Monday, June 29, 2015

Faux Gravy

Some time ago I bragged all over the place about my homemade gravy.  Delicious, yes, but sometimes you don't want to go for the real thing.  Maybe you need something quick.  Maybe you're trying to cut back on fat and calories.  At times like that I fall back on a gravy-like sauce I make from vegetables.

I know!  That sounds super NOT THAT DELICIOUS!  But trust me.  It's good.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sometimes You Just Need a Win

There was something about today -- I don't know what hit me -- but suddenly this morning I knew that I just needed a win.  Didn't matter what kind; I just needed to feel in control of something.

Maybe it's because I've been trying to work myself out of a funk which I've written about

here:  Un Funk Yourself Part One 
and here:  Un Funk Yourself Part Two - Eat the Toad 
and again here:  Un Funk Yourself Part Three - Less is Best

Maybe it's because I've begun following Jen Jones'  i heart organizing blog. where she is currently doing a "Four Week Wait No More Organizing Challenge" by focusing her talents one week at a time on four areas of her life that desperately need organizational help.  (Just four?  Really?) 

Maybe it's because I looked around this morning and saw this:

and this:

and this:

Yep.  That was my kitchen only a few hours ago.  Oh, don't judge me.  My kitchen is where I spend a lot of my day.  Not just cooking (although I do a lot of that!) but concocting, crafting, cleaning (no, honestly!) and colliding with my family because they hang out there a lot, too.

I decided my win for the day was just going to be a massive countertop cleanup, which I kicked off by simply putting things away.  Why do I have a toaster on the counter, when we don't eat bread?  Why is there bread on the counter?!  What barn-raised dolt just up and left their dirty breakfast dishes literally three feet from the dishwasher?  (Oh, wait.  That was me.)

Actually, truthfully, honestly, I started by hauling every single item that wasn't affixed OUT.  Even the stuff I know I use all the time.  Even that massive microwave oven.  You can't be nice to clutter.  Or even civil.  I discovered that last year during my week-long purge-athon.  That was an adventure!  But I digress...

Once things were cleared away, I discovered I could actually reach the walls and the backsplash, so they got a good scrubbing down.

Drawers and cabinet spaces were supposed to be beyond the scope of my quick little project, but I couldn't help noticing the jammed up and overcrowded state of my sponge drawer.

And the chaos in an island drawer that was mostly filled -- it turned out -- with long-expired coupons.   But also a few actually-useful items that would be great to have handy.  Assuming one could ever find them.

To take care of the first problem, I simply found a nice, tall, decorative pot and relocated all the big, clunky scrubbers and brushes from the the sponge drawer, which now holds -- you guessed it! -- sponges.

Quick tip:  I keep my dishwashing liquid in a repurposed oil cruet.  It looks nice on the counter, and it dispenses the soap more slowly than squeezing it out of the original bottle, and that cuts down on waste.

As for the "coupon drawer," most of its contents are off to the recycling bin, but I restocked it with a selection of envelopes, stamps, address labels, notepads, a calculator and a roll of tape.

Finally I gave the windows a good washing, using a sheet of newspaper and 
my favorite homemade glass cleaning solution:  
     1 cup of water
     1 cup of isopropyl alcohol
     1 tablespoon of white vinegar

(I've sharpied the recipe right on my spray bottle so I don't forget.)

And now, just a few hours from when I started, my kitchen looks like

and this:

and this:

and this:

I needed that.

Before you dismiss this as making a big deal out of a little cleanup, Nate Berkus was once asked for his best advice on how to transform a living space without spending a lot of money... his #1 tip was, "clean up."

And then there's FlyLady Marla Cilley who transformed, not just her living space, but her life.  The very first thing she did, and the first thing she advises her followers to do:  shine your sink.

So there.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Picnic, Potluck or Party Perfect

It's summertime!

