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.

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.

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.

Orange Cleaner Revisited Again


I reported some results from the one of the orange cleaners I made about four weeks ago in this post. The recipes for each cleaner are here. This time, I want to report on the fermented cleaner.

This cleaner I diluted 1:8 (1/4 cup solution in 2 cups water). This was the recommendation from one of the websites I looked at for information.

In a side-by-side test, I think the first cleaner won. It’s not that this one didn’t clean things. It did. Both cleaned, but the vinegar seemed to cut through the gunk a micro-second faster. Maybe the solution was too dilute. Perhaps I should use the 1:1 that I did for the first cleaner to get a more accurate result.

I still stand by my story: there isn’t much difference in the results between the 2 solutions.

When You Don’t Have a Maple Tree Handy…

Homemade maple-flavored syrup. Who knew? I ran across this idea in my frugal travels around the internet. It just wasn’t one of the things in my experience database. I don’t remember what we used as a child because I think that pancakes were a rare thing in our house. I do know that, when I grew up, I liked jam on pancakes better than syrup.

My local store carried maple extract in the baking aisle, so I gave it a try. It’s nowhere near the real thing. It tastes fine, easily as good as any of the maple-flavored syrups from the store. (Maybe I’m not the best judge of that, though) It is, however, quick and easy to do and there’s a bit of cost savings, too.

I used brown sugar but if you want a lighter color, use regular white sugar. Most of the recipes I found online used white sugar. One used a combination of white sugar and brown sugar and one used corn syrup as the sweetener. I think any way you do it, it will be good stuff to pour on the pancakes.


Quick Maple-Flavored Syrup

2 cups water
4 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons maple extract

In a non-reactive pan, bring water to a rapid boil.
Mix in brown sugar all at once. Stir until it is completely dissolved.
Remove from heat and stir in maple extract.
Pour into a sterilized jar and allow to stand, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

What’s for Dinner? I Dunno

Sometimes the muse takes a day off. I can stand in front of the pantry or the refrigerator and not see anything to eat, just a jumble of mismatched items.


To get unstuck, I refer to a cookbook or, better yet,

I really like this site. I can lump some of those unrelated things from the stash and they will magically turn into dinner. Well, maybe not exactly like that. What it does is offer a number of ideas on what to do with what you have.

I tried a couple of pairings that I though were unusual. They weren’t, really. Supercook produced recipes that used my ingredients.

Sausage and cinnamon: Sausage and Apple Breakfast Casserole
Carrot, mayonnaise, and chicken: Kung Pao Chicken Wraps

I tried American cheese, lemon and banana but this stumped Supercook. Take out the banana and it found: Ultimate Backyard Burgers. YUM!

It’s fun and knocks the stubborness right out of the muse. That’s a winner in my book.

Versatile Rice Pilaf

RiceNext time you need a quick and easy side-dish, think of rice pilaf. It can be varied to compliment your main dish.

Basic Rice Pilaf

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 can (14.5 ounce) chicken broth

Melt butter in medium sauce pan or skillet with lid. Add onion and garlic, sauteing until tender.

Add rice and stir until all grains are coated with butter.

Add broth. Bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Approximately 20 minutes.

Mushroom  Variation


Add 1/2 cup diced mushrooms with onions.

Broccoli and Cheese Variation


Add 1 cup broccoli florets and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Include 1/4 cup cream with broth.

Spanish Style Variation


Add 1/2 cup chopped green pepper with onions and garlic. Sprinkle vegetables with 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Stir in 1 cup diced tomatoes with broth.