My Pantry: A Black Hole of a Mess

There comes a season for all things and Spring has somehow been named the season to clean. Too bad for Spring. Instead of fun, its claim to fame is work.Overloaded pantry

Well, in keeping with the spirit of Spring, I decided it was long past time to tackle the chaos in my pantry. As you can see from this photo, I’ve managed to ignore this chore for too many Springs. No longer. This year is it.

First thing was to take a trip to the dollar store. There is always an interesting array of baskets and bins that are ideal for organizing untamed stuff. I picked up a dozen assorted items in a lovely lime green and brought them home with pride in accomplishing this much. Secretly, I hoped the elves would come at night and finish the job. They didn’t.

Armed with my new bins and baskets, I faced the pantry and froze. Where do I start? I just didn’t know. There was just too much stuff. I needed an answer for the miscellaneous small items that jammed the shelves, most of which were spices and seasonings. My spice and seasoning organizer was already full and the overflow had no where to go.

The next thing I did was hit the Internet for an over-the-door shelf unit to store those small items. Once that came, I could revisit the pantry. I took out all the loose, small items that were cluttering the shelves and put them on the door unit. Eureka! I Created space. From there, I could move forward.

The next items I addressed were the canned goods. They were sorted into usable categories and stacked into bins. More space freed. Baking supplies were the next to succumb. A basket corralled powders and extracts nicely. Dry beans found a home. Pasta had a place. Things were really coming together.

As things were sorted, I found things that had been pushed to the back and lost for some time. Four packages of dried chilies surfaced from the depths. Only one was opened. Apparently, I couldn’t find them so I bought more. Not a very frugal thing to do.Dried Chili Peppers

I took some of those chilies and made some great enchilada sauce with them. I adapted a recipe from A Dish of Daily Life.

Enchilada Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons flour
4 dried Ancho chilies
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste

Chop the dried chilies into small pieces. (The food processor works well for this.) Set aside
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add carrots, onions, and garlic. Saute until soft. Stir in flour.
Add water slowly, stirring until well mixed. Add the chilies, oregano and cumin. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Puree the sauce in the food processor, a blender, or with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt.
May be frozen.


My pantry isn’t completely finished but it is so much more workable now. I can find things and I’m working on using things I have on hand to further reduce the clutter. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I faced this challenge with only a little fear.

It’s Time to Spring Forward


It’s that time of year again. It’s time to get an extra hour of sleep and change all of your clocks. This Sunday is the start of Daylight Saving Time 2018. Oh, boy! (Yes, that is sarcasm)

The idea can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin. While he was in Paris he enjoyed playing chess until the wee hours and then he would sleep late. He found that the sun streamed into his bedroom window and woke him much earlier than he liked. In a published letter, he suggested moving the clocks forward so that the effect of the sun was minimized . Some of his generation thought this a fine idea and implemented the practice not realizing not realizing that Franklin was writing in jest.

I lived in Arizona for many years. That state is one of the few places in the US that doesn’t participate in the bi-yearly time manipulation that the rest of us have to endure. I miss that.

We don’t have many clocks anymore that require manual setting though my husband has to get the instruction guide for his watch every time. The car is the biggest challenge and is often left alone. The time is right for half the year.Please Drive Slowly

Modern Daylight Saving Time was conceived as a way to better utilize natural daylight in the summer months by shifting an hour from morning to evening. The problem with the practice is that there were no standard time zones until the early 20th century. Time was set locally prior to that and each community might have a different time than the town down the road. Trying to accommodate the differences in time wreaked havoc on railroad schedules. The railroads had to establish their own standard time zones and did so in 1883.

This still didn’t solve the problem as many areas continued to set their own time. In 1918, Congress passed the Standard Time Act which brought the entire country into line with established time zones. The law was a way to normalize the country and also to help conserve the fuel needed to generate electricity. The savings were needed for the war and was set to begin March 31, 1918.

Daylight Savings Time proved to be unpopular and Congress repealed the law in 1919. Local control over time was re-established.
During WWII, President Roosevelt called for year-round Daylight Saving Time, which was called ‘War Time,’ and it lasted from 1942 t0 1945. Localities took control of time again after the expiration.

Daylight Savings Time was done again in the 1970s and studies during that decade showed that the practice saved energy. In fact, one study done by the Department of Transportation found that DST trimmed electricity use by 1% each day. That was significant then but, as the use of air conditioning in homes increased, the savings decreased.rollercoaster

The practice of saving daylight went through some changes. Most of the time it was just altering the start and end dates. In 2007, the US started what we have now:

Spring forward on the second Sunday in March

Fall back on the first Sunday in November

The second Sunday in March is upon us.

DIY Stuffing Mix: Not Just for Thanksgiving

DIY Stuffing MixMy favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the stuffing. Maybe the pumpkin pie, too but mostly the stuffing. The meal is simply incomplete without it. I make a big batch every year and there’s always plenty of leftovers. This is one time I don’t worry about it because not a crumb will go to waste.

Bread stuffing is just too good to only have once a year. There are alternatives to homemade but packaged stuffing mixes are just short of awful, in my never humble opinion. They are loaded with salt and little else. In their defense, they are convenient.

