» Archive for the 'Homemaking' Category

My crowded recipe box

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 by kara

So my recipe box is getting crowded. A few years ago, after I’d experienced this same problem with my sticky, tatty metal recipe file box inherited from my mum, I went out and bought a very nice dark-walnut stained wooden recipe box (very grown-up looking!), and I sorted through my recipes, making tidier copies of some of the scribbled ones, and getting rid of the recipes I had never used, but had looked good when I’d bothered to add them to my collection.

The new box is getting crowded again, though, and when I was looking for my peanut butter cookie recipe, I discovered that I’d left old copies of my favorite recipes in with the newer, tidier copies. “Sheesh, can’t believe I was so stupid to leave those in there,” I muttered to myself, and sorted through the cookie recipes to find six duplicates.

I prepared to throw out the old, untidy copies, and recalled that most of those had been scribbled when I was in high school, or even grade school. Swamped by this wave of nostalgia for the younger, foolish-er me, I hesitated to put the old copies in the recycling bin.

Does nostalgia for my silly, loopy handwriting from high school and grade school make these copies worth keeping? Or is their age and provenance of value? When I was originally going through my recipe cards, I had several that belonged to my mother and grandmother, and to see their handwriting and know that they touched those recipe cards made me feel closer to both of them. I had split them up and divided them between myself and my sisters, copying the cards I thought I’d actually use and sending them on for my sisters to enjoy.

But for recipes I’d written for myself, I don’t have anyone to pass them down to, so does my own historical handwriting have value to anyone but me? Are they really worth keeping, for that glimpse of the person I used to be? I’m still wrestling with that idea, but the old copies are getting closer to the recycling bin.

Something else I’m wrestling with in my recipe box are the recipes that I’ve copied because they LOOKED good, but which I’ve never actually made. I hate making new foods because I don’t know how the recipe will turn out. If it’s an awful recipe, I really resent wasting the time and the food to make it and then just turn around and throw it away, so many times I will just copy something that looks appealing but then tuck it away into that wooden box to languish.

Take banana oatmeal cookies as an example. They’ve always sounded sooo gooood to me, but I hadn’t made them because with many recipes, there’s no way to tell how something will turn out–or how you can screw it up. I found FOUR DIFFERENT banana oatmeal cookie recipes in my recipe box today, but when I finally made the darned things for the first time last week, I used a completely different recipe I found on the web. (Oh, and by the way, I screwed that up by not using the right type of oatmeal the first time I made THEM, but the recipe was so lovely even after I’d ruined the cookies that I gave it a second try yesterday–works so much better when you use the quick-cooking oats the recipe calls for, instead of old-fashioned oats which require four hours of cooking–thanks, DivasCanCook.com!)

Because I’m a tad OCD, I treasure things like a tidy recipe box with uniformly-sized cards. No, I don’t go so far as to use the same colour ink when I’m writing a new card, and I’m not going to make a new card if I get something on it while cooking or baking. The different stains and battle scars on a recipe card add to its appeal, and serve as a rating system–the more battered a recipe is, the more often I’ve used it successfully.

But it is nice to be able to flip through all the recipes in a section and not have smallish bits of paper escaping to flutter to the floor, or not being able to find the recipe you need only to discover that it had been left behind in its respective slot because it’s so much smaller than the other cards.

I’ve made a resolution, just now:  From now on, I will only write out a recipe card for recipes which I’ve actually made and liked. I will make notes ON THE CARD about changes that I’ve found useful, and I’ll actually keep track of where the recipe came from. No more wondering where I got the recipe for divinity, or trying to recognize handwriting that’s not my own, my sisters’, my mother’s, or my grandmother’s.

Now, what should I do with all the recipes I’ve already copied and filed because they looked good? Shall I retire them to a “recipe limbo” from which I’ll randomly pluck one to try it out?  And if it turns out to taste as good as it “read,” then it will earn a permanent place in my recipe box? I think that’s what I’ll do from now on, but I’ll go through the rest of the recipes later. Right now, I have to go make some peanut butter cookies.

Jenga with recyclables

Friday, September 16th, 2011 by kara

So the Pumpkin and I recycle. Not as much as we could do, but we make an effort to rinse and flatten containers, disassemble boxes and put the newspapers into a paper bag for easier handling.

Only problem is, both of us are equally lazy with regard to putting the recyclables down into their respective bins in the garage, and then getting the bins to the recycling center when they’re full.

