Monday, October 31

Halloween Makeup

Not Kandee, but the same idea
Hello All - Happy Halloween!

Probably by now, everyone who's "doing" Halloween has a costume ready to go, but if you're not dressing up but wish you could do a little something (or maybe starting to plan for next year already), I thought I'd pass along a great resource:
Kandee Johnson's youtube channel.

Kandee is a makeup artist and does amazing things with makeup! Everything from the Chesire Cat and Queen of Hearts to spider webs and gothic eyes - if you need a fun makeup look for any holiday or a night out, check out her tutorials!

Sunday, October 30

A Year With Jesus

Using the NIV translation, author R.P. Nettelhorst has put together a devotional that is both simple and direct. Each reading consists of a short passage of scripture featuring Jesus' own words followed by a brief reflection or insight on what the passage teaches us. Readings are grouped by theme: love and hate, truth and lies, etc. Each reading is a single page long.

Each reading was only a page long, making it accessible to devotional times fit into a tight schedule. I liked the grouping of readings by theme and that each reading was focused on Jesus' own words, which might increase the range of people interested in reading the book.
A few drawbacks: the themes were loose, lacking the depth and organization of the mini-studies they had the potential to be. The reflections were accurate and sometimes quite interesting, but most lacked any hard-hitting or inspirational messages likely to give you anything to chew on. There were no additional related verses or resources to read if something spoke to your heart, and no interactive questions or activities to prompt prayer or discussion.
Great for someone seeking simple, quick to do devotions, or those studying the words of Jesus. Ultimately less satisfying for those seeking a serious devotional to engage with, however.


Do you have a B.H.A.G. ? 

(If, like me, you'd never heard of that before, check out It's Not About the Coffee by Howard Behar.) It stands for :


I still have goals and dreams on the brain from a Mary Kay retreat I went to a couple weekends ago, so when Behar started talking about how essential it is to have goals that stretch us and speak to our souls I was right on his wavelength.

Most people won't start thinking about goals under New Years when they're feeling exhausted, fat and blah from too much partying, too much snow and spending too much money.

Really, isn't that a terrible time to set goals? Consider taking some time to evaluate your goals in the next couple weeks.

If you could do anything and know you wouldn't fail, what would you do? What is most important to you right now? Does your life reflect that? Honestly?

As someone who's done some serious goal re-evaluation and priority alignment recently, can I encourage you to make the first step towards changing whatever you may need to right now?

The holidays are coming. A time of magic and family and hope and joy. Wouldn't you rather spend them with priorities in focus and launch yourself into next year with fresh optimism and momentum?

Do you dream vibrant dreams?

Saturday, October 29

Out of the Mouth of Dilbert...

Such truth, so clearly stated. Does anyone else ever feel like this the approach our government likes to take to things?

Strangled by Ribbons

Once upon a time, there were yellow ribbons. (Remember the song?) They stood for supporting the troops. That's good, right? Nice, simple idea.

Until we blinked and they started breeding like tribbles.

Now it seems that every time I turn around, there's yet another ribbon for one more cause. Solid colors were run through quickly, most carrying as many as three meanings even after being split into gradients (like violet). The newest ones were forced to become ever more complex - stripes, patterns, puzzle pieces. Some have gone to the extreme measures of being worn upside down to differentiate themselves! (Don't believe me? Check out one of the many charts explaining them all.

At the risk of sounding judgmental, the whole thing has really gotten rather ludicrous. For example, there is discussion about using purple ribbons with white polka dots to represent anti-bullying awareness...

Really? Does anyone actually believe that bullying is an independent problem that can somehow be solved without addressing the root issues? (Which, by the way, are often the same or highly correlated root causes for half a dozen other problems, each with its own ribbon: suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, self-injury, hunger, diversity, religious tolerance and terrorism to name a few.)

I'm not against ribbons, per se. When used to open conversation opportunities about a topic close to one's heart, they can serve a purpose. But I think that collectively they tell us something important about ourselves and our nation: We're getting tangled in our underwear.

Isn't that a great phrase? I encountered it in Howard Behar's book It's Not About The Coffee. It refers to getting lost in the details and trivial minutiae of a task and losing sight of what really matters - the people involved and the big goal. Understandably, sometimes this happens by accident and we just need a friend to give us a little kick and help us refocus.

Other times we do it on purpose; it is the ultimate avoidance mechanism. How can you work on something without actually having to do the hard, painful or scary stuff it would take to be successful? Dig in to the unessential detail work! You'll look impressively busy and go absolutely nowhere.

What if we just bit the bullet and got to the point? Our favorite causes don't need us to sport their ribbons or toss a few dollars into the pot during the annual appeal. They need us to use our backbones and common sense in every day life.

Live with character and by a solid moral code. Train up your children (or any children you have the privilege of influencing to do the same. Reach out and help your neighbors. Listen to others more, and talk less. When you do talk, say positive, constructive things.

(Need more ideas? Go read Patrice Lewis's book.)

Okay... now that I've ranted, what do you think? Would common sense and a return to good values solve most of America's problems?

Thursday, October 27

Bad Ideas Well Marketed

I've signed up for a couple e-newsletters recently in hopes of better staying up on what's happening in the local community. It's been a highly educational endeavor. 

Take this headline for example, from the October 13th edition of the Chamber of Commerce's newletter: "Schenectady Initiates"

This modest little article appears, at first blush, to be of only minor concern.

"[The mayor] announced the initiation of 911ai. provides personal "additional information" to dispatchers and first-responders during a 911 emergency... residents are now able to preregister information such as medical conditions, room locations, medication lists and emergency contacts by simply opening an online 911 account. That information is then available to first responders during an emergency."

