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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cooking tips

Today I got an email that I want to share with you. The title read: "A few more cooking tips".
Here they come:

Adding garlic
If a recipe calls for adding vegetables to a pan with hot oil, make sure to add the garlic last. This way the flavor of the garlic will be preserved and it won't turn bitter.

Chopping parsley

This works for parsley as well as any leafed herb. Divide unchopped parsley into portions and put them into small plastic bags. Inflate the bags a bit and tie a knot. Then freeze.
When you want to use it, just take out one of the bags and punch a hole. Now roll the parsley between your fingers and sprinkle on your food. The parsley will crumble and you don't need to chop it!

Oven baked potatoes

This tip is great if you're not a fan of microwaves, like me.
Put potato chunks in a big bowl and add boiling water. Cover the bowl with a plate and 'cook' the potatoes for 10-15 minutes. Then pop them into the oven. This shortens the baking time tremendously!

By Michaela Kobyakov
Apple sauce

Replace oil in a cake recipe with apple sauce, same amounts. This greatly reduces the calories without reducing flavor.

Mashed potatoes
For light, airy mashed potatoes add baking powder to the cooking water. One teaspoon for every kg potatoes. This doesn't affect the flavor, but it 'blows up' the potatoes which makes for airy mash.

Clear soup

To get rid of all kinds of small floating things in clear soup, add raw egg white to boiling soup. The egg white sets and attracts and absorbs all small floating parts. Then it's easy to scoop up and voila, clear soup.

Whipping cream

When you want to add sugar to whipping cream, make sure to add it only at the end, after the cream has formed. This way, the cream will rise even more.

Do you have any good tips to share?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Smart Supermarket Shopping

I'm in the process of cutting back. I'm eagerly awaiting the end of the month to see if I was able to stay within my budget. We have many costs that we can't bring down such as mortgage and taxes. One of the things we can change is what we spend on groceries. Here are a few simple tricks that you can use when you do your supermarket trip, which have helped me to save money:

Make a list

Keep pen and paper ready in a kitchen drawer. Every time when you run out of something or when you see that you will run out in the coming week, write it down. This way you're much less likely to forget things.
Before going to the grocery store, finish your shopping list. Plan your menus for the coming week and add the ingredients to your list.
Important: once you're at the store, actually stick to your list. Don't put things in your cart that aren't on your list.

Don't go more often than once a week

The more often you enter a store, the more money you tend to spend. Try to keep your shopping trips to a minimum. Key to doing this is again by making a good shopping list using the method I described in the previous point.

Eat before you go out

We buy more when we're hungry, it's that simple. So fill up your belly before you leave the house so you won't be tempted to fill your cart at the store.

Put something big in your cart

Like a huge pack of toilet paper, first thing when you enter the store. Your cart will already look almost full, and you'll put in less. Don't forget to get rid of the big pack of toilet paper before going to the check-out.

Skip irrelevant aisles

Especially the ones with convenience foods such as candy and cookies. You're more likely to toss something in your cart when you pass it.


While you're waiting in line for the check-out, go over every item in your cart. Think to yourself: "Do I really need this? Is this a luxury item I can do without?"
Remember: You are allowed to change your mind! You can still chuck something out of your cart if you don't really need it at this point. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smooth mornings with kids

Mornings are not my favorite time of the day. It's not easy to get everybody up, dressed, and ready for school and work and it usually involves a lot of stress. In order to help make this time of the day run smoothly, I've compiled a list of tips.

Prepare ahead

Do as much as possible the evening before. This includes bathing, laying out clothes, preparing lunch, and placing everything that we need for the day by the door so we won't forget to take them.

By Jocilyn Pope
Go to sleep on time

Most people need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night. Some even more. So set yourself a decent bedtime, and actually stick to it. Waking up will be so much easier in the morning!