Time for church picnics, weekend barbecue potlucks, lazy Sunday brunches, and nights when you just don't want to turn on your stove!  What we all need this time of year is a good recipe for a healthy and tasty dish you can   cook up fast,   take on the road,  and serve up without a care.
I've got just the thing:  a hearty, delicious and picnic-worthy salad.  

Garlic Herb Vinaigrette

I don't know why I bother making homemade salad dressing.  You can easily buy bottled salad dressing at any grocery store and probably some gas stations.  Sure, it's expensive.  And yes, a lot of dressings have terrible, unhealthy ingredients, but you can figure out which ones are healthy (ish) by reading all the nutrition labels.  And so what if everybody only wants Ranch all the time -- it's not my job to expand other people's palate preferences.

And making salad dressing at home is a complicated process of dumping 4 or 5 ingredients into a bowl and blending them......

Okay, I DO know why I make my own clean and healthy salad dressing at home.  If you've never tried it, a good place to start is with a simple (but delicious!) herb vinaigrette.  It's easy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Un Funk Yourself Part Three - Less is Best

Abundance.  Variety.  Choice.  These sound like great things, right?  And scarcity, uniformity and limitation sound really bad.  But what makes you happier?  Hmmmm….

As I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I came across an interesting description of a study where participants were given a large menu of food items and told to order snacks for several weeks.  Of course most people chose an interesting variety of items.  However, when they repeated the study, but had people choose snacks one week at a time, the participants usually just opted for their favorite thing over and over.   

An article in the London-based newspaper The Daily Telegraph claims that, while the average ten-year-old child owns more than 230 toys, he actually plays with only about 12 of them.  (And those are British kids.  One look at the playroom in my house tells me that American kids own about 4,827 toys.)  

On the Becoming Minimalist blog, Joshua Becker notes that the average American woman today owns 30 outfits (…and yet can never find anything to wear.  Am I right, ladies?)

By contrast, in an article in Harper's Bazaar, art director Matilda Kahl tells the story of the last time she arrived to work late, unprepared, and wearing an ill-chosen outfit (which, it turned out, she also had on inside-out!) because of the excessive time she spent fretting over various ensembles before choosing the one that she regretted anyway.  What made it truly the last time was her immediate decision to go out and buy 15 white silk shirts, a few pairs of black trousers and a black blazer, and to wear the same thing to work every day thereafter.

About the time I came across all these interesting facts and stories, I was involved in my seasonal ritual of dragging warm weather clothing out of storage and packing away cold weather sweaters and coats.  And thusly...

I realized that I own 
a shocking amount of clothing.  

Even worse, a good number of the sweaters I took out of my closet and packed away had never even been worn throughout the winter!  

This.  Is.  Nuts.

So I embarked on my own little experiment:  rather than sorting and carrying and folding and hanging all my summer garments, I sifted through them and chose about a dozen shirts, about half a dozen pairs of shorts or capri's, one nice pair of jeans, and three dressy outfits, all of which I actually like to wear.  I left everything else in the storage closet.  For now.

Well, not everything.  While I was deciding which items made the cut, I harvested a few bags of serviceable clothing to donate, all of which I actually hated to wear.  It felt good to give those things away.  And it felt really good to finally be honest with myself. 

So can such a small change really make a lasting difference in the level of satisfaction I have with my life?  Holy smokes, you bet!  Every morning I pull my “uniform” for the day from one of two drawers.  I no longer spend half the morning searching through every drawer and all over my closet for something to wear, nor refolding massive piles of rejects.  And since I am not constantly faced with wardrobe dissatisfaction, I am not tempted to waste time and money buying new things I think I'm going to like better.  Likely that's how I got into this mess to begin with.

Having fewer clothing choices actually feels like I have more to wear.  And that makes me...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Un Funk Yourself Part Two -- Eat the Toad

In her book The Happiness Project,  author Gretchen Rubin kicked off her twelve month pursuit of a more satisfactory life by attempting to elevate her energy.  It makes sense.  After all, how can you be happy if you feel drained?  If you're too tired, how can you engage in joy producing activities?   So Rubin tries out several vitality-boosting resolutions. 