It was so easy and convenient to recycle in Saline. The city provided recycling service along with garbage pickup, and it wasn’t even necessary to sort the recyclables! You just put your appropriately-managed recycling materials in a bin at the curb along with your trash can. If there was something in the bin that wasn’t cleaned properly, or if the materials weren’t all truly recyclable, they’d leave the bin and its contents, along with a big sticky note explaining why you sucked at recycling. Sufficiently chastened, you would never make that mistake again.

Here in Knoxville, we could have that same convenience, but we’d have to pay for it. I hate having to pay for something that I think should be available as a given service, so instead of subscribing to our waste hauler for recyclable pickup, we maintain our own bins and take a trip to the recycling center every so often.

Everybody’s got different ways of handling their recyclables. We used to have a really cool basket which was just the right size for stacking newspapers and other paper in; this basket had a big brother which was the ideal size for about a week’s worth of glass/metal/plastic recyclables. These baskets sat on the kitchen floor by the trash can, and they worked beautifully for us for a long time.

Even though we rinsed everything really thoroughly (don’t worry, we don’t waste a lot of water rinsing recyclables–used dishwater performs this task remarkably well), Belle and the other fuzzies would occasionally dip into the recycling basket and pull out the plastic cap from the half & half bottle, and chew on it.

We didn’t think this was a problem, as our dogs didn’t often go to the recyclable basket to find a new “toy.” But when we discovered Belle had swallowed a chunk of half & half lid that was larger than a quarter in diameter and jagged on the edges, we stopped using the basket. It wasn’t secure, and it was just too big a pain in the pants to put it up out of their reach when we left the house.

‘No problem,’ I thought. ‘We’ll just have to make a daily trip down to the garage with the recycling stuff. It will force us to be more conscious of the recyclables.’  Yeah. No, that’s not what happened.

Instead of taking one or two pieces of plastic down each day, Rick and I fell into the habit of rinsing and squashing the containers, and then leaving them sitting on top of the toaster oven. It’s kind of like playing a sadistic version of Jenga, in which the base is the slightly-uneven top of the toaster oven, and instead of smoothly-machined pieces of tree, the playing pieces are irregularly-shaped and made of lots of different materials.

The challenge begins when every square centimeter of the toaster oven is occupied with a recyclable. Then we must begin to carefully stack squashed two-liter soda bottles and rinsed Castlebury’s chili cans on top of the initial layer. The game continues until it’s no longer possible to add another piece to the pile.

The loser of this game is the one who contributes the ‘toppling piece’, the straw (or gallon milk jug) that breaks the toaster oven’s back. The loser must then gather up all the recyclables and take them to the garage to then be Jenga’d up on the bins down there, a punishment worse than death.

(Didja see that? I just made a word! Or maybe not, because Jenga’s been around for a while. I would imagine lots of families Jenga many things in their everyday lives, from library books to unsorted junk mail to cookware, etc.)

Why is it so hard for us to make a daily trip to the garage to take the recycling down, and then to make the trip to the recycling center every couple weeks? The garage isn’t very far (unless my knees are hurting, then going up & down two flights of stairs makes it seem like it’s miles away), and it’s not a scary or threatening place, unless the recyclables are really out-of-hand–then one might be caught in an avalanche, but it would be an avalanche of plastics, because we put metal and glass in the lower bins. So that threat is disproved quite easily, too.

And yes, now that I’m working on Saturdays, that throws a monkey wrench into the weekly chore schedule. Saturdays used to be our marketing/library/recyclable/housework day, and it just lacks a lot of appeal when there’s only one of us working on that stuff then.

We might have to bring the pretty baskets back up out of the garage; maybe if we can keep the kitchen table cleared off, that will make it easier to put them up while the dogs are unsupervised. Maybe it would even be worth paying the extra money to have our garbage company pick up recycling materials…nah, that’s definitely not the solution.

Crispy elastic and other secrets of the underwear drawer

Friday, August 5th, 2011 by kara

For quite a while, I’ve acknowledged that my biggest housekeeping hangup is hanging on to too much “stuff.”  “Stuff” can be anything from cookware, kitchen gear in general, linens (towels, sheets, blankets, pillows), note pads (I’m staring right now at a paper grocery bag full of legal-size notepads and notebooks, which is sitting on the floor next to my desk simply because I’ve no other place to put it) and clothes.

As I learned while we were selling our first two homes, it’s astonishingly easier to keep the place clean and tidy when there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place. In order to display our houses to their best advantage during the tense process of showing, the Pumpkin and I actually rented storage to squirrel away excess furniture, file boxes filled with I-don’t-know-what-all, and extra “stuff” that we weren’t using at the time.

