Category Archives: Homemaking

I have two new routines.

In the past week, the words “love” and “washing” and “dishes” have appeared in the same sentence without the use of a negation qualifier. Despite my interest in home-keeping, there are still chores that I dislike. Maybe you love washing dishes. I did not. It was the least favorite chore of my adult life. (Note the use of the past tense in those last two sentences).

Throughout my life, my least-favorite chore has evolved. Originally, it was vacuuming. I found the blasted machine too heavy and awkward to maneuver. Loved the clean lines it made in the carpet–hated the means to achieving them. Today, thankfully, vacuum cleaner models are much lighter and agile. Next, I hated cleaning the bathroom. What a pain to clean up after my own hair, use that alien toilet brush, and wipe clean a counter that would possess splash marks not 20 minutes after I’d finished. After cleaning 6 church restrooms during a youth group lock-in–toilets whose exteriors surely had not been cleaned in at least a year, I vowed to never complain about cleaning my own bathroom again. Since owning our own home, the bane of my chore existence has been dish-washing. Seriously? Who wants to clean dishes after cooking a meal at the end of a long day? Note to self: The first chore I teach my future children to do will definitely be dish washing. Or at least putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

But I was going to tell you about my new routine. Would you like to know what has helped me to love washing dishes? Podcasts. Plug in my headphones, tap on the little purple icon on my phone, browse my new episodes, and suddenly some of my favorite personalities are telling me jokes while I scrub and rinse. I laugh out loud, appreciative of their company, even though no one else in my immediate vicinity (Alex, the dogs) can ascertain what entertains me so.

I don’t know why it took me so long to jump on the podcast bandwagon. I’ve known about them since before my teaching days. I owned the 2nd generation iPod – remember with the scrolling wheel and uni-color screen? That was back when you had to consciously alternate which arm you clipped your iPod arm band to, so you wouldn’t accidentally give yourself lopsided shoulders while working out at the gym.

So my new after-dinner routine involves putting in my ear buds (which serves the additional purpose of drowning out the sounds from Alex’s most recent GTA5 mission), loading a fun podcast, and sudsing up the dishes. I’m now convinced that so long as I have a podcast to listen to, dish washing shall be enjoyable. Tonight, I found myself lingering at the sink–wiping down even the crevices of the drain, looking for anything to clean so that I could finish the episode of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, in my queue.

So far, I’ve been following my favorite wordplay/trivia games from NPR like WWDTM and Ask Me Another. I also am trying out a couple food-related casts like Spilled MilkAmerica’s Test Kitchen, and The Alton Browncast. And I love watching TED videos, so I’m following TED audio. Finally, I follow Talk to Me in Korean, a supplement to the phenomenal website TTMIK that is coaxing Korean syllables from the depths of my long-term memory.

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Sink empty. Dishes drying on the rack.

My second routine is related. You see, I hate starting the day with a messy kitchen. When it happens, I either work myself into a tizzy, grumbling to myself (loudly, if Alex is home) about how dishes have to be washed at night so that I don’t waste time when I’m ready to prepare something else. OR, I become apathetic to anything else that might be going on. Whatever meticulously planned meal I have arranged goes out the window and I resort ourselves to dining out that evening. It’s like I can’t function. It’s not a metaphor for how I react to stressful situations – at least, I don’t think it is. It’s just that when I wake up and the kitchen sink is overflowing with messy dishes, half of which have some unknown substances caked, nay glued to the sides, it’s hard to feel anything but defeated.

To solve this problem, I have created a wormhole. You see, the dogs (usually Rogue) wake us up every morning, announcing their own breakfast time, usually between 530-6am. Rogue comes in, huffing and puffing like an annoyed, eye-rolling teenager, though she sounds as if she is trying to cough up a hairball. (Do dogs even do that?) At the first sign of movement on my part, she licks anything that might be exposed from beneath our disheveled blankets–hand, foot, pajama sleeve, hair, and what I can only assume is her favorite, the inside of my mouth mid-yawn. I know. It’s gross. Nero is less… assertive, but still, he persistently plods to my side of the bed, touches his nose to my hand or the side of the bed, paws the covers, nails-on-chalkboard style, and then walks toward the kitchen, repeating the whole routine until one of us gets out of bed.

In my sleepy state, I scoop their food and present their breakfasts. While they eat, I shuffle to the kitchen and examine the previous night’s damage. If we were dilligent about cleaning the dishes, a dish rack in varied states of organization (depending on who was head dish washer the night before) awaits me, and I begin putting them away. If we were lazy, I start washing. By this point, the dogs (usually Rogue) are ready to go outside to relieve themselves and investigate the trails of any critters that may have crossed through the yard in the wee hours of the night.

I used to get back in bed immediately after feeding, only to get out again to open the door. Returning to bed, I’d get out once more to let the dogs back inside, before we all returned to sleep. Now, I use the time efficiently, and when the dogs come back inside we all go back to sleep, sometimes for several more hours. Since beginning my morning tidy routine, I have found my kitchen organized and ready for the day’s concoctions, and I can’t tell you what a relief that is. I pretend the 20 minutes or so that I stumble about the kitchen never exist, and when I wake for real, the dogs have been fed and the kitchen cleaned. I have simultaneously turned myself into a magical clean kitchen fairy and the weirdo whose eyes get wide with excitement upon realizing that someone has cleaned my kitchen while I was sleeping.

Guess I need to find a new chore to hate on and experiment whether it might be made better with a podcast.

Hey. What podcasts do you subscribe to and when is your favorite time to listen to them? Were I to pursue producing my own podcast, what should it be about?

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January Cure Re-cap, Week 4

Okay, okay. I’m a little behind. My progress on Apartment Therapy’s January Cure was slowed by our mid-winter escape to Colorado. But that’s okay. Let me show you what has happened in the interim.

Assignment 14: Organize papers and files

It feels weird to take a photo of our bills and files and post it on the interwebs, so I didn’t. Incidentally, I had already started re-organizing our files before the January Cure started. I adapted an outline system that I read about in You Can Farm by Joel Salatin, of all places. I took everything out of the folders they were already in and sorted them into piles of like items. Then, using Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters, and whatever the official hierarchy is for making an outline, I assigned each folder a spot on the outline. The master list shows me everything at a glance. There are a couple advantages to this system: 1) the master list keeps track of each folder’s contents – sort of like a table of contents for our file folders. 2) hassle-free folder/tab labeling: If I no longer need a file, I can re-use the folder without worrying about crossing out the label because I will just change the title of the folder on the master list. 3) new folders can be added quickly and easily: Thanks to the outline system, a folder can be added within a category, or to create a new category. All I have to do is label it with the next available set of numbers in the outline hierarchy, and update the master list to indicate its addition. Huzzah!

