Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Libbey Vibe Jars: replacement parts

I recently had a commenter inquire about replacement gaskets for her Libbey Vibe glass jars. I contacted Libbey, and while they don’t sell the gaskets separately, they do sell replacement lids. Here’s the info!

Small: $0.99 each

Medium: $1.40 each

Large and Extra Large: $1.60 each

Order by calling 888-794-8469, Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 Eastern Time.

They accept credit cards and ship via UPS.

Stamp tribulation

When you plant to go to the Post Office and buy a big roll of Forever stamps so you never have to worry about stamps again, do not chicken out and let them sell you 100 regular stamps, because for the foreseeable future, all of your envelopes will look like this:


Note: I bought 100 first class stamps in 2008, at 41¢ apiece. The good news is that pretty soon I will just be able to use two of them to cover first-class postage, and they will get used up that much faster.

My favorite pan

measuring pan interior

… or is it? A pan, I mean. It’s still my favorite. It’s made out of 18/10 stainless steel, just like my pots and pans. I use it all the time…

measuring pan close up

… and it always works perfectly…

measuring pan full

… even if it is…

measuring pan bottom

… a measuring cup!

This is the Norpro 2-cup measuring cup. I love it because it is a measuring cup, a tiny saucepan, a ladle, a spoon rest, and virtually impervious to damage and destruction. (When I bought it, my daughter kept hitting it with my nice new gravy ladle. The ladle is scratched, but the measuring cup is fine.) And it was only $9!

I usually use it for melting butter or making hot chocolate on the stove. My old gas stove had a mini burner that fit this perfectly, but I can use the regular burners on my new stove as long as the gas is turned way down. You can use it on an electric stove top, too, just set it on the outside so the handle doesn’t get too hot. I find myself hardly ever using the microwave anymore; to melt butter you either have to set it for too long, then it explodes and you have to clean the microwave, or you  have to stand there heating it in 10-second increments and checking it after each one, and it will still probably explode on the last one. So I prefer to just throw the butter into this tiny pan, set it over a low heat, and carry on with my cooking, glancing at it every now and then.

I love the tiny pour spouts on both sides, so you can pour with either hand. And the measuring marks make it easy to pour in one cup of milk for hot chocolate. I use it as a ladle for things like hot soup, since all my other measuring cups and ladles are plastic.

For something that wasn’t designed for stove top use, this has stood up remarkably well. It’s made out of high-quality stainless steel, but it hasn’t discolored like my more expensive pots and pans made out of the same stuff.

My favorite thing about it is that it is so small and doesn’t take up any space in my overflowing cupboards. To wit:

measuring pan hanging

I used a tiny clear Command hook (lifesavers!) and just stuck it right next to my stove and over the overflow from my pantry cabinet so I can grab it whenever I need it.

In my someday big-kitchen future, I’ll get some real measuring pans like these. But I will always have this one near to hand as a first resort.

(You can get it on Amazon for about $8, at time of writing.)

My life as a schedule

A normal week in my house looks like this:

  • Monday: Run any errands that didn’t get done over the weekend. I keep this day open because my husband gets most government holidays off, and they happen often enough that I don’t want anything set in stone on Mondays.
  • Tuesday: Trip to the library and any quick errands near to or on the way to the library: post office, Goodwill, storage space, grocery store.
  • Wednesday: Grocery shopping at the big grocery store about twenty minutes away. Wednesday has proved to be a sweet spot for grocery shopping. The stores are usually busiest on the weekend, and if I go on Monday then they haven’t finished restocking and I can’t finish my list.
  • Thursday: Clean house and do laundry. I used to try to get this done on Monday so I’d have a clean house for the week, but I could never get motivated to clean first day of the week. I grew up cleaning on Saturday morning, but we usually spend our weekends getting out of the house, and I finally realized that that doesn’t work.
  • Friday: Run any errands that still need to be done, do any missed cleaning tasks, or rest up for the weekend. Like Monday, I don’t usually hard-schedule anything in case my husband is off work.

Being a housewife gives me a lot of flexibility that makes it much, much easier to do things like grocery shop, run errands, and keep appointments. Not having to worry about packages being delivered when I can’t be home and being able to shop when the stores are empty are great benefits to being at home.

