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Monday, August 20, 2012

A thought, a question, and something easy to make

Do you enjoy the writings of Emerson? I've been pondering a famous quote of his this past week.

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself." 

I had occasion to do something for someone else, only to be the recipient of a greater reward than the effort that I laid out. It just reminded me of this quote, and I thought I'd share it with you. That's my thought.

My question: my two daughters need long-sleeved plain white t-shirts for something they're doing this next week at church. the rest of the costuming (a skirt and a colorful collar) will be provided. Not wanting to go out and buy new shirts for them for just this one occasion, I'm trying to brighten 2 shirts of my own, and will take them in in the sides and hem the sleeves to give them a fresh look. I feel they look a bit dingy. I did a bleach and water soak a week ago. They look a bit better, but still I'm wondering if there isn't a better product for brightening whites. Have you had any success brightening a white cotton item that has grayed over time? I know, if I just can't get them white enough, we'll just go out and buy new shirts, with the idea that we can dye them colors that they'd rather have, afterward. I welcome suggestions.

And now, the easy to make thing.

"Herb Vinegar Sampler

Variety is the spice of life! Four of our best selling herb vinegars each in smaller handier size bottles. Recipes and pour spouts included. Shipped in an attractive gift box. (375ml)
Our price: $36.00"  from

Did I get your attention? $36.00 for 4 small bottles of herb vinegar. When I saw this I just said to myself,  "humph, $9 each bottle, for something so easy to make, humph". Well, I'm sure someone is out there, right now, ordering a package of these. Good for them. They're keeping that company afloat and some lucky soul employed. But for the rest of us, I say, how would you like to spend 5-7 minutes, and save yourselves $35 (figure $1 for the cost of the vinegar, assuming you have some herbs or know someone with herbs).

We've just this week polished off the rosemary vinegar from last summer. I've washed the bottle and it's time to make this next batch of herb vinegar.  Last summer I just did rosemary vinegar. This year I'm making rosemary and thyme vinegar.

If you want to give it a try, here's what you need:

this is all it takes
glass bottle and cork or cap (pictured is my "nice" bottle, purchased a few years ago from World Market, but I also use a cooking wine bottle, about 10 oz capacity, label soaked off for berry vinegar. Also, any empty bottle, such as a wine bottle with cork, would look nice and work fine.) -- must be washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed very well, and totally dry inside

wooden chop sticks, coffee stir stick, or wooden skewer (for poking the herbs down into the bottle; don't use anything metal that will come in contact with vinegar)

plastic funnel, for pouring in vinegar

fresh stems of herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, tarragon, dill), rinsed and patted dry on a clean cloth or paper towel -- must be totally dry

white distilled vinegar, 5% acidity

So, now I'm ready, here's how I make my vinegar. I washed my bottle with hot soapy water, rinsed and allowed to dry completely. I picked my herbs, rinsed and patted dry.

the bundle of herbs was so fat
they just barely fit through the neck
I bundled all my herbs together, and poked them through the neck of the bottle using the wooden skewer to get through the narrow neck. I like a flavorful herb vinegar, so I used many stems of herbs.

Using a plastic funnel, I poured in white vinegar, until about 1/2 inch from the top. I sealed with the cap and left in a cool, dark place (in a corner on the counter, away from the cook top). 

It takes about two months for the flavors of the herbs to infuse the vinegar, and will keep for about a year. I have heard that you should keep the herb stems submerged beneath the level of the vinegar at all times, refilling with vinegar as needed. It seemed to me that this would eventually dilute the flavor of the vinegar. So I opted to decant the vinegar into another container, straining out the herb stems, as the vinegar level became low enough that the herbs would no longer be beneath the level of the vinegar.

In addition to this rosemary-thyme herb vinegar, I'll be making chive blossom vinegar. A few weeks ago, I cut back the chives rather severely, and now they're sporting new blossoms for me. Chive blossom vinegar is new to me. Input is appreciated. I'll let you know how it goes. I still need to find a bottle for it. Plus, I have a bottle of berry vinegar, that I store in the fridge. I like the berry vinegar for a slightly sweet dressing on spinach salads.

ta-da!  the finished product
To make a salad dressing with herbed vinegar, simply combine vinegar, oil and a pinch of salt, if desired.

You could use other vinegars for your base, wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar. But I'm cheap -- white distilled vinegar works just fine for me. (And frankly, with all the herbs tucked into the bottle, the subtle flavors of the more expensive vinegars would be overshadowed.)

