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Reader Feedback: Instant Pot, Home Chef, Etiquette, Tap Water

I have the most loyal and responsive readers on earth. Every day I can count on my inbox filling up with your opinions, reactions, gratitude, funny stories, arguments and even an occasional rebuke from a reader who lets me have it!

What really gets my attention is when I receive hundreds of responses to a single post. That’s when I know we’re on to something. Here’s a tiny sampling to show you what I’m talking about.

INSTANT POT 

My new Instant Pot sat in the box for a few weeks. I wasn’t sure what to do with it and maybe I was a little scared. Thanks for pushing me to give it a try. I joined the Instant Pot Community online and now I’m so comfortable using it. That group is wonderful and I’ve learned so much. You’re right—Instant Pot is amazing. Now I use it every day to make at least one meal. It has paid for itself more than once by now. I’m hooked on Instant Pot! Sally

Please remind everyone to read 10 Common Mistakes You Can Avoid as New Instant Pot User before they even open the box. I made mistake #1, foolishly. IP Customer Service helped me rescue my IP. Colleen

I love my Instant Pot so much I gave one to my daughter-in-law for her birthday. Let’s just say that was the best money I could have spent. Molly

Thanks for this post about Instant Pot. I am getting acquainted with mine, and I just made yogurt! I loved that heating the milk to the right temp was preset and I didn’t have stand over the stove watching to see that the milk didn’t actually boil. And then I could just stick the thermometer in and do other things while the temp dropped to 110F. Then I mixed the starter (left over from store bought plain yogurt) and poured the milk into glass jars and set the pot again. It worked great! JM

HOME CHEF  

For the first time in my life, I look forward to making dinner when we have a Home Chef meal kit in the fridge. My 15-year old son and I do it together (a miracle right there) just like we’re on TV. Even better, we love everything about the food. Myria

Haven’t been in a restaurant or take-out joint since meeting your Home Chef. Kudos and many thanks. William

Second Hand Clothes, First-Class Style

Consignment shopping is an excellent way to purchase kids and baby clothes, often brand new and for less than one-third of the retail price. Most cities these days have specialty consignment shops for babies, children and teens, too.

The consignment process is simple. If you are a seller, the store sets its criteria for accepting merchandise, and sets the price—usually 50 percent of the new retail price.

Expect a consignment shop to have very high standards for what they will accept: Must be a current style, must be brought in clean and must have no visible wear, holes or stains. You bring your items to the store to be reviewed and submitted for sale. Because most stores have limited hours for this process, be sure to call ahead.

Cheapskate Etiquette: Cheap with Yourself Generous with Others

Face it. Living below your means requires a good bit of creativity from time to time. You have to get pretty clever to stretch a buck.

But just how far can you go in matters of etiquette before you cross the line?

Ask yourself these questions when making a decision having to do with gracious living and etiquette:

  • Is my choice to be cheap going to harm or insult another person?
  • Will my behavior leave a fragrance or an odor?

Rule of thumb: Be cheap with yourself and generous with others.

Don’t, for example, require a service person to forego a tip so you can live below your means. If you cannot cover a decent tip, don’t eat out. Or order less.

Which is Better Fresh or Frozen?

Frozen fruits and vegetables take a lot of heat because most people assume that if it’s frozen it must be of a lesser quality and nutritional value than the same items fresh in the produce department.

Is it true? Is fresh really better than frozen? And if so, is the difference great enough to spend more money to make sure we’re always eating fresh fruits and vegetables?

According to nutritionist Cynthia Sass, RD, frozen foods get a bad rap for being processed junk, but the truth is, some of the healthiest foods in the market are in the freezer section.

MATURITY. Ask any nutritionist and you’ll learn that the minute a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins to lose nutrients. The amount of time between harvesting you eat it impacts its nutritional value. Because most frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen shortly after they are harvested, those items scheduled for flash freezing are allowed to fully ripen. That means they are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Freezing actually “locks in” many of their nutrients.

On the other hand, much of the fresh produce in your supermarket was harvested 1,500 miles away—much of it in South America—and had to travel by truck to get to the store. It may have been picked before it reached its nutritional peak, then artificially ripened during transport.

NUTRITION. Frozen produce has been proven to be just as nutrient-rich, even superior to fresh, retaining most of their antioxidants and vitamins.

Scientists from Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester, carried out 40 tests to measure nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days, compared to frozen equivalents. They found more beneficial nutrients overall in the frozen samples, in everything from broccoli to blueberries.

Of course, eating newly picked produce within minutes of harvest is the healthiest option. However, frozen can be almost as good and is often better than items sold as “fresh,” because unless you pick it yourself, you have no idea how long it has been since that produce was harvested.

ADDITIVE-FREE. Frozen goodies like spinach and strawberries have no additives because freezing preserves food—additives are not necessary to preserve quality. “Naked” produce (e.g. no added salt or sugar) is the norm. That’s why frozen fruits and vegetables carry a single word ingredient lists—just the fruit or veggie itself. Always check the ingredients, but I bet you’ll find at least a dozen varieties in the freezer aisle with absolutely nothing added.

CONVENIENCE. Even the freshest produce comes with a requirement of prepping. Sometimes that extra time requirement is just too much at the end of a stressful day. Know the feeling? Frozen produce, however, magically preps itself. It comes washed, peeled and chopped. Frozen produce can save you a ton of time, making it more likely that you’ll cook and eat at home rather than opting for take out.

Rejoice! March is the best time of the year to load up the freezer because frozen foods are on sale at their lowest prices of the year during National Frozen Food Month.

How to Clean Gunk and Grime from Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are for storing dishes, not grease. Unfortunately, wood cabinets—painted or natural with a clear finish—are prone to all sorts of grease, grime, and gunk from simply being in the kitchen.

