Friday, March 25, 2011

Saving Money on Spices

I cook a lot so I end up using a lot of spices.  There are a few ways I've found to save money on them.  Now, I know that purists will say don't keep any dried spice for longer than a year, but honestly, I haven't had a lot of trouble with keeping them for several years.  I'm sure they're better when a year or less in age, but they will work fine for much longer than that.

Places I purchase spices and baking supplies:
BJ's and Costco (and similar stores):  They sell larger size containers.  These are very nice, but you need to have shelf space or spice rack with tall shelves to hold them.  I have about 15 of them, I think.  BJ's has been running a coupon in their mailing 1-2 times a year that has been a great savings!  BJ's also accepts manufacturer coupons, so you can use the McCormick coupons from the paper since that's what they now carry.  Costco is the better of the two for Vanilla.  It was $3 cheaper for the same size bottle at Costco the last time I purchased it.  BJ's and Costco are also the least expensive places I've found to get honey and maple syrup.

Amish Stores:  Up in Pennsylvania, there is an Amish Store called East Drumore Foods on Little Britain Road N, near Quarryville, PA.  Throughout PA, there are small Mennonite and Amish markets similar to this one.  This is a great place to get Molasses.  I also buy many spices there because they are less expensive than supermarkets, but you can get all the spices that Costco and BJs don't carry.

Mexican Markets/Ethnic Sections in regular grocery stores:  Wegmans carries a lot of ethnic spices in their middle eastern food section as well as their Hispanic food section.  There is going to be a Wegmans near us soon and I will be glad when it opens.  Until then, Mexican Markets carry a good selection of spices in bags that you can use to reuse the bottles you have for your spices (so don't throw those bottles away!).

Atlantic Spice and San Francisco Herb:  If you don't live near a store where you can get spices in bulk or larger packaging, there's another option.  If you're on the East Coast of the US, there's  and if you're on the West Coast of the US, there's  A minimum shipping order is $30, so find a friend or two that you can share some spices with.  One thing to note:  compare the weight of the packages to the bottle that you have of that spice.  I just ordered 8 oz of oregano and I am going to have to find 3 friends to share this with!  But, it can be a great way to save money on spices.

Baking Supplies

The best way I've found to save on a few particular baking supplies is to buy them in bulk from a restaurant supply store.  Strangely enough, there isn't one near me.  But, I did find one online.

The supplies I wanted were Parchment Paper and Muffin/Cupcake Liners.
I found both on this site.  The parchment worked out to be $44 for 1000 sheets when I tacked on the shipping.  Each of the 16 x 24 sheets can be cut in half to make 2 sheets.  I bought my first box 13 years ago and I still haven't run out.  If you aren't interested in a whole box, you can buy it in packages of 50, or you can split a box with friends like I'm doing and share the cost.  I also found muffin liners.  They were $6 a box plus $3 or $4 per box for shipping.  This works out to about 80 or 90 cents per 100 white liners.  At Walmart when I checked last week, 32 were 92 cents!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Used Book Refunds

I have been going through a period of ordering many used books online via Amazon, AbeBooks, and I purchase most of my curriculum used since I use public school curriculum for Science, Math, Health, Art, Social Studies, and Reading.

It has become quite a business selling used books on the internet.  A few years ago, book descriptions were detailed and accurate.  I rarely had to request a refund.  Of late (the past year or so), I've had to request multiple refunds because of damaged books or missing pages or large amounts of writing in the books.  Usually, because the value of the book is less than the return, the seller will simply issue a refund.   Today, I received notice that a bookseller I had requested a refund from was willing to issue me a 30% refund (probably from the price of the book, not total purchase price) or I can pay to return the book and receive a full refund.  I wanted write about this just to caution you with this bookseller.

The bookseller is Goodwill Discount Books.  Many Goodwills today are selling their books.  This Goodwill Discount Books was out of North Las Vegas, Nevada.

