Hacks, Tips, Tricks, Short Cuts Feed

Prevent scratches on non-stick cookware

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

20180209_130221Not many people have enough headroom or space in their kitchen to hang skillets and pots from hanging pot racks.  Most people have to stack their pots and pans in the cabinet and that means scratches and dings in that non-stick surface if you don't protect them.

Protect your pots and pans with paper plates.  It's easy, just line the insides of pans with thin paper plates, which have slightly curved edges which mates nicely with the shape of your cookware.  I like paper plates to 'nest' those pans better than paper towels for that reason, plus they're more durable and paper towels can leave those little fibers behind.

Prevent damage to your non-stick cookware, stack them with paper plates! 

Spend Wisely My Friends.....


Homemade De-Icer - Bachelor on the Cheap

Snow ice on windshieldBy Mike Thayer

This isn't quite as quick as the commercial stuff, but it does indeed work!

  • 2 parts rubbing alcohol
  • 1 part water

Pour the alcohol and water into a spray bottle. Spray on the windshield or other surface and let it work for about 1-5 minutes (depending on how thick the ice is).  Scraping ice off the windshield or opening up the lock on the door becomes easy peasy.


Find the cheapest gas prices in town with Gas Buddy

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

A lot of folks use those grocery store and/or convenience store loyalty cards to buy gas at a discounted price.  Those cards do come in handy and depending on your shopping habits can benefit you with saving 10 cents a gallon on gas for example.

But that loyalty card gas discount doesn't guarantee you're getting the best possible price for gas.

If you aren't already familiar with Gas Buddy, you might want to consider doing so.

From the Gas Buddy website:  "GasBuddy is a smartphone app connecting drivers with their Perfect Pit Stop™. With nearly 70 million downloads, GasBuddy is the leader in crowdsourced information to help drivers find the best gas prices, closest stations, friendliest service, cleanest restrooms, tastiest coffee and much more. "

The app, easy to use, will bring up a list of gas prices in your area, searching by city or zip code, helping you determine the best price to buy gas, loyalty card or not.  Gas Buddy also comes in very handy when traveling and you can't use that loyalty card.  In fact, the app includes features such as gas price maps and a trip calculator.

Check out Gas Buddy, you'll be glad you did!

 


Pre-Planning Meals from the Grill

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

What sounds better, a bologna sandwich for lunch, or a leftover grilled cheeseburger from last night's dinner?

Cheeseburger - no brainer.  If you've got some leftover burgers in the fridge, you can heat that patty in the microwave and assemble a burger about as quickly as you could in making a bologna sandwich.  And a burger is SOOOOO much better! 

If you've never pre-grilled a whole lot of great eats to consume for breakfast, lunch or dinner later in the week, you should start doing so.  Your meals - especially those on the go - will be more satisfying.

What I'm suggesting you do isn't a whole lot different than perhaps what your mom, grandma or spouse did/does in pre-making a few meals and putting them in the freezer.  It's convenient to be able to pull out a lasagna or a beef stroganoff and throw it in the microwave and/or oven on a busy night, when family members are all on busy schedules and there's just no time to prep a good meal.  This works out great for unexpected company too.  So take that pre-made lasagna thought and turn it into grilled fare.....  And grilled is SO much better!


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When you've got some time on the weekend, fire up the charcoal and get to grilling!  If you've got room in the fridge and freezer for leftovers, there's no reason not to stock up with grilled fare and enjoy it later in the week, without having to light a match or push that igniter button.

Got a package of hot dogs in the fridge?  Throw them on.  A couple grilled hot dogs reheated in the microwave for lunch is MUCH better than just a couple hotdogs taken out of the package and nuked or boiled.  Get the charcoal!

Got some of those frozen hamburger patties in the freezer?  Throw them on.  I always grill up more hamburger patties than I think will be eaten.  I like deli meat sandwiches, but a burger, even leftover, is SOOOO much better.  And burgers aren't just for making burgers either.  Patties can make a great impromptu Salisbury steak.

Here's the key to pre-grilling:  Don't cook items all the way through like when you're going to eat it/them right then, for dinner.  You want to pull meats and veggies off the grill slightly under-cooked to the way you typically like them if you're pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  The reheating you do for that future breakfast, lunch, or dinner will finish the cooking process, charcoal flavor, preserved.