Cooking successes, Thanksgiving 2013

Things I need to remember for next year:

  1. Always buy extra! Extra eggs, butter, milk, evaporated milk, stuffing, pumpkin, French fried onions, sweet potatoes, pecans, gravy packets, cinnamon, flour, sugar… Just make Thanksgiving a ‘stock-up’ shopping trip, especially for stuff that will keep or you will use anyway.
  2. Bake ahead of time: the green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and baked mashed potatoes all need to cook for 30 minutes at 350º. So I can prepare them ahead of time, then put them all in the same oven as soon as the turkey comes out and they’ll all be done the same time. The pumpkin pies can be made ahead of time, then warmed in the oven after the meal.
  3. A few days before Thanksgiving: sharpen all knives.
  4. The day before Thanksgiving: trim fingernails so stuff doesn’t get stuck under there and I have to waste extra time scrubbing them clean every few minutes.
  5. Have something quick and easy for breakfast and pre-meal snacking. This year I had a loaf of banana bread in the freezer, so first thing in the morning I just threw it into the oven for 30 minutes. It warmed up nice and crusty, so we’ve all had something (somewhat) healthy to nibble on all day.

Cooking fail, Thanksgiving 2013

I started cooking for Thanksgiving on Wednesday morning. So far, I have made the following mistakes:

  1. Tuesday night I made baked spaghetti pie (it’s great! You should try it!) and set the leftovers in the closed oven to cool while we ran a quick errand after supper. Of course, I forgot that it was in there all night and the next morning I preheated the oven to 425º for pies. Because of the pie mistake (see below), I didn’t actually open the preheated oven for about an hour, thoroughly toasting the leftover spaghetti pie.
  2. I waited until late in the game to thaw the pumpkin puree for the pumpkin pies, so I was running a little behind. When it finally thawed, I went ahead and mixed up the sugar, spices, eggs and pumpkin, then quickly opened two cans of evaporated milk and started dumping them in. About half a can in I realized that the evaporated milk was sour and clumpy, and I ended up throwing out all the sugar and eggs and my precious homemade pumpkin puree. *Wah!* Then I was grateful that I had a lot more pumpkin, extra eggs, and two brand-new cans of evaporated milk and I started over.
  3. Mini-mistake: not using deep-dish pie shells for the pumpkin pie. Normally pumpkin pie isn’t done in deep-dish pie shells, but every single year the custard spills over the edge and burns all over the baking sheets the pies are on. So next year, I’m going to learn my lesson and just make them deep-dish to being with.
  4. Most tragic mistake: I bought stuff to make watergate salad for my husband’s work, and I only bought enough to make two batches, most of it for them and only a little reserved for us. Clearly, in the future, I should buy enough for AT LEAST three batches, since I always end up eating most of it while I’m making it anyway.

That’s all for now. But I will update as soon as I make my next flub!

UPDATE: 10:44 a.m. Thanksgiving Day

  1. I decided to make broccoli/cauliflower salad, and I bought the ranch dressing packet, but didn’t get any extra sour cream. So I had to use a few tablespoons of sour cream supplemented by a whole bunch of old plain Greek yogurt in my fridge. (That stuff stays good forever!)

UPDATE: 12:23 a.m. Thanksgiving Day

  1. I tried a new mashed potatoes recipe this year, Pioneer Woman’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes. They taste delicious, and are touted as being a wonderful make-ahead dish because they can be refrigerated then baked later. Unfortunately, I left them in the fridge until I baked them for 30 minutes at 350º, at which point everything else is piping hot and ready to go, and the potatoes are still cold. Next time, I’ll either leave them out to come to room temperature, or put them in the oven early and let them bake much, much longer.

How to order kids’ drinks at Starbucks

I’m not usually a big Starbucks fan; their coffee is way too bitter and burnt-tasting to me. But every autumn and winter, they come out with the Pumpkin Spice latte, the Peppermint mocha, and the Caramel Brulée, Eggnog and Gingerbread lattes, so I indulge myself for a few months before abandoning them in January.

This year, instead of leaving my toddler to watch me drink a specialty coffee every time we go grocery shopping, I decided to let her get her own little beverage, and I had to learn a whole new side of Starbucks.

