Showing posts with label homekeeping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homekeeping. Show all posts

05 February 2012

Pantry Challenge Update: Week 4

The pantry challenge is over for most participants, but I'm going to keep going through February as there's still so much of my challenge inventory left. Obviously, with Taste of Hartford going on, I haven't cooked much recently. Made a big pot of soup and baked a little, yes, but made no real headway with the challenge.

That said, I suspect I had unrealistic expectations vis-a-vis the pantry challenge. There's a lot of stuff in my pantry. Even if I'd kept on like the first week, making nearly every meal from pantry challenge ingredients, there would still be stuff leftover.

So what have I been doing, if not the challenge? Completing mini challenges I set for myself:

I ruthlessly culled my closets for charity (and space). Dead electronics went to Green Monster e-Cycling and clothes/household items were picked up by Big Brothers/Big Sisters Hartsprings Foundation. Hartsprings rolls through my neighborhood every few months, picking up donations, but I almost always manage to miss them due to poor planning on my part.

Drive-by charity.

I reorganized my kitchen cabinets (again).

Cheap Storage Solution
Disposable loaf pans, ftw!

I reclaimed my sewing room (again).

Little "helps"

I cleaned my fridge with vinegar and baking soda until it fairly sparkled (and smelled, faintly, of pickles).

Fridge, Post Pantry Challenge

None of those things are part of the pantry challenge and yet they have everything to do with it. I joined the pantry challenge, because there was too much stuff in my pantry. Turns out there's too much stuff all over my house! For the pantry challenge, I opened my kitchen cupboards and asked "Why are you here? What can I make with you?" Now I open closets and ask "Why are you here? What can I do with you?"

I am still going forward with the pantry challenge -- will carry it as far through February as I can before I lose momentum. There's still a cake to be made from the black raspberry preserves and there are all those cans of baby corn waiting to be eaten up, after all.

13 January 2012

Bulgur in a bottle is better.

Our trips to Whole Foods have recently become even more dangerous as we have discovered Cocoa Metro Dark Drinking Chocolate. It's yummy, decadent stuff and a little bit goes a long way. It comes in glass milk bottles and, as I've been loathe to simply recycle ours, I've acquired quite a collection of them over the past few months. Surely, I thought, I could do something with them? If it were summer, I would use them for storing homemade salad dressings and marinades, but it is winter and we are no longer Salad People.

If I had dried beans, they'd make perfect storage jars, but I am lazy and only buy canned beans. Then I opened a new bag of bulgur and had a brilliant idea ...

Better Bulgur Storage

The bottle fits in the cupboard so much better than the bag ever did, too.

Better Bulgur Storage

I feel all smug and organized.

20 March 2011

Captain Obvious, That's Me

Easy Sliced Strawberries

So. I finally figured out I could slice strawberries with my egg slicer ...

18 November 2010

Behold, My Splendorous Spice Drawer

This week has not been going as planned and I have no recipes or foodie photos to share with you. Instead, behold the mighty splendor that is my organized spice collection.


Disclaimer: I actually reorganized my spice cupboard last month, but didn’t post about it, because I wasn’t quite certain the new arrangement would last. To my surprise, it has worked out wonderfully well.

Hot pads & mits

After I moved the potholders and trivets into another drawer (previously full of odds and ends I mercilessly binned or relocated), I moved the small jars out of the opaque white bin into a tray in the drawer and labeled the jar tops so I could immediately know the contents of each jar at a glance. They’re also alphabetized, because I am a librarian and it is just in my nature to alphabetize things. Seriously, I cannot not alphabetize!

I swapped the white bin for two translucent bins I had been under-utilizing elsewhere in my kitchen. I moved all my Penzeys dehydrated herbs and vegetable packets into one, since they’re a bit floppy and the container’s tall sides corral them nicely. The other contains tall jars of Penzeys salad dressing and dip mixes -- items I don't use every day, but still need easy access to (or they won't get used at all).