And in case that made no sense whatsoever, here’s an excerpt from the master list:

I. House
     A. Mortgage statements
          1. 2010
          2. 2011
          3. 2012
     B. Real estate taxes
     C. Water bills

As such, the folder labeled “I.A.2.” can be expected to contain home mortgage statements from 2011. Neat, right?

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be grown up and have oodles of file folders in my desk that I could thumb through and push aside to access contents. I thought it would be so official and business-like. Now that I do have files, I’m struggling to find that blissful naive childhood vision, primarily thanks to the option of online payments. Are paper statements things of the past? It seems redundant to print an online statement and squirrel it away. So, as it stands, the filing system I described above goes for anything we receive in the mail and feel compelled to keep – you know, the important stuff (Apartment Therapy has a useful list of how long you should hang onto these things). Let me know if you have any ideas for reconciling the digital/paper statement divide.

Assignment 15: Wrangle cords

I haven’t done this yet.

Assignment 16: Clean out bathroom medicine cabinet

This was a humbling task. I was so sure that because our bathroom is so small to begin with, we couldn’t possibly have accumulated stuff that needed to be tossed, much less re-organized. I was quite happy with our system and was confident that I knew exactly what products were where.

One trash can-ful of expired, empty, or unused product containers, trash, and broken objects later…

Seriously! I did toss a lot of things that we don’t use anymore or were hanging onto for who knows what reason. I outboxed my hair dryer because it was taking up space and I haven’t used it in at least 3 years (I’ve probably only used it 20 times total since purchasing it back in high school!).

This afforded me time to clean everything out, vacuum the hair out of drawers and baskets, wipe down the closet shelves, and re-organize everything into their most useful and accessible positions.

Newly organized bathroom sink drawer

Newly reorganized bathroom closet

Assignment 17: Re-evaluate living room lighting

This was on my original list of projects, and one that I am still in-process with. As luck would have it, I did find a lamp in the past month–one that my mom and I loved in the store but whose price didn’t exactly have us jumping for joy. A week later, I was still thinking about it, so I went out and purchased it as an investment piece in our room. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have another warm light source in our living room. Especially because there was only one previous light source: the pendant lamp in the foyer. I am still searching for the perfect lamps to flank or top the piano…

Spot the new alabaster lamp on the second shelf...

Spot the new alabaster lamp on the second shelf…

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

Assignment 18: Get fresh flowers, deep-clean the living room, empty the outbox

Believe it or not, the flowers I have been getting for these assignments have had an average life span of 2.5 weeks! This meant that before vacation, I had 4 arrangements of flowers on display throughout the house! Cheery! But because I wasn’t here to freshen up their water for a few days, they’re all now looking a little deflated, so it’s time to pick up some new ones this weekend. I’m also mentally preparing to tackle the emptying of the outbox…wish me luck.

And here are some updates from previous assignments

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 1. Large appliances, canning/processing tools, and liquor hide out in the cabinet under the island. 2. Cake pans, pie pans, and other ovenware live under the watchful owls’ gazes above the stove. 3. Frying pans and saucepots in the lower cabinet to the right of the oven. 4. This drawer is conveniently situated between the stove and island for easy access to peelers and graters, spatulas and pastry brushes, thermometers, and scoopers. 5. The like-with-like theme continues with whisks, tongs, and knives above the stove. 6. This cabinet is between the stove and island and holds mixing bowls, cooling racks, and oversized frying pans. 7. I even had time to get a little crafty and hot glue two years’ worth of wine corks into a little heart wreath to adorn a corner cabinet! 8. This cabinet, to the left of the sink holds colanders, the salad spinner, the crockpot (because I usually put it on the counter above this cabinet when in use), and cutting boards. 9. Behold the functional counter space to the right of the stove with the food processor, kitchen scale, and other utensils. 10. The swivel corner cabinet holds glass storage containers, vintage casserole dishes, the rice cooker, and measuring cups.

I went a little crazy and totally re-organized our kitchen cabinets and shelving. My method? Proximity and efficiency. I wanted to keep things spatially close to where I am most likely to use them, with like items together. Frying pans and saucepots are nestled together by the stove. Colanders are near the sink. Measuring cups of all varieties are now neighbors. And so on. Further, I had deluded myself into thinking that Alex and I are the type of people who enjoy a cocktail when we get home from work (we’re really not), so this clean-out helped me realize that my scant collection of liquor on the countertop was just taking up space and gathering dust. I stowed the bottles in a different cabinet and set up the food processor and kitchen scale in their place, where they will be much easier to access and use. Perhaps the biggest change though was moving the microwave to the counter. (Where was it previously? On the floor in a corner near the dining room table…) Since acquiring our mini toaster/convection oven, I had resisted putting the microwave on the counter because I thought it looked cramped to have two boxy-appliances in such close proximity, and I had convinced myself that we didn’t actually need the microwave. We use it to…reheat leftovers quickly, melt butter for grilled cheese or soften it for baking, sterilize the kitchen sponge, reheat a mug of tea…and, well, that’s about it. But thanks to the re-organization tune I was humming, I realized we do have the space for it – the counter wasn’t being used for anything else, after all. And I can get used to having two boxy things next to each other. But most of all, I am relieved to have it off the floor where it was cluttering the already tight-quartered dining area. Phew!

Kitchen counterspace

The January Cure has officially ended, but I’ve got a couple assignments yet to finish. I’ll catch you up next week!

Read previous re-caps here:
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

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January Cure Re-cap, Week 3

I’ll admit. When I first signed on for Apartment Therapy’s January Cure, I was skeptical that I would notice much difference in my home, much less feel any different. But halfway through the month and I am truly finding dozens of little things to feel happy about around the house! There is progress! There is organization! There is satisfaction! And though I’m trying not to think about it, I’m already feeling sad for the day when I don’t receive a new assignment in my inbox.

Assignment 9: Create a landing strip

I’m so glad this was an assignment because now I finally get to show off our new entryway that Alex built almost 5 months ago! As evidenced by the “before” photo below, our front entry once looked a bit plain. We had a mail sorter that I found at TJMaxx and which I spray painted a more neutral color to better match our decor. But it just looked so…first-apartment-ish. In the summer I became obsessed with DIY entry wainscotting/board-and-batten and used tutorials (here and here) to draw my inspiration. I won’t post a tutorial on how to do it because a) I didn’t take those kind of detailed process photos, and b) there are already tons of very nice tutorials out there. Luckily, Alex was totally on board with this project and kind of took charge to make sure everything came out perfectly (thanks, babe!). I was in charge of painting it afterwards. I think it adds tons of function and value to the entry of our house. What a relief!