When we first met both the Pumpkin and I were budding hoarders; that knowledge should give you an idea of the contents of most of those exiled boxes and bins. Cleaning the house became almost effortless, when it wasn’t fraught with moving boxes and piles of “stuff” from one place to another.

While we were selling, we had to be ready to show the house at any given point. That meant that every morning before we went to work, the bed was made, all dishes were either in the dishwasher ready to run or in the process of running, and I had at least traveled through the house to see if it was necessary to vacuum quickly. Nothing smelly was left in the garbage and bathrooms were always spotless. There were a few times when I’d cooked something odorous (Spanish rice, anybody?) or only had enough time to jerk the bedspread up over the unmade bedding before we were out the door, but for the most part the house was immaculate.

It sounds fussy and stressful (and it truly IS stressful to worry about what strangers think of your housekeeping skills, let alone the assumptions they’re making about YOU as they tour your personal refuge from the world), but because we weren’t wrestling with extra detritus from our combined previous lives it wasn’t as tough as I imagined it.

In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Wow, I really DID enjoy coming home to a clean house. Why was that so enjoyable for me? A heroine of mine, Cheryl Mendelson, explains it beautifully in her book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House: She tells us that home is where we go to heal and restore ourselves from the stressful outside world, and that in order to truly relax and recover there, we need to make home a clean, comfortable, healthy place that doesn’t challenge us physiologically or psychologically.

Think about it: You’ve just come home from a stressful day at work or school, you’ve fought to get through horrendous traffic and worked to keep your job, all the while making sure you don’t lose your keys or allow someone to steal your wallet. When you arrive home, you don’t want to encounter additional challenges, like having to wash dishes before you make dinner, or even worse, not having anything to fix for dinner. This is why it’s so enjoyable to have a tidy, orderly household.

(At this point in your reading, you’re rolling your eyes and saying ‘Yes, yes, Kara, I understand that this is important, but what’s it got to DO with underwear?’ Because after all, it was the ‘underwear’ that really pulled you in to this blog entry. It’s relevant, stick with me for just a little bit longer, please.)

So, tidy house equals dreamy housekeeping due to lack of excess “stuff” sitting around. Even relaxing was easier, because I could plop my lazy bottom on the sofa with a book, and not feel as though there was something, somewhere that I should be cleaning or organizing. And then when we’d move into the new next house, cleaning prior to moving in was almost effortless. It’s so much easier to wash walls and scrub floors when there’s no furniture or “stuff” in the way! We’d clean, and then bring all our “stuff” home to settle in and relax. BIG sigh. Ease of cleaning was then over, thanks to the reappearance of our “stuff.”

The Pumpkin and I have moved together several times, and we’ve learned a great deal about doing that efficiently. We’ve learned many useful things, such as ‘the larger the box, the fewer books you should put into it,’ and ‘just because we’ve moved it twice before, doesn’t mean we should move it again.’

One big thing we’ve learned is how to get rid of extra “stuff” and we’re doing a really good job at winnowing out the chaff. Now all our “stuff” is with us here in the Knoxville house; once we opened boxes which were moved several times without being unpacked, it was easy to make the decision to toss/shred/recycle many things. But now we’ve progressed to the point that the chaff is not immediately recognizable. It’s a little tougher to sort through what’s remaining, to discard what we don’t use and leave only the essential items for which we have storage space. We haven’t made a whole lot of progress in the past few months.

Last week, however, I took a HUGE step forward for me: I purged my underwear drawer.

Recently I watched my Pumpkin go through HIS underwear drawer. It was pretty straightforward: He has undershirts and briefs, and he got rid of the too-short, shrunken, or discoloured shirts.  The underpants were a tad more complicated. He found briefs he didn’t wear because they were the wrong size or oddly cut, so he got rid of anything that was uncomfortable or weird, leaving only the comfortable unders of which he can grab a pair without any in-depth analysis.

His heroic action inspired me to take a look at my own delicates. My experience was a tad more involved than his, though. You wouldn’t think that panties take up that much room, but it’s not just panties lurking in the back of the drawer. Women’s underwear is more…complex…and expensive than men’s underwear. It takes up more room. For many years I’ve had to fold my panties and bras carefully, and then use a combination of violence and agility to cram them into the drawer so that they all fit. And then for the next couple of days after laundry day, it’s a challenge to get one fresh set of underwear without letting the rest of it burst from its confinement.

