Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Motivation: Kitchen Drawers and Counter Tops

I was happy to hear from several readers about how they've been working on their kitchens.  I have to admit that I was a bit slack this past week and didn't get around to finishing my kitchen.  Two special visitors stole all of my attention.  I couldn't help myself.




I promise to get back on the wagon this week and finish everything.  For those of you who are a step ahead of me, I've got your Monday Motivation ready to go. 

Cleaning Kitchen Drawers
1.  Take everything out of a drawer (unless you're revamping your whole kitchen, just do one drawer at a time to keep from getting overwhelmed).
2.  As you remove each item, decide if you want to keep the item or not.  When was the last time you used it?  Do you have more than one of those items?  Is it broken? 
3.  Vacuum the drawer and wipe clean with damp cleaning rag. 
4.  If you use drawer dividers, place them in the drawer.
5.  Replace items into drawer.  If you have a choice, place the most used items closest to the front of the drawer for easy access. 
6.  If you have utensils or items you mostly use for entertaining, cookouts, or picnics, you might want to keep those items in another place so that they aren't in your way when you're cooking everyday meals. 

Cleaning Counter Tops
1.  Remove items from  counters.
2.  Wipe down counters.  While you're at it, wipe down the back splash as well.  Also, check underneath your upper cabinets.  You might be surprised what splashes up there when you're not looking.
3.  As you return each item back to it's place on the counter, clean the item first.  Also, think about what you are placing back in place.  Do you really need that item taking up space on your counter top?  Could you store it someplace else.  Remember, the more you have on display, the more you have to clean. 

For other ideas about cleaning your kitchen, check out these past posts:
     Cleaning your sink
     Cleaning your cabinets
     Cleaning your cutting boards
     Original post about cleaning out your kitchen drawers

If you've had some success cleaning and organizing your kitchen this month, share your good news with all of us. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two Week Menu - February 27th - March 12th

What's for dinner? 

I struggled with that question for years.  My family used to joke me about the method I used to answer that question every day at 5:00 PM.  I would stand in front of the freezer, open the door, and cook whatever fell out.  Yup, that was me. 

Fortunately for my family (and myself) my method has improved immensely and we now eat a very healthy, and mostly whole food diet.  In addition, our grocery bill is very reasonable due to relying on less processed foods. 

Starting this week, I plan to post our family's two-week menu.  If you would like a particular recipe for something listed, just email me and I'll send it to you.  Eventually, all of the recipes will be posted on the blog. 

Sunday:  Eating out for Hubs birthday (we promise not to notify the wait staff that it's your birthday to avoid the embarrassing birthday song and dance routine)
Monday: Whole wheat spaghetti, venison meatballs with tomato sauce, cabbage salad
Tuesday:  Roast chicken, steamed broccoli, baked potatoes
Wednesday:  Ham and Tortellini salad
Thursday:  Enchiladas Suizas, steamed carrots
Friday:  Salmon, quinoa, roasted cabbage
Saturday:  Veggie Quiche, pineapple

Sunday:  Beef Noodle Bowl with carrots and broccoli, and cabbage
Monday:  Split pea soup, pumpkin muffins, orange wedges
Tuesday:  Breakfast for dinner (eggs, cheese grits, ambrosia)
Wednesday:  Venison stew, homemade bread sticks
Thursday:  Doctor's appointments all day - eating out
Friday:  Orange balsamic chicken, brown rice, roasted cabbage
Saturday: Hamburger (venison) and rice skillet, peas


Yes, we're eating a lot of cabbage because my garden overfloweth with them.  Yummy!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Just Call Me Trigger Happy

I was so excited to have a warm, non-windy day this week.  And you know what that means?

Spray paint!

I have been trigger happy;  itching to get my hands on cans of spray paint once again.  I decided to start on a smaller project and work my way up to harder projects.

Here's what I started on . . .


I originally bought this little table for $2.98.  If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll remember when I brought it home and spray painted it a hammered bronze color.  I used it for a while on my back porch, but decided to move to another space (are you surprised?).  The color wasn't working in it's new spot, so out came the spray paint.