It even has warm-fuzzy quotes about the noble intentions of those leading the initiative.
"The speed of response can make the difference between life and death in a medical emergency... Information provided by 911ai can provide the precious seconds that make that difference... 911ai technology enables [the identification] of each phone in [a building] enabling emergency responders to go directly to the location the emergency call was placed."
By that point the little alarm bells in my brain were starting to crescendo. Perhaps it's only paranoia, but does anyone else see cause for concern in private citizens sharing such intimate details with the government?

Isn't it a bit ironic that parents aren't allowed to access their children's grades, but anyone in a municipal government service position could have free access to the floor plan of your house, your medical history and the private phone numbers of your friends/family?

I understand their point - I really do. They want to help save lives, and with people routinely on multiple medications these days things that goal is getting more complicated all the time.

And it's voluntary, after all. No one has to participate.


Still, it seems that the public should be a little more wary of handing out such deeply personal information. Once you surrender your right to privacy, there is no way to be certain who will or won't see that information and to what ends they might use it.

As I discussed months ago in this post"The greatest harm can result from the best intentions." We, as Americans, have a duty to think critically and not readily hand over our rights and responsibilities to others just because they offer to take them or market their ideas in an attractive package.

What do you think? Am I paranoid or justifiably skeptical?

Wednesday, October 26

10 Ways to Get Free or Discounted MK Product

The holidays are coming and most people I know are looking at tight budgets this year. With that in mind, I thought I'd offer some hints and tips on how to get Mary Kay products for discounted prices - or even for free!

Most of these options will work year round, and some may even work with your consultants from other direct selling companies. Availability and impact will vary depending on your consultant, of course, but if you don't ask you'll never know!

  1. Host a Party.  Nobody wants to make their friends feel pressured to buy stuff, but if you plan ahead this can be a great option! Time your party when you know people will need to buy gifts or products anyway - Christmas, graduation, or season changes (sunscreen for summer, etc). It was money they were already going to spend, and now you get credit to spend yourself! Or consider comparing Christmas shopping lists with friends and agreeing to each host a different party (Mary Kay, Candlelite, Pampered Chef) so you can do your shopping early and in style!
    PS - Did you know you can host multiple parties in a year? Throw separate parties with family, girlfriends and coworkers and keep yourself in product all year round!

  2. Be a Silent Hostess. Not the party type? Ask about silent hostessing (or "book parties"). Grab a catalog and some sales slips and pass them around at work or your kids' sports practices. It's quick, easy and you still earn free product!

  3. Take advantage of gifts with purchase. Most Mary Kay consultants offer a free gift with any order over $40. Instead of buying one item at a time, try saving up and buying two or three together so you qualify - this is a great way to get to try new or trendy products for free!
  4. Ask to be on the Preferred Customer List.  This is a great way to get picked to try new products in return for your opinion or to qualify for discounts and specials.

  5. Take advantage of specials! You may not need mascara when your consultant is running a BOGO special, but if you know you'll use it take advantage of the chance to buy a couple! It sounds simple, but it can save you plenty.

  6. Offer to Help with Challenges. Most consultants get specific challenges from time to time, and they usually come with special deals for the customers who help them out. Get your name on the short list to participate!

  7. Be a Recruiter. You might be one of those people who "would rather eat grass and mud" than do direct selling, but that doesn't mean you won't meet people in the course of everyday life that you think would be amazing at it. Refer them to your consultant! Most have awesome free product bonuses for recruiters.
  8.  Participate! Every time you go to an event or a party, participate! Asking questions, volunteering to let yourself be the model or playing the game with a smile almost always earns you prizes and product. You're there anyway - why not have fun?
  9. Become a Consultant. Ask your consultant (or their director) to run some numbers with you. Depending on how much product you use and how much effort you're willing to put in to save money, it might be worth it to become a "personal use" consultant. This definitely isn't for everyone, but it's worth asking about.
  10. Trade for it. Direct selling consultants like to save money, too, you know! What do you have or know how to do? See if you can set up a barter system for at least some of your items. For example, my neighbor is a hair stylist and can get the really expensive shampoo I love (but usually can't justify buying) for a huge discount. So we swap expensive salon shampoo for awesome Mary Kay makeup! We both save money and walk away happy. Not all consultants will do this, but it can't hurt to ask. 
Which of these looks like it might work for you?

Tuesday, October 25

MSG : A Survival Guide

Allow me to introduce to you the latest evidence that big things really do come in unassuming packages: Battling the MSG Myth by Debby Anglesey.

Little more than a simple, spiral bound volume full of block text at first glance, this book is a powerhouse of user-friendly and life changing information.

MSG is quite possibly the most difficult food additive to avoid, despite the serious nature of its harmful effects for three reasons:

1. The FDA has officially ranked it as "safe" so no warning labels are ever issued for it and food service staff are not trained on how to identify it.

2. Dozens of ingredients contain MSG, making it difficult to recognize even for those actively looking for it. In addition, recipes and ratios can change in ways not reflected on labels between batches and production runs, so it is nearly impossible to determine the actual msg content of any given product.

3. Much like Celiac disease, MSG sensitivity presents itself in a wide variety of symptoms, many of which are non-specific or indicators of other diseases as well. Since people continuously consume MSG, it can be nearly impossible to track the cause or source of their ailment. Many people suffer for years before identifying the problem; many doctors will not even diagnose MSG sensitivity because of the FDA's "safe" ruling on the substance.

The author maintains an informational and support website on the MSG Myth that's well worth checking out, and the book is available from the site and from Amazon.

Disclaimer: My only caution in recommending this book is that, like all of us, the author has focused on the primary food hazard for her: msg. The recipes she provides sometimes use white sugar/ flour and other ingredients that may be a problem for those of us for whom sugar or gluten may be primary concerns.

As always, it behooves readers to appreciate an author's truth and passion and to read with the understanding that application of that truth to their own lives may look somewhat different.

Falling Off the Wagon

If it isn't abundantly clear by now, I've missed several days of my intended 31 Days to Building a Frugal, Functional [Real Food] Kitchen. Oops. Oh well.