What this experience has made me think is that I need to be much more willing to accept a damaged product if I order a book in only Good condition or be willing to take the chance that I may or may not be able to use the book I've ordered.  In this case, I have a second copy and will be able to copy the pages that are missing in the workbook.  I can work with it.  But, in other cases, I think I will need to think harder about which used books I purchase and which sellers I purchase from.

Amazon also tends to have a better returns policy than AbeBooks, but I'd been trying to save money by buying books lately through Abebooks because the shipping is often cheaper.  I think I need to go back to Amazon!

Post Script...
The refund was made from the book by Goodwill Books from North Las Vegas--for the full amount (incl. shipping).  But, on the other hand, I checked another refund I had requested from another bookseller two weeks ago that I noticed hadn't gone through.  I often just assume that when I get an email saying that a refund has been issued that it has.  In this case, it wasn't.  I'm not sure what changed Goodwill Books mind.  I didn't mean to be a squeaky wheel with this blog entry.  But, I am learning that I really need to inspect used books when they arrive. The problem with the other refund was that I ordered the book two months ago and didn't inspect it when it arrived.  I just shelved it.  The other day I looked at it and realized that it was missing a lot of pages!

At the end of the day, doesn't always seem that there's one more thing to take care of and follow up on!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2% Back

How many times have you been offered a Bj's, Costco, or Sam's Club Membership that will give you 2% back? The cashier will show you a total of how much you've spent this year and how much you would have earned if you had opted for that membership last year.

This year, I opted to sign up for Costco's Executive Membership--which costs $50 more than the basic membership.  They do guarantee that if you don't earn $50 back in your 2% that you can go in and they will refund you the $50.  But, it doesn't exactly work as you might expect... Or maybe you were expecting it.  I just wasn't.

I got my 2% refund in the mail for $16.93.  So, I went in and they gave me the remainder $33.07 in cash.  The refund is really a credit to be used at Costco.  I did need to renew my membership, so I opted to drop back to the basic membership, which costs $50.  The cashier accepted the refund check and the $33.07 I'd just received  to pay for next year's membership.

It was really interesting to me that this is how it worked out.  I'm thankful that it did, actually.  I won't be tempted again to say yes.

I think the saying is something like "when something seems too good to be true, it is".  That's marketing--good marketing makes something appealing.  It makes you want to commit and buy into an idea or product.

I'll be much more wary the next time I run into a similar proposition...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cookbooks for Kids

Just a day after I found myself frustrated in my endeavor to collect resources to teach my children life and home making skills, I realized that I needed to go back through the kids cookbooks I have again.  I realized that I have about 7 or 8 children's cookbooks in our cookbook collection.  They all have different strengths, so I thought I'd share what I think is their strengths and weaknesses and which ones I would buy (if I didn't have them) and which ones I wouldn't...

So, here's the List (in order of preference):
#1  Kids Cook! by Sarah Williamson & Zachary Williamson
Best Age: 5-9
Good, simple directions.
Generally pretty healthy recipes and ones that my kids would actually make.  There's a good section on safety and good illustrations of equipment.  There's a few pictures of the steps of cooking, but not many.  There's a good variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner recipes--over 150 in all, which is far more than all the other kids' cookbooks I came across.  The pages are black and white, but one reviewer on Amazon suggested that you let your kids color in the pictures (or you could if you are in a coloring mood) while they're waiting for the food to cook.  I think that's a great idea.  This cookbook is also VERY affordable (only $2.52 with free shipping) when I bought it on Amazon.  For the price and content, this is the best value.

#2  Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes by Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson
This is a wonderful cookbook for 4-7 year olds.  My kids love to sit down and look through it.  I love the quotes from the kids who tested and tried out the recipes.  The bulk of the recipes in this cookbook are ones my kids would make and eat.  I have pretty average eaters, except for 1 who is very picky.  I like the hand drawn pictures that illustrate each step.  The directions are well written and easy to follow.  The one big thing missing in this cookbook is explanation of terms and safety instructions.  There is a list in the front--but it is in mom language and in mom font, not kid font or simple 4 year old language.  I do appreciate Ms. Katzen's note about cooking with children in the front of the book about cooking with children--I think her advice is wonderful!  Don't worry about the messes and spills.  Just enjoy it and help them learn to enjoy cooking with you.  This is something I have to work on every time I cook with my kids.  There is a second cookbook Salad People that Mollie Katzen wrote as a sequel for this age group, but it is one that I would check out of the library before purchasing.  I looked through the recipes and could tell that my kids, unfortunately, wouldn't eat any of them.