Grilling fare to consider, for some quick meals and/or sides/toppings later in the week:

  • Bratwursts.  I love brats, but who has time to do these properly for lunch during the week?  Cook some up (I like to poach mine in wine or beer and then finish them off on the grill) on the weekend to enjoy later.
  • Thinly sliced Ribeye steak for Philly cheese steak sandwiches.
  • Grill up your favorite fish for some fish tacos.  YUM!
  • If you ever make kabobs for dinner, do more than you think will be eaten.  Leftover Kabobs, along with a side of rice and pita bread, makes a fantastic quick meal!
  • Pork chops - this one is a big go-to for me.  I always cook up some chops when pre-grilling meals.  Grilled chops are great leftovers for sandwiches, chopped up and put in a quick stir fry, or smothered in gravy!
  • Chop up a few potatoes, steak fry style, toss them in olive oil, season them, throw them on the grill.  All entrees need a side right?
  • Breakfast sausage.  You'll stop going to the drive-through at McDonald's on the way to work if you've got some pre-grilled and ready to assemble breakfast sausage with a biscuit or tortilla.
  • Bacon.  See sausage, above.  And grilled bacon has so many uses.  Crumble it up and put it on a salad, turn those steak fries into cheesy/bacon steak fries.
  • Chop up an onion, throw it on.  Onions seasoned with your favorite seasoning salt and olive oil, then grilled, add a lot of flavor to that deli sandwich!
  • Slice up a couple of bell peppers.  What you did with the onions, can be done with peppers.
  • Pizza dough, yes, pizza dough.  A nice pizza crust with a smoky flavor makes for a nice, quick lunch or 'everyone is eating dinner at a different time tonight' kind of thing.  Just throw on some sauce, toppings and slip it under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Grill up a half-dozen personal pan size crusts.
  • Make a fruit cobbler in a cast iron skillet.  Combined with some vanilla ice cream, a great dessert for later in the week!

Those are just a few ideas, use your imagination.  Anything you enjoy in grilled fare, can be done in pre-grilling meals for later in the week.  Just remember to pull whatever it is, off the grill, slightly under-cooked to how you like it.  

If you don't have the time to plan out and pre-grill some meals on the weekend or during some downtime, if you still have some heat left on the grill from doing dinner, or maybe you used too much charcoal for the task....  Take advantage of that heat and don't let that charcoal flavor go to waste!  Grab that package of hot dogs, pull out that breakfast sausage.  Even if it's something as simple as slicing up a lemon or lime, getting a little char, then using that great flavor in the preparation of another dish later in the week is a good thing!  Heck, pull out the cast iron skillet and simply brown some ground meat for putting in a meal next week.  I can't say it enough I guess, take advantage of that heat.

And if you don't like to grill in inclement weather or winter time....  Brisket chili is a great cold weather treat and wouldn't it be nice to have something like apple wood smoked chops in your freezer? 

via www.grillinggoodeats.com


Don't buy extended warranties

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Buying a car?  You get the pitch.  Purchasing a major appliance?  You get the pitch.  Shelling out a chunk of your payday on a new TV?  You get the pitch.

Don't 'buy' into any pitch pushing you to purchase an extended warranty.  They're not worth it.

First off, if you are buying a quality product, there really is no need to purchase an extended warranty.  The standard warranty provided by the manufacturer is ample. 

Second, the odds of having to make a repair on the product you purchased range from 5 - 37% according to consumer reports. 

Third, the cost of the repair - IF that happens - is much more likely to be less than the cost of the extended warranty being offered.

Let's say you're buying a used car, average miles, 2-years-old...  The salesman is really pushing you to buy a 12-month, bumper-to-bumper extended warranty at a cost of $1,700 (figured into your car loan, adding another $30 or so to the monthly payment).   The likelihood that you'll have a $1,700 repair on a 2-year-old car in the next 15 months (a typical 90 day dealer warranty + 12 month extended warranty) is slim and remember that the salesman is pushing the extended warranty because he works on a commission.  He is NOT offering you an extended warranty because it's in your best interest.  Frankly, if a salesman is pushing that hard, I'd be looking for a vehicle at another dealership.