L-R, Top then bottom: Before, we had an awkward blank wall that held our mail basket and a painting; Alex pulled out the floor molding and cut wood to fit; the top ledge drying; the finished wall in use

L-R, Top then bottom: Before, we had an awkward blank wall that held our mail basket and a painting; Alex pulled out the floor molding and cut wood to fit; the top ledge drying; the finished wall in use

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the artwork atop the wall currently includes: the wooden J, O, and Y from our 2012 Christmas card; a bridal portrait of me with the back of my dress; our wedding “guestbook” painting “signed” creatively by our guests with the phrase “EST. 2011” in wooden letters glued (and decorated) to the bottom of the canvas; and a portrait of Nero posing with a stick in Atlanta (that was impressively shot with a cell phone camera – thanks, Mike!). None of these are affixed to the wall, so we can swap them out as we please.

Making of the front entry "landing strip"

But back to the assignment. Because of the numerous hooks we added (which we use for our keys, and, as you see, jackets and scarves in the winter), I was practically halfway done with the landing strip already! My challenge was shoes. Though we try to keep the shoe pile contained – two pairs each, the rest go in our bedroom closets – it was still looking messy. I kept my two pairs on the steps that lead upstairs, and Alex kept his on the floor where they sometimes fell prey to the clutches of a playful puppy’s jaws. They were homeless shoes! (Tangent: All this talk about shoes… I just remembered that when I was an RA in college, I organized a service project for my residents and we went down to the local Salvation Army for a big “shoe sort” from shoes that had been donated and would be redistributed for a big sale to be held for folks who needed them. We spent an afternoon sorting hundreds of pairs of shoes by size inside a gymnasium. It was smelly, dusty, and I sneezed and sniffled for days afterward. It was a good cause! But I’m sure glad we only have a couple pairs to sort at the entry of our house.) To solve our homeless shoes problem, I used inspiration photos from the Cure to hunt down a nice-looking boot tray and stowed it on the floor just around the corner of the steps. I am so relieved at how much more intentional our shoe storage looks now. I’ve been practicing my “entering the house” routine with great zeal.

Assignment 10: Project progress

Crate project progress

As I mentioned last week, the project I chose to work on is the dogs’ area of the living room. As a result of yesterday’s assignment, I realized that we really have two entrances that get a lot of traffic, and perhaps I could benefit from two landing strips – one by the front door, and one by the back where we let the dogs in and out and where I venture out to the garden.

Re-envisioning the top of the dog crates as another landing strip gave me a great direction for what to do next. I sorted the pile o’stuff that had accumulated into five groups: shoes; collars/leashes; “human” dog stuff like flashlights, gloves for walking in the cold, etc.; towels for wiping off muddy paws; and stuff that doesn’t belong here (and which I promptly returned to their rightful places).

I bought a second, cheaper boot tray for our outdoor shoes. I re-sorted the baskets so that everything has its place (the open one in the back is for bags, gloves, flashlights; the fabric-lined one in the front is for leashes and harnesses; and the one with the lid is for hiding towels). And I found two simple hooks at TJMaxx a while ago which I spray painted white and had Alex help me hang. Like the hooks where we hang our jackets in the foyer, the dogs have their own spot to hang (and display) their collars. Although, let’s face it, they could care less where their collars are, unless it’s time to put them on because that means we’re going somewhere – celebrate!! Ahem. Maybe it’s tacky to display your dog collars in such a visible spot in the house, but lacking a mudroom or other more enclosed entry, this is what we’ve got. And, if we ever did want to hide them, we can simply slide that curtain over to cover them up. No problemo!

My plan for finalizing this area includes:
– considering alternative options for the blue blanket on top of the crates
– adding more art or possibly a small shelf to the blue wall, and arranging artwork accordingly

Assignment 11: Media Fast

There is no photographic evidence of this assignment because the fast prohibited me from using my phone (by which I usually instagram my progress), computer, TV, iPad, etc.

I spent the bulk of my morning working from home and researching zoning ordinances for my county. There is a little pocket of land in the middle of our otherwise “rural area” zone, and wouldn’t you know it, our neighborhood falls into that space. I did find minutes from a planning meeting last summer wherein the board was open to exploring urban agriculture options (such as laying hens and goats!), but I don’t know if anything has been done since. Needless to say, I’d had about enough staring at the computer screen, so I was happy to take time away from the computer in the evening.

What did I do instead? I went to a book talk at my local bookstore given by Jackson Landers, author of Eating Aliens (read more here). Then I came home and made a belly-filling batch of seashell pasta with bacon, peas, a touch of cream and cheese. I may have eaten two bowls! Alex got home late from the gym, so by the time he ate and we both did our dusting chores for the evening, I found myself getting in bed and reading a new book. I don’t watch that much TV anyway, and there are several nights where I just don’t feel like getting back on the computer, so I can’t say that this challenge was terribly difficult, but it wasn’t unenjoyable either.

Assignment 12: De-clutter Books and Media

De-cluttered bookshelf!

Ah. Perfect timing. I was hoping to tackle this anyway. The above photo shows how, with a little help from my friend Carrie at DreamGreenDIY (and, by extension, Young House Love), I de-cluttered and began re-styling our primary bookshelf in the upstairs office space (thanks for the tutorial, Carrie!). It’s much better organized, and I tried to make sure to have some “empty space” so it doesn’t look so crowded. Alex and I ended up choosing about 20-25 books that we were willing to donate to our local library’s used book sale so that we were only hanging onto the tomes that we really truly love, or intend to read again. I set some of my cookbooks aside in hopes that I will be up for arranging a cookbook swap, but if it doesn’t work out (i.e., if I’m still holding onto them 3 months from now, I’ll donate them as well). Now we have room for new acquisitions, including some interesting bookends or knick knacks I hope to add to give the whole thing a more polished look.

And though I don’t have a photo of it, we also pared down our DVD collection. I pulled out 5 that I haven’t watched in the past year and wouldn’t be sad about no longer owning. For Alex, I pulled out 5 and had him try to figure out what was missing. If he could identify the missing movies, he “earned” them back. Two of the movies he earned back had never even been opened! But he was a good sport about it and still chose five to donate.

Assignment 13: Get fresh flowers and deep-clean the bedroom

Fresh flowers on the piano

I have really enjoyed having fresh flowers in the house! It’s inspired me to keep my eye out for unique $1 vases at thrift stores to give me styling options. I’ve even decided to plant one of my garden beds entirely with flowers this spring so that I can cut fresh blooms all summer long!

I won’t be deep-cleaning the bedroom this weekend since a) our daily chores helps us stay on top of the big things; b) I just dusted the blinds last week when I noticed how bad they had gotten and couldn’t stand it any longer. But, I will plan to help Alex de-clutter his area of the dresser and tidy up his closet. Come to think of it, my closet could use a little tidying too.

