Tag Archives: DIY

DIY Plumbing: Drain Clog

If you’ve ever called a plumber, you know how expensive they are.  Not to mention that plumbing problems frequently occur at the most inopportune times – like 10 p.m. when you’re getting ready for bed.  And if you’re like us and prefer to avoid using poisonous chemicals around the house, you’re left with even fewer options when you have water backing up into your sink or bathtub.

I had to unclog a drain recently when my husband was not available and realized that there may be people who don’t know about this handy gadget to unclog drains.  It’s called a drain cleaning bladder.  It costs anywhere from around $10 to $25 and is reusable – unlike a container of toxic drain cleaning chemicals.  It’s easy to use and fast, no waiting around for chemicals to try to eat the clog and then having to wait around until it’s time to pour hot water down your drain.  While there is the possibility that it won’t work on your particular clog, there’s no guarantee that a bottle of drain cleaner will work either.  So far we’ve never had a clog that the drain cleaning bladder did not fix, but we have had failed drain cleaning attempts using chemicals.

The drain cleaning bladder is a rubber balloon that you attach to a water hose and it blasts the clog through the pipe with a jet of water.  There is a hole in the bottom of the thing and when the rubber balloon has expanded with water, filling the drain pipe until it can’t expand anymore, it then releases the water through the hole in a small, forceful stream.  You can see a diagram of how it works in the photo of the particular drain cleaning bladder package that we have.

If you don’t have a long enough water hose to reach the problem drain, then you may need a few more parts to hook up the drain cleaning bladder to a faucet.  There are adapters that will screw onto your faucet, with the other end that screws onto the water hose.  You’ll then screw the hose onto your drain cleaning bladder.  If you’re handy and have an old hose lying around, you can cut the old hose to a smaller length, add the correct hardware to the cut end so it will screw onto either your faucet or the drain bladder, and then you’ll be ready when you have a drain clog.  If you don’t have an old hose or want to make things easier, you can get small sections of water hose, usually called a Leader Hose,  and use this to attach to your faucet and drain cleaning bladder.  If you are a more advanced DIY-er, putting in strategically placed clean-out ports into your drains will make things even easier for you.

You may need to go to a real hardware or plumbing supply store to find a drain cleaning bladder or order one online.  Many of the large home improvement stores have plenty of things to make your house pretty, but we’ve found they are often lacking in basic items for true DIY home repairs. I would recommend that you get your drain cleaning bladder and any hose/faucet hookup system now, BEFORE you need it.  Clogged drains rarely happen at convenient times and you’ll save a lot of time and headache if you’re prepared for them.  drainclogbladder

Recipe: Mayonnaise

Homemade mayo going into the storage jar - look at how yellow our farm fresh egg yolks make the mayo!

Homemade mayo going into the storage jar – look at how yellow our farm fresh egg yolks make the mayo!

Homemade mayo?  You bet!  It sounds like it would be difficult but it really isn’t.  Some folks make their mayo with a blender but I do it by hand – it takes more time to dig out the blender and clean it up than it does to get out a bowl and a whisk.

This recipe is what I’ve tweaked for our preferences, which is to taste close to the Heinz brand of mayo that is made with sugar instead of corn syrup.  This is a raw egg recipe, so if you are uncomfortable with eating raw eggs, this may not be the recipe for you.  Because our eggs come from the hens in our pasture, our mayonnaise is a yellow color, unlike store-bought mayo.  The mayo is not as solid as store-bought mayo, but once it is cold, the consistency thickens up a bit.

Homemade Mayonnaise


2 medium to large sized egg yolks – COLD from the refrigerator for best results (if your eggs are on the smaller size, like a pullet egg, use 3 yolks)

1 c. extra light olive oil (if you use virgin/extra virgin, it has a funky flavor)

1.5 Tablespoons white vinegar

1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice

scant Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper (white pepper will make the specks hard to see for picky children)


Separate your egg yolks from the whites and put the yolks into your mixing bowl.  (If your yolks break while you are separating the eggs, or if the yolks break when you put them into the bowl, you may need to use the yolks for something else and start over with more eggs.  I’ve found that if the yolk breaks before you stir it and is runny, your mayo is more likely to be VERY runny and not set up.  This mayo is not as firm and solid as store-bought mayo, but the interaction between the yolk and the oil will not be correct and it will be extra-thin if the yolk is runny before you start mixing.)