The biggest hurdle to overcome at Starbucks is caffeine. While caffeine is not, in and of itself, necessarily harmful to children, children hyped up on caffeine are at a much higher risk of being murdered by their parents after six days of sleeplessness. So anything with caffeine is out, at least for the next several years.

The other problems include size/expense, like how much I’m willing to pay for a drink for a tiny person who will likely only drink half of it, and temperature, which is something that didn’t occur to me at all initially.

So I did a little research, and came up with some good-to-know info for keeping your kids in expensive drinks.

How to buy your kids drinks at Starbucks:

1) Check out the kids’ menu. The Starbucks website lists a couple of very basic, simple drinks for the extremely picky child. There are two milk drinks (regular cold milk, and a steamer, which is warmed, frothed milk with syrup of your choice in it for flavor), and three apple drinks (cold apple juice, warm apple juice, and the caramel apple cider, which is warm apple juice with caramel syrup in it).

2) Ask for a couple of off-menu options: the short size and kids’ temperature. A Starbucks tall is twelve ounces, and some drinks don’t come any smaller. But for a lot of drinks, you can get a little 8-ounce cup for a little cheaper. And if your child is too small to really understand hot drinks, you can ask for kids’ temperature, which is a little hotter than lukewarm and won’t burn your little one’s mouth.

3) Avoid caffeine. Starbucks has gotten better about indicating on the menu which things have caffeine, but sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. Here’s a general list of Starbucks drinks that won’t turn your little angel into a complete spazz (anymore than they already are):

  • Steamers (warmed milk with some syrup for flavor. If you get a flavored drink, you can get the same syrup for your kid!), or just plain steamed milk, charmingly called a babyccino.
  • Apple juice or cider, cold or warm, with caramel syrup if desired.
  • Frappuccinos with the word ‘crème‘ in them. These don’t have coffee in them, although a couple have trace amounts of caffeine from chocolate. If you want a flavor that doesn’t have the word crème in it, ask for a syrup crème Frappuccino with your desired flavor.
  • Hot chocolate and peppermint hot chocolate (Starbucks hot chocolate is pretty dark, so if your kids wants a milder hot chocolate, buy a chocolate milk from the cooler and have the barista warm it for you).
  • Herbal teas. Anything that says black, green or chai is going to have caffeine in it, but there are some teas that are caffeine free: Passion Tea, Vanilla Rooibos, Calm and Refresh. Hint: the one called ‘Awake’ has caffeine.
  • Smoothies (available in Chocolate, Orange Mango and Strawberry).
  • Things from the cooler case: there are some bottled milks, juices, and waters. You can even soup these up by having them warmed or adding syrups to the juices and sparkling water for an Italian soda!

With a little effort, your trip to Starbucks can become a luxurious, relaxing experience for both you and your child!

Recipe: Chicken Cheese Quiche

chicken cheese quiche

Normally, when I make a quiche, I don’t really follow a recipe. I may look to make sure that I get the ratio of eggs to milk correct, but I usually just throw in whatever bits of meat and cheese and veg I have in the fridge, and that’s dinner.

But the other night I threw together a quiche that was so amazing, I immediately wrote down EXACTLY what I put in it, so I could make it again, and again, and again… And now I want to share it! (That’s what recipes are about, in my opinion.)

What you need:

  • 1/3 recipe Perfect Pie Crust from The Pioneer Woman (Note: I used half butter and half butter-flavored shortening for my crust. The Pioneer Woman usually says that the recipe makes two crusts, but I find that it makes 2 HUGE crusts, so I divide it into 3 parts for normal-size pie pans and things. Like she says, this crust keeps wonderfully in the fridge or freezer for whenever you need a quick crust. It’s great!)
  • about 1 cup Tyson grilled chicken breast strips, diced and warmed in a skillet (Most grocery stores have these, either in the frozen meat section, or sometimes up with deli meats. I usually try to avoid processed foods like this, but these taste DELICIOUS, and they can go from the freezer to the table in about 10 minutes. I usually keep a bag in the freezer and pull them out on days when I don’t have a lot of time to cook; they’re amazing on pasta with sun-dried tomato alfredo sauce, in any kind of quesadilla, on Caesar salad…)
  • 4 ounces Colby Jack cheese, grated (I buy usually buy cheese in 1-pound bricks, and when I get home I cut it into four 4-ounce pieces, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, then put them in zip top baggies according to type and stick them in the freezer. Then when I need cheese, I just pull however much I need out and thaw it. Yes, this is a huge pain, but I got tired of throwing out so much expensive cheese because it got moldy in the fridge.)
  • 2 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated (The pepper jack came in an 8-ounce brick, so I divided it into four 2-ounce pieces.)
  • about 1/8 cup chopped chives
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 tiny sprinkles cayenne pepper
  • 2 tiny sprinkles paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste

What you do:

1) Preheat your oven to 400º.