“That’s just stupid,” I thought to myself. “We should never have so much underwear that there’s no room to put it all away.” After all, how many pairs of panties and how many bras do I need? Ideally, I should be able to get by with seven of each; I do laundry once a week, and shouldn’t really need many more than a week’s supply. I began digging through my underwear drawer, and found that I had several pairs of panties which I’d bought and then discovered they didn’t fit quite “right,” so I never wore them again. I also found old, old panties that I was ashamed to wear (even though no one SEES them) because they were faded or otherwise, and the elastic on those was so exhausted it CRUNCHED when I stretched them experimentally. Note: Elastic should never be crispy enough to crunch when it’s tested.

I also renewed my acquaintance with several “foundation” pieces, i.e. torturous contraptions purchased for ‘special occasions’ and worn only once, but which were hellishly expensive. As expensive as they were, I couldn’t throw those away, no matter how uncomfortable they are or how unlikely it is that I’ll ever wear them (willingly) again. Then there were slips, chemises, and other types of smoothing garments which guarantee modesty and make skirts and dresses skim gracefully over the lumps and bumps of the body. (Why has it fallen out of fashion to wear a slip?! This is something that can only HELP you, ladies! We don’t really want to be able to see the outlines of your bodies when you walk between us and the light! And it’s NOT pretty when you stand up, and your skirt gets trapped between your thighs. Some things really should be kept a secret!)

Well, I finally bit the bullet and tossed everything I wasn’t wearing. All the old panties with the crispy elastic, all the ‘perfectly good’ panties which just didn’t fit right, all the jog bras which are just a smidge too small or a tad too big (and therefore unable to perform adequately), exhausted slips and the sadistic, underwired body armor that cost altogether too much, all went into the trash.

This does still leave me with a sizable amount of underwear. I still have underwire bras that I wear when I’m pretending to be a grown up, and better than three times that quantity of comfy jog bras, as well as enough panties to last me for a three-week vacation. But now that I’ve purged all the wrong-sized, worn-out, unused pieces, I actually have enough room to put everything away in one drawer without resorting to sleight-of-hand to close the drawer. It’s a small accomplishment in terms of space, but it’s a huge shift in my thinking, and I’m really enjoying how easy it is to put the laundry away now.

All I have to do to finish up our home now is apply this same thinking to the bedding, cookware, furniture…

Pressing the bedsheets

Friday, June 24th, 2011 by kara

I just pressed a flat sheet and two pillowcases. But before you pooh-pooh me as an overachiever, please know that a.) being an overachiever is NOT something that anyone would accuse me of being, and b.) since I’ve had these sheets for years and years, and have never pressed them before, this pressing was quite overdue.

Ironing seems to be one of the lost arts, set aside in the modern hubbub of full-time employment and extracurricular activities. It may not even be truly vital anymore, with the advent of wash-and-wear fabrics and commercially-produced wrinkle-release sprays, but it certainly can put a very tidy finish on something like a 100% cotton flat sheet. Not necessary, but very enjoyable. It’s that added element of enjoyment that tops off the benefits of being ‘home.’

It’s a well-known fact that a clean, orderly home is a happy one. Cheryl Mendelson explains why having a tidy home is necessary in one of my favorite books, Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. I’ll be brief in paraphrasing Mendelson, but her explanation is well-worth the time it takes to read the introduction and skim through the rest of her book.

Mendelson explains that no matter what our individual housekeeping tastes or techniques may be, a clean and orderly home offers fewer microbes, contaminates and hazards to our health than a messy one, and that our home is where we relax and recharge from our forays into the messy, hazardous world on the other side of our threshold. So in order for us to be as content and healthy as possible, it’s vital that home be a clean and orderly environment which soothes us mentally as well as physically, posing us no additional challenges like an obstacle course of stacked library books, dust mites procreating with abandon in the bedroom, or a search-and-rescue mission for the car keys. In a clean and comfortable atmosphere, we can relax and recuperate from the hazardous outside world to the fullest.

But housekeeping takes time, even with conveniences like precooked meals and vacuum cleaners and disposable dusters; being employed outside the home full-time, we have to pick and choose the elements of housekeeping that are necessary to our health and well being. We may not be able to damp-dust the walls and mopboards every week, but occasional vacuuming of pollen and dirt from the carpets is vital. Likewise, it’s only necessary that the bedding be clean, it’s not really essential that the hems  of the sheets be pressed flat.