A weeknight dinner doesn’t lend itself to lots of time-consuming cooking in most households. Even in my retirement, when time is not at such a premium, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on dinner. There are simply too many other things to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t want good food. It’s why I love this mix. It takes a couple hours to make but most of that time is waiting for the bread to dry in the oven.

I use the French or Italian bread I find on the clearance racks at the store. It’s usually half the price of a fresh loaf and perfectly good for this mix. Cubing the bread is a little tedious, but worth the effort.

This recipe comes from the book Make-A-Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, & Madeline Westover. If you like DIY mixes, it’s worth the effort to find a copy. I have to admit that mixes fascinate me and I’ve written about them before:

Five Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

The Baking Mix Scoop

The original recipe calls for adding dried onions to the mix. I made them optional in my version because, if I make it for stuffing a chicken or a side dish, I want to add fresh onions to it. If I use it as part of a recipe, then it’s easy to add a bit of dry onion.

Herbed Stuffing Mix

30 slices firm-textured bread, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup cooking oil
3 tablespoons instant minced onion (optional)
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons garlic salt
3/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put bread cubes in two 13×9 baking dishes. Toast the bread in the oven, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
Drizzle oil over bread cubes. Add onion (if using), parsley, garlic salt, sage, and pepper. Toss to combine.
Store in an airtight container. Use within 3-4 months.

The following is straight from the Make-A-Mix book. I’m sure you would only need half of this recipe to stuff a chicken.

Supper Stuffing

3/4 cup water or broth
7 cups Herbed Stuffing Mix
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 onion, diced
4 large stalks celery, chopped

In a large bowl, moisten stuffing mix with liquid.
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Saute onion and celery until tender. Combine with stuffing mix and toss lightly.
Mixture can be baked in a lightly buttered casserole for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

What mixes do you like to have in the pantry? Please leave a comment.

Panzanella Salad for Two

Panzanella Salad for Two

Panzanella Salad is a delicious mix of tomatoes, cubes of crusty bread, and a rich dressing. Does it surprise us that this salad, that has been around since the 14th century, didn’t originally include tomatoes. A previous post about a bit of tomato history is here. It just wasn’t that tomatoes weren’t available in Europe until the 16th century, they were suspect as a food source long after. The first references to this salad described it as a mix of onions and stale bread. The recipe of that time consisted of pieces of bread soaked in water and vinegar and then tossed with any fresh vegetables that were available. Onions have long storage time and were often the freshest produce around. That doesn’t really sound that appetizing but with the reputation of the tomato, who am I to judge?

In the middle ages, bread was a staple of life and a precious resource for families. Most households did not have an oven inside their residence. People had to use the communal ovens in their village to bake bread for their tables. Oven space was finite, so bread was baked only when ovens were available. Couple this with the inability to store the bread well and the loaves often became stale before the next baking day. Panzanella salad is thought to be a way that people of that time used their stale bread so that it wasn’t wasted.

The tomato remained absent from this salad until the twentieth century when availability was increased and superstition was decreased. Not only is this salad a good repository for leftover bread but any fresh vegetables in the refrigerator can be added. So in keeping with the concept of Don’t Toss It-Eat It, use any leftover bread you have on hand, such as, the last of the dinner rolls, the remainder of a loaf of bread too large for your family, or the heels that no one wants. Toast them for Panzanella instead of tossing them.

Panzanella Salad for Two

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

2 cups fresh bread cubes
1 cucumber, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 Bell pepper (any color), diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
2 TBS chopped parsley
1/4 cup Italian dressing
1 TBS lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan[/recipe ingredients]

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread on a baking sheet and bake until crisp. Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Mix lemon juice and dressing. Pour over vegetables and toss until coated. Add bread cubes and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Note: For an extra punch of lemon, add the zest from one lemon to the salad.

Lifelong Learning: You Can’t Escape It

Laptop computer

Life is about learning. Sometimes it may be difficult, sometimes it’s a pleasure but, either way, it’s always about the changing circumstances of life and the education that is associated with that change. If we have to learn anyway, why not do it purposely? The Internet has made that so easy, it’s a shame not to pursue some online learning. I truly believe that discovering new things helps me to develop new skills and enhances my life in ways that might not be evident right away.

Are there benefits to learning? Of course there  is:

Provides an escape and is a good pastime
Reduces stress by giving your mind a mini vacation
Increases confidence
Provides knowledge which is powerful
Improves your mental outlook by helping in goal setting and achievement
Allows for some ‘me time’
Is an opportunity to rediscover past interests
It can be fun to pursue

Some of the best news about learning online is that so much is free to use.

Open Culture: Boasts 1300 free courses offered online.

Open Education Database: This site claims that they have 10,000 free courses to choose from.

Universal Class: My Library card allows me to take classes from this site for free. Check with your local library about this benefit. A long list of universities that offer free courses.

This is just a sampling of sites that offer online courses. There are many more waiting for us to sign up and start learning.

Have you taken an online course? Be sure to leave a comment.

If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons

Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix


1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper


In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix


2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)


Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth

Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots

Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.