Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

I could not live without coffee. The morning that I awoke to discover the creamer was all gone, was a nightmare of epic proportions. I was in a daze, wondering who had sabotaged my morning routine. I mean, it must have been sabotage, because there was no way I would have forgotten to add creamer to the grocery list!

I had milk. I had sugar. I had vanilla.  I tried it, and it just wasn’t cutting it. I just had to have the smooth, creamy start to my day.

As Plato pointed out so long ago, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In a moment of inspiration I ran to my computer and immediately began Google-ing a homemade creamer recipe. Every recipe I found called for condensed milk. Crap! I was out of that too! I was saved by the bell when another search pointed out it was relatively easy to make that at home too.

Two hours later, I had fresh, homemade condensed milk and was finally on my way to enjoying my first cup of coffee.

Since then, I keep this in the fridge for creamer, and also for smoothies and baking. It works just as well as it’s store-bought counterparts, and with less than half the sugar. Store your own homemade condensed milk in an air tight refrigerator and it can be used up until the expiration date on the milk used to make it.

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

recipe from Just As Delish

  • 1 liter of whole, or 2 %, milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter, optional, to thicken the milk

Directions

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk and the sugar to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer very gently for about 2 hours until the volume is reduced by half. The milk should be barely simmering and never boiling at any point.
  3. Use a timer, and stir every 15 minutes to keep the ‘skin’ from developing on top.
  4. After 2 hours, stir in the butter.
  5. Remove the pot from heat, and allow to cool. The milk will thicken as it cools.

When refrigerated, the homemade version has thicker consistency than the commercial one. You can add a few drops of water and whisk it lightly if desired to get a thinner mixture.

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

My husband and Auntie Annie have always had a special bond. One I’d long ago accepted that I couldn’t come between. There’s something sacred in her delicious doughy confections that he finds… irresistible. This cheap and easy homemade pretzel recipe did something I had long-thought impossible. It put the kibosh on their long-time love affair. One taste that’s all it took, and it was love at first bite. Move on over, Annie. There’s a new pretzel in town.

If you thought, like I did for so long, that delicious, homemade pretzels were only for the over-achievers, think again. This recipe couldn’t be any easier or more simple. These cater to all ages, genders, occupations, and availability. For those of you with pretzel lovers of your own, I challenge them to try these. I assure you that even the most loyal brand supporter won’t want to buy or pay for their pretzels anymore.

30 Minute Homemade Soft Pretzels

4 Sons 'R' Us: 30 Minute Soft Pretzels

recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

  • 1 and 1/2 cups luke warm water
  • 1 packet active yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4-4.25 cups all purpose flour, and more for flouring the counter surface and hands (for whole wheat, use 2.5 cups wheat flour & 1.75 cups white)
  • 1 large egg
  • salt for sprinkling, optional
  • cinnamon & sugar for sprinkling, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Dissolve yeast in water. Stir with a spoon to combine. Add salt and sugar, stirring to combine.
  3. Slowly add flour, one cup at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough is thick. Continue to add flour, one cup at a time, until dough is no longer sticky.
  4. Poke dough with a finger. If it ‘bounces back’ it is ready to knead.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes and shape into a ball.
  6. With a sharp knife, cut the dough ball into 1/3 cup sections. This measurement doesn’t have to be exact.
  7. Roll the dough into a rope about 20 inches long.
  8. Once you have your long rope, take the ends and bring them together until your form a circle. Twist the ends then bring the down towards yourself and press them down into a pretzel shape.
  9. In a small bowl, beat the egg. Dip the shaped pretzel into the egg wash, evenly coating both sides.
  10. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt or sugar depending on your personal preference.
  11. Bake for 10 minutes at 425. Turn the broiler on and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
  12. Allow pretzels to cool, and serve.

DIY Tiki Torch

During the summer months, I love being able to sit out on my porch in the evenings and enjoy a good book, watch the kids play, and just take in the beautiful weather. I’ve always loved the look and feel of lit tiki torches on summer evenings. Something about it just totally sets the scene for me. There prices, however, horrified me.

I was so excited last summer, when I came across little globular tabletop torches in the store. For a great price!! I could totally envision the queenly atmosphere they would create. The part of my brain that logically rationed as Queen of my Castle I deserved to stoke my fairy-tale inspired fire, demanded their immediate purchase. I automatically saw my little piece of far, far away where I could decompress, and just lose myself for a few minutes each evening.

