk cartons is completely up to you.  I used 15 because I like odd numbers, but don’t be afraid to make the grid smaller (especially if you have access to half gallon cartons) or larger.  Something asymmetrical/abstract could be super cool, but only attempt this if you have less than 3 children and an excess of time and patience.

But, if you do try any funky shape variations, please do post a link to your project in the comments below.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Cut Your Cartons

Determine how deep you want your bins to be, and use your (pilfered-from-the-resident-six-year-old) ruler to mark each milk carton.  Lop the tops off with a box cutter.  Careful, now, those blades are wicked sharp!

Rinse and repeat.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Okay, no rinsing is required unless you discover the aforementioned fuzz inside the containers.  Just keep cutting until you have as many headless milk cartons as you please.

Add the Adhesive

Arrange the cartons in the formation that suits your fancy.  For me, this was 3×5.  Once they’re set up, you might notice that some of your razor cuts came out uneven (or was that just me?).  Use sharp scissors to trim the edges until it looks good (enough).

Cut off pieces of clear packing tape, roll them around your fingers, and wedge them between two cartons.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Optional: If you want the edges flush, you’ll need to use some strong craft glue (see Supplies, above, for recommendations) and clothespins to hold the seams in place.  Allow the glue to dry overnight.

In any case, go to town again with the packing tape, wrapping it around the whole organizer in a giant sticky hug.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Details, Details

If you’re only stashing your organizer in a drawer and filling it with rubber bands and thumbtacks, feel free to stop here.  But, if you want to make it pretty, it’s time to dive into the details.

Tear off tiny pieces of electrical tape (I used white) or washi tape (didn’t have any on hand) to conceal the carton corners. Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Cut strips out of your map big enough to cover the milk carton seams and extend as far down as you want.  I knew each scarf would take up nearly an entire bin, so my map pieces are only about an inch wide.

Once you’ve arranged the strips how you like them, glue or tape the papers to cover the carton seams.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

Wrap It Up

Treat your newly smoodged-together organizer as a Christmas present, and wrap that puppy up.  A few tips..

  • Trim the excess off your map so you’re not battling a paper dragon that keeps folding back on itself.  Leave a margin of several inches all around.
  • Attach the sides before you do the ends.  This is because the ends are easy and the sides are a pain in the you-know-what.
  • Speaking of the sides, start in the center of your milk carton formation, and work out from there.
  • Cut small slits from the edge of the map to the top of the carton to line up with the seams between cartons (see second photo below).  Fold down the flaps, and attach with tape or glue.
  • The first side is the hardest, and things get easier from there.
  • Once the sides are done, finish the ends as you would when wrapping a birthday present in a box (third photo).

Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!  Fill ‘er Up

Now it’s time to use your darling creation to organize!  Stuff with scarves, and display with pride.Thrifty Travel Mama | Upcycled Scarf Organizer - made from milk cartons and maps!

What would you fill your organizer with?  Can you think of any other upcycle ideas for my myriad milk cartons?Signature-Marigold

19 Cheap & Easy Last-Minute Halloween Ideas

Over the last four years we’ve lived here, I’ve noticed Halloween has become more and more popular in Germany.  While I don’t see trick-or-treating going viral yet, stores have at least started carrying costumes and snacks for the occasion (though sadly, not candy corn).

This year, we’re putting on a small party for some of the kids in our building, and I needed some fun yet simple ideas for food, decor, and activities. 

I really can’t justify going to great lengths to plan an amazing bash.  My kids aren’t even familiar with the word Halloween or what the holiday really entails.  They were too young to remember the holiday in America (and we usually ended up in tinfoil in honor of Chipotle’s free burrito day).  Plus, this year we’re busy getting ready to head over to Scotland (yay!).

So, if you’re strapped for time like I am, check out these inexpensive, cute, last-minute Halloween ideas from Pinterest.  Have more fun food, decor, and crafts?  Leave a link in the comments below!


Hard Boiled Monster Eggs from Chew Chew Mama

Banana Ghosts and Clementine Pumpkins from Creamty

Spooky Popcorn Hand from Little Nummies

Spider Web Snacks from Mom Endeavors

Pumpkin Pretzels from A Thrifty Mom

Mandarin Orange Pumpkins from Serving Pink Lemonade.


