Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Cut a Mango (and get the most out of it)

My man has been buying a bag of dried mangoes nearly every time I send him to the store for anything.  I love them so much I haven't even asked how much it costs, but I'm sure it's enough that I'd ask him to stop buying them if I knew.  That's why when mangoes went on sale for $1 this week, I picked up a few.  Mangoes are notoriously tricky to slice, and I'd only done it once or twice before this, but I learned all the tricks today and I'm going to share what worked well for me.

 Make sure your mango is nice and ripe by squeezing it gently, it should feel soft, yet firm.  If it is hard, like an apple, it is not ripe.   If it is squishy like a sponge, it is overripe.  As with any food prep, you want to start by washing your fruit to remove any chemicals, wax, or dirt.  To cut a mango you'll need either a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, a large sharp knife, and a large cutting board.  Start by removing the skin.  I prefer a paring knife for this job, but you should use whatever tools you're most comfortable with.

Next you need to determine the direction of the pit.  Start by standing the mango on its end and determining which direction is the widest.  The pit will run in that direction and will be 1"-2" thick.  Holding your mango upright, cut straight down on one side of the pit (marked by the dashed line in the left picture).  You can just see the edge of the pit protruding on the middle photo.  Next, lie the piece with the pit flat side down and cut on one side of the pit, angling your knife so it does not pierce the pit.  Again, lie the piece with the pit left on the flat you just cut off and once more, cut directly next to the pit.   During these steps you'll want to cut close to the pit, without actually piercing it.  The flesh directly next to the pit is very tough and fibrous.

You should be left with a pit that has just a bit of flesh on one side.  Hold the pit firmly on and angle and cut a wedge of flesh off, turn it over and repeat.  The middle picture here is the flesh and pit from one fruit.  Finally, slice the mango about 1/2" or 3/4" thick.  You may cut the slices in half as I have done above, but it is not necessary.

And look just how much fruit you get this way!  I always used to feel like I would get two little bits from my mangoes, but now I really feel like I'm getting a lot.

And now I'm going to grab the floss to get the strings out of my teeth from sucking the juices and gnawing at the tough flesh around the pit; I just can't let that sweet nectar go to waste.  I hope you enjoy your mangoes, as they're in season right now.  Check back in a few days to see what delectable treat I'm making with these mango slices!

(**update: Here's what I made with my mangoes**)


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Booster/Carseat Safety

Well, I've been going like crazy, on anything I can manage, and even some things I can't manage!  I've been cleaning, organizing, and purging my entire house!  Who knows, by the end of it all I just may be able to park my car inside for the first time since we moved here over a year ago.  That would be nice. 

Anyway, there's so many exciting things going on in my house right now.  I've spent the last month getting everything in order for my oldest to start school in the fall!  Yep, she's going to be in kindergarten.  Getting a child ready to start school is a whole new experience for me.   She's not the only one getting bigger, my baby boy is well over a year now, and pushing the weight limits on his infant carrier so I suppose it's time to switch it out for a big kid carseat!  As parents, we go out of our way to keep our kids safe, and putting them in the proper carseat is only the beginning of car safety.  We need to make sure our kids will be safe in the event of an accident.  That's why I am happy to share this tip with you.  I don't know about every state, but in Ohio, your local DMV should carry lime green stickers that look like this:

As you can see there's a space for all vital information about your children.  Place a sticker on each side of your child's booster/carseat.  In the event of an accident, emergency responders will have all the information about your child necessary to treat them and contact you or another emergency contact if you were also involved in the accident.  If you don't think you'll ever need these, here's the story behind their creation:

"The CHAD safety seat child identification program has been developed as a result of a traffic accident involving a 13-month old boy named Chad. The baby-sitter who was driving was killed. Chad was injured but no one at the scene knew his identity. Only because an emergency room nurse recognized him could his parents be quickly located and his injuries be treated." (from the Chad website: here)

You can visit the website to see the participating states.  If you're in Ohio and can't find these stickers you can contact Ohio Public Safety at 614-466-4775 to request your stickers.  Or, if you prefer, you can just print your own at home on bright paper.  Just remember to cover them completely with clear packaging tape to prevent them from being torn away or washed away if exposed to moisture. 

And here they are, all updated with the most recent information and applied:

And as you can see, they stick out like a sore thumb, just what you want:

Just remember you should take care to not cover any manufacturer safety information printed on the carseat when using these stickers or your own printed version.

Please leave us a message to let us know where you were able to find your stickers, or if you know of other carseat safety programs available in other states.


Monday, May 13, 2013

What's In Your Cheese?

If you're buying a bag of shredded cheese, what do you think is in your bag?  If you guessed cheese, you're wrong.  Well, I mean, yes, there is some cheese in your bag, but its certainly not only cheese.  In fact, check out these photos I snapped at the grocery store the other day of various national brands of shredded cheese:


Did you get to those last few ingredients and say to yourself, but that's not cheese?  I know I did. 

Here's what Sargento had to say when asked, "ingredients listed on the shredded cheese packages include powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate and potato starch. What are those?"

Their answer: "Powdered cellulose is a white, odorless, tasteless, totally natural powder made from cellulose, a naturally occurring component of most plants. It won’t absorb moisture because of its fibrous, non-gel structure. When added to shredded cheese, cellulose prevents the cheese from sticking together. Calcium carbonate and potato starch are also natural ingredients. They pass through your body as any food does. They’re not harmful. Sargento sprinkles very small amounts of these anti-caking agents on all varieties of our shredded cheeses, which helps ensure our cheese is easier for consumers to use." (link)

What they failed to tell you, is that while cellulose may be a naturally occurring substance, this 'odorless, tasteless, totally natural powder' is extracted from wood chips or newspaper by boiling it.  YUMMY!  Tell me again why you're paying for an 'odorless, tasteless, totally natural powder?'