Suppose you purchase a new laptop computer for $700.  The guy at Best Buy convinces you to purchase a "Protection Plan" for 2 years for another $100.   You make the purchase on your cash rewards credit card.  Odds are, nothing will go wrong with your laptop.  If something does happen, it's most likely to happen soon after purchase and will be covered by the manufacturers warranty.  While you're waiting for something to 'go wrong' with your laptop, you're paying interest for a 'Protection Plan' that isn't being used (unless you have the good habit of paying off purchases every month... but that's another story for another day....)  And if by chance something does happen and it's past the manufacturer's warranty, you're probably covered by your credit card company.   Did you know many cash reward cards offer to double the length of the manufacturer's warranty, free of charge?  That's information you could use before making the laptop purchase.  Check with your card company.

Don't get marketed.  Avoid the exclusions and fine print that extended warranties come with.  Keep that money in your pocket.


Making grill clean up a bit easier

Mike Thayer 2016 (2) By Mike Thayer

Keeping your grill clean is a dirty job, but an important job not only because it makes the act of grilling itself easier and far more pleasurable, but cleanliness helps extend the life of your grill as well. 

FoilIf you're a charcoal griller, like yours truly, the dirtiest part of grill cleaning is getting rid of the charcoal ashes.  It can be a pain scooping out the spent coals and ash, lifting that bottom grate, removing the ash, scooping it into a bucket, getting hands super dirty if you're not wearing gloves, 'ash dust' flying....

A common practice is to line the bottom grate with foil, leaving gaps on the sides to allow air to vent.  Then when the coals/ash cool and it's time to clean, you simply wrap the ash up in the foil liner and throw it all away. 

There's a better way.

I was recently washing some dishes, to include a cookie sheet that had seen better days.  The finish was starting wearing off, to the point where I didn't want to bake anything on it anymore.  I was about to throw it away when it hit me, save it for the grill!

Cookie sheetNo more having to take the time to line that bottom grate with foil, no more foil breakage as I'm wrapping up the spent coals, spilling onto other parts of the grill and leaving a trail of charcoal dust from the grill to the trash can.

An old cookie sheet placed on the bottom grate of your grill leaves ample room for air to vent while keeping coals in place for some great heat while grilling and keeping ashes easily manageable for cleanup.  The dirty job of cleaning up spent coals is a lot less dirty with the use of a cookie sheet/tray.  Simply lift the tray off the bottom grate, dump the ashes, return the tray to the grill for reuse.  Easy Peasy!  About the only extra step you might have to do is scrap a little grease off the tray before returning it to the grill.  The price is right too.  Repurposing a cookie sheet cuts down on the foil use and beats the pants off what you might spend on a bunch of those disposable foil products to line your grill/manage coals with. 

And here's a bonus tip from my grilling blog, GrillingGoodEats.com:

Grilling Tip #13: Don’t wait until the next time you grill to clean the grate. No, putting a lid on things thinking you’ll burn the food off just isn’t enough and if you’re a gas griller, all you’re really doing is wasting fuel. Clean your grilling grate when the grill is still warm. If you’re a gas griller, that would be after you shut the grill off and before you sit down to eat (clean the grate while the meat you prepared is resting). If you’re a charcoal griller, clean the grate after you’ve enjoyed that delicious meal. It’s easier to wire brush the grate clean when it’s warm, vs. trying to brush it clean when it’s cold, when the flame is high or when you just fired the grill up that next time…. And who wants smoke in their eyes right? Besides, a clean grill grate extends the life of it. Leaving the charred remains of burgers, steaks, fish, whatever, on the grate prematurely ages it, leading to rust. Yes, rust, even if you cover your grill or store it in the garage when not in use.

 

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Easy way to help keep your microwave clean

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

The microwave and the crock pot are perhaps two of the best pieces of kitchen equipment for the bachelor.  Meals, easy peasy. 

The microwave is SO handy when it comes to reheating leftovers or heating up a 'to-go' snack.  Many prepared foods these days in fact, are crafted with microwave cooking in mind.

But if you don't stay on top of keeping your microwave clean, it can become a real pain in the butt to clean later.  Those splatters of food, those pops and minor explosions you hear when reheating food....  That's a mess in the waiting, but it's a preventable mess if you take a few easy steps before pushing those buttons to heat something up.