Halloween Eyeball Topiaries from Crafts ‘n Coffee

Glowing Recycled Milk Jug Jack O’Lanterns from Sassy Girlz

Trash Bag Spider Webs from How About Orange

Halloween Pac Man Garland from Minieco

Plastic Cup + Sharpie Halloween Lanterns from The Australian Baby Blog


Haunted House Halloween Cut Out from Sarah Jane

Q Tip Skeletons from Crafts for all Seasons

Footprint Ghosts from Hand Print and Foot Print Art

Paint Chip Monster and Candy Corn Cards from All Free Holiday Crafts

Leftover Candy:

Candy Bar Cookies from Pip & Ebby

Leftover Halloween Candy Bark from Brown Eyed Baker

Halloween Candy Gingerbread Houses from Cake Central

November Thanksgiving “Advent” Calendar, Harvest Tree, and Turkey Pinata from Alpha Mom

It’s time to break out the craft supplies, corral all the extra candy, and give some of these ideas a try!  Which is your favorite? Signature-Marigold

Apple Madness! A Recipe Round Up to Whittle Your Stash

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashOur boys so loved picking strawberries this past summer, that I determined we must go apple picking once fall arrived.  Well, fall is certainly here, and her glory is starting to show.  So, a few weeks ago, the boys and I headed out to a nearby farm with some friends to see how we fared at harvesting our own apples.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashI was a teensy bit worried that apple picking wouldn’t turn out to be a good activity for little boys who are even more vertically challenged than I am.  Luckily, the fruit was within their reach, and we picked about 13 kilos in less than an hour.

Um, yeah.  13 kilos…

All I can say is that it didn’t SEEM like a lot at the time.  But we were (and kinda still are) up to our eyeballs in fragrant fruit.

So, if you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering an apple orchard or unfortunately sitting on ten bushels of the suckers, here are some scrumptious ways to use those apples up.

By the way, Kim at Stuffed Suitcase has some excellent tips on going apple picking with kiddos in tow.  Check them out here.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApplesauce.  Duh.  There are a zillion variations (sugar, honey, no sugar, spiced, crockpot, stovetop).  Just pick one, and go with it.  It’s okay if you don’t have any special equipment (I don’t).  We’ve whipped up four batches of silky puree; the kids love making and eating it.

Apple butter.  Contains no butter – apple butter is really just applesauce cooked down further, usually with a little sweetener and spices.  The crockpot method is the most fool-proof, but you can also make it on the stove.  Some recipes contain a LOT of sugar;  I’d recommend only adding a tiny bit of sweetener and then adjusting to taste.

Fruit leather.  You’re basically drying out your applesauce in the oven when you make fruit leather.  Try this easy peasy cinnamon variation.

Apple chips.  Another simple, healthy, kid-friendly snack.  Even the kitchen-challenged can make apple chips.  I like the simplicity of this no-sugar-added recipe.

Dried apple bits.  Make these at the same time as the apple chips, and use the bits in oatmeal or yogurt.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashApple S’mores.  This was one of those happy accidents, born out of the desire to make a quick and easy apple dessert that went along with what I was already making for dinner on the grill (these juicy fajitas).  You don’t really need a recipe, but here’s what to do:

Wash your apples, core them, and slice into 1/2″ thick rounds.  If you don’t have an apple corer, use a knife to carefully cut out the core after slicing the apple.  Grill about 5 minutes.  Then flip, and grill the other side.  When the apple slices are done, cool slightly while you roast the marshmallows.  Carefully slide a gooey marshmallow onto an apple slice, and finish with a dollop of apple butter.  Devour while warm.

Baked apples.  I’ve made these in the crockpot and the oven.  My kids loved the Skinnytaste version.  For an extra special treat, serve a la mode.

Apple nachos.  These are on my recipe list for the weekend.  Apples?  Peanut Butter?  Nutella?  Yes, please!

Apple crumble pizza.  An indulgent-yet-healthy dessert.  I served this at brunch with chai tea.  Wowzers.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple Stash

Apple butter donuts.  Alas, I do not have a donut pan, so I made these as muffins.  And instead of the glaze (though I’m sure it’s scrumptious), I filled the muffin cups with half of the batter, then added a tablespoon of apple butter before topping with the remaining batter.