I decanted the larger spice bottles into stubby glass (69¢) containers I picked up at the Christmas Tree shop. They just fit the depth of the drawer and the clear lids make it very easy to see the contents at a glance.

In the back of my new spice drawer, I arranged my measuring cups and spoons in two galvanized trays. Now they’re all in one place and right next to the stuff I’m most likely to use them with. Also, if I’m doing a lot of cooking (holiday baking, etc), I can just lift the trays straight out of the drawer and carry them off to whatever part of the kitchen I need them it and they’ll still stay tidy.

[I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible habit of misplacing measuring spoons in the midst of baking … “One teaspoon nutmeg. Hmm. Where’s my teaspoon? @#%$ it! It was just here! @#%$ teaspoon @#%$ hiding on me! ” This is also why I own three sets of measuring spoons].

I also lowered the top cabinet shelf so it's easier to get to its contents -- not that it holds much, at the moment. The translucent white box contains all the packets of pectin I bought for the freezer jam I didn’t make this summer (or last summer!). I tell myself to just buy some frozen peaches and raspberries and just make jam, already, but that task keeps moving further and further down my to-do list.  Someday, when it is no longer full of pectin, I will use it to hold all those N2O cartridges I have rattling around in another drawer.

Overall, I am really pleased with how well this little reorganization project turned out and I am itching to tackle a few more kitchen drawers and cabinets over the Thanksgiving holiday!

09 November 2010

My Favorite Slow Cooker Cookbook

Way back in 2003, I bought a copy of Pillsbury's Slow Cooker Recipes. I was, at that point in time, not quite the cookbook collecting fiend I have become, but I knew I had to purchase a copy of this cookbook simply because I kept borrowing it from my public library. While my constant borrowing of it gave the item excellent circulation stats, it really wasn't fair to the other library patrons who didn't really stand a chance at ever borrowing it themselves. So, yes, I bought my copy for the greater good of my library's cookbook borrowing community. It was a terrible, terrible sacrifice ...

While I've bought or borrowed tons of cookbooks since then, Slow Cooker Recipes remains one of my favorites. Its recipes are fairly pedestrian and that's fine by me. While I love looking at newer, trendier slow cooker books that utilize exotic ingredients or additional cooking methods, they're not anything I really want to cook from.  To me, slow cooking is a time saver and I should have to do as little prep work as possible before turning on my slow cooker.  I also shouldn't have to try every grocery store in town for an impossible to find ingredient.  The foods that come out of my slow cooker don't need to be fancy or particularly photogenic, they just need to taste good and be ready when I want to eat. Pillsbury's Slow Cooker Recipes gives me what I want.

In September, I started going through my cookbook collection, weeding out the cookbooks I didn't use or particularly enjoy. I thought, perhaps, Slow Cooker Recipes might be a weed as there were only a few recipes I was making from it with any regularity and I had those recipes more-or-less memorized. Well, I was wrong! Since I first thought about weeding Slow Cooker Recipes, I have been using it pretty constantly and I am pretty sure it is still one of those cookbooks I can't live without.

While this is great for Slow Cooker Recipes, it's bad for the remaining weeds as I've run out of space for cookbooks and must make room, before I end up with piles on the floor (again).  Therefore, the cookbooks remaining on my weed list are going to be judged more mercilessly than they might have and don't really stand a chance. Happily, though, my library's Friends group is running a cookbook sale this month so my weeds will probably find good homes!

11 June 2010

Lo, I Proclaim Thee Less Grotty!

Last week I learned that, at least with the style of un-ducted range hood we currently own, the filter is supposed to be replaced regularly.  It is not washable -- the whole piece is supposed to be taken out and binned, then a new one slotted into place.

Also, the plastic cover for our range hood light has been all melted and mangled since before we moved in, but I never got around to replacing it because it was one of those "out of sight, out of mind" things and how often do I look up at my range hood light?

All the freakin' time, now that I am in a wheelchair.

