Life hacks are everywhere. Various websites have inventive uses for using bread packet tags to identify electrical appliance cables or fixing a scratched CD with a banana. I’m sure plenty of you have some life hacks of your own. Since living here, I’ve encountered a few tips which could be classed as hacks – novel uses of everyday items. They may not be completely life-changing but they are nifty ideas.
Make pickles in the dishwasher
One of the most important steps in pickling is heating the pickles in their jars to the right temperature – about 80°C. To do this accurately you need a pickling pot with a slot for a thermometer. Wouldn’t it be easier if you had a device which heats water exactly to 80°C? Maybe, you already do. A programmable dishwasher can be set to the right temperature. Seal the jars with the cucumbers and pickling brine, place them in the dishwasher and let them cycle through at the desired temperature.
Foil house martins with foil
When it comes to the house martin I’m torn. They are beautiful to watch in flight, but they leave an awful mess under their nests. If you want to stop the birds setting up home, tape a medium-sized piece of foil in the top corner of the window frame. Should you want to provide a new home, gourds make good bird house. Alternatively, let the house martins nest and place a board under the nest to collect the droppings.
Kill a “buzz” with cheap beer
Wasps. Ugh. Nothing ruins a summer day outside like a wasp. And beer in plastic bottles, Ugh. Who drinks that stuff? Conveniently, the latter can be used to deal with the former. With a sturdy piece of wire or twine suspend from a tree or high place away from the entertainment area an open plastic bottle half-full with cheap beer. Wasps are not choosy uninvited guests and will come for a drink but become trapped in the bottle.
Fend off pigeons with PET bottle windmills
This is probably one of the more ubiquitous hacks – small windmills made from empty PET bottles. Their purpose? To scare birds away from gardens. The most basic design requires you to cut two panels on opposite sides, leaving a hinge, then opening them out like wings. For the more manually inclined, cut the bases of four PET bottles and attach them to a fifth bottle, so they stick out like ears but all face the same way. Attach either version on a pole. The wind should do the rest.
Sharply slice with string
Perhaps this one isn’t strictly Czech, but I saw it done here first. Instead of cutting a dumpling with a knife and thereby squishing it, take a length of string, ordinary cotton does the trick, pull it under the dumpling and then cross the ends over and pull the string through. You should get a nicely formed dumpling slice. String can also be use to cut cakes, especially the more delicately constructed ones, and soft cheeses, though it’s enough to pull the string taut and push down through the food.
Ginger is fantastic, but how to peel it without losing so much of the fragrant goodness of the inside? A cheese grater is good for small pieces but if you need the root whole, use a spoon. Take an ordinary teaspoon and, with the concave side pointing in the direction you will peel, run the edge against the ginger. You’ll get rid of the peel and leave nearly all the inside.
Preserve fresh bread with celeriac stalk
What to do with the celeriac stalk? If you’re like me, you probably get the grocer to cut it off at the store. Little did I know I was throwing away a means to keep my bread fresh. Simply, put the stalk and the bread into a plastic bag. The bread will absorb moisture from the stalk and keep longer.
De-salt food with a potato
This is an easy hack. If you add too much salt to your soup, throw in a few pieces of quartered raw potato (peeled of course). The potato will absorb the excess salt without affecting the taste of the soup.
Lessen the negative effects of lard
This hack is for people with unhealthy diets – like myself. If you’re cooking with oil or lard, add some slices of carrot to prevent the lard from burning. This is one of those hacks a few people have said they know from their grandmothers. As to why it works, one site says that carrots release a substance which reduces the chance of burning.
Polish with ash
After a wood fire, don’t throw out the ash. You can use it bring nice shine to metal pots and pans. Pour a small amount of ash on a damp cloth and gently rub onto the metal. Ash can also be used to clean precious stones – in case you happen to have those lying around too.
Ward off pests with CDs
If you’ve ever wandered through a Prague neighborhood with a lot of high-rise buildings you have robably spotted the glint of a dangling CD or twenty. Many people tie them to the railings of their balconies in the hopes that the glare from the sun will detract pesky pigeons.
Steam dumplings in a produce bag
Those thin, filmy plastic bags from the supermarket that you put your produce in have multiple uses in the Czech household. One of them, and I can vouch for its efficiency but not its safety, is as a quick-and-easy dumpling steamer. Fill the bag with the desired amount of dumplings and two teaspoons of water, twist, tie in a knot, and heat for two minutes.
Sock it to dirt
Attaching an old sock to a broom or mop handle can be helpful for erasing cob webs and dust from hard-to-reach corners.
Make a mail box with a traffic post
Though it has fallen out of favor these days (and is illegal!) reflective Czech traffic posts were once a hot item from which to craft a mailbox or newspaper holder thanks to their hollow, circular shape.
Soundproof in a most egg-cellent way
In true rock-star fashion (you’ll laugh if you’ve seen the 80s-era Czech punk film Don’t Stop), egg cartons can be affixed to the walls of any room you want to sound proof. Apparently, cigarette packs will also do in a fix.
Have you had any experience with these hacks? Any other suggestions?