But having them pressed flat after many years of bare-essential laundering makes me feel better. It’s very gratifying to spray water on a clean sheet, heat the iron up to the linen setting, and then enjoy the tactile experience of smoothing wrinkles from the clean fabric while the scent of heated cotton rises with the steam. Folding that freshly-pressed sheet is also a joy, being able to match all four corners and edges of the sheet and then hearing the weighty, smooth mass of the folds smacking lightly together as I reduce it in size appeals to my sense of order. Finally, it’s done the right way.

When I was very young, my parents suffered from cardio-pulmonary disorders, and it was essential to their health that the house be as clean as possible, so I learned how to clean extremely thoroughly and spent a lot of time and effort doing that on a regular basis. When I left home and began caring for my own dwelling, I rebelled against such stringent measures, and as a result my home became quite filthy. As home became more and more crowded, untidy and dusty, I became more and more unhappy there. Somehow, I found Mendelson’s book, and she explained why I was unhappy in my dirty home–I was scuttling my own nest. The lightbulb lit up, the pieces clicked, and I began to keep house for myself.  Home Comforts is a great book, a wonderful guide for those learning how to do it all for the first time, and an invaluable resource for seasoned pros needing to refresh their memories.

So don’t hate me for pressing my flat sheet. Instead, find your own metaphorical flat sheet, and go press it. You’ll feel lots better.

Knife sharpening kit saves money, makes cutting safer

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by kara

My trusty old Olfa Touch-Knife, plus brand new edge, courtesy of the Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204.

So I came down with some type of lung crud and can’t muster up a lot of energy to do anything today, but I did manage to get my hair-cutting shears sharpened in preparation for our fuzzies’ weekly grooming session. Everyone will get the hairs between their toes trimmed THIS SUNDAY, whether they like it or whether they don’t, so I got out my Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker 204 Kit and went to town.

And as long as I had the kit out, I decided I might as well sharpen EVERYDARNTHING in the drawer. Now our chef’s knives, Grandpa Plagens’ meat carving knife, all the paring knives, and even the fershlugginer vegetable peelers are all sharp and fresh! Joy!

Everybody who uses a cutting implement of any type will tell you that a sharp knife is easier and safer to use, because you don’t have to apply as much force to cut successfully, so there’s less risk of fumbling the cutting implement and losing control–along with a limb or eye or something else equally useful. Sharpening is something that should be done on a regular basis.

In the beginning I didn’t sharpen my knives regularly, though. Sharpening knives used to be very intimidating for me, because I didn’t want to do it wrong and ruin the edge.  Yes, I knew that if I screwed it up, I could always take it to a professional and have a little snack of crow while they fix my mistake. But you gotta remember that I don’t like to screw up in the first place. Hence, I never tried.

Plus, I hate to pay someone to do something for me that I should be able to do myself. Having the kit at home means that I can (and should) sharpen my knives myself on a regular basis. Along with saving money on medical care for accidental knife wounds, this saves money by letting me keep the very good quality knives I’ve selected and not purchasing new ones to replace them merely because they’re dull.

I’ve really got no excuse for avoiding this task. I’ve got that amazing sharpening kit, sitting right at the back of the knife drawer, of which I can’t speak highly enough. The Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker base holds two brass safety rods and the triangular ceramic sharpening rods at exactly the correct angle (35 or 40 or 12 degrees, depending on what you’re sharpening) and it comes with a comprehensive manual and even a DVD for Pete’s sake. One would truly have to have a glass eye and wooden banana (in the words of my sainted mother, Norma) to screw it up with the 204.

And you can use the kit to sharpen just about anything that has an edge or functional sharp point. Have a wood plane that needs some refining?  You can use the 204 to sharpen that blade–just be careful, because the brass safety rods don’t deploy for the configuration to sharpen a plane blade. Does your ice pick, awl, or upholstery needle need a new point? It’ll do that as well, along with thinning and pinking shears, and my little Olfa Touch-Knife craft cutter. Honestly, I think I bought that darn thing when I was in high school, and I still have it–I just use the 204 to put the edge back on it every once in a while, and it’s ready to help me clip coupons every Sunday.

Plus, it is such a joy to use a sharp implement. Makes me want to go back out to the kitchen and cut cauliflower and broccoli and cucumbers for broccoli salad, and maybe find some fish to fillet, maybe a roast to trim. Eh, maybe after my nap.