By Zvone Lavric
Wake up before the rest

If you have a bunch of kids, you might need to oversee their every move in the morning, from the moment they wake up until you're out of the house. Which means that you have to be ready before the kids wake up. So you get up before everybody else to shower and get dressed, and even have a cup of coffee if you need to. Only then wake up the brady bunch.

By Patryk Specjal

I heard an expert on TV say once that you should put on classical music in the morning. Apparently this has a calming effect on kids and your mornings are more likely to be smooth sailing.

Take your time

I don't mean that you should sit around and read the paper. Rather, schedule extra time to get ready in the morning, especially with kids. Add another 10 minutes to the time you think it takes for everyone to get ready.  This way, you should be able to make sure to get out of the house on time.

What is your morning strategy?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What's for dinner?

Every Sunday morning, I plan my week. I check my calendar to see what's up for this week. One of the major points of my week planning is what we'll have for dinner every day. With 5 kids, I just can't afford to think of dinner only at the last moment. I need to be prepared because otherwise my carefully planned week will fall apart like Humpty Dumpty.

So, what's going on for us this week?


We're having leftovers from the weekend.


I'm taking the kids to Dutch school in the afternoon, so I need to make sure to have dinner ready before I leave the house. I often plan a crockpot meal for this day.


It's my birthday on Tuesday! We are planning to eat out with the kids.


We're eating at my in-laws every Wednesday.


I need to plan a meal for this day.


On Friday, it will be shabat again. Shabat menu planning happens on Wednesday, the day before I do my shopping for the weekend.

Menu planning

This week, I only have to plan meals for Monday and Thursday. Since I need to start cooking on Monday morning, I need to make sure that I have all the ingredients in the house by Sunday evening.

So what will we be eating this week?

For Monday, I was thinking of making vegetarian chilli. That's great for the crockpot, and the kids love it. Especially if I add taco chips and sour cream! The kids love the idea of having chips for dinner.

Thursday will be vegetarian lasagne. I make it with courgette (squash) and salsa rosa. Here is the recipe:

Michal's courgette lasagne with salsa rosa


- 1 casserole dish, size doesn't matter so much.
- 1 pack of lasagne leaves which you don't need to pre-cook
- 1 big onion, chopped
- 7 or 8 courgettes, you can also use yellow squash or zucchini, chopped fairly small
- 1 small packet of cooking cream
- 2 small packets of totato paste
- ketchup
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
- Grated cheese


Preheat oven to 180 C or 350 F.
Saute the onions until translucent. Add the squash and stir-fry until the squash has a nice color.
Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir until heated well. Turn off the heat.
Add the cream and stir well. With an immersion blender, blend well until you get a smooth sauce.
Stir in sugar, ketchup, teriyaki sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Now assemble the lasagne:
Start with covering the bottom of the dish with lasagne leaves. Make sure the leaves are not sitting on top of one another.
Cover the pasta with sauce. Make sure to spread the sauce evenly, and that the pasta is covered completely. Pay special attention to the corners of your baking dish. They should have plenty of sauce as well.
I love lots of cheesy goo, so I add a layer of cheese here, but you don't have to.
Now alternate layers of pasta and sauce (and cheese if you want to) until you're out of sauce. Make sure to end with a layer of sauce. Top with grated cheese.

Cover the lasagne with tin foil, and put in the oven for 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tips for a warm house with little money

About 5 months ago we moved into a new house. Since we got married, we've always lived in rented places and this is the first house we own ourselves. Rental houses are usually not of the most luxury kind, and no home we ever lived in had heating. Winter in our area is pretty mild most of the time, but temperatures do sometimes tend to drop to a level where indoor heating is desirable. The new house thankfully has a central heating system, so we should be able to keep the house nice and toasty when it gets rough outside. But we also don't want to spend too much money heating up the place. Here are some things I came up with to keep heating costs down:

1. Insulation

Our new house is on the top floor of a building which stands on a hill top, so it gets pretty windy there. We bought the house on paper, so we were able to make some adjustments from the get-go. One of the things we did, was put in double glass windows. Good insulation is half the work of keeping the heat inside.

