a "been-there" mom of six offers encouragement
to wives, young mothers, and those not so young,
and simple common-sense approaches to
the "ings" of life:
child-rearing (hints and helps), homemaking (all areas),
cooking (simple, cheap, and do-it-yourself)
making (toys and gifts), preparing (for the unexpected),
maintaining (sanity and peace in this increasingly crazy world) and more---
all aspects of making the most of making do on little---
and having fun in the process.

Friday, August 19, 2011

I LOVE Chocolate!

The average consumption of these
scrumptious little chips
is 11 pounds annually! 
                                                                                                       Most people love chocolate !!   
Chocolate is a weighty matter!!!

 It has been reported that Americans consume it in quantities that average out to eleven pounds per person per year. Averages are scary because they mean that for each person that eats less chocolate than that---there has to be another who eats more.

In terms that I visualize, the average amounts to eating 14 large bags plus one small bag of chocolate chips annually. That is a lot of chocolate!

I have been known to sneak a handful of those tasty morsels on more than one occasion. And I have too often tried to drown my sorrows or disguise unsatisfied wants with gooey hot fudge. I've also been known to have a hot fudge sundae for dinner when I wasn't trying to drown or disguise anything but my craving.

I am a true believer in servin’ lovin’ from the oven and it, more often than not, contains chocolate in one form or another. But, and I am pretty sure I know this for a fact, I have never consumed that much chocolate, in all of its delectable forms, in 365 days.

Maybe that is because I like my chocolate spread out---buried in rich buttery cookie dough, cascading down mounds of vanilla ice cream, enhancing a pie, or surrounding marshmallowy and peanutty candy fillings. If you like chocolate in solid portions, in the form of 1.75 oz. candy bars you, too, can be average in just over 100 days.

Following are a few of our favorite ways of spreading it out.

Peanut Clusters
12 oz semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
8 squares vanilla almond bark
2-3 cups salted Spanish peanuts
Melt the chocolate pieces and vanilla squares together over low heat or carefully in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat Add peanuts. Drop by clusters on waxed paper or aluminum foil covered surface. Let set until firm.

Marshmallow-Peanut Clusters
Use above recipe but allow mixture to cool slightly. Stir in mini-marshmallows and drop by clusters on prepared surface.

Marshmallow Cups
Growing up in California, one of my favorite candy bars was a “Cup-O-Gold” — gooey marshmallow encased in chocolate! Similar ones are called "Mallo-Cups," an East Coast version. Both are very hard to find and we think these are better than the originals. Please try and come up with a better name for these, and let me know. I promise, they deserve it.

There are no specific ingredient quantities. Make up the amount you need for the amount you want to make.  You have your choice of size also—mini or regular.
          Chocolate-flavored almond bark
          Handful of chocolate chips, if desired
          Finely shredded coconut
          Jar of marshmallow cream
         Mini or regular size cupcake papers

Lightly toast the coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly because it doesn’t take long. Set aside.

Place paper cups in mini or regular cupcake pans.

Melt chocolate in microwave or over low heat, watching carefully and stirring often.
Stir toasted coconut into melted chocolate.

Place a small amount of the chocolate-coconut mixture into each paper cup. Let the chocolate set a couple of minutes so it very slightly sets up. With a small spoon, “drag” the chocolate up the sides of the paper about 2/3rd of the way up, forming a bowl. After they have set up, you may repeat or touch up if there are areas you want a little thicker.

Place a dollop of marshmallow cream, right from the jar, into each “bowl.”

Go back and spoon additional chocolate-coconut mixture over the top of the marshmallow to cover it.  Gently tap the pan so the chocolate will fill in any gaps.

If you like these, I’ll add some of our other chocolate favorites another time—including more “copy-cats.”

‘til we eat again,
    Simply, Gail

A portion of this post was originally printed in Desert Saints Magazine

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hi! I'm Simply Gail: the Creative Cheapskate and. . .

the new kid on the blog

First, an admission. I am using the word kid very loosely. For now, we’ll just say that I learned to type, and then did so for many years, on a typewriter that did not plug in, nor rely on batteries or any other power source. Your fingers not only did the walking, they did it all!

It was called a manual typewriter and this was it’s font.

This is my first post on my first* blog. 

If you haven't read "About Me" I'd like you to do so before you continue. Then what I say next won’t be like you coming in, and trying to catch up, 10 minutes after the movie started.

Second, a disclaimer, and an apology. Misters Strunk (Jr.)and White first published The Elements of Style when I was a junior in high school. I never read the book and if I had, by this age I have forgotten more than I ever knew.

I went through the journalism ranks, clear to the top, in high school and made it to associate editor in junior college before I got married and dropped out.

I apologize in advance to the grammatically obsessed who may read this. If I say so myself I don’t too badly even though I never mastered, nor even understood the concept of, sentence diagramming. And I love ----‘s and ....’s and not only overuse them but use them whenever I feel like it, without a qualm of correctness. It drives Dave, my English-major husband, a wee bit crazy.

Our home and the world were and still are, my classroom. My "assignments" on life were published in two weekly newspapers in the Mid-West for three years and monthly in a Las Vegas family magazine(is that an oxymoron or what?) for about six years.

My how-to labs were conducted in community education classes in schools,a hospital,libraries and women’s church groups.

I am a slow learner so my education still continues. I hope I can share what I have learned and hope you will share with me.

I hope you'll sign on and check in. I am...

Simply, Gail

*actually this was the first post on my earlier blog (2coatsofpaint.blogspot.com). I changed the title and URL  8/18/2011 to try to more obviously reflect who I am and what I am about. That also explains why there are so many posts for 8/18---I was transferring them over. I am still Simply, Gail. If you have any questions or comments please contact me at davengail@infowest.com.

What if . . . you lost all of your electronic contact information?