I've taken on something of a happiness project of my own.  And while I agree that improving energy is a great place to start, parts of Rubin's attack plan weren't terribly useful to me: 

          Get more sleep, she says.   (I think I sleep adequately.) 
          Get more exercise, she says.   (I think I sleep adequately.)

So, okay.  But what really caught my attention was Rubin’s resolution to boost her energy by battling household disorder.  In other words, to energize herself and make herself a happier person, Rubin went on a month-long clutter busting rampage in her home.  Now we’re talking!

Some readers of this blog may recall that last year I went on just such an adventure myself.  It was during the week of my family’s annual biking/camping vacation that I enjoy not attending every year. 

Instead, I spent that precious week of “me time” purging my home of
     general clutter,
     paper clutter,
     and even food clutter.

Compared to Gretchen Rubin, however, I fear I am a clutter-busting amateur.  By her account, she took on classifications of clutter that I’d never even thought of, like:

Nostalgic clutter – when you cling to useless relics of an earlier phase of life.  (Yes, I still have my prom dresses, circa 1975.  Yes, I have a drawer full of crayon scribble “art.”  Yes, I still have the spelling bee trophy I won in fourth grade.  What of it?)

Conservation clutter – when you hang onto things because they are useful, even if you will never, ever use them.  (What do you mean this set of gold charger plates is nothing but a dust collector?  I might need them someday when I host an elegant dinner party.  Maybe.  One of these days.  It could happen.)

Bargain and/or freebie clutter – comes from buying/taking unnecessary things just because they are on sale/free.  (Why do I have an entire cupboard of empty plastic reusable cups from the pizza place?  I never use them.)

Buyer’s remorse clutter – hanging onto things you don’t use, need or even like just because you can’t admit you made a mistake buying them.  (One word:  juicer.)

Aspirational clutter – keeping things around because you love the idea of using them, but never actually do.  (I know that tower of fat quarters is about to fall and crush the dog, but I swear by all that is sacred --  I am GOING to make a quilt!)

Outgrown clutter – holding onto old versions of things, even though you now prefer something better.  (Behold my collection of beautiful stationery and colorful note cards.  For when I stop using email.)

Crutch clutter – This one is kind of the anti-clutter.  It’s when you hold onto dreadful things because you really do use them, even though you know you should get rid of them.  (I know they’re horrible, but I wear those trousers for gardening.  If you don't like it, call the Pants Police and file a report.)

Of all, I suspect the most crippling, the most happiness-suppressing form of clutter is what Rubin describes as “the invisible but… enervating psychic clutter of loose ends.”  She is referring to all those “neglected tasks that make you feel weary and guilty whenever you think of them.”  So, if you want to be happy, it's best to stop thinking of them and get them done!

In a more graphic manner, my daughter Kate refers to handling loathsome tasks as eating toads.  She says, if you wake up in the morning knowing that today is the day you need to eat a toad, isn't it best just to chomp it down and be done with it, rather than spending the whole day bummed out because you know, sooner or later, you have to eat that toad?  She's right, of course.  And I realize that one reason happiness may be eluding me these days is because of all the odious tasks I've allowed to mount up .instead of just taking care of business.  I have more than one toad hopping around me, and sidestepping them all is making me very weary.

So, help me tie on my bib.  I have some toads to eat.

More to come.....

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Un Funk Yourself - Part One

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness.  Mostly because it’s eluding me.  It would be absurd to say I’m UNhappy, because I have blessings beyond measure.  I gratefully acknowledge that I’m more fortunate than the majority of people who walk the planet.  Or have EVER walked the planet.  Knowing this, however, doesn’t always keep me from feeling…

I am in a funk.  Majorly.  I need to figure out how to un-funk myself.

So recently I read Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project.  (And to be honest, my frequent reaction was an urge to suggest to the author that she get over herself.  Nevertheless... )  I found some of Rubin’s ideas intriguing.  Basically, she advises all earnest seekers of greater contentment to:
  • identify the essential components for your personal pursuit of happiness
  • come up with a set of measurable actions (resolutions) for achieving them
  • tackle each component in turn, devoting full attention to one before moving on to the next. 