Dinnertime

Friday, August 27th, 2010 by kara

So I’m working a job now where I don’t get home until after 8:15 p.m., but Rick is working a more normal schedule. That means that he gets home hungry for dinner three hours before I’ll even be hopping into the Buick Regal to wend my scenic way back to the nest. If I start fixing dinner when I get home, that means we’ll be eating as late as 9:30 p.m., and it’s not healthy for Rick to go to bed at 10 p.m. with a full stomach.

And unless I’ve been exceptionally proactive and motivated that morning, it means Rick is either cooking hamburgers/hot dogs/sloppy joes for himself, or eating (yet another) peanut butter and jelly sammich.

And we all know exactly how proactive and motivated I am in the morning, which is -4 on a scale of 1 to 10, so my Wonderful Pumpkin eats hisself a LOT of PB&J.

“Don’t worry,” he says trying to make me feel better, “I really LIKE peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” That doesn’t really work, because the Pumpkin likes a lot of different foods, but it doesn’t mean that he should eat them for days and days on end. Nutritionally speaking it doesn’t seem balanced, and I worry that it might eventually cause him to snap, and I’ll come home from work to find the entire 7-pound jar of Peter Pan we found at Sam’s Club pasted over the whole kitchen.

Rick insists he can’t cook, which is really not true. The man can make a mean chicken stir-fry on his own, with just the envelope of stir-fry seasoning mix from the store, which is still home-made in my eyes. He could do that before we met.

“But I can’t just go into the kitchen and say ‘Oh, we’ll have pan-fried chicken tenderloins with cole slaw and biscuits for dinner tonight’ and fix it,” he says to me. I have to remind him that I started cooking and baking when I was old enough to hold a hand mixer steady in a bowl of cookie dough, and anyone with 33 years experience in anything is going to be ‘better’ at it than someone with less.

When I was on the fire department in Highland Township, I’d be in the middle of fixing dinner when my pager would go off, and I’d have to abandon everything to respond. In the middle of grabbing my stuff and listening to the address of the call, I’d be giving Rick instructions on how to finish fixing all the food that was in-progress at that moment. “Finish steaming this until it’s fork-tender, drain and mash the potatoes with butter, milk and salt & pepper, and pull the biscuits out when they’re nicely browned on top!”

And when I returned, dinner was always done perfectly. So the man can cook–he just doesn’t know it.

Or maybe he doesn’t want to know it.

But I’ve been fretting lately over how poorly nourished we are, and the more often we opt for pizza or take-out food, the more money we waste on junk that just fills our stomachs without really doing us any good. We’ve got to figure out a way for us to have home-cooked meals with me on this crazy schedule.

The logical thing to do would be to plan the weekly meal menu, and then do as much of the food prep as possible ahead of time, either on the weekend or in the morning. I’d then leave instructions for Rick on how to finish preparing the meal, and he could have a hot, homemade meal when he’s ready for it, and I could have leftovers when I get home.

Again, though, that’s assuming that I can remain focused and motivated to plan all this ahead of time, stick to the schedule, and peel potatoes at 8 a.m. on days OTHER than Thanksgiving.

So we joined E-Mealz, to get their weekly menu plan and shopping list that will allow us to save money while still eating well. We were pretty gung-ho about it, until I looked at the first menu plan.

It sounds lovely, and I’d be very pleased to be working with a ready-made meal plan with such wonderful food, mostly from scratch. But I’m not the one who’d be doing most of this prep–Rick would.

I looked at the first recipe, Chicken Dijon, which calls for two chicken breasts pounded to 1/4″ thickness, and asked him “Are you okay with doing all this prep and cooking?” And then I knew that for this first week, at least, that Rick would be eating PB&J.

This weekend, we’ll take a look at the menu plan and see how much we can collaborate on the food prep.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

Toaster oven useful for small households

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by kara

I love my toaster oven. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s an essential piece of kitchen gear.

It’s not often that I endorse a specific piece of kitchen equipment. Many tasks have been accomplished over the years using nothing more than a good knife, a sufficiently-large cutting board and basic cookery equipment. I’ve never owned a food processor, nor have I wanted one.

Yes, using a food processor can save you a lot of prep time. You could process all the potatoes for a batch of potato soup in a matter of SECONDS. But then the time it takes to break down and clean the food processor offsets that time saved. It’s so much quicker to keep a sink full of hot, soapy water and wash the knife and cutting board as you go.

We DID have a juicer, once. Once. But it was such a complicated travesty of parts and disks and doohickeys that to use and dissemble it to clean it was a multiple-hour task. We weren’t dedicated enough to the idea of juicing to continue to use it.