It could happen.

My grandmother survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. She took 69 photographs, two I've included here, with her Brownie box camera of the areas around her home and neighborhood.

Along with the pictures, I have a letter written to my grandmother from a boyfriend across town, expressing his concern for her. It took two weeks for the letter to reach her.

Times were simpler then. . .

They didn’t have many ways to contact one another, and when that information was needed, they usually had it written in one little note book which they usually carried with them. I have one of those--- my great grandfather's--- in my possession.

Today we also carry our contact information around with us, and usually in a compact form.

But what if . . . the power grids, or whatever the things that keep our electronic world afloat are called, suddenly went down. There are probably any number of reasons that could happen. And then the batteries that power our electronic brains?

This is a very scary what if ...... and this is coming from someone who relies very little on electronics for anything.  Someone who still prefers a hard copy address book. How much more scary for those who are electronically dependent—or addicted?

We used to memorize the phone numbers of family and friends. Now, for the most part, we know them by the order in which we punch them in, or by scrolling down a list---and then punching "go get 'em." How many are safely tucked away in our physical brains?

Insurance is something we all have and all hope we never need.

For our “insurance” I made wallet-size lists of all of our family members with all of their contact numbers and addresses---home, work, college, etc. We even listed our doctor and our medicines, including strengths and dosages.

Then, for our emergency get-up and go bags, I made additional sets, laminated them, and attached them to the go-bags so they would not get misplaced. But that’s another story for next time.

Until then, please give thought to, and take steps toward, making preparations for an emergency so you will be able to sleep when the wind blows.

Making Jam with Sweet Juicy Ripe Peaches

Our kitchen smells wonderful.  Over the last two days, I have bottled more than 40 pints of jam. The common ingredient in every variation is sweet! juicy! ripe! peaches!

We think our  favorite jam recipe is scrumptious --- and so does everyone who tries it. Among all of the pluses, it has only one drawback.  It is soft, almost runny, but that is a small inconvenience compared to its relative ease, cost savings, and positive deliciousness. And, this consistency makes it absolutely perfect for topping ice cream, angel cakes, pancakes, waffles and more. 

If you would like your jam firmer, see Thickener below.

While I usually use peaches as the base, this recipe can be adapted to most fruits, even drained, canned ones (which is great if you want to make jam in winter when fresh fruit isn't available---at least not cheaply!).

Pectin is the traditional thickener in jams and jellies --- and currently costs $2 or more per recipe. This recipe uses flavored gelatin at about 40 cents per recipe!

Last year a friend and I made it with pears and cherry gelatin; peaches, crushed pineapple and orange gelatin, and peaches with raspberry gelatin, in addition the original recipe below. The combinations are only limited by your imagination.

Peach Plus Jam
4 cups peeled and crushed peaches
5 cups sugar
10 ounce container frozen raspberries, undrained
One 4-serving size raspberry gelatin
2 T. lemon juice, fresh or bottled

In large pot, bring crushed peaches, undrained raspberries, and sugar to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add gelatin and lemon juice and continue to boil, stirring occasionally,  for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Makes about 8 cups.

Pour into sterilized canning jars (whatever size(s) you wish) to within 1/4" to 1/2" of the top. Wipe off top rims of jars and seal with lids and rings immediately. Place on heavy towel to until completely cool. Check seals by pushing on lids; they should not flex.

The softness of the jam usually doesn't bother us---occasionally I would like it firmer. I have found a new, at least to me, product "clear jel" or "ultimate gel". It is a tasteless, easy-to-use gluten-free, modified food starch that can be stirred into hot or cold foods to thicken them.  When I want "thick" jam I just slowly and thoroughly stir a little of this gel into the jam, adjusting the amount according to the firmness I want.   It is also great for thickening pie fillings, gravies, salad dressings, glazes and more. It is also great for making freezer jam. Information is available on the Internet.

Jam-Making Hints: Amounts to Use, Peeling Ease, Sealing Security
1. The peaches I used today are about the size of medium apples. It takes about 7 or 8 peaches, of this size, to equal 4 cups crushed peaches.  I use a blender, food chopper or potato masher to roughly crush them (we like some small pieces of fruit in the jam).

2. To make peeling the peaches easier, I put them in pot of boiling water, remove after about one minute, and put in large bowl of cold water. By doing this, the skins using slip off, or at least peel very easily.

3. As a little extra lid-sealing insurance, I put the hot jars upside down on the heavy  towel to cool. I am not sure if it really helps. . .but it doesn't hurt either!

'til we eat again
 Simply, Gail


Gardening in a Bag---or Bags!

It is time to plant, in our area,  spinach, lettuce  and 
other crops for fall harvesting. 

You know those bags they sell at  markets to reuse, rather than paper or plastic?  They are usually $1.00 each but when they went on sale for 3/$1.00, we bought nine and our thinking caps got busy thinking.

They are strong and great for toting lots of things besides groceries---and they are porous! They also lasted a full season---growing a variety of lettuce, spinach, and onions, right outside our back door!

Getting Started: Take a paper punch and punch a few holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage. The bag is a lot taller than you need for planting so just fold it down until it is as deep as you want. Place a couple of inches of small gravel or cinder in the bottom, fill it with potting soil and plant. We have done it with both seeds and starter plants.

We have also planted in dishpans and other semi-shallow containers.  Look "differently" at containers you already have or check out the thrift stores or garage sales.  You will be amazed at what you can find.
Want it more simple? Pick a spot and lay a full bag of potting soil down flat. Cut X's in the top of the bag where you want your plants, fold back the corners of the X's and plant young starts. Poke a few holes near the bottom for drainage.

If the growing season for your area allows it, you can  plant your salad greens in early spring and then again in early fall. When you want to make a salad, just snip off some of the  leaves and enjoy. The plants will keep on growing.