Using a whisk (a flat whisk works better than a round one), whisk your egg yolks to mix them up.  While whisking continuously, SLOWLY pour in your olive oil in a thin stream into the yolks.  (If you have difficulty whisking continuously while pouring oil in, alternate pouring in just a TINY amount of oil and whisking it completely into the yolks before you add more oil.  Some antique recipe books recommend to add the oil in drop by drop for best results)

You should be able to see the oil and yolk mixture coming together.  It will have some texture/thickness to it – similar to a very soft-set pudding.  (If you put in 1/4 of a cup of oil and it is very runny, it most likely will continue to be too thin and I recommend you start over with new egg yolks.)

Continue to pour in the oil in a thin stream slowly, while whisking, until you have mixed in all the oil.

Add the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and pepper, whisking thoroughly to mix it.

Can be used immediately if desired, otherwise place it into refrigerator to thicken it a little bit.

Makes approximately 1 cup of mayo.


To store the mayo for as long as possible, I put it into a sterilized (and cooled) jar with a lid in the refrigerator.  Filling a canning jar, or any glass jar you’ve saved, with water and putting it into the microwave until the water boils, will sterilize the jar easily and the jar can be cooling while you get out your ingredients and make your mayo.





Recipe: Semolina Pasta aka Macaroni

Finally.  I’ve finally found a recipe for semolina pasta that is good enough to continue to use, and to recommend to others.  Semo-what???  Semolina pasta – also known as macaroni and noodles.  You know, those things that we buy dried in boxes at the store and tend to like to smother in cheese and/or flavored tomato sauce.

Semolina flour is made from the endosperm of Durum wheat, which is a very hard wheat and very high in protein.  It has the yellow color and similar coarse texture of cornmeal.  Regular all purpose flour and other types of flours that are most commonly available at the store are made with different types of wheat.

As part of our goal of sustainable self-sufficiency and making more things from “true” scratch, making pasta has become the norm here unless I am super pressed for time.  In its simplest form, pasta can be made with flour and water.  I’ve tried that.  Regular flour noodles aren’t bad, but even when just barely cooked, they tend to be a little mushier compared to dried pasta from a box at the store.  Enter semolina flour that I found at a health food type store in the city.

Well, the first semolina experiment was a waste of flour.  It was so bad that it did not get beyond the lump of hard clay stage before I had to throw it away.  It was too tough for me to be able to knead, much less roll out and cut.  Many websites online said that semolina flour was too hard to use, that it was difficult to knead, much less get it through a home pasta machine. They recommended using recipes that had semolina flour mixed with various quantities of regular all purpose flour – if you insisted on using semolina.  Those recipes still did not give me anything that resembled the texture of the dry boxed pasta that we’ve grown up eating all our lives.  The homemade pasta I’ve made has run the gamut from way-too-mushy to “Silly Putty” noodles.  We actually threw away a pan of Spinach Lasagne this year because the noodles were so rubbery.

Once again I went back to the internet looking for another semolina pasta recipe to try out and came across a site I hadn’t seen before – Pasta Recipes By Italians. Reading through some of the recipes, I noted some differences in both ingredients, and the amount of the ingredients, compared to other recipes I’d tried.  Seeing the differences in these recipes made me decide to bite the bullet and try the all-semolina pasta recipe on the website.

Hallelujah!  First time making it and it turned out great!  It was easy to knead with my hands & it went through the pasta machine – the flattening side as well as the cutting side –  without any problems.  And I was able to get this dough flattened much thinner than the previous lasagne noodles that I’d had to roll out and cut by hand when the dough was too thick and hard to go through the pasta machine.

I did have to add a little bit of extra semolina flour to the dough, to combat the high humidity and make the pasta dough stop sticking to everything, but even the extra semolina flour did not make this dough too hard to work with.  The dough was smooth and elastic, not a lump of grainy textured, half dry clay like I’d wound up with before.

The menu was for lasagne, so first I made lasagne noodles.  I cooked them in boiling water but only dropped in a few noodles at time so I could better see how these cooked up.  The first few noodles that I boiled were a little underdone – took me a bit to watch how the noodles cooked and pull them out at the right time.  Cooking homemade noodles is a lot different from cooking store-bought noodles – even the “fresh” pasta sold in the deli refrigerated section.  This recipe needs to be boiled a little bit longer than pasta made with regular flour or only part semolina flour, but not as long as dried boxed pasta.  It took just about 2-4 minutes to watch the noodles change color and float enough to be considered “done”.  What was really great was that the slightly under boiled lasagne noodles had the same taste and texture as the “just right” boiled noodles once I cooked the lasagna.  But the “just right” boiled noodles did NOT lose their al dente texture after cooking the whole lasagne either.  And yes, I usually cheat and cook my lasagne in the microwave to save time and also not to heat up the kitchen when it’s hot, which is about 9 months out of the year in Texas.

