Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mason Jars

I love mason jars. Something about them is timeless. They make me think of days gone by.

I recently discovered that I had mason jars sitting on my pantry shelf and I didn't even know it! Did you know that Classico Spaghetti Sauce is canned in Atlas Mason Jars? They are great looking jars that can be used for a variety of things. They are perfect for storing extra homemade chicken broth, making from-scratch dressings, etc. I save the Classico lids and reuse them for my personal use. If I want them to look extra pretty, I buy the Ball canning lids and use them with a pretty circle of fabric for an old-fashioned look.

For Christmas this year, I made Southern Spiced Tea Mix and gave it as gifts in these mason jars. I have given away soups in them to friends who are sick. Sugar Coated Pecans look beautiful placed in these with a pretty fabric on the lid. These are very useful and environmentally friendly jars. I feel so much better saving my spaghetti sauce jars rather than throwing them away.

Click here to get a coupon to save $1.00 on ANY 2 Classico® Products (15 or 24 ounces).  If you were to combine this coupon with one of Publix's Buy One Get One Free promotions that they occasionally run on these sauces... you would really get a deal!

Make your own peanut butter!

I love peanut butter! I always have. I think I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every school day ---from elementary school all the way through high school. That is a LOT of peanut butter and jelly! I could have eaten other things, but that is what I wanted. I figure my sweet mother made at least 2,000 sandwiches during my childhood and adolescent years. (Thank you, Mom!)

You might think that I would never want another bite of peanut butter for the rest of my life, but for some reason, I still love it! Years ago, we transitioned from regular peanut butter to all-natural. It was a little hard to get used to at first, but now we won't eat anything else!

The problem: natural peanut butter is expensive. A small jar costs around $3. We literally eat at least one jar a week. That adds up to over $150 per year! The frugal answer: Make your own! It costs much less and tastes much better! Here is the easy-peasy recipe from RecipeZaar:

2 cups roasted shelled peanuts
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted peanuts)

Directions: :
Process all the ingredients in a food processor for 2 to 3 minutes. The ground peanuts will form a ball which will slowly disappear. (be patient... set a timer so you know it has been a full 2-3 minutes) Continue to process until the desired consistency is obtained. For crunchy peanut butter, stir in 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts after the processing is completed.

Homemade smooth (1 cup) or crunchy (1 1/2 cup) peanut butter.

Additional Information:
Store in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator. Oil may rise to the top. If this occurs, stir before using. If you don't like having to stir: turn the container upside down on the counter for about a day: long enough for the oil to work its way through the mixture and back to the top. Turn it upright again and immediately place in the refrigerator.

Gourmet pizza on a dime!

The other day, I saw an advertisement for a menu item called Pita Pizza. It looked delicious!

The pita pizza had marinara sauce and grilled chicken topped with feta cheese, basil & pepperoncinis. It was served on pita bread and baked to perfection with a side salad.

The problem? It costs $8.95 plus tax! YIKES! I started thinking... I bet I could make something like that!

I bought a pack of oat bran pitas. (These are my very favorite pitas ---plus they are whole grain!) A pack of six pitas cost only $1.29. I already had some Classico spaghetti sauce that I bought BOGO (with a coupon of course) the other day. All I lacked was some mozzarella cheese and toppings.

Here is my recipe for the best Pita Pizzas on the planet! (In my humble opinion... : ) )

6 pita rounds (I use oat bran or whole wheat)
2 tablespoons of olive oil (or butter)
1 cup of spaghetti sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese
toppings of your choice (I used turkey pepperoni, whole black olives and chopped sun dried tomatoes)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Warm pitas in the microwave for one minute or until soft. Place all six pitas on a large baking sheet. Brush pita rounds with olive oil or butter, pressing to flatten while spreading. Spoon spaghetti sauce over pita rounds. Top with mozzarella and desired toppings. Place in the preheated oven 8 minutes, or until the pita bread has reached desired crispness. Serve whole or cut into slices. Try not to burn your tongue on the cheese as you eat them hot from the oven. : )

My kids would eat these every single day if I would let them...which I have considered because they are so healthy, cheap, and easy to make! I serve them with a good-sized salad to make a filling and delicious meal.

I estimate it costs around $7 - $8 to make SIX individual pita pizzas with side salads. The best part, each person can design their own pizza according to their likes and dislikes. If we were to go to a restaurant to eat them, it would cost over $50 for six meals! That is a savings of around $45!

Even better than that ---it is SO much easier than making your own dough. It used to take hours to make pizza... now, it only takes minutes!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Looking for a product that makes you look forward to cleaning your home?

How much would you be willing to pay for a product that helped you to enjoy scrubbing your bathtub? If you are like me, it would be hard to name a price! How about $4.99?

