Life Hack: Onion & Garlic Odours

When chopping onions and garlic, your skin can easily pick up their aroma; sometimes it’s not a bad thing, but it can be overwhelming, or even unwanted when you’ve moved on to preparing dessert!

To get rid of the odour without paying money for those little steel “soaps” marketed for the purpose, try the following trick:  Wash or rinse your hands, then rub them along your kitchen sink’s stainless steel faucet (water tap); rinse again, and smell your hands (before and after).  You’ll notice a huge difference!  If a residual odour remains, rub them once more and rinse.  It works every time, and requires no special soap or gadget.

No Soap.jpg


115 Ideas for Advent Calendar- and Stocking-Stuffers

Tischibo Advent Calender

Tischibo Advent Calendar

Christmas season is approaching, and here in Switzerland Advent calendars are traditional.  They can be made of anything from a cheap cardboard with fold-out “windows” and nothing but an image hidden, to miniature stockings stuffed to the gills for each day.  Our calendar is made of small cloth bags, similar to the ones pictured.

Sometimes it’s hard to find good ideas for gifts – small things for people who’ve got everything they really need, yet fun and practical.  Below is my personal list from which to draw on each year, and I hope it inspires you too!

Ideas for Advent Calendar Accoutrements:

  • Add a DAIM chocolate, or some kind of small treat, to the advent calendar’s daily contents.
  • Add a coupon for activities to be done together (see ideas below).


Stocking & Advent Calendar Stuffers

Coupons, Gift Cards

  1. Gift card
  2. Gift card for a home pedicure
  3. Coffee shop gift card
  4. Coupon to “watch a Christmas movie” attached to a bag of microwavable popcorn
  5. Time / activity coupons
  6. Coupon for a Christmas picnic
  7. Coupon to go bowling, play miniature golf, etc.
  8. Car wash gift card
  9. Couple time coupon
  10. An activity ticket book – activities to do together
  11. A lipstick kiss:  It costs nothing to give a lipstick kiss to the man you adore.  Find a nice piece of paper and add a cute message, too.
  12. Love letter
  13. Game night – his choice
  14. Coupon for a home-massage or pedicure

Crafts, DIY

  1. Embroidery thread for friendship bracelets
  2. Fancy scissors
  3. Scrapbook paper (rolled up in a paper towel tube)
  4. Scrapbooking ribbons, tags, embellishments, etc
  5. Package of decorative buttons (for crafting)
  6. Knitting needles or crochet hooks
  7. Crochet or knitting pattern book
  8. Beads and elastic
  9. Stickers
  10. Rubber craft stamps
  11. Drill bits
  12. Tool keyring
  13. A jar of essential oils
  14. Tape measure
  15. Nails & screws
  16. 3M hooks


  1. Disposable camera for silly photos
  2. Ear buds
  3. Book light
  4. Calculator
  5. USB stick or memory card
  6. ITunes gift card
  7. Cell phone cover
  8. Camera memory card
  9. Car charger for cell phone
  10. Mini torch (flashlight)


  1. Holiday baking
  2. Beef jerky
  3. Gourmet coffee
  4. Specialty tea
  5. Cookie cutters
  6. Mini bar sized alcohol
  7. Festive nuts
  8. Favorite candy bar
  9. Snack packages (cheese crackers, cookies, etc)
  10. Gum
  11. Hot chocolate packets

Just For Fun

  1. Small plastic toy figures
  2. Fun foam keychains
  3. Pocket Farkle
  4. “Pass the Pigs” game
  5. Dice with cards for individual dice games
  6. Playing cards with rule book for new games
  7. Party popper
  8. Mini Rubik’s cube
  9. Wooden puzzle
  10. Mistletoe – hint, hint
  11. Small bouncy ball
  12. Temporary tattoos
  13. Trading cards
  14. Glow sticks


  1. Kitchen magnet
  2. Earrings or jewelry
  3. Votive candles
  4. Keychain or keyring
  5. Beaded bookmark
  6. Wallet
  7. Small framed photo
  8. A Christmas ornament
  9. Seed packets
  10. Sport paraphernalia: golf tees, golf balls, fishing hooks, sport-related keychains or pens, etc.
  11. Mini flashlight
  12. Money in a creative way: origami, treasure hunt, coin hunt, etc.
  13. Slipper socks


  1. Pencil sharpener
  2. Erasers
  3. A bookmark
  4. Stamps for mailing cards
  5. Mini notepad
  6. Hand written note
  7. Joke or a seasonal quote
  8. Make holiday cards
  9. Stretchy book covers
  10. Diary or pocket calendar
  11. Diary with invisible ink pen
  12. Funky pens
  13. Gel pens and black paper
  14. Box of dollar store note cards
  15. Erasers
  16. Mini office set (tape, stapler, etc.)
  17. Sudoku book


