Full disclaimer: a few of these things I learned earlier than age 50, and some took me until age 60 to learn. Some I was taught, some I figured out and several I found on the internet and tested them. This page is a summary of things I have learned that make my life sooooo much easier. Not all will apply to you, but for those that do, I wanted to share.
- Kitchen & Cooking Hints
- Cleaning and Household Hints
- Personal Care & Medical Hints/Products
- General Hints
Kitchen & Cooking Hints
- Easy Peeling Hard Cooked Eggs
- Bring your pot of water to boil.
- Lower the eggs into the boiling water gently with a slotted spoon. One or two may crack but most will be fine.
- Set the timer for 13 minutes.
- Let the water come back to boiling and then turn it to mediume (keeping the eggs at a simmer.)
- When the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat. Drain the hot water and replace with cold water once or twice.
- Wait 10-20 minutes and peel. You will thank me.
- Microwave sweet corn in the husk. No kidding! I put the ears, in their husks on a microwave safe plate. The time depends on your microwave and the number of ears of corn. For my microwave I do about 6 minutes for 2 ears or 8 minutes for 3. After cooking, cut off the non-silk end where the kernals are just starting. Then grab the silk end with a hot pad (silicone is best) and squeeze the ear out like toothpaste. You may have to make a few small cuts in the husk at the cut end (not silk end) to loosen things up. Click here for more detailed instructions.
- Cooking Bacon in the Oven If you only have to cook one or two pieces, the microwave oven does a good job.
I have never liked cooking bacon in a skillet because it splashes and then you have to do something with the grease.
I was thrilled to find on the internet directions for cooking bacon in the oven. I can do about 1/2 pound per
jellyroll pan. (A cookies sheet with short sides.) The directions are simple.
- Line the pan(s) with aluminum foil.
- Line up the bacon strips in the pan.
- Place in a cold oven.
- Set the oven to 400 degrees.
- It will take between 25 minutes to 35 minutes to cook. Turn on the light and keep an eye on it after about 20 minutes.
- Remove and drain on paper towels.
- The grease is all contained in the aluminum foil. You can save it for other uses or let it cool and wrap it in the foil and place it in the trash.
- When to use what cookie sheet or pie pan I love airbake cookie sheets and cake pans. The air insulation is sort of similar to glass and allows things to bake more evenly without the bottom getting overcooked. They are wonderful for cakes and brownies. They also help bake cookies evently and keep them soft. If you have an airbake cookie sheet, you can place any metal cake pan on top of it and get the majority of the airbake advantage. Howevever, if you want crispy cookies or meringue based cookies, you are better off with a thin metal cookie sheet. Likewise, if you want a well browned bottom crust on your pies, you are better off with an aluminum pie pan instead of using glass.
- How to get cakes, bar and sheet cookies out of pans. Before putting the batter in, spray well with a cooking spray like PAM. After the item is baked and you have removed it from the oven, immediately use a sharp knife around the edges to separate the baked item from a pan. (I don't use non-stick pans.) If you need to turn it out (like a cake), set the timer for 5 minutes. (This allows time for the baked item to shrink a little from the edge.) Now turn it out. Most of my cakes come out cleanly. Likewise if I do muffins, I loosen them if needed and wait a couple of minutes before flipping them out of the pan.
- For Soft Chewy Cookies Use 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening for the fat in the recipe (unless it calls for all shortening). Sometimes it helps to add a little extra flour. Use an Airbake cookie sheet. Don't overbake.
- Adding sweetness without extra sugar Vanilla extract. Muffins, pancakes and waffles will taste sweeter with vanilla extract. Almond and orange extract works too. I think it fools your taste buds because most things with vanilla or other extracts are sweet.
- Do your Blueberry Pancakes turn gray? Mine certainly used too. That is because I mixed the blueberries into the pancakes. Now I put the pancakes on the griddle first and then drop the individual blueberries on the pancakes, No more gray pancakes.
- Healthier & Tastier Pancakes Love pancakes but want to get more whole grains? Do you wish the pancakes would take longer to digest? It is simple. Substitute a portion of the flour for 2x (twice the volume of) minute oats. Don't forget to add extract and possibly fruit, fresh or dried. Here is the recipe.
- Savory Pie Crusts When making crusts for quiche and other savory pastries substitute 1/2 the white flour for whole wheat flour. Gives it a nutty flavor.
- Rolling out pie crusts Some of you may have a nice pie crust rolling bag that works for you. My mother used to roll them between two sheets of wax paper, but some of it seemed to alwasys stick. My sister used two pieces of Saran type wrap, but that is hard to keep flat. To me the ideal way is to roll out pie crusts between a piece of wax paper (on the bottom) and a piece of Saran wrap (on the top.) When you are finished, flip it over and carefully remove the wax paper. Use the Saran wrap side to flip it into the pie pan. For the 2nd crust use the back sides. For really big pies you will need to use two pieces, overlapping, side by side, on the top and bottom. Use each side only once.