I spray painted one coat of Rust-oleum's chrome colored paint on the base.  Then, in a flash of daring spray painting, I decided to paint the glass top as well.  I turned the glass upside down and sprayed the bottom side.  After the paint dried, I flipped it over and found that it had a wonderful frosted look to it.  The paint won't get scratched because it's hidden underneath. 

I'm liking it in the 2nd floor bathroom.  It may not stay there long because we have plans to remodel this bathroom when my health improves.

Are you getting trigger happy to paint anything in your home?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Undercover Gardens


I've been trying something different in my Winter garden.  Well, I guess the different idea is that I actually have a Winter garden.  

I usually pull up all of the old plants in the Fall, let the garden sit idle all Winter, and then plant more veggies in the Spring. 

The problem with Spring gardens in this area is that our Spring is very short.  Summer hits us before we know it and any cool weather crops get fried before they get a chance to produce very much.

I read Four-Season Harvest last year by Eliot Coleman last year and decided to try my hand at his techniques. 

He actually grows veggies all year round and he lives in Maine.  I figured if he could succeed in Maine, then I could give it a try in Virginia. 

I decided to use row covers to start with and add plastic sheets as the weather got colder.  But with my crazy life, I never got around to adding the plastic.  The process still seemed to work well.


The hoops were made with PVC tubing.  I attached the row covers with something a bit odd - I used hair clips that I bought at the dollar store.  But please save your money.  They only hold the fabric if the wind isn't blowing.   Unfortunately, this Winter has been a very windy season in our area.  I've had to reattach the covers almost every day - not fun!  I'll be looking for something stronger to use for next year.

We've enjoyed watching the veggies (cabbage, spinach, swiss chard, red cabbage, corn salad, and mustard greens) all sitting cozily throughout the Winter within their walled home. 

(the weeds still grow even when under the cover of the row cover)

I planted my veggies in late Summer and early Fall.  The plants grew well.  Before the first frost, we put up the hoops and the row covers.  After the first frost, the veggies never really grew - they just stayed  rooted in the soil.  Now, as the weather warms up, they are starting to grow a bit more.  We'll be able to harvest everything before it bolts. 

This book would be a good Summer read so that you would be ready to start your own Four-Season garden in the Fall.  His website is very interesting and will absolutely inspire you if you desire to start growing your own food. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Vase Makes All The Difference

Remember the vase of flowers from yesterday's post?  The flowers I set aside to rearrange later?

I did get around to rearranging them and I thought I'd show you the changes I made.

This vase was full of two sets of wrapped flowers (you know, they come already bunched together, bound with a rubberband, and wrapped with cellophane and a packet of flower food).

One set was from the lovely ladies at a church where I spoke, and the other set was from my grandson who thought Honey needed some purple flowers. 


 When I first put them into a vase, a friend helped me trim the ends and we plopped them into a vase. Then my grandson brought me the second bunch and I just added them to the first.   Throughout the day, I kept looking at the vase and thinking something wasn't right.   The vase was too tall and the flowers were too tall.  Everything was out of proportion. 

I decided to take everything apart and start again.  I picked a shorter and wider vase (it's a beautiful pink depression glass vase that belonged to Hub's Nana).  I separated all of the flowers and sorted them according to color.  I ended up with stacks of  white, light purple, dark purple, redish pink, and greenery.  I trimmed all of the stems shorter.  The white as the tallest, followed by light purple as a medium height, and the dark purple as the shortest height.  I trimmed the greenery a bit taller than the white.  I decided to not use the redish pink in the arrangement.

Holding the flowers in my left hand, I started with the white flowers and greenery and then added the light purple evenly around them. Then I added the dark purple evenly around the light purple.  When I placed the handful of flowers in the vase, they fell naturally into an arrangement.  Nothing fancy, but much more pleasing to the eye. 

 

I could have trimmed them a little shorter, but I wanted to give myself some room to trim them in a few days.  These mums should last a while and they'll do better with a trim.  I change the water daily and I don't really bother with the flower food after the first use.