Apple walnut lentil salad.  Crisp, sour apples make excellent salad toppings, especially when paired with spinach.  Add toasted walnuts, cooked brown lentils, and Parmesan cheese.  We ate ours drizzled with a balsamic honey mustard dressing which is really just a hybrid of two of my all-time favorites.

BBQ chicken apple pizza.  Everyone in the family LOVED this pizza variation.  I used an ABin5 dough, slathered it with a thin layer of BBQ sauce, and added finely sliced apples followed by a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.  I topped it off with BBQ rotisserie chicken and sliced onions.  A new family favorite!

Apple pie grilled cheese.  Change up your lunch routine with this funky sandwich.  Doesn’t it look scrumptious?  I can’t wait to try it!

Apple cheese cookies.  I’ve made these several times now, and they make perfect road trip snacks.  I’ve got a whole post on these babies coming soon!

Scrumptious apple pie.  And last, but certainly not least, if you need a showstopping dessert for any occasion, I can highly recommend this recipe from Pioneer Woman.  You’ll never go back to regular ol’ apple pie again!  (p.s. – it’s pretty easy to make your own caramel sauce!)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Apple Madness! Recipes and Ideas for Whittling Down Your Apple StashIf you’ve been paying attention, I’ve made all of the recipes above (except the nachos and grilled cheese which will be making an appearance at my table very soon)… and I still have more apples! 

So, instead of going bonkers for a few hours on Pinterest, I’d love to hear your favorite apple recipes.  Leave a link in the comments, and I’ll gladly take a peek.

If apples aren’t your thing, don’t worry – pumpkins are next!Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Wrapped Floor Lamp

Thrifty Travel Mama | Map Wrapped Floor LampHey y’all!  Today I’ve got a fun DIY project to spruce up your home with a little travel style.  I love decorating the house with little touches of trips we’ve taken (or even just imagined).  With an hour and a few materials, you can transform a boring lamp into a conversation piece!

This restyle uses the IKEA HOLMÖ floor lamp, a bargain at $9.99 (€7,99), but you could use any barrel-shaped lamp shade.

Want to make this yourself?  Hop on over to Renee Angela Photography to see the full DIY post.

For more project inspiration, follow me on Pinterest and check out my Travel Crafts & Projects board. 

More of my map projects!  Wall Art & Pencil Holders.Signature-Marigold

Strawberry Madness!

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesMmmmm strawberries!  Nothing says summer like a juicy bite out of a gigantic ripe strawberry.  The deepest darkest crimson ones are the sweetest, bursting with flavor.  Savoring each refreshing berry, it’s hard to think that life could get any better than this.

The boys and I have embraced this season by heading out to some fields in our area and picking our own strawberries.  Since we haven’t joined the harvest-it-yourself bandwagon for several years, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would they be bored?  Rowdy?  Would they turn into little thieves, stuffing their faces with pilfered fruit?Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesThankfully, after a quick lesson in which berries to pick (big, bright, all-over red) and which ones to leave (small, white, green, rotten) each of the boys dutifully placed the strawberries in their designated buckets.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesWhat’s more, I didn’t even have to give a soapbox speech about stealing.  Okay, we “taste tested” a few to make sure we were buying quality goods.  But, after doing our due diligence, we picked our way past 4 kilos!

While it’s great fun to fill your baskets, afterward you must decide just what to do with allllll those strawberries.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesMay I offer a few simple suggestions?

Fruit leather.  A huge hit in our household, you won’t believe what a cinch this is to make.  Simply puree your fruit, spread it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and dehydrate in the oven at the lowest possible setting for 6+ hours.  If you must have a recipe, this one’s handyThrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesFor thicker, more pliable fruit leather (and a more balanced taste), add 1/2 cup applesauce to your strawberries before pureeing.  P.s. – you totally do not need sugar in your fruit leather.  You do, however, need to sweeten your syrup (see below).Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesBerry Sorbet True sorbet isn’t made with dairy, but this particular recipe uses a bit of yogurt to smooth out the texture.  Place frozen berries, yogurt, and a few tablespoons of sugar in a food processor.  Give it a whirl, and voila!  An easy summer dessert that’s good enough for company.