I did see that this cookbook is only about $4.25 for a used copy, including shipping on Amazon right now.

I would say that for any of these cookbooks, check them out of the library if you can before you buy one.  See if it's easy for you to use and for your kids to use.  Do you like the formatting?  Is the reading level right for your kids?  Are the recipes things they would like to eat?

#3  Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen
This book for cooks ages 8 and up.  If you like Pretend Soup, then I think you'll love Honest Pretzels.  The directions are perfect for kids and Katzen's recipes are pretty healthy.  My kids absolutely love the Peanut Butter Doo Dads and the Giant Baked Pancake Puff is made every few weeks in our house.  Autumn reads the recipe while Eli and Sami help with the mixing.  These recipes can be made by 5-7 year olds with help and probably by a 8-11 year old on their own once they've made them with you.  But, that depends on how comfortable and able both you and your child feel about cooking these recipes.  This book has a lot more extensive notes for parents because the recipes are feasible for your child to do more of the cooking and maybe even all of the cooking for these recipes on their own.  I really appreciate that Mollie Katzen writes well without being too wordy.  I have the older edition which is currently about $5 used (including shipping) on Amazon when I checked today.

#4  Simply in Season Children's Cookbook by Mark Beach and Julie Kauffman
Best Age: 7-10
Simply in Season is one of my favorite cookbooks, so I had wanted this cookbook for a long time. It doesn't have a lot of recipes, but many kids cookbooks don't. The recipes in here are written well--in simple, clear, language.  I loved the 4 prayers that are in the book at the end of each section for the seasons. At the beginning of each season's section is a poem about the season which I look forward to reading with my children through the year as we make our way through the seasons. I also loved the first two pages about the "11 easy steps to fun cooking and eating" and the introduction to the cookbook. I thought the 11 steps were perfect. There isn't a big section about kitchen equipment or safety, so I would recommend other cookbooks with more thorough information if you want that. But, this is one of the better children's cookbooks I found. The recipes are good and well written. The formatting and binding of the cookbook will make it easier for kids and parents to use and it's big enough for everyone to look at together.   You can see a preview of this cookbook on CBD.  I bought a used copy for $12 (incl. shipping) on  You can view a lot more of this cookbook here: 

From here, the others I have are all pretty much equal.  I don't know if I would purchase any of them unless they would work well with your curriculum for homeschooling or they were what your kids were interested in.

* The Science Chef
Best Age:  4th-6th graders
This book is fun because it tackles one science question with multiple recipes.  The type is small and the language is simple so it would be good for an older child, rather than a 2nd or 3rd grader.  One review I read said the experiments were very simple--yes, they are simple in concept, but something doesn't have to be complex for it to be fun.  An example is the recipe for making your own cheese curds.  The science experiment is really one more of observation than of testing a hypothesis.  

* The Kids Multicultural Cookbook by Deanna F. Cook
Best Age: 2nd-5th grade
This book had one of the best cooking basics sections at the front of the book.  The recipes are divided by continent and country.  They use ingredients you'll have in your home or can easily find at your local grocery store.  There's also fun information about the countries and activities for you to do which relate to that culture.  

*Mom and Me Cookbook by Annabel Karmel
Best Age: 3-6 year olds
This book is a DK cookbook.  They have several.  They are the only publisher, that I found, that has color photographs of children cooking each step along the way in the recipes.  If this is what you are looking for, I'd recommend looking for one of these at your local bookstore or library.  Amazon does not have previews of most of their books available for you to see before you buy the book.  If you look at one and like it though, I'm sure you'll like the others that they publish for kids.  I do like the Mom and Me Cookbook, but of the 21 recipes, there were only 2 or 3 that I wanted to make with my kids.  That's the hard part about kids cookbooks.  Every family cooks different foods.  I always think it's best to look at the table of contents of a cookbook before hand to see if the recipes even sound like what your kids would want to make and eat.