- Tasty Drop Biscuits When you are in a hurry and want to keep it simple drop biscuits are the answer (no kneading, rolling or messing up your countertop.) To make them healthier and tastier, substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour. Here is the recipe.
- Make Bread with very little Kneading In this case time is your friend. After mixing all the ingredients together, before kneading let the bread rest at least 20-40 minutes. This allows the gluten to develop. There is even a term for it: autolyse. You will still have to knead it some, but not the 10 minutes they mention in the recipes.
- Best way to zest fruit and finely grate hard cheese is to buy a good micro-plane. It was so frustrating with the cheap graters we had growing up, but the microplane makes it a breeze. Just be careful to only the the zest/cheese and not your skin.
- To prevent cut apples from darkening after being cut: simply dip the apple slices in lemon juice. (The stuff in the bottle works fine.) To some extent any citrus fruit works. For example if you are making a fruit salad sqeeze in some extra orange juice and stir it in, to keep the apple pieces looking nice.
- For Juice of 1/2 or 1 Lemon you cannot beat having this squeezer. It is easy to clean, dishwasher safe and it the best way to add a little lemon juice to fish, brocolli, asparagus, etc. Don't get the cheaper ones because this one is geared down making it easy to use. It is available from Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, William's Sonoma and I imagine several other places.
- Cutting up Cauliflower Cut it in quarters first ... like you probably cut cabbage. Makes it easy to cut off the parts we don't eat. Here is a photo.
- Frozen Blueberry Snacks Ever want a frozen snack but you are trying to be healthy? When whole fresh blueberries are on sale I buy extra and wash them and pick them over. After they are dry I freeze them in 1-2 cup plastic containers. Because they are dry when you freeze them they don't stick together. A few of them are the perfect, refreshing snack. (Ben says it works with raspberries and black berries too but I haven't tried it. We did try it with black grapes, cut in half and it was fine but not as good as blueberries.)
- Prevent pots from boiling over by putting a wooden spoon across the top. I can't think of how many times I cleaned the stove when I didn't need to.
- The shiny side of aluminum foil is the non-stick side Just good to know.
- Always get a crock pot with clamps. Crock pots are perfect ways to keep things hot and to share at potluck. However in a moving vehicle, the clamps are critical. (Speaking from experience.)
- How to clean a pan boiled dry -- vinegar. Let it soak in vinegar. It doesn't always work but it often does.
- How to clean a baking pan with built up grease -- ammonia. Let it soak for a hour or so. It isn't a complete miracle worker but it often helps a lot.
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Cleaning and Household Care Hints
- Dryer balls I never used fabric softener and I quit using dryer sheets. I wasn't thrilled with the fabric softener smell; also the dryer sheets tended to clog up the dryer vents. Instead I use four soft plastic dryer balls. Everything is soft and dries reasonably quickly. I save money. Plus fewer chemicals is always good.
- Make Showers Stalls and Tubs Practically Self-cleaning. This one is so simple. Ditch the bar soap. Use liquid soap. Bar Soap + Hard Water = Soap Scum, Liquid Soap + Hard Water = nothing.
- Hard Water and Calcuim Build-up
Acid is your friend here and a mild acid like white vinegar is great for disolving the calcuim. If that isn't enough
you can use Lemishine or Lime-A-Way. Warning: Granite and Quartz countertops are made of calcuim based
rock and acid will damage them. Don't use any acid product regularly on granite or quartz. Wipe any you accidently
get on it off quickly. Again:
Do not use vinegar/Lemishine/Lime-a-way to clean granite or quartz.
If the toilet has the calcuim build-up, Lemishine dishwasher cleaner does a great job dissolving the build up off the toilet. Dump in an stir up. Wait a couple of hours if possible. Clean as normal.
- Great cleaning product for streak free glass and other jobs Normally we use glass cleaner that contains ammonia. For really dirty glass it is a good first step. Much of the time we would like to use items that are gentler to the environment. A friend invited me to a Shaklee class. Their marketing materials were unscientific and I wasn't impressed with most of their claims. However I opted to try one product called "Basic H". It is a environmentally friendly household cleaner concentrate. You mix it with distilled water for various tasks. The most dilute is as a glass cleaner. You only use 1-2 drops per spray bottle. But it really does a great job on mirrors. I really like it. There is a medium concentration for a household cleaner and at a higher concentration it works as a degreaser. I found it to be a great degreaser. The bottle is expensive but it lasts for a very long time. I am only on my 2nd bottle. You can get it from a Shaklee dealer or via Amazon.
Most useful cleaning tools
No one wants lots of useless tools and junk around but these are the things I use frequently and don't regret purchasing.
