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

How to Pull the Plug on Cable or Satellite

 

Want to put a thousand bucks back into your wallet in the coming year? If you’re paying around $100 per month now, pulling that plug would more than do it and without leaving you high and dry for TV entertainment.

If even the thought of such an extreme measure feels for all the world like losing your favorite binky, I understand. Oh boy do I.

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It’s been three months now since we cancelled our cable TV service, loaded up the cable box, DVR and remote control and dropped them off at the local Time Warner office. While I can’t say we dialed our monthly entertainment costs back to $0, we have reduced the cost by more than $100 a month.

What we had before: Basic cable service including several premium sports packages like ESPN and movie channels. My husband is a sports fanatic, while I approach the level of “junkie” when it comes to cable news.

What we have now: Local free broadcast channels and access to movies, TV and sports that are available live and otherwise, online as well as an audio feed for cable news channels. 

Who Else Could Use a Personal Assistant?

 

Do you have any idea how much money you spend each month to feed your family? Even if you think you know, you may be shocked to learn the truth.

Recently I heard from a reader in Ohio who decided to keep track of how much she spent on food for one entire month. She was all but speechless when she told me it came to more than $850. On food. Now, had she planned to spend that much as part of a carefully charted  budget, that would be one thing. But this is the same person who’d told me previously that she thought that number was more like $450 “at the most.”

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It’s no secret that food costs are skyrocketing. Every week I am amazed if not worried. While we can’t control the cost of food, we can control the ways that we spend our food dollars.

There’s more at play that just the cost of food. There’s the time required to track sales, shop carefully then prepare and cook our meals. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get. I rely on multiple sources, but probably none as much as the online menu planning service, eMeals.com. This is simply genius. Here’s how it works: 

The Art of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

A surefire signal that I’m out of town is the big square burn mark in my best stainless skillet. That’s the tale tell sign my husband has attempted to prepare the one and only item on his repertoire of home cooked meals: A grilled cheese sandwich.

The man doesn’t know how to cook.

His grilled cheese sandwiches are burned on the outside, solid on the inside. Poor guy. When it comes to this basic all-American favorite, Harold does just about everything wrong. He starts with a blazing hot skillet, uses cold butter and unevenly sliced cheese with the thickest parts of the cheese piled up in the middle of the sandwich. This man really needs his wife.

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There’s an art to preparing a perfect grilled cheese sandwich that is crispy, golden brown on the outside, soft on the inside with cheese that is evenly melted. 

Miraculous Solutions for Two of Life’s Little Problems

 

Dear Mary: A red rag somehow managed its way into a load of what used to be white clothes. How can I get the pink tint out of the clothing and return them bright white?

–Anne P., email

 Dear Anne: Three words: Rit Color Remover. Find it where Rit Dye is sold. It’s miraculous.

Dear Mary: I just bought my granddaughter an old (1927) edition of my favorite children’s book, “Heidi.”  It stinks!   Is there any way to get rid of that smell?  Thanks. –Patricia, email

All rights reserved by lorryx3

All rights reserved by lorryx3

Dear Patricia: The minute I read your message I connected with you on two counts: Heidi was my favorite book as a child and I can’t stand that smell of old, musty, mildewy books.

Somewhere along the line this book got left out in the rain or was stored under damp conditions. What you smell is mold.

A Clever Knit Bit and More Great Reader Tips

 

Today’s first tip is going to make my fellow hand knitters wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Is this just the greatest idea ever? I couldn’t wait to share this and other clever tips with you today.

SPIN DRY. I love using a salad spinner as a quick way to get the water out of a knitting project before blocking. Yay, centrifugal force! –Kathleen, Washington

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CARPET CLEAN-UP. Baby wipes get every stain you can imagine out of carpet! I use Pampers Natural Clean(unscented). This works on coffee, chocolate and even blood stains. Baby wipes are cheap and it takes about 2 seconds to remove the stain. Example: My little boy fell and cut his head, leaving blood spots on the carpet. He’s fine, but the carpet suffered. When the carpet cleaning service couldn’t remove the spots I decided to hit them with a baby wipe. It was amazing. My mom had 11-year old stubborn stains on her carpet and the wipes took them out, too. Baby wipes are my carpet spotter of choice because they’re so easy to use. –Annette, Pennsylvania