Naturally, I came home with a matching pair, assuming we’d live out the rest of our days creating beautiful, enchanted Summer memories together.  Unfortunately, my happily ever after just wasn’t meant to be.  Both pots (let’s face it, at this point their ambiance setting fairy God mother had abandoned them and, in my eyes, their clock had already struck twelve) leaked horribly. Despite my valiant husband’s best efforts, they just weren’t salvageable. For me, the whole affair was quite tragic. So much for my illusions of grandeur.

Ever my knight in shining armor, my husband came to my rescue! If I couldn’t buy the perfect table top torch, then he would make me one! This was his brain child.

This easy to make tiki torch was a roaring success. Using citronella infused torch fuel I’m able to keep the mosquitoes at bay, all while adding a little ‘enchantment’ to my evenings. My still full wallet was feeling pretty enchanted too!

DIY Tiki Torch

4 Sons 'R' Us: DIY Tiki Torch

  • old, sturdy glass bottle
  • 2 washers that fit the lip of your bottle
  • 1 spacer
  • rubber grommet (make sure it will fit tightly down into your bottle creating an airtight seal that prevents the wick from moving around)
  • tiki torch fuel (I used one with citronella to keep the mosquitoes away)
  • tiki torch wicks

Directions

  1. Add fuel to your bottle. Be careful not to over fill.
  2. Place a wick into the bottle. Leave about 2 inches exposed above the lip of the bottle.
  3. Thread the end of the wick through the grommet, pushing the grommet towards the bottle opening. Force grommet down into the neck of the bottle, leaving it flush on top with the lip. Make sure to hold onto the end of the wick so it doesn’t also get pushed down into the bottle.
  4. Take one washer and thread it onto the wick, pushing it down until it rests on the top of the bottle. Make sure there’s not gap between the bottle and washer # 1.
  5. Thread a spacer onto the wick and push it down until it’s resting flush against washer # 1.
  6. Thread washer # 2 onto the wick, pushing down until it is resting firmly against the spacer. The washers will keep the flame away from the glass preventing it from getting hot, at all.
  7. Push the exposed wick down into the bottle, leaving only about 3/4 of an inch of wick exposed and ready to light.
  8. Allow the wick time to completely saturate with tiki torch fuel before lighting.

Copy-Cat Wendy’s Frosty

I scream. You scream. We all scream for Ice Cream! Well, in this case, for Frostys!

My guys all go absolutely ga-ga for the cold, creamy concoction. Just mention it around them and their eyes glaze over. The excitement is just too much for them to handle. It overrides all higher functioning brain activity. They’re like little ice cream zombies at that point. Instead of watching them aimlessly shuffle around, waiting for their dessert but not knowing what to do, or how to function until they get it, I get them involved in the process.

All ice-cream induced zombie-ism aside, we don’t use an actual ice cream ‘machine’. Instead I prefer using our ice cream ‘ball’. You can find them here. Amazon carries them in a variety of colors and sizes. I use the quart sized one to make enough for our entire family at once.

This is what my boys do for fun on a Friday night. I enjoy it because it gets them working together: laughing, joking, and playing. At the end of their teamwork? A sweet treat to share and enjoy. You’ve gotta love the little things in life.

Speaking of it being a Friday night, did I mention that I’m really not trying to drag all four kids out into a fast food line? Or even a grocery store check out line? Friday is for peace & quiet. For Mommy. I think I’ve earned a little time to relax by Friday night. Making  our own Frostys at home helps buy some extra little moments for me, and the zombies still get dessert. It’s a win-win, right?!

Copy-Cat Wendy’s Frosty

4 Sons 'R' Us: Copy-Cat Wendy's Frosty

  • 1/2 gallon chocolate milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tub of cool whip, 8 oz

Directions

  1. In a blender combine all ingredients.
  2. Pour into ice cream maker, and follow the machine’s instructions.
  3. Enjoy!