Bring Bright Bits of Recognition with the Good News Bear

A simple way to bring BIG smiles as you outwardly recognize little (or not so little) accomplishments or events.  

The Good News Bear can cheerfully relay your bright bits of recognition even if you are unable to be there to do it yourself.  While he's not nearly as good as a hug, he will definitely brighten the recipient's moment.

What Are Our Most Prized Possessions?

Do we even realize that what we value most, is too often NOT where we give our most time and attention? 

No Copyrights have been violated
This, as well as other posts that look like they have been copied from a book, have been!
Some of my posts do contain scanned pages from my self-published "Simply. . ." series.

This world moves so fast and there are so many things that take our time. Don't let yourself get caught up in the "thick of thin things." Please do everything you can to make sure your priorities are in their proper order. Lives depend on it!!!

Buyer be Wiser: The Latest Scoop

Dave captured a typical laundry day in Kiribati, an atoll in the Equatorial Pacific.

 A  bit of consumer savvy came from our daughter Heidi after she switched to an “Ultra” laundry product several years ago. Then the Ultra became Ultra 2 in a smaller box but, with the slogan “more powerful/use less” it appeared to equal out.  Then she discovered that the measuring scoop that came with the new product remained the exact same size as the old scoop. The marking lines for various load sizes were embossed lower on the side of the new scoop. Could this possibly be a well-calculated guess, on the part of the manufacturer, that the consumer's habits had been established? That not many would take the time to squint at the new markings? But would continue as they had in the past –thus using more detergent than necessary and paying more for it?

Plus, did you know that too much detergent is the leading cause of dingy clothes?

I read a study where plain water agitating in the machine will remove most of regular soil all by itself. The author says that plain water is mostly all she uses, but she keeps a box of detergent sitting in plain sight for anyone who might be appalled if they knew the truth.

Now---to make-your-own laundry soap, Sandy’s to be more precise, an excellent product. It is even user-friendly for a friend who is highly allergic to many soaps and detergents. It smells strong in its dry form but the clothes come out smelling only clean.  It does not suds, so don’t let that throw you.  (One friend’s husband kept adding more, waiting for the suds—oops! See leading cause of dingy laundry above.) 

Once you have the ingredients, each recipe will wash  72 loads at a cost of approximately $2.

Sandy’s Laundry Soap

One box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda , not baking soda (this will be enough for 13 recipes)
One box of Twenty Mule Team Borax  (enough for seven recipes)
One bar of Fels Naptha soap for each recipe 

Finely grate the bar of Fels Naptha and thoroughly mix with 3/4 cup each of the two powders. Store covered. Use only ONE MEASURING TABLESPOON per wash load. You may find you have to adjust the amount a little according to the size of your machine, but I haven’t. Remember - it does not suds!

I know of some who have had success with “Irish Spring” and “Castile” bars also.  I stay with the Fels Naptha because it is also a good stain remover all by itself, as a pre-spotter.

Idea: Get together with a few friends and share the initial cost. 

In closing, another gripe of Heidi’s is the “new advanced dish washing liquids” that state you only need to use half as much. Since they boasted that you only needed one drop to begin with, just how do you squeeze out one-half of a drop? It’s a seemingly legitimate complaint with seemingly difficult compliance. We can pour half of our liquid detergent into a clean bottle and replace the top half of each with water. The manufacturers figure we won’t bother. I do!

A portion of this post was originally printed in October 2006 @ DesertSaintsMagazine.com

Classic Name-Brand Onion Soup Mix

This Onion Soup Mix is one of my Favorite Copy-Cats!

This recipe equals 4 to 5 packages of commercial mix.
3/4 cup dried minced or chopped onions
1/3 cup beef bouillon granules
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp celery seed
Combine and store in airtight container. Use within 6 months (it really will keep much longer!)

5 T of this mix = one package
Use in any recipe calling for dry onion soup mix, using more or less to suit your taste.

Dip: Combine one carton sour cream and 4-5 T dry soup mix. Stir well. Refrigerate at least two hours. Serve with vegetables, chips or crackers.

Roasted Potatoes: Cut about 6 medium potatoes into cubes. In a bowl, toss potatoes with 1/3 cup olive oil. Sprinkle with 5 T mix and stir to coat. Pour into ungreased 9x13 baking pan. Bake uncovered, at 450 degrees, for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Soup: Combine 4 cups of water and 5 T mix in a saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Frosty Chocolate Milk Shake Surprise

An Amazing Ice Cream Chocolate Milk Shake

What if . . . you turned the tap on and . . .

nothing came out?

What if your local water system was suddenly damaged or compromised? 

WATER is the most critical portion of any preparedness plan.

Water is much more essential than food in sustaining life!

Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population does not have access to pure drinking water. We, in the United States, are among the very fortunate. Usually the safety of our domestic water supply is of little concern; however situations may occur when the water supply may be cut off or damaged.

The most important thing you would need to have on hand if the bottom were to drop out of everything is drinking water. While one quart of drinking water a day will sustain life, one gallon of drinking water per day is recommended.  

You will also need additional water for washing and other purposes. 

It is recommended that you store a minimum three-day supply of water, per person, but it would be best to have a two-week supply for each family member. 

Number in my family _____ X 3 gallons per person = _______gallons minimum.
Number in my family _____ X 14 gallons per person = _____ gallons preferred.
Approximately how much water do we, as a family, have available today?______

When drinkable water is properly stored and purified, it should have an indefinite shelf life, but to maintain the optimum drinking quality, water should be rotated every six months. If you choose to rotate the water it is helpful to mark the date on your calendar.

Good water storage containers are air-tight, resistant to breakage, and heavy enough to hold water. If metal, they should have a lining that will not rust or affect the flavor of the water. They should have secure lids.