Obviously, there was nothing for it but to shell out money for a replacement light cover and new filters.

There is a plate on the underside of the hood which lists the manufacturer's information, including that all important model number. I took that number to the Broan parts site and was rewarded with a schematic of my range hood. Using the parts numbers from the schematic, I ordered two replacement filters and a replacement light lens from Ace Hardware Outlet (where it cost me half as much as it would have from Broan).

My order arrived this morning, I popped them in, and it's almost like looking at the underside of new range hood!

Three years it took me to do this, people. Three years.

11 December 2009

Kitchen Reorganization (Or, I Lose My Mind)

I like to cook. And I like kitchen gadgets and new ingredients. And people who like me to cook for them like to help me out by giving me gadgets and ingredients. This is all nice and symbiotic and ... messy. If I don't constantly stay on top of things, I feel overrun by my kitchen stuff. Even when everything looks tidy, I know that at any minute all hell could break loose. And it usually does.

I thought, when we bought the welsh dresser for the dining room, that I would free up a lot of kitchen cabinet space by moving all my not-everyday china and glassware out of the kitchen. The problem was, the space I freed up was not premium space to begin with, but actually an assortment tiny or oddly-shaped or unreachable-without-a-stool (I am hobbit-short) cabinets which I just ended up stuffing a bunch of junk in, anyway!

Also, my kitchen is the first "real" room anyone enters from outside and so is the catch-all area for mail, newspapers, jackets, library books, bird feeders, totes, and starveling cats ...

First, in order to make this kitchen reorganization project more bite-size (thereby increase my likelihood of following through with it), I am only going to focus on cabinet arrangements and am also going to divide my kitchen up into sections based on the way I use it rather than trying to focus on the whole room all at once. I have three areas to deal with:
  • Cooking area (refrigerator-stove-window)
  • Baking area (peninsula and tea-making area)
  • Cleaning/Storage area (sink-microwave area)
I will start with the cooking area, because it's the area I feel I fight with most ...

(My kitchen doesn't usually look as bad as in the photo, but I thought I should start with a stunningly bad "before" shot!)

26 October 2009

Burnt Saucepan Remedy

Over a week ago, I burnt tomato soup to the bottom of a saucepan. Seriously burnt -- a perfectly uniform layer of stone hard charred material about 6 millimeters thick adhered to the entire bottom of the saucepan. Repeatedly attacking the char with boiling water, soap, and a scrubbing pad did absolutely naught. So I left the saucepan in the sink, filling it with boiling water whenever I thought of it, while I pondered the remedy to my situation.

The remedy turned out simpler than I had hoped -- I boiled a can of Cherry Coke in the pan for about fifteen minutes and then I used a teaspoon to scrape at the bottom until I had scraped away about two thirds of the char. Chuffed, but not done by a long shot, I dumped the last of my Bar Keepers Friend powder into the bottom of the pan and scrubbed at it quite ruthlessly with a scrubbing pad until my fingers were worn down to mere nubbins ... et voilĂ , a usable pan!

Teaches me to read Georgette Heyer whilst making supper!

11 September 2009

Freezer Fun

For months and months now, I'd been thinking about buying a freezer for the basement. We had a freezer in our old house (left by the previous owners and then freecycled before we moved) and it worked really well for storing bulk buys of meat and good sales sweeps. Our current fridge/freezer is a side-by-side and while I know it's a normal unit found in kitchens across America, I detest the freezer side of it. I hate playing Freezer Tetris whenever I come home from a particularly good grocery run or need to freeze a large batch of soup. And now that I'm tomato deep in Sauce Season ...

We went and bought a GE 5.0 cubic foot chest freezer (Model FCM5SUWW) on sale at Home Depot. I know, 5.0 cubic feet sounds tiny and the freezer certainly is smaller than our old upright, but it was hard to keep the old one full with there being only two of us. Freezers need to be full to run efficiently and I'd rather have a small freezer chock full of food than block a too-big freezer with water jugs.

