A Mom's Guide to Saving on Groceries

The Whole Lemon 08/30/2008

When I’m using a lemon, I use the whole lemon. I keep a bag of them in the refrigerator, in their mesh bag, with a grocery bag around them to keep them from getting dried out. Unless I can get them locally grown, or when my Meyer lemon tree is producing. Meyer lemons… they are in a class of their own. The skin is thinner, the fruit is much sweeter. They are hands-down my favorite.

First thing that should be done is to wash the lemon in warm sudsy water, with a clean washcloth. This will remove any wax, or pesticide residue that might be on it.

Next, I roll the lemon. Eventually I will want that juice, and this makes it easier to squeeze. Meyer lemons are softer, and even if you have arthritis you will be able to squeeze them with one hand, no rolling necessary. If you roll them after the yellow zest is removed, sometimes they split, and you lose a bunch of juice.

Either I grate the zest on a microplane (SO worth the money, which isn’t much, really) or regular grater, or I slice off the skin with my knife, leaving the white part. That white “pith” is bitter, and should not be used. Right then, I take the strips and using my knife like a filet knife, I turn it to a 45-60 degree angle and filet any remaining white pith off. Then I put them into a bag in the freezer, where they will sit happily until I need them.

If all I want is the zest (rarely) I put the lemon into a bag in the refrigerator. Usually I use the juice right away. There are always lemons in that bag, and I use them in water, or to make lemonade in individual servings. Or “lemon soda.” Both of these uses require a lemon syrup, recipe to follow:

Remember those strips in the freezer? Take them and put enough for 2 lemons (of course this is an approximate measurement, but it will be fine, don’t worry.) and 1 ½ C. of sugar into a pot. Add 1 C. water. Don’t stir. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer like that for about ½ hour. The water will reduce, and the syrup will be thick and yellow. The strips of peel will be translucent.

You can add 1 tbsp of corn syrup or a little honey to the pot, as well, to keep the sugar from being able to crystalize when stored. Different molecules have trouble clumping together to form crystals- problem solved.

When the syrup cools, I strain the syrup through a small strainer into a bottle with a pour spout. Any jar will work fine, too. Sometimes I add a little vanilla to the cooled syrup, or a little mint. KEEP THE PEEL.

After the peel have drained out, I roll them in sugar, let them dry for a bit on a pan, and then keep them in a jar so they stay moist. This is CANDY, which your grandmother will fondly remember from girlhood. Nobody makes this anymore, but it is delicious. On the off-chance you’ve tried it and didn’t like it, there was probably some of the white pith left on, making it bitter. Try it again… you might be pleasantly surprised! Makes a great garnish, too.

If you want to candy whole slices of lemon, I suggest using Meyers, because there is much less of the pith. Continue in the same manner.

Both the syrup and the candied peel make great hostess, housewarming and Christmas gifts. You can use oranges in the same way, and Clementines are the tangerine’s answer to Meyer lemons. An added bonus: they are seedless.

Talk back! 08/24/2008

Hey, it's with a lot of pleasure that I'm noticing this blog is actually getting read.  Bloggers write mainly to share, I think.  The idea of making money from a blog is gone with the wind, and I don't care what the big G says. 

So, in the interest of sharing, I'm hoping that some of you will comment, and make suggestions, in other words, talk back!  I'd love to know if my quick and wacky way of cooking and baking is working for you.  It would be great to know if there is something in particular you are looking for, because I might have the answer.  Maybe I don't, and your question will lead me to a culinary discovery... all because you asked! 

So hit that comment button.....  :)



Bagels: I can go from cold dough to finished bagel in 30 minutes. You can too, once you get the hang of rolling the bagels out .

Also, every bagel recipe I’ve ever seen says to let rise and then put them in the water to boil.  It's nearly impossible to manage that without deflating them.   It was my sister that discovered that you can put the cold dough right in the pot. We let them rise on the sheet, and they do it right away thanks to the hot bath.

Take ½ recipe regular dough (not sweet) from the fridge. Set a pot on the stove with water to boil. For a nice brown shiny crust, add a couple tsp. of baking soda to the water. Divide into 6 or 8 pieces, and roll just a bit into short cylinders.

