Finding Inexpensive Spices

Until recently, one of the biggest deterrents to me in trying new recipes was the spice list. It’s great to try new things with new spices, but I have a VERY hard time paying $3 or $5 or $7 just for one jar of spices that I have never used before and don’t know if I’ll ever use again. And if there was more than one new spice – forget it! That was until I found the lovely bulk spices section of our local Sprouts store (this links you to the locations). I loved Sprouts anyway because of their great produce deals, but now I love them even more. I am guessing that if you checked around to other farmers market/whole foods stores in your area, they may have a similar bulk spices section. It is AWESOME.

If we can find a bulk spices section here, I’m guessing you should be able to find them almost anywhere. When you get to your bulk spices section, do NOT be alarmed by the prices. For example, cinnamon sticks here run $24/lb., but one large cinnamon stick only weighs .01 lbs. This means that it costs a whole $.24. Ha!

From left to right in this picture: my cinnamon stick that cost $.24 (a bottle of small cinnamon sticks runs around $5 here); dried cilantro – it didn’t even weigh in on the scale so they gave it to me for free (even though I kept trying to get them to weigh some other spice so I could pay them SOMETHING); and my whole allspice – which also cost me around $.25. Fifty cents for three spices in the quantities that I needed is WAAAAAAY better than spending $10 for too much of those same spices.

I also will go there to refill some of my more expensive spices when they run out. When I was trying to clean my cookie sheet, I ran out of Cream of Tartar. Remembering that they carry it at Sprouts, I decided to get a baggie of it to refill my empty container.

To refill the jar to the point that I got it (I slightly underestimated) cost me $1.00. To refill it completely would have been about $1.33. To buy a new jar would have been $2.88.


It is worth checking around to see if any of your local stores have a bulk spices section – both to expand your cooking horizons without breaking the bank, but also to refill your current spices on the cheap. I still will buy whatever $.50 generic spices that are available (onion flakes, cinnamon, etc.), but for the spices that don’t have a cheaper option, this is a great alternative to paying full price.

THE Best Chocolate Chip Cookies – Hands Down.

These lovelies are THE best chocolate chip cookies. Ever. Really. Whenever I make them, people ask for the recipe. And I laugh – because it is just slightly modified from the recipe on the Nestle chocolate chip bag.┬áBut the slight modification is what makes them perfect. I believe this was a tip passed on to my mom by a friend many moons ago (which is amazing, since my mom is still only 27….), and it is how we grew up enjoying chocolate chip cookies.


2 1/4 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt (my mom updated this – she uses 1/2 tsp. – we’ll have to try that next time)

3/4 c. sugar

3/4 c. brown sugar (packed)

1 c. SHORTENING <—-THIS is the change, my friends.

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

Chocolate chips (the recipe calls for one 12 oz. package, but I usually use less – personal preference)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

Step 2: Cream SHORTENING, sugars and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add eggs and beat well. Please, oh please – do NOT use butter or margarine. Use the shortening. It is magical. I promise. And, actually, all of my favorite cookie recipes have shortening instead of butter or margarine. Just sayin’. They will be fluffy and wonderful.

Step 3: Gradually beat in flour mixture, and then stir in your chocolate chips.

Step 4: Bake for 9-11 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Step 5: ENJOY!! :)

These are SO good – don’t they look perfect? Again, we gave some of these away too. Good for calorie counting, but sad for tummies that need yummy chocolate chip cookies. Not want, NEED. I may now need to make me some more of these. :)

Media Tickets

We are still debating as to whether or not we are actually going to use this, BUT I love the idea so I thought I would share it anyway.

I had seen this idea for technology tickets from Laurel @ Ducks in a Row, and thought it might be a good way for there to be more of a balance between my kids learning how to use media appropriately and understanding a bit more about the value of time, (hopefully) without my being either too strict with media or allowing it to turn into a too-frequent babysitter.