2) Roll out the crust and place it in a deep-dish pie pan (or quiche pan, if that’s how you roll).

3) Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the bottom of the crust, then layer the chopped chicken pieces and chives over that. (I always place my quiche fillings in the crust before I pour over the egg mixture. It ensures that the fillings are evenly distributed, and putting the cheese on the bottom gives a layer of protection so the crust doesn’t get as soggy. Not that you’ll care with this crust, it’s delicious anyway!)

4) In a bowl, blend the eggs, half-and-half, seasonings. Whisk everything together so that it’s as even as possible, then carefully pour over the fillings in the crust. The filling shouldn’t reach the top of the pan; quiche rises as it cooks and you don’t want it to overflow.

5) Set the quiche pan on a rimmed baking sheet (in case it does overflow), cover lightly with foil (I just set a square of foil on top; don’t tuck it around or anything), and bake for 40-45 minutes. At the end of that time, remove the foil and continue baking the quiche for 10-15 minutes until it is set. Before serving, let rest for 10-15 minutes, if you can wait that long.

I honestly don’t know what makes this quiche so amazing. The chives? The bit of pepper jack cheese? The seasoning on the chicken? All I know is that it was incredible.

Note: The only thing I might do differently next time is to reduce the Colby jack cheese to 2 ounces. Normally a quiche this size uses only 4 ounces total, and I didn’t bother reducing the Colby jack when I added the pepper jack. This is a very cheesy quiche. This was the quiche reheated a day later, and the cheese is still overwhelming. (*drool*)

chicken cheese quiche 2

Another note: Monterey Jack cheese (the base of both Colby jack and pepper jack) is a very melty, gooey cheese. If your quiche looks like the egg whites are still raw, look more closely and see if it isn’t just the jack cheese being itself. I almost overcooked this because melted Monterey Jack looks so much like uncooked egg whites. But it tastes amazing!

As with any quiche recipe, feel free to change this to your liking – that’s the great thing about quiche! Hopefully you’ll make your own quiche that is as pleasant a surprise as this one was for me!

Make your own: simple syrup

Simple syrup is usually associated with mixing cocktails, but there are actually several non-alcoholic uses for it, like sweetening iced tea and iced coffee, or even glazing desserts. I recently started making my own cold-brewed coffee (for the method, see here and here) and tea (see here), and found that trying to stir granulated sugar into cold liquid is a big pain. Plus I had a bunch of vanilla sugar that was getting too hard to use, so I decided to mix up some simple syrup with it.

Simple syrup is probably the easiest thing ever to make.  You need water. And sugar. And a pot. And a stove. And a spoon. And something to keep the syrup in. There you go.

My wonderful, amazing-smelling vanilla and bourbon sugar was sitting on my counter, but I often forgot to use it, so the liquid was making the sugar clumpy and hard.

sugar with vanilla specks

Aren’t the vanilla specks pretty? And this stuff smells SO GOOD. Here’s the problem:

sugar clumps

This also smelled amazing, but the hard clumps were difficult to stir into anything that needed sweetening.

sugar water and beans in pot

Fixing it was as easy as dumping it into a sauce pan, adding some water, boiling it, then simmering it down a little.

I found several instructions for making simply syrup, but this one had the most information about different proportions for different types of syrup.

The main thing to remember is that the weaker your syrup is, the more extra liquid you’re adding to your beverage. If you make the syrup stronger, you’ll need less of it and the less you’ll water down your drink. Ultimately, you just have to play with it until you get a strength you like for whatever your application is.