- Microfiber duster on a stick (totally beats the old dust rags, and you can remove the duster and wash it.)
- Special duster on a pole (mainly used for ceiling fans but great to get the spider webs up high.)
- Pad scrubber on a pole (no more getting on your knees to wash bathtubs and great for getting tough stuff on floors.)
- Windex window cleaner pads on a stick. Combime that with a squeegee and a few clean towels and window cleaning goes very quickly.
- Eco Friendly Swifter Wipes For quick mops I love the basic swifter. The one I have, takes cleaning cloths that look like a wet wipe with a scrubber strip and you just shove it in the four corners. I don't like using the wipes (more trash) and the strip looks like non-biodegradable plastic. I recently disovered that old sort of think washcloths work just fine on it. Just wet them with water and lysol (or your choice of cleaning product), wring it out and just attach it to the swifter. When it is done you can let the washrag dry and toss it in the laundry with your towels.
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Personal Care and Medical Hints/Products
- Applying lotion/sunscreen/ointments to your back: This is a problem we all have unless we have a personal maid or valet. Even those of us with helpful partners have issue when the partners aren't availabe. Click here to see how to make a simple spreader out of a dollar store back scratcher, a sponge, Press & Seal plastic film and packing tape.
- Young Looking Skin Avoid the sun and pick good genes. Seriously, the sun does age our skins. Judging from my mother and sister, I think younger looking skin was in my genes but I also think it was helped by my lovely Mary Kay friend, Sylvia Frisch. Back when we first knew each other, 30+ years ago she told me, if you do nothing else: Wear sunscreen on your face every day. It was good advice then and is good advice now.
- Dry Skin Here are some ideas that might help.
- Use less soap. Either shower less frequently and use baby wipes to clean critical areas, or when showering, skip the soap except on critical areas or use a very mild cleaning product like CereVe or Cetephil (both come in liquid and bar versions. If you can afford it, use the liquid version to minimize shower stall or tub cleaning.)
- Apply lotion immediately after showering. Listed below are the lotions I like
and have been recommended by my
dermatolgists. The creams are good if the area is very dry. They are scent free.
They are often available at Costco (and perhaps other warehouse store) for a better price.
- CeraVe lotion or cream
- Cetaphil lotion
- Dry Lips Aquaphor .. smear a little on your lips and they will be healed in no time.
- Detangling thick or long hair The Hair Bean is amazing. There are some other de-tanglers available but I haven't tested them. This is the one I use daily. It is especially good on wet hair. Totally worth the drawer space.
- For Women's of a certain age: Preventing UTI's (bladder infections). Because this is personal and could be embarassing to some I put the details on a separate page. Click here for details.
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- Feeding Hummingbirds The nectar is so easy to make. 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. For my two hummingbird feeders I fill a 4 cup glass measure with 4 cups of water. I heat it in the microwave until boiling. I take it out of the microwave. I add a cup of sugar and slowly stir it in. I let it cool to room temperature before filling my feeders. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned and have new nectar regularily. If the nectar is outside too long it ferments to alcohal which is bad for the hummingbirds. This happens much more quickly if it is very hot or your feeder is in the sun. If the weather is cool and your feeder is in the shade can probably go 5 days or so. If the weather is in the 80s/90s in the shade it should probably be changed every 3-4 days. If the feeder is in the sun and the weather is hot, probably every 1-2 days. The easiest to clean feeders look like flying saucers. Here is a link to my favorite one.
- When Feeding Birds - How to discourage Jays and squirrels The best defense is squirrel baffles and squirrel proof feeders. Also, those tube feeders with a large grid around them work well. You can also be wise in your choice of food. Like us, most critters love sunflower seeds, especially Blue Jays and Scrub Jays and they can take over a feeder. However, if instead of using a mix, if you put safflower seed in your feeders they will mostly ignore it. Safflower seed is bitter and the Jays and squirrels don't like it much but the rest of the finches (Cardinals, House Finches, Tufted Titmice, Chickadees etc.) love it. The only exceptions is certain small birds. I have noticed the Painted Buntings (and probably the Indigo Buntings) really seem to like the little round light colored millet. Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches love nyjer or thistle seed. Also, I have a cool, upside down suet feeder. The Jays do eat on it, but it hard and they have to work at it, so they don't hog it. The woodpeckers love it. I confess, in my most squirrel and jay proof feeders I do put out a mix. It is the easiest way to provide millet. Besides, it is hard to beat the Costco price on the mix.
- Best Jewelry Box Ever I found it at Bed, Bath and Beyond and I love it. It is lined in silver cloth so the silver doesn't tarnish and everything is easy to get to. Plus since it is Bed, Bath and Beyond, you can easily find a coupon and save 20%. Here it is.
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