The redish pink flowers were really cute little daisies, but I thought they detracted from the arrangement.  I cut them really short and added them to a small vase.  Now, I'll enjoy them on my kitchen window sill.




I know I'll get many days of enjoyment from these flowers. 

**This morning I came into the kitchen and was surprised to find the daisy flowers had colored the water pink.  I guess they had been dyed and some of the dye transferred into the water.  It was a beautiful surprise!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Motivation: Organizing The Kitchen

Wow, my kitchen really had a work-out this weekend.  We had a large family lunch on Saturday to celebrate our son's birthday and a visit from our oldest daughter and her family from Boston. 

I cooked all day on Friday to make it easier on Saturday when I had a whole house full of company.  We had homemade pork BBQ with homemade BBQ sauce and Carolina vinegar, homemade coleslaw (with homemade mayo), homemade potato salad, and a wonderful homemade chocolate turtle cheese cake for dessert.  The only thing I didn't make from scratch was the sandwich buns.

We enjoyed the leftovers after church yesterday and today I'm faced with a disorderly kitchen.  I just didn't have the energy yesterday to put all of our "party" supplies away.  Thankfully, mornings are usually a good time for me physically, so I thought I'd photograph how I whip my kitchen back into shape in a short amount of time.  

So, this is what I woke up to this morning.  It's not really too, too bad, but it needs work.


Dishes in the sink, clean dishes in the dish drainer, flowers that need fresh water, extra crock pot sitting on the stove, good times.


Here's another view. Hubs didn't know what to do with the empty flower vase or iced tea pitcher, so he left them next to the sink. 



Here's what I did to clear off the surfaces. 

1.  Knowing I had several items that needed to be returned to the Party Pantry, I designated a spot to gather all of those items together.
2.  I loaded dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
3.  I emptied the dish drainer and put the clean dishes away.
4.  I washed (and dried) the breakfast dishes and other items left on the counter.
5.  I put the unneeded vase into the donation bag sitting near the front door.  (I'll probably drop that bag off today when I'm out running errands)
6.  I wiped the counters and appliances down.
7.  I packed up the leftover muffins (in Tupperware on top of toaster) and put them into the freezer.
8.  I ate the banana for my morning snack - a girl's gotta get her vitamins, you know.
9.  I put the flowers on the dining room table.  I want to make a different arrangement out of them later.  If I do it now, I will most certainly get distracted and not get my kitchen work finished.


This took a total of 12 minutes and here's what I had when I was finished.





I filled the sink with clean, hot water and added some dish detergent.

Now that the exterior is in order, I want to spend some time going through the inside.  I always start at one end of the kitchen and work my way around the room.  I usually do the upper cabinets first and then the lower cabinets.  There's no magic method, this is just what works for me. 

This is the cabinet over my stove.  I keep extra supplies here that I don't use very often because I have to use a step stool to reach it (I'm only 5 feet tall).
I had a few extra dishes, some canning supplies, and a small box my daughter made for me in 1998 to hold my tea bags.


I took everything out of the cabinet, wiped down the interior of the cabinet and only put back the items I wanted to keep.  The canning supplies need to go with my other canning items and the special box is going in the pantry with the other tea containers.  *By the way, when we moved into this house, the range hood was almond colored.  I painted it black to match the other appliances.



Next up, the spice cabinet.  I always like to keep items near where they are used most.  Since I stand at this counter when I cook, I placed all of my herbs and spices here.  I've used a combination of turntables and graduated shelves to keep them accessible. 


I took everything out, one shelf at a time, wiped down the shelves and the turntables and graduated shelves.  I was able to consolidate some spices (I don't know how I end up with two sometimes), throw out one bottle that was past it's prime, and jot on my grocery list a few that are getting low.  I used to keep my spices alphabetized, but now I keep them categorized by how often I use them.  The most frequently used spices are on the lower shelves.  Refills are on the top shelf.


Next to the sink and close to the fridge is the cabinet where I keep the glasses and coffee cups.  Most of my blue glasses are in the dishwasher, so this is a good time to wipe every thing down.  The top shelf contains my collection of amber glassware.  Some of it was my grandmothers, but I've been collecting pieces of it whenever I find some. 