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesStrawberry Syrup.  Another mighty fine condiment, this one is just as easy to whip up as blueberry or chocolate syrupBoil strawberries, water, and sugar until the berries break down.  Blast to bits with a hand mixer.  You can either leave the syrup as is or strain it to remove the seeds and pulp.  Though I strained the blueberry variety, I decided to leave the strawberry syrup as is.  If you need a recipe, here’s a good one.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and Recipes

Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesThis sweet & pretty dark pink puree is the base for all sorts of kitchen magic.  Allow it to work wonders as a French toast topping or be the star of pink lemonade.  Make show-stopping strawberry milkshakes with this syrup and vanilla ice cream.Thrifty Travel Mama - Strawberry Madness! Ideas and RecipesOther ideasBesides the obvious jam option, toss sliced strawberries into a spinach salad with balsamic and toasted walnuts.  Make chocolate-covered strawberries with the biggest ones.  Bake a strawberry crumble, or even this amazing no-bake strawberry cheesecake.  If you really want to impress, this is the best strawberry cake EVER.

Dairy-free berry tart: crust recipe here, but sub coconut oil for butter.  "Cream" recipe (and gluten-free crust option) here.

Dairy-free berry tart from our Fourth of July picnic in Badenweiler: crust recipe here, but sub coconut oil for butter. Vanilla bean custard recipe (and gluten-free crust option) here.

Whatever you do, do it quickly for these sweet red gems don’t last long.  Eat, drink, and enjoy because soon the strawberries – and summer – will be gone.

In the mood for blueberries instead?  Indulge in a sip of summer with these refreshing summer blueberry drinks!Signature-Marigold

DIY: Map Flower Wall Art

Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtEvery now and again, I just need something new in my home to make me smile… a cheerful little reminder that there’s more to life than diapers and dishes.

The easiest fix for me is to print out some recent family photos and update my gigantic cork board.  This time, though, I decided I wanted to make some wall art using a map from our Salt Lake City trip.

This cute flower canvas inspired the design for today’s DIY project.  However, I don’t own a hot glue gun, and I didn’t have a canvas lying around.  Being thrifty and all, I hunted for a canvas substitute.  The answer?  A shoe box lid!  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtTo make your own map flower wall art, you’ll need a large shoe box lid (mine was from a boot box), a roll of brown paper, an old map, scissors, tape, and a glue stick.  That’s it!Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtStart by cutting a length of brown paper several inches larger than the lid.

Optional step: I wanted my lid to stay in place, so I covered all but a two inch strip around the edge with my glue stick.  Then, I smoothed the brown paper over the lid, glue side down.

Wrap up the lid like you would wrap a gift.  I used my glue stick as well as a little tape to secure the edges of the paper to the back of the lid.  Now your “canvas” is ready to go.Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtFor the flower petals, cut 2″ strips from your map, and then cut each strip into 2″ squares.  Perfectionists will be glad to know it’s not imperative to measure or cut exactly.  Eyeballing is acceptable in this case.Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtNow, cut leaves from the map squares by starting at one corner and cutting a wide curve that extends to the opposite corner.  Repeat the wide, corner-to-corner curve on the other side of the square.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtYou could also fold the square in half diagonally if you only wanted to make one cut per square.  I didn’t want a fold down the center of my flower petals, so I made two cuts per square.

Once you have a pile of petals, it’s time to design your flower.  Choose a center point, and place petals in a circular pattern extending out from the center point.

Layouts will vary based on the size and shape of your shoe box lid.  Since my lid happened to be more of a long rectangle, I added a few detached petals in the empty space.

When you’re satisfied with your design, use a glue stick to adhere the petals to the lid, one by one.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtSince this is a map flower, I thought a small compass would be perfect for the center.  I found a small compass printed on the map itself, but you could also draw one directly on the brown paper.

To up the adorable factor (and, ahem, cover up the AAA logo), cut out a small heart and place it in the center of the compass.  Glue the heart to the compass and the compass to the lid.  Thrifty Travel Mama - DIY Map Flower Wall ArtVoila!  An inexpensive, pretty little pick-me-up ready to hang on the wall in your home.