Life has been a little busy and blogging ended up at the bottom of the To-Do List. (If you know me, you know I compulsively keep a multi-page to-do list.)

Hopefully over the next couple days I'll have a chance to post on some of the things that made me too busy to get to blogging last week, share some great new things that I've found recently and cover the best of the remaining ideas I'd intended to cover in wrapping up my Real Food themed month.

In the meantime, I would like to offer you the same reminder I'm giving myself today: it isn't even quite Halloween yet. We all know that life speeds up exponentially once November 1st hits - so make time THIS WEEK to enjoy the beauty of fall!

(Need some ideas? Check out this adorable Fall Bucket List from Katie @ Loves of Life!)

Friday, October 21


Today's Functional Friday Topic :OAMC

When I first encountered OAMC, it was a just a strange tag I noticed tacked onto recipes I was seeing on my favorite online recipe site.

When I looked it up, however, I was surprised to find that it wasn't a new or complicated idea at all - it was just a different name for something I'd seen my mother do for years! Once A Month Cooking is the practice of big-batch cooking and freezing of meals for easy reheating later. I've seen it done quite successfully in individual portions (great for when people have widely varied schedules or diverse dietary needs) and as family-sized meals (a great alternative to bringing home a bucket of KFC or picking up subs).

OAMC is not for everyone, but it does have some clear benefits:

1. Real food ready in less time.  Having been pre-cooked, OAMC meals just need to be reheated which means that there's no prep (and therefore no prep dishes to wash later), so food can be popped in the oven the instant you walk in the door. By the time everyone has put their stuff away, washed up and set the table, you're good to go! This is a great way to save money and still eat real food together as a family.

2. It's easy to keep track of what you have. No more getting elbow deep in a recipe only to realize you're short a key ingredient. One quick glance in the freezer tells you exactly what you've got and you know it's all there, ready to go!

3. Less grocery shopping and less food waste. Since you do a lot of cooking all at once, you can do a single run to the grocery store for everything you'll need for several weeks worth of meals. Prepping and cooking everything the same day or within a couple days of the shopping run means nothing gets shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten or accidentally goes bad before you get to it.

4. Convenience. When everyone in your house seems to be on a different schedule and a different diet, pre-cooking and freezing individually portioned meals can go a long way towards keeping the peace while maintaining budgets and waistlines! Make two or three meals each person really enjoys and divvy them up in small containers.

Whether you find OAMC a good fit for you or not, I strongly recommend that everyone keep at least two meals worth of pre-prepped frozen food in your freezer. Life sneaks up on us all - new recipes flop, schedules get out of whack, appliances go on the fritz. On stressful days when your best plans have fallen apart, there's very little as comforting as knowing that you can grab one of your backup meals from the freezer, slide it in the oven (or on the grill) and have at least one thing done with ease and no time at all!

Has OAMC worked for you?

Thursday, October 20

The Other Half of the Equation

So far this week, we've done a lot of talking about grocery shopping. Now it's time to tackle the other half of the food equation: menu planning.

Don't panic - there is no single "right way" to handle menu planning for your household, so I'm not going to tell you that you've been doing it all wrong! Instead, I'd like to encourage you. If menu planning is something you've struggled with, give yourself permission to start today with a clean slate.

How people plan menus changes repeatedly over time, and different styles work for different people. The best place to start is an honest examination of yourself and your current lifestyle. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I a planner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants personality?
2. Do I (or does my family) have a fairly consistent meal schedule?
3. Are there any serious allergies or dietary restrictions in place in my home?
4. How often do I want to shop?
5. How much storage space do I have for food (frozen and dry)?

If you're a planner, someone with a pretty consistent routine or someone with serious allergy concerns in the house you'll likely benefit from a more methodical, specific system. Listing what meals you intend to have each day in weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly cycles will help you stay organized and limit the need to run to store.

If you're more a what-am-I-in-the-mood-for personality or have a variable schedule, OMAC (more on that tomorrow) or a generalized meal plan may work better for you. Setting par levels for primary, partially prepped ingredients (chicken breasts, rice, fish, frozen veggies) can ensure you always have what you need on hand to whip up healthy meals at home on short notice or to match your mood.

Those who live far enough out that shopping regularly is inconvenient or for people dealing with serious space limitations (studio apartments, for example), may find that they need to adapt their habits and routines primarily to cater to those factors.

Check back tomorrow's for Functional Friday feature to find out about OAMC and how it might help you with your menu planning!

How well is your current meal planning system working for you?

Wednesday, October 19

360* Leader by John Maxwell (Book Review)

Speaking with the wisdom and compassion of someone who's been there, John Maxwell focuses in his latest book on how the lead when you're not the boss. Whether you're an hourly employee, a middle manager, a department head or just volunteering somewhere, the insights in these pages will teach you how to align your head, heart and actions so that you can lead up, down and across wherever you are. True to form for this author, character and common sense are recurring themes.

Having been in middle management, I felt that Maxwell addressed the challenges of frustrations of the in-between, lack-of-power position honestly and effectively. The principles and practices he covers will serve any leader well, regardless of their field or position. I found myself reaching often for a pen or highlighter to note key quotes and hard-hitting truths that jumped out at me from the page.
If you've read Maxwell's other books, you'll be familiar with many of the excepts and ideas he ties in from those works to support themes in this one, but I didn't find it to feel repetitious or like a copy-and-paste situation. Everything used was relevant, appropriate and added value to the chapter. I strongly recommend Maxwell's work to anyone in business, leadership or looking to improve their ability to work with others.  

Where To Shop

We've been talking about grocery shopping this week, and since I've been talking largely about what doesn't work, I wanted to take today to touch on some things that DO work.
1. Find a butcher.  These may not be the easiest shops to locate, but ask around because the good ones usually have a devoted following - and with good reason! A reliable butcher typically has bulk meat for an excellent price, can provide bones and other scraps for homemade stock and almost always carries the highly prized items that can't be found anywhere else - like pepperoni without nitrates!