Glass? Plastic? Coated metals?  Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then, do the best with what you have, or can, acquire. 

Milk jugs are not effective, as they may leak and may contain protein residue. Two-liter pop containers and heavy juice bottles work well. With the exception of well rinsed out plastic bleach “bottles, do not use containers that previous held non-food items. 

Before using, clean all containers with soap and water and rinse well. Sanitize container and lid with one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water, shake well, empty container and allow to air dry. 

When storing the containers keep them off the ground and/or cement. Even cardboard under the containers will do the job. Also, do not store next to materials that may leach into them. 

It’s a good idea to store a few containers in a freezer to prolong the freezer’s cold if the power goes off. When doing this, be sure to leave a couple of inches for expansion in the containers. 

Most city-treated water is safe for storage without additives, but to ensure the storage of quality water, use a chlorine or heat treatment. 


To treat with chlorine, unscented, liquid bleach may be added to disinfect. Add eight drops, or 1/8 teaspoon bleach, to one gallon of water. 

To treat with heat, fill clean quart Mason jars and process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. This provides a way to have safe drinking water and also use jars that may be sitting empty. 

Purchased bottled water is a quick and convenient way of getting a water supply; however, it is not considered to be safer or purer than city-treated water.  “Natural” water companies just have a huge advertising budget and a convincing public relations department!!!

In an emergency, if there is no warning, you can use water from pipes, ice cubes or the hot water heater. Learn how to turn off your water supply because the inlet valve should be closed off immediately after the water supply is disrupted.

Only use water from swimming pools, toilet tanks or water beds as a last resort and then only for purposes other than drinking since chemicals may be present. 

In some emergency situations, you may need to either treat (see above) or purify (see below)  contaminated water, such as that from lakes, runoff, streams or ground water. The water in lakes, rivers, and springs may look crystal clear but often contains various bacteria that can cause illness. The main parasites which need to be eradicated are the cysts which cause Giardia and amoebic dysentery. Small amounts will not affect the body, but in large numbers these pathogens can take effect. They can survive in cold, even freezing water for several months because of their hard protective shells. 


The two most common purifying methods are boiling and chlorine bleach.

Boiling: While virtually foolproof, boiling water does take a fair amount of time and  a considerable amount of fuel, both things that need to be taken into consideration. Water must be boiled for five minutes and then allowed to cool. Boiling “flattens”   the taste of water. Pouring it back and forth from one container to another helps correct this.
Chlorine Bleach: A chlorine treatment of 1/4 teaspoon or 16 drops of unscented bleach may be used per gallon of water. Allow the water to sit for 30 minutes, then check for cloudiness. If it is cloudy, repeat the chemical treatment and let stand for 15 minutes. A slight chlorine odor should be present. If the water does not become clear, do not use it.    
 Note the difference in treatment and purification amounts of bleach. For a treatment, use eight drops per gallon; for purification, use 16 drops. 

There are other purification systems available, including a variety of water filtration systems and iodine-based treatment methods.  (If you are pregnant, suffer from a thyroid disease or have an iodine allergy, do not use an iodine method without first consulting a doctor.)

I am not discussing these other methods here because my purpose on this site, no matter what I am covering, is to always present things and ways that are doable—simply and cheaply.

Remember: Water storage is important to your survival in the event of an emergency. Being prepared is critical.  

Please take the time to do something. . . even if it is only one container. . . today—then you can sleep better when the wind blows.

Buyer be Wiser: Individual Packaging

Spending a little time will save you a LOT of money

Companies would have us believe they spend zillions of $$$ making things easier for us. In reality, they spend those zillions trying to convince us we don't have the time nor the know-how to do things for ourselves --- luring us into dependency on pre-packaged, portion-sized this and that. They even provide, at substantial $$$, calorie-control portions in individual packages --- telling us we no longer have to exercise our will-power since they will do it for us---at a substantial cost !

It is getting close to time to start thinking about school lunches. Plus, more and more of us are taking our own lunches to work, rather than eating out.  So let's tackle the question---
Is it really about convenience for the consumer or is it the greed of the producer?

I compared the price of food items that might be included in a "brown bag" lunch. The foods were identical in brand and quantity with the only difference being the type of packaging.

The menu: tuna salad with crackers, applesauce, plain jello, raisins, cookies, potato chips and 100 percent apple juice. The lunch comprised of commercially packaged individual servings cost three dollars and eighty-eighty cents. The same lunch, consisting of the same amounts from re-packaged per serving quantities at home cost
one dollar and sixty cents!!!

Buyer Be Wiser
Shop  Smart --- Be  Attentive --- Take Time to Compare 
 Consider Alternatives --- and Weigh the Benefits

"Cool Tie" for Hot Days

Add caption

Hot days make for cool things.  This beautiful field of "Americana" wildflowers                                                                    was a wonderful  happen-upon on a back-road side trip. 

Death from Three Perspectives

Sadly, on July 22nd,  we lost a niece to a brain aneurysm. As I was pondering on what I could say to hopefully comfort her family, a poem, from many years ago, came to mind.  While I was looking through Beginnings for that remembered poem, a second one caught my eye --- and my heart.

Dave and I usually make our own cards, using his photographs. Before we had a chance to look for one,  the perfect one "found" us !

The following poems depict the passing over to the other side from three different perspectives. In the first poem we have the view of  those that are left behind and the view from those who have gone before and are waiting to greet the new arrival.

Point of View                                           
by Carol Lynn Pearson  
Sun and mountains meet.                          
"Look," I say.                         
"Sunset !"                               
But I forget                              
That far away                          
An islander                              
Wipes morning                        
From his eyes                          .
And watches
The same sun

What's birth?
And death?
What's near
Or far?
It all depends
On where you are.