Oh, and did they tell you exactly where calcium carbonate is naturally occurring?  No?  Probably because it occurs in chalk, limestone, and marbles.  And just about the only good thing I can say about potato starch is that it at least comes from a real food.  That's not to say I'm in any way okay if it being in my cheese, but at least its something I consider edible. Even if it does 'pass through your body as any food does.'  Notice how they didn't say it was DIGESTED like food.

But, hey, at least 'they're not harmful' ingredients, though I suppose you can be the judge of that.

For comparison, here's the ingredients in some block cheese I just happened to have in the fridge:


Here we have a smoked cheddar and a hot pepper jack.  Notice what's in them; (aside from the peppers) it's milk, salt, and enzymes.  It doesn't even contain natamycin (mold inhibitor).  Because it has so much less surface area, mold won't grow nearly as quickly.  And that pepper cheese was even the cheapest store brand; nothing special. 

In the end buying shredded cheese will save you a minute or two each time you use it.  Not worth it, especially when you consider that using fresh shredded cheese doesn't just eliminate the chemicals, it also tastes SO MUCH BETTER because it's not all dried out and stale.  Plus those chemicals don't melt so your cheese will be so much more melty and gooey! 

Now that I'm salivating I'm going to go shred some cheese into a bowl and eat it over the trash can... yep, it's that good.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Coffee Ice Cubes: Awesome & Messy

Like many of us, I'm obsessed with pinterest!  One big pin going around is freezing your extra or leftover coffee to make iced coffee drinks with.  This is something I've been doing for years now, ever since I discovered in college that I truly hate hot coffee!  Buying those iced or frozen coffee drinks is ridiculously expensive, so I would often make my own, and today I'll share a few things I've learned.

First:  Freezing your coffee is awesome, but it won't be what you expect.  The first time I froze my coffee I threw it out because I thought it was bad.  For some reason, when coffee freezes it gets very sticky and kind of slimy and it almost looks marbled.


This is normal, don't throw yours away.  It will also leave a black residue on your ice cube tray (and your hands or anything else it touches).  You may want to reserve one specifically for coffee because this is what it looks like after just one use:


Most iced coffee recipes call for double strength, chilled coffee.  The way I see it, that doubles the cost of each beverage (since you have to use twice the grounds!).  So, instead, I just brew regular strength and cool it to room temperature, add my coffee cubes, and any creamer, sweetener, or flavor.  Most often I'll brew my coffee in the evening and let it cool overnight, or put it in the fridge.  For me this works great. 

Well, this usually works great for me, that it, when I actually do it.  Often I don't have any coffee in the fridge when I wake up... oops.  So I just brew my coffee with an extra scoop of grounds so it's ever so slightly stronger.  Then I throw my coffee cubes directly in my hot coffee and bam - cold coffee.

One thing I've found with these methods is that if you make your iced coffee and fill it full of your frozen coffee cubes, your drink will get darker and less sweet as the cubes melt.  Usually, I'll add two or three cubes and stir until the drink is thoroughly chilled, then add another two or three regular cubes.  I do this so I don't waste the precious coffee cubes, and also to help keep it from getting blacker as they melt.

I crave it so badly I drank half of it before I thought to take a picture
And since coffee preferences are as personal a choice as underwear style, experiment!  Don't be afraid to try something new, you never know what you'll discover - I discovered I like half granulated sugar and half brown sugar in my coffee.  WHO KNEW!?

I'd love to try some coffee experiments, let me know what you come up with!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

At Home

As a stay at home mother I spend lots of time with my kids.  It sounds like it'd be great, right?  But really it just means I spend more time cleaning up after them.  It also means that I'm crafty, as much out of necessity as desire.  With me staying at home with our three kids it means the five of us have only one modest income.  Luckily, it also means that I have plenty of time to find ways to cut costs and have fun doing it!

Here I'll explore my adventures cutting costs in the kitchen (which is unfortunate for you because I'm a terrible cook), saving money around the house, my renewed interest in sewing, keeping children happy WITHOUT buying new toys, and all things generally crafty!

For years my family ate quick, mostly prepackaged meals like hamburger helper, boxed potatoes, canned fruit, veggies, and beans, and the like.  We did this because it was fast and easy.  It was also expensive.  I know that convenience cooking is, well, convenient.  But one of the easiest ways to cut your monthly budget is to cut your food costs.  I'm always looking for an easy way to prepare these convenience foods from scratch.  I'm not much for trying fancy recipes, but when I can, I will try to prepare as much as I can ahead of time, and store it to make things easier for me later.

There's no more generic a statement you'll hear than 'saving money around the house.'  There really are about a million ways to do this, but generally it goes back to the 3R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Yep, I'm notorious for this.  Expect to see a lot of this.

Oh, and sewing.  Well... its just fun.  I like new clothes, but I don't like that they never fit right.  I used to sew my own clothes as a preteen and I'm not sure why I ever stopped, really.  So I'm going to give it a shot again.  This might be the best thing I ever do. 

Or it might be a train wreck.

And, of course, since I spend nearly every minute of my day involved with my children I can't leave them out of the discussion.   I'm always trying to find ways to entertain them without spending much money (or without spending ANY if I can help it).  I'm also always on the market for new and fun crafty projects to do with them, or do alone and claim I was 'testing' it before I tried it with them.

I can tell already we're going to have a lot of fun here!