2. Find a natural foods store. Because of the expense, I don't do a lot of shopping at our local natural foods store, but I have found it to an excellent resource. In addition to having those one-off items close at hand when you need them, they tend to be a great place to ask about other things you're trying to find - a good butcher, a local farm selling raw milk, the best produce, etc. As a bonus, may of them do demo days or special presentations free to the community that give you a chance to sample products or services before you buy.

3. Find an online retailer (or two).  For some ingredients, online retailers are the best way to go. Coconut oil, #10 cans of cream of wheat, supplements or spices - some things truly are found in the best quality or for the best price online. Pick one or two top notch companies and plan to place an a bulk order once or twice a year (to minimize shipping costs).

4. Find a bakery supplier. If you bake a lot or need alternative flours (GF), it is extremely worth while to find a bakery supply company. (The easiest way is ask your natural foods store where they get their wheat from; any good store will be happy to tell you.) Give them a call and ask if you can order directly; most will sell you wheat berries (or wheat alternatives) or flour in 25# bags for drastically less than you could find anywhere else. You may also find great deals from them on related dry goods like rice, quinoa, flax or yeast. 

7. Watch the sales. Sometimes, your standard grocery stores or big box stores will have a great sale on real food. I try to make a habit of flipping through the circular when it comes every week; often there's nothing, but when I see a good deal I try to take advantage of it.

8. Get to know your neighbors. Honestly, this one was hardest for me but has been a huge boon. When our CSA was sending more cantaloupe and watermelon than we could eat, I asked around and was able to share our bounty with some neighbors who were delighted. In return, they shared with me the overflow of their gardens (or their friends gardens, even)! I swapped melon I couldn't use for fresh, juicy tomatoes that I canned up into soup to warm the coming cold winter days. We all joke about not being able to give away zucchini, but if you can be humble enough to gratefully accept or trade for what people are looking to share you can some into some wonderful windfalls!

What's your favorite shopping alternative?

Tuesday, October 18

Grocery Shopping Quick Tip

Quick Tip Tuesday - still on our theme of grocery shopping!

Two tips for the price of one today:

1. Buying in bulk can be a great money saver - or a scam! Don't automatically assume that buying something in bulk will be cheaper. Foods sold in large containers that do not store well, cannot be properly resealed, do not fit well in your cabinets/ pantry or that you have not tried before and may not like can end up being a waste of money even though they seem like a good deal on the shelf.

2. Coupons don't work for everyone. My mother was amazing with coupons and I struggled for years to figure out why I couldn't make coupons work for me too. I eventually had to accept that our current diet doesn't allow for the purchase of most items for which coupons are currently being printed. If coupons haven't worked for you either, it's okay! Don't waste your time or energy on them - focus instead on other options that will do you more good.

What grocery shopping tips do you have to share?

Monday, October 17

Necessary Evil Alternatives

It's a Makes Me Happy Monday, and keeping with the subject of buying food that we talked about yesterday. today we're going to talk about CSA's.

If you're not familiar with it, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it's a pretty simple setup: You pay a set fee upfront to a local farm or co-op and in return, you get a certain poundage of fresh produce every week throughout the summer and harvest seasons.

Usually there's quite a variety of items, as you always get whatever is freshest and ready to be picked. Some CSA's have an option allowing you to participate in the growing/harvesting process, which might appeal to those with children for the educational aspect as well.

My CSA makes me very happy! We're currently nearing the end of the run on our local CSA; this was our second year participating. Hands down, this is one of the most cost-effective ways to get fresh produce I've ever found. There's no way I'd ever get what we got for the price we paid if I had to buy it retail - even from the farm stand that runs the program! It has been an excellent option for us and we plan to sign up again next year.

Disclaimer: CSA's are not for everyone. You do not get to choose what produce you receive, and you do have to be able to pick up your share each week. However, I believe that the cost effectiveness of the program is well worth those minor inconveniences.

Sunday, October 16

Necessary Evils

Confession: I consider grocery shopping a necessary evil. Wandering the florescent-lit isles in search of food that is neither full of toxic ingredients nor astronomically expensive gives me a headache and I try not to do it more than absolutely necessary.

(Disclaimer: whenever I am back in Wegman's territory I gladly wander through that grocery store in a sort of wistful reverie and happy awe. Ahem... back to the point now...)

One of the lessons I've learned in building my frugal, functional kitchen is that depending on where you live, Real Food may most easily and cost-effectively be found outside your local grocery store. So as we head into a new week, we're going to spend a couple posts talking about the process, tips and tricks of buying food. Since we can't avoid it, we need to learn how to do it as painlessly and efficiently as possible!

To keep things simple for this first day of discussion, we're going to start with just a couple fun facts about grocery stores:

1. Most food in grocery stores (produce, dry goods, meat - everything) has been shipped an extremely long way. It is often picked too ensure better shelf life, and much of the produce has been genetically engineered specifically for characteristics that enable to travel better (rather than for nutrition or taste). 

2. Most grocery store produce has a significantly lower nutritional value than the same produce item would have 25 years ago do to changes in farming and buying practices.

3. Real food items tend to be concentrated around the outside edge of a supermarket (produce, meat, dairy). The further into the middle isles you go, the more processed the food.

How happy are you with your supermarket?

Saturday, October 15


Many families have food traditions built around holidays or events. but there's much to be said for everyday food traditions. Things as simple as eating dinner together every night, brunching on Sunday or planning one night a week as pizza night or soup night brings continuity and builds happy memories.

Without sounding too sneaky, it's also a great way to get frugal food on the menu! Tacos, homemade pizza, soup, spaghetti - these are all cheap comfort foods.  They're also great options to make food traditions out of! Easy to make, they're great for busy households and simple introductions to kids eager to try their hands at "helping" in the kitchen. They're simple to make in big quantities to accommodate friends and easy to dress up for special occasions. 

