Caramel Corn, Peanut Brittle and NOTHING About Black Friday

 

While I don’t personally know of anyone who has been camping out in a Walmart parking lot for the last week, I do know lots of people who are storming the sales at malls and stores today. Me? I’d rather be any other place—like Yo Gabba Gabba LIVE! Or maybe in my kitchen stirring up a few batches of decadent Caramel Corn and Peanut Brittle.

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Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the holiday season than with my two favorite decadent holiday treats!

The Most Dreaded Words: “What’s for Dinner?!”

 

DEAR MARY: I have been reading your column and implementing your ideas for years, with varying degrees of success (my fault, not yours). The one thing I bless you for every day is eMeals.

I just subscribed to eMeals at the start of the school year. I am a teacher and have two kids in high school. After 22 years of marriage, grocery shopping had become a dreaded chore. I like cooking, but I hated the planning. My son is a picky eater, which made it even harder.

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My mom always used to write up a menu and make her grocery list from that, so I have always tried to do the same. I even used my local grocery store’s weekly ad to plan my list. It was still something I dreaded.

Using eMeals has completely liberated me. It sounds very dramatic, but I really feel like my chains are gone and I’ve been set free. I just go to the grocery store and buy what is on the list. I prepare the (easy) recipes. If my son doesn’t like it, I say “Too bad! It isn’t my fault – blame eMeals.”

The Best Stocking Stuffer Ever

 

I am so excited. I have the perfect gift to stuff into my husband’s Christmas stocking. Do you recall me telling you what a lousy cook he is? Well, thanks to today’s first tipster’s heads up, he will never have to deal with a sizzling skillet and burned grilled cheese sandwiches again. Just keep it quiet, OK? I want this to be a surprise!

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TOASTER BAGS. I just wanted to let you know that in the bread aisle of some grocery stores, as well as online, you can buy toaster bags. You butter your bread, add the cheese and place in the bag and put it into the toaster (or toaster oven).  The cheese is melted completely and the bread is crunchy. You can wash and re-use the bags. This is great for people (like your husband maybe?!) who need help with cooking. –Jeannie, email

A Burst of Steam and a Cup o’ Joe

 

If you are a regular reader of this column you know there are two appliances that get a daily workout at my house—the coffeemaker and steam iron. Over the years I’ve tested many brands, models and options. My conclusion is that for these two items, price does not always indicate a superior product. I prefer what I call the best inexpensives.

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When it comes to making coffee and pressing clothes, I don’t need or want fancy options. What I’m looking for are reliable workhorses that can get the job done, don’t need to be coddled and keep working well for a long time.

Here are my recommendations for the two best inexpensive coffeemakers and steam irons—any of which would, in my opinion, make excellent Christmas gifts. But then I also happen to be  one who loves to find household appliances under the tree:

Yes You Can Save

 

How’s your health? Not your physical fitness, but your financial well-being. For most of us, how much we earn tells us how we’re “feeling” financially. But your income is only one part of the equation. How much of your income do you actually keep? Not very much, I’ll bet. Your income is low, you say; you’ve got bills to pay. Gas prices are sky-high, grocery costs are through the roof—who can possibly save?

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My answer: You can. Here are simple things you can do today to get going:

SELL OUT. Go through every cupboard, closet and drawer. If you aren’t using it regularly, get rid of it on eBay or have the mother of all yard sales. A typical sale could raise $500 or more when you start to unload your white elephants. There! You’ve cleaned out the house and you’ve got a pile of cash to show for it.

Perfect Soup for a Snowy Weekend

 

I had my first encounter with a can of diced tomatoes when it showed up on my weekly shopping list and not that long ago. Don’t ask which planet I’ve been on when I tell you I truly did not know such a thing existed. Not a big canned tomato fan, I lived my life avoiding that section of the store. If it wasn’t tomato sauce or tomato puree, I didn’t buy it.

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As I’ve told you in past columns, I don’t actually make my own shopping list. I depend on the kindness of others who love to do that and who share their lists with me. Hey, if they enjoy matching weekly sales with manufacturer’s coupons (TheGroceryGame.com and eMeals.com), who am I to deny them that privilege? And I’m adventurous. I’ll try new things, even diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, one of several varieties available.

The first time I bought a can of diced tomatoes, I didn’t really buy it–I acquired it. It was on sale and when the clerk reduced the sale price by doubling the value of the coupon, it was free. How could I pass up a free can of diced tomatoes–with garlic and onion, no less? 

Myriad Uses for Prescription Bottles

 

Dear Mary,

Do you know where I can donate empty plastic prescription bottles?  It seems such a waste to throw them away. Susan H., Tennessee

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Dear Susan,

Call your local veterinarian. Most vets are more than happy to receive cleaned prescription bottles with labels removed for dispensing medicines for animals. Humane societies need bottles to send medications home with newly adopted pets, too. Medical missionaries doing outreach work in poor countries can always use prescription bottles to dispense the medications that come in large quantities. Check with your pharmacist or church to locate a collection program in your area. These little plastic bottles are great for storing sewing machine needles, pins and buttons, for small makeup brushes and change for the laundromat and toll booths. They are the perfect size to to hold salad dressing in a packed lunch. They are great for keeping hooks and other items in a tackle box. Prescription bottles are ideal for storing small beads, garden seeds, pushpins; for carrying aspirin and storing mixed paints for craft and ceramic projects, too.

How to Make a Better Fruit Fly Trap

 

In a recent column I showed you how to make a very effective fruit fly trap. I thought my trap was quite effective because I caught those flies that were driving me nuts. Then I got an email message from reader Betty, who offered a couple of improvements. I immediately upgraded my trap accordingly. So much better.

Photo Credit: suburbanturmoil.com

photo credit: suburbanturmoil.com

DELUXE FRUIT FLY TRAP. I make fruit fly traps and just put apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and mix in  a little bit of dish washing soap. The soap breaks the tensile strength of the surface of the water and the fruit flies sink and drown. No plastic wrap needed.

I have heard of using saran wrap on top of the bowl and poking small holes in the top—apparently they can get in and not out, but I have great success with just the bowl, vinegar and dish soap. –Betty B., email