I modified it a bit, however, just based on my biases against certain forms of media. A ticket allows for one 30-minute TV show, or for 15 minutes of DS or computer games. The tickets can be combined for movies (ex. Tangled = 3 tickets since it is 100 minutes long). OR, the kids can save up tickets and at the end of the week whatever they have left can be changed in for $.50 each. This is a Kat idea. I would like to incentivize my kids NOT to use the tickets so that way they can make a choice of priorities that goes beyond “Do I use 2 tickets for DS or 1 ticket for Word World?” and leads to “Would I rather have the instant gratification now of watching a movie, or wait until the end of the week and end up $1.50 richer?” We’ll see how that goes. Here is the version I created:

You can make your own cards, or if you are interested in printing off cards like mine, here is a link to a powerpoint document to download – I printed mine 9 per page: MT 9 per page

After I printed the cards off, I cut them and had them laminated at Mardel (this links you to their locations). If you have one nearby and don’t know about their amazing lamanation prices – it is $.25/ft. of laminating. Steal of a deal.

Here is the finished, laminated product:

Like I said, we are still debating as to whether we will use these or not. I’ll keep you posted on what we end up doing, and our system for doing it (Does each kid use a card to watch Wild Kratts, or does one of the kids pay for all three? If each has to pay individually, what do we do if one child runs out – banish them to another room? If only one pays, how do we make sure that our oldest doesn’t always convince the younger ones to pay so he can earn money at the end of the week? etc.). It seems like it has a lot of good potential – we’ll just have to use trial and error to see what works if we decide to use it. We also don’t want to incentivize them to bring more media into their lives now since they are pretty balanced kids who don’t have a ton of that going on right now. It’s a balance.

Do you do something similar to this? How does it work for you?

Ear Infection Helps

I love doctors. I am grateful for modern medicine. Sometimes modern medicine works great with a dose of natural help as well. This is one of those times – at least in our family.

My oldest has had one ear infection in his life, and it was when he was three years old and we had no idea what was going on because he had never experienced it. He took antibiotics; it cleared up almost immediately; he was fine.

My two younger kids have had different experiences. Both of them started to get ear infections starting around 9 months old whenever they got a runny nose, which maybe happened every month or two (thankfully not more often. My middle child stopped getting ear infections by the time he was 2 1/2 or 3, except for one random really bad one when he was four. My daughter is now 2 and some change, and has FINALLY stopped getting ear infections. But not because they have stopped, but because we found a solution that works better for us than the conventional antibiotic route.

When my kids get ear infections, they are full-blown awful in both ears. That’s how we roll. Right before Christmas of this year, my daughter got a runny nose which turned into an ear infection. I took her into the doctor, but our normal pediatrician was off, so she was seen by a different doctor. My kids also routinely “fail” antibiotics, especially the ones that they tend to prescribe first, so I mentioned this to the doctor and she prescribed a stronger antibiotic to help hopefully get it kicked before Christmas. That was a blessing and a trial all at once.

Turns out the antibiotic, first of all, didn’t help. At all. I bought an otoscope a while back (pictured above) from the store so I could check on my kids’ ear infections, or check on their ears if I was suspicious of something, and I could see that it was not budging. Second problem was that my daughter developed a very violent gag reflex to the medicine after about five days of taking the antibiotic. She got to the point where she would just throw up. In frustration, and thinking that there had to be a different way to take care of things other than shoving my kid full of medicine, I asked my friends on facebook for their feedback. I was surprised to see how many people help to prevent problems outside of trying antibiotics, and also glad to see that a lot of the answers were consistent.

Armed with their input, and honestly a bit nervous because I am NOT a “natural remedies” person, I went to the health foods store and asked for some help. I found this lovely product (also pictured above), and it has been AMAZING. I gave my daughter a drop in each ear, and rubbed some from her ear down her neck to help get things moving – her complaining about pain went away almost immediately, she slept better, and I could literally watch her ear infection clear up (using my handy-dandy otoscope) over the course of a couple of days. It was awesome.

I was still a bit skeptical, though. I wondered if maybe her ear infection cleared up because it was viral instead of bacterial and had run its natural course (which is why antibiotics may not clear things up). So I thought that we could put it to the test the next time something flared up.

About a month later, she got another runny nose, and came up to me saying, “Ear hurt. Ear drops please.” I gave her a drop in each ear once each day for a couple of days (each day she would complain that her ear hurt), and it never developed into an ear infection. That was the first time in over a year that a runny nose did not develop into an ear infection. It was wonderful.