Updates on last week’s assignments:

I have a few things to follow up on from last week’s assignments! Here they are:

Living room lighting: I decided not to add light in the dogs’ corner of the living room. However, I did purchase a unique alabaster lamp for another place in the living room. It’s amazing how much homier the room looks after two years of near-darkness.
Frame artwork...or acquire artwork first...Gallery wall artwork: Remember, I had two empty frames in need of artwork. Plans have been set in motion. The small frame will feature an old spoon that I plan to spray paint (color TBD) and affix to the frame. The larger frame will hold a food-themed 8×10″ photograph that I purchased from a seller on Etsy. Stay tuned for the reveal in two weeks.
My after-party will be in the middle of February, and I did decide to call it a “Punch and Pinterest-Potluck Party.” I’m still working on the invites but the gist is I’ll provide the party punch, guests will bring a treat to share from a recipe they’ve pinned, and then we’ll make a couple of Pinterest-inspired crafts.
Kitchen clean-out: Well, I did clean out the fridge, but I didn’t get to the cabinet organization that I was hoping to do, so I don’t have any progress to report there.

There’s still a little time left if you want to join me in the January Cure! How has it been going for you? Even if you haven’t been officially participating, what other things have you done this month to welcome your home into the new year? Do tell.

(Catch up on the Week 1 re-cap here, Week 2 re-cap here!)

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January Cure Re-cap, Week 2

As you may know, I’m participating in Apartment Therapy’s January Cure (#januarycure) to join a community of folks whipping their homes into shape throughout the first month of the new year. By signing up, I gain valuable tips for seeing my space in a new way, as well as assignments to complete each day that keep me focused on making progress. (Read the Week 1 re-cap here).

This was a rather introspective week, and I felt like I was visualizing more than actually doing, but as an accompaniment to my daily chores, these were certainly useful exercises.

Assignment 4: See a room from a new perspective

Messy office - avert your eyes!

In this assignment, I was to sit in a place that I don’t normally sit and view a room from a new angle. While meditating thus, I took in what I could see around me and visualized what I wanted the space to look like. I sat in the office chair at Alex’s desk (which, admittedly, I sit in a lot), but instead of facing the computer monitor, I turned around to look at the office loft space. Yegads! Where did this mess come from? I want this space to look…not like this! I lasted five minutes before I realized that I already knew what needed to be done to get this space functional, much less decorated. So, before becoming too overwhelmed, I migrated outside to hang out with the dogs, and spent the balance of my 10-minute visualization time imagining the garden spaces for this year. That counts, right? To my credit, later that day I cleared off the desk and cleaned up all those boxes and miscellaneous debris you see on the floor; what a relief to see the carpet now!

Assignment 5: Select a project from Assignment 1’s list

Dog crates area in living room "before" shot

Commitment time! I returned to the list I made at the beginning of this challenge–one that I would work on completing throughout this month. I chose to work on the dog’s area of the living room. Having two crates takes up a lot of room in a small house (thank goodness they’re not extra-large dogs!), and because the only viable space to put them is where they are now, when you walk in the front door of our house, their area is in your direct line of sight. Maybe that’s not so bad because your attention will be on greeting the black, fuzzy, over-eager, friendly creatures who are now vying for your coos of affection and evaluating you on your willingness to play/give belly rubs…right?

As the photo attempts to show, what you generally see when you walk in the front door is a fuzzy blue blanket (that clashes with the paint color) covered with leaves and dirt with Alex’s and my outside shoes strewn on top, and baskets which, despite their intended function, are overflowing with leashes, collars, and towels. Not to mention, our living room only has one artificial light source, so at night, that corner is particularly dark. With some input from my mom, we’re not sure that adding lighting to an area we don’t really want to draw attention to is the best answer… but that’s what I’m working with. I’ll be making small steps on this project throughout the month. Wish me luck!

Assignment 6: Choose a piece of artwork and frame it

See those two empty culprits in the upper right? How could you be so "artless?"

See those two empty culprits in the upper right? How could you be so “artless?”

In this assignment, it’s assumed that many folks have art they’ve been meaning to frame strewn about the house. For me, it’s the opposite. I have several empty frames that are waiting to be filled with artwork. Five, to be exact. My goal is to fill the two empty, hand-painted frames on this gallery wall in our kitchen/dining area. I have until the 29th to select my art…

Assignment 7: Plan the after-party

To keep motivated in this challenge, the final “product” is a get-together of my choosing to revel in all the home accomplishments. I like this idea! What better way to celebrate changes made to improve a home than to invite people over to share it with you? It’s like a combination housewarming/vow renewal party! Unfortunately I haven’t decided on the format yet. It seemed natural to me to cook dinner and invite close friends over, but since that’s what I do quite often, I thought maybe I should mix it up a little. I’m tentatively leaning towards a “punch and Pinterest” party. Inviting a couple of girlfriends for some punch and afternoon snacks while we create something from a Pinterest tutorial for each guest to take home. Apartment Therapy encourages me to host the party at the beginning of February, shortly after my month of organizational triumph, but because of my work schedule, it will probably be more like the middle of February, so I figure I have a few days yet to mail invitations. I’ll keep you posted on the final plan and the invites which I’m hoping to make this weekend…

Assignment 8: Fresh flowers, clean the kitchen, cook a meal

Kitchen cabinet chaos

Amazingly, my fresh flowers from last week are still going strong (another advantage of baby’s breath). I made sure to give them fresh water and rinse any crud off the stems every two days. But since I have to go to the store anyway, I’ll pick up a small bouquet and move the baby’s breath elsewhere to enjoy something new and fresh.

Our kitchen, for the most part, stays pretty clean, so I am going to concentrate my energies on decluttering the counter (again), cleaning out the fridge, and re-organizing one or two of the cabinets (pictured above, which, incidentally, is also on my project list from day 1). As for the meal, I definitely need something simple since I will be working this weekend, but I’m destined to find something delicious in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that my brother gave me for Christmas (thanks, bro!). Tomato-glazed meatloaf with brown butter mashed potatoes just might do the trick…

It looks like I’ll have a few projects to follow-up with you all on next week! Have you joined the January Cure yet? How’s it going? Got any suggestions for the ideas I have on my plate here? Do tell!

The Green Cleaning Compendium

With all this talk about keeping a tidy house, it’s only fitting that I take a few moments to share with you the stuff I use to get the job done. Thanks to a few readers’ requests and encouragements, I present to you my green cleaning compendium in 3 segments: 1) why I switched from conventional products to “green” alternatives, 2) the “recipes” I use and how to use them, and 3) tips for getting started if you want to make the switch. Scroll to the section(s) that most interest(s) you, or read through the whole thing, but, you know, grab your popcorn.

Easy cleaning

From left to right: white vinegar, Dr. Bronner’s, baking soda, the magic shower sponge, and Dawn dish soap. As I like to later in this post, the EWG grades Dawn a D/F. Before you jump down our throats, when our wholesale club bottle is gone, we’re planning to switch to using Dr. Bronner’s in every case where you currently see that we use Dawn (see carpet stains, clothing stains, and tub).