Now, if push comes to shove and I have to make pasta with just water, or without semolina flour, I’ll do it.  But for regular eating, this recipe is my new regular pasta recipe – particularly for “normal” flavored pasta and definitely for lasagne noodles.

100% Semolina Pasta by Kira Volpi, Pasta Recipes By Italians (used by permission) 

Lasagne noodles drying on cookie racks.  You can cut the dough straight prior to feeding through the machine to make perfect rectangle noodles.

Lasagne noodles drying on cookie racks. You can cut the dough straight prior to feeding through the machine to make perfect rectangle noodles.

1 1/2 cups semolina flour (coarse grainy stuff that looks similar to cornmeal)

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 eggs (Kira uses 2)

1 teaspoon olive oil

“- you will start with the semolina flour on a large cutting board or counter area to work your pasta dough. Create a well in the center of your pile of semolina flour so you can add the remaining ingredients in the well.

With a fork, slowly blend in the flour in towards the well until you have a paste like consistency and begin kneading. After I spend the time following the mixing and kneading instructions above I end up with my beautiful ball of freshly made semolina pasta dough. Look how rich and textured it looks now. Just wait till we shape it and or course eat it!

I let it sit for the appropriate hour or more and it is supple and ready to shape.”


Flattened dough going into the fettucine cutter. For prettier noodles you can cut the dough to square it up before sending it through the shape cutter.

Kira goes on to explain how to shape the dough and cook it.  Make sure to cover your pasta with at least a wet towel, if not plastic wrap, to keep it from drying out while it sits.  You can see photos of the various stages of dough mixing on the Pasta Recipes By Italians website.  You can roll the dough out by hand and cut it, or use a pasta machine.

I went down to the number 4 setting on my machine to get to what looked like the thinness that we’re used to having for lasagne noodles.  My noodles aren’t very pretty since I did not bother to roll out and cut the dough so that it was straight before running it through the pasta machine – but around here, taste is more important than appearance, particularly when I’m short on time.  compcutnoodlesSept14

I let my noodles dry a bit before cooking, because I had to start well ahead of time to make sure to get the pasta made and ensure it would be palatable before dinner time.  You can also cook them as soon as you make them.  As with most pasta recipes that have eggs, the recommended storage is for a short time and refrigerated. (Don’t get me started on food safety, what I do for myself may be different from what I tell others to do, plus my eggs come from my own pasture and I don’t have a compromised immune system. Yes, I ate an uncooked lasagne noodle and am still alive to tell the tale.  Even raw it tasted pretty good too.)

While I was pleased with the ease of working with the dough as well as how it cooked up and tasted, the next test was the husband approval test.  The hubby ate a plain boiled lasagne noodle and was pleased.  The Spinach Lasagne turned out great, and hubby said that these noodles tasted better than store bought.  SCORE!

There you have it – a tested recipe that can give you the taste and texture similar to what most of us are accustomed to eating from dry boxed pasta – only better.  And you don’t have to guess what’s in it with weird named ingredients.

There are a lot more recipes on the Pasta Recipes By Italians website that I plan on trying – the idea of the different flavored pastas is quite appealing – along with other info and tips to guide you.  One recipe really called out my name – Chocolate Pasta. 

Now all I need to do is figure out how to grow my own wheat and olive trees so I can grow everything I need for this pasta recipe from the ground up.

Drying fettucine on bamboo skewers set across a pot.

Drying fettucine on bamboo skewers set across a pot.


**Did you know – sometime during the last 30 years, spelling lasagna with an “a” on the end has apparently become the accepted American spelling of the word, but having an “e” on the end is still acceptable?  When I was growing up, lasagne was ALWAYS spelled with an “e” on the end.  Just found this out writing this post and going crazy because the spellchecker kept changing my spelling and telling me I spelled the word wrong.  So I will continue to spell it with an “e” on the end since that is how I learned to spell it, but if the spell check changes it and puts an “a” on the end….I may not catch the spell checker’s spelling mistake. 







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