Lemon Rosemary Bath Salts

In the rush of everyday life with a large family, and four children, there isn’t always time for a lot of relaxation. Usually just stolen moments. Even my showers have had to become ‘efficient’. However, on the weekends when the kids are in bed, I love to enjoy a nice, long soak in the tub. One of my creature comforts, despite budget constraints, has always been expensive bath products. I frequently use scented ones to create my own little atmosphere of peace and tranquility. It’s this wonderful little private bubble, where for a chunk of time, I don’t have any obligations or demands to meet. Something about the scented steam, just does it for me in the ‘reclaim a piece of my sanity’ department after a chaotic week. While I used to frequent kitschy stores and purchase the latest fragrant combinations to induce my ‘me time’. I’ve gradually shifted to making more and more of my own bath products. As I’ve found to be true with the majority of things, I like the results from this homemade version better than other’s I’ve purchased over the years toting the same ingredients. These bath salts are a breeze to mix up, and are heavenly to use. Just a few ingredients, and you can easily, and cheaply, produce your own affordable, quality bath salts. Make your reservations today for a little ‘spa’ treatment in the comfort of your own home.

Lemon Rosemary Bath Salts

4 Sons 'R' Us: lemon rosemary bath salts

  • 2 cups epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh rosemary; finely chopped
  • 6-8 drops lemon essential oil
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon zest (optional)

Directions

  1. In a bowl, combine epsom salt and baking soda.
  2. Add in half of the essential oil drops, mix, then add in the remaining drops.
  3. Mix in the chopped rosemary and lemon zest if you decide to use it until fully combined.
  4. Store in an airtight container. 
  5. To use, add as much, or as little, as you’d like to hot bath water and stir around until dissolved.

All-Natural Flea And Tick Spray for Dogs

We have an almost 4 year old pug named Bentley. Bentley, ever the rebel, does not ever stop. Contrary to the accepted pug ‘stereotype’ he is not fat or lazy, but instead full of muscles and hyper-activity. He, literally, goes until he can’t go anymore, falling over in a heap of exhaustion for a cat-nap that, at most, will only last 5 minutes. While we all enjoy watching him frolic through the grass, chase bugs, fetch sticks and so on, all this play time outside meant he was a constant tick magnet. Literally, he set one paw outdoors, he had already attracted at least four of the little blood suckers. We used to buy over the counter products to help keep him bugger free, but aside from the expensive costs, we had another reason to seek out an alternative remedy. With our toddler, and other young children always in and out of our home, we just couldn’t risk the hazards of any one of them loving on the dog, and then ingesting harmful, toxic chemicals when those chubby baby hands went straight in their mouths. I tried several recipes, but this version was the immediate, and obvious winner. When applied to Bentley once a day and rubbed lightly into his coat, we haven’t seen a single tick. Not one! There’s also been no scratching that would indicate any other unwanted squatters trying to take up residence. I don’t have to worry about the little ones wanting to love on, and give kisses to, the dog. Make up your own batch today and serve an all natural, affordable eviction notice to the bugs.

All-Natural Flea & Tick Spray for Dogs

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Natural Flea And Tick Spray

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups of distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable, or almond, oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice, citrus oil, or peppermint oil
  • spray bottle

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle.
  2. Spray onto your pet’s dry coat, staying away from sensitive areas including eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals.
  3. When outdoors for an extended period, spray this solution on two to three times per day. When pets are outdoors generally to use the restroom only, spray the solution onto the animal’s coat once per day.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Over the past few years, my husband and I have avidly been trying to look for areas in our home where we could cut costs by doing things ourselves and giving up convenience purchases. We’ve also noticed that the extra effort pays off, in that we’ve been able to cut out a lot of chemicals and other harmful substances. This past week I finally convinced my husband to take the plunge into homemade laundry detergent. He was skeptical since it was a powdered detergent, and also worried that it wouldn’t be able to cut through the dirt and grime of our four, very active boys. The results; however, were remarkable. Clean, clean clothes, including underwear, and soiled towels!  This recipe only costs about 5 cents per load as compared to about 20 cents with store bought detergents I’ve purchased at sale prices. Even better, this is entirely HE washer safe! All that’s required to be HE safe, is a detergent that’s low-suds. Think about it…they use less water so it makes complete sense that they would need a low suds detergent. It’s nothing else. Don’t get caught in the same trap we were initially, and continue to pay the ridiculous prices for ‘special’ detergent. It’s just another gimmick to get you, the consumer, to spend more money.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Laundry Detergent

  • 1 bar fels naptha, or zote
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda

Directions

  1. Grate your bar of laundry soap (fels naptha or zote) as finely as possible.
  2. Put grated soap into a storage container. Add in borax and washing soda.
  3. Stir until evenly combined, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add 1 tbsp per load of laundry. 2 tbsp for heavily soiled loads.