On a clean work surface, lay one cylinder down long-wise and smash that puppy flat. I don’t use flour, but if you do, use just a little. You don’t need it, though. About a ¼ inch should do it. You will end up with a bigger rectangle.

So here’s where it gets interesting: you can fill that up with cinnamon, onion, whatever. Rolling away from you, take your plain or filled dough and roll it up like a jelly roll. Like play-doh, you roll and elongate this into a little snake about 1 inch in diameter, maybe 8 inches long. When I’m making onion bagels, I roll in dried onions (fine for filling, too, and very instant), at this point.

Now, wrap it around your hand with the seam on your palm, and roll to seal. Any way you do it, you want to end up with a donut shape and a hole that is about 1½ inches. Do all of them at once. Get a baking sheet ready with a sheet of parchment or one of those silicone liners. Me, I’m parchment girl. Silicone makes me nervous- petroleum product.

By now, the water is dancing in the pan for your entertainment pleasure. Drop one bagel at a time in there, and poke it with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. It should pop up like a dumpling within 30 seconds (no longer, or you'll kill the yeast!). When it pops up, use the hole to pluck it out with the handle of your spoon. That, by the way, is the reason for the hole! This is a lot of fun to do. Place each directly onto that baking pan lined with parchment. Give them space because they are going to double.

I top mine with coarse salt, or onion, or sugar, whatever, while they are wet. Sneaky, eh? Then put them into a cold oven. Turn it on to 375 degrees F. Wait until your mouth waters, and the bagels are golden, and there you have it. I think it’s about 10-15 mins. They will rise and double in the process of baking.

Here in the rural South, most people I’ve met have either never had a real bagel, or only had the frozen kind for breakfast. To me, that’s just sad… You haven’t lived until you’ve had a bagel sandwich. So for your Southerners out there, you gave me Pilau, squash fritters and hush puppies. I’m giving you bagels! Try putting meats, cheeses, various toppings, and condiments and dig in. Heaven. My personal favorite is roast beef or turkey with onion, tomato, cheese, pepperoni, and mayo, salt and pepper.


More Bread dough… and things to do with it.

First off, if you take that first dough, and make a couple of changes, you can have a sweet dough that is out of this world, and lasts the same way as the other dough I gave you. Make it, divide it in half, put each into a gallon zip lock bag or a large container (dough will double in size in the fridge), and store for a week. When you need it, take it out, proof it, and poof!

I must confess something right now. I’m feeling guilty! Over the summer, I’ve bought bread. There, I said it, it’s out. But while convenient, it wasn’t bread to me. So now that it’s cooled down some, I’m back to making bread. And cinnamon rolls, bagels, pizza pockets, hot dogs, sausage sandwiches.  

This sweet dough is just richer, that’s all. You can use it for sandwiches, and rolls, and sweet rolls and coffee cakes. Here are the substitutions.

Essentially, we are sticking with the same 2 cups of liquid. In this case, milk, scalded and cooled.

I hate scalding milk, and I don’t do it. Because I have that cool whole milk powder, I use boiling water, add 1 stick of butter (you can use ½ canola, too), let it melt, then add the 6 tbsp. of milk powder. I whisk this, until it’s cool enough to add the packet of yeast. You want warm, not hot.  After melting the cold butter, it doesn’t take long. See? No extra pots.  If it's taking too long, I set my mixing bowl in some cool water in the sink and whisk to cool. 

I put about a half cup of sugar in there, to make it multi purpose. By sugar, I mean: white, brown, molasses pretty strong- do that ½ and ½ with the others), honey (very nice). Sometimes, if I’m going to make donuts out of it, or beignets, then I up the sugar and add some nutmeg. But those things can be added later, and I need my dough to multitask, like me.

You can add 1 or two eggs, or not.  You will need to use the dough faster, in that case.  I'd say within 3 days.  Proteins like eggs will go bad if left for long.

Follow the same instructions with the salt (in this one, about 2 tsp)… not at the beginning, but after some flour has gone in.