We do have a breadmaker that I’ve begun to use again, just for the joy of freshly-baked bread. If you’ve read any of my past blog postings, you may recall my battle to make bread from scratch–I really do feel this is something I should be able to do by myself, without the help of a machine…but I’m lazy. I’ll work on the bread skills later.

I don’t want to mislead you–we do have kitchen equipment with very specialized uses. Of course we have a coffee maker, which just makes coffee, and we have several slow-cookers, which only cook food very slowly. We also have a blender, which is used very seldom, and a Fry-Daddy, which is used more often than I care to admit.

But our toaster oven is the most-used piece of kitchen equipment we have. It warms left-over pizza much more appealingly than the microwave, and if we’re having pasta it heats up to crisp frozen garlic bread in seconds rather than preheating the entire full-sized oven, using much less electricity in the process.

Hot appetizers and baked sandwiches can happen in the toaster oven with much less fuss than the full-sized oven, and I can prepare a hot Westminster dip before dinner even though the oven temperature is different than what’s needed for the entrée.

And anytime we feel like a fresh biscuit, we can take some frozen biscuit dough from the freezer and bake one (or eight) up in a snap. I’ve heard that one can do that same thing with cookie dough, but I’ve always just baked the whole batch of cookies rather than putting some aside to freeze.

All in all, a toaster oven with temperature control is a fast, efficient way to bake small batches of baked goods and not use lots of electricity heating the big oven and then cooling the house. I would strongly recommend a quality toaster oven for every small household.

Inadvertent intimacy

Saturday, February 7th, 2009 by kara

I’m a very tactile and (in some respects) private person, and I tend to read a lot into the most banal experiences.  For example, laundry.  What type of laundry detergent do you use?  Do you use fabric softeners, or a dryer sheet?  Are you a bleach person, or Clorox 2, or do you use both at different times?  Do you have clothes that tend to retain the scent of your perfume or the odor of your workplace even through laundering?

Just walking by someone else’s house during laundry day can give one an intimate glimpse into someone else’s life.  What’s more intimate than the scent of cleaning your clothes?  Yet your clothes dryer exhausts right out into the yard, giving the neighbors, your meter man, ANY casual passers-by a whiff of your wet-goose-feather comforter, or the lovely lavender-vanilla dryer sheets you use, or the weird plastic+sweat scent your Lycra yoga pants and jogbra give off when they’re wet and heated by the dryer.

Whether the scent is pleasant or furtive, I savor the experience of other peoples’ dryer vents.  It’s almost on the same level as experiencing someone else’s cologne, or finding out that an acquaintance prefers cedarwood-scented candles in their home.  I feel almost as if I’ve gained a valuable bit of data about someone if I can identify their laundry detergent or dryer sheet, and I enjoy the clean, cozy scent of laundry fresh from the dryer.

For those of you who don’t have access to my dryer vent (and frankly if you went to the trouble of seeking me and my dryer vent out, it would be kind of creepy) I use method brand laundry detergent, in Sweet Water scent, and Arm and Hammer Essentials Lavender and White Linen dryer sheets.  I don’t use a fabric softener in the washer (why put petroleum products on freshly-laundered fabrics?) but I like the scent of these, and the fact that they’re derived from plants, and they offer SOME static relief.

Maybe I’m out of line.  Maybe I’m weirdly affected by scent.  Or maybe I’ve just given voice to something that has occurred to each of us in the secret portion of our minds, something that we contemplate briefly and then put it away again immediately with all the other errant thoughts that are best left unexamined.  Which is it, people?

Detergent deal and a sad commentary on my life

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by kara

Yesterday I went to Big Lots on Kingston Pike here in Knoxville, to stock up on household stuff and health and beauty supplies. I’ve found lots of really good deals at Big Lots, but you’ve got to keep an eye on the prices: For example, a 64-ounce bottle of a brand-name liquid hand soap (all right, I know you can probably guess what brand it is, but still) was FIVE BUCKS, and I know that I can get that same size, same brand soap at Target for $4.64.

I also can get the Target brand soap (same size, same scent) for $3.05, I think–which means I don’t buy the brand-name hand soap refill at all anymore–unless it’s on sale and I have a great coupon.

Since we’re now a one-income family, I’ve made it a priority to try to get the most mileage out of each dollar possible. It’s kind of a game to me to see how much money I can shave off the grocery bill by combining coupons with sales or buying store-brands over national brands, and some days I hit a home run, which is gratifying. Other days I lose coupons and forget which store has the sale and that’s a downer, but suffice it to say that I enjoy challenging myself.