Cookbooks I didn't like as well...

Paula Deen's My First Cookbook...  I looked at this one at the library.  The words are very small and the recipes are very wordy.  The safety directions page was fine, but other cookbooks were more complete and more simply written.  The illustrations and didn't add a lot to the book for me and the recipes didn't stand out to me.  For a "first" cookbook, I don't think it would be one I would choose to get.  You can't see a preview online, but Barnes and Noble carries it and so did my local library.

Fix it and Forget it Kids Cookbook...  I am so glad I checked this one out of the library.  Of the 50 recipes, I only found 6 that I would consider making with my kids.  Many of the recipes were made with canned condensed soup and they also had a very high fat content.  The pictures were of the dishes, but not of the preparations.  The directions were simply written (but not as simply as the Simply in Season Children's Cookbook) and that was a good thing about this cookbook.

Happy Cooking!

Cookbook Shopping Tip:
If you want to find the best price online for any of these cookbooks, I typically use Direct to compare prices.  Although I'm finding that I want to shop more at Amazon than other sites because I have more recourse when a used book doesn't arrive in the condition that it was described in.  One used book I ordered last week in "good condition" through AbeBooks arrived with a large water stain on the back cover.   

Friday, March 4, 2011

A New Guide for Healthy Family Eating

Partially hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, food coloring...  There are so many things that we have to watch out for in our food today.  Sometimes it's hard for me to keep all the information straight in my head.  My husband and I strive to feed our kids a healthy diet of fresh, prepared from scratch meals rather than frozen and prepackaged meals.  In our efforts, we have hit a snag.  Actually, it is a big snag.  We have one very picky eater.

Our first daughter was such a good eater--she even ate mushrooms when she was two years old!  Then, along came our second daughter who's refusal to eat most fruits and vegetables became more pronounced as she has grown older.  Did we do anything different?  No, not really.  Did I introduce the veggie baby foods first?  Yes!  Then our third child came along and thankfully he has turned out to be a good eater so far.

I thought maybe my picky eating daughter would grow out of her picky habits.  I have deep fears that she will become an adult who doesn't enjoy the wonderful world of food because she doesn't like the name of things.  In my quest for help, I began a search for helpful advice.  One of the books I discovered is a book titled The Cleaner Plate Club, by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin. I read the description of the book and it sounded like it would be right up our alley...

When you open up this book, you'll find a large section with all the nutrition information you've been looking up on the internet and haven't been able to easily find--at least I haven't.  I love books because they save me so much time!  They have all the information I want in one place.  And that is definitely the case with this book.  I can't count how many times I've looked up the ratios for sugar substitutes and definitions of kind of fats--and how many times I've looked up the different types of cooking oils.  Among the chapters in this book, you'll find a list of all the types of oils and fats, a list (with descriptions) of the sugar substitutes...  But, wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin wrote The Cleaner Plate Club out of a desire to share what they've learned as they've sought to feed their own families healthy meals and raise healthy children.  The first part of the book is about nutrition.  Included in this section is a discussion of how to cope when they don't eat and how to feel about it.  The authors are not psychologists and wisely don't try to deal with the nonfood aspects of this--they don't deal with the aspects of obedience and discipline.  Instead, they focus these two pages on the nutritional aspects and how to view it.  The next chapter is about shopping for food.  I thought their list of ingredients for a well-stocked pantry was really pretty good.  There's a few that I might substitute or say are optional, but for the most part, I think it's a very affordable, well rounded list.  The next section explains CSAs and farmer's markets.  If you've wondered how a CSA works or what the benefits are, the authors do a good job of explaining them.  The remainder (and bulk) of the cookbook is about vegetables with recipes for your family.  The recipes I've made have all come out except for one.  My husband (and two of my children) loved the chicken chili, the fig balsamic salad dressing (which is about as simple as you can get), and the kale salt and vinegar chips.  The kale chips were truly one of the most surprising recipes in the book.  I made them on a whim not thinking anyone in my family but my husband would eat them--and all but one of my family loved them!  I did also make the tomato and bread soup, which did not turn out to be a hit with my children because  they love their Trader Joe's tomato soup and couldn't quite get used to the new texture of this soup.