Also, make sure that there are no cracks by windows and doors from which the heat can escape and cold air can come in. On a windy day, run your hand around all the doors and windows to locate any leaks. You can easily seal them with silicon.

2. Don't turn the heater on all the time

The heater shouldn't be on while you're out of the house. We don't live in a country where it gets icy cold, so we can turn off the heater completely while we're out. Or alternately, while we're asleep. It's not healthy to sleep in a room that is too hot anyway.
Some people live in very cold climates and turning off the heater completely would mean that it would take ages for the house to heat up again. So in that case, just turn it lower at night and when you're out.

3. Don't overheat

You don't need to walk around the house in a t-shirt. That way, you don't have to compensate with your heater and turn up the temperature. Dress season appropriate, and even put on something extra when you're cold. Personally I only need to turn on the heater when I can see my own breath inside the house. And then I only turn it on so that I'm comfortable with my sweater and warm socks on.

4. Use the cheapest system

There are many systems out there for indoor heating. The main difference between them is what they run on. And that greatly affects the costs. Our heating system runs on gas, which is relatively cheap. Other systems may run on oil or diesel.
Air conditioning units can sometimes be put on the heating setting. When it's not very cold out, this may be a good solution. You may also be able to turn it off again after a while once the house is warm. This saves money too.
Shop around for the different options, and ask other people how they heat up their houses and how much they spend on it.

5. Indoor insulation

Put rugs on the floor, or even wall to wall carpeting. Wooden or laminated wooden floors also keep the heat in better than tiles.

6. Only heat up the room you're in

You can also choose to use space heaters to heat up the room you're currently in. This only works in small spaces such as a study room or bedroom. This way you don't have to heat up the whole house while you're only using 1 room. In this case, also make sure the room is ventilated well.

What to you use to heat your house? Do you have any other tips to share?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A clean and peaceful home with the FlyLady

It's Thursday, which means in my household that it's time to start preparing for shabat. I usually start my day by going to the supermarket to do my shopping for the week. When I get home, I unload all the things I bought, and put them away. Then it's cleaning time!

When you would have told me a few years ago that I'd be living in a clean and ordered house without having hired help, I'd have thought you're crazy. And everybody else would have thought so too! I was the most unorganized person in the world. I wouldn't call myself lazy exactly, but house keeping was not my strongest point.
Then I met the FlyLady.


FlyLady is a system that teaches you how to keep your home and life organized by creating habits. She starts off by telling us to shine our kitchen sinks. The philosophy is that when the kitchen sink is shining, you'll want to make the rest of the kitchen neat too, and from there it radiates through the whole house. And when the house is neat, we feel neat too!

We shouldn't accomplish all this within 1 day. The FlyLady set up a 31 day plan to start FLYing. Everything goes in baby steps! So it starts with shining the sink, next up are making the beds and putting on lace up shoes first thing in the morning.

27 fling boogies

FlyLady's way to get rid of clutter, is by doing 27 fling boogies. Tackling 1 area of the house at a time, she tells us to take a garbage bag and fling 27 things that we want to throw out. Next we need to take another bag and collect 27 things that we want to give away. Do this a few times, and the house will be clutter free in very little time.

But the big question is, does it actually work? And surprisingly enough, yes it does! At least it did for me. I always loved living in an ordered and clean space, I just had no clue how to accomplish that and more importantly: keep it that way. What FlyLady did was teach me simple and easy tools to tackle every-day household tasks without starting to loathe them. The thing that works best for me I think is the fact that she tells me not to do it all at once.
On the contrary, she doesn't allow doing it all at once!
Doing everything all at once causes us to crash and burn, and we won't touch household tasks again any time soon. So that accomplishes nothing. Anyway, it works for me.
And guess what? I even enjoy it! Well, scrubbing the toilet will never be my favorite job, but I sure like the results.