We bought a chest freezer because the starting prices for uprights gave me palpitations. Organizationally speaking, I think an upright might be more convenient, but we will see what a cunning arrangement of shopping bags can do. (Also, it's high-time I got over my childhood loathing of chest freezers -- yes, mother, do send the extremely short child into the dark creepy basement to get something that is bound to be at the bottom of the chest freezer -- a freezer whose lid is propped up by an untrustworthy stick).

Yes, shopping bags are my starter organizational system. Kate over at Living the Frugal Life uses reusable shopping bags to store foods in her freezer. What a brilliant idea! The bags are light and sturdy (and tall enough I shouldn't have to fall into the freezer trying to snag a handle). I have about a dozen reusable shopping bags and the "least nice" of them can certainly go toward freezer storage.

So what's going to stay in the upstairs freezer, now that I have all this space? The things we use constantly like ice cream, frozen vegetables, pot pies, waffles, pizzas, and soup. Back-up items (you don't have back-up ice cream??), meats, and casseroles will go in the basement.

15 June 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Sixteen

Less tired and grumpy going in to this week as I did get some housework done and solved The Case of the Malodorous Mystery Smell -- the odor wasn't coming from the drains or disposal as I had feared, but rather from the rubber and metal sink drain strainer/stopper. So I replaced the darn thing with a fine metal mesh strainer and ... the odor returneth not. I try to tell myself that at least I know my kitchen sink area is really clean now. The pipes and disposal can't have been this clean since they were installed! And, I learned some new baking soda tricks!

I had an open box of baking soda sitting on the kitchen counter from my last round of drain cleaning and the sink was looking a bit tatty with tea stains ... so I dipped my damp sponge into the baking soda and then rubbed at the sink basin. The stains came off immediately!

Amused, I tried the same thing with on my glass cooktop which was a bit crusty with baked on spaghetti sauce. The baking soda worked even better than BioKleen Soy Cream Cleaner or Bar Keepers Friend! Dude! Do you know how cheap baking soda is? As cheap as white vinegar!

I'm going to be saving all sorts of money on cleaning products now. Is that not awesome? And you know what that means? It means more money for fud!


  • "Chicken With Mustard & Dill" (America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers -- special issue magazine made up of tear-out recipe cards), parsley rice, and salad.


  • A big bowl of salad with diced leftover chicken and shredded Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar. Plus a homemade gelatin cup and Kashi crackers.

Wednesday (shift change)

  • Another big bowl of salad with chopped hard cooked egg and shredded sharp cheddar. Plus pineapple and Kashi crackers.


  • Yet another big bowl of salad with tuna and shredded sharp cheddar. More pineapple and Kashi crackers.


  • "Linguine With Crab & Sherry Cream Sauce" (America's Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers -- special issue magazine made up of tear-out recipe cards) with salad and individual chocolate lava cakes. A (slightly late) celebratory supper marking our "One Year In This House" anniversary (Wednesday).



  • Pirogi with salad and pickled shredded beets.
Lots of lettuce coming out of the garden, already! If only my tomato plans loved cool moist weather as much as the lettuces do ...

15 May 2009

Pretty, Pretty Curtains

Pretty much ever since we moved in, I have been toying with the idea of quilted patchwork valances for my sewing room. I've daydreamed over many a pattern and fat quarter bundle, but never been able to commit. A lot has to do with the ugly bubbling red and white walls of my sewing room. It's hard to imagine anything looking pretty against them.

Last weekend, I had some kind of brainstorm while browsing in the middle of the night and ended up ordering a jelly roll of "Nouveau" by Sentimental Studios for Moda and two yards of Wilmington Prints's "Essentials Scroll" in light ivory. Alas, by the time the fabric arrived, I had forgotten my brilliant plan! What was I supposed to do with these fabrics? Why had I not jotted down notes? Oh noes!