Want more map crafts?  Check out my DIY Map-Covered Pencil Holder. and discover lots of other ideas on my Travel Crafts and Projects board on Pinterest.Signature-Marigold

A Sip of Summer: Refreshing Blueberry Drinks

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaOur little Florida family has grown accustomed to the winters here – the snow, the slush, the sweaters.  But everyone has their limits.  Ours is June.

June means that no speck of winter should remain.  The sun should shine, the sweat should glisten, and salads should be served.  Not this year, though.  We’ve just greeted June in scarves and boots (yes, really).DThrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaSo, as the older boys lamented the impossibility of traipsing about in shorts and flip flops, and the baby protested the endless layers of fleece, I decided something.  If warm weather won’t come to us, we’ll just have to go ahead and make some summer ourselves.  Since summer means ice in your glass and not under your feet, it only seems fitting to start with drinks.

What’s that saying?  If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaAnd make lemonade, we shall.  But not just any lemonade.  And not just lemonade.  Let’s dress up ice cold lemonade and chilled green tea with blueberry ribbons, shall we?

First things first – we must make some blueberry simple syrup!  This drippy sweetness will be used to brighten up lemonade and green tea.  Have leftovers?  Drizzle it in yogurt or over pancakes or ice cream.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaLet’s talk lemonade.  It’s easy to make from scratch, but I had visions of lemon seeds flying all over the kitchen and juice stinging my eyes. I wanted a shortcut.

Germans only have something called bitter lemon soda, and I highly recommend taking the label at its word.  No frozen lemonade concentrate is to be found either.  But, knowing their fond affection for beer mixed with “lemonade” (known as a Radler), I persisted and discovered a huge glass bottle of Zitronensaft right next to the apple juice.  Score!Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaAfter our adventures in lemonade, it’s time to conquer green tea.  If you don’t like green tea, it’s usually due to one or more of these things: you’re drinking Lipton, you’re making it with boiling water, and you’re steeping it for more than 3 minutes.

Green tea is sensitive.  Use quality tea leaves (loose leaf is best), brew it with water heated to 185°F/85°C, and remove the leaves after 3 minutes.  For more tips, click here.  But, even if I haven’t converted you to the green tea lovers club, don’t worry.  Blueberry syrup makes everything better.

To add another dimension to our drinks, let’s add bubbly… water, that is.  Replace some of the water in the lemonade with club soda or mineral water.  Make a refreshing drink worthy of coffee shop fame by mixing some sparkling water in with your blueberry green tea.

Sip slowly and imagine that summer is really, truly, FINALLY here.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Place the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer 15 minutes.  Smoosh the blueberries while cooking if desired.

Remove from heat; cool slightly.  Run the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and mash blueberries with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.  Reserve the solids for another use (smoothies, ice cream topping).  Stir in the lemon juice.  Pour into a jar and refrigerate.

Adapted slightly from Closet Cooking

Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Lemonade

1 cup lemon juice
1 cup blueberry syrup (recipe above)
4-5 cups water or use half water, half club soda for sparkling lemonade

Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher.  If using the German Zitronensaft, use slightly less than 1 cup as it is slightly more tart than fresh lemon juice.  Chill.  Serve in glasses over ice.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaBlueberry Green Tea

1.5 liters water
2 t green tea leaves
2/3 c blueberry syrup (recipe above)

Heat the water to 185°F/85°C.  Remove from heat, and steep the green tea leaves in the hot water for 3 minutes.  Discard the tea solids, and stir in the blueberry syrup.  Chill.  Serve in glasses over ice.Thrifty Travel Mama | A Sip of Summer - Refreshing Blueberry Lemonade and Green TeaTo make a blueberry green tea spritzer, fill a glass with ice.  Pour in 1/3 to 1/2 glass club soda.  Cover with enough blueberry green tea to make a full glass.  Stir gently with a spoon.  Sip, and enjoy!

What’s your favorite refreshing summer drink?Signature-Marigold

Make It Yourself: Homemade Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysSpring is officially here!  I sure hope it looks more like spring from your window than it does outside mine.  At least there is no snow.. today.