And so Rubin started her own happiness project with a fully developed and documented plan that included 11 different targets and their associated resolutions -- one target per month with a final month to relish it all coming together.  The Happiness Project chronicles this mission:  one woman’s entire year of thoughtfully and mindfully striving to happi-fy herself.

 I myself decided to dispense with most of the fussiness, and – how about that! – I’m happier already! But seriously, I gleaned some good kernels from this book, and I’m ready to try putting them into action.  I’m ready to find out if happiness is truly something that can be crafted. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Healthy Subs for Starchy Sides

It's not news:  grains are bad for you.  My family has cut wheat from our diet completely, and cut way back on other grains, such as rice, corn, and even quinoa.  The evidence in favor of this change is, well, evident... around our waists and around the time we go to the doctor and find out how much our blood sugar, serum cholesterol, blood pressure and other metrics of health have improved.

One of my personal challenges, however, has to do with my once-ingrained (ha ha) belief about what constitutes "a healthy, balanced meal."  For me this was a protein, a starch and a vegetable.  And as for the starches, I habitually served my family tasty, convenient, just-add-water side dishes that were a snap to prepare and had a seemingly endless shelf life.  You know what I'm talking about -- that San Francisco-style treat, that rice from everybody's favorite old uncle, that zesty taste of New Orleans in a box... Trouble is, such processed, grain-based, chemical-laden foods were bad for us.  But coming up with something better to serve as THE STARCH in my meals?  That has been a challenge.

First I had to throw out the whole idea that protein-starch-veggie is the ideal makeup of a meal.  The formula has changed in favor of a moderate amount of good-quality protein, lots of vegetables and some healthy fat.  It's good, for instance, to skip the starch and serve some steamed fresh veggies and a green salad -- provided you don't ruin your nice salad with a deluge of fattening, unhealthy dressing.

Instead, try making your own, starting with healthy, homemade olive oil-based mayonnaise.

Then check out my recipes for homemade 

But inevitably we all find ourselves craving warm, starchy comfort foods.  Is life without creamy mashed potatoes and hot, buttery noodles even livable?

Granny says NO!
(Buuuuut... keep an open mind.)

It seems that all over the internet these days, someone is touting a recipe for something that used to be bad for you (but really, really delicious) that can now be made healthily out of cauliflower.  Cauliflower bread, cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower tots, cauliflower tortillas, cauliflower "rice".....  And that's because these things are GOOD!  Not just fewer-calories-lower-glycemic-vitamins-and-fiber good, but TASTY!

My personal favorite is cauliflower puree in place of mashed potatoes.  Half the time my family doesn't even know they're not getting "the real thing."  The rest of the time, they marvel over how yummy this stuff is.

We also really enjoy zucchini noodles made with a spiral slicer.  (Readers tell me an inexpensive Vegetti tool works really well, too.)  There is a trick to keeping these from getting overcooked and soggy, so check out my post to learn how.

I am always looking for delicious grain-free dinner ideas.  What's your favorite?

Also look for more good ideas at these great parties:
Kitchen Fun and Crafty Friday
Sincerely, Paula's No-Rules Weekend Blog Party
Share the Wealth Sunday Blog Hop
Fabulous Friday Party
Friday Features Link Party
Creative Ways Link Party
Best Recipes and DIY Projects
Saturday Sparks Link Party
The SITS Girls Saturday Sharefest
Share the Wealth
Share Your Creativity
That DIY Party
Silver Pennies Sunday
Inspire Me Monday
Best of the Weekend
What'd You Do This Weekend?
Inspiration Monday
Delicious Dish Tuesday
The Gathering Spot
Do Tell Tuesday
Tuesday Talk
The Wednesday Roundup
Wow Me Wednesday
Work It Wednesday
Full Plate Thursday