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January 2014

Mary's Modern Homemaking

Updating Your Pantry Basics
By Mary Frances

Mary's Modern Homemaking archive


Make personalized spice mixes by looking for the ingredients in your favorite foods.


Happy New Year! It is hard to believe another year has gone by.

My resolutions—or goals, as I like to refer to them—have and will be to continue making better food choices and making pleasing, tasty meals my family will enjoy eating.

Our modern-day media make it so easy. By following bloggers, sharing recipes on Facebook, and watching my favorite cooking shows, my recipe collection has been growing.

I have had many scrumptious meals in which my family not only cleaned their plates, I halfway expected them to lick every little crumb off the dishes.

On the flip side, I have had some major disasters that gave way to a quickly heated bowl of soup or a tossed salad. What I learned from this is to read recipes more carefully.

Be wary if you must buy every ingredient in a recipe

Any recipe that warrants a trip to the store to buy absolutely every ingredient can be a financial disaster and will probably be a flop.

I once found a very yummy-looking, mouthwatering main dish I could not wait to make. So off to the store I went. But as I left the store, I wondered if it was worth it. After all, the only ingredient I had on hand was the meat. It cost me a great deal of cash for all the additional ingredients, and if we ate the meal only once, or no one ate it at all, it would be like throwing money into a hole in the ground.

And that's just what happened! After I spent way too long in the kitchen, we sat down to eat our meal. It was horrible. Into the garbage can it went! Too bad, too, because it made a lot.

The next day I found myself wondering what to do with all those newly purchased spices, herbs, and condiments. After all, they were something I do not keep in my cupboards or use that often.

I could have given them away. Just be aware of expiration dates; ground spices and herbs last about six months at the most, although whole versions can last longer.

I could have blended some together to create a potpourri bag to freshen up a drawer.

But if all else fails, then toss them.

Take stock of your cupboards

Licking my wounds, I made a cup of tea, sat down, and turned on the TV to the cooking channel, where I watched a show featuring two women from India. One grew up on vegetarian cooking, and the other was a meat eater. The only thing they had in common, besides their love of cooking, was a masala dabba, or Indian spice tin.

This large, round metal container houses seven smaller tins. Each small container has enough spice in it to last a week. From these seven spices a person can cook or bake anything. There is no need for a cupboard full of items you might use only once a year.

So it got me thinking. Why can't I do this? Maybe I don't need a spice tin, but I do need to weed out my cooking and baking cupboards. So that is exactly what I did.

Salt and pepper stay. Crushed chili peppers, be gone with you! Garlic and onion powder is a plus. Cinnamon and cumin are keepers. Turmeric, although good for you, must go.

A few of my other keepers are nutmeg, ginger, oregano, sage, dry mustard, paprika, marjoram, and thyme. I ended up keeping more than seven to use as my basic herbs and spices.

Keep it simple

When you have basic herbs and spices on hand there will be no need for special blends of apple pie, pumpkin pie, or Italian spices. Simply mix up what you have and create your own. The most wonderful thing about mixing your own is that if you do not like an ingredient, you can leave it out or substitute. (Try my recipe for Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie Spice Mix. And get some more ideas for mixes from Lorinda.)


Mix spices your family loves. Pictured here (from top): thyme,
sage, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram.


Maybe your New Year promise is to eat more healthy foods and to cut down on salt. While you're mixing spices, think about salt alternatives, and keep in mind that many herbs are heart healthy, help regulate blood sugar levels, can ease arthritis, and so much more. A good online resource is Cooking With Herbs and Spices.

Find multiple uses for your cooking items. Cornstarch can replace flour as a thickener. But if you only use the cornstarch occasionally in cooking, why not remove it from the kitchen and give it a new use? It's perfect for soothing skin after a bath or as baby powder. Summertime heat rash? Cornstarch relieves this as well. Sprinkle cornstarch where ants enter the house and they won't cross it.

Remember to clear out your recipes, too. Not an apple lover? Then what is the use for that apple pie recipe? Keep only recipes using ingredients you know your family likes.

A world of wonderful recipes is out there. You can surely to find a month's or even a year's worth of recipes that need no special trips to the store.

Is someone you know getting married? Why not put together a spice tin for the happy couple? In India, a masala dabba is given to the bride by her mother on her wedding day. Ask around and learn what the bride and groom like. Maybe include a cookbook.

What a wonderful gift. Something personal is always more precious than a gift card or one too many toasters.

Easy Italian Spice Mix

Begin by mixing together 1 tablespoon of:


For a finer seasoning, run through a clean coffee grinder. Store in a 4- or 6-ounce glass jar.

When the recipe calls for Italian seasoning, use the recommended amount.

Tip: When mixing your own seasonings, the general rule is to start with equal parts of each ingredient. With that as your base, add more or less as needed. For example, my husband dislikes oregano, so we use it sparingly or substitute onion flakes.


Mary Frances lives in Ravensdale, Washington, and loves finding healthy ways to keep her castle clean. She believes that what we clean with can be just as important to our health as what we eat. When she's not cleaning, Mary Frances battles the blackberry vines in her yard. Also enjoy Mary Frances's blog, All American Gal.


Mary's Modern Homemaking copyright 2014.
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