I followed the same directions as before, removing items shelf by shelf and wiping everything down.  I found two coffee mugs we haven't used in a long time and I'll be donating them today to the Salvation Army.  I also repaired some shelf liner that had come loose.  You may notice that these cabinets are in pretty bad shape.  The cabinets were handmade 30 years ago by the man who owned our house before us.  Although I appreciate his effort and talent, the cabinets are warped, splintering, and too small.  Some of the doors don't even shut completely.  I'm just making do with what I have until we can remodel the kitchen one day. 



There's not much change in the before and after picture of the cabinet under my sink.  It is what it is.  I keep my cleaning supplies under there, an extra roll of paper towels, and a few cleaning rags.  I did remove an overflowing pile of rags from the top shelf and I'll be taking them to the garage.  I have no need to keep a dozen cleaning rags here.



This is another lower cabinet. I keep small appliances and large Tupperware and cake carriers here. 


This cabinet is right next to the stove/oven.  I keep my baking pans, cutting boards, and glass measuring containers here.  The extra shelf really helps with storage.  I also use a vertical stand to hold my cutting boards and 9x13 pans upright to save space.  I forgot to take an after picture, but the only thing I changed was moving the 9x13 lids to the Tupperware drawer.  I only use them when I freeze casseroles, not for everyday baking (keep what you use closest to you and store the extra elsewhere).


This cabinet is next to the fridge.  It's very deep but it does hold a lot.  Within easy view and reach, I keep mixing bowls, Pyrex storage containers, Tupperware, and sippy cups for the grandchildren.


One of my friends gave me this basket many years ago (thanks, Cathy).  It makes a great drawer for my Tupperware.  We do tend to "throw" stuff in there and it needs to be weeded out.


I took everything out, matching lids with containers.  I threw away a few things and reorganized what was left by size.  I have a small basket within the basket that hold lids and itty bitty containers.  We are slowly moving over to only using glass containers, but in the meantime I'll have to use the plastic.


I wiped down the shelves, repaired some more shelf covering (I use clear packing tape), and labeled a couple of the baskets. I love these sturdy plastic baskets/bins.  They're only a few bucks at Walmart and they are great for shelf storage.  I keep glass Pyrex storage containers with their lids in the top one and I just slide it out like a drawer whenever I need to access one
.

So, with an hour and a half of work and a few tools. . .

                            (labeler, clear packing tape, cleaning rag, and a sink full of hot, soapy water)

. . .  I have an almost clean kitchen (I'll have to finish the island tomorrow when I have more strength) and I was able to remove this much stuff that was just getting in my way.  Some goes elsewhere and some gets donated.  Good Times!


So, did I scare you off?  I hope not.  I hope you'll spend a few hours going through your kitchen.   Let me know how much stuff you were able to get rid of!  We can have a "show & tell". 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rock-what-you-got Muffin Recipe

Back before Christmas I was given a huge amount of persimmons.  In the area I live in, Fuyu persimmon trees produce fruit in the Fall and a small tree can produce a lot of fruit.  The persimmon fruit looks like an orange tomato, but inside, it is firm like a plum.  It is rather sweet, having a honey like flavor.

We like to eat them fresh, but after awhile, our huge supply was more than we could handle.  With what was left, I peeled them and pureed the flesh in the food processor.  I froze the puree in 2 cup batches in freezer bags.

One of my favorite ways to use this persimmon puree is to make muffins.  I have a basic muffin recipe that I use and it is very adaptable, allowing for any kind of puree to be used.



I've used all kinds of pureed fruits and veggies to make these muffins.  I've used sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apples, pears, bananas, zucchini,squash,blackberries,blueberries, and figs.  I've even used a combination of fruits and veggies to get the 2 required cups of puree.



So, here's the recipe:

2 cups fruit or veggie puree
1 1/2 cup sugar (I like a less sweet muffin so I only add 1 cup)
2/3 cup water
4 eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil in liquid form (you could use vegetable oil but it's not very good for you)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white wheat flour (or all purpose, unbleached flour)

~Preheat oven to 350 degrees
~Beat sugar, puree, water, eggs, and oil in mixer until blended
~Add dry ingredients and mix well
~Drop batter into 24 muffin cups that have been greased or lined
~Bake 15 minutes.

