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Take it Slow and Easy

It’s summer, it’s hot and the last thing you want to do is to heat up the kitchen. Going out is expensive and the family has threatened a mass uprising if they have to look at one more summertime salad bar. Don’t despair! That slow cooker you reserve for the cold winter months is a perfect solution for the summer, too!

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Your slow cooker creates very little heat and is amazingly cheap to operate. It costs only pennies a day to operate all day long and with energy costs skyrocketing, that’s good news for your electricity bill, too. But, you may protest, I’ve tried to use a slow cooker and the results have been disappointing at best. Pardon my saying so, but that’s likely because you don’t know what you’re doing. You need a crash course in Slow Cookery!

Know your cooker. A traditional crock-pot where the heat surrounds the cooking insert is better than a slow cooker where the heat comes from underneath. The most common models have a removable pot insert. The two heat settings are low (200 degrees) and high (300 degrees). The slow cooker, or “multi-cooker” usually cooks from the bottom and might have a thermostat allowing a wide range of temperatures. The commonly used term Crock-Pot is Rival Manufacturing company’s trademarked name.

Curb the urge. Resist the impulse to peek inside the crockpot unless the recipe directs you to stir partway through. Every time you lift the lid, you add about 20 minutes cooking time.

Leave space. Don’t fill the insert so much that the lid doesn’t fit tightly. Without a tight fit a vacuum will not form, and that can dramatically affect cooking time

Vegetables on the bottom. They take longer to cook than meat. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and turnip, should be cut in small pieces, about 1-inch, and layered on the bottom of the crock so they will start to cook as soon as the liquid heats.

10 Cool Gadgets that Put Money Back in Your Pocket

There is an old marketing adage that insists that for a business to make money it has to spend money. There’s truth in that for business, but when it comes to personal money management don’t count on it unless you have a clear strategy.

That’s exactly what these inexpensive yet handy gadgets offer—clear strategies capable of reducing the high cost of your home’s electricity, water and gas.

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Don’t get me wrong—I am not saying that you cannot reduce your energy consumption without buying a gadget to do it, but the following ten such gadgets sure do make the job a lot easier, which means you’re more likely to carry through to see the net savings!

1. Outlet Sealers. Electrical sockets and switch plates on exterior walls can be hidden sources of drafts that may lead to high heating and cooling costs. Socket sealers are really easy to install and act as a buffer between your home’s inside and the outdoor air, helping to keep conditioned air in and outside air out. The Duck Brand 283333 Socket Sealers Variety Pack comes with 16 outlet sealers, 6 switch plates and 2 decorative covers. About $5.

2. Window Shrink Film. Chilly winter or hot summer weather can send the home heating/air conditioning bill through the roof. But a little insulation goes a long way. You can cut a chunk out of your power bill by making your home your home more energy efficient when you install window shrink film. It’s easy, using a conventional hair dryer with film like you can get in a Duck Brand 281506 Indoor 10-Window Shrink Film Insulator Kit. This particular kit will insulate the equivalent of ten 3’ x 5’ windows for a total of about $7.

How I Book Really Cheap Travel

Recently, while packing up files and expense records, I came across a file for a  business trip that could have been very expensive but was so cheap, I am still amazed.

I traveled from Los Angeles to Denver as the Speaker for the Dept. of Interior Employee Book Forum. I had plenty of notice making it possible to book travel, hotel and car well in advance. Check out these details for how I cut the cost of airfare, hotel and rental care by more than half.

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FLIGHT: I try to keep my travel with the same airline to build up my frequent flier miles and usually that works pretty well. I’ve found that in most cases, AA is very competitive. However, this time cheapest AA roundtrip fare for flights that fit my schedule for this particular trip was anything but reasonable—$755. Wow! At first I was sure I’d made a mistake. But no, that was indeed AA’s best price. I put the reservation on “hold” to give me time to shop around. Most airlines will do this for 24 hours.

I went straight to Kayak.com and input the very same information. Within 30 seconds the site returned many options for the same date, time and destination. The cheapest: $196 roundtrip including all fees and tax on United with one small twist. I would have to depart from LAX (Los Angeles) but return to SNA (Orange County). That’s perfect for me given that at the time I worked closer to LAX but lived closer to SNA. Realizing I was about to not spend $559, I booked it on the spot.

Take the Luck Out of Potluck

I grew up as a preacher’s kid in the era of the all-church potluck, a kind of ritual that took place regularly in the basement of the church. The food was, at best, bland. That is until the advent of Lemon Jello, when things took a decided turn for the worse.

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To this day, I don’t know where it came from, but my father became the proud owner of two 55-gallon drums of lemon Jello powder, divided up into small, unlabeled, non-descript packages. We knew it was lemon Jello because he told everyone that it was. You would have thought the man struck gold for the joy it brought to him. Imagine two gigantic, industrial-strength drums of free lemon Jello.

The assignment for all the church cooks was to take as much of this stuff as they could handle and to come up with amazing potluck dishes using the lemon Jello. Not wanting to disappoint the preacher, everyone (it seemed to me), accepted the challenge.