Let me introduce you to Mrs. Meyer's ---if you have not already met. : ) Her products are amazing! My all-time favorite is Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Surface Scrub:

Good in more than just the kitchen, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Surface Scrub works on the grimy surfaces in your home. Use Surface Scrub on tile, stainless steel, professional cookware, porcelain fixtures and more. It's chlorine and phosphate free, of course. Made with a naturally safe ash and oxygen bleach.
 We use naturally derived ingredients whenever possible from corn, sugar cane, coconut and palm. When we cannot find a plant-derived ingredient that performs to our rigorous standards, we use ingredients from the world of safe synthetics. These are materials with a long history of safety and efficacy in use for people and the environment they live in.
At Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day, we do our best every day to make our formulations as natural as possible without compromising freshness, and performance. Our fragrances contain natural essential oils and other non-natural ingredients to ensure safety, consistent performance and quality. Our products DO NOT contain ammonia, chlorine or phosphates.
I actually look forward to using this product... which means I look forward to cleaning! When I am finished, my house is sparkly and smells fabulous. It doesn't smell like chemicals, just fresh and clean.

Mrs. Meyer's products cost a bit more than their chemical-smelling counterparts, but they are more concentrated, so (in my experience) they last twice as long. Plus, a few extra dollars is a small price to pay for my cleaning enjoyment!

Make fabulous clothes from recycled t-shirts!

I blessed to win a scholarship to a Weekend Workshop with Natalie Chanin who owns Alabama Chanin clothing line (formally Project Alabama) in March of 2008. The workshop was held in Tuscumbia, Alabama in the fantastic GAS Studio. Here is some information about Chanin from her book and website:
Internationally acclaimed designer Natalie Chanin grew up in Florence, Alabama, learning to stitch from her mother, grandmothers, and aunts. She shares the techniques she and her stitchers have refined to create their handmade Alabama Chanin couture collections from recycled cotton jersey (t-shirt) fabric. Natalie has a degree in Environmental Design from North Carolina State University and works as designer, manufacturer, consultant, stylist, filmmaker, mother, artisan, cook and collector of stories.
I first read about her work in The Birmingham News around a year ago and I have been hooked ever since! Her garments are so incredible and unusual! She takes t-shirts that she finds at thrift stores and recycles or "upcycles" them into couture clothing. Yes, I said couture! (She has been featured in Vogue, Time, The New York Times and on CBS News.) That is the irony of it all. She uses something extremely plain and ordinary like a t-shirt and turns it into a heirloom quality work of art!

The best part of all, she is teaching others the lost art of hand sewing and embroidery. She recently released a book called the Alabama Stitch Book. It shows you step by step how to make these fantastic clothes and other cool stuff with not much more than t-shirts, needle, thread, spray paint and scissors! You don't even need a sewing machine!

She also gives the pattern to my favorite skirt in the book. The same skirt (finished by hand) on her website sells for $1425. Yes that is one-thousand, four-hundred and twenty-five dollars! (It is shown with the same stencil I used for my top. Once you learn the stitching techniques, you will truly appreciate how amazing her work really is and why the price is so high!) If you take out the time it would take to do this yourself, you would save about $1415! The total cost of the supplies is only around $10. Now that is a savings! Plus, it is so wonderful to know you made the clothing with your own hands!

Alabama Studio Style, Chanin's latest book, is now available for pre-order through

Should I buy a special fruit and vegetable wash?

O.K. I gave in. I bought a small bottle of Fit, Fruit and Vegetable Wash. I know. I know. What was I thinking? This tiny bottle was $5.99 and I did not even have a coupon!!!

It was for the children! I had visions of them eating chemicals and pesticides---all because I was cheap and would not buy a bottle of this stuff. How could any loving parent sleep at night?

I have been using this product faithfully for about three weeks now. It does seem to change the look and feel of the food I clean it with. As I was washing a bunch of seedless red grapes, I thought to myself Am I flushing our hard-earned money down the drain (LITTERALLY)? Could I make this stuff myself? Is there something out there that works just as good (that does not cost an arm and a leg)?

I began the Clean Food Saga (as I lovingly refer to it :) ). Here is some information I found about a research study done by Dr. Walter J. Krol from the Department of Analytical Chemistry for The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. I found it to be VERY interesting!

Over the past ten years more residues have consistently been found on raw produce than on the corresponding processed commodities. This led to the hypothesis that certain types of processing or household preparation may serve to reduce pesticide residues. Hypothesizing that rinsing during the processing procedure may play some role in reducing residue levels, we initiated a study to examine the effects that rinsing produce under tap water has upon pesticide residue levels.

Numerous fruit and vegetable wash products recently appeared in the marketplace. Four fruit and vegetable wash products, FIT®, Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean , and Vegi-Clean, were compared to a one-percent Palmolive® solution and to rinsing alone to gauge the effectiveness of these products at removing pesticide residues from produce.

A total of twenty-eight harvests were made including sixteen of lettuce, four of strawberry, four of tomatoes, and four control lettuce batches. Each batch was divided into seven treatment groups. One group was analyzed in an unrinsed state as received from the field; one group was rinsed under tap water for one minute. The five remaining groups were individually treated with either FIT®, Fruit & Vegetable Wash Organiclean, Vegi-Clean, or a 1% solution of Palmolive® and then rinsed under tap water for one minute. In the case of the control lettuce batches all seven-treatment groups were processed in an unrinsed state to ensure that each group contained statistically equivalent pesticide residue levels.

