Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Things To Do With Table Salt

Y'all know I'm all about using what's handy, available and cheap, whether it's in cooking, cleaning, or entertaining. Plain old table salt has so many uses, it's natural and you probably already have some in your pantry.

1. Scour tiles with a mixture of salt and vinegar. They'll be shiny in no time.

2. Remove kitchen odors from your hands. If your hands smell like garlic or onions, make a little paste of vinegar and salt and scrub with it (provided you don't have any cuts on your hands because - ouch!).

3. Clean cast iron. If you have food stuck on your cast iron skillet, don't use soap, just sprinkle with salt, scrub and rinse.

4. Set tie-dye. Before you wash your lovely and artistic creation soak it in a mixture of 2 cups warm water to 1/3 cup salt for about 20 minutes.  We made tie-dye t-shirts at VBS one year and didn't do this before we washed them.  The colors ran and the kids were so disappointed that their shirts didn't stay vibrant and pretty.

5. Sprinkle salt on a lemon half and use it to scrub your copper pots to restore their shine. Rinse thoroughly afterward.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Favorite Place

My favorite place isn't a luxury hotel or a swanky restaurant. My favorite place is my own house, Casa Loca (Spanish for crazy house) as we like to call it. :)

We laugh at dumb jokes, dance (very badly in my case) in the kitchen, watch corny movies, and hang around in our ratty shorts. We can be cranky and get on each other's nerves and then we make up and hug.  We share our favorite books and then accuse the others of hogging all the cookies.

It's far from perfect, and there's always something that needs cleaning, fixing or painting, but I love it and the people in it.
We've lived here for 8 years this month and our house is full of so many happy memories.  I wouldn't change a thing!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Planning a Menu

I know that planning menus and making grocery lists saves money, time and headaches, but somehow year after year, my planning and good intentions fly out the window in late summer. I find myself making way too many trips to the grocery store and wandering down the aisles trying to decide what's for supper.  But now that we are back on a schedule, it's time for me to get back in the menu planning groove.

Some people like to plan menus for a month at a time, but it makes more sense for me to plan once a week because I shop once a week (hopefully not more than that).  I don't have room for more than a week's groceries, plus if I bought food for a whole month, my family would have it eaten within two weeks.  Apparently there is something about seeing lots of food in the pantry that makes husbands and teenagers even hungrier than usual.

I start by looking in my pantry and fridge to take a quick inventory and see what I already have. Then I pull up a list that I have saved on my computer of all the meals that I could come up with that my family likes. I have about 40 meals listed including breakfasts. I like to print some pretty menu planning forms to write my menu on, and then I can keep it and put in in my menu notebook to use again later.

Next I consider my budget for the week. If the budget is particularly tight, I can focus on the more frugal meals that I have listed and look through my coupons. Then I gather my recipes so I can write down every item I need.  Once I've made the list, I can pencil in the prices (from either my price book, or past receipts), subtract coupons, and then I'll have a good idea of what my groceries will cost before I head to the store and I know which coupons I'll be using. If I need to shave a few more dollars off I can make adjustments before I leave. That works better for me than trying to do math in my head while pushing a grocery cart or getting flustered trying to change up my menu on the fly and then forgetting what I changed it to by the time I get home.  Don't forget to include any non-food items that may need to be included on your list.  Sometimes I get these things at CVS or Walgreens, but sometimes I need to pick them up at the grocery store.  We wouldn't want to run out of toilet paper or shampoo (yes, I've been there and it's not cute)! 

Do you have any menu planning tips?  How do you stay motivated to stick with it?  Please share!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Flavor of Fall

Nothing gets me ready for Autumn like the crisp taste of an apple. I've gathered the tempting apple recipes that I've posted in the past to help us make good use of a bountiful harvest.

Crock Pot Apple Butter
Apple Muffins
Fruit Swirl Coffee Cake
Baked Apple Oatmeal
and of course, we can't forget:
Apple Cobbler
I also love to use apples in a homemade potpourri.  Simmer apple and orange peels with a little cinnamon and your kitchen will smell like you've been baking something delicious without turning on the oven.

Apples are so versatile and good in many types of recipes, both sweet and savory. What are your favorite apple dishes?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cooking With Cast Iron

I have two cast iron skillets and I love them! I have a small one that I use mostly for making cornbread and a large one that I use for all sorts of country cooking. A good seasoned cast iron skillet will last for generations if you take care of it. The "seasoning" makes it non-stick and also makes anything you cook in it uniquely flavorful.