Depending on just how much grease and grime you’re looking at and the supplies you have available, here are several options for your consideration. At least one of these will help to get the job done—plus one final suggestion for how to keep your clean cabinets looking gorgeous!

BLUE DAWN. Apply a few drops of concentrated dish liquid like blue Dawn, into a bowl of warm water. Dip the soft side of a sponge in it. Squeeze the sponge until suds form. The cleaning agents in Dawn absorb grease just as well on kitchen surfaces as they do on dishes.
Apply to the dirty cabinet, wiping the grease with the soft sponge until it is removed. Immediately dry the surfaces with a clean cloth to prevent streaking. This will prevent streaking.

KITCHEN GUNK REMOVER. Bust through hardened, dingy layers of old, sticky, dust-grabbing grease with vegetable oil and baking soda. Mix one-part any vegetable oil to two-parts baking soda. Apply this oily paste to dirty areas using a soft cloth or paper towel. That ugly, greasy, dirty build-up on cabinets will begin to soften and start to disappear. Wipe clean and buff with a soft cloth.

WHITE VINEGAR. Vinegar is not just for making pickles or drizzling over French fries. It has grease-busting, cleaning ability. Dampen a clean, dry cloth with undiluted white vinegar, and wipe down greasy cabinets. Rinse your cloth with warm water, wring out most of the moisture, and use it to rinse the cabinetry. Dry the damp surfaces with a paper towel, but note any still-sticky spots that need a second attempt.

SOAP AND PAINT THINNER. This is a heavy-duty, industrial strength solution. Use it on the toughest, most stubborn grease and grime, knowing that it could remove a layer of the finish. Mix equal parts of paint thinner and a mild soap, such as Murphy Oil Soap. Apply with a sponge or paintbrush. Wipe the solution away with a rag to clear the dirt; you’ll likely remove a thin layer of varnish or shellac, because the grime may have melded with it.

WOOD POLISH AND CONDITIONER. After a rigorous cleaning, wood cabinets are thirsty for moisture and protection. But you want to be careful that you don’t make matters worse by using something that will create a new kind of build-up that becomes a magnet to kitchen grease and grime. You won’t find a better product to do that than Howard’s Feed-n-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner. It contains beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil to keep the wood from drying out, while at the same time repelling kitchen grease. Fantastic for all of the wood surfaces in your home—not only kitchen cabinets.

Why I Can’t Bring Myself to Buy Salad Greens in a Bag

I don’t buy bagged double- or triple-wash or any other variety of prepared salad greens that come in a plastic clamshell or bag. But not be for the reasons you might assume.

It’s not because I’m overly concerned that bacteria might make it through all that pre-washing in a chlorinated bath (although tests conducted by Consumer Reports did find bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination, when they tested 4,000 samples of all kinds of packaged greens from baby greens to spinach, traditional and organic). As creepy as that is to think about, the report assures that the contamination falls within the FDA’s acceptable levels.

It’s not even my concerns about just how long ago these greens were cut and washed. Granted, I am not a fan of limp, tired-appearing romaine, iceberg lettuce or cabbage. And even though I am a believer that once you wash, cut and prepare any kind of fresh produce—be it fruit or vegetables—the flavor and quality begin to degrade, that’s not it either.

Reader Feedback on Cordless Hand Vac, Instant Pot Single-Serve and Fresh AIR

Did you notice or read about yesterday’s massive Internet outage? As I fumbled and fumed over a variety of websites being down, I had to laugh at myself.

Here I was upset with a delay that would be measured in minutes when not that many years ago, I had to wait days—even weeks—to get responses. Back then, your responses and feedback came in envelopes with stamps attached.

Whether I hear from readers via the U.S. mail or through my inbox, I love it. But I have to admit that I am impatient. When it comes to hearing from you, the sooner the better!

Dear Mary: The first time I used my new handheld vacuum (see Best Inexpensive Cordless Handheld Vacuum) I discovered another great feature. With other handheld vacuums the bulk of the vacuum’s weight is generally in front of your hand. You need a bit of strength to hold it for long. But this specific new Dustbuster model has the weight balanced right under the handle (which is better designed than the Dirt Devil, in my opinion ) so you can manipulate it with ease and hold it longer than the others. Thanks for the heads up on this vacuum. Linda

Dear Linda: I couldn’t agree more. Finally, Black and Decker got it right with this Dustbuster redesign with a mighty 16v lithium battery.

The Peaceful Easy Feeling that Comes with Decluttering

A few weeks ago I got a wake-up call that wasn’t exactly intended for me. Our friends Matt and Sharlene got the call that his 92-year old aunt had died. As the executor of her estate, this did not catch them by surprise. The surprise came after a long flight when they opened the door to their late-aunt’s home.

As they described what they were facing in a home stuffed to the brim with stuff, vicariously I was right there with them—overwhelmed by the enormity of the accumulation of clutter. What to do? Where to start? At that moment in my heart (and now publicly) I renewed my pledge to my husband and children: To the very best of my ability and as God is my witness, I will never leave a mess for you to deal with.

Admittedly, I am a clutter bug and I know why. I believe that everything I own has value. That means I must keep it. The struggle is real. Those books I’ll never open again or my old mobile phone that won’t hold a charge—they have to be worth something to someone. Right?

Or how about that box of video games? They still look good even though we don’t have the game station that goes with them. And that computer monitor. Sure, it’s small-ish and old, but it still works (I think). I can’t throw it out. All those movie DVDs! They cost a lot of money. And on and on it goes from the garage to the basement—every room has the potential to become a clutter magnet.