Why I switched:

About the time that I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and became more cognizant of what I was putting in my body, I took a sudden interest in the “stuff” that was around my body–on surfaces and in the air, and in particular, the stuff under the bathroom sink that made me gag when I cleaned with it, or that was covered in warnings about toxicity and eye washing stations. I knew there had to be a better way.

In college I took a part-time job at a locally-owned shop whose specialty was eco-friendly home, baby, and garden products. VOCs, sulfates, parabens, the meanings behind the numbers on plastic containers, and indoor air quality became part of my daily vocabulary. I asked the owner a lot of questions, hosted informational seminars, and did a lot of research on my own. I used my employee discount to try the products – especially the cleaning ones.

Then I went through a paranoid phase where I was convinced that even these eco-friendly cleaners existed to make money. They were trying to sell me something to make me feel good about myself for getting away from the very materialistic/conventional lifestyle I was trying to circumvent! Down with the man! Just kidding. Anyway, I began to embrace the DIY bug, and explored ways to make my own cleaners so that I wasn’t “paying” so much for the marketing and packaging that went into wrapping up my earth friendly substances. I felt annoyed that despite the claims of eco-friendliness on the bottle (and indeed, the ingredients were much safer than conventional chemicals), the fact remained that at some point in its lifetime, that very bottle was transported (likely by a truck (burning gasoline) (which comes from oil) across the country to get to me. Say whaa?

So I did what any savvy child of the tech generation would do: I googled DIY cleaning products. And do you know what came up time after time? Vinegar (a mild acid, read: disinfectant). Baking soda (absorbs odors and the most gentle abrasive there is). Lemon juice (another mild acid and bearer of lemony freshness scent).

Ah ha! I thought. We can eat this stuff. And it cleans! These were the kind of safe, healthy, more-with-less cleaning products I was looking for. The kind of stuff that grandma would have cleaned with. I have enough things that I want to accomplish in my day that standing wide-eyed in a grocery store aisle choosing among hundreds of types of cleaners (that vary more in the color/size/shape of the bottles than they do in actual ingredients) should not be a decision I have to make! Let’s keep it simple here!

I also stumbled across a book, Making It by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (authors of the Root Simple blog), and I must give them credit for their sagacious recommendations from which I have adapted many of my cleaning techniques.

And though my short-lived hippie days are largely over, I have found peace in cleaning our home safely and effectively without harsh chemicals. Read on to find out how…

The “recipes,” from A-Z (or T, since I didn’t have anything that started with Z)

Air freshener – Scoop some baking soda into a small container. Add 40-80 drops of your favorite essential oil. (Stronger scented oils can get by with as little as 10-20 drops). Secure some woven fabric over the container opening and place in a central location. This should last you about a month; give it a good shake every week or so. As the scent fades, save the baking soda for cleaning. A 4-oz. jelly jar works great for homemade air freshener. Secure the fabric using the band for the jar.

All-purpose cleaner (AKA 50/50 spray)- Do NOT use on granite or marble countertops. Fill a clean spray bottle half way with white vinegar. Fill the remainder with water. Give it a shake and spray where you need it, wiping clean with a rag. (Great for counters except marble or granite, sinks, stovetops, toilets, mirrors and windows, general spills). The vinegar smell will go away as the cleaner dries, but if you prefer scented cleaning products, here are three options: 1) after you peel an orange (or lemon or lime), stuff the peels into a jar. Add white vinegar, and let steep for at least a week, giving it a good shake each time you walk by. Use this citrus vinegar to make your spray. 2) Steep some fresh herbs in your vinegar in a similar manner. Try especially parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (you know, like the song). If you care about looks, you can even leave the herbs in the spray bottle once you make the solution. 3) Don’t have fresh herbs? Use a few drops of your favorite essential oils. FYI, tea tree and rosemary have antiseptic properties. Again, NOT for use on granite or marble.

Carpet stains – Admittedly, I’ve never cleaned a carpet stain the same way twice. Partly it depends on the type and severity of the stain. Partly it’s because I forget how I did it last time. If the stain is relatively fresh, clean it up with some vinegar. If it’s been in the carpet for a little while, try sprinkling generously with baking soda and scrubbing vigorously with a damp washcloth. If it’s really bad, follow the baking soda scrub with a paste made with baking soda, dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide. Pour onto the stain and scrub vigorously in all directions. Let dry, and vacuum up any residue. And if the stain is from your dog during potty-training or indoor territory-marking, douse generously with rubbing alcohol to prevent them from marking again.

Clothing stains – I use a mixture of 1 cup dish soap to 2 cups hydrogen peroxide. This is the perfect amount to pour back into those big brown hydrogen peroxide bottles (since hydrogen peroxide apparently doesn’t like exposure to light). Switch out the cap for a spray nozzle, and you’re set. Shake gently and spray directly on clothing/fabric stains before washing. Alex and I have a “dog blanket” on top of our duvet to protect it from muddy paws and use this stain remover to help lift out all the dirt; the blanket comes out clean every time.

Dishes – I have experimented with several eco-friendly dish soap options over the years. Even though lathering bubbles is not essential to clean dishes, I found that I liked having some bubbles so that I could tell when soap had disappeared from my sponge. That led me away from Earth Friendly Products’ Dish Soap (though it looks like they have some newer products now). Biokleen Dish Liquid was good and lasted a long time. I’ve also used Mrs. Meyer’s but found the bottle to be a little small for the price. These days I’ve been using Seventh Generation in Citrus Ginger scent, which I love. (But if you check the EWG report, even this eco-company’s product doesn’t score so hot. I’ll check in when we finish this bottle to let you know what we switch to).

Dishwasher – Okay, you caught me. Sorry to disappoint you here: I use Cascade detergent. The one in the 12-pound green box from the wholesale club. We run the dishwasher 1-2 times per week. The eco-friendly options only come in the small box around here, and I was getting new boxes faster than we ever finished Netflix-by-mail movies. So, I caved. This recipe for homemade detergent, however, looks promising, and I plan to give it a try once our box is empty.