The same thing happened again about a month later – same results.

For us, this has been a great tip to know – it has saved us a ton of money on doctors bills and prescriptions, even in the last few months; it has kept my daughter from having to go through the pain of ear infections; it has helped us feel grateful as we have been able to sleep through the night because our poor daughter isn’t awake, screaming from ear pain.

Wally’s Ear Oil contains Sweet Almond Oil, Eucaluptus Oil, Tea Tree Oil, Mullein Extract, Echinacea Oil and Garlic Oil. These different ingredients, alone or in combination, were what my friends recommended most. Those, or colloidal silver.


(1) The product says to use on children 2 and over. My daughter fell into this category (she was a month shy of two when we first tried it), so I have no experience with trying to go outside of those guidelines. I would talk with your doctor about their feelings on using the drops on younger children.

(2) The product also mentions NOT using it if the eardrum is ruptured. This is also where the otoscope could come in handy.

(3) With the otoscope, if you should have one or purchase one, be VEEEEEERY careful when you are putting it into ears to keep a good distance from the eardrum. It gets easier with practice, so maybe try using it on our spouse or an adult friend or an older child, all of whom could presumably sit still for long enough for you to work slowly, before you try it on a younger child. It is not worth the risk of damaging their ears. It is; however, very nice to be able to know what is going on. The one that I bought (Dr. Mom) is great, and comes with several pictures that show you what a “normal” ear looks like and an “infected” ear looks like. It is great to know when there is actually a problem with the ears, and when they are fine. It is a little expensive, but it quickly paid itself off.

I hope this helps someone! Let me know about your ear infection tips too.

BYU Mint Brownies

Happy Friday the 13th! Those have tended to be good luck days for me, so we’ll do something minty and yummy today. :)

These are so, SO good. It really isn’t fair. We made these this weekend (we’ve made them a couple of times before as well), ate some, gave a bunch away, and looking at this picture makes me want to make more of them. Yummy chocolate brownie covered in mint frosting, and then chocolate frosting. The brownies are honestly good enough to eat alone, but when you add the frosting layers, it is perfection. I found this recipe from Christy @ The Girl Who Ate Everything, and she found the recipe from the BYU Dining website.

Ingredients (Brownies):

1 c. margarine

1/2 c. cocoa

2 T. honey

4 eggs

2 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. flour

1/2 T. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. chopped walnuts (or leave the nuts out – that’s what I have done)

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt margarine and mix in cocoa. Allow to cool. I did this on the stove, but it just occurred to me that it would be even faster in the microwave. I get it to where it is JUST melted so it doesn’t take so long to cool down. Also, do NOT eat this. It may look delicious, but it isn’t. Your brain will tell you not to eat it because unsweetened cocoa is not very tasty, but sometimes the autopilot of taste-testing goes into override. Not that I speak from experience….

Step 2: Add the rest of the ingredients (honey, eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt) and mix well. Pour it all into a greased 9×13 pan and bake for 25 minutes. Then let them COOL. I stick mine in the freezer to cool. Because I am just that patient.

Step 3: Get your frosting(s) ready!

Mint Frosting Ingredients:

5 T. butter (the original recipe calls for margarine, but I have found butter to work better)

dash of salt

1 T. light corn syrup

2 1/3 c. powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. mint extract

1-2 drops green food coloring

3 T. milk

Soften butter, and then add salt, corn syrup and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add the mint extract and food coloring and mix. Add the milk gradually until it is a little thinner than cake frosting.

For the chocolate frosting, you can either buy a tub from the store or make your own recipe. I found this one and have thought it is perfect – it can stand on its own with the brownie and the mint frosting, but still goes well with them. If you use that recipe, you can substitute milk for the evaporated milk and it works fine. I have also substituted margarine for butter, and that has been fine too.

Step 4: After your brownies have cooled, spread on your mint frosting. I put it in the freezer after this step too to make the next one easier.

Step 5: Spread the chocolate frosting on top.

That is IT. We have found these are best if stored in the refrigerator or freezer. How can you pass these up? I mean, really?


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