Today, I unrolled the strips and held them up to the window and, against the bright light of the afternoon, they were beautiful. So beautiful that I decided to bite that darn bullet and piece some valances ...

Every time I started to panic (and I panicked quite a lot), I just held the strip set up to the windows, oooh-ed a bit at the play of light through them, and went back to my sewing machine. The tops are done now -- it took about three hours to cut and piece the two of them -- and now I have to wrap my head around quilting them. I want them to have a bit of body, but not be too stiff. The thin cotton batting I normally quilt with is, I think, too thick for this and so I wonder if felt might work ...

Probably, I am over-thinking a pair of valances.

Lest you think I spent all my time fretting over fabric, I also made turkey soup from the carcass of the one I roasted on Wednesday. The soup, while very basic (turkey with mixed vegetables and barley flakes), is quite flavorful from its afternoon adventure on the stove top and will probably not last long in this house.

I was also smart enough to keep some of the turkey meat back for "Turkey Enchiladas" and we will have the enchiladas for Saturday's supper with a bit of green salad and beer.

27 July 2008

Or I Could Just Burn My House Down

It is taking longer than I thought -- this adjusting to a new kitchen. It is quite a pretty kitchen, but not as functional as one would expect. Really, it feels like a kitchen designed by someone who liked the idea of cooking, but who did not actually cook. Or, at least, not the way I cook.

Also, I worry about the cleanliness of my kitchen. On the surface, everything looked good when we moved in and I just gave all the surfaces a good wash with Biokleen Spray & Wipe All Purpose Cleaner and figured I was good to go.

And then I discovered something untenable growing in the dishwasher ...

Mold. Thick, tarry, mold. I was horrified and repelled. Didn't want to go near it. Wanted to throw up. Wanted to close my eyes and pretend it wasn't there.

Instead, I scraped off as much of it as I could. Sprayed it with Biokleen Spray & Wipe All Purpose Cleaner and scrubbed at it with a toothbrush. Then, I admit, I may have gone a little mental. I dumped baking soda, vinegar, and bleach into the dishwasher, set it on "hot" "pots and pans" and let it go.

The dishwasher came out cleaner, but not Clean. I scrubbed at it a bit more with the toothbrush then chucked in the last of the baking soda and vinegar and ran the machine again.

It's better -- looks almost clean -- but I doubt its inherent cleanliness. Somewhere I cannot reach, I am sure mold is growing.

Because I am now a freaked out that my kitchen is going to poison someone, I am going to do what I ought to have done a month ago. I am taking all my things out of the kitchen and will scrub until there is no doubt in my mind that the kitchen clean.

First, I need to buy baking soda, white vinegar, bleach, and toothbrushes. Many toothbrushes.

24 July 2008

More Ascot Valances

I promise you that someday soon I will find something new to obsess over and stop bothering you about curtains. Right now, however, I have many naked windows and much fabric. You will just have to bear with me a little while longer.

"Countryside Cottage" Ascot Valances

By "little while" I mean the next few months, of course.

20 July 2008

Cheep Housing Ascot Valances of Adorableness

Bought a Sony 17 in 1 multi-card reader/writer thingamabob to plug my camera's memory card into so that I may upload pictures to my computer without waiting for that thrice damned F-Spot Photo Importer to resume its former functionality. Or be less broke. Whichever.

"Cheep Housing" Ascot Valances

Anyway, you may now see two of my lovely ascot valances and know why I've been whittering away about bird fabric for weeks now.

14 July 2008

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Remember how I wrote that had sent me four yards of the white background bird print rather than the ivory and that they were sending me four more yards of the stuff I wanted? Well, it's not the stuff I wanted.

I want this:

but keep getting this:


Happily, it looks like Quilter Studio at Appleberry Fabrics has ivory in stock and I have ordered three yards to make the last two or three ascot valances needed to go over the thrice cursed sliding door.

