World-Class Gourmet Pasta on a Shoestring

A popular restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., Hugo’s, has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, “Pasta Mama.” The first time I heard about it and what’s in it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get it. But they do, saying, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

021315

I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is. But I don’t drive the 40 miles to Hugo’s to pay $12.25 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead I make it myself, from scratch. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about $1.50. At that price you have very little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it. In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

Help! My Fine Linens Have Rust Stains

Dear Mary: Please advise how to remove rust spots from white cutwork linen pieces. I have no idea where these came from but would love to remove them. Thanks. Frieda H., California

021215image

Dear Frieda: Provided these are washable, soak the spot with lemon juice then work table salt into the spot. Set it out in the sun for a few hours. Brush the salt away. If any stain remains, repeat. Once the stain is gone, launder as usual.

Dear Mary: I can’t keep lettuce in my refrigerator for more than two days without it turning rusty. I’ve tried everything, Tupperware containers, washing and putting paper towels in bag with it, not washing until using. Even though the date on the package is good for at least 5 days after opening I end up throwing it away before that time. Am I the only one who has this problem? Pat

Dear Pat:  “Rust” on lettuce leaves is harmless. It develops from the natural breakdown process in the cells once it is harvested and isn’t rust at all, as we think of it. This rust-color indicates old lettuce. If this is happening on dated package greens, return it to the store for a refund. When selecting head lettuce, look at the “stem” area where the head was cut from the stalk. If it is bright white, you know it’s very fresh. If it is rust color, it’s getting quite old. Select the head that’s closest to white for your freshest choice.

Backpacks That Wear Well and Look Good, Too

Have a messy outdoor job you need to tackle? How about those crummy, cheap backpacks that don’t even last through the school year? Today your fellow readers have tips for how to deal with those annoying problems and so much more!

021115image

BACKPACK SOURCE. My sons had terrible problems with backpacks. Even the expensive ones would not last an entire school season. Then one day we went into the Army/Navy surplus store. We found military backpacks (rucksacks) that wore like iron! In fact, the boys carried them for years—all the way through high school. And, they thought they were very cool. Carole

TRASHY APRON. If you have a particularly dirty job to do like cleaning the outdoor grill, taking down dirty window screens or hosing down the patio furniture before storing away for winter, make yourself a disposable apron: Take a large garbage bag, cut holes for your head and arms and slip it over your clothes. You may look a little weird, but you’ll protect your clothes and save yourself a lot of time and trouble later. Roy

STORAGE DESIGN. If your storage space is limited and you have to stack several boxes on top of each other, make a diagram on an index card and keep it in a handy place. When you go to look for something you’ll know exactly where it is. Store items towards the front that you’re more likely to use often with less-used items at the back. Lucille

Weird Ways to Earn Money on the Side

Recently, while brainstorming with a reader who needed to supplement her regular full-time job, I made a quick list of the ways I’ve done that in my life. I wanted to help her discover what she does well that others might pay her to do for them. 

11941179_m

PROCESS SERVER. I worked as an independent process server for a company that attorneys hire to have subpoenas delivered in their civil cases. Whenever I had a couple of hours to spare, I’d pop into the office, pick up a stack of subpoenas and head out to attempt to “serve” unsuspecting defendants in civil law suits.

My mission was to locate the defendant then address said person by name (Laura … Laura Smith?). By law, I was required to make sure I had eye contact, wait for that look of “knowing” and then hand off the document. Even if the person refused it, turning to walk (run?), I could legally assert that I had completed the mission.

The best part? I got paid $35 per attempt to serve. That means if I knocked on the door and no one was home, attempt complete and back into the stack that document would go for a future attempt. I could easily “attempt to serve” two or three subpoena’s per hour. The attorney service company I worked for loved me because I was available at odd times, like late at night or early on a Saturday.

Process servers are legally required to serve papers in the correct manner laid out by their state. Process serving laws differ by state. But basically, if you are an adult, have not been convicted of a crime and can engage strangers in a warm and friendly way, you too could be a process server in your spare time.

PIANO TEACHER. I got started young at age 15 as a student teacher in a music academy. I loved it—not so much the teaching, but the $5 per lesson. My little students did well and soon I was teaching on my own, at home after school. Teaching private piano lessons was the way I paid my way through college. At one point I had 72 students, giving each one a 30-minute lesson per week.

The Mystery of Hair Conditioners

Considering the huge reader response on a past article on how to know which cheap shampoos are actually good for your hair, it seemed only right to follow with a similar piece on conditioners. Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.

20761154_m

First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems.

Conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.

Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with my industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.

Let Us Eat Cake!

What do Pat Benatar, George Foreman and I, your humble columnist, have in common? We share the same birthday.

photo credit: veryval

photo credit: veryval

I only know this because someone gave me a 797-page book titled simply, The Portable Book of Birthdays. Good thing too, or I’d never have known that Pat, George and I have socially savvy personalities and a keen ability to promote our ideas and to get what we want. We are intelligent, easily irritable and need constant emotional stimulation, too.

While the book doesn’t mention our favorite birthday cake, I feel confident in speaking for the three of us when I say that without a doubt it is coconut cake. But not just any coconut cake. It has to be 3-Day Coconut Cake that is so delicious it will knock your socks off no matter when you were born. But first a small explanation.

The recipe that follows calls for “frozen coconut.” As many times as I have made this cake (I wonder if Pat and George make their own birthday cakes) I have yet to find such a thing where I live in California. I’ve looked everywhere, asked store managers and anyone else who might be handy. No where to be found. I do understand, however, that frozen coconut is readily available in other parts of the country in the grocery frozen food case. Someone suggested recently that I try an Indian market and I will do that as soon as I, well, locate an Indian market. In the past I have tried fresh coconut with excellent results, but it was a real pain to crack, pry, smash, break, drain, peel and grate. So, I will continue to use Angel’s grated sweetened coconut that comes in a bag and can be found in the baking aisle of any food market.

For the Love of Coffee

I used to get so much mail, it would arrive in long plastic trays. Some days I’d get more than 10 trays, each one holding hundreds of individual pieces of mail.

U.S. Postal Service Proposes Cutting 120,000 Jobs

Twenty years later, that kind of mail has dwindled to only a few pieces each day, but don’t assume that means my mail has slowed. It has changed from physical letters to email. You should see my inbox!

I can’t say that I miss all the trays, the trips back and forth to the post office and all of that paper. I still get just enough of your lovely handwritten letters each week, which I enjoy so much—letters like this one that just showed up on my desk:

Dear Mary: My homemade vanilla gifts for Christmas 2015 are all ready to go—they just need precious time to steep and age. Thank you for the recipe, instructions and links to the bottles and beans. Feels so good to be done this far in advance. Now I have another situation. Today our coffee maker went to the land of dead coffee makers, which means we’re in the market for a new one. What do you recommend? Carolyn

photo credit: lotzman

photo credit: lotzman

Tips to Outsmart Retailers’ Clever Tricks

I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop. Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with mood lighting and cushy chairs.

020415image

I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more of my hard-earned money. Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark? I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.

That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more. Retailers hire experts like Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy, and his company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on video, observing their every move. Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and more.