Some people don't cover their food at all when using the microwave.  That's just lazy.  You're begging for a mess, asking for and INVITING food splatter city!  And never mind the naked food getting too cardboard-crispy on the edges and/or too rubbery in the middle, that's not good eats!

Others use a paper towel when heating something up.  That helps to reduce food splatters, but it doesn't eliminate them.  Sometimes a paper towel will get moved out of position by the process of the microwave and the popping of food.  That leads to a food mess.  Another drawback to using paper towels is they can soak into your food depending on what you're nuking.  Pulling a tomato sauced paper towel off your food is a bit nasty and is a whole other mess, drip, drip, drip on the way to the waste basket.....  Visualize a paper towel drooping into a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  And try pulling a paper towel off a cheese topping.  Good luck with that.  Don't use paper towels to cover your food. 

When reheating leftovers, a lot of people leave the plastic wrap that was used to cover the plate of leftovers for the fridge, on, when reheating that food in the microwave.  Don't use plastic wrap to cover your food for the nuke machine either.  Plastic wrap over food is prone to inconsistent heating leading to hot spots and cold spots.  Some cheaper brands of plastic wrap will even partially melt or pull away from edges of the food container, which means food splatters will find their way to the inside walls of your microwave.  Covering with plastic can also mean pockets of condensation building up during the cooking process.  Have you ever pulled the plastic back from reheated food from the microwave and gotten a steam burn? 

20170813_183125The best easy peasy tool to heat up just about any food in the microwave and eliminate food splatters is a paper plate placed upside down over your food.  Paper plates provide full coverage for your meal or snack, they stay in position, allow for even cooking, they don't soak into your food, melt, or create steam pockets that can potentially burn your hand.  The best part, food splatters are almost non-existent and clean up is a breeze.  It's nice to open up that microwave door and see no food splatters because you used a paper plate.  Here's what you might have to deal with.....  Some tomato sauce splattered onto the paper plate.  So what, roll it up, throw it away, no drips, no saucy hands.  Reheating a food with a cheese topping....  No worries, paper plates are naturally domed, but if you need a little more height, put a slight fold in the plate before covering your food. 

I also like to use a paper plate on the bottom of things that might boil over such as soups, stews or gravies.  Putting a paper plate on the microwave's glass tray, then the bowl of soup, then a paper plate on top will help to keep a boil over to a minimum.  Cleaning that glass tray is not fun and then there's the worry about breakage when you're washing it.  Use a paper plate to reduce spillage.

I like to keep my paper plates right on top of the microwave, it's just handy that way. 

For the times when you do get food splatters on the walls of your microwave, and you will, heat up some water in a tea pot (don't use the microwave!) pour some of that hot water into a coffee cup and set it in the microwave, close the door and just let that water steam things up for a bit.  Then after a few minutes, wipe down the inside of your microwave.

Keep your microwave clean with paper plates!


Did you add to your food reserve today?

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

Did you have a grandma and grandpa that had a cellar or basement full of canned goods and food supplies? 

Ball_jarI did, they were the parents of six kids, a farming family, living the hard life through the Great Depression.  They used their life skills to get through some very tough times.  Lessons of preparedness practiced during the Great Depression continued in later years even during good times.  Keeping a food reserve came in handy for example when bad weather affected the corn harvest and money got tight.    If it wasn't a bad harvest one year, it might have been low prices in another. 

I have fond memories of my grandparent's home, grandpa's chair, the cuckoo clock, the pictures, and the open basement which included shelves stocked with those Ball canning jars packed with cucumber pickles, assorted vegetables, jams, etc.  My grandparents were always putting a little bit of food aside for whatever tough times might come down the road.

My gut, and it's substantial, is telling me that we're going to go through some very tough times again.  Don't take my word for it, do some homework and see what's coming for yourselves.  I sincerely believe things are going to get much worse for this country economically and politically before it gets better.  I hope I'm wrong, I really do.  But I was taught to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

So today, like I do everyday and since I don't can like my grandmother did, I made a small purchase to build my food reserve.  I spend at least $1 a day on something, be it canned vegetables, a bag of rice, a box of salt.  If I'm out to buy a newspaper, or running an errand or two, I stop at a store and pick something up. 