Drain clogs – First, an anecdote. In another life, I was a swimmer. And when I was in high school, and still working on upping my “cool factor,” I wanted it to be my “trademark” to leave an appalling clump of my dark, long, curly hair on the walls of the shower where we vainly attempted to rid ourselves of the stink of chlorine. (In my defense, I only participated in this ritual in the facility that I hated – the one with the pool that was way too hot and whose poor ventilation meant you were sweating and crying as soon as you set foot in the building, the one with carpeting – CARPETING in the locker rooms which is just a terrible idea for a swim team). Suffice it to say, I sympathize with all you ladies with long, flowing locks. I know that you clean your hair out of the shower daily and still it seems to clog. Drain cleaner is probably the one conventional chemical cleaner that made me most uncomfortable, even in my pre-hippie days. Blame it on a cartoon on a Sesame Street episode about how much water is used when brushing your teeth – it had this poor fish whose pond was literally drying up while this kid left the water running brushing his teeth. (In fact, it was this one here!) All I saw when I poured Drain-clog-be-gone brand cleaner down the pipes was some poor fish choking to death. This is, of course, environmentalist propaganda not quite realistic, but the effect it had on me led to the quest for alternatives. I tried earth-friendly enzyme-based cleaners whose microbial organisms promised to eat away at the things that were clogging the drain – friendly decomposers, if you will. They did work, to some effect. But the fact of the matter is, I knew what was blocking the pipes, and I knew it wasn’t way down deep in the plumbing system. It was my hair. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the most eco-friendly drain cleaner I know:

Wire coat hanger for unclogging drains

This is a wire hanger that I have disassembled such that it becomes one long piece of wire with a craggly hook at one end. I remove the drain cover in the bathtub (or sink, as sometimes hair mysteriously gathers there too) and gently poke the hanger into the drain to pull up clumps of hair in various states of moist decomposition. Okay I’ll leave the graphic details out of it, but if it does make you squeamish (and I won’t judge you if it does), you might want to wear gloves as you throw the hair clumps into the trashcan. With two people in our household, and my long, thick hair, I usually do this 2-3 times a year – whenever I notice that the drain isn’t draining smoothly. Now, I’m not a plumber, so I can’t tell you exactly what should or shouldn’t be down there, and (especially in older houses) you may have an actual plumbing predicament. So, prod gently with thy coat hanger, and if the problem persists, you might want to call in a professional. But remember Frank the Fish.

Dusting – Water. That’s all I use. Just a little bit. Just to be fancy, I add a couple drops of essential oil to enhance the dusting experience, but other than that, it’s just water. I squirt just enough onto a soft cloth to dampen it slightly, and then go to town. I do use a wool duster for things like fan blades, lampshades, blinds, and other nooks and crannies, but in general, that damp soft cloth will eat dust with the best of ’em.

Laundry – I started making my own laundry soap about a year ago. There are several variations of this that are popular on the internet, but my formula is 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda, 1 bar shredded castille soap (we like Dr. Bronner’s in lavender or eucalyptus). Mix it all up, and add 1-2 tablespoons per load. Doesn’t seem like much, but it works. (And, FYI, our house is not yet equipped with an HE washer and this is still all I need). I almost always use cold water to wash, but I will let the warm water run just when I add the soap so that it will get all dissolved quickly. For synthetics, I do use a conventionally made eco-soap. I have found that manmade fabrics do better with manmade cleaners, but maybe that’s just me.

(Not pictured: bar of Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap)

(Not pictured: bar of Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap)

Kitchen sink – I don’t know about you, but I found it unsettling to use the dish sponge to clean the kitchen sink. I mean, I see all the stuff that washes off my dirty dishes that inevitably leaves residues in the sink, and now I’m going to scrub them all into the sponge and wipe them around the surface of the sink? There might not be anything wrong with that, but I wanted a cleaning tactic with a bit more…heft to it. When the sink is wet, sprinkle it all over with baking soda – don’t be shy. Use a rag to scrub the baking soda all around, you’ll see some of those weird residues starting to come off. Rinse clean with warm water. Need to bleach it clean? Take a cut, used lemon and rub it all over the sink. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes, then rinse clean with warm water. Toss the used lemon half into the garbage disposal, run it, and ahhh, lemony goodness. Plus a clean sink to boot!

Mopping – Our mop was decapitated in an unfortunate and accidental fit of rage a couple weeks ago, so it looks a little funny now and was camera shy. But this is the mop we use. It comes with a microfiber dusting cloth attachment, and a terrycloth wet mop attachment, both of which are machine washable. With the wet mop, we use a pre-mixed hardwood cleaning spray, which we spray directly onto the hardwood and scrub vigorously using the mop head. In the bathroom (which is tile), I use Biokleen’s Bac-Out Bathroom Cleaner, employing the same technique. I haven’t run out of either cleaning product yet, so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to experiment with homemade cleaners, though there are dozens of DIY alternatives out there.

Stovetop – I reviewed my stovetop cleaning technique in this post, but again, you’ll need baking soda and liquid castille soap. Sprinkle some of both directly on the surface, rub together to make a paste and scrub-a-dub. Rinse clean with a soft cloth and warm water.

Clean stovetop with baking soda and castille soap

Toilet bowl – Straight up white vinegar (not the diluted 50/50 spray). Pour into the bowl and scrub the edges and the bowl with a sturdy toilet brush. Take that, Mr. Clean!

Tub (abridged) – The best thing since sliced bread: cleaning the tub/shower while you’re already in it! Get one of those dishwashing sponges with the fillable tube handle. Fill it half way with white vinegar, half way with dish soap. Give the walls and floor (and the shower head, once in a while) a good wash down (and rinse any hair off the sponge when you’re done). Rinse the walls with a wet rag, or throw water on it, or don’t (the vinegar dilutes the soap so you shouldn’t get any weird streaks).

Tub (unabridged) – If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your tub, you can’t cut straight to the abridged version. You’ve gotta get your deep-clean on. But just this one time, and then you’ll have smooth sailing, mmkay? Here’s what you do. 1) Wipe any hair out of the tub with a tissue or paper towel and discard. 2) Turn on the water and get the floor and walls wet. 3) Pour white vinegar into the tub and use your rag to wipe all the walls and floor. 4) Sprinkle baking soda generously over tub. Use a rag to scrub the baking soda into those weird stains, rings, molds, or whatever else you have in your tub. Your rag shouldn’t “stick” when you scrub it. If it does, keep scrubbing. 5) When you’re done, rinse down with warm water and breathe a sigh of relief. Bleach with a lemon half, if desired (see directions for kitchen sink, above). and 6) If your shower head has weird pink or green or white stuff around the holes where the water comes out, pour some white vinegar into a ziploc bag and use ribbon or string or anything to tie it around the shower head such that the discolored part is in direct contact with the vinegar. Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.

Tips for switching over:

Now, unless you’re suddenly super freaked out and want to switch immediately, I suggest a gradual transition. After all, it won’t do much good to simply pour those conventional cleaners down the sink. So my first tip if you’d like to make the switch is to use up what you have first. As you do, then you can start making the replacements. If you aren’t sure where to start, make the 50/50 spray and add to your repertoire from there.

Second, when it comes to window/glass/mirror cleaning, the 50/50 spray will seem streaky at first, especially if 1) you have conventional cleaner residue on the surface or 2) you use fabric softener and your rag happens to have fabric softener residues on it.