There are lots of variations on this theme - a special cake to celebrate birthdays, ice cream on the first day of summer every year, potluck dinners with family or friends where everyone brings their signature dish - use your imagination! Just remember that special doesn't have to mean expensive. Not to sound cheesy, but love really is the magic secret ingredient.

Do you have food traditions?

Friday, October 14

Aprons: Functional Kitchen Fashion

Welcome to Functional Friday! This time we're going to emphasize the FUN in functional - with a little fashion!

Do you own an apron? 

Fun Halloween aprons.
Aprons used to be standard attire for the kitchen - they kept clothes clean, served as handy dish towels or pot holders, and added a little feminine flair to dinner prep. After being neglected and taken for granted for a while, they've experienced a fresh wave of popularity in recent years. Fashionable and functional,  a good apron is a must-have in any kitchen.

Do you have kids? Consider getting them their own aprons! My siblings and I had own aprons when I was little, and we loved putting them on and helping in the kitchen - do you know any little people who could be inspired with the gift of their own apron?

Whether you like vintage ruffles or off-the-wall designs,  make it a goal this week to find an apron you love to inspire your cooking.

Thursday, October 13


Let's talk dishes. Some people LOVE them. You know who I'm talking about - they collect dishes, can identify all the major patterns by big name manufacturers and are your go-to person when you see some strange dish you can't identify a purpose for while browsing the local antique shop.

Other people are just as happy to eat out of old cottage cheese containers with a spork. (Did you know you can buy titanium sporks these days?)

There are white dishes, colored dishes, patterned dishes, themed dishes - almost anything you can think of! Whatever your style, I am a firm believer that choosing the right dishes can make or break a frugal, functional kitchen.

If you don't like your dishes or can never find what you need, how likely are you really to cook or eat at home? Badly sized dishes can lead to over-portioning and food waste.

So how do you pick good dishes? Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Pick something you like looking at. Good dishes should last for years, and kitchens are one of the most lived in rooms your home. Whether you pick simple white dishes with clean lines or antique china, pick something you love. Surround yourself with things that make you smile and you'll be much more enthusiastic about spending time in your kitchen!

2. Size matters. Just a few at home or cooking for a crowd?  Are you a meat and potatoes type or a pasta lover? Think about what you cook (or want to cook) on a regular basis and select dishes of a corresponding size. Keep in mind that choosing smaller plates and bowls will help you portion more effectively.

3. Durability counts - if you've got kids at home (or tend to be a little butter-fingered in the kitchen), skip the thin china and invest in a heavier, sturdier design that can take the abuse. The same goes for your pots and pans - spending a little extra for solid quality stainless steel is worth every penny because they'll take the beating of a Real Food kitchen and keep on going!

4. Your probably need less than you think - in both dishes and pots & pans, most people have way more than they need. (Remember when we talked about clutter?) Even pretty or theoretically useful things can become clutter if you don't need or use them.

5. Consider buying options. As much as you may want to run out right now and replace every dish you own, that's not a terribly frugal way to run a kitchen! Some people will find that picking a line of dishes from somewhere generic (like the Christmas Tree Store) is a good option for them - it's cheap and always available if you need replacements. While that's totally fine, I've found three other methods to work quite well: saving, planned replacement and gifts.

Saving is exactly what it sounds like - tucking away a few dollars here and there are you can and investing in desired pieces a little at a time as the funds allow. This is a time honored and completely effective method.

We all have occasions in life where people want to give us gifts - birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, etc. Consider putting together a wishlist and sharing it with key people in your life (maybe your husband, a sister or a best friend). Instead of guessing at what to get you, people can give you things they know you want; added bonus for you is not accumulating any well-intentioned clutter!

Finally don't overlook planned replacement. If you have a blender (for example) that works for now but isn't really what you'd like, do some research and budget some money so that by the time it dies you'll have enough to replace it with the size, brand or model you'd really like. Frugal kitchens don't have to be built in a day!

Are you a dishophile or a spork fan?

Wednesday, October 12


Yesterday, I shared with you the really awesome snack center idea I saw. Today, I want to follow up on an aspect of that idea that can be applied elsewhere in your kitchen too - portioning.

Whether in snacks or meals, most Americans struggle with portioning. Think about your favorite snacks. How often do we open a package and eat the whole thing?

The human brain takes cues about how much to eat from a number of different factors. How much everyone else is eating, how much is available and where the item falls in a line-up of other items all unconsciously count as much as how hungry we are (or even whether we're hungry at all). Our brains do not instantly register when we've reached our 'satisfied' or 'full' points, either. Building in pauses in our eating gives us a chance to realize we've had enough and stop.

Marketers often intentionally use size to their advantage when planning packaging; mostly to get us to eat more of things. We can use portioning equally intentionally to help control our budgets and our waistlines! 

Here are a few simple ways to put portioning into practice in your kitchen:

1. Schedule time to break down bulk items. Whether you opt to do it immediately after getting home from grocery shopping or plan it into your weekly food prep routine, use baggies or small tupperware to portion out items purchased in bulk for easy access. Chips, veggies, cookies - it's much easier to stick to portioning when you do the work up front instead of while you're standing at the cupboard, hungry and browsing.

2. Focus on expensive & addictive items.  Maybe you love good cheese, or maybe you pile fruit and nuts onto your oatmeal every morning. Whatever the expensive, addictive items are in your kitchen, you'll get the most bang for your buck by controlling your usage of them.

3. Use smaller dishes. Most contemporary dishes are enormous compared to those of fifty years ago. Try this experiment: if the proper portion size for cereal is one cup, measure out one cup of something into your bowl. What does it look like? Practically nothing, right? That's not a problem with the amount, it's a problem of skewed perspective caused by an over-sized bowl! Using smaller plates and bowls gives your brain better triggers as to how much you're eating. It also creates natural pauses, since you have to get up and refill your plate in order to eat more.