A new cast iron skillet is gray, but a well seasoned loved skillet is black.   How does it get that way?  Season your skillet by rubbing a thin layer of shortening or lard all over it.  Don't use liquid vegetable oil because it won't work as well and might leave the surface sticky.  Place the coated skillet upside down on the top rack  in a 350 degree oven with a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drips.  Bake for an hour, turn off the oven and leave the pan inside until it is cool.  This process may need to be repeated several times.  The first few times you use it, cook something high in fat like bacon. 

Keep your skillet in great shape by rinsing with water while it's still warm and scraping out any food.  Avoid using soap and definitely don't put it in the dishwasher.  Make sure that it's completely dry before you put it away.  My mother-in-law taught me the little trick of putting it on a warm burner for a few minutes after washing it to make sure all the moisture is gone.  Just don't forget about it! :)

Now you can enjoy cooking your light and fluffy homemade biscuits and fried squash in a future heirloom that you can be proud of.

Monday, August 23, 2010

School Morning Breakfast

 Make ahead breakfasts are perfect for school mornings. You can do all the work the night before and send the kids off with plenty of fuel for a busy morning of learning.
Baked oatmeal is so easy to mix up, cover and refrigerate on a school night and then all you have to do is pop it in the oven the next morning.

I make several variations on this recipe.
Here's the original:


  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Beat in milk, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir in dried cranberries. Spread into a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 - 40 minutes. 
Instead of cranberries this time I chopped up a couple of apples. I thought that was perfect for back-to-school.  I usually bake it in a 9"x9" pan and I cut the sugar back to 1/2 cup.  It makes 6 servings and is a great way to fill up hungry teenagers.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cake for Breakfast!

Every time I make coffee cake I am reminded of the time I made it when Marcia was a little tiny thing.  She had reached that stage of questioning everything (OK she still does that).  She wanted to know what we were having for breakfast.  When I told her we were having coffee cake she was at first unbelieving that I was really going to let her eat cake for breakfast (even if it didn't have any frosting), and then decided she wasn't going to eat it because it must have coffee in it.  I explained to her that it was named coffee cake because it went well with coffee, not because it had coffee in it.  I have no idea if that's actually how coffee cake got its name, but it sounded right so I went with it.  She finally decided that it smelled good enough to taste and proceeded to eat every last crumb on her plate.  I can't believe I had to convince my child to try cake!

This cinnamon coffee cake is a quick and easy weekday breakfast or afternoon treat. I made it this morning and it was gone before I knew it. It's an easily customized recipe too. You can add nuts, fruit, even chocolate chips.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School Organization

Back to school time is when things start to get hectic around here, but every year I'm newly inspired and full of enthusiasm about getting organized. I love the excitement of brand new school supplies and fresh starts.  It's a great time to establish new routines and habits.

A month or so before school starts is the best time to begin, but if school is right around the corner for you as it is for our family, that's OK too.  Just start where you are.

 A Month Before School Begins (if possible):
Checkups with the doctor and dentist.
Arrange car pool.
Try on clothes and shoes to see what still fits and make a list of needed items.
Get list of needed school supplies (our schools have them on the district website).
Start shopping for clothes and supplies.
Gradually start introducing an earlier bedtime.

A Week Before School Starts:
Consolidate all the supplies you have so far.  List what is still needed and finish shopping.
Designate a drop zone for backpacks, lunch boxes, band instruments, sports equipment and homework - hooks and baskets will help.
Designate a homework area, preferably quiet and away from the action of the house.
Plan and shop for meals.  Make sure to include lunchbox items and after school snacks.
Start a "school binder" to keep paperwork and handouts organized.  Use dividers for each child.
Make checklists for school nights and for school mornings and hang them up where the kids can see them.  (I actually made spreadsheets for you to print, but I couldn't get them to upload to Google docs.  I'm not sure why it won't work.)  If you laminate them, you can use them for the entire school year.

The Night Before School Starts: 
Fill out any forms that need to be turned in on the first day.
Go through school night checklist and review morning routine.
Set table for breakfast and get as much of it prepared as possible.
Make sure your camera and/or video camera are charged and ready to go.
Get a good night's sleep! :)

Have a fantastic school year!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vintage Shopping

I love to find retro bargains! My favorite vintage items are aprons.  I especially love the ones that are a little faded and threadbare because I know that they have a history. I feel like I go back in time a little when I put one on. Suddenly I'm wearing a smart pair of capri pants, a polka dot blouse, and a chiffon scarf while listening to Buddy Holly (or maybe even The Guiding Light) on my radio, getting a casserole ready for the oven and a congealed salad in the fridge.