These people dutifully made lemon cakes and lemon puddings; lemon pies and lemon drinks. The results were not good, even though my father declared each lemon Jello offering to be better than the last. The truth is that no matter how hard these cooks tried, whatever they made with the lemon Jello was not fit for human consumption. 

EC Father’s Day 2016 Gift Guide

Since Father’s Day is a week away and since I have a feeling you’re as surprised by that as I am and since most of us have dads, know a dad or have a dad figure in our lives—once again I’ve taken the liberty of assuming that you might appreciate some help coming up with an awesome Father’s Day gift. And don’t worry—Amazon Prime shipping can deliver most, if not all, of these gifts in plenty of time for the big day.

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BBQ Grill Tools Set. This 16-piece BBQ set is made of sturdy stainless steel construction and just as neat as a pin! if your Dad likes things well organized with easy access—and he’s a man of the grill—this is the set of tools he wants and needs! $42

Nordic Ware 2 Burner Backsplash Griddle. Watch Dad turn the kitchen (or outdoor grill) into a diner for making great breakfasts (lunch, dinner) with this Double Burner Backsplash Griddle. It features a raised edge that allows for easy flipping-whether cooking eggs, meats or veggies and is two burners wide. Ideal for frying multiple foods at once. Drip reservoir in front collects excess grease and oil, and backsplash prevents spillage. Cast aluminum is durable and easy to clean. Made in the USA. $40

Bosch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit. 12-Volt Max Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit with 2 batteries, charger and case. Great power and absolutely the best drill/driver for common household projects. $99.

Get Rid of Crawling Insects Fast and Easy Without Poisons

Got creepy crawly insects like ants, centipedes, cockroaches, silverfish or bedbugs trying to take over your home or garden? Don’t call an exterminator quite yet. I’m confident this is a problem you can fix yourself—cheaper and faster!

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If you want to treat your home for insects, but you don’t want to poison yourself, your pets or the earth, your very best option is to use food grade Diatomaceous Earth to get rid of centipedes, bed bugs, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, fleas and all other household creepy crawlies.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE), an off white talc-like powder that is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton. If you could take a look at it through a microscope you’d see that it resembles shards of glass. When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton (centipedes, bed bugs, ants, cockroaches, bedbugs and fleas do) or placed strategically so that bug crawls into it, the DE cuts into that bug’s exoskeleton, which causes it to dehydrate and die.

Here’s the most amazing thing about DE: It kills bugs but doesn’t hurt mammals. You and your pets could eat it without harm. In fact, many people add DE to their daily diet to promote good health. 

Everybody Needs a Slow Cooker

 

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A slow cooker is an ingenious appliance because it’s simple. It cooks slowly. Really slow—like it takes 8 hours to get a meal ready where other methods can take 30 minutes. But unlike that 30-minute meal, a slow cooker doesn’t require work. It doesn’t need a babysitter. No coddling required with a slow cooker. You can just throw the ingredients into the slow cooker, set it and walk away.

But that’s not all. A slow cooker requires very little energy. It costs on average, 21 cents to run a slow cooker for 10 hours. If you roast a pork roast for 2 hours in the oven instead of using the slow cooker for 10 hours, you would spend $2.51 to operate an electric oven or $1.49 to operate a gas oven. Multiply the low cooking costs for a slow cooker over an entire year, and you will experience real savings.

There’s one more thing: A slow cooker doesn’t heat up the kitchen the way a stovetop or oven can. This time of year with temperatures soaring right along with home cooling costs, that’s a big deal.

Slow cookers are pretty basic. Some have programmable timers, but generally it’s On or Off plus a dial to tell the thing how many hours to cook. Slowly.

Essential Kitchen Tools Everyone Should Own

Whether you’re a newlywed, recent grad moving into your first apartment or perhaps one of the 32% of millennials that Pew Research Center recently reported as living at home with mom and dad—surely the idea of furnishing a kitchen has crossed your mind. I’d love to help you get started.

Here’s the deal: There are a few basic essential tools you absolutely need, without which you are not likely to use that kitchen for more than a place to pile takeout containers. We’re not talking about mountain of stuff—just ten basic essentials to get started.

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1. FIRE EXTINGUISHER. My personal experience makes this an absolute requirement and number one on the list. It was one of those lazy Saturdays. I decided to make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I set the greased skillet over high heat and ran out to the garage to say something to my husband. A neighbor wandered over and we started talking. It was the smoke alarm that caught my attention and sent me flying. In those few moments that pan flamed out and caught the upper cabinet. My kitchen was on fire! The Kidde Fire Extinguisher (about $40) sitting on the counter saved the day. I am still surprised that I knew, almost intuitively, how to use the thing. Grateful.

2. KNIVES. You need good knives that can be sharpened and which you will keep sharp. And if you can find a set that comes with a wooden block and shears, plus at least a chef knife, carving and paring knives and perhaps even a bread knife like this 13-piece set (about $26) that’s exactly what you need.

3. POTS AND PANS. You can go broke on pots and pans or you can go smart with a high-quality basic set like this Cook N Home 12-Piece Stainless Steel Set (about $55). You want to make sure you have at least a skillet, a couple sauce pans and a larger pot for soups and stock. Each piece in this set comes with a glass lid. About $55.