Hint: You don't necessarily have to buy new dishes - most sets come with salad plates and dessert bowls that are perfectly sized for properly portioned meals.

4. Pick foods with staying power. Although they may seem more expensive than some other choices, peanut butter, cheese, whole wheat crackers and other substantial, real-food snacks trigger the satiation chemicals in your brain fast and are digested slowly by your system, keeping you satisfied longer and avoiding sugar rush/ sugar crash cycles that only prompt additional eating. Calorie and cost-wise, you're better off with smaller portions of better quality snacks than eating more of the cheaper, less healthy options.

Do you utilize portioning in your frugal kitchen?

Tuesday, October 11

A Great Idea

Quick Tip Tuesday again!

This one wasn't my idea, but I loved it as soon as I saw it and had to share! It's from Real Simple and they called it a "refrigerator snack station" though you could just as easily do the same thing in your car, on your counter or in your pantry.

The idea is simple: make the food you want people to eat the easiest, most available and most attractive snack options!

Whether you're trying to eat healthier, tired of your kids accidentally snacking on the key ingredients you were saving for tomorrow's dinner or in the middle of a crazy season where everyone's eating on the go this is a great solution!

Studies have proven that people gravitate towards the easiest, most reachable food and will almost always eat a less appealing item close at hand than put out more effort to get something they'd otherwise like better. And keeping everything in a centralized, high viability location means find yourself in a pinch because you ran out and didn't realize it.

Do you use a system like this? Will you try it after seeing this?

Monday, October 10

Luxuries in a Frugal Kitchen

Welcome to Makes Me Happy Mondays round two!

When you say "frugal kitchen", many people immediately start thinking "rice and beans" or "boxed mac & cheese six days a week". And that makes them depressed.

Rice & beans certainly have their place in a frugal kitchen (usually cooking up into a heavenly smelling quesadilla filling or the like), as does the self-discipline to say "no" to things that just aren't worth the cost.

But being frugal doesn't have to mean giving up all your beloved luxuries. It just means not taking them for granted. 

For example, I like good coffee. (Green Mountain Rainforest Nut and Hawaiian Kona with a touch a honey and whole raw milk are going to show up on the morning coffee bar in heaven. I guarantee it.)

Being frugal doesn't necessarily mean I have to give up those coffees, though Maxwell House or Brand X would certainly be cheaper. It just means that instead of drinking coffee all day like you can with the cheap stuff, I have just one cup in the morning. I take my time and I enjoy it.

I am convinced that being cognizant of and regularly thankful for our little splurges is healthy for us, physically, mentally and spiritually. Think about it - who gets more out of their coffee? The Starbucks addict who drinks three giant cups of insanely expensive brew per day in an oblivious rush, or someone like me who budgets in and appreciates one cup of home-brewed decadence a day?

Everyone's luxury is different. For some people, it's always keeping real butter on the table or using imported olive oil to cook with. Maybe it's only buying good beer or getting pizza once a week from the best pizza shop ever. 

I encourage you to pay a little extra attention to your habits this week. Think about what you take for granted and what really says "indulgent" to you. Look for ways to highlight or savor what really makes you happy in your kitchen. 

What luxuries hold a place of honor in your frugal kitchen?

Sunday, October 9

A Chef's Secrets: Trifles

In honor of it being the weekend, I thought I'd share something easy, fun and frugal today. Trifles!

Trifles are to dessert what casseroles are to dinner. The fact that they look impressive (and taste great) is a bonus!

I was first introduced to trifles over a decade ago, working my first job as a busser at a nice restaurant. The chef didn't like to see food go to waste (it was bad for his food cost numbers), so every week at the high-end Sunday brunch he'd grab a pretty trifle bowl and start layering.

Leftover cake or brownies, fruit that was too soft or spotty to be served whole, starting-to-get-stale cookies, maybe some pudding or a handful of chopped candy bars left over from last week's catering function. Anything sweet that needed using up got crumbled, sliced or chopped and layered together with generous helpings of whipped cream added in for effect.

People loved it. Leftovers! People were paying Sunday brunch prices for leftovers and were happy about it!

Guess what? If restaurants can do it, so can you!  

Need a dessert in a hurry? Trying to figure out what to do about that cake stuck that to the pan and only came out in misshapen chunks? Wishing you could use up that holiday candy being eschewed because it's now the wrong color for the season?

Make a trifle! It travels well, makes a beautiful display, and is no-fuss to put together. Layer in a little whipped cream or your favorite pudding and everything will think you're spoiling them! They needn't ever know you had completely practical intentions.

Hint 1: Although trifle dishes are beautiful and versatile, if you won't regularly use it don't get one! A punch bowl or glass mixing bowl makes an equally pretty presentation. Or use your regular old juice glasses, wine glasses, dessert cups or tupperware (for pack-in-your-lunch convenience) to make individual serving-sized trifles!

Hint 2: Trifles are one of the easiest desserts to make gluten- or sugar-free. GF/SF puddings are cheap, easy to find and take up little cabinet space. Crumbly, over-baked or otherwise texture-challenged GF/SF cookies, cakes or brownies are easier to hide/redeem in an arrangement like this than standing alone. Just be extra generous with the fruit and whipped cream if you're worried.

Saturday, October 8

Keep It Clean

Did you get all the clutter out of your kitchen? Good job!

Did you find a lot of cabinets, drawers, refrigerator shelves, counters and back splashes that needed a serious scrubbing in the process? Yeah, me too.

Today's post is simple, but life-changing: Clean as you go.

As soon as you finish chopping something, wash the cutting board and the knife. If you have a minute while waiting for something to sauté, wipe down the counters. Rinse dishes and put them directly into the dishwasher as you go, if you use one. (Speaking of which, I ran across a great - and cheap - recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent here.)

Empty the dishwasher before you start cooking (or even prepping) anything!