So, here's my very honest opinion, I do love this cookbook.  But, though these recipes are family friendly, they may not be eaten by your picky eaters.  I think children who normally eat vegetables will love the recipes in this cookbook.  I was pretty shocked when my oldest daughter, a non picky eater, gobbled up the kale chips.  I hadn't even tried to get her to eat kale.  And some picky eaters may grow to love these recipes.  At the very least, the recipes in this cookbook are a great place to start.  They aren't too spicy, but they are flavorful dishes (just go light on the salt the first time you make the kale chips).  I don't have especially high hopes for my middle daughter, but I hope that she will eventually grow to love other foods.  She has been more willing of late at least to take a few bites and has been able to swallow them--I know that sounds extreme, but I am sincere when I say that I really do have a picky eater.  I think it's a trap that we as parents can begin to fall into when we cater to our picky children and stop cooking dishes that we enjoy.  I've heard from several moms that they just can't do it anymore so they just start feeding their kids nuggets and mac and cheese every night.  I don't want to go down that road.  I love food.  I especially love good food!  If 2 of my 3 children will eat a dish, then I consider it a successful meal.  So, if majority rules, this cookbook is a winner in our house.  It doesn't have all the answers for your picky eaters, nor does it pretend to.  But, it will be a good guide to help you know what to feed your children, how to shop, and give you some yummy recipes to cook for your family.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking of Simply in Season and I was so pleased to find that it is listed as one of the authors' favorite cookbooks at the back of the book.  Simply in Season is probably one of my most favorite cookbooks and I've written about it several times on this blog. Many of the recipes in Simply in Season are simpler than in this cookbook, but I think the two would compliment each other well if you are looking for cookbooks that will help you bring more vegetables and healthy dishes into your family's diet.

As I've reread this review, I've realized that I've really put this book in a box.  I have made it sound as if this is a cookbook that is best suited only to families.  I didn't mean to box it in that way.  So, who would I recommend this cookbook to?
1. Anyone who wants a cookbook with good, solid information about nutrition (but isn't ready to wade through a thick book devoted solely to nutrition).
2. Anyone who wants to cook more vegetables and eat healthier dishes at home, but isn't sure where to start and doesn't want to make any more casseroles.
3. And finally-- Anyone who loves yummy, healthy, food that doesn't include canned soup, ranch dressing, or another prepared food item as an ingredient!

Please note that I did receive a complimentary copy of The Cleaner Plate Club for review from Storey Publishing.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I'm frustrated...

I'm frustrated...that I can't find what I'm looking for.  I really thought it would be simple.  There's so many choices after all!

I have been attempting to compile a short list of books that would cover the major life skills that I want my children to learn.  I have found a wonderful book for sewing and have a plan for teaching manners (which combines 2 resources).  I have five kids cookbooks on my shelf (none of which I would consider the best all in one beginner cookbook).  I have three books I ordered--one on responsibility, one on home economics for homeschoolers (that's the title), and one on money.  They're all okay, but not great.  So, I'm frustrated...

I have an idea in my mind of exactly what I'm looking for.  I want books that are helpful to both parents and kids--ones that can be read together, but that also help parents springboard from and go further on their own.  I want books that cover the basics without being contrived.  I want illustrations!  I also want books that encourages girls and boys to be girls and boys, but that doesn't pigeon hole them.

I think that my best solution at this point is to just write my own, perhaps that will become my summer project.  I do like to write curriculum, so I think I am going to try my hand at this.