I am getting to be quite an expert valance maker. My order with Country Treasures came in much faster than I had expected (thank you, mary jane) and I had just enough to make three more valances. I did the rough sewing (all the bits you can't see when they're turned rightside out), but then gave them to my mother to do the top-stitching. Everyone can see the top stitching, you know, and my top stitching just isn't good enough yet. I also made two valances in the same pattern, but using a blue and yellow floral The Husband picked out, for one of the bathrooms and they came out really well.

Unfortunately, my camera, my computer, and my photo importer are not talking to each other and I cannot show you what it is I keep whittering away about post after post.

Just trust me when I say they're all dead purty.

09 July 2008

Happy as a Jay

So, remember when I wrote that my mother had snapped up four yards of Diane Knott's "Cheep Housing" birds and morning glories on ivory (10153-2) print for me at a little quilt show in upstate New York? Well, it turns out it wasn't a little quilt show in New York, but a little quilt store in Vermont.

She bought the fabric from Country Treasures of Chester, Vermont. The day of the snafu, I e-mailed them to know if they had any more of the ivory print and not only did they have 2+ yards left, but they let me buy it over the phone and are mailing it to me. Huzzah.

This means I will have over six yards of the lovely stuff.

My house will be swathed in it.

Can't wait.

06 July 2008

The Birds! The Birds!

About five months ago, I was on Clothworks's website looking at Diana Knott's fabric collections and fell headfirst in love with "Cheep Housing." As soon as I heard it was being released, I marshalled my forces (my mother and the internets) and set forth to acquire as much yardage as I could. My mother hunted "Cheep Housing" from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire before finally snapping up four yards of the bird print on ivory (10153-2), plus half yards of the tonals, for me in a little quilt show in upstate New York. Then I found another five yards of the ivory bird print on last week and there has been much rejoicing.¹

Too often, in my early days as a quilter, I erred on the side of economy and bought dribs and drabs of fabric I really liked -- only to regret I had not bought more. Now, if I see something I really love, I buy as much of it as I can. If I later decide I have more than I need, I can swap with my mother. But, if I don't have enough, there's not a lot I can do to get more. The magic of the internets only goes so far.

What I need is a quilt stash modeled along the libraries of the Discworld. Instead of all library's everywhere connected by the magic of L-Space, I would have a stash connected to all stashes everywhere through Q-Space.

And, probably, I would never sew anything because I would always be away on expedition looking for that perfect accent fabric. Better, perhaps, to make do with what I have ...

So. Nine yards of the ivory bird print, plus two and a half yards of assorted tonals (10157-1 et al). What was I going to do with all that fabric? Why valances and place mats and runners and a twee little wall hanging and ...

Mine was going to be the Crazy Bird Lady House.

And it still may be:

  • Last weekend I cut out, using an old McCall pattern, the pieces for four lined (ivory colored cotton from Joann's) ascot valances. I pinned them, my mother stitched them, and I hung them up in my kitchen and den yesterday. They are wonderful. I just need to make five or six (depending on how full I want them to look) to go over the den slider and half my ground floor will be birded.

  • The kitchen has two glass fronted cabinets which the previous owner had tacked fabric over. My mother and I have measured and pondered and we do think we could do better. We will piece together little quilts using bird housed from the panel (10151-1) and strips of the tonals to cover the glass panels.

  • For my sewing room windows, I plan on making two simple gathered rectangular valances from the bird print trimmed with a pieced strip of the tonals.

  • After that, I will probably be heartily sick of twee birdies and go back to batiks (which is good, because they must be dealt with soon as they are taking over my stash).


    ¹ I must write a little bit more about my shopping experience. While I had ordered four yards of the ivory background bird print, I received four of the white. As soon as I realized the error, I sent a slightly panicky email about how I really needed the ivory background print. This morning, I received an email saying that not only are they sending me four yards of the right fabric, but I could keep the yards they sent me in error. Is this not awesome customer service?

    I think I will use the extra fabric to make some quilts for Project Linus, Quilts for Kids, or Quilts of Valor.