*The only puree that must be from a cooked vegetable is the sweet potato and pumpkin.  All other puree can be made from raw fruits and veggies.  The zucchini and squash will not puree all the way down - it's more of a fine chop. 



This recipe is a great way to use up fruit and veggies that are about to go bad.  It doesn't matter if they are a little too soft because you're going to puree them anyway.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fresh Decor For Late Winter


Well, cabin fever is beginning to set in.  I've been trapped in the house for a few weeks now and I'm feeling good enough to start rearranging the house.  Hubs never knows what he's going to find when he returns home from work in the evening. 

Last month I swung into a little thrift store on my way back from a doctor's appointment.  It's my reward for being a good girl at the doctor's office.  I found a few treasures that made me happy.  Now I have the perfect opportunity to show them off.


I like to place my dining room centerpiece on a tray so that it is totally portable.  As this is our only table, we have to be able to access it easily during meal time.  I've had the tray for a number of years and it also came from a thrift store (really, not much in my house was purchased new).  Last month, I found the handmade, flower embellished vase and the miniature creamy colored urn.  I simply added a spray of yellow flowered branches and topped the urn with a miniature bird's nest.  I got the bird figurine from Michael's clearance shelf last year for $1.00. 


I had to fill the vase with gravel to make it more bottom heavy.  If I didn't have gravel I would have used rice or beans.

Next up was an arrangement on my sideboard.  I purchased the glass dome last year from Southern Living at Home/now Willow House.  It's a nice large size and I knew I'd never find something that large in the thrift store.  I used some cute little chicken pitchers that I've had (yes, thrifted) and an old cobalt blue/train silver toothpick holder that my aunt gave me.  Train silver was used in the dining cars of trains back in the day and is very heavy and sturdy.  I don't think it's real silver, but I'm not sure.  I just know that I like it - especially when it has a cobalt blue insert.   


I placed an antique blue and white china plate onto a thrifted pedestal.  Then, I cut apart a piece of faux greenery and tucked the sprigs into the container.  It's different and adds a nice touch of green to my sparse decor.

I think the best part about all of the change is that I spent all of $4.98 on everything and I can switch out the different parts to create new vignettes on a whim.


Has cabin fever set in for you?  What can you rearrange in your home to get a different look?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wrensday: Flower Power

God has blessed me with some amazing friends.  They are much better friends to me than I am to them.  I really don't deserve them!

Upon arriving home from the hospital last week, I was greeted with beautiful flowers that had been delivered to the house. 

Isn't it amazing how much flowers cheer you up?  Especially on dreary February days.  Of course, I couldn't really appreciate their beauty until the pain meds were out of my system and my eyes could focus properly.


The colors of this orchid are beautiful.  Really. . . beautiful.


I am blessed.  I really am.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Different Valentine Present

Because I haven't been able to drive since my surgery, I was at a loss as to how to make Valentine's day special for my husband and son.

Since they both love peanuts, I decided to make a special presentation of a bag of peanuts I had in the pantry.  They've been happily nibbling on the peanuts whenever they come through the kitchen. 

 
I set a star shaped bowl from Pottery Barn into a red bowl from Williams-Sonoma.  It happened to fit perfectly.  My guys can grab a peanut from the star bowl and drop the shell into the red bowl without missing a beat.


Every few days, I fill the peanut bowl.  When the red bowl is full of shells, I'll empty it into the compost pile near the garden. 


My guys were very happy with their Valentine's present this year.  It's just a small token of how much I love them both.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Motivation: Cleaning Kitchen Appliances

I feel like I'm finally back amongst the living this week.  My surgery went well, but as with all surgeries, there was anesthesia and pain medication involved.  For the record, I don't do well with either. 

Apparently, during recovery, I was offering all of the hospital staff chicken recipes and housekeeping tips with abandon.  When I got back to the safety of my home, still on pain medication, I recall little of any conversations I had with people.  It seems that I also posted on Facebook and returned a few emails - none of which I remember. 

