Are the popular “reality” television shows anything close to what you consider reality? Take Survivor, now in its 35th season, for example. To me, that seems more like fantasy than reality.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had to survive on approximately 14 grains of rice per day or think of multi-legged creatures in terms of grams of protein. Still, I think that borrowing a few basic “survivor” attitudes and skills could help us to look at some of the items in our freezers, refrigerators, and pantries a bit differently.

Let’s say that 6-ounce can of tuna in your pantry is the only scrap of protein in the house. You’ve got four hungry people to feed. A trip to the store is completely out of the question (did I mention we’re marooned on a deserted island?… wink, wink). What will you do? What WILL you do?!

That’s exactly the question I once posed to three frugal food experts. Their responses, while varied, prompted me to make sure I have canned tuna on my shopping list as soon as I return to civilization.

Pat Varetto, (former Guide to Frugal Living at says, “I would probably make a tuna pie, using leftover vegetables from the freezer, which I always seem to have in abundance.”

Tuna Pie

Make a simple pie crust and line a baking dish with it. Drain 2 to 3 cups of vegetables (mixed vegetables, beans, corn, peas, and carrots … just about any combination will do) and set aside the liquid. Add tuna to the vegetables (don’t drain the tuna). Add a generous tablespoon or so of cornstarch in a half cup of the vegetable liquid, mix well, then add to the vegetable/tuna mix. Pour into the piecrust and top with more crust and prick in several places. Bake at 350 F. until the crust is slightly browned, about a half hour.

Brenda Ponichtera, Registered Dietitian and author of Quick & Healthy Vol. II (ScaleDown Publishing, Inc.) says of her Tuna Macaroni Salad, “Try this on a bed of lettuce accompanied by sliced tomatoes. A whole wheat roll completes this meal.”

Tuna Macaroni Salad

  • 4 oz. medium-size shell pasta (about 2 cups dry)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 can (6 oz.) water-pack tuna, drained
  • 1/2 cup nonfat ranch-style dressing

Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting salt and oil. Drain. Add remaining ingredients and toss with dressing. Refrigerate until serving.

Here’s what Rhonda Barfield, author of 15-Minute Cooking (Lilac Publishing, 1996) would do with a can of tuna:

Exotic Tuna Salad

Drain the tuna and place in a 2-quart bowl. Add 1 cup diced (canned and drained) water chestnuts, 1 cup seedless red grapes, halved and 1/2 cup celery, diced. Set aside.

In a 1-quart mixing bowl, combine 1 cup Miracle Whip Light®, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Mix well. Pour sauce over tuna and other ingredients. Toss together. Chill. Serve in warmed pita pockets.

Now before you fill my mailbox with “Uh, Mary … I do believe those recipes contain just a few more ingredients than a can of tuna!”, keep in mind I didn’t say that all you had in your pantry was that lonely can of tuna!

Question: What would you do with a can of tuna if you suddenly found yourself and family in survivor mode?

Got stubborn marks and stains on your shower doors that simply will not budge no matter what you try? You’re not the only one.

I’ve heard from readers who say they’ve tried everything from my magic soap scum cleaner to cleaning vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, oven cleaner, muriatic acid, steel wool, Bar Keepers Friend, Bon Ami and other expensive chemicals to get rid of the horrid, ugly, hard water stains and white haze.

While most of the time the Magic Soap Scum Cleaner takes care of the problem, even it cannot touch a severe situation where the hard water minerals have become so embedded, the surface of the glass has become permanently etched.

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Several years ago I met Kathryn and Galen who live in Missouri. At the time, not only were they were drowning in debt; Galen was dealing with a protracted season of unemployment. Their financial situation appeared grim.

I agreed to work with them to set up a plan that, if followed diligently, would get them out of debt and on their way to financial freedom.

Together, we determined that given a scaled-back lifestyle and financial commitments, they were $1,000 short every month—an amount they would have to find somewhere, some how, if this plan were to work.

Never have I seen a couple so committed to getting out of debt. They didn’t complain or expect any pity. Instead, they adopted a “scorched earth” attitude as they became committed to doing anything and everything possible to reach the goal.

Here’s Kathryn’s list of the 25 things they did to find the $1,000 they needed every month in order to stay on track with getting out of debt: Read more

Recently, when one of my staff turned 30, I quipped that I have dishes older than he. It’s true.

Sometime during the late ‘80s, my husband took on the huge task of painting the dark walnut kitchen cabinets white—inside and out. Of course, that meant new hardware and lighting, too. What a transformation. To celebrate I went out and bought new dishes—white porcelain, service for 12.

Those dishes were perfect because they were classic in style, just the right size and super sturdy. Plus they were dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe.

The white dishes became our everyday, special occasion, holiday, all-purpose dinnerware. They went with everything and looked great through every season.

More than 30 years later, nothing has changed there. These dishes have made two major moves, served thousands of meals (at least), and look just as they did back in the 1980s. I just took a quick inventory and find we’ve lost only 4 salad plates in all these years.

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Having reached the level of coffee snob some years ago, I don’t think I’m quite to the level of coffee geek yet, but I continue to work on it. That’s how much I love really good coffee!