I love all sorts of vintage things that have been passed down a generation or two.  It's especially nice to have something that your own mother or grandmother used, but finding retro goodies at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores is great too.  You may have to sift through lots of junk, but the thrill of finding something fantastic at a bargain price makes it all worthwhile.

From vintage books, to vintage glassware, I love it all!  Maybe I'm impossibly romantic, but  I like to imagine the story behind it.  I wonder who rolled out biscuits for her family with the rolling pin I bought at a garage sale.  How did it get the little burn mark on it?  Did she roll out pie crusts too?  What about the original owner of the pretty dishes I found at the thrift store?  Did she save them for special occasions or use them every day?

I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite "gently used" finds.

Milk glass that is currently on my summer all-white mantel. Some belonged to my grandmother and some I bought.
A pewter candlestick.  It doesn't have any markings on it so I have no idea how old it is, but I love the classic Americana look of it.  I've had it for years, but I think I only paid a dollar or two for it.
A darling toile pillow I found for $2!  Totally worth it!
An inherited ruby glass bowl on a hand embroidered garage sale find tablecloth.

Do you like to shop at garage sales and thrift stores?  What are some of your favorite finds?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Crock Pot Apple Butter

I got a huge bag of apples for a great price at Sam's so I'm making one of my husband's favorite treats.
I have most of them in the slow cooker making the crock pot apple butter recipe I found at The Pleasures of Homemaking. My house smells incredible!  I wish there was such a thing as a scratch and sniff blog post so you could smell it.  My husband can't wait to taste it.  He's drooling already! :) 

Now I think I'll go for a swim while I wait for them to cook. It's hot out there y'all!

Much love,

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Organizing the Laundry Room

We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry. - E.B. White

My laundry room is, for some reason, one of the hardest rooms in my house for me to keep organized. I think it's because we use it for so many purposes and it's not really very big. It's the place where we get our clothes clean of course, but has other functions as well. We come into the house through the laundry room from the garage so it serves as a "mud room" where the kids leave their jackets and sometimes their backpacks and shoes and also contains our "overflow" refrigerator, and my ironing board and iron.

I have learned a few tricks over the years to keep it from becoming an overwhelming mess.

1. I don't want the laundry to get out of hand, so I do some every day.
2. I keep the detergent, bleach, etc. in a cute enamelware dishpan on top of the washer. That way I can see it and know when I'm running low, but it's contained in one spot so I don't have to hunt it down every time I wash a load.
3. I use the wall space and the top of the refrigerator. I have hooks on the wall for jackets and bags and a wall organizer that holds my ironing board, iron and spray starch. The top of the fridge is where I keep empty lunchboxes during the summer and when not in use during the school year. They are in an old laundry basket. I also keep a trash can handy for things like lint, used dryer sheets, and sometimes candy wrappers and other odds and ends I find in pockets.
4. I regularly go through the lonely sock stash. I match up what I can and cut the rest up for rags. These are perfect for times when you need to clean up something really yucky because you can throw them away with no guilt.
5. No clean clothes are allowed to stay in the laundry room once they are dry. I have a bar to hang drip-dry clothes, but as soon as possible after they are dry I put them away.
6. About once a month I mop the laundry room floor and wipe down the surfaces of the washer, dryer and refrigerator. I also wash out the laundry basket. It seems to be a repository for crumbs and dried grass.

What room is hardest for you to keep organized?

Monday, August 2, 2010


"'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh'
said Piglet, 'what's the first thing you say
to yourself?'
'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh"

Maybe it's because I have more energy in the mornings or maybe it's because a delicious breakfast is relatively quick and easy to prepare, but it's one of my favorite meals to cook for my family. A leisurely Saturday breakfast or brunch is such a treat after a busy week and is a great opportunity for us to be together. If the weather cooperates it's fun to take breakfast outside and make a special occasion out of it.  Sometimes I even make breakfast for supper ("brupper").

Here are some favorite breakfast recipes that I have featured in the past on 50s Housewife:

Blueberry Oat Muffins
Fruit Swirl Coffee Cake
Easy Homemade Pancakes
Chocolate Gravy
Banana French Toast
Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Spice Muffins
Apple Muffins
Homestead Biscuits
Coffee House Scones

Happy Monday!