As an introduction to the second poem, I am including Henry Wordsworth's beautiful description of our mortal birth in Ode: Intimations of Immortality. He lived  from 1770 to 1850.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
     Hath had elsewhere its setting,
          And cometh from afar:
     Not in entire forgetfulness,
     And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
     From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! 

by Carol Lynn Pearson

Death is the great forget, they said,
A mindless, restful leaving
Of all consciousness and care
In a vast unweaving.
And so I waited, cramped and still,
For approaching Death to bring
Forgetfulness --- but all he brought
Was a huge remembering.

I hope these bring comfort to Amy's family. I hope they will find a place in your heart, to be recalled and revisited if ever you have the need.

Copyright 1969, 1970, 1985 by Carol Lynn Pearson. Used with permission.

Buyer be Wiser: A Brand Name is. . . What?

FACT: A name brand label does not automatically mean the product is superior.

What a brand name does is indicate the company has a large and successful advertising budget ! In the area of wearing apparel, quality of style, fabric and construction can only be so good. No matter how much our fashion-aware kids disagree, I contend that after a certain point you are only paying for the designer name, succumbing to the company’s seductive advertising. And, to further prove how clever marketing is, they put their names in huge letters on their clothes and then charge us outrageous prices to wear this advertising! And incredibly -----we do it !!

When brand-name consciousness started to infiltrate our kid’ s attitudes we made them a deal. If we had planned on buying them each three pair of Sear’s "tough-skins" (guaranteed to be replaced with a brand new pair if they wore out the knees before they outgrew them !) at $6.00 per pair we would give them each $18 and they could buy whatever pants they wanted—and make up the difference from their own funds.

In the grocery department, before making a purchase, it is wise to consider how you intend to use the product. Peach slices used to decorate the top of an elegant dessert probably need to be uniform in size and blemish free. A peach cobbler does not suffer, in any way, from using irregular pieces of fruit.

Many grocery store dollars can be saved 1) by taking time to comparison shop, and then 2) taking the risk of purchasing a lesser known brand. If your experiences with "off" brands are anything like mine, you will more-often-than-not be pleasantly surprised. Quality continues to increase right along with the quantity of choices. There are still a small number of items where I feel the brand name is superior but that list keeps getting shorter and shorter.

If you ever have occasion to talk with an employee of a food processing company, they will tell you it is not uncommon for an identical item to be packaged under a variety of labelsOccasionally they even produce a one-time-only brand for a canned fruit or vegetable that is surplus, irregular size or shape, or slightly overripe. These cans are considerably cheaper. I recommend you buy one can and try it immediately. (Well, you can wait until you get home ! Although I do know one frugal shopper who carries a can opener and a spoon in her car at all times. I am not making this up---and surprisingly, it is not me !)

If you like the product, return to the store and buy more, as much as you can use, because it is possible you many not see that label again.

In the past it was easy to identify the cannery if you took the time to read the label’s fine print. We must have been sharper than companies expected because now, on most labels, only the distributor is listed. Still it is often worth your time to check out the details. I recently happened on a bargain cart full of an unknown brand of black refried beans at 25 cents a can. I bought four and tried one as soon as I got home. They were delicious but when I got back to the store there was one can left. I bought it!

Many, if not most, warehouse-style, off-brand or store-brand products are every bit as good or effective as their more expensive counterparts. Can brand name ($4.99) white sugar really be different than store brand ($2.99) white sugar? How much can simple salt differ between brands? Or same type fancy salts for that matter? If you look carefully you can even find off-brand breads, that are hearty and don’t "smoosh" in your hand, at less than the going rates.

Recently I happened to be occupying the same grocery aisle as the manager and a man he was talking with. I heard the manager say that, time and time again, when leading a customer to a product, he has disclosed this very thing and invariably, the customer will then select the brand name item, even when it costs 25 or 50 percent more than its shelf-neighbor. Whoa! That's the power of advertising!

Lastly, did you know that companies pay big bucks to have their products placed conveniently at eye-level? And who has those big bucks? Think of the added benefit (exercise) you get bending and stretching for the lesser-knowns.

Doorway Puppet Theater --- an easy DIY project

I rarely buy anything from the seemingly zillions of catalogs that fill our mail. But, I rarely throw a catalog out without looking through it. Often I  find great gift ideas---ideas that I can recreate at substantial savings. Savings that come from either making the item myself or by buying the components for the item at a more reasonable cost. Amy Dacyczyn, long ago in the days before blogging, used the following suggestion in an issue of her newsletter The Tightwad Gazette and in volume two of her book of the same title. She called it Copy Cat-A-Log.

It is very satisfying to be able to DIYourself when you can.

Using an idea from a children's gift catalog we made our grand-kids a puppet theater that fit in a doorway. The catalog charged $39.95. We made ours from sale fabric and two tension-type curtain rods for less than $15. You can use old sheets, bedspreads or drapes for the fabric and save even more money.

1. Fit one tension rod at a height that will be comfortable             
for those working the puppets. This will be the rod that
holds the "skirt" or lower portion of the theater.
opened and closed during the production.

2. Measure the distance from that rod to the floor and
place the second rod an equal distance above the first one.
This will be the rod that holds the curtains that open and close.
3. Add 4"  to measurement between the rods to allow for
hems and rod pockets. Then double that amount to determine
how much fabric you need for both sets of curtains. (Fabric 
should be 44-54 inches wide.)

4. Fold fabric in half crosswise with cut edges together and cut
along fold line. (figure A)  Leave one piece intact; this is the
skirt for the bottom rod.

5. Fold the section piece in half, selvages together and cut along 
the fold line, making the two sections for the top curtain. (figure B)

6. Sew narrow hems down the sides of each section. Fold down 
2 " at the top and 2" at the bottom of each section and stitch, 
forming hems and rod pockets. (figure C)

 I'd love to know how yours turned out.