Third, and this might be a matter of personal preference, but when you buy a spray bottle for your homemade cleaners, your life will be much easier if you make sure that the spray nozzle can “mist,” and not just spray in a piercing stream.

Save rags! If you have an old t-shirt that you don’t wear anymore, cut it up into washcloth-sized rags. If your washcloths are a bit ratty for the bathroom, retire them to the cleaning basket.

Re-purpose interesting containers to aid your cleaning endeavors. For example, I keep some vinegar in a plastic condiment squeeze bottle for easy, direct squirting into the toilet bowl or for targeting carpet stains. I keep one of those stainless steel cinnamon or cocoa or powdered sugar shakers filled with baking soda by the sink for easy access.

Examples of containers for DIY cleaning products

Finally, educate yourself about whether conventional cleaners are good enough to earn a place in your household. The Environmental Working Group has a very comprehensive list ranking cleaning products that can help you make smarter purchasing decisions if DIY cleaners aren’t in the cards for you. (Or read their list of the worst offenders here). Thanks to the miracle that is marketing, just because something calls itself “green,” doesn’t mean it is. But I also don’t think it’s healthy to drive yourself insane memorizing the list of chemicals the EWG condemns – let the experts do their jobs and use it to inform your decisions, not to control your life.

So there you have it. It is not my intention here to decry one method of cleaning over another. There are enough of an awful lot of products out there with incredible advertising budgets to confuse you about what is “right,” as it is. But if you dream of a home where you don’t have to be afraid that Fido or Junior will get into whatever is under the kitchen sink, and where cleaning day shouldn’t make the air quality in your home worse, or where you don’t have to think twice about whether you need to have an eyewash station installed, then maybe getting back to the basics and exploring simple, homemade cleaning solutions is worth the effort. It doesn’t hurt to give it a shot, right? At the very least, you’ll have an extra clean home. And if you are going to give it a try, I hope you find this a useful place to start.

What have I missed? What questions do you have? What green cleaning strategies will you adopt? Do tell.

And check out other useful homekeeping tips from this mini-series:

Daily chores
Food routines
Once-monthly deep cleaning routines
– Apartment Therapy’s January Cure re-cap (Week 1, Week 2)

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Food Routines

I wish I could tell you the secret formula for having dinner on the table every night of the week without running to the grocery store for things you forgot on *ahem* three different occasions. But perhaps you take comfort in the fact that I cannot, despite my other neurotic routines like these or these.

Truth be told, some weeks our food planning is right on target: I use ingredients we already have (exercising creativity in recipes, as needed), I make only one grocery store run, and I know exactly what we are eating any night of the week (with leftovers for lunches!). Other weeks the kitchen has suddenly become a storage area for bills and cookbooks and I feel guilty for having just gone to the grocery store and drag my feet about going again when I could just go to get take out (right next door to the grocery store), or we end up having a lot of smorgasbord meals that will not be appearing in a cookbook anytime soon.

I’m coping, thanks for asking.

There are, however, two things that I look forward to doing routinely: breakfast and desserts. And I can tell you my secrets for those.

BREAKFAST

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

Ah, the most important meal of the day… Alex leaves for work pretty early. And though I would like to be the kind of person who wakes up before the sun (oh wait, I already do that) to whip up some all-American biscuits with eggs and bacon and freshly made honey butter every day, I keep it real and recognize that about the time he’s out the door, I am painstakingly willing my eyes to open. That means I am packing lunches in the dark. I like to send him off with SOMEthing for breakfast. It makes me feel good, especially since the primary alternative – his work’s cafeteria food – is a let’s-not-even-go-there kind of thing. So I make a big batch of breakfast on the weekend that will last us through the week – at least Monday through Thursday. If we run out by Friday, he can treat himself to a bagel sandwich on his way in.

And because it would become monotonous to eat the same thing every day (though some people do it, I know), I pick a few make-ahead breakfast foods that would allow me to add variations easily, and I rotate these items. If you’re going to do this, I recommend choosing at least 4 items so that they only repeat once a month. Save the bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, casseroles, and (unless you have time to reheat stuff in the morning) scones and biscuits for the weekend when you can be more leisurely in the mornings.

No matter whether you need extra fiber, prefer an all-paleo meal plan, or simply want to work more veggies into your breakfast, you can easily adapt this idea to fit your preferences to keep your mornings varied but stress-free, and most importantly, well-fed.

In our current rotation are: mini-muffins, granola bars, mini egg frittatas, and poached fruit with yogurt (and sometimes with granola)…whose recipes and variations I share here.

Mini Muffins (makes 24, I usually give Alex 3 to take with him)

6.25 oz all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup yogurt (any kind – whatever you have! I’ve used blueberry, Greek, plain, and vanilla)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg

Mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. (You can do this ahead of time and keep wet in the fridge if you want to bake them off in the morning).

Mix wet ingredients into the dry, adding whatever flavors you want – be creative! Here are some seasonal suggestions:
Winter: zest of 1 orange and a big handful of dried cranberries
Spring: a handful of chopped strawberries and a small handful of white chocolate chips
Summer: big handful of fresh chopped berries
Fall: 1/3 cup shredded apple or pear

Scoop into mini-muffin pan pre-sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes. *Note: These are best the first day or two after you bake them. After that, you might want to reheat them for a few minutes or bring along some butter and jam.

Granola Bars

I’ve been rotating through 2 of the 3 granola bar recipes in The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. You can try her recipes yourself hereherehere, or here.

Granola bars

Mini Egg Frittatas (makes 12 – baked in a muffin pan!)

12 eggs
salt and pepper
12 slices of deli ham (optional)

Honestly, that’s the minimum ingredients you need, but I recommend adding some “fillings” to keep things interesting. Here are some ideas (be sure to chop them up small): cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, spinach, bacon, roasted vegetables, shredded potatoes or zucchini, green onions… Mix and match based on what you like, what you have leftover in the fridge/freezer, and what’s in season.

Preheat oven to 350F. Crack eggs into large bowl (a measuring cup with a pourable spout is great!) and whisk them about with seasonings. Add fillings. Pour an equal amount into large, well-greased muffin tins. Alternatively, press a slice of deli ham into each muffin tin well to make a little ham “cup” to hold your mini fritatta. Bake for 20 minutes, or until eggs look set. Store in container in fridge and enjoy cold or reheated.

Note: If you wanted to make mini-fritattas in a mini-muffin pan, you could! I think you would need to reduce the cooking time by 5-10 minutes though.