Homemade Gak

How many others remember Nickelodeon, both their TV shows and their products, vividly from their childhood? Gak was one of my favorites. I vividly remember the ‘fart’ noises it made when squished, and the way my parents cringed at the thought. It stretched, it squished, it oozed. Remembering all the fun I had had as a child, I really enjoy bringing some of these toys back for my own kids to play with and enjoy today. Being a mother to 4 boys, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with any toy, or substance, that emits any noise slightly resembling flatulence. I found this recipe from Lil Luna. My boys, young and old, literally spent hours playing with the stretchy, gooey gelatinous substance. Even my teenager traded the iPod in for some good old-fashioned hands on fun with something ‘yuck’. I’m especially fond of any toys, activities, or crafts that get all four playing together. They actually cooperated, shared, and just got to enjoy each other’s company. Our first batch was yellow, but yours can be any color your heart desires. Mix and match your food coloring. Experiment, but most of all have fun!

Homemade Gak

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Gak

  • 2, 4 oz, bottles of Elmer’s Glue
  • 1 tsp borax
  • water
  • food coloring

Directions

  1. Empty both bottles of glue into a bowl. 
  2. Fill bottles with warm water, recap, shake, and then empty into the bowl.
  3. Add a few drops of food coloring. Stir and set aside.
  4. To another bowl, add 1/2 cup of warm water. Add in the borax and stir until dissolved.
  5. Pour the borax mixture into the glue bowl.
  6. Begin by stirring with a spoon. Once it becomes super stringy, begin mixing and squishing by hand. It should be pretty gelatinous by this point.
  7. Let the kids play with it for a few minutes and it will become the perfect gooey consistency.

Even better, when you’re done, your Gak can be stored for play at a later date.

4 Sons 'R' Us: Homemade Gak

‘Velveeta’ Style American Cheese

Do you ever balk at the prices of those processed loaves of cheese? Do you buy them anyway, because sometimes a recipe (or a grilled cheese) demands their melty goodness and no substitute will do? This happens to me every time I purchase that cheese. Even worse, every time in the back of my mind is a nagging reminder of all the preservatives and other things in them that I should try to avoid feeding my family. So, finally I decided that somebody, somewhere, in an effort to be more frugal or in an effort to avoid all the chemicals, must have found a way to replicate this ooey, gooey cheese and would have shared their victorious recipe. After perusing Pinterest and the web for what seemed like forever, I finally found what appeared to be a winner. My boys had asked to have BLT Mac N Cheese this week and were afraid with my new REAL cheese that it wouldn’t live up to their high standards. They couldn’t have been more shocked themselves to discover this cheese made it even better. This recipe knocked the ball out of the park! It was spot on everything I was looking for and then some. It’s real food you can make at home quickly, with ingredients you can easily find (and pronounce), without sacrificing any of that heavenly meltiness. National Grilled Cheese Day (April 12th) just passed, but I will definitely be celebrating next year with the help of my own homemade cheese.

‘Velveeta’ Style American Cheese

4 Sons 'R' Us: 'Velveeta' Style American Cheese

  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 12 oz Colby Jack cheese, very finely shredded (think TINY grater holes)
  • 1 tbsp nonfat milk powder
  • generous 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp 2% milk

Directions

  1. Line a small 4×5 loaf pan (I only had a full size pan handy) with plastic wrap, letting the excess hang over the sides.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the water and gelatin. Stir. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Combine cheese, milk powder, salt, and tartar in the bowl of a food processor, pulsing a few times to combine.
  4. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. When milk begins to simmer, remove from heat, transfer hot milk to a measuring cup (to make pouring easier) and slowly add milk into the food processor feed tube.
  6. As you slowly add the milk, pulse the food processor.
  7. Add prepared gelatin.
  8. Turn the food processor on, and continue to stir until the mixture becomes perfectly smooth. Scrap the sides if needed and whir again.
  9. Working quickly, transfer the mixture into the prepared mold, pressing the mixture down into the pan with a spatula to help eliminate any air bubbles.
  10. Smooth surface of cheese, and cover with the overlapping plastic.
  11. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight. (If pressed for time, a little over an hour and a half in the freezer will work too!)
  12. Slice, cube, or melt as needed and use as you would Velveeta or individually wrapped processed American cheese.