When the Catalogs Start Coming. . .

you will save money if you open your mail with your "cap" on.
The old mailbox is the place to find new DIY gift ideas

When a special boyfriend invited me to meet his family and celebrate the birthday of his 16-year-old sister, I spent a great deal of time choosing the perfect gift for a young lady just entering the era of young womanhood (we matured slower back in those days). I chose a beautiful silk chiffon scarf that faded from a brilliant rose to the palest of pink.

I wrapped it in pink paper and painstakingly made satin
ribbon roses in a deeper shade of pink which I cascaded
down the front of the box. I was a little disappointed when Tom picked me up and did not comment on my very feminine package. I was smart enough to realize that most guys weren’t into noticing such things, but I thought an orchid-grower would be somehow different.

At his home that simple disappointment gave way to acute embarrassment as I slid my gift as inconspicuously as possible between the other gifts - a saddle, Indian saddle blanket and the most cowboy-looking cowgirl boots I had ever seen.

From that humiliating experience, I learned to be more aware and much more selective with my choice of gifts and gift wrapping.

What does this have to do with the title of this article? Not much. Just thought, years later, it is kind of amusing.

Marriage and its accompanying tight budget added a new dimension to gift giving occasions - economics! Many times, our budget allowed less for the gift than I had previously spent in wrapping one!

Soon the pre-Christmas rush of catalogs will begin to fill our mailboxes, enticing us with their wares. I rarely order from these catalogs but I do look through them for gift-giving ideas I can recreate at substantial savings.

Be a Copy-cat and You Can Easily Do It Yourself

Using an idea from a children’s gift catalog we copied a $39.95 puppet theater that fits in a doorway. Using sale fabric and two tension-type curtain rods it cost less than $15. You can go to the Copy-cat tab for the directions for the Doorway Puppet Theater.

The same catalog offered a $29.95 set of six hats for little girls to play dress-up and a $39.95 "Let’s Play Grown-up" dress-up set in a trunk (listed at the very bottom of the ad as 15x8x6 inches in size) filled with 15 items.

US Toy in Grandview, Missouri has such a huge array of hats and "jewels" and other pretend stuff at such low prices you can buy enough things to fill a real trunk. Call 1-800-832-0572 for their catalog. Or go to http://www.ustoy.com/cgi-bin/u.sh/2.0/index.html.  Constructive Playthings shares the same building, and has wonderful and educational, though not thrifty, toys.

A trip to a thrift store will usually provide a shawl, purse, frilly skirt or dress to complete the package. It is harder to decide what not to buy than it is to find dress-up clothes.

For our grandsons, we stuffed a copy paper box full with every imaginable hat US Toy offered for less than $25.

In a Housewares catalog. . .
I found a microwave bacon cooker for $39.95 and recreated it with an 89 cent purchase of wooden chopsticks. The commercial product consisted of a clear "box" with plastic rods extending from one side to the other side. You drape your bacon over the rods and place the box in the microwave over a paper towel. Great concept. High price. Using one of my microwave-safe bowls I drape the strips of bacon over the wooden chopsticks, balance the chopsticks across the top of the bowl, place a paper towel over the top to cut down on splatter, and proceed. It works great.

The food and goody gift catalogs. . .
are another great source of copycat ideas. I’ve only noticed one company listing the weight of their gift popcorn and that’s understandable when you read the prices.  The two-gallon tin for $22.50 works out to 90 cents per ounce! The same two-gallon can size of trio snacks (popcorn, tortilla chips, and pretzels- all lightweight and space-consuming) is $21.95!  A dried fruit and nut mix in a decorative tin sells for $17 for 26 ounces.

Yes, the cans are cute. You can buy them at garage sales and thrift stores for almost giveaway prices. Then, when you want to give a gift similar to those in the catalogs, it is simply a matter of choosing the snack combination you like and can afford, and putting them in one of the cute containers you found for a few cents.

This is what I meant at the beginning----put on your thinking cap before you peruse your catalogs.

Happy creating! It’s a good feeling.

What ideas do you have? What recipes would you like to have for "can-fillers?"  Just contact me at thecreativecheapskate.gmail.com and I will do my best to include them---or find them.

Watch for YOUR ideas in the weeks ahead---- plus lots of  how-to's for making your own covered pretzels, copy cat candy bars, flavored popcorns and more.

Simple Tips for Cooling Down a Hot Summer Kitchen. . . and Yourself

I don't know about you, but by mid-point each summer I am dragging and not too enthused about much of anything. My attention span is short and my energy level is even shorter. May I assume your spans and levels are short also? Here are a few quick cooling down (psychologically if not actually) tips--- none that require much effort.

Cook or bake several items at once to save time, dirty dishes and energy (yours as well as the utility company's!)

When grilling, cook more than needed; reheat extra for another meal. 

To quickly bring water to a boil, use high heat and cover the pan.

To hard boil eggs, place them in a pan, cover with water, bring to a boil,  remove from heat, cover  pan and let sit for 25 minutes.

If you are unable to balance each meal, try to balance the day's meals.

Considering that we feast first with our eyes, keep color and texture in mind when preparing a meal. Example: for the same cost and nutritional value you could serve either 1) macaroni and cheese, corn and yellow gelatin or 2) macaroni and cheese, green beans and red gelatin. Which would prefer to sit down to?

When you are running late with dinner preparations, set the table and it will seem like the meal is close to being ready!

For an icy treat, cut bananas into sections, insert a stick in one end, layer on a  waxed-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze. If desired dip frozen bananas in melted chocolate chips or almond bark and return to freezer. Place in zip-lock bag and store in freezer. Eat frozen!

