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Published June 22, 2010, 12:00 AM

Author suggests making own Pop-Tarts, cat litter for savings

It started with the chili mix. Charlette Carollo had to run to the store to pick up another packet of chili mix to feed her family of seven.

It started with the chili mix.

Charlette Carollo had to run to the store to pick up another packet of chili mix to feed her family of seven.

But when she poured the packet in a bowl, she couldn’t believe how little product the package actually contained. Especially when she thought of the price.

At that moment, Carollo thought, “I could make this myself, and it would just cost pennies.”

Carollo began collecting and devising her own mix recipes. Fifteen years later, the formulas for 250 of her favorite mixes, including that chili mix, have been compiled in a book.

“Homemade Products with Brand-Name Quality: 250 Money-Saving Mixes” (Pelican Publications, $14.95) contains formulas for everything from homemade cold cereal to make-your-own windshield-washer fluid.

The mixes are a great way to save money, reduce the amount of preservatives and additives in your food and reduce wasteful product packaging, Carollo says from her rural home in Picayune, Miss.

“It’s not necessarily the food that has brought up the prices, but rather the costs of labor, packaging materials, transportation, marketing and advertisements that come together to bring the products to you, the consumer,” she says. “These hidden ‘throw-away’ expenses result in the extra charges you pay at the checkout.”

We decided to check out a few of Carollo’s mixes ourselves. Here’s what we found.

A promising tart

These “Almost Pop-Tarts” were a big hit with newsroomites. Most taste-testers said they preferred the homemade versions to the packaged pastries. Because Carollo’s version is made from refrigerated pie crust and prepared jam, they are extremely easy to make. The pastry was flaky and flavorful, although it had the slightly gummy aftertaste you sometimes find in commercial crusts. And the jam isn’t as sticky-sweet as the stuff in commercial Pop-Tarts.

Although I was patting myself on the back for making a healthier Pop-Tart, a quick scan of the pie-crust box still showed a few questionable ingredients, including something called “partially hydrogenated lard.” That can’t be good for you.

Time to make: About 25 minutes to prepare, make frosting and frost; another 15 minutes to bake.

Cost: $3 to make 12 tarts or 25 cents per tart. Purchased Pop-Tarts are $3.09 for 12 tarts or about 26 cents per tart.

Bottom line: Better tasting, but probably not much more nutritious.

Almost Pop-Tarts

1 box refrigerated pie dough

Jam (flavor of your choice)

Frosting:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used almond)

Water, as needed

Roll out pie dough as usual and cut into rectangles. Spread jam on half of them, leaving ½ inch or so border without jam. Cover with the other half of the rectangle. Crimp edges with a fork to seal. Bake until the pie dough is done (I baked mine at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.) Frost when completely cool, if desired.

To make frosting, combine sugar and extract. Gradually add water in small amounts (a teaspoon or so at a time) to obtain the desired consistency. (I also added food coloring to make tarts look more colorful.) Blend to a smooth and creamy texture.

Lean and clean

This is an effective, if smelly, glass cleaner. It took me longer to find a spray bottle to store it in than it did to combine the ingredients. I tried it on windows, mirrors, appliances and a few other surfaces, and it made a stainless-steel teapot shine like it just came out of the box.

Time to make: Less than five minutes.

Cost: About 5 cents per ounce. Windex with vinegar costs about 11 cents per ounce.

Bottom line: It doesn’t have that clean, Windex-y scent, but it cleans well.

Glass Cleaner

1 cup household ammonia

1 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup rubbing alcohol

In a well-ventilated room, mix all ingredients together and store in a spray bottle.

All that’s litter isn’t gold

While the other recipes I tried from Carollo’s book were easy to make, her homespun kitty litter seemed overly labor-intensive and time-consuming. First, you shred newspapers by either cutting them into strips or feeding them into a paper shredder. (My home shredder didn’t like the newsprint, so I spent a good half-hour cutting up old papers.) After that, you had to soak the papers a couple of times and then press out all the excess moisture in a colander. This whole process gobbled up another hour.

Finally, you spread out the mush on a screen to dry. This can take days. (Hopefully your cat isn’t waiting to use the litter box.)

The end result resembles a cooked, grayish oatmeal – like a grim gruel that might be served at Tim Burton’s vision of a breakfast table.

Still, you can’t argue with the price. This litter is also super-green because it allows you to repurpose old newspapers and magazines. Some sources estimate we dump 8 billion pounds of used clay litter in U.S. landfills each year.

It also may eliminate health concerns associated with clay litter, such as silica-dust inhalation or intestinal blockages in kittens.

So if you have more time than money, this option might work for you.

Time to make: 1½ hours to make, plus several days to dry.

Cost: Virtually free if you don’t factor in original cost of paper. Tidy Cat clay litter costs anywhere from 23 cents to 50 cents per pound.

Bottom line: An eco-conscious alternative, but a bit too time-consuming for the average, time-strapped person.

Kitty Litter

Line litter pan with used plastic grocery bags before placing the shredded papers inside. This will make for easier clean-up.

Shred newspapers, magazines and junk mail in a paper shredder or cut into narrow strips, then soak the papers in a bowl of warm water containing a few squirts of mild dishwasher soap (no perfumes). This will clean the paper of most ink, although it will still be grayish.

Drain in an old colander and repeat the process without using soap.

Sprinkle baking soda generously over the wet paper. Using plastic gloves (this protects your hands from ink), knead in the soda then squeeze out all remaining moisture until the mixture is as dry as you can get it.

Using a screen, spread the paper mixture loosely and allow to dry thoroughly before using. (This may take several days.)

Eggs-acting shampoo

It felt like I was making salad dressing when I whipped up this shampoo, which contained olive oil, an egg, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.

It was kind of gross pouring this cold, thin stuff on my head, and it certainly didn’t lather up like commercial shampoos do.

However, the oil and egg protein gave my locks – which tend to be dry and frizzy – a nice conditioning treatment. Almost too much of one: My hair looked a little greasy.

I think it would be much too heavy for oily scalps.

Time to make: Less than 5 minutes.

Cost: About 45 cents per use (I used a pricier olive oil, but you’d likely get the same results from a cheaper brand). Higher-end brands from the grocery store cost from 50 to 80 cents per ounce.

Bottom line: Affordable, easy to make and great for dry, damaged hair.

Shampoo

1 ounce olive oil

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat until well blended. Use as you would any shampoo.

More information

To order “Homemade Products With Brand-Name Quality,” ($14.95) by Charlette Carollo, call Pelican Publishing Co., at (800) 843-1724.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

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