I made mine pretty strong, but didn’t cook it down very long, so it’s a pretty thin liquid. I poured it into an old jar, and the vanilla specks are lovely:

simple syrup in jar with specks

(Note: I reused this jar because the caramel smell in it wouldn’t interfere with the vanilla-bourbon syrup. I wouldn’t use an old tomato sauce jar or anything like that for this purpose to avoid transferring the flavor. That’s also why I bought new jars specifically for making vanilla extract. If you buy your own canning jars for storage, though, you can reuse the jars if you get new lids. Even if you don’t actually can with them, the lids are the things that pick up the smell and flavors the most; the glass will clean up nicely but it’s hard to get the smell out of the lids.)

You can infuse your simple syrup with just about anything: any herb, spice, fruit, vegetable, random plant part you found on the ground outside, whatever you want. You can even make it with tea instead of water! If you’re into mixed drinks (which I’m not), you can probably think of tons of great flavors for your drinks. Just keep it in a sealed container in the fridge, and it will stay good for a while.

Honestly, though, the best thing about this syrup was how my kitchen smelled when I made it. And this was the best-smelling mess I’d ever made:

wonderful-smelling mess

Update: make your own vanilla extract

It’s been almost exactly ten months since I started my batch of homemade vanilla extract. I’ve been using it for several months now, and have to say it’s been a rousing success. The extract has a wonderful, rich flavor that’s accentuated by the bourbon, and it’s full of the lovely specks from the beans. I’ve gone through about 2 1/2 four or five ounce jars, and I gave one to my mother-in-law. She loves it!

For infusing the vanilla, I initially used half-pint canning jars like the one in the foreground here:

all vanilla containers

It’s just a super-short canning jar, and four of them stacked perfectly into my oatmeal container, where I kept them so they wouldn’t be exposed to light. But when it came time to use the vanilla, I didn’t like the two-part lid when I was trying to bake. I needed one hand for the jar, one hand for one part of the lid, another hand for the other part of the lid, and a hand for the measuring spoon. (I often don’t have the counter space to set down more than one thing at a time.)

So after a while, I went up to The Container Store and picked up a little Italian jar of about the same size, but that came with a one-piece lid. I really like this jar, and the size was just perfect to store in my spice cabinet and to reach in with a measuring spoon. (Since then, I’ve gotten more of these jars in larger sizes for keeping stock and iced coffee concentrate in the fridge.)

Italian jar with vanilla

Then, a little while ago, I started reading/watching The Pioneer Woman, and I noticed her super awesome and kewl vanilla in a glass flask. You can buy what she uses here, and the company even offers a do-it-yourself kit (they supply three beans and the cool flask, and you add your own vodka). I decided that $16 was a little steep for three beans and a glass flask, so I decided to make-my-own do-it-yourself kit. (Is that a logical impossibility?) I had the beans, I had the booze, all I needed was the super awesome and kewl glass flask. And I found it! It’s not exactly like The Pioneer Woman’s, but for $4, it’s close enough. I think hers is round, but this one is truly shaped like a flask: thin and flat with an indent in one side. It actually makes it really easy to store in a crowded cabinet, and it hold about 1 1/2 of my little canning jars.

flask with vanilla side

At this point, I didn’t actually make more vanilla; I just poured in my last Mason jar and about half of the little Italian jar. I have a funnel with a little strainer in it, so it was as easy as setting it up and pouring them in.

flask with funnel

The strainer holes are a little on the big side, but that’s perfect for this, because I wanted the vanilla seeds to go through, just not the whole bean. If a bean had managed to get into that flask, it would have been a huge pain to get out.

beans in funnel

I figure that these beans still have some flavor to them yet, so I don’t throw them away at this point. A lot of the seeds have come out, but the pods still have some flavor and are soaked in bourbon, so I decided to make vanilla sugar!

I’ve got another wide-mouthed glass jar, so I just put these beans into it, and poured over some sugar:

beans in jar with sugar

Next time, I’ll show you the final step in the beans’ life cycle!

P.S. After I wrote this post, I went to the Container Store and saw this load of awesomeness:

glass bottles the container store

Any type of glass bottle you could ever want! They’ve got the one I have (at a MUCH better price than Crate & Barrel, I must say), as well as round ones like the Pioneer Woman has, and several more besides! They have colored ones, different shapes, different sizes, different designs on the glass… I wish I had more things that needed to be kept in bottles!

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