When bananas are getting past their prime (I love it when over-ripe ones go on sale!), slice thinly, package in zip lock bags, smashing to make the package as flat as possible, and freeze. Make a refreshing and healthy blender smoothie by using breaking  the frozen smooshed bananas into pieces and placing them in the blender along with any additional items of your choosing.  Mine (which makes two servings) usually includes a 6-ounce container of  yogurt, some oatmeal (plain or flavored), and a liquid (often a can of a chocolate nutrition/diet drink). Sometimes I add other flavorings, flax meal or wheat germ, malt power, additional frozen fruit pieces, and/or peanut butter. You are limited only by what you are craving or what you have on hand!  

Let's keep our cool----and, before we know it, winter will be here and we will be trying to warm up !

Make 5 Great Meals with Only Two Pounds of Ground Beef

Healthy, free-range cows give us healthy and tasty meals

In the following recipes the meat is rare---in portion,  not in degree of "doneness."                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
The reduction of meat does no harm to the taste, unless you are strictly a raised-on-cattle-ranch or  child-of-butcher beef eater! These are also very good "bare cupboard" recipes for when there is more month left than money.

Choose your meal possibilities from the ones that follow or adapt your own favorite recipes. You will soon learn to judge how much, or rather how little, meat needs to be included with the other ingredients to create a taste as satisfying as when you used larger portions. Feel free to make your own adjustments, adding and subtracting the quantity of ingredients to fit the needs of your family---both nutritionally and financially.

I make the most of my time by preparing approximately five meals at once using two pounds of ground meat.

Brown the meat, season lightly, and pour off any grease. Each pound of high quality, lean ground meat will yield approximately two cups of browned meat. Divide the meat into portions to make several main dishes. Use those that are "fragile" first, saving the hardy ones for later in the week.

The following recipes are listed according to quantity of meat used, from the largest to the smallest.

Lesli's Quick (and wonderful ) Soup
1-1/2 cups browned meat
1 onion, chopped
2 cans cream of something soup (celery, chicken, mushroom, or the make-your-own soup base recipe                                                          included here.)
1 46 oz can tomato juice
3 cups water
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 T. sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. marjoram (do not omit---I don't know why but trust me on this!)
2 bay leaves
Combine the meat and onion in a large pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender. Stir in the undiluted cream soup. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes. Makes approximately four quarts.

Our daughter Heidi has created a stick-to-the ribs variation by adding frozen mixed vegetables, frozen "fancy mix" (like California or winter, etc.) mixed vegetables and a can of kidney beans. She tops it with grated cheese just before serving.  More nutrition plus several more servings! Pasta is also a filing addition.

Place one cup of browned meat in a large pot. Stir in one package burrito seasoning mix (I like Lawry's) and 1-1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer. Stir in four 15-ounce cans refried beans (or as many as needed for your family) and heat through. Spread on flour tortillas. Top with grated cheese, salsa, sour cream, sliced black olives, chopped green chilies, etc. as desired. Heat in microwave for approximately 45 seconds each. Add chopped tomatoes and chopped lettuce, roll up and serve. Or, smother your burrito by rolling the tortilla with only the heated beans and cheese, place it on a plate and cover with with the remaining ingredients, as desired.

Watch for my recipes for from-scratch refried beans, flour tortillas and fresh salsa. They are all very easy to do----and of course, cheap!

Taco Crunch --- A Family Favorite
Empty four 15 ounce cans of Mexican chili beans (or, again, as many as needed for your family) into a crock pot. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup browned meat and some dried or chopped onion if desired. Cook on low three to four hours. (Or you can heat mixture on top of the stove if you prefer.) Serve "buffet style" so each can make it to their choosing. Start with a mound of corn chips. Top with bean mixture. Add grated cheese, chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes, ranch or Italian salad dressing and salsa, as desired, forming a "pyramid." We are to the point we fix this without any meat at all like it every bit as well.

Potatoes and Gravy
When browning the meat, leave drippings in the pan with approximately one cup of the meat. Stir flour into the meat to absorb the drippings. Stir until lightly browned. Add milk, stirring until gravy comes to a slow boil. Continue stirring until desired thickness is reached, adding more milk or a little more flour as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over well-seasoned mashed potatoes as a main dish.

You can also use this method with 4 to 8 ounces sausage and serve over biscuits.

Italian Sauce
Heat one jar spaghetti sauce. Stir in olives, mushrooms, etc. if desired, and no more than one cup of browned meat. Serve over cooked spaghetti. Or. . . Serve over a variety of cooked macaroni shapes. Top with slivered pepperoni. Put the mushrooms and olives on top rather than in the sauce, top with grated mozzarella cheese and you have a popular pizza shop speciality dish.

Vegetable Nacho Platter
On low setting of crock pot or over very low heat, watching carefully, melt a two pound block of Velveeta-type cheese, 1/2 cup medium or mild salsa, and 1/4 cup milk. Stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup browned meat.
Provide a variety of vegetables on each plate---baked potatoes, sliced tomatoes, cooked broccoli, etc. and corn chips. Top with the cheese sauce. Garnish, if desired with sour cream, sliced green onions, olives, etc.

"Doctored" Macaroni and Cheese
Mothers and grandmothers have reported back, after attending my presentations and tasting the samples, that this is a big hit with the little ones.  The big ones like it much better than plain boxed mac and cheese, also.
Prepare one package macaroni and cheese according to package directions. Stir in one 8 ounce can tomato sauce and approximately 1/2 cup browned meat.

Cream Soup Base
(makes 7 to 8 portions of condensed soup substitute)
2 cups non-fat dry milk powder
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon granules
2 T. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed (optional)
1 tsp. dried basil, crushed (optional)
1/2 tsp. pepper
Combine above and mix well. Store in airtight container. To use as a substitute for one can of condensed soup, combine 1/3 cup mix with 1-1/4 cups water in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Cook one minute more, until thickened. If desired, add 1 T. margarine.

While not as good as the "real stuff" but it is surprisingly not bad, and as canned soups continue to go up in price, this continues to go up in appeal--- a real money-saver.