As you may recall from previous posts (here and here for example), I’ve been a home roaster for many years now. While my family and I seriously enjoy a good cup of coffee, the real reason I took up this hobby in the first place was not to achieve quality. It was to save money. Excellent quality, gourmet-level coffee is not inexpensive.

The day I spent $19.95 for 12 ounces of Costa Rican, La Minita Tarrazu roasted coffee beans was the day I said this is crazy. There has to be a better way.

It started with 10 pounds of raw green coffee beans purchased from an online coffee dealer and an old hot air popcorn popper. The learning curve was fairly steep, but I caught on quickly.

Within weeks, I was hooked because not only was it fun (in a challenging way), the resulting coffee was to-die-for.

From there, I increased our too-frequent orders to 25 pounds at a time to get a quantity discount. The first time I ordered 50 pounds, I said it again: this is nuts! Why am I not buying directly from the grower? And with that, my husband and I became coffee importers.

Every year or so, we buy a full bag from the La Minita plantation. We’re talking 150 pounds of raw, green coffee at a time. We’ve had to learn the proper way to store coffee—raw beans, roasted beans as well as ground coffee. The goal is to make sure those 150 pounds of beans remain fresh and amazing right to the very last drop.

While there are plenty of myths out there when it comes to storing coffee, here is the simple truth:

RAW GREEN BEANS. Green coffee beans remain fresh indefinitely provided they are kept at room temperature in a dark location. Raw beans need to breathe, so a brown paper bag or burlap bag is ideal. Raw beans should not be vacuum-sealed.

ROASTED COFFEE BEANS. Small-batch roasting is ideal, which means I rarely have more than a pound of roasted coffee beans on hand at any time. Store roasted coffee beans in any container with a tightly fitting lid then keep it in a cupboard or pantry.

Roasted coffee beans are at their peak of flavor within two weeks of roasting. At three weeks, roasted coffee beans become semi-fresh. At four weeks, just OK. Older than a month, roasted coffee beans deteriorate to the point of becoming bitter.

Vacuum sealing roasted coffee beans in a Mason jar extends their useful life considerably—up to several months.

GROUND COFFEE. Ground coffee is the staple in many homes. Just add a few scoops to your coffee maker, and you’re all set, right? That depends on what you consider a good coffee!

As convenient as it is to purchase coffee already ground, it will never taste as fresh as when you grind your own and then brew immediately. Once ground, coffee should be consumed within two hours. If you must pre-grind, store small batches in tightly sealed containers or packets then keep them in a dark place. Remember the clock is ticking. Ground coffee will decline in flavor as time goes by. Air is the enemy, so keep those small containers closed tightly. Once you open a container of ground coffee and expose it to air, use it immediately.

REFRIGERATE OR FREEZE? Never refrigerate coffee—raw, roasted or ground. That creates moisture, which is coffee’s worst enemy, turning it bitter and awful.

Each time you open a refrigerated container you expose it to warm air. When you close it up and put it back in the refrigerator, you’ve created more moisture, which makes for horrible coffee.

I do not recommend freezing coffee, but if you have so much you believe you have no other choice, freeze in small batches in tightly lidded or vacuum-sealed containers. Once you remove a small container from the freezer, just set it on a shelf to thaw. Never refreeze.

Interested in learning the ins and outs of home-roasting coffee? Keep watching as I’ll be sharing my secrets and resources in an upcoming post and very soon!

In the modern day supermarket, an apple is something that never disappears. No matter what time of year it is there will be apples. But does that mean there is still a season for apples? You bet there is and that would be from about August until the start of spring.


Apple season isn’t that difficult to spot. I mean have you been to the market lately? Apples happen to be a great bargain right now. And variety? For snacking you’ve got your Gala, Fuji and Pink Lady, your Red and Green Delicious to name a few. And don’t forget the more tart Rome and Granny Smith, which are ideal for baking.

When you load up on apples starting now but especially come October, which is National Apple Month, you are going to save some dough, and you’re going to save something else, too. Calories! Researchers have compelling proof that three apples a day will get rid of fat. It’s so simple, they say: Three apples, one 30-minutes before each meal. That’s it. Sound too good to be true? There is a medical explanation for why the most common of all fruits can make such a big impact.

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Whether it’s a care package for a college student, a goody box for someone in the military or a way to say Happy Birthday to a friend or relative, there’s nothing like opening a box of fresh, homemade cookies. And if those cookies just happen to be that recipient’s favorite cookies of all time, even better!

Here are tips to make sure your cookies arrive as cookies and not a pile of crumbs—fresh and ready to enjoy.

1. Always cool cookies before storing or packaging into a container. Packing warm cookies allows too much moisture to get trapped inside the package.

2. Certain cookies tend to ship better than others do. For example, do not mail cookies with custard or custard-like fillings or toppings like cheesecake bars. The custard could spoil, making yours a very unwelcome gift. Any cookie that requires refrigeration is not a good candidate for the mail. Read more

As the stories continue to unfold for how people survived and continue now to deal with the ravages of hurricane season, I can’t be the only one questioning my own disaster preparedness.

One thing is certain. Here at the Hunt house, we’d have bread.

For years I’d had something of a love hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never quite master. And that bothered me in the way that little things can.

This would be my pattern: Four out of five tries would flop, then in an act of mercy by the yeast gods I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. But the time involved, the angst, the stress—not much in my life is worth all of that and surely not bread.

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