With the promise of sunnier days and warmer weather, it’s high time to start thinking about adding hearty dinner salads to your meal planning rotation.  We eat salad a LOT in our house, perhaps more than Doc Sci would like, because I really do have a soft spot in my heart for the green stuff.

When we first moved to Germany, the only prepared dressing I could find at the neighborhood grocery store was white, thick, and creamy.  I must admit, I’m not really a ranch dressing kind of girl, but this stuff couldn’t even be compared to Hidden Valley.

It took me a while to figure out that the only way I was going to have a vinaigrette dressing up my hearts of romaine was to make it myself.  Sure, the discounters sell packets of salad dressing seasoning destined to be mixed by the consumer with oil, water, and vinegar, but they taste terrible.   Regular ol’ oil and vinegar was better than that.

And, so I started simply, with olive oil and balsamic which are both good and cheap here in Germany thanks to our close proximity to Italy.  I worked my way through a dozen or so variations, and I have four favorite salad dressing recipes.  I’m giving you three below; you can find the fourth here.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 WaysBalsamic vinaigrette is the most versatile.  It’s extremely simple to make, and it goes with almost any salad.  I can’t think of any salad it doesn’t go with, but I’m willing to concede the remote possibility.

When I was pregnant last summer with Big Foot, I got the idea of making a Costco-sized bottle of the stuff to last us through the newborn days.  Pure genius, I tell ya.  I haven’t gone back to making a small batch since.

A few things you may notice about these recipes…

First, all of my salad dressings are heavy on the vinegar.  If you’d rather hold the sour stuff, just change the ratio of oil and vinegar to 2:1 or 3:1.

Second, all three incorporate strong flavors of raw onion or raw garlic.  Don’t be shy about adding them to salad dressing!

The key to mellowing out the bite is to age the dressing.  Toss together the ingredients in a screw-top bottle or jar, and leave them a week or more in the refrigerator, shaking at least once daily, before using them on your salad.Thrifty Travel Mama - Salad Dressing, 3 Ways

Blast of Balsamic Vinaigrette
adapted from The Food Network

12 cloves garlic
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 c balsamic vinegar
1 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely mince the cloves of garlic with a knife or garlic press.  Put the minced garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bottle (I use an empty 750mL olive oil bottle with the spout removed).  Carefully pour in the vinegar and oil.  If you prefer a 2:1 oil to vinegar ratio, pour in the vinegar first and eyeball it.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator, and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: anything, but especially mixed greens, spinach, and salads containing hard cheeses such as Parmesan or soft cheeses such as blue cheese or feta.

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
adapted from Once Upon a Chef

3 Tbl honey
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
4 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T finely minced shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbl olive oil (or sunflower oil)

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least three days before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine and bitter greens such as radicchio.  Excellent as a topping for a dinner salad with chicken or a chef’s salad with ham and hard boiled egg.

Creamy Italian Salad Dressing
adapted from Marie’s RecipeZaar Collection

1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
3 Tbl sour cream or low-fat yogurt
3 Tbl grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Add all ingredients to a screw-top jar.  Seal and shake vigorously to combine.  Store in the refrigerator and age at least one week before serving.

Goes best with: heartier leaves such as romaine or spinach.  Excellent as an accompaniment to salads with pasta or pasta salads.

So, which one’s your favorite?


Make It Yourself: Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub

Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body ScrubThough I make lots of food items at home (as well as household cleaner), I haven’t quite immersed myself in the DIY beauty product world… yet.  Pinterest often features delicious body scrubs that look good enough to eat, and a friend’s birthday party was the perfect occasion to try my hand at making my own.

After I whipped up a batch for her, I couldn’t help but make another one for me.  It smelled heavenly!

And my-oh-my was it easy.  Crafting the label took the most time.  If you’re just putting together this luxurious sugar scrub for yourself, the whole process should take less than five minutes!  Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body ScrubThough it’s in the name, you do not have to use brown sugar.  I made my scrub with half natural brown sugar (the kind with the crystals, not the soft American stuff) and half white sugar since it was more cost effective.

Also, if you don’t want to (or can’t) use coconut oil, olive oil works just as well.  But, of course, you won’t have that sultry coconut smell, so I highly encourage you to go coconut if you can!

Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub

1/2 cup sugar (natural, brown, or white)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted or softened (or olive oil)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix the vanilla and the coconut oil, stirring vigorously to incorporate the liquid into the fat.  Pour in the sugar, and stir until combined.  Let the mixture rest for an hour uncovered to allow the alcohol in the extract to evaporate (you want the scrub to smell like a tropical paradise, not booze).  Store in a glass jar with a screw-top lid.  Thrifty Trave Mama Coconut Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub



Make It Yourself: Homemade Wheat Thins

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat Thins &Roasted Red Pepper HummusDoc Sci and both love Wheat Thins!  Our boys also love Wheat Thins; they just don’t know it yet.  When we have an occasional box stashed from a trip to the US or a care package from back home, we (ahem) don’t share.  Before I hear from the haters, just know that the boys eat all most of the cheddar Goldfish.

Why are whole grain crackers like Wheat Thins so awesome?  I think it has to do with their versatility.  Don’t get me wrong, they are secure enough in their taste to stand alone.  But hook these babies up with cheese, fruit & veg, homemade peanut butter, salsa, cinnamon vanilla almond butter, or hummus and you’ve got dibs on the best snack in town.

And, speaking of hummus, if you missed my recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus from earlier this week, you can find it here.

I’ve made crackers before (these cheese ones are pretty awesome) with varying results.  Many times the crackers are just thin bread – no crunch.  And, even if they come out of the oven all crisped up, they don’t stay that way when stored more than 30 seconds.

These little whole wheat gems, however, were snappy from the get go – AND they stayed that way for five days.  I can’t really advise past that point because, well, I couldn’t possibly be asked to muster enough self control to keep these crackers around longer than that.

How do these homemade Wheat Thins stack up to the real deal?  Doc Sci thought they weren’t as salty, and I thought they were a little more buttery than the originals.  But, I did not have a sample on hand to compare, and I often buy the reduced fat variety, so don’t let my opinion sway you from giving these yummy, preservative-free, homemade snacks a try.

Homemade Wheat Thins
as seen on Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 cups whole wheat or whole spelt flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsPreheat the oven to 400F/200C.  Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and paprika together in a mixing bowl.  Thank God for paprika; coming up with ways to make white flour, white sugar, and white salt in a white bowl look interesting is exhausting.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsCut the butter into small pieces, and drop into the flour mixture.  Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pastry blender, a whisk that’s masquerading as a pastry blender, or two knives, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Or, if you’re in a hurry, just make sure there are no large pieces of butter remaining.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsAdd the cold water and vanilla.  Use a spatula or spoon to work the water into the flour as much as possible, and then knead several times in the bowl with your hands until a ball comes together.  It’s pretty dense, but still short of hockey puck-grade.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSplit the dough in three equal parts.  Taking one of the thirds, roll it out on a well floured piece of parchment paper.  Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough as thin as humanly possible.  Remember, thin = crispy; and thick = chewy.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe edge of the dough will look like an old map, crinkly and tattered.  You can cut these edges off or leave them.  A little secret… they look the worst but taste the best!Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsUsing a pizza cutter or a knife, cut the dough into cracker-sized squares.  Poke holes in the squares using a small fork.  A toothpick or the end of a meat thermometer also work but will take much more time.

If you want to be all authentic about it, the real Wheat Thins have 9 holes per cracker.  I promise that no one will care if you make 12.  After all, it’s also a multiple of 3.  But go all 11 on me, and, well, someone might guess that these are not actually Wheat Thins…Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsThe holes do not need to be perfect or pretty, but do not skip this step.  Crackers with no holes puff up and have little to no crunch.  I made one third of my dough this way, just for you to know what not to do.  Yeah, you’re welcome.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsSlide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with extra salt, if desired.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until crisp.  The funky crackers on the outside will be more crisp than the ones on the inside.

Keep an eye on these babies, and do not walk away!  Burned Wheat Thins are worse than no Wheat Thins.

Repeat the rolling, cutting, poking, and baking for the remaining two thirds of the cracker dough.Thrifty Travel Mama Homemade Wheat ThinsLet the baked Wheat Thins cool completely, and then store in an airtight container for 5 days (or more, if they last that long!).Signature-Marigold