  1. Barrettes / pony tail holders
  2. Comb
  3. New toothbrush
  4. Makeup
  5. Lip balm
  6. Perfume
  7. Nail polish in funky colors
  8. Manicure set
  9. Pedicure egg or pumice stone
  10. Scented hand lotion
  11. Scented hand sanitizer or soap
  12. Facial masque
  13. Fancy hand soaps
  14. Hair accessories
  15. Deodorant
  16. Toothbrush
  17. Dental floss
  18. Underwear
  19. New tie
  20. Tester sized perfume bottles

Quick & Easy Homemade Cough & Throat Medicine

Apple Cider Vinegar 1 Honey Benefits

It’s that time of year again in the northern hemisphere – winter.  And with it comes colds, flus, and sore throats.  Besides being an author / editor / translator, I’m a vocal coach, and so I deal with more than a fair share of throat issues.  I have a number of tips and tricks for healing throats quickly, but one of the best medicines I know of is what I share with you here; we’ve used this for a few years now, and I’ll never go back to chemically-produced, expensive products!

Homemade Cough & Throat Medicine

1 part apple cider vinegar (make sure to use the unfiltered kind, with the ‘mother’ – it should be cloudy, not clear)

1 part honey (I use acacia honey for a neutral taste)

A bottle (I use an old Vick’s Nyquil bottle, relabelled!)

That’s it!  If you want to add a bit of filtered water, you can, but it’s better straight-up.  Adjust the amount of honey for your own use, but try to keep the proportions fairly even.  Store in a bottle, shake well before using, and drink as much as needed; I keep a small plastic cup with the bottle for each person in the household.  I good swig of it every few hours alleviates the soreness, dryness and scratchy throat feeling; the great thing about this all-natural product is that you can take it as often as needed, with no limits to dosages per day.  Start off with a tablespoon three times a day, and adjust as warranted by your situation.

Fruit Leather or Vegetable Leather: Baked or Microwaved

If you’re like me, you don’t have either room or inclination to have specialized kitchen appliances such as a dehydrator.  I am very pragmatic, so I use my fingers and a knife to cut rather than special slicers and dicers, but when it comes to puréeing, there’s not much choice other than a blender or similar appliance.  Fruit leather is something that you can either make in a dehydrator, or if you have none, in your oven or even in the microwave.  The following is less of a recipe as far as amounts go, but rather instructions for adapting to your own needs.  While the title says “fruit”, you can use the same technique for moist vegetables such as tomatoes or squashes; any time you have an excess, or food that needs to be processed before it goes off, this is a great way to prepare it for longer-term storage or easy travel food.

Fruit LeatherLeather

Oven Technique:

Just purée fruits or vegetables that want “leathered”, & add a BIT of spices (whatever is appropriate to your leather; just remember that it will concentrate as the juices evaporate, so go easy on any additional flavouring!). Line a baking sheet with plastic, up over the edges, but NOT touching the metal of the stove. Pour in a layer about the thickness of 2 coins’ edges, leaving about 1″ (2 cm) free around the edge of the plastic. Bake at ~200°F (93°C) (warm enough, but not hot enough to melt the plastic wrap!!), for several hours (my oven takes about 6 hours), with the door of the oven propped open a wee bit to let out the moisture. When the leather is a bit sticky but “leathery” to the touch, it’s done. Take it out, let it cool a just wee bit, then roll it up in the plastic while it’s still flexible. Freeze until needed, or eat it straight.

Microwave Technique:

Purée any ripe fruit, skin and all (except pit or seed) in a food processor. Turn a casserole dish upside down and cover with plastic wrap. Spread 1/4 cup purée into a circle, very thin with edges a little thicker, making a hole in the centre the size of a thumb print. Microwave on 50% power for 8 to 12 minutes or until slightly sticky to touch. Remove plastic wrap and leather to cool and finish drying overnight. Check the consistency (it should be a bit sticky but “leathery” to the touch), and then roll up.

Leather Tips:

  • You can combine fruits; a banana gives it bulk. Try coconut, pineapple, etc.
  • Go easy on any seasonings:  Cinnamon, lemon, honey, etc.
  • The fruit leather will keep at room temperature for one month, or in a freezer for up to one year.
  • Melted chocolate, soft cream cheese, marshmallow cream and peanut butter make fun fillings for fruit leathers.
  • Store in refrigerator or freezer.
  • Do not use waxed paper or aluminium foil instead of plastic wrap!
  • Eat as a snack, or reconstitute to use in cakes, etc.  These are great snacks for taking to work, school, or on hikes!
  • Roll thinner strips a bit crooked, to create a “rose”.
  • Properly dried fruit leather is translucent and slightly tacky to the touch, but easily peeled from the pan.
  • Apple sauce can be added to more tart fruit purée such as cranberry to soften the taste, or to stretch more expensive fruits.
  • Vegetable leather can also be eaten as a snack or reconstituted for stews to add flavour.
  • Strain to remove any larger bits, especially if using drier vegetables such as carrots.