A total of 196 samples were processed. Detailed statistical analysis showed that in all cases at least one group was different from the rest. Pairwise comparison showed that the group that was different was the unrinsed produce. There is little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied. The removal of waxes and/or dirt from the produce was not examined as part of this study.

If you did no take the time to read all of the mumbo-jumbo written above, here is the quick answer: there was NO difference in the levels of pesticide found on the produce! It did not matter if you washed it with any of the special washes or with watered down soap: they had the same effect as washing with plain old tap water for one minute.

The moral of this story is: Don't waste your money on special fruit and vegetable washes! Just sing the "Happy Birthday" song 6 times while you are washing (my scientific analysis on how long a minute really is) or set a timer. It is longer than you think... but, ask yourself as you are rinsing and singing--- Do I have more time, or do I have more money?

p.s. If you are like me and now feel guilty that you are going to be running the water so long while we are still in a drought, here is a recipe for a wash you can make yourself: Put 1/2 vinegar to 1/2 water in a large bowl. Place your produce in the bowl (anything but mushrooms). Let it soak for 5-10 minutes. It comes out clean as a whistle!

Buying Coupons Off Ebay

I just found the most amazing idea.

I am THRILLED about it!

Did you know that you can buy clipped coupons on eBay?

10 of these coupons for only $1.89 on eBay!I just bought 10 BOGO coupons for Schick disposable razors on eBay for $1.89 with FREE shipping! This is fantastic!

They cost about $7.00 a pack. If I redeem all ten by 11/30/08 (the expiration date) I will have saved over $68! (including the cost of the coupons)

This has opened a whole new world of savings for me. So often, I come across a really great coupon in the Sunday newspaper. I know I should go and buy a few more papers, but I never seem to get around to it.

Now, I don't have to! I can just sit in the comfort of my own home and let someone else cut them out and send them to me in the mail!

I got to thinking... somebody is making money off of this. The seller I bought from said this in the listing:

"My coupons are from the Sunday newspaper inserts. Sunday's I buy the papers (usually 200), pull the inserts, sort/count/file the inserts & then photo & list the coupons. Once the orders are placed, I then print, clip & mail your order. This is a very time consuming process. You are not paying for the coupons (they are free), you are paying for my time to provide this service to you."

She buys 200 Sunday papers? My goodness! That is a LOT of papers. From my very rough figures... I think she may be making about $10,000 per year on this venture. Not too shabby for a part-time/work-from-home job!

***Technically, you can't buy coupons online for legal reasons. You are paying for the coupon clipping service, not the coupons themselves. They are "free".

****Personally, I would not buy coupons printed off a computer (many stores will not accept them). I would also not buy coupons from a seller who had a lot of negative feedback.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Make your own edible fruit arrangement!

Gift-giving can be really hard these days, especially for adults. I don't like the idea of giving cut flowers as a gift. They are pretty for a few days... and then they die. I like for things to be a little more useful.

I have given cookie baskets before, but who really wants a bunch of shortbread cookies right after the holidays? Plus, they cost an arm and a leg! There had to be another option. That is when I saw an ad for Edible Arrangements. It looked really interesting and practical. Everyone likes fruit, right? Plus, it is healthy!

It seemed like the perfect plan until I checked the price: The average price for a medium arrangement is around $75! (not including delivery, etc.) Now, that is a lot of money for some fruit on a stick! 

I thought, How hard can it be to make one? Here is what I did:

Step One: Find a container the size and shape that you want. I used a plastic beach pail from Wal-Mart for $.99.(I wanted a beach theme.) The fruit will make it top-heavy so fill the bottom with something heavy. I used some rocks from my backyard

Step Two:
Fill the container with styrofoam found in the floral department. (@ $.99)

Step Three:
Cover all the styrofoam with parsley. (I used curled-leaf Italian.)

Step Four:
If you want to make pineapple flowers, Cut the pineapple about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Use a large cookie cutter to cut out the design. (I found mine at the Dollar Tree in a set.)

Step Five:
Use bamboo skewers as the "stems." ($.99 a bag. I used one large bag.) I left the pointed side up to make it easier to skewer the fruit.

Step Six:
Start adding other small, firm fruit to the arrangement, turning it as you go. You want it to look nice from all sides. Be sure not to poke all the way through the fruit, if it is the top layer!

Step Seven:
Continue filling in with the fruit until it looks even and nice from all sides. You may have to cut the skewers to get different heights. Fruits used: pineapple, strawberries, seedless red grapes, small apricots and small red plums.

Step Eight:
Cover all the empty spaces with flat leaf parsley. I just tucked them in all around the fruit. Tip: Keep this arrangement cool as you transport it. It will stay perfect for a least a day if it does not get too warm.

Total cost of this arrangement was less than $25.00! Can you believe it? I saved at least $50 by doing it myself! I had fun, too!

Plus, the recipient knew I put a lot of love into their gift. That is priceless!