I hope you are beginning to see how malleable this is. Follow the other recipe from here.  This is the basic dough, but adding other flavorings is easy to do.  Cheese bread comes to mind- just stir in some cheese.  If adding anything heavy, like olives, nuts, whole grain flour, just double your yeast for insurance, and plan on maybe having a more compact loaf.

On either dough, if you want a finer texture and even more rise, more elasticity, then it takes an extra step. In daily life, I skip it, but for holidays, etc., I take the extra time. Here’s the secret: The Sponge.

By adding enough flour to the wet ingredients to make a batter, and letting that rise by itself, you are creating what is known as a sponge. This allows the gluten to really develop, and give you a finer texture. I use quick rise yeast all the time. But when yeast are allowed to do their thing slowly, you get a much better flavor and texture. So if you do the sponge, then once that’s risen, continue from that to make the dough, put it in the refrigerator to rise overnight, you will be rewarded with even better bread. You can take bread from “good” to an absolute art form if you have the time and inclination.


In my restaurant, we had a proofer, which was basically an enclosed rack with shelves and low heat to which you add water so you have steam. There isn’t one reason you can’t make this in your oven at home: Turn it on to the lowest setting just until you feel some heat (like, 1-2 minutes!). Turn it off, or you will kill your yeast- you want warm, not hot. Put a pan on the bottom rack, pour boiling water in there, and voila, add your bread to your new proofer. I leave the pan in when baking for extra moisure, which gives it a nice crust.


Note:  08/30/08:

I made these this morning, before having coffee.  I accidentally put in half the flours.  What I got was a dense(in the way of poundcake), moist muffin, with a chewy top.  Happy accident, no frosting required, or butter either.  The other recipe gives you a lemon cake consistency, and rises much higher.  Both are good!

It's the height of blueberry season over here. I was lucky enough to come across a U-Pick farm not long ago, and picked about 2 gallons for $8. What a cool thing that was! Well, actually it was hot! I'd have given the farmer $20 for a bottle of water when I was done. The South is like a huge convection oven, with steam. Then that sweet man just gave me some water.  He was probably worried that the woman with the scarlet face was going to pass out on him.  :)  I am constantly surprised by the sheer niceness of people in the South.

So. All you REALLY wanted to know, was how to make a darn blueberry muffin, huh? Here goes:

Blueberry Muffins Marlena's Way......

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cream together:

1/2 c. butter & 1 c. sugar

While the butter and sugar are beating (you want that fluffy pale yellow- about 5 mins.), blend up 1 cup oats to make oat flour (so you can sneak it past your kids). Set aside.

Add one egg at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, (you will need 2) and beat until whipped and very pale yellow.

Now, add zest of one lemon, juice from one half of it.

Next goes in: 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. baking powder…That’s right, I put it right into the liquid. Yep. I went there, and I knew I wasn‘t supposed to. What can I say? I‘m a rebel.

Now you need either ½ c. milk, or 2 tbsp. whole milk powder and ½ c. water. If using the milk powder, add just the powder to the wet ingredients and mix. (see my post on powdered whole (it does exist!) milk in “How to Save Big” in the categories on the right). 

Alright: Now the flours, oat and Self Rising (this flour should have a superman “S” on the front- it’s my hero).

Dump in your oat flour, mix, then half of the milk or water. Wait until that’s incorporated, then dump in the self-rising flour ( 1 C), mix, then the other half of the liquid. Batter will be thick and like a cake batter.

You will need about a cup of blueberries.

The Thing About Blueberries: They turn your batter purple. Or worse, grey. Even if you are using frozen or canned, and drain and rinse (eek, watery berries!) like the old mixes instruct you to do.

How to avoid this: dump a couple tablespoons of the same flour you are using on them and stir them up. Then you fold them in by hand.

Okey, dokey! Use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups or tins (greased) almost to the top, and pop them into that hot oven. This will make the tops rise up the way you want them to.

After 5 minutes, lower the temp. to 375 F.

True to form, I didn’t time these. I don’t even own a timer… my nose does that job for me. When they are golden brown, take them out. The smell is like - oh, I don’t know- heaven. That’s another indicator they are done. Your teenager will even come out of their room. So you see, you won’t burn them. I’m guessing it takes 12-20 minutes (what? You mean other recipes don’t have a +/- factor of 8 minutes?).