Adopting this simple principle as a standard practice will always serve you well. You'll find you need fewer dishes and spend less time feeling like your kitchen is cramped or too small. Scrubbing will take less time because nothing has had a chance to set or crust on.

It may look glamorous or like the perfect storm of creative chaos when someone's surrounded by piles of dishes or a flour-coated kitchen in the movies, but real life doesn't come with a set crew to clean up after us so don't fall for it!

Hint: One of the best clean-kitchen tips I've ever run across is to put a thin coat of car wax on your (clean) stovetop/ range hood. It'll prevent grease, dirt and other nasties from caking on and make wiping down your kitchen a snap!

Friday, October 7

Functional Friday

In the spirit of functionality, today I'm going to get straight to the point: most of us have too much stuff in our kitchens. Piles of pans, numerous cookie sheets, dinnerware sets for twelve, eight kinds of mustard in the fridge, miscellaneous packets and individual serving packs of god knows what - I understand! Things just accumulate while you're not looking. They multiply in the dark of night. (Okay, that might be a little creepy, but you get the idea.)

Clutter does not make for a happy kitchen. Ever. 

Most of us follow the 20/80 rule and don't even know it. Twenty percent of your stuff gets used 80% of the time. The rest only gets pulled out once or twice a year, if at all.

Plan time next week (or even this weekend) to thoroughly clean your kitchen. Grab a garbage bag or a donation box and let go of the things in your kitchen you don't use, don't need or don't like. You're better off with four or five basic, well cared for knives than with a dozen you rarely touch. Cooking for a crowd? Invest in a couple durable sheet or half-sheet pans in place of the six or eight cookie sheets cluttering up your cabinets. It'll save you time and money in the long run.

(Don't believe me? Try this experiment: Put a box in your kitchen. Every time you use and wash something, instead of putting it away drop it in the box. At the end of the month, look at what's still in your cupboards and drawers and ask yourself seriously why you need it if you haven't touched in a month!)

Legitimately seasonal items should be packed away with your seasonal decor and rotated in and out of use.

If you're feeling guilty about getting rid of perfectly useable stuff, give it to someone who actually needs it or offer it up to the crafty people in your life who are always scrounging for awesome finds to recycle into thrifted treasures.

Cutting - and keeping - the clutter out of your kitchen is essential to creating the kind of space that fosters frugal, functional and happy cooking!

What needs to get tossed from your kitchen?

Thursday, October 6

Recipe Collections

Today's post is something of a corollary to yesterday's. It goes without saying that once you start finding recipes you like, you need an organized way to store them so that you can find them again. Everybody has their own ideas, but it's imperative to find what works for you.

Although ideas abound, most fall into one of these common categories:
  1. Recipe boxes
  2. Three ring binders
  3. Notebooks
  4. Computer programs
  5. Cookbook collections

I personally suggest not using either of the last two as your primary system. If the power goes out, the internet is on the fritz or your hard drive crashes you can easily lose access to your recipes. Cookbook collections, while lovely, quickly eat up valuable space and money. 

My personal cookbook.

Whatever you decide to use, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Kitchens are messy – sauces splash, counters get wet, fingers may be greasy. Especially if you cook with little helpers, consider laminating or using page protectors to keep your recipes clean and smudge free. (Or use the old cooking lab trick of stretching a piece of saran wrap over your cookbook before getting started to keep it safe and clear.)

  2. Your notes are valuable – Not everything you need to remember about a recipe always makes it into the recipe itself. Adjusted cooking times, great substitutions, who's favorite food something works out to be – never assume you'll remember stuff like that and never underestimate how glad you'll be for a reminder in the future! Whether you use sticky notes, your own personal code, or a simple “notes” section at the end, be sure to track all important information. It's worth thinking too, about who might want your recipes in the future. If you were going to pass something along to a dear friend or child, what would they need to know to make it just the way you do? Whatever it is, it's worth writing down.

  3. Appearances count – Presentation matters, even at home. You want your kitchen to be somewhere you're comfortable and if you're going to spend quite a bit of time looking at your recipes, you want them to be something you like looking at. Find a functional font and a pretty cover. Splurge on nice paper or create your own customized header for your recipe pages. It's worth it. 
  4. So does your learning style – What speaks to you – colors? Icons? Photos? Your recipes are for you! Write the important parts in a bright color if it helps you. Pick icons to represent main dishes, desserts, vegetarian recipes, whatever is important to you and use them as cues for yourself. Take a picture of a the meal (or copy it from a cookbook) and paste it alongside the recipe as a visual memory jog for yourself. 
  5. Keep it simple. I know, I know. I just gave you a whole bunch to think about and told you to go to town making it personal. And I meant it. Just don't get so carried away that you sell yourself on a system you can't maintain or that's too complicated to use.

How do you store your recipes?

Wednesday, October 5

The Most Under-Rated Kitchen Utensil Ever

Do you have a library card? If not, make time this week to go get one. It is one of the best, most under-utilized resources you can have to make your kitchen more frugal, functional and happy.

Every library has cookbooks, and almost every library system allows for inter-library loans, meaning anything your library system has can be ready for you to pick up at your local library with a few simple key strokes and a couple days of patience. If you know your librarians (or are feeling brave) ask them for suggestions – many of them are awesome and can help you make the most of their collection. My poor librarians complain that they gain weight just checking books out to me thanks to the drool-worthy cover photos!

Not sure where to start? Think about what your family likes to eat, at home or in restaurants and use it as a guide. Comfort food? Excellent search criteria. Always ordering out for Thai or Mexican? It's not nearly as hard to make as you think. Only just learning to cook? Look for one-dish meals or casserole cookbooks.

Are you on intimate terms with your library?

Tuesday, October 4

Quick Tip Tuesday

Quick Tip Tuesdays it is!

This week's tip – mount a whiteboard in your kitchen.