One of the cost-cutting measures I’ve made in the past year has been to change my laundry detergent from Method to Purex. I looooooooove Method’s Fresh Air scent–it’s so very clean, and I personally think the detergent does a great job, especially on whites. And it’s very concentrated, which means that even the 64-load bottle is teeny–but that shizznat’s EXPENSIVE compared to Purex: At Target, the 64-load bottle is $14.99. Before the summer gas-price debacle, I used to could get a 32-load bottle of Purex for $2.34 on sale, with even more savings if I had a coupon for it.

I don’t see coupons for Method brand products very often. 🙁

So, as much as I love the Method detergent, I couldn’t accept the price difference per load: Twenty-three cents per load for Method, compared to SEVEN cents per load for the Purex. Scent and other aesthetics are ludicrously important to me, but so’s money. I bit the bullet and continued to buy the Purex.

Fast-forward to last night, and my quest for household staples. I didn’t really expect to find laundry detergent at Big Lots but I thought I’d look anyway. Since I’ve misplaced my coupon wallet (AGAIN, dammit) I didn’t have any coupons for detergent (which brings up another question regarding why there are no COUPONS in the paper around Christmastime, but I digress), so I wasn’t bound to purchase any particular brand.

I saw an endcap for a big bottle of a national-brand detergent with a smaller sample bottle of liquid fabric softener cello’d to it but I passed that up because I don’t use liquid softener. And then! Lo! Behold! I turned the corner and was greeted by rows of the sweet, petite, curvy Method detergent bottle! Thrity-two ounces of household bliss for only $4! O, joy! O happy day!

Well, it wasn’t Fresh Air scent, it was Sweet Water, Method’s signature scent,but still! I like Sweet Water, too! I put four bottles in the cart and felt that I should have taken more whilst I could lay hands on it, but that might have felt like I was obsessed.

I was mentally rubbing my hands together and chuckling all the way home (I’m telling you, scent is VERY important to me, and I love doing laundry with a lovely detergent!). When I got in the door, I couldn’t WAIT to tell the Pumpkin about my find! I must have looked like a junkie coming home with a badly-needed fix. I explained about the price difference and how that prevented me from using this wonderful detergent and my eyes glittered as I toted the liquid gold to the laundry room.

And the Wonderful Pumpkin suggested that I check the other Big Lots in the area to see if they maybe had this same detergent, but in the Fresh Air scent. I love him so. He completely understands me.

But in the midst of my rush of joy, I realized that I was all ecstatic about laundry detergent. LAUNDRY DETERGENT. How shallow is my life that something as mundane as a sale on laundry detergent can elevate me to ecstasy? :::groan::: I have REALLY got to find a job or do something to broaden my world a little more.

I’ve decided I will go back and buy more today. It really is an excellent bargain for an outstanding laundry detergent. I’m just a little abashed that I was going to approach this with the same verve which I might have used in my youth to pursue INXS concert tickets. Sad, sad, sad.

Bah. Dammit. Turkey THAWED, for once.

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 by kara

Okay, you’ll love this: You’ll remember from previous posts how much trouble I have de-freaking-frosting a frozen-freaking-turkey in time to prepare it, right? I bought Rick a 20-pound turkey as a Christmas present (he really LIKES turkey) and wanting to be PROactive instead of REactive, I put the damn thing into the fridge a week ago. On the bottom shelf.

And because turkeys in my refrigerator NEVER thaw, I didn’t bother putting the dang thing on a plate. It just plunked and skidded on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where I assumed it would remain FROZEN just like the last two have done, until I took it out the day before preparing it to thaw it in a cold-water bath.

Yep. You guessed it. Checked it this evening, and the damn thing DEFROSTED. All over the bottom of my refrigerator. SHIT.

You should know that ‘cleaning the refrigerator’ is one of my least-favorite activities. It’s tied for first place on that list with ‘having a gynecological exam’ and ‘dental work.’ Why? I don’t really know, because it’s not as germ-laden as picking up dog poop in the backyard, nor as cleaning the bathroom. I just HATE IT. Don’t know why. So I wussed out and cleaned the fridge using a bunch of Chlorox wipes and paper towels. I know I should have used hot soapy water with a little bit of bleach, but screw it. I am lazy, and proud of it. And yeah, now the turkey is sitting on a serving platter. Better late than never, I guess.