Today I didn't 'can' though, I bought a gallon of drinking water at the grocery store for 88 cents.   Tomorrow when I'm running some errands, I might get a couple cans of corn or green beans at Aldi.  Friday it might be a small bag of pasta I pick up if I'm doing things in the Walmart neck of the woods.

I treat my food reserve like a savings account.  It needs to build, it's not something to select ingredients from for tonight's meal.   It's for emergencies, for tougher times.

Why did I buy water when I've got it coming from the tap courtesy of the city?  Because you never know when a boil order or some other emergency might come.  When there's flooding, area towns issue boil orders.  It's comforting to know that you've got bottled water already on hand because guess what gets sold out first at the grocery stores?  Yep, water.  

Most of the bottled water on the shelves are good for about one year after purchase.  A person needs about a gallon of water a day.  Most of it to consume, a little to prepare food, a little to wash with, brush teeth with. 

Stocking up on water saves money, prevents hassle 

When it comes time to take a vacation, go to a sporting event, or a simple walk on a trail, I always pack some bottled water.  I'll  take some bottles of water from my food reserve with me so I don't have to buy the pricey stuff on the road.  Hotel water usually tastes like crap and you have no control over the quality.  With bottled water and a brand you trust, you know you have good water.  And here's an ewwwww factor, sometimes those rest stops or gas station restrooms aren't the cleanest..... Once in awhile you run into one of those "Why the heck is that clerk twiddling thumbs behind the counter when the restroom looks like this?" situations and guess what, their sink isn't working to boot.  Or how about attending a carnival or festival and the sanitizer gizmo is empty in the Johnny On The Spot?  So it's nice to have water on hand at all times in your vehicle for drinking or washing....  Using it like this is a good way to rotate your water stock too.  You take water from your food reserve nearing its expiration date with you on your travels and replace it with a fresh supply after vacation.

So what did you add to your food storage today?


Build a food reserve for $1 a day

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

There are a lot of programs out there offering storable food packages, various types, sizes, prices.... 

But buying dehydrated, freeze-dried, or MRE style food isn't for everybody.  Buying things in bulk isn't for everybody either, and not everybody has an unspoken for $100 or $200 laying around to do that.  So I've come up with a way for you to start building your food reserves starting tomorrow, for about $1 a day.  It's a plan that's really quite simple to do, all you need is a grocery store.

"But Mike," you say, "We already buy groceries, what are you talking about?"

Sure, you're buying groceries, but are you building a food reserve?  It's kind of like a savings account.  A food reserve is the stock of food you have on hand in the case of emergency, or it can be food you buy now, so you're not fighting inflation later - an investment if you will.  

If you do the grocery shopping for your family, then you already know that beef prices are up, pork prices are up, poultry is up....  The overall price for a week's worth of groceries is up.

Food reserves aren't just for emergencies.  You actually save money building one.  That can of corn you buy today for 89 cents is probably going to cost you around $1 in 2017, $1.25 in 2018, you get the picture.  Aside from a temporary sale, can you remember when your overall grocery bill went down?  I can't.   Food prices continually rise.

So start building your food reserves, for whatever reason that motivates you.  Maybe you want to stop buying so much delivery pizza.

The next time you're at the grocery store, pick up an extra can of green beans, or pears, a little bag of rice, something like that.   I do this every morning when I venture out to get the daily paper before work.  One day I get a can of black beans, another day I might get a box of instant potatoes, the next it might be a bag of lentils.   If you're not a morning person, this can be done on your lunch hour.  If you usually eat out for lunch during your work day, take an extra 10 minutes or so and stop at the grocery store on the way back to work.  Pick up something simple.  There are plenty of things you can get for under a buck.  Gravy mixes, salt, macaroni, tomato sauce, etc., all these things are needed to build your food reserve, it starts to build up much quicker than you might think and you don't miss the $1!

Look for sales, or buy store brands

I'm not a coupon shopper, but this can come in handy for things like specials on canned meats and/or some of the pricier items you may want to include in your food reserve.  After all, there's no sense in stocking up on things you really don't care to eat just to save a few coins.  Buy things you enjoy, eating a bland meal is a downer.  Store brands are another way to go.  Not always the best quality, taste test the store brand product(s) to see if you like it well enough to stock up on it. 