'til we eat again,
            Simply, Gail

Bake a Bread Bear

            This is a little more work than I usually go to, but it was for a special occasion.----Back to School!  Actually, at the time, I made six alligators for their breakfast on the first day of the new school year.  The years went by and I totally forgot the alligators.  
            One evening knowing we wouldn't be home, a son called and left a message on our answering machine. He named many things that had special meaning to him throughout his growing-up years and thanked us for them, including the alligators of long ago. He was getting married the next day and this was his special thanks to us before he took the next step in his life. None of the things he listed were "big" things or expensive things, but they were what he remembered.   They meant a lot to him, and his remembering them meant a lot to us.
             What does this bear, have to do with the alligator, you ask? It's a stretch. . . I no longer have the instructions for making the alligator, but do have these directions for making these cute bears. You can take it from there.

Bread Buddies for "Beary" Special Occasions  (makes 5 bears)

5-1/4 to 5-1/2 cups flour
1 package dry yeast
1 cup milk                                                                                                                  
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. finely shredded orange peel
1/4 cup orange juice

1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 recipe sugar  glaze (below)
Dried fruits, nuts or candies

Also needed: Biscuit cutters or clean empty containers 
(cans or pill bottles) with openings in the following 
sizes: 1", 2", 2-1/2".

Combine 2 cups flour and yeast. Heat milk, sugar, 
shortening and salt until warm, stirring constantly. 
Add the flour mixture, eggs, orange peel and orange juice. 

Beat with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping often. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Sir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes).  

Place in greased bowl. Cover with lightweight dishtowel or other cloth. Let rise in a warm place until double, about one hour. Punch down. Cover. Let dough rest 10 minutes.

On lightly floured surface, working with half of the dough at a time, roll out to 1/2" thickness. Cut out five 2-1/2 inch circles, five 2-inch circles and 25-1 inch circles.

Mix the slightly beaten egg white with 1 T. water. To assemble each bear, place one 2-1.2 inch circle (body) on lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the edge of one 2-inch circle (head) with egg white mixture and join to body. Brush four 1-inch circles (arms and legs) and join at appropriate locations. Cut one 1-inch circle in half; brush flat sides, join to head, for ears.

Make five bears, separating them from each other on the baking sheets. Cover assembled bears and let rise in a warm place until nearly double (about 20 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Brush with sugar glaze. Decorate with dried fruit, nuts, or candies, as desired.

Sugar Glaze:  blend together 2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 cup hot water and 1 tsp. butter or margarine.

If you like this bear, you may want to continue the beary theme. Check out the "Good News Bear" in Copy-Cats

I LOVE to read and have enjoyed these. . .

“The Hiding Place,” the true story of Corrie Ten Boom, a courageous Christian woman who became a militant heroine of the anti-Nazi underground. “Here is a book aglow with the glory of God and the courage of a quiet Christian spinster whose life was transformed by it. . . at the risk of her, and her sister’s, own lives—it was His strength that sustained them through times of profound horror. .  . a story of Christ’s message and the courageous woman who listened and lived to pass it along---with joy and triumph.” I feel this is a story you will never forget—nor should you.

“Twinkie, Deconstructed” by Steve Ettlinger, an interesting and easy read --- “a fascinating exploration into the curious world of packaged foods. . . takes us from phosphate mines in Idaho to cornfields in Iowa, from gypsum mines in Oklahoma to oil fields in China, to demystify some of American’s most common processed food ingredients—where they came from, how they are made, how they are used—and why. Beginning at the source (hint: the ingredients are often more closely linked to rocks and petroleum than any of the four food groups), Ettlinger reveals how each Twinkie ingredient goes through the process of being crushed, baked, fermented, refined, and /or reacted into a totally unrecognizable goo or powder with a strange name—all for the sake of creating a simple snack cake.”

If this makes you want to boycott commercial Twinkies but still crave them, go to your search engine and type in “twinkie recipe.”  There are several. The filling I use is from my recipe for Ho Ho cake — a copy cat of another multi- (mostly unnecessary) ingredient snack cake.    

Ho-Ho Filling
1 cup milk
3 T cornstarch
1 cup sugar
½ cup margarine (1 cube)
½ cup shortening
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Combine milk and cornstarch and cook until creamy, stirring constantly. In separate bowl, beat sugar, margarine, shortening, salt and vanilla until creamy. Combine the two mixtures, beating  until fluffy.

"Food Rules: An eater's manual" by Michael Pollan is a tiny book that adds a little wit to its wisdom with suggestions such as "don't eat anything your great grandma wouldn't eat, avoid foods containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry, and avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce." + 61 more ways to healthier eating.

For nice, clean, relaxing fiction I like Rosamunde Pilcher' s books, especially her short stories, because I can make time to take time to read a short piece. When I get into a good novel I have a very hard time putting it down until it is finished and that can play havoc with life.  Dave can read a book in bits and pieces over time. When he goes to the store with me he will head to the book section and read while I shop.  How he can remember where he left off a week or two before I don't understand. And I don't understand how he can even stand, let alone enjoy, doing that. If he has a few spare minutes he reads something ---- anything!  I  claim he would read the phone book if there was nothing else.  When I have that same couple of minutes  I am usually content to space off or dose off.

P.S. As I was writing this section the thought came to me that taking time to read was like taking time to smell the roses----and then I glanced over at the cover of The Blue Bedroom.  I have read it, moved it and loaned it, several times over the years and have never really noticed the cover before. I know it doesn't mean anything but it was fun to "discover" the roses just as I was making the connection. Thanks go to Mary, my long-ago boss for introducing me to Rosamund Pilcher. Mary is the same Mary that reappeared in my life a few weeks ago, at the exact time I needed help in starting this blog.