Mini Egg Frittatas

Poached Fruit

David Lebovitz has a lovely overview of poached fruit here. Right now we are alternating between poached pears and poached apples, and the recipe is largely the same for either one.

fruit (4 pears is enough for 8 breakfasts for us)

Peel fruit and slice in half. Use a melon baller to core and remove seeds. Arrange in saucepan. Fill with pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, grape juice, wine… whatever fruity liquid you’ve got– just enough to barely cover the fruit. You could even use just plain water, I think, though the flavor will be way more mild. Add sugar (a couple spoonfuls if needed) and complementing flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla beans are a good place to start). Cover with a piece of parchment paper directly touching the fruit and bring to a gentle simmer for 20 minutes or so. Remove fruit and store in the fridge. When ready to eat, cut the fruit into small pieces and toss into your yogurt, maybe with some homemade granola or sliced almonds if you’re feeling fancy. P.S. You can also save the poaching liquid – just pour it into a bottle or storage container and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to poach again. Or, if you want to serve poached fruit for dessert, boil that poaching liquid down until it is a sauce, and pour it over your fruit. Love those multi-tasking foods!

Pomegranate Poached Pears with Goat Cheese

DESSERT

Neither of us are big snackers during the day. So we like to have something sweet to nosh on while we catch up on our *nerd alert* TiVo-ed Jeopardy! or Nova episodes. I’m okay with that – both dessert and my self-proclaimed nerd-dom, that is. Let us eat cake!

And ice cream! And pie! And cookies!

But not all at once. Geez.

Similar to the breakfast rotation, I pick one dessert to make each week, sometimes on the weekend, but sometimes during the week, depending how busy we are. And, unless it’s a special occasion, I only make one. That means sometimes it lasts us all week, and sometimes it only lasts for a couple days.

In our current rotation we have cake (I’m cooking my way through Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson), ice cream (usually Alex’s choice from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer), and cookies (get you some here or here or here, for starters).

In case you couldn’t tell by those cookbook references, I do use specific recipes for desserts (rather than a master recipe and variations). Maybe that’s because there are so many interesting specific things I want to try, and dessert recipes vary so much – especially cakes and cookies.

I won’t post any specific recipes for the desserts in our current rotation, but I will give a couple pointers:

Again, like breakfast, choose things that you like to eat or make. If you find it laborious to make buttercream, then save that for special occasions. If no one in your house likes rhubarb, then don’t make White Chocolate Rhubarb Downside-Up Cake.

White chocolate rhubarb upside down cake

With cookies, make a double batch and freeze half of the dough in pre-formed balls (mini ice-cream scooper works well) or logs. This way when you have a busy week, it’ll be easy to just pull those out of the freezer and bake them. Or when you have an impromptu potluck to attend or the kiddos have a friend over, it’ll smell like you’ve been baking all day and taste like friendship. Quaint!

Toasted brioche with butter and jam ice cream

With cakes, and only two people, it can make us feel like we’ve gained weight just looking at a 3-layer 8″ round cake. Cake doesn’t last as long – a couple days is when most are freshest. I often halve cake recipes and bake them in my little 6″ round pans or in a small square casserole. If there are extras, I have Alex take it to work to share. His co-workers don’t seem to mind.

Blueberry Pie

It’s surprisingly easy to have homemade pie. You can make pie dough in advance (again, think double batch), keep it in the freezer, and thaw in the fridge when you’re ready. If it’s winter time, use pears or apples since they’re around, or a bag of frozen berries in your filling. Bake bake bake and then you’re set for dessert (and maybe breakfast too?) all week.

Seasonally, I have fruit crisps, puddings, and other treats that I want to add in, but in general (and at least right now), we’re trying a lot of cake and ice cream.

And there you have it, folks! A few tips to keep you feeling organized, but also creative in the kitchen when it comes to the beginning and ending of your days (breakfast and dessert, that is). What would you work into your breakfast or dessert rotations? What other sanity-saving tips do you have? Do tell.

Read more in this homekeeping mini-series:
Once monthly deep-cleaning
Our daily chores
– Apartment Therapy’s January Cure (Week 1, Week 2)
Green-cleaning compendium

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January Cure Recap, Week 1

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I am trying out Apartment Therapy’s #januarycure for tips and motivation to get the house in shape. I signed up for the email list and subsequently receive daily advice with an assignment. And when I open each new assignment in my inbox I alternate between humming the Mission Impossible theme song and the doo bee doo bee doo bah part from the Perry the Platypus theme song before announcing to myself “your mission, should you choose to accept it…” (the dogs act interested, but then they just cock their heads and resume their tug-of-war game).

Anyway, since there are assignments every day, I will do a recap on Fridays of this month so that you can see my weekly progress on all of the assignments.

Assignment 1: Make a project list

#Januarycure

#Januarycure

I already wrote about this assignment on the inaugural day (read more here), but to recap, I made a list of all the things that were bothering me about the house. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was way fewer things than what I had created in my head. I then highlighted the things that would make the most immediate and biggest impacts on each space in my house, and knocked 4 of them out in 10 minutes. Three cheers for dispelling illusions and making cathartic lists.

Assignment 2: Make and fill an “outbox”

#januarycure Outbox in my closet

#januarycure Outbox in my closet

Me likey the outbox. It’s like clutter purgatory–where extraneous stuff goes to await judgment day. The key, I think, is that nothing goes there to die; frequent check-ins will insure that stuff gets moved out of the outbox fairly regularly, whether they find a new home in our house or are trashed or donated or sold elsewhere. I picked a spot in my closet (and did use an actual box, though that wasn’t required, and you can now see that it is currently overflowing) to stash anything and everything that was clutter or that I had meaning to do something with but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Just a few of the things that ended up there: a plastic poncho from an Eagles game, some household cleaners left over from the previous owners, some pillows whose covers have been ripped by the dogs but whose pillow forms are still intact, a bag of old cell phone chargers, and more. All I had to do in this assignment was put at least one thing in the outbox. Now that I have accepted its presence in our home, I’m told I will return to it to sort and reassign the items to their fates.

Assignment 3 (weekend): Buy Flowers, Vacuum, Mop, Gather Earth Friendly Cleaners & Use Your Outbox

Baby's breath (follow me on instagram @jessalynf)

#januarycure Get fresh flowers

Thanks to my daily chores list and my already established arsenal of earth-friendly cleaners (more on that next week), vacuuming and mopping area already taken care of for the week! That left me with acquiring flowers and using the outbox. I picked up these blooms at the supermarket. I know, I know… baby’s breath is such a simple flower. But I just love how they look when you get a big bunch of them together (I even used them for my bridesmaids’ bouquets!).

Copyright Adam Barnes Photography 2011

Copyright Adam Barnes Photography 2011

 Plus, January is a sparse month, you know? I wanted the flowers to reflect the hibernation of living things going on outside, so simple is good. These baby’s breath (breaths?) remind me of a light dusting of snow. Now I will experiment with the perfect spot to display them…

Won’t you join me in the January Cure? Happy weekend!

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