My Top 3 Kitchen Time-Saving Tips

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship is asking everyone to share our top 3 kitchen time-savers this week!  I work full-time outside the home, and although my partner Daniel has been doing more than half the cooking in the past few years, I do most of the planning, shopping, and preliminary preparations.  He works from home and tries to continue getting work done after our nine-year-old comes home from school, so it’s important to him to be able to spend less than an hour making dinner.  Here are our top tips:

Prepare ingredients for multiple meals at once.

When you’re going to the trouble of cutting up some food, using cutting tools that will have to be cleaned, you may as well cut a whole lot of it!  While you’re at it, measure the portions you’ll need for several recipes, and wash the measuring cup just once.  If you preserve some of the food (we freeze any we don’t plan to use within a week), you can stock up when it’s on sale and use it over a long period of time, instead of buying smaller amounts at higher prices.  Here are some specifics: Read more…

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.

Materials:

  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Top 10 Articles Earthlings Read in 2013

Just like 2012, most of my most-read articles in 2013 were classics published before 2013. Well, after all, this isn’t really a blog; it’s a free ebook to which I keep adding chapters, so the old stuff is still relevant.

Here, just in case you missed them, are the 10 articles added in 2013 that got the most readers:

  1. 10 Lessons Learned from Rewiring an Old House. Many thanks to my brother Ben for sharing his experience in this guest post, which makes the important point that while rewiring may not be rocket science, it is very hard work and takes a long time. Ben shared helpful tips on how to do it right and what not to do.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar as Facial Toner. Here I explain how to control oily skin with a natural, affordable product instead of some weird chemical. There’s even a garbage-free way to do it, without cotton balls!
  3. Cute and Thrifty Kitchen Scouring Powder. Here’s the cheap, safe, environmentally friendly way to scrub your sink, remove tea stains from mugs, and get that dried-up pasta off the pan. I also explain how to make a convenient, damp-proof, shaker-top bottle that matches your kitchen decor, without spending a penny or having serious crafty skills. With photos!
  4. Freezing Cheese. Larger blocks of cheese often are a better value than the small ones, but only if you eat all the cheese before it gets moldy. Here’s the secret to storing cheese in the freezer without sacrificing quality or convenience–or spending money on freezer bags. Includes links to our favorite recipes using cheese, as well as information on why pre-grated cheese might not be a wise purchase.
  5. Could you feed your family on a food stamp budget? This question was raised by my pastor and led me to explore how much my family actually spends on food, and what makes our grocery budgeting different from a more impoverished family’s.
  6. Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers. A large portion of my family’s thrifty yet healthy diet comes from the bulk department of our local food co-op. In this article I explain how this type of bulk buying works, where we get good containers, how we clean and store them, and how they’re superior to disposable packaging. I also get into detail about which items are a bargain when purchased in bulk and which are not. With photos!
  7. How I told my child the Easter story. Explaining the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus can be difficult: “He was only temporarily dead, so rejoice!! Never mind about those sins,” and somehow it all has to do with bunnies and jellybeans and tulips, and–well, it can be a bit confusing! Here’s the full story as I’ve been telling it to my son since he was very little.
  8. Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus–and why that doesn’t take all the magic out of Christmas, and how we avoid ruining it for kids who do believe.
  9. Less Acid Spaghetti Sauce. This casual experiment with my endlessly-variable marinara sauce recipe showed me that it’s possible to make a delicious tomato sauce that won’t aggravate a mildly touchy stomach.
  10. My Coupon Organizer. I used free, unwanted materials to make the coupon holder I’d owned for a long time into something that works better for my family. With photos!

I’ll also give honorable mention to several articles that were published toward the end of 2012 and were very popular in 2013:

  1. What to Serve for Coffee Hour. Would you like to provide the refreshments for after church or a similar gathering, but you’re not sure what’s the right amount or variety of food? This helpful guide is based on my many years of experience!
  2. How to Salvage Over-baked Brownies. One of the foods I made for coffee hour didn’t turn out so well! Here’s the simple strategy for redeeming both the food and the pan.
  3. What to Do with Bread Heels. Detailed recipe for Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding, plus 3 more ways to use the sad leftover ends of a loaf–or any other unwanted bread.
  4. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” Review. My son and I spell out all the details of why this new animated show, though hardly the worst thing PBS Kids has offered, isn’t nearly as good as Mister Rogers’ original program.

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for hundreds more helpful articles on many subjects!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for many other ways to save money on food and use resources wisely!

Wearing a stretchy tummy band instead of maternity pants: A review

Soon after my first pregnancy, it became fashionable to wear a top over another top that is longer and sticks out at the bottom. Soon after that, I heard about a garment called the Bella Band that is simply a wide band of stretchy fabric worn around the abdominal area, such that it looks like a longer undershirt but serves the function of holding up one’s unzipped pants. This innovation enables expectant mothers to continue wearing pants that no longer zip over the expanding tummy. I saw several bloggers raving about it, and it sounded plausible to me.

Ten weeks into my current pregnancy, my jeans–which are high-waisted and relatively close-fitting on my non-pregnant body–could still zip but gave me a feeling of pressure that really bothered my queasy stomach, especially right after a meal. However, when I tried on my old maternity pants, they were too loose. I went looking for one of these stretchy bands.

The brand I bought is the Tummy Sleeve, sold at Motherhood Maternity stores. It was $17, which seemed a bit steep. (However, the store gave me a free baby bottle and a packet of really good coupons!) It is made of nylon spandex and available in several colors.

I wore it every day for 7 weeks. Then I started wearing my slimmest maternity pants some days and the band on other days, for a few weeks before I began wearing maternity pants all the time. At 24 weeks, I can still get into my jeans with the band, if I want to. It looks like this:

Read more…

Baked Fish with Clementines

This recipe works with any citrus fruit, but I made it most recently with clementines because they seem especially abundant and affordable this winter, so we had bought a big box! It is a good way to use up clementines (or an orange or lemon, or probably it would work with limes or a grapefruit) that are getting kind of old for fresh eating but aren’t actually moldy or vinegary-smelling.

This recipe also works with either mild white fish or salmon. We usually eat it with rice and a green vegetable such as broccoli. I like to put my fish and vegetable on top of the rice and then spoon the sauce from the fish pan over the whole meal.

To make 3 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 3 fish fillets (fresh, frozen, or thawed)
  • 2 clementines, 1 orange or lemon, or 1/4 cup frozen concentrated orange juice (scoop it out of the can and then mix up the rest of the juice for drinking)
  • 1/4 onion, or 1 green onion
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • butter to grease the baking pan

Consult fish packaging for appropriate oven temperature and baking time. Preheat oven.

Dice onion. (If green onion, use both white and green parts.) Cook onion and parsley in oil in a small pot until onion begins to brown.

Peel clementines and slice them horizontally (across the sections) about 1/4 inch thick. Remove any seeds.

Grease baking pan. Lay fish in it. Lay slices of clementines over the fish. Top with onion mixture. (If using concentrated juice, stir it into the onion mixture before spooning it over the fish.)

Bake until fish easily flakes apart when you poke it with a fork. Serve with some fruit on each portion.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more recipes!

P.S. Apologies to my subscribers for the long gap between posts! Right after returning from our Christmas travels, my whole family was stricken with viral bronchitis. Although it will not harm the baby, my being pregnant has made the illness especially depleting for me, and I have spent more than two weeks mostly lying in bed coughing. I am finally getting better, and writing this post and the one that will go up tomorrow is my “work” for today to test whether I am able to return to my job tomorrow. I hope all my readers are having a healthier, happier new year than I have so far!