"But Mike," you ask, "How much food do I need to buy for my food reserve?"

Good question.  A lot of households are surprisingly short on pantry items (folks that don't like to cook and end up eating out or ordering in a lot), at a minimum you need a 72 hour supply of food you don't touch, or at least rotate out by keeping an eye on the expiration dates.   For a single person that's nine meals and three gallons of water.  Put another way and for those of you who live in Valley Center, KS., that's three breakfasts, three lunches, three dinners.  So we're talking some items like store brand cereal, about four cans of assorted veggies, a bag of rice, a bag of pasta, a couple cans of soup, perhaps a can of tuna.  Along with three gallons of store brand bottled water, you now have an emergency 72 hour food supply and you spent about $14.  That's it.  

You may have spent that $14 on Chinese take out last night.  Tasty, but one, perhaps two meals.  The thing is, spending about $1 a day at the grocery store over the course of two weeks easily translates into building a food reserve that will get you through a rough three-day period.  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.  And don't forget that you've beat inflation to boot.

Ideally, you should try to build your reserves in steps.  Once you get the 72 hour mark achieved, it's easy then to keep going and build it up to a couple weeks, then a month.   It's a matter of spending $1 a day is all.

SuperdomeThe best part is, you won't need government assistance if crap hits the fan.  If some type of emergency happens in your area, you've provided for yourself and your family.  Think Hurricane Katrina.  Some people were told to leave their homes and go to the Louisiana SuperDome.  Homes were flooded, damaged, power went out.  In many cases leaving a home was a must.  But a lot more people went to the SuperDome only because they weren't prepared.  They didn't have food on hand, the neighborhood grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants - all closed either due to evacuation or damage.    Many people's homes were fine to stay in, perhaps no power, but otherwise not flooded out or damaged.  Yet those people still went to the SuperDome because they didn't have any food, bottled water and a few candles on hand.  They weren't prepared.  They exercised poor judgement and relied on the government to help, and we know how bad that turned out.

You can prevent having to put yourself in that kind of situation.  Be prepared on $1 a day, that's it.

Coming soon....  A list of essentials for your food reserve.


Repurposing deli meat containers

Mike Thayer 2016 (2)By Mike Thayer

If you're just starting out on your own for the first time, recently divorced and/or otherwise starting over from scratch again, one basic item you'll need is some kind of Tupperware.  You've got to have some containers to store food in right?

Don't buy any brand new storage containers, there's no need to purchase a set of Tupperware, Rubbermaid, not even those el-cheapo Ziplock containers. 

Buy food instead.

Deli Meat ContainerWhen you buy food, part of that price is for the container it gets packaged in and some of those containers are great for storing leftovers, cucumber slices, shredded cheese, whatever! 

Finished with that cottage cheese?  Don't throw the container away, don't recycle it, wash out the container instead because it just became 'Tupperware'.   Done with that tub of butter?  Wash that tub and use it again for storing something else in the fridge.  The best containers out there for repurposing are the clear plastic containers used to package deli meats.  They come in a variety of sizes and they're better than re-used cottage cheese containers or butter tubs and the like because they're clear, you can see what's being stored.  They seal well, they're dishwasher safe (top rack) and most actually hold up better than the el-cheapo Ziplock stuff.   BONUS:  They stack well in the cupboard when not in use.  BONUS #2:  These containers are great for storing other items besides food.  Tacks, nails, screws, batteries and much more can be stored, stacked and packed using repurposed deli meat containers.

One thing I would recommend you DON'T do is put plastic in the microwave.   Nuking food in a plastic storage container prematurely shortens the life of plastic.  The plastic stains (especially tomato sauced/based foods) and loses its shape and ability to properly seal over time.  TIP:  Always nuke your food on a real plate or in a real bowl, use paper plates only to cover your food to prevent splattering, but not to eat off of (unless of course you didn't wash the dishes last night and you don't have a choice....).  

Repurposed Deli Meat ContainerDon't waste your money on Tupperware or Rubbermaid, repurpose what you've already paid for at the grocery store.