For reasons of safety (for myself) and respect (for others) I decided (with help from Hubs) that I would not work on the computer until all meds were out of my system. 

So, now that my body is free of pain medication, I'm eager to get back to having fun.  I promised you a few weeks ago that we would work on organizing the kitchen in February.  Since February is half over, I think it's high time we at least got started. 

We'll be breaking down the kitchen tasks into different categories:
1.  Appliances
2.  Cabinets
3.  Drawers
4.  Counters

Today, we'll start with Appliances.

First, the stove. 
     1.  Take everything off of the stove. 
     2.  Follow the manufacturer's directions to clean the oven/stove inside and out.  Be sure to remove knobs, if possible, and clean the surface around them.  I usually let them soak in the sink that is filled with dish washing detergent. 
     3.  If you have a canister or crock filled with kitchen utensils, empty that container into the sink as well, letting all of the utensils get a well needed soaking.
     4.  After you have cleaned inside and out of the stove/oven, spray the outside of the whole thing with Sparkle cleaner and polish.  Don't forget the doors, sides, and bottom drawer of the appliance.
     5.  Now, place everything you removed back onto and into the appliance and you're done.
      6.  Don't forget to clean the range hood too!

Next, the microwave:
     1.  Fill a bowl with water and lemon juice or vinegar.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Leave the bowl in the oven for 5 minutes with the door closed.
     2.  If your microwave has a removable tray, soak it in your suds filled sink.
     3.  With a wet dishrag, wipe down all surfaces of the microwave.  Don't forget the roof of the oven and the inside of the door.  (some manufacturers recommend that you unplug your oven before wiping it down)
     4. Replace anything you took out. 
     5.  With Sparkle cleaner, spray a cloth and wipe down the whole exterior of the oven, being very careful around the touch pad.  Don't spray Sparkle cleaner directly on the touch pad. 

Toaster:
     1.  Unplug the toaster.
     2.  Remove bottom crumb tray and dump crumbs into the trash can.  If you have a toaster that doesn't have a crumb tray, simply take the whole thing outside, turn it upside down, shake the dickens out of it, and let the birds eat the crumbs.
     3.   Carefully wipe down outside surface.  If you have a toaster oven with a glass window or door, use sparkle cleaner to clean that.  If you have baked on residue, you might want to use a Mr. Clean Magic Sponge to get rid of it. 
     4.  Always leave your toaster  unplugged when not in use to avoid a fire. 

Coffee Pot:
     1.  Follow the manufacturer's directions for cleaning your pot.  There are too many varieties out there to follow one set of directions. 
     2.  I've included directions here if you want to know how I clean mine.

Dishwasher:
     1.  Again, read your manual for specific directions.  Most dishwashers are pretty self-cleaning if you know what I mean.
     2.  On the outside, use Sparkle cleaner or your own preferred cleaner to wipe down the outside of the door and touch pad/knobs.  Also, open the door and wipe down the sides of the door. 
     3.  I've noticed that since I've switched over to making my own detergent, I have much less residue around the gaskets on the door. 
     4.  Take this time to check to see if you need to refill the rinse agent container.  I use white vinegar, but you might use something like Jet-Dry.

Refrigerator:  I've saved the biggest job for last

Since I've posted this job before, I just decided to link to it so you can read it if you're interested.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Resting



I'll be taking a break for a few days as I prepare for  surgery next week.  A lot is happening and it's happening quickly. 

I'll be having my gallbladder removed on Monday in preparation for my kidney transplant in a few months.  The last 7 days have been a hectic time of lab work, doctor's appointments, and preparing presentations for women's groups.  I'm also training someone to take over one of my jobs. 

It's a crazy time, but I'm reminded that I'm in good hands. 

I'm . . .
(Click here to read about this picture)

I'd appreciate your prayers for me and my family during this time.  I'll be resting in the fact that God is in control.  Hopefully I'll get back to work crafting, sewing and blogging soon.  I'll miss all of you!