HOW TO Clean your Oven, Quick & Easy

Baking sodaOnce in a while, things cook over; it happens to the best of us!  There is the immediate problem of needing to continue the baking process for what’s still in the pan, and that fact will also force you to burn the spillage.  So I have two solutions, one for each phase:

1) When the spillage has happened, and you don’t want to fill the house with that burnt smell, just pull out the baking goods temporarily, sprinkle cinnamon onto the spillage, and then return the dish to continue baking.  The house will smell like warm cinnamon.

2)  Next, when the deed is done, and the oven has cooled down, take some baking soda and sprinkle onto the burnt debris; if it’s drizzled down the sides of the oven, just damp them with a bit of water and then rub some baking soda onto them with the damp towel.  For the floor-spillage, squeeze a bit of water onto the baking soda, then close the door and let it work for a few minutes; usually 10 minutes is enough, and you’ll learn by practice how long you need for your sized messes!  Take a non-abrasive sponge or a kitchen wash cloth, and wipe it down.  You may need to repeat it once or twice more, but it saves back-breaking scrubbing, and won’t damage your oven.

The baking powder works amazingly fast, and it’s a natural product; no fumes, no chemicals!

HOW TO Sharpen Knives and Scissors with a Mug

This is a trick I’ve been doing for years; I have a proper honing steel, but a mug works just as well for most common knives and household scissors that need a quick perk.

HOW TO Sharpen Knives HOW TO Sharpen ScissorsTake any mug that has a rough ceramic rim around the base; in the illustrations I’ve used a local coffee mug.  In a similar technique as using a honing steel, except that you’ll run the knife on a single surface rather than alternating sides (see video here to understand what I mean).  As he points out in the video, make sure you run the knife or scissor blade from the base to the tip, to get even sharpening the entire length of the blade.

Always keep your fingers away from the sharpening surface!  Apply just a bit of pressure to get the best effect; a bit of practice will teach better than I can explain it.  It usually only takes me 10-15 passes of each blade to get a pair of scissors back in top form, and the same with a knife.


Suggestible Vegetable Casserole



There are probably as many recipes out there for vegetable casseroles as there are cooks; if you’ve been in the kitchen for awhile you develop a feel for how much, how long, and when to start.  This is one of those non-recipes that I can prepare in about 20 minutes (30 if I clean up afterwards), set it in the cold oven, and turn it on an hour before my husband gets home from work.  He rides his bike to work, and it takes him roughly an hour to get home through the city of Zurich; years ago we developed the habit of him calling me when he’s ready to leave the office (there was an episode of ruined homemade ravioli because he was stuck in a business meeting, which I won’t dig up…), so when he calls I can just switch on the oven and forget about it – it will be ready when he gets in.  The title is simply because this recipe is a suggestion – amounts are arbitrary, and it all depends on how big your casserole dish is.  So without further ado…

Suggestible Vegetable Casserole

Choose your weapons:  A good cutting knife, cutting board, and the right-sized casserole dish; set out a large bowl to toss the cut veggies into (you’ll see why).

Choose your victims:  I use whatever I have on hand, and I look for veggies that need using, or leftovers (e.g. I had a bit of leftover topping from the Baked Tomatoes, and used that as part of my topper).  I used the following:

5-6 smallish potatoes, quartered and diced

3 large tomatoes, diced

6-8 carrots, diced

A handful of celery, diced (I keep a bag of this in the freezer to grab for such occasions)

A handful of spring onions, chopped  (ditto)

A handful of chopped tender-stem broccoli (any sturdy greens will do)

1 package of Feta cheese, cubed


  • Toss them in as you go.  Now comes a “secret” technique:

2 x 2-portion dried soup powder (I use complementary flavours, e.g. spring veg, onion, etc.)


  • Toss the vegetables with these powdered soups to coat them thoroughly; doing this ahead of baking time allows the flavours to soak in; you can toss a bit of chives in, but otherwise you won’t need any other spice or flavouring.
  • Pour the veggies into your casserole dish and spread them out – they should loosely fill the dish to the rim, with air-space in between for the liquid mixture.  Now use that bowl to mix the following:


4 eggs

~ ½ – 1 Cup half & half cream

1-2 Cups milk


  • Pour evenly over the vegetables.  Now sprinkle on the topping:


120 gr. (just over ½ cup) grated cheese

Breading crumbs


  • Set it into the oven and let the flavours marry until time to turn on the heat.
  • Bake at 190°C (375°F) for ~1 hour, checking it the last 10 minutes or so.