Some people use garlic in their vinegar. I prefer not to. I err on the side of caution when canning and making food items. I remember stories in the news about homemade garlic oil and botulism. Now, some argue that the vinegar will inhibit the growth of botulism, but I prefer not to even try this. I can always add garlic to a batch of salad dressing as I'm preparing it.


  1. Hey lili,
    Do you also make flavoured or herb oil?

    And any tips for removing labels from bottles? I have a bottle similar to the one in your photo, also from World Market, but want to remove the labels before using it. Any tips you can provide are greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Jayne,
      I haven't tried making flavored oils yet. How about you? Have you made any? It does seem that they'd be easy to do, and would be great for dipping oils.

      For removing labels without wasting a bunch of water, I find a container just barely larger than the bottle for the water soak. It only has to be tall enough to totally submerge the label.

      I then squirt about a 1/2 tablespoon of dish detergent into the the bottom of this container, put the bottle in. Fill the bottle with water, to weigh it down. Then fill the container, also with water, and allow to soak overnight. Alternatively, a baking soda and water soak also works well. Same thing, a couple of spoonfuls of baking soda to the container of water. Soak overnight and by morning, most of it comes off. Scrub with steel wool or kitchen scrubby (mesh onion bags work great for this).

      The next morning, most of the label comes right off. Any remaining label or gum comes off with a quick scrub of steel wool.

      If this happens to be an especially sticky label, then I'll pat the bottle dry, and spray with an ammonia cleaner, like window cleaner, then wrap in a rag to keep it damp. I'll spray several times over the course of a day. The ammonia is really great at breaking down the glue, but due to the smell, prefer to use this as a last resort. Again, at the end of a day, I'll rinse the label off, and use steel wool to scrub the last bits.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think anyone will notice if your daughters shirts are a bit dingy. They will only notice if they wear pink or some color not white. I wouldn't worry about them.

    With that being said, most of our whites are a little dingy because we can't use bleach with our septic system. I do use Soft Scrub or some similar product for stains on whites. In Soft Scrub, the bleach is such a small amount that it doesn't matter.

    1. Thanks! You're right. As a mom, I'm probably fussing too much over this. I'll give it one more bleach soak and see how they look. Then do the sewing alterations to improve the fit. I think it'll be just fine.

      You know, sometimes always doing things frugally makes me sensitive to how other people will interpret us or our situation. Not wanting to "look poor".

      I had no idea that with septic you couldn't use bleach. Interesting. Can you use Oxy Clean type products?

      Thanks for reading!

    2. I agree with Live and Learn. I don't think people pay as much attention to how white things are like they did in my mom's generation. I have read (but haven't tried) that putting clean, wet linen out to dry on dry, clean grass in the sun will help whiten it.

      In regards to the septic system, my understanding is that bleach kills the little microorganisms that help with decomposition. I avoid using bleach as well for the same reason except for sanitizing surfaces/items. Actually, I avoid buying white because we seem to be kinda clumsy--and that's the adults I'm talking about!

    3. Hi Kris,
      I've heard that to, about the chlorophyll from the grass acting as a whitener. I'll give that a try too. Right now I'm doing something my grandmother used to do. Belinda's comment on borax reminded me.

      And I was thinking, with the lighting in our church, it's really pretty dim in there during service. I am being too mom-ish on this I think.

      Thanks for your input!

    4. No one is going to judge you for looking poor because of dingy T-shirts. If they are the type to judge, they will look at your cell phone or the size of your TV. And I don't think you need the approval of someone who is going to judge you on material things anyway.

    5. You're right! And my daughters keep telling me the shirts look just fine. Sometimes I get stuck on a thought. But, oh boy, judged for my cell phone -- I don't have a cell phone. What will they think of me now?! LOL!

      Thanks to all of you for your helpful info and psychological counseling.

  3. Have you tried washing them in the Arm & Hammer washing soda & Borax that people use for the homemade laundry detergent, Lili? I've done that before and it really does brighten things.

    I think it is your recipe for Blueberry Vinegar that I have saved that I've been wanting to try. Your rosemary vinegar looks beautiful in the bottle! :)

    1. Hi Belinda!
      No I haven't tried the washing soda and borax. I think I have something with borax in it. There was a stain removal recipe floating around years ago. I think it had Cascade automatic dish detergent in it, and maybe borax as well. I'll give them a wash in borax. Thanks!

      The herb vinegars look so pretty, I just leave them out on the counter. They're decorative and useful.

      Thanks for dropping in!


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