Though we originally bought my whiteboard for my husband while he was in college, I quickly adopted it after he graduated. Now I don't know how I ever lived without it!

Recipe notes, weekly menu plans, grocery shopping list reminders, phone messages – all the things you need to keep track of in a kitchen corralled in one easy spot. No scraps of paper to keep track of, no plastering the front of the fridge with so much stuff you can't see the handle and the fastest, easiest clean up around.

Obviously you can tailor the size of your board to your particular kitchen and needs (I have a giant one, because I am a visual learner and have to write everything down). There are several variations on this tool too - whiteboards, chalkboards, mini-boards on an easel or even painting a pantry door with chalkboard paint.

Whichever you choose, I guarantee you'll wonder how you ever lived it too!

Monday, October 3

Makes Me Happy Monday

Welcome to my first 'Makes Me Happy Monday'!

I don't know about you, but I like saving money. I also really like knowing that the ingredients I cook with are clean, healthy and good quality.

If both those things sound good to you too, allow me to introduce one of the best kept kitchen secrets I've ever stumbled across: Homemade Vanilla.

Did you know that most vanilla extract you find in the grocery store is imitation? As in not real?

Most of what you see labeled vanilla in stores is in fact artificially colored and artificially flavored corn syrup! Just what we all need more of in our diets, right? To buy real vanilla, you have to grab the organic stuff. And if you've ever glanced at the price tag on that, you probably came away with something between sticker shock and a heart attack. I know I did!

Then I discovered how insanely easy (and cheap!) it is to make your own. There are exactly two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka.

Good quality vanilla beans aren't hard to come by. I've found I can usually get about 3 for $10 at my local farmers' market or natural foods store. (Haven't seen any near you? Consider asking – many times they are kept behind the counter.) You can also buy them online from reputable suppliers.

As for the vodka, that's obviously not hard to find either... don't waste money here – the cheap stuff works well. I usually buy a ten dollar bottle and it's always worked great.
Slit the beans open and drop them in the vodka. Put the cap back on and stick the bottle somewhere cool and dark (a cabinet, a pantry, whatever). Alternatively, you could use a dark glass bottle or wrap the bottle in duct tape (or any other dark tape) to keep the light out. Let it sit. At least a couple weeks, but a couple months is better. Voila! Homemade, pure vanilla.

I recommend keeping a smaller bottle of vanilla for regular use in your cabinet and refilling it from the larger bottle. As with most things, the less the larger bottle it is exposed to air and light the better it will store for you. It's also a lot more convenient than tossing around the big bottle all the time, of course!

When you get to the bottom of the bottle, don't throw out the beans! Though they'll have to steep a little longer the second time around, you can get at least a full second bottle of vanilla out of them. How's that for frugal?

Does the idea of homemade vanilla make you happy too?

Sunday, October 2

Food Porn

I don't know if it's ironically appropriate or terribly sacrilegious to bring up Food Porn on a Sunday, but stick with me - there's a method to my madness! Food Porn is the enemy of Frugal, Functional [Real Food] Kitchens (and happy cooks)!

For those of you not familiar with the term “food porn” allow me to explain. Regular porn is unrealistic, air-brushed and obscene. It creates unhealthy expectations and unreasonable obsessions. Food Porn does the same thing - but unlike regular porn, it's completely legal and available at every corner. Foodie magazines, high end catalogs, furniture store fliers, HGTV, Pinterest boards – it lurks in so many places! Every time we look at astronomically expensive kitchen remodels, sigh over flawlessly photographed recipes and silently berate ourselves because we know we'll never make anything that perfect or ignore the twinge of guilt and spend money we don't have on yet another kitchen gadget just because so-and-so has one we experience the rot and ruin of food porn in our lives.

The reality is that most of us don't have endless shelf space and huge budgets. We can't own every kitchen gadget or shiny new cookbook that comes out. Running a happy, healthy home is hard enough without comparing ourselves to tv cooks who have entire staffs to do their prep and dishes or the retouched photos plastered all over the internet.

Do yourself (and your family) a favor. Decide today not let food porn get in the way your Frugal, Functional [Real Food] [Happy Cook] Kitchen. Keep your salt shaker handy and throw a pinch on all the polished, retouched and unrealistic stuff you see marketed in your direction.

Then make some popcorn (in your dented stock pot or dirty microwave – it's okay!), toss a little salt on that too (or a lot of salt if you're like me) and get ready to start enjoying your real-life kitchen just the way it is!

Saturday, October 1

31 Days Challenge

This is it! The first day of this crazy 31 Day Challenge – thanks for joining me!

I'm all about Frugal, Functional [Real Food] Kitchens. It is my hope that over the next 31 Days some of the best practice tips, tricks and go-to recipes I've found will benefit you. Please feel free to leave me comments and suggestions as we go along!

(Check out what other bloggers are writing about for 31 days over at The Inspired Room!)

To give this adventure a little bit of shape, I thought I'd do a couple theme days each week: Makes Me Happy Mondays, Quick Tip Tuesdays and Functional Fridays. I'll also try to organize content in a logical fashion, but otherwise anything goes!

Since today is a Saturday, I thought we'd start with one of my favorite weekend treats – waffles!

Honey Oatmeal Waffles
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup oats
2 cups milk
2 eggs
¼ cup melted butter or oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine everything in a bowl. Let sit at least 5 min to soften oats and smooth out texture. Portion out batter onto hot waffle iron until baked through and golden brown. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup!

Hint 1: This is a great recipe to mix up before bed and stash in the fridge for an easy, delicious weekend breakfast.

Hint 2: Creating the feel of pampered decadence at home is all about the little things! Turn your oven on low and put finished waffles inside to stay warm and crisp while you bake the rest of the batch. While you're waiting for the waffles, pour some maple syrup into a small saucepan and heat it up on the stove. It takes less than 30 seconds of active effort, but nothing beats warm maple syrup over fresh waffles to start your morning off right!