Cool them on racks, or leave ‘em in the pan to cool, and while that’s happening…

Take the juice of the other half of that lemon, ½ tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. butter, and ¼ c. cream cheese. This is going to shock you, but I don’t measure my cream cheese- I cut it into cubes and eyeball it. Why put it into a measuring cup, when you have to pry it back out? Yuck. Mix together and add enough powdered sugar to make frosting. No, I don’t really know how much that is….. Lots, though. About 1 ½ cups, or 2? You know when you have it right, because it looks like frosting.

Please do not buy that goo in a can they call frosting.  It's shortening.  With artificial flavors and preservatives.  And powdered sugar.  I think the trend towards instant foods is apalling- unhealthy and expensive.

Frost while the muffins are still warm… I garnish sometimes with candied lemon peel. But the kids just pull it off, so mainly, that’s for me. Try sprinkling some granulated sugar on top for fluff.

I actually ended up with 10 muffins, but you can stretch to 12. I just LOVE muffin tops, and I wanted them big.

Did you notice that half of the flour was whole grain (oats)? The kids never knew the difference, the muffins tasted like lemon cake with blueberries- same rich, dense but fluffy flavor.  And the muffins are… gone!





I read statements by moms of young children all the time that go something like this: “You have to TRAIN your child to like vegetables.” Almost without exception, these moms have very young children. To make matters worse, they are hearing this from scientists and experts, so of course, it must be true. Some of it is, but those scientists never met MY kids.

Mine are really spaced out. I have a 17 year-old, an 8 year-old, and a 2 year-old. My toddler is not very picky at all, and will eat vegetables, because I always provide them. Sound familiar? Well, that was what I thought, too, twelve years ago.

And then my firstborn, at the ripe old age of 5, suddenly decided he hated melted cheese. What child doesn’t like melted cheese? Regular cheese was fine. You just couldn’t melt it. You should have seen the looks I got when I had to order our pizza. Half without cheese. For the child. Didn’t he know he was supposed to demand cheese pizza?

Now, he’s a foodie, like me. And he shares my philosophy: Most Problems Can be Solved With Cheese. I almost gave him a wheel of cheese for Christmas last year, but decided in favor of his arteries and gave him something else. And he loves sardines and anchovies. Blech! How did that happen? I had nothing to do with that…

At the moment, my eight year -old is just starting to eat french fries. Hates corn, and mashed potatoes. Apparently nobody filled him in on the “Universal Kid’s Code of Favorite Kid Foods,” either. And for you young mothers out there, let me just say he loved those things when he was two.

The only vegetable I can get him to eat is olives, and that’s a fruit. I think I’m making a breakthrough on broccoli, though. Really, he does eat vegetables all the time; he either doesn’t know it, or can’t get around it. Like the chopped spinach that’s in a lot of my food, and is too small to pick out.

Somewhere in my memory banks was the knowledge that taste buds change. I decided to look it up, and I found what I think may be the answer: Taste buds change every 5 to 7 years. Which explains why this seems to happen between the ages of 5 and 7 with my kids, anyway. What about yours? Any comments?

Here’s a short article:


Then there is that indefinable individuality factor, the “I can do it myself” phase that means your child’s sudden dislike of broccoli may have absolutely nothing to do with food at all. If your child suddenly gives you a hard time at meals, you may be engaging in a power struggle. And guess what?

There exists all sorts of advice on this subject. The only advice I can give you is that you will suffer, because you can’t win. Even if you win, you lose. I hate that. I’ve been there, and I think I’m finally over that particular hump. But I must have tried a zillion different tactics, read almost as many articles. Good luck! I’m not smart enough to give you advice, and I don’t have a finger to point with, so I’m just going to pretend like I’m successful. Humor me, ok?  Anyway, it seems to be working.

In the meantime, just keep telling yourself it’s just a phase (that can last for years…). And keep shoveling the veggies at them, both incognito and otherwise. Most likely, if kids are required to taste vegetables at least periodically, they will like most of them eventually. A healthy lifestyle and diet really will become a part of their grown-up lives if you make it part of their lives as children
Just don’t make the assumption that it will be easy.