If you think eating well means eating out, you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your pocketbook as the price of restaurant meals continues to soar.

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The truth is if I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those in a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.

For many years (long before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin. Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So easy! Tasty, too.

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Recently, I received a heartbreaking letter from one of my readers, which resulted in back and forth messages. She’s given me permission to share our conversation.

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DEAR MARY: I have been a Debt-Proof Living member for more years than I can remember. I own every book that you have written. Sadly, I ignored your advice about how easily thieves can steal your debit-card information and use that to hack into your bank account.

Recently, we went on a cruise. Not wanting to use a credit card for our travel and vacation expenses, we carefully set aside the cash we would need in our checking account. Much to my horror, five days prior to departure I discovered that someone had stolen our personal and private information and used it to get into the account, totally draining every last cent. We couldn’t even buy groceries, let alone pay for the cruise. When will I learn? Just call me Learning the Hard Way

DEAR LTHW: Oh, I am so sorry. Where do you bank and have you reported this breach? Please don’t beat yourself up. We all learn from our mistakes, and I’m sure this is an important lesson you will not have to learn a second time.

DEAR MARY: Our bank is Regions Bank in North Fort Myers, Fla. The employee we worked with advised us to file a police report, which we did. She also provided us with information on what to do when your identity is stolen. Knowing that we were planning to leave on a cruise, she jumped through hoops to see that the bank replaced the money in our account. I can’t say enough good things about this bank. And you are absolutely right that this is a lesson that I won’t have to learn twice.  LTHW Read more

When it comes to furniture, it’s difficult to find anything more luxurious and elegant than fine leather. With that elegance comes the challenge of keeping leather clean and well-maintained so that it gets even better with age.

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Improper attempts to clean fine leather can result in permanent damage, a little something I do know about from personal experience.

To get started, determine the type of leather you’re working with. Typically, this information will be found on the tags that were attached or the brochure you were given when you acquried it. This written information will generally provide tips on cleaning your specific furniture. If you can find this, follow those guidelines and instructions (in which case you probably do not need what follows).

Most leather furniture these days uses top-coat protected leather, which is usually safe to clean by following these suggestions:

VACUUM. You need to remove all the loose dirt, dust and debris from the item to be cleaned. A vacuum with the soft brush attachment is the best option as it will get into the seams and crevices. Be gentle, though. Leather is delicate and you don’t want to scratch it as you are vacuuming.

TREAT STAINS. Before you do a general cleaning, you want to treat and hopefully remove, any stains on the leather. Read more

Exhausted overworked woman just scrubbed floor on hand and knees

 

DEAR MARY: I live in Florida and LOVE your blog. I look forward getting it in my email inbox every day. My question: What is the best tool, machine or method to clean tile? I have a lot of it. Thank you, Alice

 

DEAR ALICE: The best as well as the cheapest method for getting all of that tile clean and sparkly is to get down on your hands and knees and scrub it hot water and mild soap, then rinse it several times until the rinse water comes up completely clean. Then dry it with a clean, soft cloth until it gleams. Were you looking for a more realistic method, given that you have a lot of tile? Well, I’ve got you covered. I’m not suggesting the hands and knees method because if I won’t do it myself, I wouldn’t expect you to.

The problem with any type of flooring is that dust and dirt (sometimes so fine you can not see it until you remove it) get ground into every time you walk on it. You can’t feel it necessarily, or as I said, even see it. But over time that wears on the finish causing the floors to look dull and dingy.

Once a week you should vacuum the floors well to get up loose dirty and debris. Then every two weeks, clean and scrub the floors with an excellent cleaner and a good mop that cleans and wipes the floor nearly dry in a single effort. Here’s the recipe for the best floor cleaner ever: Mix one part rubbing alcohol to four parts distilled water plus a few drops blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. Mix this up in a spray bottle each time you clean the floors. Or if you make it up ahead, be sure to label it well and keep it out of the reach of children.  Read more

DEAR MARY: My friend, (anyone who has helped me so much I consider a friend ), I was wondering, as a result of my wife asking, is there a way to fragrance the homemade laundry detergent? I have made a couple batches now, and the wife doesn’t want to use it because it does not sweeten the scent of clothing.Thanks much for all you do for us “cheapskates” (I prefer “frugal” myself).  Sincerely, Steve.

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DEAR STEVE: You can add a few drops of essential oil to the detergent to leave a wonderful subtle scent on your clean laundry. Lemon is a good option, so is lavender. You can get essential oils at crafts stores, health food stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts or online. Expect oils to be a little pricey. A little goes a long way so even a tiny bottle will last a long time.

Another option (cheaper) is Downy Unstopables Fresh In-Wash Scent Booster. You can find this product that comes in a variety of scents in the laundry aisle of your supermarket or online. I use this from time to time, especially for guest room linens. But go easy with it. The container suggests you use a lot more than I find necessary to leave a nice scent. Just toss a small handful into the washer (not the dryer) with the clothes. Works great! Read more

Seasoning packets from the supermarket may be convenient, but they have drawbacks—not the least of which is they’re expensive! I just checked Lawry’s Taco Spices and Seasonings—$1.89 for one packet! I just hate to pay that much for so little. And I don’t have to because I’ve got a great recipe to make taco seasoning mix myself, using ordinary spices I have already.

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The recipe that follows is for the amount of seasoning you would find in the typical supermarket seasoning packet. This recipe makes about 4 1/2 tablespoons of mix.

While you could make the amount you need as you need it, a better idea is to make a bunch while you’re at it, then keep it tightly sealed in your spice rack. It’ll come in handy more times than you can imagine. The recipe multiplies well.

Enjoy this simple mix and two recipes that follow, for Tacos and Enchiladas. Yum!  Read more

When it comes to kitchen appliances, nothing says modern and sleek like a beautiful new electric smoothtop ceramic or glass cooktop. 

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While a smooth top beats a coil element type cooktop in the style department, it requires a different kind of proactive care to keep it looking good while at the same time preventing discoloration and scratching.

WHAT NOT TO DO. With smoothtop cooktops, it’s all about prevention. If you think of your cooktop as a delicate possession that requires your utmost protection, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Do not use cast iron or stone cookware on a smoothtop cooktop or range. Period. The bottom of these types of cookware can be rough, even gritty like sandpaper. Any movement on that cooktop can leave permanent scratches.

Do not drag heavy pots on the cooktop. Always lift to another area of the cooktop to reduce the risk of scratching. Read more

DEAR MARY: For years I made fun of one of my best friends because she made her own laundry detergent. She raved about how much money she saved and how she shared it with her daughter and daughter in-law. She went on and on about how the three of them would to get together and make laundry detergent and have such a great time.

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I would say to her that I had better things to do with my time than to make laundry detergent.

Recently, she and I and our husbands got together for a fun weekend. When I complained about my new LG washing machine and how it didn’t get my clothes as clean as my old Maytag, she started in again about her homemade laundry detergent. Once again, I said, “You have got to be kidding me!”

When I got home I came across your new and improved recipe for homemade laundry detergent. In a weak moment, I decided to try it. And I went a step further—I even substituted white vinegar for my regular liquid fabric softener.

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