Clean home, peaceful Shabat

Now I finished cleaning (or blessing my home, as FlyLady says), and I feel so accomplished! No matter that it will be  mess again without 5 minutes after the kids come home from school, but that's easy mess that can get cleaned up again in no time. I know that my home is cleaned and I am not embarrassed to let the Shabat Queen into my house tomorrow evening!

Do you have any tips and tricks to share to make cleaning a bit easier?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting household finances back on track

It's about time to grow up. You'd think that a 30-something, married with a couple of kids, would have learned all the trades of life already. I thought so too! But I guess that there is always something new to learn.
We just bought a new house, our kids are going to school, in other words, playing time is over. Now it's time to get serious! We need to finally face it: no more hiding from finances.

I always thought: "How hard can it be? You pay attention to prices a bit as you shop, buy cheaper things etc, and all should be fine." Wrong! By the end of every month, we were surprised how much money we spent in the end, even with the so-called 'conscious shopping'. Before we knew it, we had spent more than we could afford.
But when you have a mortgage to pay off and school tuitions to pay every month, not to mention the other regular bills such as phone and utilities, you just can't afford to live this way.
So what did we do?

Getting help from experts

First of all, we contacted the Paamonim organization. They are a charity organization that helps families get their household finances on track. Two financial experts came over to our house one evening and went over all financial aspects that are relevant when running a household. Suddenly we had to start thinking how much on average we spend on things like presents, clothing, school and tuition etc per month. Some monthly recurring things are known, such as mortgage. Other things will have to be calculated over the course of a year, such as tuition which gets paid in 10 months.
We had to look up how much we actually spend on things like fuel and insurances.
And all of a sudden when we added everything up, we were looking at huge amounts of money!

On the other side of the equation we had to write down our monthly income, including things such as Childcare benefits. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the average monthly spendings should not be bigger than the average monthly income. If you want to balance your account every month, income should be equal to expenses. If you want to save (which is always a wise idea), you should be spending less than your monthly income. Sounds simple in theory, right?

Write everything down

But how can we make sure that we actually spend within our means?
For starters, the guys from Paamonim gave me a booklet in which I am to write down every cent I spend. This booklet is divided into months, and every month is divided into categories:

Groceries: I'm supposed to write down all my grocery spendings here. This includes the supermarket, local grocer, the market etcetera.

Cigarettes: This category stays empty because we're non-smokers.

Shoes and Clothing: Clothes and shoes I buy for myself or for the kids. It helps to write down who it was bought for, so you can later check for spending trends.

Education: Tuition and school supplies. This includes school books at the start of the year and also the never ending need for restocking our stash of pencils, erasers, scissors and so on. Summer camps go into this category too.

Clubs, private lessons: Ballet lessons, piano lessons and Dutch school. Plus all the accompanying expenses such as books, special clothing etc.

Travel expenses: Bus and taxi fares. Fuel for the car goes into a separate category.

Health: Doctor's visits, tests and medication. Also including dental care.

Household help: Babysitter, cleaner, gardener and so on.

Car: Fuel and parking

Car: Insurance, repairs.

Donations: Tithing money and money I give to charity.

Vacations, trips, entertainment, restaurants: The movies, take away coffee, anniversary dinner and the like.

Holidays: Expenses that are specifically for the holidays. I bought candles for Hanukah and wrote it down under this category.

Presents: For birthdays, weddings and other special occasions.

Other: Everything else

There is a separate category for monthly bills such as insurances, electricity, gas, phone, cable/internet, taxes, mortgage, bank costs and interests, subscriptions, loan returns, putting away money into savings, and heating.
There is also a section for income, so salaries and benefits get written down there.
At the end of every month we can make up the balance and see exactly how much money was spend versus how much came in. That should give a good overview of matters.

I am supposed to keep up with this for a few months, and then I should be able to see where we can cut costs.I know I still have a long way to go, but I made a good head start by keeping records of everything that goes out. Apparently that's half the work already!